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Budget Commander: $20 Merciless Rage Upgrade

Commander 2019 preconstructed decks have arrived, and that means it's time for another round of my $20 precon upgrades! I'll first go over how each preconstructed deck plays, why you should buy it, and the various directions that you can upgrade the deck and make it your own.

First we gave Faceless Menace a $20 facelift and then we added $20 of goodies to Primal Genesis. Finally we gave Mystic Intellect a $20 brain boost. For this article, we're covering Merciless Ragea Madness deck looking to discard our hand for sweet value. We discard cards to fuel powerful abilities like casting creatures from our graveyard with Chainer, Nightmare Adept, draw cards with Magus of the Wheel, or reanimate all creatures from all graveyards under our control with Grimoire of the Dead. Many of our cards only get more powerful when we discard them, primarily ones with the madness keyword, like Big Game Hunter, which is cheaper to cast when you pay its madness cost. Some cards reward you for discarding other cards, like Bone Miser. And finally, some cards don't mind being discarded at all, making them the perfect discard fodder to fuel our other spells, like Squee, Goblin Nabob. The end result is a unique midrange deck that is aggressive but also loaded with card advantage that can keep it chugging through the lategame.


You might like the deck if ...

  • You want to play a unique, underrepresented archetype
  • You like the idea of turning discard into a benefit
  • You want to play a midrange deck with plenty of lategame options
  • You want a deck that can branch out to many different subthemes

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You want to play a fast deck
  • You want to play a more aggressive deck
  • You're hoping for tons of upgrade options with the Madness keyword (there aren't many left to add)
  • You don't want to branch the deck out to other subthemes

If you like where this deck is going, then great! Let's check out the preconstructed list:

Merciless Rage is heavily focused on its Discard theme. I count 8 ways to discard cards for value, most of them repeatable efficient discard outlets. The majority of the deck is filled with cards that reward you for discarding, including a whopping 19 cards with the madness keyword. This preconstructed deck knows what it wants to do and it does it effectively.

Like all the precons, Merciless Rage comes with multiple potential commanders, each focusing on a different archetype to build around. For this article I will only be talking about Anje Falkenrath. I'll show you how to tune Merciless Rage into a more focused Discard deck, removing cards that don't fit our theme and adding more cards that do. If you're interested in seeing me build around the other commanders in the precon -- Chainer, Nightmare Adept, Greven, Predator Captain, or K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth -- please let me know in the comments section and I may cover them in the future.


Anje's Madness

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Let's cut to the chase here: Anje Falkenrath is the best Madness commander ever printed. She is a Rummaging Goblin, but she has haste so you can rummage with her immediately, and if you discard a card with madness (you don't even need to cast it) you get to untap her and rummage again which is uhhh *checks notes* INSANE! Not only is she a terrific madness enabler, she can also enable some truly degenerate win conditions.

There's a lot of subthemes you can build off of Anje. However, no matter which direction you take her, there's a ton of sweet cards that you'll definitely want to consider. First are cards that reward you for discarding cards. Two of the biggest discard payoffs are Archfiend of Ifnir, which does a fantastic job repeatedly clearing the board of opposing creatures, and Shadow of the Grave, which recurs all the cards you've discarded or cycled this turn. Another great way to turn all our discarding into an advantage is by running Bag of Holding, which is an incredibly cheap way to recur all the cards we've discarded and even is a discard outlet itself. Glint-Horn Buccaneer turns all your discarding into damage and can also rummage when attacking.

Anje Falkenrath is a great and cheap discard outlet, but we can't rely on her entirely to discard our cards. There will be some games where she is killed early and often to the point where it becomes inefficient to recast her. We will need solid backup discard outlets in case she's shut down. The best discard outlets are ones that require little to no mana to activate so we still have mana to pay for madness costs, and they should have useful utility as well. Mask of Memory is one of my favorites for a creature-heavy deck since it's card draw with looting. Azra Oddsmaker is similar enough to the Mask that it's worth running even if it's weaker. Looters like Faithless Looting are cheap enough to loot while still letting us pay madness costs. We can also loot while generating mana with Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion.

