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Budget Commander: Tiana, Ship's Caretaker ($50)


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I kinda forgot we were recording last week's Commander Clash until a few hours beforehand. The restriction was thankfully an easy one: build another deck around a Dominaria legendary creature. Still, I wasn't sure what to pick, but I did know I wanted to play something jankier than Jodah, Archmage Eternal. So I did what I always do when I don't know what to play for an upcoming Clash: I asked on Twitter what you wanted to see. After collecting suggestions and running a poll, the vast majority picked ... 

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So I did what I always do with my Twitter polls: ignored the results and picked whatever I felt like playing. In this case, I felt like playing Tiana, Ship's Caretaker. I literally threw the deck together in 30 minutes, expecting my pile of jank to flounder while the cool decks did cool things like drawing cards and then drawing more cards. But to my surprise, Tiana ended up being fun! Most importantly, however, it was I who was drawing the most cards! That's already a win in my book!

I finished the game quite impressed with Tiana, Ship's Caretaker. So impressed, in fact, that I decided to delay my Tatyova, Benthic Druid article and instead dive deep into a spicy Tiana brew! I loathe the card's flavor (her literal job is to take care of Weatherlight but her ability doesn't work with Vehicles!) but I love the deck's potential and hopefully I can convert you into a fan of her as well!

 

All About Auras

Tiana, Ship's Caretaker cares about Auras and Equipment (not Vehicles), returning them back to your hand if they ever go to the graveyard under her watch. This is a neat form of protection against Disenchants. I initially tried to run both an Aura and Equipment theme in the same deck but there's not enough room for both, so instead I recommend sticking with one theme and just dabbling a little bit in the other.

I think Tiana is best suited for an Aura deck since while both are destroyed by removal, Auras are overall more fragile because they often go to the graveyard once the enchanted creature dies, while Equipments stick around even if the equipped creature dies. Not only do Auras hit the graveyard more often, but we also have a few Auras that want to be sacrificed, which lets us abuse Tiana, Ship's Caretaker's ability even more. Plus I've done quite a few Equipment decks already and I don't think I've ever written about Auras, even though I'm familiar with the archetype.

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I've played Aura decks before in the form of Uril, the Miststalker, one of the original boogeymen of Commander, and Bruna, Light of Alabaster, a dominating deck as well. While I enjoy both commanders and can verify that they're quite strong, both are definitely Voltron decks (Bruna feels like a Combo/Voltron hybrid), which isn't my favorite archetype in Commander: Voltron decks are often very linear, winning the exact same way each time, and usually they're either hated out and do nothing or they do their thing and 1-shot people. That's fun for me once or twice but it's not a style of deck I can play multiple times.

Tiana, Ship's Caretaker offers up a different style of Aura deck: instead of encouraging a Voltron/Combo style, she is more of a ... Midrange Shenanigans deck? That's the best short description I can think of. She is not a powerful commander - at least not at the same level of her Voltron siblings - but she's certainly a unique commander, especially in Boros colors, and I find her to be a lot more fun! So if you're looking for a casual, unique, cool synergy deck, Tiana might be for you!

So, what's Tiana all about? Let's find out!

 

Aura Goodies

Aura is a diverse subtype: we've got an Aura for basically anything the deck needs! There's excellent creature removal (Darksteel Mutation), protection (Shielded by Faith), denial (Overwhelming Splendor), beatdown (Eldrazi Conscription), and even ramp (Curse of Opulence)! Tiana, Ship's Caretaker makes these good cards even better by making them harder to get rid of!

There are also some niche cards that are okay on their own but become amazing with Tiana: these are auras that are sacrificed as part of their function. Totem armor (Felidar Umbra) sacrifice themselves to save the enchanted creature from death, which is an excellent way to protect Tiana and your other creatures, and then Tiana returns them to your hand to recast! I'm also quite fond of Mortal Obstinacy and Flamespeaker's Will, which can repeatedly deal with artifacts/enchantments for just one mana.

Here is a list of some of my favorite Auras to run in the deck:

There's some weird choices that require further explanation. Yes, it's a bit of a stretch to call cantrip cards like Angelic Gift "card draw" but you'll see how we recur/replay these types of cards over and over for amazing value later on in the article. Also some of you may know that I consider Lightning Bolt to be a bad card in Commander yet I put Galvanic Arc here; you can actually enchant the target you're going to kill with it, so if Tiana is on the battlefield it goes back to your hand immediately! A repeatable 3 mana Bolt isn't insane but it's actually quite decent at picking off small utility creatures!

