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Budget Commander: Talrand, Sky Summoner


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The Big Guns

I would describe my Commander playgroup as "semi-competitive." We're accepting of any strategy, be it mass land destruction, Stax, or Combo, so long as you are able to win in a timely manner. At the same time, I feel like there's an unspoken rule that keeps our decks at roughly the same power level as each other, which is somewhere between Preconstructed Commander Decks and Top-Tier Turn 4 Combo Decks.

We as a collective tend to avoid the "best" Commanders (Narset, Enlightened Master), and if we do run one of those, they are purposefully "powered down" to stay inline with the rest of the table (Zur the Enchanter). This is what works best for us as a playgroup; it's how we have fun as a group of friends playing a game. Thus, the majority of decks I own are geared towards my personal playgroup.

However, there are rare occasions where I will play in a more cutthroat environment. It may be that my friends want to play their more "serious" decks, or I'm at an event with strangers and the playgroup's desired power level is very high. I'd want to play at their level, but not spend thousands of dollars to do so.

For those occasions, I pull out The Big Guns, aka Talrand, Sky Summoner. Victory tastes even sweeter when I'm defeating their $4,000 decks with a deck worth less than $50!

What makes Talrand, Sky Summoner so fantastic is that he functions as both protection and your primary win condition. He takes all your durdly spells (Blue's favorite thing!) and adds a 2/2 flyer to each one. Cast Ponder, make a drake. Negate a bomb, make a drake. Just keep casting spells and Talrand, Sky Summoner will take care of the rest. After a turn or two with Talrand, Sky Summoner on the board, nobody will be able to attack past your drake squadron. Another couple of turns and your massive drake army has demolished the competition. It's that easy.

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All these amazing cards are even better when they make 2/2 flyers!

 

Turning Junk Into Drakes

Talrand, Sky Summoner is such a great value engine that you could build a decent deck with any random pile of instants and sorceries. He's very modular in that regard. If you wanted to build a functional deck with a $20 budget, look no further. You could almost make the deck for free by picking up draft scraps at your LGS and taking bulk/trash cards off people's hands. Talrand, Sky Summoner will make them all awesome. Cancel now counters a spell and makes a drake. Waterwhirl returns two creatures and makes a drake. Everything is better with drakes! 


Dig through random piles of junk, take the blue instants/sorceries, add Islands, and voila! Talrand deck!

 

The Best at Saying "No"

It's this value engine that also gives Talrand, Sky Summoner the ability to be very competitive. What makes him stand out in comparison to other competitive mono-blue generals, such as Arcum Dagsson or Azami, Lady of Scrolls (other than being significantly less expensive to build!), is that Talrand, Sky Summoner can devote many more card slots to stopping his opponents from winning than the former two.

Arcum Dagsson and Azami, Lady of Scrolls are combo decks, and they devote a lot of card slots to make sure they can combo out quickly and consistently. This means they have less slots available to counter magic, bounce, or other disruption. They want to win faster than their opponents.

Talrand, Sky Summoner is a control deck, and he could literally be the only win condition in your entire deck if you so choose, which means you can run a TON of disruption. He's not in any rush to win. He takes his time, making sure his opponents sit there and plays nice while he plays lands and draws cards. Eventually you'll untap with Talrand, Sky Summoner in play and a fistful of countermagic and bounce, and in truth the game is over, even if he technically hasn't won yet. Slowly but surely, his drake army increases in size, and any futile attempt to stop him is met with a single word: No.  It's a Blue Control player's dream come true!

 

How It Plays

This is a Blue Control deck. You play your lands and say "go." Then you either allow or deny your opponent's shenanigans as you see fit.

Do not try to play Talrand, Sky Summoner quickly. If you tap out to play him turn 4, the worst case is he will die before you get any value out of him because you don't have counter magic to protect him, and the best case he will live and then the entire table will be gunning for you because he's a drake factory and you are not ready to handle 3+ opponents hating on you.

Take it slow. Try to be a friendly police officer. Counter the bombs, apologizing for it but explaining that if you didn't stop it then the game would've been over. The table will tolerate moderate levels of policing if you can justify it. Hell, they may even thank you for it!

The trick with Blue Control is to know what to counter and what to let slide. That's by far the hardest part of the deck, and it all comes down to threat assessment. Counter threats that you can't efficiently deal with if they resolve, and let everything else pass. Savvy players will try and bait out counter magic from you before playing the spells they really want to resolve, so you must learn to ration your answers but at the same time not allow game-winning cards to resolve if you can't deal with them later. 

DON'T counter ramp cards (Kodama's Reach), single-use tutors (Demonic Tutor), random fatty creatures that don't have a threatening enter-the-battlefield trigger and can't attack through your drakes (Wurmcoil Engine), or anything you can deal with using a bounce spell already in your hand

DO counter fatties that can't be chumped blocked by drakes (Blightsteel Colossus) if you don't have creature removal in hand, cards that make future counter magic a pain to cast (Hall of Gemstone), anything that generates excessive amounts of card advantage (Greater Good), or any card that you know has a tendency to win games in short order (Prophet of Kruphix). 