That's all generic stuff though. Here's some of the ways you can further build around her:

  • All-In Madness "Storm". You know how I mentioned that Merciless Rage has 19 cards with the madness keyword? Well, there aren't a lot of good ones left to add. The precon was already scraping the bottom of the barrel with ho-hum inclusions like Violent Eruption. But what if we just care about quantity, not quality? After all, Anje Falkenrath can just rummage away any bad cards to find our good cards. We can add garbage Alms of the Vein not to actually cast it, but just to rummage it with Anje, which is almost like playing a deck with 1 less card in it. This all-in strategy would run every single madness card available so you can play Anje and burn through your library, pinging opponents to death with Glint-Horn Buccaneer and Psychosis Crawler or maybe finding some combo pieces to win the game! Of course, this strategy is heavily reliant on Anje not being shut down, but this would be a hilarious a budget-friendly all-in "storm" deck!
  • Madness Vampires. While most of the Madness cards in Rakdos colors aren't great, of the ones that are actually good, most of them are Vampires: Asylum Visitor, Stromkirk Occultist, Anje's Ravager, all of these are highlights of the Madness archetype. And the best madness cards are vampires as well! The best of these being Falkenrath Gorger, which can give all your Vampire creatures madness! You can absolutely combine Madness and Vampire Tribal into a Madness Vampire deck and it's super sweet! Back when Eldritch Moon came out, I wrote an article on this exact concept led by Olivia, Mobilized for War. Unfortunately Edgar Markov was printed shortly after and dominated the Vampire Tribal scene, but I've always been proud of my Madness Vampire article and now the archetype has been given a sweet boost by Merciless Rage!
  • Combo. Most people on various forums seem to be interested in going for a combo route with Anje Falkenrath, with the most popular combo being the Worldgorger Dragon + Animate Dead combo. The way it works is you first put Worldgorger Dragon in the graveyard and Animate Dead it. The Dragon comes back, exiling all your permanents, including Animate Dead. When the enchantment is exiled, the Dragon dies, returning all your exiled permanents including the enchantment, which can reanimate it and cause an infinite loop. All your exiled permanents come back untapped so you can produce infinite mana with your lands and you can rummage infinite times with Anje, finding a finisher like Exsanguinate which you can dump your infinite mana into.

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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 37–13 split
  • 10 sources of "card advantage;" I use this term loosely but am mostly looking for card draw or any spell that nets me 2+ non-land cards in hand / directly into play
  • 6 targeted removal, split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 
  • 1 surprise "I Win" card; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

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 Merciless Rage and how it compares:

Merciless Rage is a weird one. I'm shocked at how little mana the deck has available. Sure, the deck's average cmc is lower than the other precons if you're casting most of the spells with the cheaper madness costs, but only 5 ramp cards? Really? Seems odd.

Other than that, the precon is pretty solid. The card advantage is weird since all your rummaging/looting is actually card draw if you end up casting the discarded card with madness or just getting it back to hand with Squee, Goblin Nabob. There's plenty of removal, even if some of it is niche like Murderous Compulsion since we have more reliable generic stuff like Ob Nixilis Reignited.

The precon is highly reliant on having a super good discard outlet in play at all times. Luckily Anje Falkenrath is the best discard outlet a Madness deck could ever hope for, and she's cheap enough that you can recast her once or twice too. There are plenty of other discard outlets that do an alright job as well in case Anje is shut down.

No matter which direction you want to take Merciless Rage, you absolutely want to overhaul the mana. It needs more ramp. Cards like Mind Stone and Rakdos Signet are no-brainer inclusions. I'd cut two lands and some of the recursion for more ramp.

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Anje Discard Upgrade Options

Here are some of my favorite options under $10ish to shift Merciless Rage into a more powerful and focused Discard deck under Anje Falkenrath:

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$20 Anje Madness Vampire Upgrade

While there are a few different ways to build around Anje Falkenrath, for this $20 upgrade I'm showing how to move the precon towards a Madness Vampire archetype. To tweak Merciless Rage into a more focused Madness Vampire deck we're going to look to make the following tweaks:

  • More ramp
  • More Madness cards
  • Add Vampire support cards

That's what we want to add to the deck. We can safely cut cards that don't match any of the above criteria.

