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Budget Commander: $20 Timeless Wisdom (Jeskai Cycling) Commander 2020 Precon Upgrade

Commander 2020 preconstructed decks have arrived, and that means it's time for another round of my most popular articles: the $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.

We start off with my personal favorite deck of the bunch, Timeless Wisdom, a Cycling Control deck looking to discard cards you don't need at the moment to draw into cards you do need. There are plenty of card that reward you for cycling, discarding, and drawing cards: we can blink our own creatures or opposing creatures with Astral Drift, generate treasure tokens and fight stuff with Surly Badgersaur, or summon a swarm of locusts with The Locust God! The deck's goal is to control the board with a wide variety of removal spells, all while drawing more and more cards. Eventually we win with an overwhelming token army (Drake Haven), a big beefed up threat (Shabraz, the Skyshark), or mass reanimation (Herald of the Forgotten).

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You might like the deck if ...

  • You want Cycling deck, and archetype that has never been directly supported before in Commander
  • You love drawing most of your deck each game
  • You want a Control deck that can always find the right answer to a threat
  • You want a precon that has a very focused theme: discarding and drawing cards for value

You might NOT like the deck if ...

  • You want an aggressive deck that tries to win quickly
  • You don't care for tokens and instead want to win with big, beefy creatures
  • You think there's such thing as "enough" card draw
  • You want a dedicated Combo deck

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

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Timeless Wisdom is heavily focused on discarding and drawing cards, with a special emphasis on the cycling mechanics, which does both. I count 31 cards with the cycling (Raugrin Crystal), 14 cards that reward you for cycling (Lightning Rift), and at least 9 more card that reward you for discarding or drawing cards (Psychosis Crawler). While cycling away, Timeless Wisdom has a ton of powerful options to control the board (Descend upon the Sinful). Outside of removal, the deck protects itself with tokens (Drake Haven), which are good blockers that eventually can win you the game once you've reached a critical mass of them.

Like all the precons, Timeless Wisdom comes with multiple potential commanders, each focusing on a different archetype to build around. For this article I will only be talking about Gavi, Nest Warden. I'll show you how to tune Timeless Wisdom into a more focused Cycling 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 new commanders in the precon -- Akim, the Soaring Wind or the partners Brallin, Skyshark Rider & Shabraz, the Skyshark -- please let me know in the comments section and I may cover them in the future.


The Queen of Cycling

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Gavi, Nest Warden is the first ever legendary creature that specifically support the cycling mechanic. And just like last year with Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer and Morph Tribal or Anje Falkenrath and Madness Tribal, when WOTC prints a commander for an archetype that doesn't have the strongest card pool, they push the commander hard to make sure that it can carry the archetype if need be. Gavi, Nest Warden is an absolute powerhouse of a Cycling commander and can kick the archetype into overdrive the moment she enters the battlefield!

Gavi's first and most important ability is letting you pay 0 instead of paying the cycling cost of the first card you cycle each turn. It doesn't matter if the cycling cost is 2 (Rooting Moloch) or 8 (Dismantling Wave), Gavi lets you cycle it for 0, once per turn. In a typical 4-Player FFA game, that's up to four cycling costs being 0 mana each turn cycle, which ends up saving you a TON of mana in no time at all!

Gavi's second ability is a token generator: whenever you draw your second card each turn, Gavi creates a 2/2 Dinosaur Cat token. While not tied specifically to cycling, cycling is a way to draw multiple cards per turn, and a deck like Timeless Wisdom can easily find itself in a situation where you're cycling enough cards to create multiple tokens per turn cycle. These tokens do not have any specific synergy with the Cycling archetype, but they're fine blockers early on in the game and later on they can start generating additional value by attacking (Reconnaissance Mission).

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It's impossible not get value off Gavi's fantastic abilities in a Cycling deck. Just by herself you can generate up to four creature tokens per turn cycle in a typical 4-Player game if you cycle seven cards. But then pair Gavi with any number of cards that care about cycling, discarding, or drawing cards, and suddenly you're mass-blinking creatures with Astral Drift, pinging people to death with Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, generating a huge army with The Locust God, or filling your graveyard for mass reanimation with Herald of the Forgotten!

To take the most advantage of Gavi's cost reduction, however, we can run the super expensive cycling cards that actually do things when cycled. Timeless Wisdom has a few like Dismantling Wave: destroy all enchantments/artifacts and draw a card for 0 mana? Don't mind if I do! But there's other cards we can add to the deck with even more powerful effects when cycling, like countering a spell with Decree of Silence. But the absolute most powerful thing -- and the meanest thing -- you can cycle for free is Decree of Annihilation.

