How They Brew It - The Ten-Dollar Voltron Deck

Michael Celani • October 24, 2022

Raised by Giants | Illustrated by Kai Carpenter

The dark hour approaches. Dry, decaying leaves drift like ashes on the wind; a crisp breeze howls down those streets dressed in grim reminders of everyone's fate; and the people shuffle along as corpses, hoping for an even bigger handout this year than last. Yes, this unhallowed night heralds true terror, for behold: tax season is upon us.

On the Backs of Giants

My name is Michael Celani, and this Halloween, I'm ready for true terror: I'm going to commit tax fraud. It doesn't matter if it's state or federal, negligent or intentional, because when it comes to the IRS, I just don't give a buck. That's right: taxation is theft, and I'm Robin Hood. Wait a minute, that doesn't--

Our crooked accountant for the evening is Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher, depicted in the card art literally cooking my books. She's got her ways to make colorless mana, and she only brings in more when financial giants invest in her "business." Sure, that mana's dirty; the fed would come knocking if you used it to cast spells from your hand, but luckily, I'm a master of making undeclared income look legit. All we have to do is some mana laundering.

Secret of Mana

Our commander is quite the Vhalue engine. Thanks to the titans of industry, just one activation can make as much as . Now that's getting rich quick, but being unable to use our dork's mana to cast spells from our hand is an actual downside we need to mitigate. There's a couple of ways to skirt tax law, so let's go over a few main strategies that'll help us plan for our opponents' retirement.

Getting Out of Hand

The first strategy is to get around that "from your hand" clause. In other words, we can cast spells, just not from our hand. Places like the graveyard or exile are fair game under the law, so here's a couple spells that fit the bill:

  • Let's start with the big one: Raised by Giants itself. It resides in the command zone, which a lot of people internalize as part of their hands since it's not their graveyard. Vhal produces a mere without Raised by Giants, but that's still enough to guarantee you can play it the turn after she hits the field. Needless to say, getting both out is a top priority.
  • Flashback is the easiest way to cast a spell from the graveyard. Ten colorless is a lot of mana, so Vhal basically makes huge Flashback costs a non-issue.
  • Both Radical Idea and Chemister's Insight have Jump-Start, which is basically Flashback if it had the radical idea of making you discard a card in addition to paying the cost. Most of the fun Jump-Start cards, like Gravitic Punch, are Izzet, though, so we have to make do with what we got here.
  • Finally, the second halves of Aftermath cards are cast from the graveyard, because nothing says "after the end" like additional value.
    • Spring // Mind springs to mind, as it's both ramp and card draw on the same card. Note that the Mind portion is instant-speed, so if you didn't need to tap Vhal on your turn, you can cast this from the yard on an opponent's turn.
    • Commit // Memory is fairly pricey removal, but it's stapled to Commit // Memory, which is essentially Timetwister in this deck. This lets you play facsimiles of the Power Nine without needing to spend a thousand dollars.

Ability Power

A second strategy is to cut out the "cast spells" part entirely. You can activate abilities of cards and permanents you control with Vhal's mana just fine. We'll get into a few specific categories of abilities later, but here's a few choice cuts that benefit from having a beefy portfolio:

  • Dreamscape Artist, Greater Tanuki, and Shefet Monitor all act as instant-speed ramp, which is great to have on hand as you bluff a grip of interaction. Plus, when tons of cards in your deck are essentially Natural Connection, it's a snap to get to a point where paying for green and blue costs on abilities ceases to concern you.
    • Note that both Dreamscape Artist and Shefet Monitor's abilities put the lands into play untapped, making the color cost essentially free.
    • Krosan Tusker doesn't take the land it finds the final step to the battlefield, leaving it with less of a return on investment compared to other options. Despite that, it's invaluable when you're looking for that fourth drop to guarantee your commander in the early game.
  • There're a few activated abilities out there that draw cards without requiring you to tap something, but Mystic Archaeologist is clearly the best for this deck. Vhal's mana pays for most of it, and unlike most options around this price point you get two cards per activation instead of just one.
    • Triskaidekaphile is an extremely close second, since despite only drawing one card for four mana, she can outright win you the game thanks to her triggered ability. It's safest to get to fourteen or so cards while holding up a Snakeskin Veil or something similar.
    • And sure, Diviner's Wand may buff Vhal's mana production, evasion, and provide a completely colorless outlet for all that mana, but it makes up for this by auto-equipping to her as well.
  • Kheru Spellsnatcher's Morph counterspell may be as visible as a neon sign under a new moon, but that doesn't make it any less effective when you steal a game-winning spell at a crucial moment.
  • And of course, there's the Lamborghinis of abilities, too: flashy, expensive, and liable to get you eaten. Show these cards off only with a generous portion of protection in your hand:
    • Shigeki, Jukai Visionary effectively recurs your whole graveyard, and if that happens to include Colossal Skyturtle or Dryad's Revival, you've essentially unlocked a second hand to play with.
    • Alexi, Zephyr Mage threatens a one-sided board wipe every other turn, which is a terrifying prospect when they're staring down a 10/10 commander with vigilance.
    • Hydra Broodmaster is the only card in the deck that makes tokens, but it makes a lot of them. Five 5/5s is the floor on this, and if you're able to untap Vhal with a Shore Up or Clever Conjurer, it can end the game on the spot.
    • Sometimes, the most threatening cards are the most overlooked. If Vhal is about to connect with an opponent, Wren's Run Hydra knocks them immediately, since you can easily Reinforce for eleven at instant speed.

