Other Commander 2019 $50 Budget Upgrades

Merciless Rage | Primal Genesis | Mystic Intellect

The time has come for our final Commander 2019 Budget Precon Upgrade. This time around, we’ll be focusing on the Faceless Menace deck featuring Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer. As you may recall, the premise is to take the preconstructed decks and spend up to $50 (before tax and shipping) to improve them. That amount is more of a significant expense for some than others, but the idea is to show you how to improve a deck on a budget.

As we go through the improvements, I’ll list the prices (from ChannelFireball.com, of course) of the cards I’m adding. That way, you can see how I keep things within budget. Because of how linear time works, prices and availability may have changed since I wrote this, and if that happens, I apologize for the inconsistency. The idea is that pumping money into Commander decks by buying hyped-up cards isn’t a direct path to victory or fun; instead, synergy and theme are the big motivators here.

Since we’ll be working with Kadena, we’ll focus on the morph (and, to an extent, manifest) theme. Morph is one of my personal favorite mechanics, partially because the friends I made playing in Onslaught block are some of my best friends to this day and partially because it’s just sweet.

For reference, here are all the original decklists for the precons.

$50 Budget Upgrades to Faceless Menace

I’m going to start out by cutting some creatures–particularly, ones without morph. What a coincidence!

Grismold, the DreadsowerRayami, First of the Fallen - FoilScaretillerThought SpongeVoice of ManyGreat Oak GuardianApex AltisaurVolrath, the Shapestealer - Foil

Grismold, Rayami, and Volrath all deserve their own decks and don’t fit well here. (Make sure you check out the Commander Newsletter, where I’ve written about Volrath already and either will write about Grismold or already have, depending on when this is published.) Scaretiller is an awesome card in a deck that supports it, which this is not. (Do combine Mirrorpool with it, though – thanks to Bennie Smith for the great tweet that tipped me off to this!) Thought Sponge and Voice of Many get outclassed by other card draw engines, including Kadena itself. Great Oak Guardian and Apex Altisaur are good creatures, but they’re a bit costly and off-theme.

Here are the creatures I added. I’ll warn you now that I did want more creatures in this deck, so there will be more cards added here than I cut above. Don’t worry–the deck is still the right size.

Weaver of Lies ($0.35) and Master of the Veil ($0.49)

One of my favorite creatures from Legions, Weaver of Lies was a significant component of my 60-card casual morph deck at the time. It’s here working its magic again by letting us rebuy on triggers we get from turning things face up. Master of the Veil (sorry Liliana, different Veil) is a less optimistic, lower-cost version.

Aphetto Runecaster ($0.25), Temur War Shaman ($0.35), Unblinking Bleb ($0.15), and Salt Road Ambushers ($0.25)

All three of these are here to give us more out of turning things face up. Whether it’s cards, a good fight, a Scry 2, or just a power/toughness upgrade, getting more value out of something we’re already trying to do is a big deal.

Temur Sabertooth ($1.99)

This humble uncommon is actually quite powerful. Its job, largely, is to return face up creatures to our hand so we can replay them face down, possibly for free and possibly to draw a card (thanks Kadena!) You can also leave mana open to respond to wrath effects or targeted removal with this friendly cat’s effect.

Mischievous Quanar ($1.49)

If you want to be the one at the table managing mischief, I strongly suggest this friendly Quanar. Copying spells can give this deck access to some effects it lacks, and that’s hugely important with such a focused strategy.

Whisperwood Elemental ($0.49)

A very powerful engine for generating face-down 2/2s, Whisperwood Elemental also acts as minor wrath protection as long as you have some face up creatures. Pretty straightforward.

Riptide Survivor ($0.25)

This morph creature has been seen in other years of Commander precons but is notably absent here. I really enjoy activating this with an empty hand and drawing three cards. Obviously that’s the best case, which means it doesn’t always happen, but at its worst it still represents good card selection.