Talrand, Sky Summoner himself can die once or twice if you need to save a counterspell for a future threat. The only thing that you can't allow is getting tucked (Oblation), since Blue has very few creature tutors available to get him back. That's another reason why I advocate only casting him only when you're good and ready.

 

Lands

As Blue Control, you'll want to consistently hit your land drops each turn so you'll eventually be able to cast multiple things each turn. This means you'll want 38 lands minimum. You really want to shoot for 40. I say this because I know the vast majority of Commander players have a tendency of running far too few lands because it's emotionally harder to cut cool spells from your deck. I know, I've been there too, but it's a habit that must be corrected. You'll thank me later.

Don't be too worried about land flooding. Talrand, Sky Summoner decks usually pack a lot of cantrips that can dig through the top of the library for gas. You'd much rather be looking for spells than looking for lands with these cards.

Once you've locked in ~40 land slots into your deck, it's time to choose which lands will go in! The majority will be Islands, obviously, but there's a good selection of utility lands with a range of abilities. Add Arcane Lighthouse if you're facing hexproof nuisances (Narset, Enlightened Master), Strip Mine to deal with pesky lands (Cabal Coffers), and whatever else you need.

Options include: Arcane Lighthouse, Lonely Sandbar, Remote Isle, Myriad Landscape, Reliquary Tower, Strip Mine, Tectonic Edge, Tolaria West, Terrain Generator

Much can be said about my love of Myriad Landscape. Having a colorless Rampant Growth that only takes up a land slot is a thing of beauty. Run it, love it.

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Ramp

Like all non-green decks, Blue has to rely on artifacts to get ahead in mana. You want to focus primarily on ramp cards that give you blue mana, as many of the best cards available have a heavy blue casting cost. Cards like Thran Dynamo are worse in this deck for that reason. Many powerful cards also care about how many Islands you have in play, so ramp that fetches those are preferable.

Options include: Myriad Landscape, Terrain Generator, Wayfarer's Bauble, Coldsteel Heart, Sky Diamond, Sol Ring, Sapphire Medallion, Extraplanar Lens, Caged Sun, Gauntlet of Power, Burnished Hart, Mind Stone, Worn Powerstone

Surveyor's Scope is severely underused but shines brightly in Talrand, Sky Summoner decks. It's likely to be a Rampant Growth all by itself because any Green decks at the table will be ramping their lands ahead of you, but it gets particularly great when you combine it with cards like Gush, Thwart, Extraplanar Lens, Deprive; activating it in response to your own Myriad Landscape activation; or simply after using Strip Mine or Tectonic Edge. Getting 2-3 Islands off this baby is perfectly doable.

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Counter Magic

How many counterspells you run depends on your playgroup and how powerful/annoying you want your deck to be. If you're playing against cutthroat combo decks that look to win by turn 4, then you want tons of counterspells. If you're playing against more casual decks that play less broken things and/or slower, you can run just a few.

In terms of choosing how many of each type of counterspell to run, a good rule of thumb is: Free (Foil) > Cheap + Versatile (Counterspell) > Cheap (Negate) > Situationally Great (Hinder) > Expensive Bomb (Desertion)

You'll want all the "free counterspells you can get your hands on, but only a couple Expensive Bombs.

Options include: Arcane Denial, Commandeer, Counterspell, Desertion, Disdainful Stroke, Dismiss, Dissipate, Essence Scatter, Exclude, Foil, Forbid, Gather Specimens, Muddle the Mixture, Negate, Overwhelming Intellect, Spell Crumple, Spell Pierce, Spelljack, Swan Song, Thwart, Abjure, Deprive, Hinder, Mana Leak, Miscalculation, Trickbind

Interdict is a neat little card I've recently come across. It's essentially Stifle that costs 1 more but draws you a card. I feel they're about the same power level in multiplayer, with Interdict being a whole lot cheaper to purchase.

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Removal / Bounce

You can't counter everything (nor should you), but you should be packing tools for dealing with pesky permanents. Some of them should be cheap targeted removal (Pongify), or big ol' board wipes (Cyclonic Rift).

Options include: Capsize, Cyclonic Rift, Domineering Will, Evacuation, Into the Roil, Pongify, Rapid Hybridization, Curse of the Swine, Devastation Tide, Oblivion Stone, Perilous Vault, Aetherspouts, Polymorphist's Jest, Nevinyrral's Disk, Perilous Vault, Fade Away

Domineering Will is another super fun addition from Commander 2014. It's situational removal that can kill multiple pesky creatures and it's rather easy to pull off in practice because you get to untap the newly elected blockers and your opponent doesn't even need to attack you in order to pull this off.

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Card Draw / Cantrips / Tutors

You'll need card draw to keep your hand filled with fun stuff. Preferably instant speed draw, so you can still keep up counter magic.

Cantrips and tutors help as well, making sure that you draw what you need at the appropriate time.

