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The Big Budget Commander Update: Part 2 (Gahiji, Melek, Brago)

I started writing Budget Commander articles for this site over four years ago. My articles are still good, but they're old. Outdated. The budget decks are no longer the original prices I set for them and there's been hundreds of new card options released to possibly add to them. It's time to update those old lists and make them shiny n' fresh again!

We pick up where we left off from Part 1. Let's go!


Gahiji, Honored One

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A Brief History. My two most hated archetypes in Commander are random Group Hug and Chaos decks, the ones that randomly and indiscriminately alter the game with all the free/swapped resources being passed around, playing Kingmaker as someone will always benefit more than others from the chaos and win the game because of it. Random Group Hug / Chaos are similar to Stax in that you're not allowed to play a normal game of Commander and the winner is randomly determined based on who benefitted the most from the chaos. I hate you so much, Phelddagrif.

One of my favorite archetypes, however, are "Group Hug" decks where the "Hug" is controlled instead of random, and you always come up ahead when giving out the "Hugs:" cards like Tempt with Discovery and Volcanic Offering exemplify this style perfectly - I'll give you something, but I always get more out of the deal. I call this archetype simply "Politics." Thankfully, it seems like the people designing multiplayer products like the Commander series, Conspiracy, and Battlebond prefer Politics over indiscriminate Group Hug as well and each multiplayer set comes with more of these political cards. In fact, Gahiji, Honored One was one of the first of these Political commanders printed for the format!

Playstyle. Gahiji, Honored One gives both you and your opponents a sweet damage boost for attacking anyone that isn't you. It's a great incentive both not to attack you but also gives your opponents the nudge they need to go kill themselves, hooray! It's difficult to quantify how powerful the effect is, but in actual play Gahiji ends up saving you a ton of life while also indirectly (and directly) dishing out a ton of extra damage.

The way I built Gahiji was a mish-mash of Politics and Tokens: the game plan is to give yourself and your opponents token armies and then give them incentives to attack your opponents with them. Basically you have your opponents do the dirty work for you, but you also can easily close out games yourself.

Is he still good? Yup! Of the Politics commanders that I can think of, Gahiji, Honored One remains the best candidate for the Tokens strategy. Two other strong Political options, Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, are better in their own ways but Gahiji remains the best in his own specific niche.


The Old List

The old list's game plan is to set up defenses with a combination of pillowfort (Ghostly Prison), rattlesnakes (Seal of Cleansing), and building an army (Benevolent Offering). Once we can't be attacked we can supply the board with armies (Sylvan Offering) and nudge everyone to attack (Fumiko the Lowblood). We eventually close out the game with typical Go Wide finishers (Beastmaster Ascension).

Some of our best cards unfortunately hit a price spike (Cathars' Crusade, Tempt with Vengeance) so they'll need to be replaced. On the other hand, we've picked up a lot of sweet options for the deck, including obvious card draw staple Camaraderie, powerful political beatdowns with Regna's Sanction, and a whole bunch more!

New Inclusions. 

Updated Budget Gahiji

It was easy to match the previous budget of $53. In fact, I just went for a clean $50 instead:

The deck keeps the Political Tokens goal: establish defenses, control the board, build a token army, and then win. We have new ways to bribe our opponents into not attacking us (Orzhov Advokist) or stop them from hitting us at all Sandwurm Convergence. We have powerful and sinister ways to "help" our opponents by giving them tokens (Varchild, Betrayer of Keld), usually at the cost of destroying their important stuff (Rampage of the Clans). Once we're in a good spot with a nice big token army, we can close out the games with any number of new ways like End-Raze Forerunners or Regna's Sanction. Overall I'd say this is a definite improvement over the old list.

Upgrading. Of the new cards not included due to budget I'd say Shalai, Voice of Plenty, Tendershoot Dryad, Teferi's Protection, Heroic Intervention, and Anointed Procession would be my top pickups. The manabase can be improved as well by running all the Forest dual lands and then replacing the ramp with cards like Wood Elves and Skyshroud's Claim.

Here's what the deck looks like when we increase the budget to $150:

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Melek, Izzet Paragon

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A Brief History. While the Izzet color pair has long been established as the instant/sorcery aka Spellslinger guild, we never had an official Izzet Spellslinger commander until Melek, Izzet Paragon came along in Dragon's Maze. Before then, if you wanted to play an "Izzet" commander that cared about instants/sorceries, your only option was Riku of Two Reflections, which is great and everything but didn't quite scratch that Izzet Spellslinger itch that people like myself were having. Then BOOM! Melek arrived, and it just made sense: Izzet were about Spellslingers, and their commanders started to reflect that.