Beast Whisperer ($2.95) and Soul of the Harvest ($0.49)

Both augment the draw power of this deck in a huge way. Beast Whisperer is the lower-cost option, but Soul of the Harvest is arguably better despite the additional mana required as it supports cards like Scroll of Fate and Whisperwood Elemental much better.

Okay, we’re done talking about creatures (sort of.) Let’s move on to noncreature cuts:

Echoing TruthLeadership VacuumUrban EvolutionSylvok ExplorerLim-Dul's HexReality ShiftMire in MiseryVraska the UnseenBounty of the LuxaPendant of ProsperityBiomass MutationTezzeret's Gambit

Some of these cuts may seem intense, and there’s a reason why: of the 28 noncreature spells that ship in this precon, I’ve just cut 12 of them–that’s almost half. Echoing Truth and Leadership Vacuum are both useful spells, but I wanted cards that better met our goals. Urban Evolution and Tezzeret’s Gambit are good one-off draw spells, but with the draw engines I’ve added already as well as some that are on their way here, I don’t see them as necessary. Explore doesn’t seem necessary with the other ramp I’m adding. Hex, Reality Shift, Mire in Misery, and Vraska the Unseen make up a lot of the removal in the deck, but this deck has enough point removal/disruption in the morphs that I’m confident we can do better. Bounty of the Luxa does a good Phyrexian Arena impression, but there are better ways to spend our mana. Pendant of Prosperity feels completely out of place here. Finally, Biomass Mutation feels like a low-grade Overrun, and we already have Overwhelming Stampede.

Again, it’s going to seem like I’m adding too many cards here. Spoiler alert: the precon runs 40 land and I’m cutting down to 37.

Painful Truths ($0.35)

I know I said we didn’t need the previous one-shot draws, but Painful Truths is so efficient. Being able to cast this in the midgame for three mana, draw three cards, and still play more stuff is huge.

Vivien, Champion of the Wilds ($2.05) and Leyline of Anticipation ($8.99)

Yes, that’s nine dollars for a Leyline, but have you seen the price of Vedalken Orrery lately? Vivien and the blue Leyline do something very important for this deck: they let us play a morph on an opponent’s turn, which means Kadena can give us a discount and a card every single turn. Vivien also gives us some extra draws sometimes, but flash is the best part.

Casualties of War ($0.55)

I think Casualties of War is a huge improvement on the spot removal we cut, mostly due to its insane level of flexibility. Commander is the format where you get the 5-for-1, but be careful–it’s also the format where you destroy permanents from multiple players and get the whole table mad at you.

Kodama’s Reach ($2.49)

Sorry Cultivate, this will always be the original. The two are played together in tons of green decks, and this deck is now no exception.

Obscuring Aether ($0.35)

A nice discount on morphs. I guess you can turn it into a creature if you need it to dodge enchantment removal, but mostly it’s a discount on morphs. I’ll note that I’m not 100% sure this card is good enough but at this price point I’m giving it a try for sure.

Ugin, the Ineffable ($4.99)

A MUCH BETTER discount on morphs that comes with some great abilities? Sign me up for the premium package.

Guardian Project ($2.99)

This looks like the Next Big Thing in green card draw engines for Commander. Yes, it works with morphs because they have no names, and it’s already great because of the 1-of rule. It’s hard to imagine this card not going up in value over time based on its applications in this format.

Simic Signet ($0.25), Golgari Signet ($0.25), and Dimir Signet ($1.49)

This deck needed some more mana acceleration, and I felt signets were a good way of making that happen without breaking the bank. Dimir Signet does cost an extra $1.24 when compared to the other two, but maybe you already have one lying around.