Options include: Dig Through Time, Fact or Fiction, Gush, Impulse, Jace's Ingenuity, Muddle the Mixture, Opportunity, Overhwelming Intellect, Stroke of Genius, Blue Sun's Zenith, Think Twice, Ponder, Preordain, Serum Visions, Peek, Gitaxian Probe, Mystic Remora, Rhystic Study, Sphinx of Uthuun, Predict, Brainstorm, Quicken, Merchant Scroll, Fabricate, Expedition Map, Recurring Insight, Bident of Thassa, Coastal Piracy

Have I told you how much I love Mystic Remora? I haven't?! Well, let's just say that I run this sucker in every single Blue deck I build with no regrets. This is probably the single most underrated card in Commander. Unlike Rhystic Study nobody is going to pay 4 to stop you from drawing a card. And draw cards you will, good sir! For the price of, oh, ~3 mana over 3 turns, you'll be drawing 4+ cards easily. It's just such good value! So much value! Argh, just run it!

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Polymorph Package

If there's one neat "combo" that Talrand, Sky Summoner does well, it's setting up a sweet Polymorph. Turn a drake token into Sphinx of Uthuun! The best "polymorph" is Proteus Staf, which is repeatable and can be used to tuck opposing commanders. 

Options include: Polymorph, Proteus Staff, Reweave, Mass Polymorph

To really abuse this strategy, run only a few creatures in your deck, each one being a powerful target to cheat into play.

My some of my favorite budget bombs to cheat into play are: Diluvian Primordial, Sphinx of Uthuun, Scourge of Fleets, Tidespout Tyrant, Stormtide Leviathan, Sphinx Ambassasdor, Guile, Windreader Sphinx

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Bombs and Other Things

Some counter spells can turn into game-winning bombs in the right situation. Taking control of the right spell with Desertion, Spelljack, Gather Specimens, or Commandeer will lead to a surprise victory.

This is one of the few places where Isochron Scepter can shine, and boy is it good when you've got enough cheap instants! Anything you imprint is sure to be amazing, from Arcane Denial to Impulse.

Blatant Thievery can win games all on its own. Stealing 3+ of the best things in play is backbreaking.

Rite of Replication is another classic. Good at 4-mana and a finisher when kicked.

Stolen Identity truly shines in Talrand, Sky Summoner decks. You run the counter magic to protect your encoded creature to keep getting value out of it, and each time you trigger cipher you're casting a spell, which means another drake for you! Similarly, Hidden Strings is actually quite good here, as it makes drakes while usually untapping 2 lands, kind of like spell ramp each turn.

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Avoid "Win More" Cards

Cards that read, "if you have an army of drakes already in play, this card is good!" should be avoided. By the time you've reached that board state you should already be winning, and if you aren't in that situation then these cards are doing nothing for you. Gravitational Shift and Favorable Winds are two examples of "win more" cards that aren't worth running. Having 2/2 drakes turn into 3/3's doesn't really matter at best, or is useless at worst.

One exception to this could be Coat of Arms, simply because it's such an explosive card and can turn a handful of drakes into monstrosities that can immediately swing for lethal in most cases.

 

Deck Lists

Now on to deck lists! Some of you guys were confused about my lists in last articles. I post two separate deck lists, one for Cardboard and one for MTGO. This is because there's a huge price variation between the two mediums. They are posted one after the other.

The cardboard version's price is currently $45.91 at the time that I'm typing this, while the MTGO version is $11.01. If these prices aren't matching up to the list that you're looking at, you're looking at the wrong list! Scroll up/down!

 

Cardboard List:

 

MTGO List:

 

Upgrading and Fiddly Bits:

As I've already mentioned, Talrand, Sky Summoner is very modular. Set up a list and then tweak it based on playtesting until you get the right amount of ramp, bounce, counter magic, card draw, removal, etc. Figure out what your personal metagame is like and run the cards that thrive in that specific environment — or just cram in whatever blue instants/sorceries you have on hand and go to town, up to you!

In terms of upgrades, consider these:

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Combo?

Talrand, Sky Summoner isn't the best combo general, but you might still be interested in putting a combo or two in your deck.

All the combos that I can think of involve Deadeye Navigator + a way to untap all your lands + a finisher.

For example, you could combo with Deadeye Navigator + Palinchron + Altar of the Brood. This infinite blink combo mills out all your opponents at once. Alternatively, replace Altar of the Brood with Stroke of Genius and you can use the infinite mana you generate to force one opponent to draw himself to death. You can also replace Palinchron with Archaeomancer + Turnabout for the same result.

Personally, I don't run the above combo since I'm content with using Polymorph to hit a Consecrated Sphinx or something similar. I'm not entirely convinced that going for a combo instead would be better. But if you know of any better combos with Talrand, Sky Summoner, please leave me a comment!

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That's all, folks!

Hope you guys enjoyed this Budget Commander article. If you'd like me to write about a particular commander or theme, leave me a comment and I may cover it in a future article. Thank you for reading!


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