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Budget Commander: $20 Feline Ferocity Upgrade

Commander 2017 has arrived, and that means another series of Budget Commander where we explain the design philosophy of each new preconstructed deck, analyze every part of the list, and show how you can upgrade the deck with a limited budget. Here you'll learn which preconstructed deck is right for you and what directions you can take it.

We're kicking things off with the most requested deck, Feline Ferocity, a Cat Tribal deck focused on dominating combat with bigger, stronger, and better equipped creatures than your opponents.

You might like the deck if ...

  • You love cat fights and want your creatures to come out ahead of any combat
  • You like Go Wide, Go Tall, and/or Equipment strategies
  • You'd prefer a more straightforward deck that is easy to pick up
  • You want to build a Cat deck! (duh)
  • You want a tribe that doesn't cost an arm and a leg to fully optimize (not a lot of missing Cats to buy)

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You want a deck not focused around creature strategies
  • You hate combat
  • You want a deck focused on Combo strategies
  • You prefer more complex playstyles that aren't as straightforward to pick up
  • You want to play a tribe that has a deep pool of tribal cards to choose from
  • You're more of a Dog person

If this deck sounds cool to you, then great! Let's take a closer look, starting with the full preconstructed list:

Right out of the box, Feline Ferocity is a straightforward midrange deck that's all about playing Cats and then beefing them up so they hit like a sledgehammer — possibly because they got their paws on a Behemoth Sledge. It's decisively an Aggressive deck that lives for combat, slapping a scary threat on the board, like Balan, Wandering Knight, and smashing face while the Control player scrambles to find answers to the mad kitty and its big ol' Hammer of Nazahn. If one threat is removed, the deck just drops another one and keeps going. Very straightforward, yet surprisingly effective.

It's important to note that out of all the precon tribes, Cats have the smallest pool of tribal cards. Unlike Wizards, Vampires, and Dragons, there aren't a large number of good Cats in Magic's history and there are barely any cards that specifically support the Cat tribe. So if you're looking to upgrade Feline Ferocity into the best Cat Tribal deck possible, the good news is that it won't take a lot of cash to do so, but the bad news is that there's not a lot of upgrade options out there. Just something to keep in mind.


Three Archetypes: Go Tall, Go Wide, and Equipment

By design, each preconstructed deck is divided between two or more archetypes, which encourages people looking to upgrade their decks to focus on the archetype they like the most and build around that. Feline Ferocity provides three distinct archetypes to build around: Go Tall, Go Wide, and Equipment.

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Go Tall strategies involve focusing on one creature threat at a time, beefing them up so they smash opponents for tons of damage. If this creature is your commander, this strategy is called Voltron (e.g. Uril, the Miststalker), but other decks instead use their commander to beef up other creatures instead (e.g. Xenagos, God of Revels). The main commander of Feline Ferocity, Arahbo, Roar of the World, is very much a Go Tall commander, looking to turn a single Cat into a giant threat that must be answered immediately or else you win.

Arahbo's ability to drastically increase a Cat's power works very well with naturally big Cats and keywords/abilities/triggers that scale off of power, such as double strike (Balan, Wandering Knight), lifelink (Phantom Nishoba), and other miscellaneous cards — Greater Good, Rishkar's Expertise, Berserk, Overwhelming Stampede, and so much more. 

Arahbo's hidden strength is since you're only presenting one threat at a time, you're far less likely to overextend and play out your hand onto the board, meaning creature board wipes like Wrath of God are less powerful against you since you're often trading 1 for 1. While this isn't exactly "card advantage," it nets a similar result where you're less likely to run out of gas as the game progresses. Because you're focused on developing a one threat at any time, however, you're particularly vulnerable to targeted removal such as Swords to Plowshares, which can undo all the work you've done for 1 mana at instant speed. For this reason, hexproof (e.g. Swiftfoot Boots) is exceptionally good in Arahbo, Roar of the World decks.

Arahbo's playstyle is very similar to a popular commander, Xenagos, God of Revels, so if you like that style but want to focus on Cat Tribal, then Arahbo will be perfect for you.

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Feline Ferocity also promotes the opposite of the Go Tall strategy, the Go Wide strategy. Instead of winning the game with one single big creature, the Go Wide strategy wants to win with a huge army of creatures. This is done with token generators such as White Sun's Zenith and Jedit Ojanen of Efrava to create big board states full of small tokens that you then beef up into a lethal army with cards like Jazal Goldmane.

This strategy is not supported by the main commander, Arahbo, Roar of the World, but luckily we have the perfect commander for this strategy in the deck: Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist. Mirri makes your token army almost unblockable, as your opponents can only block one of your many attackers at a time. She even helps you on defense as well, preventing your opponents from cracking back more than one attacker, which means you only need to keep back one or two tokens as blockers as defense. Mirri is superb leading any Go Wide deck and she's not restricted to just Cat Tribal decks either.

The cards in Feline Ferocity that most help the Go Wide strategy are the opposite of what the Go Tall strategy under Arahbo, Roar of the World wants: in this case, we want anthems that beef up our entire army (Hungry Lynx), cards that have triggers when a creature enters the battlefield (Qasali Slingers, and cards that care about the number of creatures we have (Kindred Summons).

