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Budget Commander: Gargos, Vicious Watcher | $25, $50, $100


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After being crushed by Gargos, Vicious Watcher multiple times already -- most notably on Commander Clash -- I've decided to jump in on the fun as well and brew my own version of this Hydra commander. The result exceeded my expectations: Gargos is an underrated powerhouse. He's so good that my $25 deck was holding its ground against ~$500 decks! The combination of a powerful beatstick, repeatable creature removal, and big ramp source, all in one highly mana-efficient package, is just too good to ignore. Here's a quick breakdown on why this commander is so strong:

Big Beats

Gargos is a whopping 8/7 creature. That means he only needs to hit an opponent three times to kill them with 21 lethal commander damage. You only need to boost Gargos' power by 3 for it to 2-shot opponents instead. Vigilance is a fantastic addition here, shutting down a lot of potential counterattacks by your opponents and saving you a ton of life. So far so good!

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Nomnom'ing All Day

Green does a lot of things very well in Commander: they have unquestionably the best ramp out of all the colors, and their card draw, tutors, and artifact/enchantment removal are all top-notch. The only flaw Green still has these days is a lack of efficient creature removal. Gargos, Vicious Watcher completely shores up that weakness! Every time you target a creature you control with a spell -- typically instants like Ranger's Guile, sorceries like Hunter's Prowess, and auras like Rancor -- Gargos fights a creature. And considering Gargos starts as a beefy 8/7, he's big enough to basically nomnom any creature your opponents put in his way. He's repeatable, super mana-efficient creature removal, in a color that struggles at creature removal! That's insane!

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Hail Hydra!

But that's only one part of what makes Gargos, Vicious Watcher great. He also acts as a tremendous ramp source for Hydra spells, giving you a whopping four mana discount on all of them. While Hydras aren't known the be the strongest tribe, there are a few excellent representatives, like Hydra Omnivore and Ulvenwald Hydra, that get significantly better when you're casting them for only GG! These Hydras can fill out our top-end while costing peanuts to cast while Gargos is on the field.

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Beauty in Simplicity

Gargos, Vicious Watcher is a simple deck: you cast Gargos and other big beaters, cast spells that buff your creatures while Gargos nomnoms opposing creatures, and smash your opponents' life totals down to 0. There's no complex combos to memorize, minimal tutoring, your lands are almost all basic Forests, etc. This deck is easier to pick up and play than most of WOTC's official Commander preconstructed decks.

Simple decks are great. Commander is a very complicated format: a typical 4-player FFA game of Commander has four board states to keep track of, double the number of a 1v1 match. Not to mention that it's much harder to properly assess/memorize 100-card singleton decks drawing from an enormous card pool, compared to 40-60 non-singleton decks. This makes Commander very mentally taxing, and can be exhausting if you're playing back-to-back games. Personally, as someone that loves complex jank brews, I end up bringing out a simple deck like Xenagos, God of Revels just to give my brain a little break.

Simple decks are also easy to pick up and play effectively. Memorizing hundreds of intricate synergies, knowing the correct card to search for in any situation with dozens of tutors, all of that requires a lot of game knowledge and a lot of practice. If you don't have a lot of time practicing with a deck, or you want a good deck that friends can borrow, a simple deck like Gargos, Vicious Watcher is the perfect candidate.

Super Budget-Friendly!

It's very rare that I confidently recommend a powerful $25 commander deck. Even when I started writing Budget Commander years ago, when card prices were much lower on average, it was rare that I promote a $25 deck could hold its own against $500+ decks. So it's my great pleasure to announce that Gargos, Vicious Watcher joins that rare $25 club: nearly all the best cards in this deck are under a buck, including Gargos himself. There's definitely room to upgrade the deck, and adding green allstars like Survival of the Fittest and Gaea's Cradle can cause the deck's price to skyrocket, but the humble $25 version punches way higher than its weight.

 

You might like this deck if ...

  • You want a pure green Stompy deck that wins via combat damage
  • You want to play one of the only Mono Green decks that excels at killing creatures
  • You like Hydras
  • You want an ultra budget-friendly deck that can hold its own against much more expensive decks
  • You want a simple deck that is easy to pilot

You might NOT like this deck if ...

  • You don't like attacking with big beefy creatures
  • You want a complex deck with tons of variety
  • You want access to all of the best Hydras (Mono Green misses out on Red/Gruul Hydras)

Want a simple, straightforward beatdown deck that is way stronger than the deck's price tag would suggest? Then Gargos, Vicious Watcher is for you.

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Manabase: Lands & Ramp

First, let's talk about the manabase. As great as Gargos, Vicious Watcher is, 6cmc ain't cheap. Things get even more painful if he dies and you have to start paying the commander tax on top of it. To get Gargos out as quickly as possible and to have enough mana to recast him should he die, we'll need a robust manabase: I recommend having half your deck being devoted to mana, a land: ramp ratio of about 37:13.

