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Budget Commander: Toshiro Umezawa | Spellslinger Control | $25, $50, $100, $200

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Hey friends, welcome back to Budget Commander, the series where I show you how to build the most optimized decks at the lowest budgets possible. Last article we revisited Kamigawa with a sweet Moonfolk Tribal brew, which reminded me just how much I love this set! So to share more of my love with you, we're going to finally be covering a much-requested commander: Toshiro Umezawa!

Toshiro is a very unique commander. Mono Black supports a few different archetypes -- usually death-related stuff like sacrificing creatures or reanimating them -- but it's incredibly rare for the color to care about instants or sorceries. In fact, there's only a handful of Black cards that even mention instants or sorceries in their card text. So it's a welcome surprise to come across Toshiro Umezawa, a Mono Black commander that cares about instants, letting you cast an instant from your graveyard whenever a creature an opponent controls dies. Toshiro is cheap, with a cmc of only 3, and his pseudo-flashback trigger costs no mana, so not only is he unique, but he's incredibly powerful as well! We're going to build a Mono Black Spellslinger deck!

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As a Spellslinger deck, the biggest challenge to building Toshiro Umezawa isn't due to a weakness of our commander itself, but rather the fact that we don't have access to the traditional Spellslinger support colors: Blue and Red. Blue and Red have a long history caring about instants and sorceries and thus have accumulated a huge pool of Spellslinger support cards, ramping with Baral, Chief of Compliance, generating tokens with Young Pyromancer, and storming off with Thousand-Year Storm. As mentioned previously, however, Mono Black only has a handful of cards that you could count as support of the Spellslinger archetype. We'll need to figure out our own way of making Mono Black Spellslinger work.

But the lack of direct support for Mono Black Spellslinger is a big part of the charm for building a Toshiro Umezawa deck: since we don't have direct Spellslinger support cards to include in our deck, we are forced to be creative and figure out our own path in making our Mono Black Spellslinger deck work. The end result is a Spellslinger deck that is so unique, so different from all the other Spellslinger decks out there, and that fact is just so exciting to me! And make no mistake, friends: Toshiro Umezawa is a powerful commander, and this deck is going to be a powerhouse when properly built! So let's do it: Mono Black Spellslinger!


Our Gameplan

Our gameplan with Toshiro Umezawa is to build a Mono Black Spellslinger Control deck, looking to police the board with a high concentration of removal spells while we advance our own board state. We will be running a high concentration of instants which will do everything including ramp (Dark Ritual), remove threats (Snuff Out), and draw cards (Succumb to Temptation). We aren't looking to cast Toshiro Umezawa early; instead we're going to use him as mid/lategame card advantage engine, letting us efficiently replay instants from our graveyard and grind out our opponents. Eventually, we win by killing our opponents with their own creatures (Thrilling Encore) or with one of our finisher spells (Torment of Hailfire).

You might like this deck if ...

  • You want to play a unique deck that will surprise your friends
  • You want to play a Spellslinger deck 
  • You like killing all the creatures FOR VALUE!
  • You want to play a Control deck

You might NOT like this deck if ...

  • You want to play a more traditional Spellslinger deck
  • You want to play a better supported / higher power ceiling Spellslinger deck
  • You want to play an aggressive deck
  • You love creatures and don't wanna hurt nobody

If you want to play a totally unique Mono Black Spellslinger deck looking to Control the board until you're ready to push your "I Win" button, then Toshiro Umezawa is the right fit for you!

We'll begin by covering all aspects of building the deck, then put it all together with some sample deck lists!

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There's a bunch of generic goodstuff Mono Black lands we can acquire: Bojuka Bog, Cabal Coffers, etc. I also love Snow-Covered Swamps which let us run one of the best board wipes, Dead of Winter, among other snow-related things.

Since our deck is loaded with targeted creature removal, Arcane Lighthouse is one of the best utility lands in the entire deck, allowing us to get around both hexproof (Swiftfoot Boots) and shroud (Lightning Greaves). Another great boon for a Spellslinger deck is Boseiju, Who Shelters All, which protects us from countermagic. Forbidden Orchard is one of the weirdest inclusions since we don't care about the mana-fixing, but giving our opponents creatures actually benefits us since their deaths will give us more Toshiro Umezawa triggers.

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Since we're Mono Black, we have access to all the powerful mana doublers: Cabal Coffers, Crypt Ghast, Magus of the Coffers, etc. These cards scale with the number of Swamps we have, so land ramp like Wayfarer's Bauble is especially strong here.

While I generally don't count rituals as actual ramp, the instant rituals like Dark Ritual are very potent here since we can double dip them with Toshiro Umezawa. Also since we're Spellslinger, Primal Amulet is one of the few support cards we can take advantage of.

My favorite underrated gem has to be Victory Chimes: this deck is loaded with instants and can easily play multiple spells over multiple turns, allowing us to regularly get 2+ mana out of the chimes each turn cycle!

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Card Draw

There's a surprising amount of instant-speed card draw options in Black! Our deck puts a high value on bursty, mana-efficient card draw to keep our hand full of options. Even discarding to hand size is alright because we can always recur them later with Toshiro Umezawa or other cards.

Necrologia is one of the best raw card spells we can run on a budget. It's basically a one-shot Necropotence, without the drawback of exiling our discarded cards, and we can recast it later with Toshiro. 

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As a Control deck, we're going to be running a higher than average number of removal spells to police the board. Creature removal is even more valuable than usual since creature death triggers Toshiro Umezawa.

We have instant-speed answers for any threat, be it creatures (Snuff Out), noncreature permanents (Scour from Existence), or graveyards (Shred Memory). We even have super mean tribal hate with Tsabo's Decree!