Playstyle. Only a year earlier to Melek's debut, we got a Blue Spellslinger option with Talrand, Sky Summoner, which I absolutely love and covered in Part 1 of this series. While Talrand promotes a Spellslinger Control style of play, summoning chump blockers while you slowly grind out your opponents with card advantage until you reach a critical mass to win, Melek is the Spellslinger equivalent of a stick of dynamite just waiting to explode in one glorious turn. When he's on the battlefield, not only are you benefiting from immense card advantage from casting off the top of your library, but you also get double value off every instant/sorcery you cast this way, which just gets absurd fast: your cantrips like Ponder now are card advantage, your Mana Geysers and High Tides create all the mana you could possibly need, and your finishers like Comet Storm are twice as deadly. Built right, a Melek deck just wins the game if you get to untap with him on the field. You cast a TON of spells, draw a TON of cards, cast even MORE spells, and then finish your opponent all at once!

Is he still good? When Melek, Izzet Paragon arrived on the scene, I believe he was a top Spellslinger commander, better than Riku of Two Reflections and up there with Talrand, Sky Summoner in power level. However, as the years went by, creature power levels continue to creep, and more Izzet Spellslinger options pop up, I think ol' Melek has started to fall behind. Melek's greatest weakness has always been that he's a mana-hungry 6CMC commander with no inherent protection to removal, making it difficult to get good value from him before he's shut down. With the introduction of Mizzix of the Izmagnus, Niv-Mizzet, Parun, and Kess, Dissident Mage (if you're okay going Grixis), it's pretty obvious that Melek is no longer a top Spellslinger commander.

That's not to say Melek is bad! The potential for huge explosive turns is still there; it's just that nowadays we have more consistent Spellslinger commander options. But if you care not for consistency and just want to double up on your Epic Experiments, then this Weird is for you!


The Old List

The original list is all about setting up that "I win" turn. The early game is devoted to ramping while stopping opponents from attacking your meager board with token generators like Talrand, Sky Summoner and board wipes like Blasphemous Act. Once we had plenty of mana available to us and a full grip of cards, we drop Melek and get ready to start slinging tons of spells, eventually finishing with a Mind's Desire / Ignoite Memories, Comet Storm, an army of tokens, or even Guttersnipe damage.

New Inclusions. 

Updated Budget Melek

The original list was $45. The new starting list is only $38. We lose access to our best setups for Melek's ability: Ponder, Preordain, Serum Visions, and Soothsaying (was dirt cheap back then but since ballooned in price). We also lose access to some of the best spot removal for the deck, aka Pongify / Rapid Hybridization / Reality Shift. But we pick up a lot of powerhouse cards for the deck like Bonus Round and The Mirari Conjecture which are PERFECT for when we want to storm off and Docent of Perfection as amazing token generation. I've also improved as a deckbuilder since then, and using hindsight I've cut out the cute cards that didn't work, added some much-needed protection with Vanishing and Neurok Stealthsuit, and sped up the deck overall.

Increasing the budget to $131 I've tightened up the manabase with better lands and sweet Spellslinger ramp like Primal Amulet. Since we're having fun storming off, I couldn't resist throwing in Thousand-Year Storm for funsies, and we also added the best "Storm" card with Aetherflux Reservoir. Even if we don't storm off, we can still beat down with our creatures, now adding Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

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Brago, King Eternal

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A Brief History. The Blink archetype has been around for a long time in various formats: Flickerwisp has been played ever since it was printed, and one of my favorite Pauper decks way back in the day was all about drawing extra cards off Mulldrifter with Momentary Blink. The archetype is all about playing permanents with powerful ETB effects (Shriekmaw) and bouncing/blinking them (Cloudshift) to re-use the trigger; the archetype is all about durdling and grinding out value. Blink has been a popular archetype since Commander's inception as well: when the format was still called Elder Dragon Highlander, you'd see Blink decks piloted under Dromar, the Banisher and later non-Dragon options such as Rasputin Dreamweaver. Later when Commander 2013 came out, we got our first "official" Blink commander with Roon of the Hidden Realm, and boy was he fun! You had a repeatable Blink engine in your command zone and access to three colors worth of ETB creatures to work with! Blink players were quite happy blinking Eternal Witness and Mulldrifter turn after turn.