Luckily, green is the undisputed king of ramp. All the format staples are here: the best land ramp with cards like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Rampant Growth, the best mana dorks like Llanowar Elves, etc. We also have some amazing ramp options that work particularly well in Mono Green, like Nissa's Pilgrimage, Emerald Medallion, and mana doublers like Nissa, Who Shakes the World.

The best ramp spice for a Gargos deck has to be One With Nature. This card is severely underrated in Commander in general, but it's particularly good here since it triggers Gargos. Just a single trigger makes this card worth it!

The other half of our manabase are lands. While most of your lands will probably be Forests, there's a lot of sweet utility lands to consider. At the low budget range are solid inclusions like Rogue's Passage to give your beaters evasion and Mosswort Bridge for easy card advantage. For a couple bucks there's newcomer Castle Garenbrig for easy ramp and Arcane Lighthouse to let Gargos fight creatures that have hexproof/shroud. And if you're willing to spend more serious dough there's options like Ancient Tomb, Cavern of Souls, Strip Mine, or even Gaea's Cradle for maximum utility/ramp.

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Card Draw

All that ramping means we're going to deploy our hand pretty quick if everything goes as planned. That means we'll need card draw to refill. Luckily for us, green is downright spoiled in excellent card draw options.

Since we're running big beefy creatures, we can take advantage of numerous spells that draw cards based on our creatures' sizes: cards like Rishkar's Expertise, Return of the Wildspeaker, and Garruk, Primal Speaker can provide us with a full hand in an instant (or sorcery). Even better are cards like Hunter's Insight, Hunter's Prowess, and Snake Umbra, which draw cards while also triggering Gargos!

La crème de la crème, however, has to be this masterpiece: Season of Growth. This card is the perfect pairing with Gargos, Vicious Watcher, both of them rewarding us for doing the exact same thing: playing creatures and targeting them with spells! Season is the MVP of the deck and the best card in the 99!

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Removal

Gargos, Vicious Watcher is going to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the creature removal in this deck, but we can't rely on a 6cmc creature to always be around to nomnom stuff. Since we're running lots of beefy hydras, however, we can add additional fight cards like Prey Upon and Titanic Brawl, as well as "fightish" cards like Band Together and Nature's Way. We can even go deep on supporting a Fight subtheme with Foe-Razer Regent and Vigor to gain additional value from fighting!

Green is also very good at killing flying creatures, the most notable in this deck being the hydra Whiptongue Hydra. Green also just picked up an amazing new creature removal spell in Kenrith's Transformation, which is basically a way better Lignify since it draws you a card!

We've got plenty of top-tier artifact/enchantment removal to choose from: Nature's Claim is my absolute favorite, but newcomer Force of Vigor is solid too. If you're low on artifact/enchantments yourself, there's no better option than Bane of Progress. If you want the ability attached to creatures we've got options in Reclamation Sage, Manglehorn, Caustic Caterpillar, etc.

But the greatest two options in Green's arsenal for permanent removal have to be the ultimate silver bullets: Song of the Dryads and Beast Within. Creatures, enchantments, artifacts, lands, it doesn't matter; they're all dealt with!

Don't skimp on graveyard removal either! Graveyard strategies are some of the most powerful and popular archetypes you'll come across in Commander, so you need to be prepared for them just like you would any other deck. Scavenging Ooze or even a simple Tormod's Crypt can do the trick!

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Tutors

Green is really good at tutoring creatures and lands, which is really all this deck needs. While format allstars like Survival of the Fittest are obviously great if you own a copy, there's plenty of cheap tutor options that can do serious work here, like Shared Summons and Uncage the Menagerie.

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Protection

So much of our deck depends on Gargos, Vicious Watcher and (to a lesser extent) our other beefy beatsticks to keep the deck running smoothly. If Gargos and our other finishers repeatedly get killed off, our deck crumbles. To mitigate the risk of our deck falling apart, we need to be running a high number of cheap protection spells to keep our creatures alive.

Green has a robust arsenal to protect our creatures: instant speed hexproof (Blossoming Defense) and indestructible (Withstand Death) are critical to combating creature removal while also triggering Gargos. We've got options to deal with countermagic such as Veil of Summer and the almighty Cavern of Souls if you can afford one. 

Because of how important Gargos is and how many cheap ways we have to protect him, it's sometimes better to delay casting Gargos until you have the mana to both cast and protect him on the same turn. Gargos, Vicious Watcher backed up by a cheap protection spell like Vines of the Vastwood greatly increases the likelihood that he'll survive until next turn, and then your opponents will be in a nasty spot!

Probably the scariest threat for a Gargos deck is Black Graveyard decks that loop sacrifice effects like Plaguecrafter and Animate Dead your own beatsticks to rub them in your face (and kill you, I guess). There's only one card I could find that stops sacrifice effects, Tajuru Preserver, but I think that's a bit too niche. I find that if you're packing a decent amount of graveyard hate -- because of course you are, right? -- then you can slow down a Graveyard deck long enough to take them out.

