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Upgrades Unleashed Precon Upgrade Guide | $50 | Chishiro | Modify Auras | Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty preconstructed decks have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We're going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to create a high-impact list of upgrades for under $50.

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Upgrades Unleashed is a Gruul precon with a focus on "modified" creatures, a new batching term referring to creatures that are equipped, enchanted, or have counters on them. The goal of this deck is to deploy powerful creatures, modify with enhancements like with Forgotten Ancient, and then enhance them even further with modify support cards like Akki Battle Squad. It is an aggressive that looks to set up huge game-winning threats, not durdle and grind out tables.

If you want to play a Gruul deck with a focus on playing and enhancing creatures -- and also want a good starter precon to upgrade into a specialized Gruul Equipment, Auras, or +1/+1 Counter deck -- then Upgrades Unleashed is the deck for you!

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The Precon List

Before we talk upgrades, let's take a look at the stock list to see what we're working with:

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Upgrades Unleashed is a "Modify" deck which just means that it's a mix of Equipment, Aura, and +1/+ Counter themes: I count 11 cards that benefit any kind of modified creature, 24 cards that support  specifically +1/+1 counters, equipment, and auras. So basically this deck is a +1/+1 Counter deck that runs some auras / equipments to bolster its modify payoff cards. Considering that "modify" is just a new batching term and we've only got one set's worth of modify payoff cards, it's not a shock that a precon based around this loose "theme" would be half-baked, which Upgrades Unleashed unfortunately is. Hopefully our new commanders can do some heavy lifting to make this work!

Choosing Our Commander

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Upgrades Unleasshed provides two options to lead the stock list: the face card, Chishiro, the Shattered Blade, and Kaima, the Fractured Calm in the 99. Both these commanders play out very differently and only one of them really makes sense as the leader of this stock list.

Chishiro, the Shattered Blade does its best to sell the idea of a Modify deck: it rewards you for playing Auras and Equipment by giving you creatures and also adds counters to modified creatures to set up +1/+1 Counter payoff cards. Supporting Equipment, Auras, and +1/+1 Counters makes it an obvious and powerful choice for a Modify deck or any deck looking to focus on just one of those three things.

Meanwhile Kaima, the Fractured Calm is a strange new spin on an Auras deck: you're rewarded by enchanting your opponents' creatures with Auras, goading them and growing the piggy in the process. I love Auras and Goad so this weird mix is greatly appealing to me, but Kaima is a terrible leader for a Modify deck because it doesn't incentivize you to modify your own creatures at all.

So which commander is a stronger candidate for this deck? Hands-down it's Chishiro, the Shattered Blade, as it's the only one that rewards you for modifying your own creatures, and we've just seen that the stock list is jam-packed with ways to modify our own creatures and benefit from that. There's barely any Auras in the deck at all, let alone one we'd want to enchant our opponents' creatures with, for Kaima, the Fractured Calm to make sense.

Which commander is stronger overall? Probably Chishiro again; you're gaining a ton of value for doing (insert thing) and it's not tied to whatever your opponents are doing to function. Don't get me wrong, I love Kaima -- Auras are one of my favorite archetypes and Goad is one of my favorite mechanics, and I even own a paper Kardur, Doomscourge Goad deck -- but Goad decks are inherently a low/mid power strategy: very strong against Combat-focused decks, weak against Combo decks, and impotent against Sacrifice decks.

So we're sticking to Chishiro for this precon upgrade since it's the only option that makes sense here.  

Analyzing the Precon

Now that we've glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let's take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.

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

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 
  • 1 finisher; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

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.

Let's see what the rough ratios are for Upgrades Unleashed and how it compares. I count:

The lack of graveyard recursion is baffling to me; I think this is the first precon ever that doesn't have any? Have I missed them? I dunno. Very strange. Rest of the deck is okay in terms of ratios.

Now that we've taken a look at the ratios, let's take a deeper dive into the individual cards.

37 Lands. The two copies of Mossfire Valley in the manabase makes the stock list illegal in Commander, which is the first time a precon has ever been declared illegal before it even hit the shelves, a huge messup on WOTC's part. Even ignoring that massive oopsie, the lands are unremarkable -- notable inclusions are Game Trail, Cinder Glade, Raging Ravine, good stuff that match what the deck is going for, but nothing we haven't seen before. Karplusan Forest could've been a nice reprint here -- we haven't seen one since C16 and it's now over $5 -- but we get, uh, 26 basic lands instead.