Here are the first cards I'd look to cut. These cards either don't fit our Madness Vampire theme, or they're too weak, or we're just making room for more Madness Vampire cards:

And here are the first cards I'd add on a $20 budget. We've lowered the average converted mana cost of the deck as well as added more ramp so our deck can perform faster. We've added Vampire support cards like Stensia Masquerade, Rakish Heir, and Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, along with Vampires that synergize well with these anthems like Falkenrath Exterminator. On top of our new Vampire package, we've got better recursion and disruption to keep pace with the rest of the table. 

Finally, here's Merciless Rage with the $20 changes made:

Bonus Upgrade: $20 Anje Combo!

After posting this article, I got some criticism that I didn't end up adding the Worldgorger Dragon combo to the $20 upgrade. Some people were happy with the $20 Madness Vampire package, but some of you filthy degenerates wanted that all-in combo plan. This comes right after I got complaints of adding a combo to the $20 Primal Genesis article, proving that you can never please everyone.

Or can you?

To make the "Team WGD Combo" crowd happy, I've added this bonus section showing you how to turn Merciless Rage into a bonafide combo deck with just a mere $20. Now you have the option to turn it into a Madness Vampire or combo deck, up to you!

As explained earlier, the Worldgorger Dragon combo is pretty simple: with the Dragon in your graveyard, target it with either Animate Dead, Dance of the Dead, or Necromancy. When the Dragon enters the battlefield, it exiles all your other permanents, including the aura reanimating it. When the aura is exiled, you sacrifice the Dragon, which goes to the graveyard and all your exiled permanents come back to the battlefield, including the aura which will reanimate the Dragon once more. You can do this infinite times. This means your permanents are entering the battlefield infinite times, so ETB triggers like Gray Merchant of Asphodel can drain infinite life, and your lands keep entering the battlefield untapped so you can float infinite mana and win with a big X spell like Comet Storm. It's reeeeally easy to win once you've achieved the loop.

So first off, let's make room for our combo. These are the first cards I'd cut:

Next, here are the cards I'd add. The core of our combo is Worldgorger Dragon plus either Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead; this takes up the bulk of the $20 budget, and if you plan on spending more money then you'll want to cough up the $9 needed for Necromancy. Once we've established our loop we can win numerous ways, like infinite ETB triggers from Dread Presence / Gray Merchant of Asphodel / Sunscorched Desert, or dump our infinite mana into Cut // Ribbons or Stensia Bloodhall

I've also added a bunch of extra creatures with the madness keyword, like Reckless Wurm. They're not meant to be cast, except for occassionally Muck Drubb, which is a decent way to protect Anje from targeted removal. Their main purpose is to be rummages away by Anje Falkenrath as they are essentially "free" rummages with Anje since she immediately untaps when they are discarded, and doing so digs to our actual important cards like our combo pieces. But they also put creatures in our graveyard which fuels cards like Songs of the Damned for big mana, Garna, the Bloodflame to get them all back to discard again for massive card advantage, and even be an alternate win condition with Twilight's Call!

The rest of the additions are just value: some tutors, some ramp, some removal, the good stuff. This $20 upgrade is certainly stronger than the Madness Vampire route, but it's more all-in on the Combo plan. If you want to take it even further then I recommend adding protection like Pyroblast, more tutors like Doomsday, more fast mana like Mana Crypt, etc. I will also caution you that this version of the deck is VERY linear, VERY all-in, so keep that in mind.

And there you go! A pretty darn solid Combo deck for just $20! Here's how Merciless Rage looks with the changes made:

Three Down, One To Go!

I hope you enjoyed my take on Merciless Rage. Let me know what you think of the upgrade and if there are any sweet cards I may have missed for the deck. I'm off to write about the final precon from the set so I'll see you soon! Thanks for reading!

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