Limited Commander: Changing the Shape of EDH
Building an EDH deck can be daunting. First, you need to find a good legendary creature to be your general, then you need to find the right cards to support it in a 100-card singleton deck from basically any of the cards printed in the long history of the game. Not only that, all the good cards are probably going to be expensive, because, well, they’re good cards. You don’t need to get a playset of four, but you still need around 60 different cards, not to mention all those expensive lands, and even a few dollars per card can really add up.
Discouraged? Don’t be. Despite all of these drawbacks, making a good budget EDH deck is possible, and though it might not be hyper-competitive, you’ll still be able to have tons of fun pulling off outrageous plays and slamming huge creatures. And to show that it’s possible, I’ll do it right here in a new series starting now.
Introducing Limited Commander
I’m going to give myself a budget of $30 — that’s the MSRP for the new pre-made commander decks coming out in November, so I figured it’s a good number to shoot for — and make a 100-card commander deck that can at least stand up to more expensive decks and is fun to play no matter what. The final cost of cards will be calculated by putting them all into a cart on tcgplayer.com and hitting the optimize button.
I’ll then talk about the deck-building process, going over some notable cards and explaining why I chose them. I will also talk about certain cards that didn’t make the cut, whether it’s because they’re simply not good enough or because the budget just wouldn’t allow for it.
Finally, I’ll ask you, the readers, to give me your feedback. What did you like or dislike about the deck? I might even ask for suggestions for the next budget commander to make, with some restrictions (for example, I’ll probably pass on Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker because he takes up 2/3 of the budget by himself).
Alright, now that I’ve described the process, let’s get on to the actual deck.
Starting out, I like to pick a card I like, and build around it. Unfortunately for me, EDH is a fairly popular format, which pushes prices up for EDH powerhouses. Cards like Sol Ring and Sensei’s Divining Top are musts for every EDH deck — which means they’re out of the budget range of my decks (not that I would have built around them, but you get the point). Fortunately for me, though, there are plenty of other extremely strong cards that are within budget, like Traumatize.
Lazav embodies everything I would ever want in a budget EDH commander. First, he’s hexproof, which means he’s a great general to begin with. He also doesn’t require Swiftfoot Boots or Lightning Greaves, which helps us keep our costs down. Second, he wants mill cards, and mill cards are generally cheap, because straight mill (as opposed to, say, control decks that win with Nephalia Drownyard) isn’t typically a good strategy in any other format. Third, he gets better when your opponents decks are better. EDH decks are jam-packed with the biggest, nastiest creatures people can get their hands on with no regard for casting cost, making them excellent targets for Lazav, Dimir Mastermind. We might not be able to afford Memnarch for this deck, but that’s fine, because Lazav, Dimir Mastermind IS Memnarch (or at least, can be Memnarch). Lastly, Lazav, Dimir Mastermind isn’t too expensive money-wise, which gives us more room to work with for the rest of the cards.
The Mana Base
Now that we have a nice commander, let’s look at the supporting cards. We’ll start with the mana, a crucial part of any deck. We don’t have too many cards for ramp or fixing, but enough to let us cast our cards and, most importantly, our commander. Notably, we included Prismatic Lens because we might have trouble with the double blue and double black. An equal number of Swamps and Islands should also help Lazav find his way onto the field.
This is what makes Lazav what he is… literally. While mill is typically a poor strategy in EDH due to the large 100 card decks, this is one situation where you’re not trying to deck someone out. Instead, you’re just trying to get some creatures into graveyards. This is also why Traumatize is such a good card for EDH. You’re putting around 40 cards in a graveyard, and there’s bound to be something good in half of someone’s deck.
As is always the case in EDH, you want cards with repeatable effects. That means artifacts that mill are very valuable: Sands of Delirium, Mesmeric Orb, Codex Shredder, and so on. Keening Stone is probably your most powerful weapon, and if you combo it with Traumatize, you can even deck someone out.
Jace’s Archivist might not seem like a mill card, but the important part is that it gets cards in the graveyard. Whispering Madness gives you the same effect on a sorcery with cipher. You can also use both of these to draw extra cards if your hand size is relatively small. As for other creatures, Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker isn’t amazing, but he gets the job done, and Szadek, Lord of Secrets also isn’t the greatest, but he does present more of a threat as he grows.
Telemin Performance funnily enough doesn’t put any creatures in a graveyard, but it’s still very good in this deck. I normally don’t like instants or sorceries with pure mill, but I decided to put in Psychic Spiral because you’re actually going to be filling up your own graveyard a decent amount with Mesmeric Orb, Dreamborn Muse, Whispering Madness, and Jace’s Archivist. Paranoid Delusions is fine because cipher allows you to reuse, so it’s more like an aura than a sorcery.
Mind Grind was the last card cut from this deck, mostly because of cost. It’s otherwise a great card to get everyone to put five or six lands in their graveyards and would probably be the first card back in if we increased our budget slightly.
So now that we have our mill engine running, let’s see how we can make the most of it. Rise from the Grave is even better than usual in this deck because there are more targets, while Rise of the Dark Realms is a game-winner by itself. Wight of Precinct Six will only keep getting bigger, and Consuming Aberration does the same while helping you mill. Along these lines, the new Nighthowler from Theros and Bonehoard work very well, and Guiltfeeder can be a serious issue with his evasion. Necrotic Ooze benefits from the abilities of creatures in graveyards instead of relying on them to get bigger, and Duskmantle Guildmage might not seem too impressive, but he provides a good mana sink and a nice combo with Mindcrank should you get them both out.
Both of the Gatecrash primordials that you have access to are great for this deck. Sepulchral Primordial brings you a creature from each opponents’ well-stocked graveyard, while Diluvian Primordial does the same for instants and sorceries. Along the same lines, we’ve included Spelltwine, Wrexial, the Risen Deep, and Psychic Intrusion.
Using the Graveyard
Rounding out the deck
To put the finishing touches, we’ll add some solid cards that would fit in any deck of these colors. Doom Blade, Devour Flesh, Claustrophobia, Murder, Spin Into Myth, and Far // Away offer spot removal, while Evacuation and Life’s Finale work as a board wipes. I don’t like putting too many counterspells in EDH decks, but we have a few with Psychic Strike, Dissipate, and Negate. Notion Thief is probably one of my favorite parts of the deck — with all the extra card draw going on in EDH games, why not steal some of them for yourself? And while we’re on the topic of stealing, let’s pop in some goodies like Praetor’s Grasp, Thada Adel, Acquisitor and Mind Control for good measure.
There are only two tutors in the deck, the budget Diabolic Tutor and Diabolic Revelation. Prime targets for these are Keening Stone, Traumatize, and Mesmeric Orb. If the board looks scary, Life’s Finale also works.
Lastly, I decided put in Nezumi Graverobber and Withered Wretch just in case you’re helping someone out by filling their graveyard. There’s nothing worse than having to mill a Varolz, the Scar-Striped or Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord EDH deck.
Here’s the final decklist.
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
Final price optimized on tcgplayer: $29.69
How the Deck Plays
Most people try to hold off on putting out their general until they can get some support on the board first. Lazav is a bit different. You usually want him out before making any major plays, because he needs to be there for the mill to be useful. He’s also a hexproof commander, so there’s no need to be shy. After that, you have a decent amount of control, and even if you paint a target on yourself, your opponents should be hard-pressed to get rid of him.
Your win conditions will vary depending on the decks you play against. If you can become a big creature with evasion, you can probably go for commander damage. Otherwise, creatures with activated abilities can be useful too. Really, it’s hard to tell what will happen, because so much depends on what your opponents have. I once managed to mill a Platinum Angel, which became a win condition on its own.
Lazav isn’t the only way to win either. Playing Rise of the Dark Realms once graveyards have been filled easily takes over the game, while Undead Alchemist can quickly make an army of zombies. With so many cards benefiting from the mill, you’ll rarely find yourself having to rely solely on the Dimir Mastermind.
That said, you’ll rarely win by decking someone out, though it’s not impossible if you managing to get Keening Stone. And even if you don’t, you can still eliminate someone by depleting their library with your other powerful mill cards. The decks are bigger, but you have many tools at your disposal, and people tend to try to draw as much as possible in EDH games. Just remember that it isn’t your primary goal and that you usually don’t want to do much milling without Lazav on the board.
Well, there you have it. While it might be missing some top-tier cards, this deck can go toe-to-toe with other EDH decks, and, more importantly, should be tons of fun to play. Please leave a comment below if you have any questions and suggestions, or if you have any requests for the next edition of Limited Commander.