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Budget Commander: Tribal Elephants ($81)

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Welcome to Budget Commander! Now that the dust has settled, I can crown the winner of last week's poll: Tribal Elephants! It was a close race between Bears and Elephants, but in the end Elephants took it by 66 votes. I think this worked out for the best, since people who voted for Tribal Bears can still see a version of that deck in action from the last Commander Clash episode. Thank you to the 1700+ people who voted!

Elephants are a super janky tribe. Most of the Elephants available to us are bad, and there's only a single card ever printed that actually supports Elephants as a tribe. The only Elephant-related cards that I see with some regularity in Commander games would be Terastodon and Loxodon Warhammer. There are, however, a large pool of Elephant cards available, enough to fill an entire deck with them if you wish. The deck would be awful, but it's doable! 

So the question for writing this article is, "How janky should we go with this?" Do we cram every single Elephant-themed card into the deck and call it a day? Or do we try to optimize the deck as much as possible, pushing the "Elephant" part of the deck as a secondary, incidental focus? I decided to go with something in-between these two extremes, but leaning more on the "super jank" side. I want to run a ton of Elephants in the deck, but at the same time I also want to give the deck some focus so the deck would be enjoyable to play. I ended up cutting some Elephants to make room for basic deck necessities such as ramp, card draw, and interaction.

The first step to making Tribal Elephants was picking colors. Almost all the Elephant cards are either Green or White. There's only five Elephant cards outside of those colors. I ended up sticking with Selesnya so I could run Selvala, Explorer Returned as the commander. She offers ramp and card draw that the deck desperately needs, plus she's a friend of Elephants, as shown in Selvala's Charge.

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Luring Elephants

Most of the Elephants have few, if any, abilities to build around. The vast majority of them are vanilla 3/3's, with trample as their only keyword. That's about it. However, there are a handful of Elephants that share a similar blocking-related ability: Rampant Elephant, Trumpeting Armodon, Avalanche Tusker, and Rabid Elephant. It's not a lot, but it's something to riff off of! How about a deck that forces opposing creatures to block?

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So now we've got a game plan. Lure our opponent's creatures into blocking our Elephants, then blow them out. We have a few cool ways of making the combat work in our favor, with possibly the coolest interaction being the combination of deathtouch and trample. An attacking creature with trample only needs to assign the minimum amount of lethal damage to a blocking creature. Since 1 damage from a creature with deathtouch is considered lethal, a creature with deathtouch and trample could assign just 1 point of damage to each blocker and then the rest to the player. Neat!

Here are some notable cards to support the Lure theme:

Forcing multiple blockers on your Elephant equipped with an Infiltration Lens is sweet value!

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Tribal Support

There is only a single card ever printed that specifically supports Elephants: Elephant Graveyard. At $33, it's the sole reason why this budget article is way over its usual ~$50 range, but if you're going for Tribal Elephants, this land is a must. Regenerating our Elephants is always a great thing to have, but especially good if we're going for a Lure subtheme.

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We also run some staple generic tribal support cards. Urza's IncubatorCryptic Gateway, and Belbe's Portal are excellent ways to skimp on mana costs, especially since the vast majority of Elephants sit in the 4-5 casting costing range. Coat of Arms and Door of Destinies are great ways to get our Elephants large enough to win the game. There's also Obelisk of Urd, but I prefer that card for tribal decks that can swarm the board quickly, which Elephants are slow to do.

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Budget Decklist

That's pretty much it for the deck! It's a bunch of Elephant-themed cards, some tribal support cards, a lure subtheme, and a bit of ramp / card draw / interaction to give it a shot at doing something meaningful in a game. I count 43 Elephant-themed cards in the deck:


Upgrades and Fiddly Bits?

I didn't leave out any Elephant-themed cards due to price. The only upgrades left for the deck are irrelephant to the deck's main theme. It's just the usual good stuff cards any Commander deck will want. Savannah, Temple Garden, fetchlands, Worldly Tutor, Sylvan Tutor, Enlightened Tutor, Green Sun's Zenith, Land Tax, yadayada. Making the deck "better" inevitably means cutting back on the janky Elephants (aka 99% of them) and replacing them with boring good cards, which defeats the point! So no upgraded decklist from me this time.


Vote for the next Budget Commander!

Some of you pointed out that I still owe you Zurgo Helmsmasher from a while back. I built a version that I ultimately wasn't satisfied with, so I've put that article on hold until I come up with something I'd be happy sharing with you. I haven't forgotten; I will get that article out!

For the next poll, we're bringing back some popular choices from previous polls, along with new options:

  • Jhoira Dragonstorm. A deck led by Jhoira of the Ghitu whose sole purpose is to play all the dragons with Dragonstorm.
  • Tribal Vampires. The bloodsuckers were a popular option last poll but ultimately didn't win. Will this be their redemption? 
  • Tribal Werewolves. Another popular option from last poll that fell short. Maybe this time!
  • Coin Flips. Winning is as easy as flipping a coin. Krark's Thumb and Chance Encounter will definitely be involved.
  • Mishra, Artificer Prodigy. How the heck does this guy even work in a singleton format? I'll show you!

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