Go Wide strategies are great against targeted removal since removing one out of 10+ attackers with Swords to Plowshares won't do much to slow you down. However, they are vulnerable to repeated board wipes such as Wrath of God, so it's recommended that you add ways to protect your board with cards like Eldrazi Monument, Rootborn Defenses, and Heroic Intervention.

Go Wide decks are almost always Token decks since that's usually the most efficient way to make a giant army. So if you like the idea of a Tokens deck like Rhys the Redeemed but with a Cat Tribal theme, then swapping Arahbo, Roar of the World for Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist is a simple yet highly effective way to start on that route.

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Equipment is the final archetype found in Feline Ferocity. As the name implies, this strategy involves running a bunch of equipment, giving you a repeatable way to beef up any creature; you can make a big creature even scarier, or you can turn a lowly 1/1 into something that can actually trade in combat. In Feline Ferocity, the Equipment theme actually has cards that compliment both the Go Tall and Go Wide strategies. Having your largest creature don Argentum Armor means it gains an additional 12(!) attacking damage if you're using Arahbo, Roar of the World's activated ability, and while also providing other bonuses to the creature such as Hammer of Nazahn's valuable indestructible. On the other hand, we have Kemba, Kha Regent and Raksa Golden Cub which provide huge scaling buffs to large armies if equipped.

You can make Equipment the main theme of the deck by swapping in Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith as your main commander. While I will continue to whine that there's nothing about the card that is Green (and no other Green cards that even support Equipment) and it should've been Mono White so more decks could enjoy using him, the one good thing about being Selesnya colors is that you can swap him in as Feline Ferocity's commander without having to cut out half the deck.

Gripes aside, Nazahn is a very powerful card and one of the best Equipment commanders you could ask for. While he does cost a steep 6 mana to cast, he also comes with an ETB tutor trigger, and if it's Hammer of Nazahn he even saves you the mana to cast it. And you absolutely should be tutoring for Hammer of Nazahn anyway, because the card is superb for Equipment decks, saving you a crapton of mana on equip costs and indestructible is one of the best keywords in a multiplayer format full of creature removal. With Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith saving you so much mana, you are free to do so many more things each turn, which is a huge boost to the deck's power.

With Equipment as your main strategy, the deck slows down a bit, trading explosive turns for a more toolboxy, resilient deck that has long staying power. Nazahn lets you tutor up the right equipment for your situation, like grabbing Sword of the Animist for ramp, Loxodon Wahammer for lifelink, and Argentum Armor to blow stuff up. Your creatures may die, but your equipment remains, so you can just move the equipment to the next creature and keep swinging. Balan, Wandering Knight is your best single creature for dealing massive damage, Kemba, Kha Regent can quickly build an army all on her own, and Raksha Golden Cub effortlessly turns your army into a game-ender.

Equipment decks are fairly resilient to removal because your board presence is split between creatures and equipment, so a Wrath of God or Vandalblast only takes out half of your important permanents most times. A few cards can still ruin your day, like Hour of Revelation, but these are much rarer.

If you like the idea of Equipment, then give Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith a shot! While there's no other Green cards that directly support Equipment, Green offers plenty of other things to the archetype, including superior ramp (Farseek), amazing creature tutors (Survival of the Fittest), and forms of card advantage that synergize well off your equipped creatures (Rishkar's Expertise).


What Is The Deck Lacking?

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp; usually a 38-12 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely, but mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ nonland cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy, and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question. Let's see what the rough ratios are for Feline Ferocity and how it compares:

Obviously these ratios are a simplification and subject to opinion, but it's still a good way to quickly identify potential problems. Honestly, Feline Ferocity looks really solid in terms of ratios! We have plenty of ramp and ways to interact meaningfully with the board. It should also be mentioned that the deck runs about ~21 sources of mana-fixing, which is fantastic, especially for a deck with only two colors.

My biggest criticism is that there's zero recursion. Sometimes the card you really want is staring at you in the graveyard, and a Regrowth or even Seasons Past would go a long way. There's also an absence of graveyard hate, which is totally understandable since no C17 deck has a big graveyard theme and this deck is designed to play against them, but if you take Feline Ferocity to a random table, you better have a tutorable piece of graveyard hate somewhere in there.

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While the ratios are pretty good, that doesn't mean all the cards that fit those ratios are actually good. For example, Curse of Vitality is a subpar card even in a Lifegain deck, but since Feline Ferocity offers no real support for that archetype it becomes terrible. Other cards, like Hedron Archive, are perfectly acceptable in a non-Green deck, but we have plenty of better alternatives at the same budget range, like Explosive Vegetation. No matter what version of Cat Tribal you want to run, there's going to be a handful of these cards that I recommend cutting.