Win Ben Stein's Mana

Our third and final strategy is to simply ignore that part that says "this mana." Vhal's mana might not be acceptable, but we can trade it in for real mana, sort of like selling counterfeit bills.

This ability is mostly limited to Magus of the Candelabra untapping all your lands at a 1:1 rate, or Prismite and its clones Stonework Packbeast, Crossroads Candleguide, and Signpost Scarecrow directly making more mana at a 2:1 rate.

H&R Unblockable

Now that we're keeping ninety-nine cents of every dollar that we take, we need a way to close out the game. Luckily, the answer's been staring us in the face the whole time: we have a 10/10 commander and all the mana in the world to make her unblockable.

Talking about each card here would be redundant, but using a combination of Auras like Access Tunnel, activated abilities such as the one on Passwall Adept, and some choice Equipment including Blackblade Reforged and Fireshrieker, it should be simple to take out each of your opponents in one to two turns.

Financial Wizards

But that's not the whole story, no. You've read this entire article thinking that it was merely about a $10 Voltron deck. Yes, that is technically true, like a lot of the true things I say. No, the real trick is that it's also secretly a $10 Wizard tribal deck:

Yes, with Wizardcycling, you can find every piece you'd ever need to get yourself in the game. Think about it: Magus of the Candelabra? Stonework Packbeast? Passwall Adept? Mystic Archaeologist? Kheru Spellsnatcher? Triskaidekaphile? Practically every problem you'd ever have is answered by some sort of Wizard, and our payoffs aren't limited to just tutoring for them:

Riptide Laboratory makes our Wizards essentially immune to single-target removal, since you can just bounce the would-be victim in response. It'll make your opponents need to find board wipes or multiple kill spells to handle your board in any significant way, giving you all the much more protection when going for a kill. Riptide Director is as effective as Mystic Archaeologist on a single activation with just himself and Vhal, and the ceiling is much, much higher. And Cyclone Summoner? Wipe away everyone else's board while yours stays relatively intact. Just make sure you tap for the mana before Raised by Giants returns to your hand. How ironic that it would be removed by a Giant.

Cashing Out

You know, I've never seen those stupid Purge movies, but it always baffled me that corporate executives wouldn't lock down in an office somewhere and commit heaps of fraud. For every bloodthirsty idiot that would go out killing guys, there'd be, like, five or so overworked interns wiring stolen Bitcoin from compromised accounts directly to corporate.

Anyway, we've gone through three ten-dollar decks now, spanning four colors. Only black remains; which commander will helm that deck? They say that true terror is the unknown, which means I am living in deep fear every day until someone tells me the answer. Happy Halloween!

If you enjoy How They Brew It, please check out the Discord and my other projects at my website, including the new Pisces engine for playing on Spelltable without needing a webcam. I hope to see you there!

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

View this decklist on Moxfield

Newly appointed member of the FDIC and insured up to $150,000 per account, Michael Celani is the member of your playgroup that makes you go "oh no, it's that guy again." He's made a Twitter account @GamesfreakSA as well as other mistakes, and his decks have been featured on places like MTGMuddstah. You can join his Discord at and vote on which decks you want to see next. In addition to writing, he has a job, other hobbies, and friends.