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Budget Commander: Phenax, God of Deception ($50 or 7 tix)


 

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It was a tight race, but Phenax, God of Deception snuck his way to victory with 26% of the votes from last week's poll. The unpopular Thada Adel, Acquisitor will be dropped from the next poll and replaced with a new option suggested by a redditor: Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer!

On to Phenax. This god favors Mill, and as a humble devotee it was my duty to oblige the wishes of our Supreme Commander. As I started researching this article I found the task to be much harder than expected — at least at first. There were a few obstacles I had overcome to reach a 99-card list that I would be proud to show you guys. The result is one of the most thematic and satisfying decks I've ever created (Yay!), which led to many enjoyable and interactive games on Magic Online. Let's discuss the fundamentals of Mill in Commander first:

We Don't Need Overpriced Mill Cards

Despite being absent from any established format I could find, the better Mill cards are ludicrously priced for seeing near-zero play. I am completely baffled that a card like Glimpse the Unthinkable is $27! I guess the undocumented kitchen table Magic players have an insatiable lust for Mill and are willing to spend $108 for a playset. The other good Mill cards aren't as expensive, but when we are trying to make a budget deck for $50 or under, it's disheartening to see mediocre Rares and Uncommons in the $3-$9 range.

To our relief, this burden is not an issue when building a Mill deck for Commander! The majority of these "good" Mill cards do not translate well to our format. If Glimpse the Unthinkable is already not a competitive option a 60-card deck setting, imagine how much worse it is in a multiplayer setting with 99-card decks! Almost all the "good" Mill cards do not scale well with the larger libraries and extra opponents of Commander. You don't want to run them!

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Pick Mill Cards That Translate Well To Commander

​As I mentioned, Glimpse the Unthinkable is too weak for Commander. The same can be said for most Mill cards: Mind Funeral, Archive Trap, even Nemesis of Reason.  Now there are some Mill cards that break the mold and do scale well in multiplayer: Consuming Aberration, Mind Grind, and Mindcrank to name a few. They're all still more expensive than they rightfully should be, but we can squeeze the best ones in our $50 budget deck.

The biggest boon to Mill in Commander is the god himself, Phenax, God of Deception. He turns all your creatures into super-efficient Mill cards. Really, you don't need much else! Since Phenax takes care of all your milling needs, you can cram the deck with powerful utility creatures. You're not just milling, you're doing a bunch of useful things in addition to milling, which is the best way to go. Since Phenax spends most of his time on the battlefield as an Indestructible Enchantment, you can rely on him to enable your Mill strategy.

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Control The Graveyards

The final problem with Mill in Commander is the high prevalence of graveyard strategies. Many of the popular commanders happen to be dedicated Graveyard Shenanigan decks, like The Mimeoplasm or Karador, Ghost Chieftain. Even decks that don't focus on abusing the graveyard will run Commander staples like Sun Titan and Eternal Witness for value. As a result milling your opponents will likely benefit them. 

To stop our opponents from benefiting, we need to run cards that deny our opponents access to their graveyards: Nihil Spellbomb and Relic of Progenitus exile entire graveyards. Shred Memory can be cast in response to shenanigans or cycled a tutor. Dimir Doppelganger and Junktroller offer utility on a stick.

Finally, there are two cards in Commander that are the bane to a Mill deck's existence: Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. Both protect their owners from being milled out. For this reason it's crucial you run cards that can exile the two titans from their opponents' libraries. My favorite of the bunch are Sadistic Sacrament and Praetor's Grasp. Even if your opponent doesn't run the Eldrazi, you can remove their combos or snipe a Sol Ring for yourself.

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I Like Big Butts And I Cannot Lie

Phenax, God of Deception has all your milling needs covered. All he wants from you is creatures, preferably with big butts. The bigger the booty, the larger the milling. Everything else is up to you. While you could just jam every Defender creature with a decent butt into your deck and call it a day, we can take it further and add creatures that do more useful things than just chump blocking and milling. Here are some notable synergies:

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Graveyard Shenanigans

Our main win condition involves putting a ton of cards into all graveyards. It would be a shame to let all those sweet cards go to waste. Let's run a bunch of cards that desecrate graveyards for value! Here are some sweet options:

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Winning

Any of the bootylicious cards — Mortivore, Consuming Aberration, Nighthowler, and Bonehoard — can get so big that they either mill someone out with one tap or swing for lethal. We also have Guiltfeeder, which can easily one-shot our opponents in the mid-to-late game. There are similar creature beaters that can get out of control in Mill decks, and I will mention these in the "Upgrades and Fiddly Bits" section near the end of this article. You can also quickly snuff out the competition with a big Mind Grind for X = 10+, especially against Green decks that have spent most of the game land ramping and thinning their deck of lands for you. Oh, and Whispering Madness when you have Sphinx's Tutelage out is downright nasty!

While our deck has no shortage of ways to close out the game, I did sneak some combos into our list. Some of you guys like combos; some of you don't. It's up to you whether you want to keep 'em or toss 'em:

  • Eater of the Dead + Phenax, God of Deception: (1) tap Eater to mill four cards, (2) untap it for free with its ability, (3) repeat until either your opponents are milled out or there are no more creatures to exile. While it's not an infinite combo, it will generally go all the way and end the game.
  • Mindcrank + Duskmantle Guildmage or Bloodchief Ascension: Whenever a card is put from an opponent's library into the graveyard, they lose life. Whenever they lose life, they put cards from their library into their graveyard. Combo!

Again, these combos are not necessary for the deck to win. If you or your playgroup don't like combos, you can swap them out for other cards.

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Put all the pieces together: the disruption, card draw, ramp, sugar, spice, everything nice, and BAM!

 

The Magic Online version of this deck gets a lot of powerful cards to play with, all for less than seven tix:

 

Upgrades And Fiddly Bits:

You really want haste enablers for your creatures. Haste allows you to mill immediately with Phenax, God of Deception or swing with your game-winners, like Guiltfeeder or Consuming Aberration. Therefore, the first upgrade I recommend would be Lightning Greaves, followed by Hall of the Bandit Lord.

Three new Battle for Zendikar cards that I absolutely adore for this deck are Oblivion SowerSire of Stagnation, and the big man himself, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The Sower is one of my favorite cards in general, but specifically in a Mill deck where you're netting an easy 8+ lands after exiling an opponent's graveyard with Nihil Spellbomb or similar. It's so crazy! I love it!

Finally, Intruder Alarm is particularly nasty with Phenax, letting you mill out the rest of the table with a handful of creatures.

As for the rest, it depends on what you're looking to improve:

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Budget Commander: Halloween Special Edition!

Halloween is coming up soon, and it's my favorite holiday. In honor of All Hallow's Eve I've decided to do a special Budget Commander to celebrate the occasion. Vote for your favorite of these three ghoulish commanders, or leave a comment to convince me to do something else entirely! Here are the options:

  • Sedris' Thriller Night: 'Cause this is thriller, thriller night! No one's gonna save you from the zombies about to strike!
  • Spooooky Ghosts: Boo! This Spirit Tribal deck will be filled with spooky surprises and ghastly puns! (not sure about the commander yet, possibly Ghost Council of Orzhova or Brago, King Eternal)
  • The Great Pumpkin: He's finally arrived! The Reaper King has come, and it's bound to be a chilling harvest with the help of his scarecrow friends!

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That's All, Folks!

Follow me on Twitter @BudgetCommander for notifications on when the next article is up, updates on future decks, and input for what to work on next. Thanks for reading!


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