The $30 Wrexial Challenge

The $30 Wrexial Challenge
Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
For those who have been following CommanderCast since the days of yore (aka eight weeks ago), you are no doubt familiar with the $30 Wrexial Challenge. In case you aren’t hit up CommanderCast 01 to get the scoop! But here’s the skinny:

“On the first episode of CommanderCast I announced that I'd be trying to build a $30 EDH deck to prove you can build EDH decks with a tight budget that will still be effective in a multiplayer setting, as one of the things I hear often about people who would like to play EDH but aren't yet is ‘it looks expensive/you need old cards’. This deck’s goal is to prove the opposite is true!”

The commander chosen was Wrexial, the Risen Deep because that episode Byron had been talking about how underrated he is; I just decided he looked awesome and ran with it. It also helps that I like having LOTS of different decks and I had yet to construct a blue/black Commander build, so the timing was perfect. So far I haven't been disappointed.

The remainder of this article will include a comprehensive decklist, including reasoning behind the inclusion of each non-basic land card, a brief strategy primer, and a history of changes to the deck since inception and play. As always, if you have comments, suggestions, hate mail, challenges to freestyle rap battles, etc., hit me up at CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com.

Strategy Primer:

Overall Archetype:
This is a control deck with a slow curve. It’s a slab (Slow, Loud And Bangin’) of a magic deck. Once you have built your manabase, you should be able to delete threatening creatures using one of your mass-removal spells and seize control of the game. You are going to use mass discard to control the board by preventing your opponents from getting their cards into play in the first place, rather than the traditional route of having them played and then blowing them up. The reasoning for this is four-fold:

1) I've never played anything like it in multiplayer, particularly in EDH. This means it’s not only an interesting thought exercise to pilot the deck, but it also means your angle of attack is unexpected and takes people time to adapt to. This means you get a few free ambush games!

2) The core cards are cheap, essential for the purposes of the challenge. Most cards cost well under a dollar. Many of the best B/U control cards are ‘expensive’ (over $1 for the purposes of this exercise) so I needed to find an alternative.

3) I assumed it would be powerful given my experience playing hand disruption in the past, only on a smaller 1v1 scale. The card advantage that comes from something like Unnerve is amazing! Hand destruction is completely viable in multiplayer, but like other strategies, requires a shift in thinking. In 1v1, the best discard is pinpoint targeted like Duress or fast and random like Hymn to Tourach. In Commander, slower, more powerful and asymmetrical discard is better.

4) Discard is the best way to make your opponents drop juicy spells into their graveyard for Wrexial to jack them. Milling spells felt weak because they didn't usually directly influence your opponent's resource like attacking the hand, while the discard route directly robs my opponents of options.

Once you get accustomed to lacking in early threats and accept you have to just be a late-game monster, you become comfortable with going down to twenty or less life in the first eight turns. Until you hit zero, who cares? There is also some life gain in the deck, which can buy you time until you have control again. Your control elements are strong once they are online so stabilization is just part of playing the deck.

With the discard element, you have to accept that other players also will attack you for it. People like having cards in hand. Don’t start ripping cards out of people’s clutches until you have some kind of available answer in the next few turns to deal with the coming onslaught, or you will probably get ruined. Also, you need to be aware that you will dump cards into people’s graveyards that they will be able to make use of themselves (Incarnations, reanimation targets, and so on). This is a risk you take for putting opponents in topdeck mode. It will occasionally cause big problems, but the net gain often well worth it. And, of course, you can often make use of those cards yourself...

Smashing Boats Like A Boss:
Wrexial is a blockbuster commander, leaving people scrambling for answers when he hits the tableau. If he makes contact with an opponent a few times in the course of a game, it often spells doom for the rest of the table. Also, as another plus, he is a recent release and mad cheap (usually can be found for $2 at most), both of which were pertinent to the budget and newness constraint. The synergy he has with discard is great. While his power of five is unfortunate as it means he needs to pimp slap your opponent five times for a general damage kill, given his giant ass-end toughness, asking for a superior body for six mana is greed incarnate. He survives a God damn Inferno! Once this happens in a game, you get over the five power. Also, don’t forget his landwalking! This can be essential to winning games by breaking through creature walls to steal a crucial spell.

Wrexial is not a total lynch-pin for this deck. It can get by without him, which is important because you shouldn’t always plan on having your general with the popularity of ‘tuck’ spells like Spin Into Myth, Bant Charm, and Condemn. However, the deck is light on threats, so having him available to finish your opponents is great, whether you’re doing it by normal or general damage. But his most important function is giving you access to powerful, off-colour spells like Return to Dust so you can bust troublesome permanents like Rings of Brighthearth and Mana Reflection that the B/U combination is typically near-hapless against.