An allstar in all my Stompy decks is Homeward Path. The card is a bit pricey, but it's a super effective way to shut down any creature theft like Animate Dead and Control Magic, and it only takes a land slot!

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Recursion

Surprise surprise, green is one of the best colors for recursion as well! We have staples like Regrowth and Eternal Witness along with more narrow considerations for this deck like Genesis and Once and Future.

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Beatdown

Drawing cards and blowing up stuff is great, but eventually we need to win the game. While lots of our utility spells like Voracious Hydra and Return of the Wildspeaker can be used to kill opponents in a pinch, some cards are just so good at killing folk that they deserve a spot in the deck on that merit alone.

For Hydras, it's hard to find better than Hydra Omnivore: each opponent takes a minimum of eight damage per swing, yowza! Hydra Broodmaster, Managorger Hydra, Primordial Hydra, and Phyrexian Hydra are all quick kills on their own.

Creature pumps can help us go the distance. Army pumps like End-Raze Forerunners and Overwhelming Stampede can turn even our mana dorks into lethal attackers, while targeted pumps like Aspect of Hydra and Invigorate can help Gargos, Vicious Watcher kill with commander damage. If you go deep on targeted pump, Wild Defiance becomes a sweet addition, as does Precursor Golem.

A lot of Hydras come with +1/+1 Counters. If you develop into a +1/+1 Counter subtheme you get a bunch of sweet payoff cards, including very efficient beatdown cards Kalonion Hydra and Biogenic Upgrade. Speaking of Hydras: if you run a bunch of them with X casting costs, Unbound Flourishing becomes quite sweet.

Haste is important too so we start getting that damage through. Green is fairly limited at granting haste, but we have a very good one with Surrak, the Hunt Caller. Or flash in creatures the end step before your turn with Vivien, Champion of the Wilds and Yeva, Nature's Herald to dodge sorcery-speed removal.

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Putting It All Together

Alright, now that we've gone over the card pool we're working with, it's time to talk about how we craft the deck. 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.

 

$25 List

The first list is a mere $25 but punches way above its weight. This deck starts the game fast, with 14 ramp spells (not counting our commander), 6 of them being a mere 1cmc! To balance out all this ramp we're running I diverse array of card draw including both incremental draw (Ohran Viper) and burst draw (Hunter's Prowess). We are running tons of cards that target out own creatures, which make payoff cards like Season of Growth, Wild Defiance, and of course Gargos, Vicious Watcher allstars in this deck. We are loaded with ways to protect our creatures from removal (Vines of Vastwood), kill opposing creatures (Prey Upon), or lay the smackdown (Rancor). Between Gargos, our pump spells (Overwhelming Stampede), and our big beaters (End-Raze Forerunners), we've got tons of ways to close out the game.

 

$50 List

Everything gets better once we double the deck's budget. Nissa, Who Shakes the World is just an absurd card in Mono Green decks; a one-sided Vernal Bloom is reason enough to run her but those activated abilities are a nice bonus. We've picked up two more fantastic Hydras, Voracious Hydra and Managorger Hydra. I also splurged for Veil of Summer, since the deck is weak against countermagic and an Autumn's Veil that draws a card is just silly. We've also started to add more utility lands like Scavenger Grounds and Mosswort Bridge.

 

$100 List

Everything is the same, but upgraded! Keeper of Fables is now Ohran Frostfang. Wrap in Vigor is now Heroic Intervention. Reclamation Sage is now Steelbane Hydra, which is 10x more awesome because it's a TURTLE HYDRA! The deck is fast, loaded with threats, and has tons of answers. It's very strong at its price point and I'm pleased with how it turned out!

 

Higher Budgets

There's always more room for improvement.

For ramp, Sol Ring, Utopia Sprawl, and Ancient Tomb are all easy inclusions to speed through the early game, and resolving a Traverse the Outlands at the right time will set you up nicely for the rest of the game. The Great Henge is both amazing card draw and ramp. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is particularly great here too.

For beatdown, there's no better single target option than Berserk, simply the most cost-effective way to pump Gargos or another beatstick plus give it trample. The deck even runs plenty of ways to avoid the downside with stuff like Withstand Death and Snake Umbra.

For protection, Cavern of Souls is a freebie protection against countermagic for Gargos. Hall of Gemstone is a great way to slow down 4C and 5C decks and can sometimes deny instant speed answers from your opponents too.

Then there's basic Green staples like Sylvan Library, Worldly Tutor, and if you're throwing money around then Gaea's Cradle and Survival of the Fittest are always absurd.

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That's All, Folks!

I hope you enjoyed this take on Gargos, Vicious Watcher. As always, let me know what you think about the deck and if there's anything I missed or you disagree on; I read all the comments! Also feel free to suggest commanders you'd like me to cover in the future, as I do keep that in mind when choosing future subjects. Thanks for reading!


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