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13 Ramp. The ramp here is very good overall: we've got lots of traditional staples like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Rampant Growth, plus strong thematic options like Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Tanuki Transplanter. We even got a strong reprint with [[Bear Umbra]. No complaints here.

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8 Card Draw. We've got some banger hand refills with reprints Shamanic Revelation, Rishkar's Expertise, and Hunter's Insight. The problem is if you don't see those few good card draw options then you might be in trouble. There's some slow stinkers like Concord with the Kami and Towashi Guide-Bot, which require too much work for too little playoff. I think the deck could use a couple more good card draw options to make it more consistent.

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6 Targeted Removal. The targeted removal is mostly subpar: we've got strong options like Beast Within and (grudgingly) Chaos Warp, and I still like Decimate despite being in the minority here, but Ulasht, the Hate Seed is just a bad card here. Heck even Acidic Slime feels kind of lame in 2022. We need a few more good options.

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3 Board Wipes. All of these are pretty "meh:" Chain Reaction and Starstorm work but aren't exciting, and Collision of Realms doesn't have any special synergies so why is it even here? A hugely overcosted wipe that you can't really game is ... bad. Yeah this needs help too.

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0 Graveyard Recursion. How is this even possible? Why

0 Flexible Tutors. Tutors are super helpful for any Commander deck to help you find the right card for any situation, but I'm fine with them not showing up in precons. These are decks that are meant to pick up and play without being intimately aware of the deck's contents so tutors would only serve to confuse new pilots.

0 Graveyard Hate. Disappointing.

3 Finishers. Blackblade Reforged and Bonehoard makes any creature a lategame threat, while the best finisher is probably Akki Battle Squad for that sweet extra combat.

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The Verdict. Honestly this is one of the most disappointing precons I've reviewed in a while. Going into this I knew that a precon with "Modify Matters" as a loose "theme" would struggle to figure out how to fill 100 slots and after looking at the cards it's worse than I thought. The deck isn't the weakest precon -- far from it -- and it'll have games where it runs hot bouncing from Rishkar's Expertise to Shamanic Revelation and steamroll through some games, or just be left alone long enough to get some wins the most fair way possible, but it's certainly going to suffer from consistency issues. Half of its removal package is weak, it can't combat GY decks, and its themes are kind of a mess.

There's parts of a good deck here, and Chishiro, the Shattered Blade is one of the stronger commanders, but it needs significant upgrades to really shine.

Upgrade Goals

I have some specific goals when upgrading Upgrades Unleashed:

  • Swap in better removal
  • Swap in better card draw
  • Focus on an Auras theme

While the stock list leans hardest on +1/+1 Counters, the easiest and cheapest way to really take advantage of Chishiro, the Shattered Blade is by focusing on Auras: Chishiro's token generation is amazing so we want to focus on either Auras or Equipment to make them effectively. Between those, Auras are the superior option because they are cheaper than Equipment both in terms of mana and monetarily (have you seen how much Sword of Fire and Ice is lately?). By focusing on Auras we can greatly increase the consistency of our deck by adding Auras that add utility that the deck needs while Chishiro passively develops our board with creatures. Because the deck is light on Auras out of the box that means I'm going to do a lot more swaps than usual, but I think the end result will be worth it.

The upgrades are going to offer a tremendous power boost to the deck: Crown of Flames and Whip Silk allows us to repeatedly trigger Chishiro and new inclusions like Eidolon of Blossoms for just two mana, we have Renata, Called to the Hunt to add counters to all of our creatures, Kodama of the West Tree for insane ramp potential, which pairs well with Avenger of Zendikar, Breath of Fury to put our menacing tokens to use for easy alpha strikes, and more! I hope you like it!

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$50 Upgrades

Disclaimer: Card prices are volatile and may be different at the time you read this article.

Here's how I'd swap in $50 worth of upgrades. If you want to upgrade on a smaller budget then just makes less swaps:


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And here's the deck with the upgrades installed:

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That's All, Folks!

I hope you liked this upgrade to Upgrades Unleashed. I know it's a larger overhaul than most, but I feel the end result turns the deck from a half-baked concept to a tight, powerful deck that I'm super excited to play!

Next Budget Commander will be my next Modular project: Vehicles! We have 3 Vehicle commanders now and I'll show you how to make a modular deck that lets you effortlessly play all of them!

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