$20 Go Tall Upgrade

If you want to focus the deck around Arahbo, Roar of the World, you'll want to focus on going Tall, and take out the Go Wide cards that don't support the theme. First, let's make room for the upgrades. These are the cards that I'd cut first, which either 1) don't support the Go Tall strategy (Jazal Goldmane) 2) are okay cards but we have better alternatives (Relic Crush) 3) are universally terrible cards (Saltcrusted Steppe):

I would eventually want to cut more cards like Nissa's Pilgrimage and Wing Shards for better cards that fulfill the same role (Nature's Lore + Swords to Plowhares, for example), but right now I'm just making enough room for my sample upgrade.

Here are some recommendations for some budget upgrades that fit with the Go Wide strategy, Cat Tribal, or generally good cards:

Infect is a controversial mechanic in Commander, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention how good Lost Leonin and Grafted Exoskeleton are with Arahbo, Roar of the World. Both are one of the strongest ways to present lethal damage to an opponent with minimal setup. Feel free to ignore those cards if you or your playgroup don't like infect.

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Putting it all together, here is a sample $20 upgrade cobbled together from my recommendations. We focus on the Go Tall strategies by cutting out the Go Wide cards, cut out generally worse cards for better alternatives, lower the overall cmc of the deck, and introduce a few "I Win" cards such as Berserk. If you'd rather not play with infect cards, swap out Grafted Exoskeleton and Lost Leonin for any other recommendations.

And here is the deck with the upgrades made.


$20 Go Wide Upgrade

Just like before, we're going to be focusing the deck around the Go Wide theme and cutting out the cards that don't mesh well with it. We're also cutting out some of the subpar cards like Saltcrusted Steppe. Here are the first round of cuts I'd recommend to make room for upgrades:

And here's a list of card recommendations that fit in the Go Wide and Cat Tribal themes of the deck, or are generally good cards:

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Here's a sample list of $20 worth of upgrades from the recommendation. Yes, you could blow most of your budget on picking up Brimaz, King of Oreskos, but he's simply not worth the quantity of great cards you can buy for the same amount of money:

Finally, here is the deck with the upgrades:


$20 Equipment Upgrade

Alright, you know the drill: we're focusing on Equipments, so first we gotta cut cards that go against our theme or are just bad. I'm not adding a lot of cards this time due to budget reasons, but the cuts follow the same logic as the previous two themes

Here's a list of recommendations that fit the Equipment theme and/or are generally good cards for the deck. Unlike the other two themes, Equipments doesn't really care for Cat Tribal at all, so I'm ignoring that theme entirely this time around.

White brings all the Equipment-themed cards to the deck, while Green brings superior ramp, recursion, and creature tutors. The allstars of any Equipment deck are most certainly Sigarda's Aid and Puresteel Paladin, which I recommend being your first purchases. Sram, Senior Edificer, Open the Armory, Steelshaper's Gift, and Stonehewer Giant are solid secondary picks, and from there it depends on what type of Equipment deck you want to be and what your deck is currently lacking.

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As you may have noticed, I'm only adding a handful of cards to the $20 upgrade list. The reason is that the coolest thing Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith is capable of unfortunately costs a bit more money, and I really wanted to showcase the best things Nazahn can do on a fair budget.

The cards are Blade of Selves, Helm of Kaldra, Shield of Kaldra, and Sword of Kaldra. It works like this: cast Nazahn, grabbing Blade of Selves. Swing with Nazahn against 3+ opponents, which gives you 3 copies of Nazahn. Those copies immediately die due to the legend rule, but you still get their ETB triggers, letting you tutor up 3+ things: the Kaldra pieces! This is one of the easiest ways to assemble Kaldra! You now have a 9/9 indestructible / first strike / trample / haste token that can immediately rebuild itself for 1 mana at any time. It doesn't outright win you games, but it's friggin' awesome.

So yeah, if you're building Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, that's what I'd spend my first $20 on, like so:

The next cards I would pick up would be Sigarda's Aid, Puresteel Paladin, Sram, Senior Edificer, and Open the Armory. Of those, only the Paladin is relatively expensive, but is well worth it due to free equip costs and card draw -- which is bonkers with the new Bloodforged Battle-Axe, by the way. From there, replace inferior ramp (Dreamstone Hedron) with better ramp (Rampant Growth), throw in some recursion (Emeria Shepherd), some protection (Indomitable Archangel), and you're good to go.


Further Upgrades

There should be plenty of upgrade ideas in the messy lists of recommendations I put up. When upgrading, figure out the right ratio of mana / protection / disruption / card advantage / recursion / tutors that you like for the deck. You can use my general guidelines as a starting point, but all decks will be a little different, so playtesting is the best way to figure it out. Once you have ratios that you like, I recommend swapping in cards that share the same role as the cards you swap out. If you like the amount of ramp you've got but want to replace Nissa's Pilgrimage for something better, put in a different ramp card in its place. Same goes for card advantage / disruption / etc.

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1 Down, 3 To Go!

Hope you liked the first Budget Upgrade of the series! We've got three more preconstructed decks to analyse and upgrade. Considering how long this article turned out, I'll probably be focusing on just the main commanders going forward so I can churn these out at a faster rate. However, if there's interest in specific secondary commanders, I'd be happy to devote a full article to properly explore them. Thanks for reading!

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