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Browse > Home / Strategy / Articles / This Commander Deck Is Busted At $15 | Sergeant John Benton Voltron

This Commander Deck Is Busted At $15 | Sergeant John Benton Voltron

Hey friends, I'm back with another Budget Commander! This time I want to cover one of the most cutthroat decks you can build with cards you probably have in your junk piles: Sergeant John Benton!

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Voltron "Group Hug" Makes Draft Chaff Unbeatable

Sergeant John Benton is a wild Voltron deck that lets us draw cards equal to the amount of combat damage dealt. This means that we're going to draw a bajillion cards just doing what we want our Voltron deck to be doing anyway: smashing opponents with our commander! It also means that a bulk common like Giant Growth becomes an Ancestral Recall in our deck, so it's incredibly easy to build on a budget simply by loading up on dirt cheap pump effects.

There's a catch, of course: our smashed opponent gets to draw the same amount of cards. Now this sounds like a major drawback -- giving our opponents free hand refills is indeed scary -- but in reality it's not a big deal because our deck is designed to properly utilize all the cards we're drawing with an incredibly low curve and a ton of interaction. It's like how people assume Edric, Spymaster of Trest is a Group Hug commander at first glance only to realize their error once Edric pummels them with an army of 1/1 flyers and counters / removes any threats for 0-1 mana. But even ignoring that, this "mutual card draw" is not a fully symmetrical deal because our opponent is receiving combat damage in the process, furthering our deck's goal of winning with damage.

So the deck's game plan is incredibly simple: cast John, smash with John, and support John with dirt cheap pump effects / protection / removal. Repeat until all opponents are dead.

The funny thing is that in the early game our opponents may even willingly skip blocking just to draw some cards, which is amazing for us because the early game (before we've drawn a bunch of cards) is when we are most vulnerable, so this is an amazing deal for us. Once John is hitting for 6+ damage per swing and people are getting antsy about taking damage, it's already too late: we should have a full grip of cheap pump and interaction that actually trying to stop us becomes incredibly difficult even for a united table.

The Best Cards For the Job

Sergeant John Benton is the only win con in the deck. The rest of the deck supports John by fitting in one (or more) categories:

  • Mana (lands + ramp)
  • Pump
  • Protection
  • Removal

That's the entire deck.

The key here is mana efficiency: we draw a LOT of cards, but massive card draw means nothing if we can't cast them. The average mana value of our spells is 1.56 and higher budget builds will want this average even lower. Cards like Snag actually work great here because we draw so many cards that we're happy to be card inefficient if that means we can be more mana efficient instead.

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The pump cards are the heart of the deck since they double up as both our win con and our draw engine. The more mana efficient pump the better, so Invigorate is best but 1 mana spells that add +4 power like Groundswell are fantastic rates too. Vigilance and lifelink are nice bonuses too since we're low on blockers, so I'm a big fan of Show of Confidence mid/lategame.

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The true most important cards however are actually the protection spells: all our eggs are in the John basket, so we simply can't afford to let him die too many times. Ways to give him hexproof + indestructible for 1 mana (or less) are key here, so Loran's Escape and Blacksmith's Skill are top options. Options that give either hexproof or indestructible are obviously weaker, but they do come with a power boost which is nice, like Flare of Faith.

The major weakness of the deck is sacrifice effects. Our protection spells do nothing against Soul Shatter or Grave Pact. That's not an easy fix unfortunately.

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There are a couple fine spot removal spells like Ram Through which can deal lethal damage or Abolish which can easily be cast for free. But the most important forms of interaction are the wipes, which cost more mana but are worth it for setting back everyone but ourselves. Pledge of Loyalty can clear the board of potential attackers and Hour of Revelation paired with any of our indestructible options means John is free to swing into an empty board.

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Our ramp package consists almost entirely of t1 ramp that can get our commander out a turn earlier, since we're a snowball commander so getting it out earlier is tremendously powerful: Arboreal Grazer, Llanowar Elves, Wild Growth, all these are fantastic. We also have a couple cards that help our game plan but also ramp lands out, like Broken Bond.

And that's the entire deck! It's a snowbally Voltron deck that draws a ton of cards and supports the game plan with tons of mana-efficient interaction.

$15 List

Despite being just $15, this list is incredibly strong and will likely pubstomp precon-level decks. It's good enough to bring to most midpower tables and will likely be archenemy there too.

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$25 List

This version has tons of upgrades, most notably Skyshroud Ranger and Sakura-Tribe Scout as turn 1 ramp that gets John out faster but also continues to ramp us throughout the game. Tamiyo's Safekeeping and Tyvar's Stand are both top-tier protection for the deck. I come from a meta that regularly sees Glacial Chasm, so I've added Generous Gift, Beast Within, and Demolition Field to deal with pesky lands. The lands are getting better too, but honestly you're fine with just basics in a 2C deck.

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Further Upgrades?

The only cheap card that barely didn't make the cut is Vines of Vastwood.

Honestly I wouldn't bother going out of my way to upgrade the deck beyond $25. Like if you've got an extra Temple Garden laying around you can jam it in and it's an upgrade, but otherwise all the key cards are already there. It's not worth dropping tons of money for a tiny power boost.

How Do I BEAT John???

If instead you're reading this because you're being terrorized by a John deck at the table, here's some tips to beat the deck:

  • Do NOT agree to "let" John hit you and DISCOURAGE anyone from taking the offer. John is most vulnerable early game the turn he's cast because they won't have the resources to play John and protect him. As tempting as free cards are, make them work for it!
  • Run sacrifice removal! None of John's protection spells work against sacrifice, the only protection is the mana dorks that the deck can sacrifice instead. Soul Shatter is the best at this because it forces John to be sac'd and even prevents them from sac'ing a mana dork instead. Make an Example is another great one.
  • Card draw denial! Narset, Parter of Veils, Notion Thief, and Alms Collector are all good ways to deny John's engine, especially if you can get them down early. Narset is particularly good at this because John has creature removal but to get rid of a planeswalker requires taking an entire turn off to attack it, dealing no commander damage nor drawing any cards for that turn.

The deck is definitely not unbeatable. You just need to get the rest of the table to agree to not take deals with John and aim all your removal at him before he can start drawing cards.

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That's All, Folks!

Hope you enjoyed this ultra-budget brew! Thanks for reading, and I'll be back with more brews soonish!

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