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Unlike Morph Tribal or Madness Tribal, Cycling is actually a pretty deep archetype at this point, especially with both C20 and Ikoria injecting a ton of new cycling cards to flesh out the archetype. The end result is a consistent, powerful deck that is well-suited to grinding out the table over a long game but also can just wipe out the table the moment Gavi hits the field if you cycle the right cards!


Analyzing the Precon

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 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 6 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more 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 Timeless Wisdom and how it compares:

Timeless Wisdom nails a bunch of my deckbuilding checklist straight out of the box! The precon is loaded with mana, card draw, removal, and recursion, and has plenty of ways to end the game once it's gone on long enough. Let's go into a bit more detail:

39 Lands. While 39 lands sounds a tad much, 10 of these lands have cycling, which makes it likely that you'll hit all your land drops without the risk of flooding out, so I think it's the perfect number. The mana-fixing is respectable but not amazing; the best two are Command Tower and Exotic Orchard to give (potentially) all 3 colors you need on an untapped land. 15 lands enter tapped, which can hurt the deck's tempo.

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13 Ramp. The ramp package is a definite highlight of this deck and is a significant improvement from Commander precons of years past. Reliable ramp staples like Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and the guild signets are great to see, and while a bit worse I'm a fan of both Commander's Sphere and Raugrin Crystal here too as they synergize with the deck while mana-fixing. In addition to generic ramp, we allstars that ramp out cycling cards, specifically Gavi, Nest Warden, Fluctuator, and New Perspectives, which are the three most important cards in the entire deck. The only real stinkers are Bonder's Ornament and Cryptic Trilobite, both overcosted and/or lacking much synergy in this deck.

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8 Card Draw. While 31 cards in the deck have cycling, there are only 8 cards that are a net gain in card draw. New Perspectives is the very best here, being both card draw and the single best ramp card in the deck. There are also "meh" cards like Hieroglyphic Illumination that get a big boost in power due to having cycling. Since our deck can produce so many tokens, Reconnaissance Mission can be one of our most powerful card draw options -- and also wow, this is Coastal Piracy, an already great card in Commander, but strictly better thanks to cycling! Overall the card draw package is pretty good, but the number of hand refillers is a bit low for my taste, and some options like Mercurial Chemister are a bit too slow for me.

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12 Targeted Removal. The number of cards that can remove targeted threats is high, but many of them are slow or require significant setup. We do have powerful reliable options like Dismantling Wave or Cast Out, but many others require you to pair them with other cards to do anything, like Surly Badgersaur or Savai Thundermane, and they take quite a bit of cards/mana to take out bigger threats. This section could be better.

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4 Board Wipes. The four board wipes are all fantastic. Three of them have cycling, which adds even more synergy here. Descend stands out as not being a cycler, but in this deck it's easy to reliably activate delirium with all the cycling you're doing. There's room for improvement here like everywhere, but I wouldn't be in a rush to upgrade these board wipes.

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6 Graveyard Recursion. The recursion package is definitely another highlight of the deck. Sun Titan, a format staple that is good pretty much anywhere, is even better here when it's getting back cycled lands (Drifting Meadow). New options like Spellpyre Phoenix are great too, though Ethereal Forager probably wants to be in a deck with more instants/sorceries and a haste enabler. The best of these, however, is Herald of the Forgotten, able to mass reanimate a huge chunk of your graveyard at once, a crazy tempo swing!

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No tutors, no graveyard hate. Not surprising here: the precons pretty much never have any tutoring or graveyard hate. The tutoring I understand: this is an introductory product and tutoring for cards you aren't familiar with sucks. But no graveyard hate, that I don't understand. Pretty much every deck runs some amount of graveyard recursion, including the prcons, and some decks are entirely devoted to Graveyard strategies. Graveyard hate is as important as any other form of removal! I wish WOTC would start adding some to these decks to teach new players how important these cards are.


Cycling Upgrade Options Under $10

Here are my favorite card options to tune Timeless Wisdom into a more focused, more powerful Cycling deck. I'm keeping the options under $10 so we can make a meaningful upgrade instead of just swapping in a single card and calling it a day.

Astral Slide is one of the best staples in any Cycling deck. This innocent looking enchantment staple can wreak havoc on our opponents' creature strategies, repeatedly exiling them so they're never on the battlefield. It's also excellent protection for our own creatures, letting us blink a creature in response to removal. You can take things further by weaving in a Blink subtheme with the deck, leaning heavily on Astral Slide and Astral Drift to get the most out of powerful ETB triggers like Mulldrifter and LTB triggers like Watcher for Tomorrow.