But the Blink archetype truly went bananas one year later when Conspiracy was released and the rightful King of Blink arrived to take his throne: Brago, King Eternal was everything a Blink player could hope for and more. While he only gives access to two colors, he's cheaper than Roon, he has no limit of how many permanents he can blink, and he can blink noncreature permanents as well! HOLY MOLY! Brago is drawing two cards off Mulldrifter, detaining with Lavinia of the Tenth, untapping your Mana Vault, and killing a permanent with Reality Acid -- all in one combat step! It's absurd, unparalled value, making him unquestionably the best Blink commander, long may he reign!

Playstyle. All Blink decks are about grinding out (relatively) slow incremental value and burying opponents in card advantage. To drag the game long enough to pull this off, Brago decks are often either playing Control and/or Stax to slow down the opposition so you can get ahead. If Brago, King Eternal is allowed to blink a full board of tasty targets once, twice, three times, the game is basically over.

Is he still good? He's not just good, he's great! Even with the new inclusion of Aminatou, the Fateshifter to potential Blink commanders, Brago, King Eternal remains the undisputed King of Blink.


The Old List

This old list was only $37 at the time of its creation and it's a beast: lots of cards that want to be blinked, lots of grindy card advantage, and even some Stax -- a $37 deck could lock people out with Stasis! Stasis!!! I'm really proud of this list in hindsight and I'm excited to see what new cards we can bring to the deck.

For new cards, obviously the best of the best is Panharmonicon, which doubles the value of all our ETB triggers and gets absurd fast. Boreas Charger is another amazing pickup that seems tailor-made for our deck, since its powerful ramp ability is triggered when it leaves the battlefield, so it's a perfect candidate to blink. My favorite low-key new addition has to be Curator's Ward, since the way it's worded we can enchant a historic permanent like Brago, King Eternal and when we bounce it + the enchanted permanent, we draw 2 cards! It's great protection for Brago and amazing card draw rolled up in one card.

New Inclusions. 

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Updated Brago

Of the six decks I've updated so far, this Brago list was the hardest to stick to the original budget. A lot of the original list's power came from the combination of mana rocks + Static Orb / Stasis, and all those cards have ballooned in price -- hell, even Mulldrifter is now $1.20! It's honestly insane that I managed to build such a powerful deck for only $37 back then. You simply can't replicate that at the same price point anymore.

The new cheap list is currently $38, close to the original price. We lost some of the better mana rocks and most of our Stax package, with the exception of new addition Fall of the Thran which is definitely the worst Stax card option but still can be very effective in the deck. On the plus side, our card draw has gotten even better thanks to Cloudblazer and Trial of Knowledge, Curator's Ward is an MVP for both protection and card draw, and we got other great upgrades like Coveted Jewel, Lumbering Battlement, Boreas Charger, Dusk // Dawn, and Eerie Interlude which all can do incredible work in this deck. Overall this deck is less powerful than the original Stax version, but it's more consistent, and if you or your group don't like Stax then this is a no-brainer better choice to run with.

The second list is a mean ol' Stax list. The price point is much higher at $297 and includes just about every card I'd want to add under $25, dipping our big toe into a Competitive Brago version without actually taking the plunge and throwing around wads of cash for things like Mana Crypt. This version is much faster, with way better mana rocks so we can have a speedy start and then slam down a Stax piece like Stasis so our opponents can't catch up. Having flexible tutors like Enlightened Tutor and Recruiter of the Guard means we don't have to run as many redundant cards.

There's also a few easy combos in this list: Brago, King Eternal + Strionic Resonator + any mana rock(s) that tap for 2+ mana = use Brago to blink our board, copy the trigger with Resonator, let a trigger resolve to untap our Resonator and mana rocks, then repeat for infinite blinks (and possibly infinite mana). If we add something like Riftwing Cloudskate to the mix we can bounce all our opponent's boards away. There's also Deadeye Navigator + Peregrine Drake for infinite mana and other neat combos that, while they may not outright win the game, puts us in such a dominant position that our opponents may as well scoop it up if they don't have a response.

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Next Up: Part 3!

That covers Part 2 of our Grand Budget Commander Update mini-series! We've been off to a slow start simply because there's hundreds of "new" cards to look over when updating my most ancient articles. As we get to my more recent stuff, however, there will be less cards that I'll need to examine for potential updates, which means less work for me, which means I'll be able to cover more commanders per article! I promise we'll speed up soon! Now off I go to work on Part 3!

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