So when do you deploy Wrexial from the turbulent waters to run loose on your opponents? It depends. If you’re desperate, do it to chump block. It sucks, but it’s better than losing, and Wrexial can fight most creatures to a standstill thanks to his badonkadonk. If things are doing better, I like to bring him out once I’ve stabilized the board (usually post-sweeper) and my opponents have hands that are light on cards from my discard and their own play. This usually means you can shout “daddy’s home” and have Wrexial start beating your opponents up. Wrexial’s ability to play enemy spells also lets you escape tight spots, like racing against opponents who are clearly leaving you in the dust; just hit somebody and use their Day of Judgment to clean up the mess. Wrexial will be back later.

The other important consideration is what spells to plunder from graveyards. While this is often obvious (steal answer cards for problems), other times it’s not. You have to learn when you also want to attack a guy to steal a spell instead of focusing your attack on one particular opponent. Remember you are running a marathon with this deck instead of a sprint; the difference is you stole everyone else’s water and took it for yourself. Usually, hitting the guy with the spell you need instead of registering five damage is the right play. You can come back for the other guy later.

So now that we’re acquainted with the boss, let’s check out the rest of the team.

The Decklist:

  • Unnerve: Played early this card has been way more effective than I thought it would be. Later on when people’s hands are a bit depleted, it’s also fine as it can serve as the nail in the coffin for less mana investment than more powerful discard spells. Serious business for four mana.
  • Words of Waste: One of the most effective cards in the deck. Because you have so many ways to pick up cards and no way to retain a hand size beyond 7, you can often afford to skip draws to make everyone discard.
  • Necrogen Mists: It’s been ok so far, but not overwhelming. Gets a lot more powerful with other cards in play like the Grimoire. It has definitely been good enough to keep. I use this instead of Bottomless Pit because people hate random discard even more than regular discard.
  • Painful Quandary: I have been liking this more and more, as in the end game, it isn’t dead like other discard cards. Your opponent just has to take the five damage if their grip is empty when they play something, which can lead to their demise.
  • Cabal Conditioning: The best spell in the deck. When it resolves, you win most of the time... as in all of the time, guaranteed (not a guarantee). It’s fairly easy to either blast everyone’s hand for six cards, but I find myself resolving this for four or three cards pretty routinely. It’s still worth it to seal the deal once your opponent’s hands are battered a bit.
  • Syphon Mind: Fantastic card draw and discard. So amazing! You probably already know about this thing though.
  • Mind Shatter: For the guy who draws cards and makes you think, “I didn’t authorize that!” Just an insurance policy most of the time. Also lets you put the brakes on a player who is pulling a little too far ahead in card advantage.
  • Recoil: A nice trick. Vindicates the target when opponent’s hand is stripped.
  • Myojin of Night’s Reach: A game-ender when played appropriately. It’s nice to not have to worry about HOW many cards opponents have as much as having any at all. Just be advised that resolving it means you will be on the receiving end of every attack until you die. Only play it when you know you can win after (this usually means Wrexial is in play).
Misc. Artifacts:
  • Geth's Grimoire: Essential card, provides ridiculous card advantage and has the added bonus of being protected by the discard it feeds on. This is probably the most powerful card in the deck.
  • Whispersilk Cloak: EDH staple, gives your mans protection that makes your opponent’s Terminate they drew into tragically worthless. The unblockability also lets Wrexial though in the clutch to hit opponents and get a spell you’re desperate for to reverse a bad situation.
  • Nihil Spellbomb: Amazing graveyard hate card, outstanding rattlesnake potential, and it cantrips as a cherry on top! I know I could use Tormod’s Crypt but I’d rather have the catnip than the free effect. This is also cheaper.
  • Fireshrieker: I am a bit light on threats, so this makes any one I play into a bigger deal. With Wrexial, it’s doing DOWN when you hit somebody while he’s wearing this.
  • Coalition Relic: I think it’s the most expensive card in the deck. One of my favourite cards, and the only non-indestructible artifact accelerator I find is worth it for this deck.
  • Armillary Sphere: A great budget choice that nets you two lands, which usually allows you perfect colour fixing once you play it. This card flies under the radar big time, and the effect is awesome.
  • Prismatic Lens: The colour fixing can help as I don’t have a whole lot of mana fixing lands. Lets me play a third turn Unnerve which is a really nice play.
  • Pilgrim’s Eye: Don’t laugh. It’s an early blocker that deters attacks to the guy with no board, and gets you a land that you need.
  • Darksteel Ingot: The best budget mana accelerator there is.
  • Dimir Signet: You knew this would be in here. I don’t actually like Signets much but in B/U I don’t have too much choice, especially at the price point.
  • Talisman of Dominance: I actually rather like this guy, but there’s no doubt better choices out there. Again, it creates the possibility of a turn-three Unnerve, which is very powerful.
  • Willbender: The only problem with Willbender is it makes me feel compelled to include more Morph dudes so your opponent’s can’t just know, “it’s a Willbender, Shapeshifter or Brine Elemental.
  • Redirect: Wasn’t too sure about this one at first, but after you switch up somebody’s Cruel Ultimatum back at them, you realize how good it is.
  • Chromeshell Crab: Makes people think it’s a Willbender. Hilarious to trade your 3/3 for a Kozilek.
  • Mischievous Quanar: Can really increase the impact of your discard cards, reusable, and once you did it once, it can have a profound impact on people’s willingness to play spells when they know you’re just going to copy it.
  • Mnemonic Wall: Shenanigans with Evacuation, otherwise just solid.
  • Gather Specimens: I like this card more and more as I play with it. Really a fantastic counterspell and trick all rolled into one package. Since my deck is light on win conditions, stealing other people’s big game-enders is amazing.
  • Blatant Thievery: Similar to the above. When your opponent’s hands are stripped at the end of the game, they will often just be playing their big threats from their topdeck. You can then steal them.
  • Echo Mage: I haven’t gotten to use it enough. I think it looks fun though.
  • Spreading Seas: Snipes annoying lands? Check. Makes Wrexial unblockable? Check. Cantrip? Check. It’s another card with so many uses.
Designated Graveyard Hate:
  • Suffer the Past: Totally underrated spell. Pinpoint graveyard hate, kills your opponents, gains you life. Instant speed too! This thing does it all. You’d have to be crazy not to use it in this deck, as it also lets you selectively snipe graveyards and leave in spells you want to use later.
  • Dread: I don’t want any creature that are strictly game-enders. This guy can kill your opponents but is fantastic at discouraging attackers.
  • Mindleech Mass: It may seem counterintuitive to use him when your plan is often to empty an opponent’s hand and keep it that way, but I find opponents often end up having that one card they drew before your turn. Hit them and take it. It’s not only demoralizing, but it can give you a GREAT spell! Playing this guy feels a little less certain than most things in the deck but the payoffs have made me keep him in.
  • Stormtide Leviathan: When this guy pops up, it’s to close out the game. Him and Wrexial have a big old Islandwalking party while beating up your opponents.
Card Draw and Manipulation:
  • Mystical Teachings: I like this thing a lot. Fetches up my Draining Whelk, Envelop, Evacuation, and so on.
  • Exsanguinate: It’s just a good multiplayer card. Game-ender as well.
  • Opportunity: Drawing cards at instant speed. Nothing special here.
  • Read the Runes: This card I like a lot. When somebody is going to throw a sweeper at you, or you’re chump blocking, or you don’t need all those lands, etc. etc. just throw down Read the Runes and pick up some cards. I don’t know if this is the ideal deck for it (a token deck of some sort would make better use of it I think), but it’s been quite a powerful card.

  • Draining Whelk: My favourite counterspell, win condition, super demoralizing when your only card in hand is a giant bomb that will change the tide and my Whelk eats it up and beats you to death.
  • Envelop: Surprise! One mana counterspell! This card rules.
  • Hinder: For dealing with those problematic generals.
  • Perplex: In the late game, the choice to discard your non-existant hand is easy, but then you can just Transmute for Words of Waste, the card below, etc. Early game, works fine.
  • Overwhelming Intellect: This card has been absolutely terrifying! It’s not uncommon to draw up 5 to 7 cards with this beast. For six mana, I’m never upset with the results.
Killin Mans:
  • Bane of the Living: Another morph creature to play mind games with. “Wait... it’s not Willbender?” Also does its instant-speed Wrath thing.
  • Sudden Spoiling: I love this guy. Can turn a disadvantageous position into a total victory without warning. A powerful card for political purposes.
  • Evacuation: In my experience, the best creature sweeper because of the instant speed and being fetchable with Mystical Teachings.
  • Spin Into Myth: It snipes off problematic guys like Rafiq of the Many and Skithiryx. Fantastic removal spell that can leave Voltron players looking for a box of tissues.
  • Big Game Hunter: When I discard at end of turn or after Read the Runes, he jumps onto the battlefield, yells “Toasty!” and kills a dude like it’s not even a big deal. I’m ok with hardcasting him too.

Use Other People’s Stuff:
  • Memory Plunder: It’s awesome. It also doesn’t remove the card int he graveyard so you can use it again with Wrexial later. Lets you Wrath at instant speed when things are looking grim.
  • Spellweaver Volute: This thing is awesome with all the discard and such flying around. When you cast something using Wrexial, it gets even better! Also lets you use opponent’s artifact and enchantment removal spells, which is it’s most important application.
  • Body Double: We all know this rules, especially when you’re making opponents discard their prime mans.
  • Volition Reins: Your Planeswalker is mine! Lets you temporarily deal with any permanent that is giving you a hassle or can give you an extra win condition.
  • Dreadship Reef: Storage land. I like these. At the endgame when your opponents are topdeck and Wrexial is beating, this can build up and give you lots of mana for some huge plays and surprise counterspells.
  • Duskmantle, House of Shadow: I just use it because it has the colours, but it’s better than I thought it would be. Flipping an important card into an opponent’s graveyard gets the table hype.
  • Lonely Sandbar: Late-game cycler. Also can keep an opponent off their draw with Words of Waste.
Card Swap History:
  • Filth for Spreading Seas: Filth sucks in this deck without Urborg. Can’t really say much else there. What are you going to do? “Oh snap WILLBENDER IS UNBLOCKABLE!”
  • Enslave for Volition Reins: This is just a better, more versatile choice. The fact that I was running Enslave at one point clearly shows that I like that card too much.
  • Dire Undercurrents for Myojin of Night’s Reach: With only a few mans, Dire Undercurrents was lame. The Myojin is hated widely, and may come out. But I’ll be sure to find something better than Dire Undercurrents.
Play Results:
This deck has significant weaknesses. Early aggro like Slivers and Goblins or strong Voltron players can destroy you before you can stabilize. Be wary of evasive Voltron generals in particular. You need to be ready with your Hinder and Spin into Myth against those bad boys. Don’t be afraid to Hinder Uril or Skithiryx the first time somebody is casting them. It curries political favour this deck can desperately need and deals with your biggest problems in one go. Just be prepared for the wrath of the Voltron player!

‘Counterspell guy’ can also spoil your day completely. If you have a blue player at the ready with a barrage of counterspells, they will probably be able to keep you from ever resolving a backbreaking discard spell, at which point you can be hobbled into a ghetto control strategy. But given the cost disparity that can exist between those strategies and your deck, you can’t expect miracles. Take solace in the fact that your $30 deck is keeping the guy with the $300+ deck busy.

Finally, this deck will raise ire. People like having spells in their hand. When all you do is jack their shit up and kill what they put on the board, the deck can start to feel oppressive quickly. This can lead to a lot of gang attacks. Depending on how fast and hard this happens, you can sometimes deal with it, and sometimes you will die very early in the game. Such is the nature of a discard deck.

The more important thing here is observing the hostility of the table as a barometer of how much they tolerate this type of deck. As I said, this deck can be extremely oppressive; it can be made significantly meaner with a few tweaks a budget version can’t afford. If it ruins everyone’s time, don’t be surprised, and accept this is a possibility going in. If you get gang-beaten out of every game in the first six turns, you probably aren’t going to enjoy playing the deck much yourself.

That said, it’s also a strong deck that I like playing a lot. If you enjoy the challenge of playing with budget decks, this is a great choice. You also feel like a total boss when the whole table tries to kill you and they just can’t get it done.

In Closing:

This deck is deceptively powerful. The $30 restraint has made virtually no difference in the feel of the deck, or it’s ability to win games. The discard strategy makes it scale well to any number of players and it’s threats are all solid. While it’s not an optimal build (the land base could use some pimping, and Urborg would be overwhelmingly awesome), it remains strong. I feel that it has accomplished the original goal of proving you can build a strong deck on a small budget.

This is not the final incarnation of the deck. I’ll continue to update it with the budgetary constraint for a while. Eventually, I’ll be going all-out with this deck, and that will be another story into itself. For the time being, I hope you like the look of the deck, learned something from the commentary, and will maybe even take the deck for a run yourself (with your own unique spin, of course)!
And if you’re not down with it… I’ll see you in HELL!