Greed | Art by Izzy
Dolla, Dolla Bills, Ya’ll
Hello everyone, and welcome to the first installment of Financial Divergence, where we look at strategic decisions in deck-building through the lens of budgetary restrictions (you can find my previous articles here)
My name is MD, and I love this game. I have played Magic since 2001 (on and off). Aside from the card illustrations, a huge driver for my involvement has been the creative ways we can create memories playing this game. I have loved coming up with wild decks and creative win (or non-win) conditions and piloting those whacky lists as well as I can.
Another area of interest for me is how money interacts with the game. Whether we are talking about the secondary market and speculative #mtgfinance or just trying to make the game as inexpensive as possible, finances play a significant role in how we interact with Magic. But, what if it was more nuanced than that? What if a budget actually impacts overall strategic decisions in the deck-building process? My working hypothesis is that it does.
Today we are talking about one bad Big Bird, and one of the most popular commanders of the past two years:. But first, let’s give some context.
How Did We Get Here?
There is an exorbitant amount of data for deck building. Like, a ton of data. Not literally, of course – that would be crazy.
With all this data, EDH players can build better decks, analyze trends, and make informed decisions. A lot has been written on how our community can use these this kind of data. Heck, I use EDHREC all the time to help me figure out cuts from decks, discover old-but-awesome additions, and plan my purchases.
One day as I was wracking my brain trying to figure something out with a deck, I noticed something particularly interesting in the data surrounding: I saw two cards that are at home in categorically different archetypes. and are, well, not played together all that often. Or ever. Basically never ever. They want very different things. wants to be in a go-wide flyer deck, maybe a token deck, which Kykar definitely could support I suppose. wants to be paired with its besties and to present a loop that locks up the game.
When I started doing some digging I became more and more intrigued until, at long last, I looked at the financial information surrounding the archetypes Kykar supports. I began to see a broader picture come into focus, one that I had felt for some time but couldn’t really articulate: budget is not just an outside force that determines individual card choices. Budget is a strategic foundation for deck-building, or at least it can be. There is a divergence that becomes readily apparent.
A Tale of Two:
For our buddythere are two stories to tell with two very, very different decks. Looking at budget builds of our birdy buddy, we see these kinds of cards:
Then, if we look at budgetless builds (you know, that deck the one person in the playgroup has that is decked out with ABUR duals that they “definitely picked up on the cheap” and didn’t just purchase during the pandemic) we see some very, very different high-synergy common denominators:
These selections of cards couldn’t be more different. Let’s explore: what do these selections of cards tell us about the strategic decisions that have been influenced by budgetary constraints?
What do these two decks have in common?
wants to play a bunch of non-creatures spells. Just looking at the text box, whether we are looking to convert the spirit tokens they create into combat damage or mana for a big turn, we are going to need to be able to trigger our commander as often as possible. One of the best ways to generate more spells per turn is to have access to more cards per turn. One of the first areas of commonality is in the area of card draw.
Card advantage and card filtering spells like, , and all serve the role of maximizing the quality of cards in your hand while filtering through unneeded creatures and lands that will not trigger .
Wheel effects also seem to be a common staple for these divergent strategies, although budget does restrict some of the available options, ie, playing aand or jamming with just and .
Another thing that both datasets have in common is the presence of really powerful interactive spells.
A hallmark of Jeskai decks in commander is interaction: for the most part, unless you are built to not interact, you should probably have access to something to do that impacts your opponent’s board. While the quality of counterspells is definitely different between the two kinds of decks, for the most part the card pool forcan interact with nearly anything on the board and can protect our commander. is a great catch-all, and great cards like and make appearances in both kinds of decks as ways to stop an opponent on the stack or save Kykar from a wildly unnecessary removal spell. I mean, what kind of person would want to do that to our innocent commander anyway?
Where do the decks diverge?
The biggest difference, from my research, is how these decks might try to win the game.
When we look at our commander with a modest budget in mind, we see some key cards pop up to the surface that all point in a very distinct strategic direction: tokens aggro.
and combine nicely with enchantments like and creature power-houses like and to create a wide, pumped-up board of tokens to mow our opponents down with combat damage. Cards like and serve to protect the team from board wipes, and is a flexible spell that can help us punch through for the last points of damage.
If we up the budget a very different picture takes shape. Heavy on interaction, fast mana, and card filtering, this strategy is looking to maximize one explosive turn with protection from cards likeand . The big indicator card here is , a card card that, effectively, has partner with and . By going big in one turn and utilizing wheel-effects, card filtering like , and tutoring effects like and , this strategy is looking to consistently storm off for the win. The tokens are incidental to the strategy as a means of mana production, not actual game pieces that are central to the strategy.
1.is more nuanced than I first thought. While there is a lot of consistency in terms of what the different archetypes hold in common, I underestimated just how different you can build this crazy bird.
2. Analogous cards aren’t necessarily worse, but they are different. There are a lot of cards that are pretty close in function but that play out in radically different fashions.is a fine card, but seems very powerful here too.
3. Good interaction mitigates the risk of less-explosive win conditions. Token strategies are largely going to carry a risk of getting blown out because they can require you to build up your board to swing for lethal. However, access to reasonable interaction in the form of counterspells and flexible removal spells can make it easier to pop off, and a stacked arsenal of protection spells can help out-maneuver our opponents.
For my money, I loved the idea of a budget“go wide” tokens deck with a lot of interaction so much that I built it in the real world, and I love it. We get to use some really sweet cards that don’t see a lot of play elsewhere, and we get to see our opponents’ faces when we effectively cast when we play . Here’s the list I built:
Budget Kykar Going Wide
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
That’s all for this time. What do you think about the differences between the two strategies? Which would you like to build and play? What other commanders do you think could be an interesting choice?