Saving your wallet from Commander damage.
One of the biggest barriers to entry into Commander is cost. The simplest, most cost effective way to try out the format is to go buy one of Wizards pre-constructed decks. They give you a lot of "staple cards" and are pretty playable. If you have never played a game of Commander this is the way to go. Stop what you are doing and go buy a deck.
At some point though, you are going to want to start customizing the experience - and that is when things get expensive. Let's look at the best way to dip your toe into deck building and spread the cost out over time.
Pick your favorite color in the color pie. Don't worry you aren't married to just this color but it will help you start. We all skew toward different play styles and if you center on the color that matches it, you will be doing yourself and your wallet a favor. You don't have to pick green, of course - but for the purposes of the article that's our color. Green has a ton of mana ramp, and since Commander has a focus on big splashy creatures and effects- green is a great choice.
Mono-color in EDH can be a challenge because you need answers. It is far better for your game to be in two or three colors, so why pick only one? In short - the mana base. Land can be some of the most expensive cards in the game, so before you commit to a color pair, shard or wedge and start ponying up the big dollars for those dual lands, let's build a basic deck and make sure that is where we want to be. We are in green so we need 37 forests. That's cheap. Probably even free if you ask nice at your local card shop.
Green's Commander strength is in its ramp ability, so we are going to want to play off that. Elves are a great way to support ramp - many of them tap for mana and some of them even bring a forest with them onto the battlefield. So with Elves on our radar, who better than to lead our army than elf Commander - Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen! There are better Commanders, but since she is a fairly obscure General, we can grab her for pennies and upgrade her later. Her pump abilities and life gain are no joke, so she's a stronger choice than she may look. Current cost? 65 cents.
Elves are super cheap to buy, and while they start as insignificant threats you can grow them in number and size pretty fast. We're slotting seven "Elf Lords" in our deck - elves that make other members of the tribe bigger. Elvish Champion and Elvish Archdruid are two standard lords that give +1/+1 to your other Elves. Kaysa falls into the same boat as the first two - she has a broader scope with "all green creatures" - but for this deck she has an identical effect. Joraga Warcaller is kind of a "super lord" and his kicker cost can be devastating in the late game. Imperious Perfect is another great lord because in addition to her pump ability she gives us the ability to make elf tokens (more on that later). Out of all these, Ezuri, Renegade Leader is the star of the show and his extra ability provides us with a legitimate win condition. Ezuri can also be used as an upgrade to your Commander. These lords are the most spendy part of the deck and will set the budget back $17.29, but they are the core of what makes the deck work. If you need to cut corners, you can remove Ezuri from your buylist as he is the most expensive and buy him a little later. He's super good though.
Fill in the balance of your creatures with Elves. There have been a lot of them printed in the history of the game so you have quite the selection. Scour the quarter bins at your store and find the 30 or so you like best. Seriously - you can upgrade them for better selections as you go. Don't drop money here until you know that you love Commander and the Elves archetype.
Growing and Supporting the Tribe.
So we have a bunch of Elves - known in Magic as an "Elfball". What do we do now? Well, we need to support the tribal theme; and of course make more Elves!
The Elves archetype can be a token machine and there are a lot of low cost options here. Remember Imperious Perfect? This is why she is so good. She buffs your Elves and makes more. Lys Alana Huntmaster does this too - creating an Elf token each time another Elf spell is cast. Add in Dwynen's Elite and Elvish Promenade and you see where we are going here. Things can spiral out of control quickly (in a good way). Add 5.77 to the budget - they are worth it.
On more of the fringe, there are a few other support cards you may want to consider. Wellwisher will keep you alive as you build your board. Gaea's Anthem adds another global creature buff. Whirlwind and Tropical Storm mitigate the fact that, while prolific, Elves don't fly. All these cards are cheap and bring a strong synergy to the deck. Add another $5.79 to the bottom line if you want to "go for broke".
Weakness is our Strength.
Since we are doing this deck on a budget we have to cut corners. We mitigated cost early-on by going mono-colored and to further shore up the budget we have forgone use of Artifacts. Why? well a lot of them can get spendy, and as I was building the deck I realized I only had four or five included in my budget list, so I eliminated them and added some hate.
In a "If you can't join them punish them" line of thinking, I made sure the deck could at least stop artifacts and non-basic lands from overwhelming our game since we couldn't include them ourselves. Hum of the Radix slows artifact heavy decks - and there are a lot of these in Commander. Creeping Corrosion is a board wipe for artifacts - and with all the creature kill in the format it is only fair to reciprocate. Then there is Primal Order. There is nothing like devastating the game with a Homelands card. That's just pure evil (and a little bit fun). All three can be found for $2.82.
Where do we go from here?
Mono-color will only get you so far. While there are some complex mono-colored Commander decks out there, this isn't one of them and after a while you will need more satisfaction from your EDH games than you can get from a big Elfball. Look at upgrading your Commander to a color pair that adds to your green base.
Some great choices here would be Selvala, Explorer Returned, Rhys the redeemed or Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Two of the three will put you in the traditional Elf colors of green and white. White brings you a powerful toolbox of control spells and creature removal. Selvala is a great choice for a political General and nets you card draw and life gain - two powerful additions to your deck. Rhys is the purest of the "all-in" Elf commanders, copying tokens and creating new ones. He is also super cheap to cast. Nath is an alternate choice if you rather go into the black and green color pair and allows you to build a discard theme into your plans.
While none of these three are super expensive - Rhys is the most costly at around $20.00 - all three require considerable support cards to shine and that is where your money will be spent. Mostly this means dual lands and combo creating artifacts. The great news is you don't have to do this all at once, and in the mean time, your Elfball will continue to roll. My entire budget list can be found here to copy or to just use as a template. A lot of the cards can be liberally swapped out, so don't be afraid to experiment.
Hopefully this article has led you directly toward a budget deck to play or made you think about how to build your own with what you have. Playing Commander doesn't have to be expensive and there is no tax on fun. Sometimes a twenty-five cent common is just as good as that thirty dollar mythic.
Until next time, remember to "count your kills" like Legolas does... and enjoy the deck!