We’re almost at the finish line. It’s time to deal with lands. I cut the following:

Darkwater CatacombsMyriad LandscapeTemple of the False GodGolgari GuildgateFoul OrchardSimic GuildgateWoodland StreamThespian's Stage

Darkwater Catacombs doesn’t impress due to its inability to generate mana alone. Myriad Landscape and Temple of the False God are slooooow. Thespian’s Stage doesn’t really make much sense in this deck. The last four are just unexciting ETB tapped duals that we can improve upon.

As I mentioned earlier, I dropped the land count in this deck from 40 to 37, which means I’m only adding five lands here.

Zoetic Cavern ($0.25)

Okay, I’m sort of adding four and a half lands, because you certainly don’t want to play this face up if you don’t absolutely have to. I just can’t pass up the opportunity to play what amounts to a mana acceleration spell in this deck in the form of Zoetic Cavern. Cast it morphed (hopefully for free and hopefully to draw a card), let it do some combat, and then when it’s at risk, turn it face up and boom – you’re up a land.

Woodland Cemetery ($1.95)

These are at kind of a low price point right now compared to the other check lands, so if you haven’t already filled out your collection with them and you have some Golgari decks or decks that otherwise include green and black together, I’d get these now. (Sulfur Falls is in a similar boat.)

Overgrown Tomb ($7.99)

This is the second time I’ve suggested a fairly expensive land in this series, but much like Luxury Suite before it, Overgrown Tomb is a card you’ll always want in your collection. Like Woodland Cemetery, it’s cheap compared to the other shocks, so now may be a good time to get in.

Temple of Mystery ($2.99) and Temple of Malady ($1.79)

As I’ve said more than once in this series, the Temples, especially those that have shown back up in Core Set 2020, are great alternatives to Guildgates and similar duals that provide no effect besides “two colors, but not yet.”

Okay! That’s the full summary. I’ve spent $49.22 of our $50, which means we have $0.78 left to buy some postage and mail this decklist to our families and friends. I’ll see you next time when I have to remember how to write an article that isn’t a budget precon upgrade!

Commander: Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer

5 Island (335)
3 Swamp (339)
7 Forest (347)
1 Ash Barrens
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Command Tower
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Exotic Orchard
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Jungle Hollow
1 Llanowar Wastes
1 Opulent Palace
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
1 Simic Growth Chamber
1 Sunken Hollow
1 Temple of Malady
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Thornwood Falls
1 Woodland Cemetery
1 Yavimaya Coast
1 Zoetic Cavern
1 Ainok Survivalist
1 Aphetto Runecaster
1 Bane of the Living
1 Beast Whisperer
1 Chromeshell Crab
1 Deathmist Raptor
1 Den Protector
1 Grim Haruspex
1 Hooded Hydra
1 Icefeather Aven
1 Ixidron
1 Kadena's Silencer
1 Kheru Spellsnatcher
1 Master of the Veil
1 Mischievous Quanar
1 Nantuko Vigilante
1 Riptide Survivor
1 Sagu Mauler
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Salt Road Ambushers
1 Seedborn Muse
1 Silumgar Assassin
1 Skinthinner
1 Soul of the Harvest
1 Stratus Dancer
1 Temur Sabertooth
1 Temur War Shaman
1 Thieving Amalgam
1 Thelonite Hermit
1 Thousand Winds
1 Unblinking Bleb
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Weaver of Lies
1 Whisperwood Elemental
1 Willbender
1 Casualties of War
1 Cultivate
1 Dimir Signet
1 Farseek
1 Ghastly Conscription
1 Gift of Doom
1 Golgari Signet
1 Guardian Project
1 Kodama's Reach
1 Leyline of Anticipation
1 Obscuring Aether
1 Overwhelming Stampede
1 Painful Truths
1 Putrefy
1 Road of Return
1 Scroll of Fate
1 Secret Plans
1 Simic Signet
1 Sol Ring
1 Strionic Resonator
1 Sudden Substitution
1 Sultai Charm
1 Tempt with Discovery
1 Thran Dynamo
1 Trail of Mystery
1 Ugin, the Ineffable
1 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds