Last updated on June 18, 2022

Command Tower - Illustration by Evan Shipard

Command Tower | Illustration by Evan Shipard

When I started playing Magic in the Alara-Zendikar meta, I saw lots of decks I wanted to play that were Standard-legal, but there was a slight problem: they were pricey for a newcomer. Jund and vampires looked like great suggestions but I couldn’t afford them. So I started with a pre-con, tuned it, and started to build my collection from the wins.

The same is true for every format. You’ll likely start from scratch to later update your decks with better cards. So let’s go over cheap Commander decks that, regardless of the price, can be very powerful if left unchecked.

Let’s get started!

Commander Finance

Caged Sun - Illustration by Scott Chou

Caged Sun | Illustration by Scott Chou

Commander being both a casual and eternal format gives you the option to use almost every card ever created in Magic’s history. Except for banned cards, of course. The issue is that most cards tend to go up in price as time passes. This also impacts Commander, though not in the same way as other constructed formats since you only run one copy of a card. But some (like Timetwister) are pricier than an average car.

To get around this, WotC has been trying to reduce the price barrier by releasing new Commander sealed products every year. This way they reprint some staples like Sol Ring to drop their price and be more accessible to the general public.

That’s great news, right? But there’s a catch. Powerful cards are released and are only available in these Commander sets. Jeweled lotus and Hullbreacher are just some examples of cards above the $20 barrier and investing $100 in two or three cards is probably too much for players that are just starting out.

Sure, you can try to build your collection by drafting sets. You can grind them out if you’re good at it, but here comes another problem. WotC never reveals how big or small their print runs will be. Take Commander Legends as an example. It was relatively small compared to the likes of Double Masters. As a result, the card pool distribution was lower than usual and prices didn’t go down as they typically would.

All of this leads us to our main topic: building a cheap Commander deck. More importantly, how to build a cheap Commander deck that doesn’t fall behind on overpowered tables.

Start Simple

Reliquary Tower - Illustration by Jesper Ejsing

Reliquary Tower | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing

You don’t need to start with a 4-color Omnath deck. As cool as it looks there are other fun commanders out there that are eager to have a deck built around them. One of the most expensive things in Commander is the mana base, and it’s because that the more colors you run, the more fixing you need. Fetch lands are the best way to fix your mana, followed by dual lands and shock lands. Those can all cost you a pretty penny, so I’d keep it simple. Starting with a mono-colored general like Krenko, Mob Boss that doesn’t need a heavy investment in your mana base.

As time passes and your collection grows, you can transition into adding a second color. Experimenting with more colors and different commanders as you invest in your decks comes next.

No Need to Rush

Don’t rush yourself. Commander is all about the fun, and you’re not going to get a huge collection overnight unless you’re pretty loaded. Being patient is critical, as you could otherwise end up investing in cards you’ll later wish you hadn’t and have a hard time selling down the road.

If you have friends with bigger collections, borrow cards for testing purposes. This way you can see your deck in action before you invest in expensive cards that might not be a good fit.

Another trick is to ask your table if they allow you to run proxies for testing purposes. You don’t want to be doing this all the time, but it’s an excellent way to look at how the deck would perform if you’re just starting out.

Invest Time, Not Money

Exotic Orchard - Illustration by Steven Belledin

Exotic Orchard | Illustration by Steven Belledin

Start looking at cards that do similar things to their more expensive counterparts. Some printings of Phyrexian Arena are around the $20 range, but Underworld Connections is a decent alternative and you can get your hands on it for under $1.

This process may take some time, but researching cheaper alternatives pays off. One of the fun parts of Commander is playing with under-utilized cards and having other players rave over it when you do. It’s worth it, trust me.

Not to mention that knowing which versions of cards are cheaper than others makes it way easier to get lower price tag since you’re buying the function and not the art, which can make a huge difference in some cases.

Invest in Pre-cons

The pre-constructed decks are an excellent place to start. Pick up the one you like and start modifying it as soon as you have it. This can also help you get some staples in your collection and, more importantly, give you an idea of what the format’s like. I’ve seen pre-cons hold their own against other more expensive Commander decks more often than not.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some examples of pre-cons that you can buy under the $25 range. These are powerful enough to win right out of the box, and they’ve got some staples you can use as the basis to build your own deck later on.

Elven Empire

Lathril, Blade of the Elves - Illustration by Caroline Gariba

Lathril, Blade of the Elves | Illustration by Caroline Gariba

The Decklist

The Strategy

Elven Empire

This is one of the most popular pre-constructed decks introduced with Kaldheim. It packs a lot of power and it’s very easy to get a grasp on it right out of the box.

The deck’s plan is simple: get as many creatures on the battlefield to either 1-hit your opponents with overrun effects like End-Raze Forerunners or activate Lathril, Blade of the Elves’ ability.

If left unchecked, this deck can end games quickly. Cheating your commander one or two turns early is no joke.

Easy Upgrades

Wirewood Symbiote
Magic: The Gathering Kaldheim Commander Deck – Elven Empire | 100 Card Ready-to-Play Deck | Green-Black
  • 100-card ready-to-play KHM Commander deck
  • 1 foil Commander card
  • 8 Viking-inspired Magic cards make their debut
  • 10 double-sided tokens + life tracker and deck box
  • Lead an army of elves to absolute victory.

Primal Genesis

Ghired, Conclave Exile - Illustration by Yongjae Choi

Ghired, Conclave Exile | Illustration by Yongjae Choi

The Decklist

The Strategy

Primal Genesis

If you like aggro decks, this one is for you. The main plan is to create multiple tokens in the early game and then populate them later. Populate is a mechanic that works with every token, which means the ones you create Mimic Vat can be duplicated.

Easy Upgrades

Warstorm Surge
Magic: The Gathering Commander 2019 Primal Genesis Deck | 100-Card Ready-to-Play Deck | 3 Foil Commanders
  • CARVE YOUR PATH TO VICTORY. Choose from 3 fierce legendary creatures to lead your deck or help build new ones—all printed here for the first time
  • EMBRACE THE RAGE. Commander 2019: Primal Genesis lets you overrun the table with an army of massive dragons and rhinos
  • JOIN THE FRAY. Commander is a Magic: The Gathering (MTG) multiplayer format where alliances are formed, friends are betrayed, and grudges are repaid with a vengeance
  • COLLECT ALL FOUR. Primal Genesis is one of four decks in the Commander 2019 series
  • PLAY THE GAME THAT STARTED IT ALL. The original strategy card game, Magic: The Gathering (MTG) has inspired more than 20 million fans over 25 years

Sneak Attack

Anowon, the Ruin Thief - Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Anowon, the Ruin Thief | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

The Decklist

The Strategy

Sneak Attack

This is probably my favorite out of the bunch. There’s a raw power here since you run very cheap creatures with powerful effects. Games can turn out to be very nasty if your Notorious Throng resolves.

Easy Upgrades

As far as upgrades go, you can probably focus on replacing big creatures with smaller rogues to lead early games. If that’s not your thing, here are some other options:

Whispering Madness
Magic: The Gathering Zendikar Rising Commander Deck – Sneak Attack | 100 Card Ready-to-Play Deck | 1 Foil Commander | Blue-Black
  • BATTLE YOUR FRIENDS. Commander is a different way to play Magic: The Gathering. It's all about legendary creatures, big plays, and battling your friends in epic multiplayer games.
  • 100-CARD READY-TO-PLAY DECK. Designed as an introduction to Commander, this deck is ready-to-play right out of the box, without sacrificing the richness and depth that made Magic iconic.
  • THREE CARDS PRINTED FOR THE FIRST TIME. This Commander deck debuts three cards, plus it's loaded with reprints to kickstart your Commander experience.
  • EXPLORE ZENDIKAR. On Zendikar, danger is the norm: wild terrain, cunning predators, and "the Roil"—violent ripples of change—all make life precarious and full of adventure.
  • CONTENTS: 1 ready-to-play deck of 99 Magic: The Gathering cards, 1 foil commander card with alternate art, 10 tokens, 1 reference card, 1 deck box (can hold 100 sleeved cards), 1 life tracker

Sample Budget EDH Lists

So with these principles in mind, I’ve found a few great deck ideas for you that you can build relatively cheaply. I’ll let you know how each deck works, then I’ll give you some options to upgrade it once you’ve built up your collection more.

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive

Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive

Tetsuko is somehow an underrated commander that can take over games very quickly if left unanswered.