My favorite removal spell for this deck has to be Force of Despair. Since we're a Mono Black deck that draws tons of cards, it's easy for us to cast Force for no mana, killing whatever creatures entered the battlefield this turn, allowing us to spend all our mana on Toshiro Umezawa's trigger instead; perhaps a Grim Return or Thrilling Encore!

Discard is an aspect of Black removal that I don't see talked about much in Commander, but in this Mono Black Control deck I've been very impressed with cheap hand disruption like Duress, Thoughtseize, and Mire's Toll. Being able to preemptively deal with problems or weed out countermagic is strong in this deck.

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Recursion / Theft

Black is quite limited in terms of recurring instants. Obviously we have Toshiro Umezawa, which is fantastic, and if you can afford the price tag then Yawgmoth's Will is busted levels of goodness as well. Black's strength lies in creature recursion, but we don't run many of those. No matter: we'll kill our opponents' creatures, recur them, and then kill our opponents with their own cards!

For instants we've got Grim Return and Thrilling Encore to bring newly-dead creatures back to our side. Demon of Dark Schemes and Sepulchral Primordial are nothing short of game-winning bombs in this deck as well.

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Even though this isn't a Combo deck, it's always nice to be able tutor for the right card to deal with whatever situation we find ourselves in. Black is the uncontested best color for tutoring so we have tons of amazing options.

For our deck in particular, we can take advantage of one of the only Spellslinger support cards available to Black, Dark Petition (very loose interpretation of support here). For instants we've got the almighty Vampiric Tutor, and some versions of the deck can take advantage of Entomb, Insidious Dreams, and Mausoleum Secrets as well.

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We aren't running a whole lot of nonland permanents so we're not too worried about opposing removal. However, there's a few permanents we'd rather not be killed, most notably Toshiro Umezawa, so we can run a few ways to protect him and our other handful of important pieces. Undying Evil, Supernatural Stamina, and Imp's Mischief can cheaply protect him from removal. Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho is the coolest way to keep Toshiro safe, at least until someone finds artifact removal.

We can also protect ourselves from countermagic with Boseiju, Who Shelters All and Cavern of Souls.

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Our deck has multiple ways to close out games. The first way is reanimating our opponents' creatures with cards like Thrilling Encore and beating down. Alternatively, as the game progresses we'll generate enough mana with cards like Crypt Ghast that we can cast a lethal X spell like Exsanguinate. Or if you'd like Toshiro to deliver the killing blow, cards like Hatred and Lashwrithe can quickly pump his power into lethal range.

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Deckbuilding Checklist

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 amount of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. This is my general checklist of minimum requirements:

  • 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

The remaining deck slots are filled with whatever cards fit the deck's theme and add to the overall synergy. 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.

Now that we've covered the deck's goal, the cards we're going to building with, and have a check list of cards that we'll need, let's build the sample decks!


$25 List

The first list is currently just $25 USD at the time of writing this. Our Spellslinger Control list is the bane of any creature-heavy deck, absolutely loaded with targeted and mass creature removal. We also have ways to keep Control and Combo decks honest, running a bunch of hand disruption cards. As we're controlling the board we're also ramping and drawing a ton of cards. Eventually we win the game by reanimating our opponents' creatures or pumping up our creatures with equipment to deal lethal damage.

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$50 List

Doubling the budget allows us to make tons of upgrades throughout the deck, including better ramp, better card draw, and better removal. But the most notable improvements are the superior win conditions in this version of the deck, namely Thrilling Encore as the perfect response to a board wipe, and Exsanguinate as a finisher that doesn't rely on our opponents' graveyards.

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$100 List

Doubling our budget again to $100 allows us to make loads more upgrades throughout the deck, mostly replacing cards for similar ones that cost less, like Final Parting turning into Dark Petition and Diabolic Tutor becoming Beseech the Queen. We're also adding more mana doublers like Magus of the Coffers and Cabal Stronghold along with more land ramp like Solemn Simulacrum so we can fuel lethal X spells like Torment of Hailfire.

Our lands are starting to get more varied as well: we've got Arcane Lighthouse now to deal with pesky hexproof/shroud creatures.

I consider the $100 list the sweet spot for Toshiro Umezawa: all the cool commander-specific cards are now in the deck. Upgrading beyond this point is simply a manner of cramming in extra goodstuff cards.

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$200 List

The only changes made from $100 to $200 is adding Cabal Coffers, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Expedition Map and re-adding Diabolic Tutor to find the Coffers combo, Jet Medallion, and upgrading Sepulchral Primordial to Rise of the Dark Realms. Like I said, the core of the deck is already complete somewhere between $50 to $100, and from now on it's just adding the expensive staples.

If you want to take the deck even further you'll eventually add cards like Vampiric Tutor, Demonic Tutor, Ancient Tomb, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, and if you really want to go all-out then Mana Crypt is another big one. Oh, and Thoughtseize! As a Control deck without access to countermagic, Duress has been a huge way for the deck to proactively deal with non-creature threats, and Thoughtseize would be great alongside it!

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That's All, Folks!

This article was a treat to write! Toshiro Umezawa is incredibly unique, but he's also incredibly simple at the same time -- a Control deck looking to win the game with Goodstuff finishers -- and I already had experience playtesting him before choosing to write about him. That meant that this was one of the fastest Budget Commander articles I've ever written from start to finish, taking only about half a day! Yay! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it. 

Toshiro Umezawa was picked due to a request left on the previous article. Let me know what you'd like to see covered in the future and I might end up choosing it! Thanks for reading!

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