 

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Aura Support

Alright, here's where the fun really begins: there is A TON of sweet Aura support to work with! Not only do we have amazing cards that specifically care about Auras (Retether) but we also have cards that care about Enchantments (Ajani's Chosen), which Auras are a subtype of. The vast majority of the support comes from White, but Red has a few neat offerings to the archetype, most notably Valduk, Keeper of the Flame along with Tiana, Ship's Caretaker herself; maybe Red will continue to support Auras+Equipments in the future? Here's hoping!

Here's a list of cards I found that care about Auras / Enchantments specifically. This isn't a complete list and there may be cards that support Auras indirectly that I missed during my research, but it's a good start:

Oh man, look at all those options for recursion, tutoring, and card draw, in friggin' Boros of all colors! Whee!

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Everything Else

While Auras / Aura Support covers most of the things the deck needs, it doesn't cover everything — most notably ramp. There are also a ton of non-Aura cards that are simply better than their Aura equivalents, even in a dedicated Aura deck. Here's a final list of ideas to fill out the deck: a combination of niche cards that indirectly support Auras and also generic goodstuff cards.

We've got an entire mechanic dedicated to niche Aura support with heroic (Akroan Crusader). While not the most powerful cards in Commander on their own, this deck can trigger them pretty reliably, making them interesting choices. The best ones - Akroan Crusader, Vanguard of Brimaz, and Phalanx Leader - lend themselves well to a Go Wide subtheme, which can work with other good Aura/Enchantment cards like Celestial Ancient and Assemble the Legion.

This is far from a complete list of good Boros cards but it gets the ball rolling:

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Budget Tiana Auras ($50)

Alright alright I'll stop rambling and give you the deck list you scrolled down for. The price as of writing this is $48.50 USD; it was initially $40 but I couldn't bring myself to submit a version without Kor Spiritdancer! I'm sorry, but look at the card draw! Look at it! Really though, you can cut Spiritdancer for any cheapo card instead — [[Akroan Crusader] / Assemble the Legion if you want another Go Wide card, or maybe a Emeria Shepherd for sweet recursion. I won't judge.

The deck runs 11 sources of unconditional ramp (Mind Stone) and an additional 3 sources of conditional ramp (Hero of Iroas). We need all this ramp because this deck draws a ton of cards with Kor Spiritdancer, Sram, Senior Edificer, Mesa Enchantressand we're running the cantrip Auras (Pentarch Ward). We keep drawing and drawing! Our cantrip auras don't just fuel our card draw engine but also bulk up cards like Champion of the Flame or fill our entire board with angels thanks to Sigil of the Empty Throne. Things get out of control fast! 

Our win condition is combat damage: we can turn any creature into a game-ender with cards like Ethereal Armor and Helm of the Gods, create a huge army with Valduk, Keeper of the Flame and Sigil of the Empty Throne, or even take nigh-infinite combat steps with Breath of Fury.

The deck is also highly resilient to removal: cards like Umbra Mystic and Gift of Immortality keep our creatures around even through board wipe after board wipe. You'd think mass enchantment removal would be the end of us, but nah: Retether, Open the Vaults, and Crystal Chimes are some of the best ways we can get them all back and keep going.

We certainly have weaknesses, however: I didn't add much graveyard hate into this build. I tossed in a Burn Away, which is amazing and underrated, but that's just a token effort against a Graveyard deck. I'd have added more but I'm in a hurry to get this article done before my trip to Italy and got greedy with all the sweet card draw I put into the deck. But uh yeah, you should always have adequate GY hate. Do as I say don't do as I do, folks!

The deck is obviously also bad against Combo; you can run Curse of Exhaustion to stop some of them but again, won't ever be a decent matchup. Also in the end this deck is still on the casual end, so any competitive deck will steamroll it. Fair warning. We're Tiana, Ship's Caretaker Auras here, not Muldrotha, the Gravetide Breakfast Hulk, after all.

Upgrading. Darksteel Mutation is one of the best ways to deal with opposing commanders. Overwhelming Splendor is a savage way to deal with a Creature deck. Upgrade the lands with Clifftop Retreat, Sacred Foundry, Arid Mesa if you're feeling fiesty. If you're willing to spend some extra dough then you can never go wrong with Imperial Recruiter and Recruiter of the Guard as solid cards to have in your Commander collection. If you laugh in the face of money then go ahead and grab Academy Rector, Replenish, and the most insane of them all, Serra's Sanctum

That's All, Folks!

Three Budget Commanders in three weeks! Not bad, huh? I don't know what I'll be doing yet for future articles: Tatyova, Benthic Druid has been requested a lot, as has Muldrotha, the Gravetide. Also a bunch of people want me to update my ancient articles from way back when. I'll have two weeks in Italy to figure out where to go from here. As always, you can reach me in the comments section below, tweet me @BudgetCommander, or email me at tomer@mtggoldfish.com !


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