The deck aims to fill the board with cheap creatures that gain value by being unblockable, and the deck could be upgraded to give you extra turns with a couple more dollars even though the primary win condition is combat damage. This build will most likely go under the radar, so you need to be smart about who you’re attacking and what you’re saying not to paint a target on your back. The ramp is also a bit on the short side because of the deck’s low mana curve.

Budget List

Upgraded List

If you have some of these cards or the money to upgrade the deck, you’re going to be prioritizing taking turns as the primary win con. This is a less fun version of the deck for your opponents, but it exploits the ability to make clean hits.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

Zada, Hedron Grinder

Another fantastic deck from Tomer Abramovici.

If you love combos, Zada is the perfect commander for you. The plan consists of creating multiple tokens on early turns so that, once Zada is on the battlefield, you can cast cards like Accelerate to draw multiple cards in a single turn. And that’s just for starters.

The beauty of this commander is that it can win out of nowhere if unchecked. “Make a billion tokens, make a billion mana, draw a billion cards, pump all your creatures, and swing for lethal in a single turn,” is what Tomer said that usually happens with this commander if it’s let free.

More importantly, a lot of the pieces are very cheap!

Budget List

Upgraded List

Upgrading to snow lands gives the deck more depth, and having access to early ramp allows it to go off quickly. The build also runs a disruption package in cards like Magus of the Moon and Ruination to prevent your opponents from interacting and disrupting your own game plan.

Finally, graveyard recursion in cards like Past in Flames is what makes this deck truly scary. They allow you to go off again if everything failed the first time or kill the whole board in a single turn. You know, if you want to.

Fair warning, though: as fun as Zada can be, not many people like to play against it. You should consider testing the waters with your regular playgroup to see if they’re comfortable with it before committing to spending time and money on the deck.

Tatyova, Benthic Druid

Tatyova, Benthic Druid

This commander is simple but effective. You aim to ramp and benefit from drawing cards while at it. The beauty here is that being two colors isn’t very mana punishing and, since you’re ramping anyway, you’re fixing your mana as you go. You’ll find yourself with more mana than your opponents, and that benefits you when casting cards like Genesis Hydra or Scute Mob that can close games quickly.

The most important card from this build is Retreat to Coralhelm. It enables combos and synergies throughout the whole deck. You can allow infinite landfall triggers with creatures that put lands from your hand onto the battlefield and cards that bounce lands when they enter the battlefield. Examples of this are Walking Atlas and Simic Growth Chamber. Throw Rampaging Baloths into the mix and you get infinite tokens in a single turn.

Budget List

Upgraded List

This version is, in essence, ramp on steroids. You don’t need the cute interactions of [cad]Retreat of Coralhelm[/card] in here. Instead, you go big with card quality and try to outvalue your opponents with pure card advantage.

This deck’s velocity is insane, and it can end games quickly by taking multiple turns in a row and hitting your opponents with big creatures.

Notable Cards

After looking at a few lists, I hope I’ve given you an idea of how you can invest the minimum and improve your decks little by little. That being said, let’s go over some cards under specific price ranges that are staples of the format!

Under a Dollar

Darksteel Ingot

Under Five Dollars

Under Ten Dollars

Avenger of Zendikar

Wrap Up

Let me remind you once again that the key to everything is patience. You’re probably starting and want to get things done or have decks built as soon as you can. But trust me, being able to develop and upgrade your deck little by little is one of the most rewarding feelings you can have as a deckbuilder.

I hope I’ve given you some good ideas on how to approach Commander. If you like any of the decks, let me know in the comments! For me, Tetsuko holds a place near and dear to my heart as it was one of the first budget commanders that I owned, and now it’s a powerhouse!

As always, take care, and remember to follow us Twitter for more awesome MTG and Commander articles.

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  • Avatar
    Tomas September 1, 2021 6:31 am

    Yeah, I don’t have to start with a 5 color omnath deck since 5color omnath doesn’t exist…

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha September 1, 2021 7:27 am

      Tomas – thank you for pointing out this typo. Just fixed it for you.

    • Avatar
      Charles February 22, 2023 6:53 pm

      Guess WUBRG Omnath exits now XD

  • Avatar
    Mark August 21, 2022 4:03 pm

    Just a heads up but your Tatyova deck has 101 cards

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha August 22, 2022 2:10 pm

      Thanks for letting us know!

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