Another great new staple is Unpredictable Cyclone. In a deck focused on cycling as many cards as possible, Cyclone upgrades our mere card draw into casting spells for free, which can be an enormous tempo swing!

Just barely in range of our budget restriction is Alhammarret's Archive. This card is absolutely disgusting with cycling, turning each cycling activation into net card draw since every card we discard to cycle we draw two cards in return! It's a bit on the expensive end, so if you're on a tight budget you can swap it out with Thought Reflection which does the exact same thing in our deck, though the difference between 5cmc and 7cmc is quite significant. Bag of Holding is absurdly good, however, right up there with Archive, and is shockingly still under $1! Easy upgrade!

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How To Lose Friends

Before we jump into the $20 upgrades, a quick disclaimer about the most controversial card inclusions in Gavi, Nest Warden.

Decree of Annihilation is perhaps the single most powerful card you can add to a Gavi deck. Gavi allows you to cycle what is usually a seven mana activation for free, so you could play Gavi and then instantly nuke everyone's lands. However, blowing up everyone's board is only beneficial to you when used properly. You want to nuked everyone's lands when you're ahead on board, or if your opponents have next to no nonland sources for mana while you have some mana rocks on the field: that way your opponents will be unable to cast spells to catch up to you, and you can quickly finish them off before they can recover. This is the best way to use land destruction: as a way to secure victory.

Unfortunately, not everyone uses MLD this way. Instead they will nuke all lands regardless of the game state, even if they're behind or have no threats on the table to follow up with. Instead of securing a victory, random MLD such as this screeches a game to a halt and only serves to annoy the rest of the table. Most Commander players dislike MLD already, but they absolutely despise MLD that isn't used to accomplish anything but "troll" a table.

Another card that deserves mentioning is Decree of Silence. This card shot up to $24 when Gavi, Nest Warden is released so I wouldn't have mentioned it anyway. By itself it's great in the deck since again Gavi can cycle it for free, countering any spell and drawing a card for 0 mana makes it one of the best removal spells in the deck but I wouldn't pick it in my top 5 best cards for the deck and not worth its new inflated price tag. However, pair it with Solemnity and Decree of Silence will never get a depletion counter after countering spell, allowing it to counter all your opponents spells forever, essentially locking them all out of the game. This is a valid win condition in my opinion but again I'll caution that while I'm totally okay with this combo, some Commander players find it "mean" so I would check with your playgroup before jamming it.

The most cutthroat Gavi decks are going to run all three of these cards. In casual groups, however, I would recommend avoiding these cards.

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$20 Gavi Cycling Upgrade

To tweak Timeless Wisdom into a more powerful, focused Cycling deck we're going to make the following swaps:

  • More cycling cards
  • More cycling payoff cards
  • More unconditional removal
  • Add graveyard hate
  • Lower average cmc and faster ramp

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 Cycling theme, or they're too weak, or we're just making room for more Cycling cards:

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And here are the first cards I'd add on a $20 budget. I splurged for Alhammarret's Archive because I think it's so good that it's worth spending half the budget on Archive keeps rising in price so we're replacing it for its worse but significantly cheaper version, Thought Reflection. Astral Slide is here, and we're getting extra value out of it by adding Mulldrifter, Cloudblazer, Watcher for Tomorrow, and Cloud of Faeries as excellent blink targets. Unpredictable Cyclone and Bag of Holding are other huge support cards. We're also fleshing out our cycling package.

EDIT: Prices are currently super volatile as people are picking up upgrades for these decks. The current list is $20 at the time of writing; this is the third time I've had to remake it due to price spikes. Unfortunately I do not expect it to hold at $20 for long.

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Finally, here's Timeless Wisdom with the changes made:

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Bonus Round: $200 Upgrade!

I had already sent off this article + video to be published when I was asked on Twitter if there was going to be a higher budget upgrade for the precons to the tune of $200. And looking back, every single time I do these precons, that's my most requested thing. So you know what? Let's do a bonus quick n' dirty $200 upgrade!

First, here are the cuts from Timeless Upgrade to make room for our upgrades:

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And here's $200 worth of solid upgrades. It's similar to our $20 list, but we're also adding haymakers like Decree of Annihilation, Decree of Silence + Solemnity, Enlightened Tutor to get our important enchantments, and so on. A big chunk of our budget goes to improving our lands, because WOTC keeps the best lands at rare (or mythic!) to keep their prices high so they can use them forever to sell product, hooray!

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One Down, Four To Go!

I hope you enjoyed my take on upgrading Timeless Wisdom into a more powerful, focused deck under Gavi, Nest Warden. We've got four more precons to go and I'm already working on them, so they'll be out soon! Thanks for reading!

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