In case it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I love to build on a budget. There’s just something special about beating a pod whose decks cost more than your entire collection.
For brewers, placing a price limit restricts access to a lot of the big players in the format, forcing you to get creative and search for alternatives (that will often end up better in the specific deck). For players, it means you can build several rewarding decks without instilling a fear of your credit card bill.
When you build on a budget, however, there are some truths that you must accept:
- You won’t have access to some of the pricier staples
- Your mana bases won’t be optimal
- Your power levels will have a lower ceiling
- Consistency is limited
Not all of these are negative, especially if you aren’t aiming for high-level Commander or cEDH. I covered some excellent replacements for expensive staples in last week’s article, which is a great first step toward building better budget decks. Today, I’ll be looking at tutors and their role in budget Magic: why they’re useful, how they can address consistency issues, and how they can make a good deck into a great one.
How Tutors Help Budget Decks
One of the issues that lower-cost decks can have is inconsistency, especially if they don’t have card draw as a primary facet of their game plan. Tutors can be used to provide some level of redundancy, even if it’s just to help you find your next land or mana rock so you can cast your spells on time.
While some people abstain from using tutors, as they prefer the inconsistency in casual games, it’s not to everyone’s tastes. I covered tutors and their appropriate use in Commander in my article about intent, if you’d like to read more on their optimal use in casual games. The main takeaway is that it’s nice to be able to reliably find an answer to a tricky permanent, or to pull out a win condition when the game is approaching a natural conclusion. They don’t need to find you a combo piece if you’re enjoying the game, but the option is there.
A Tutor For Any Occasion
The ability to find the right tool for the job is something that many budget or lower-power Commander decks often lack. Even if you have no interest in comboing off, or you prefer your decks to have some inconsistency, adding one or two narrow tutors for a small toolbox can still open up the options available to you. Toolboxes are a unique way to strengthen a deck without adding additional power; you can cope with more varied scenarios, and you can go toe-to-toe with slightly more powerful decks without fundamentally increasing the power level of the deck.
Most of the more expensive tutors have two things in common: they’re either extremely efficient, or they can fetch a broad swathe of cards. The same can’t be said for the more affordable tutor effects, but you’d be surprised by their flexibility nonetheless! Below are some of the best options available to you on a budget, along with some of the best targets they can grab for you.
Artifact Tutors: The Blue Mages
Artifacts are omnipresent in Commander, and it would benefit a lot of decks to fetch some of them when needed. I may be heavily biased, but Trinket Mage isn’t just my favorite tutor — I think it’s one of the best affordable tutors in Commander. Think of it as an Urza’s Saga that you can cast, but with more tutor options. Your targets are more varied, as you can tutor for an artifact land or Esper Sentinel, if you wish — even the mighty Saga can’t do that! The worst case scenario is you tutor for a Darksteel Citadel, and the best could be a win condition, like Walking Ballista. It’s super flexible, you can flicker it for value, and it can even wear any Equipment you tutor up.
Tribute Mage is the newest in the lineup of three-mana 2/2 artifact tutors. While it has fewer targets than Trinket Mage, it has access to some things Trinket Mage could only dream of. You can fetch Etherium Sculptor to reduce the cost of all of your artifacts, you can grab any Signet or Mind Stone, and you can even pull up win conditions like Blackblade Reforged.
Trophy Mage is next in line, tutoring for any three-mana artifacts you may have in your deck. This is where you start to get access to more combo pieces, like Staff of Domination or Rings of Brighthearth, but it’s still possible to grab plenty of fairer pieces, too. Chromatic Lantern is a great option to completely fix your mana, and Oblivion Stone is there when you need an emergency button. You could even grab Sculpting Steel to copy any other artifact, if that would suit you better!
Bonus: My Trinket Mage Toolbox
I’m very keen on Trinket Mage in particular; any opportunity I have to include one in my decks, I don’t hesitate to add it. If you’re considering trying this out, here are the five basic artifacts I recommend to start your toolbox:
These are all reasonable cards by themselves, so you’ll have no problem if you draw them naturally. You also don’t need to limit the number of tutor targets: my Glacian & Toggo deck currently has 18 Trinket Mage targets!
Creature Tutor: Ranger of Eos
There aren’t many creature tutors that are both affordable and effective, but Ranger of Eos is one that I believe is overlooked a lot. In a format like Commander, larger creatures and spells tend to be the norm, so it’s understandable to think that fetching two tiny creatures wouldn’t have a big enough impact. However, given the number of powerful one-drops in the format, Ranger of Eos can be a powerful aid. You can fetch a Benevolent Bodyguard to protect your commander or a creature combo, or even grab Hope of Ghirapur to stop someone from storming off. Even if you aren’t looking for specific pieces, Thraben Inspector or Dragon’s Rage Channeler can provide you with value until you’re ready to progress your game plan!
Speaking of cards outside white, there are a number of flexible options available to you through Ranger of Eos. Viscera Seer is one of the most popular sacrifice outlets in the format, Mistcutter Hydra is an enormous threat, and Dryad Arbor is even a land! With these kinds of targets, there’s something for any deck that can fit this versatile Human Soldier.
Land Tutors: Expedition Map/Sylvan Scrying
Tutoring for lands is one of the most common occurrences in Commander, but it’s often not utilized to the best of its potential. Expedition Map is a staple of the format, giving you a colorless way to access any land in your deck, and Sylvan Scrying has the same effect in green. These tutors can do much more than just find your Reliquary Tower. There’s almost always a new utility land in every set nowadays, so Expedition Map’s value will just keep rising. There are the well-known targets like Bojuka Bog and Rogue’s Passage, but you may prefer other options that better suit your deck.
Scavenger Grounds is one of the best pieces of graveyard hate for almost any deck, and it should see more play than it has already. Blast Zone is the land equivalent of Engineered Explosives, capable of dealing with a swathe of problems (though tokens can still be tricky). Finally, Thespian’s Stage can copy any land in play, and change to copy others at the drop of a hat; this is one of the best lands available, and should be included where the mana base allows. All of these can be added where necessary, and really supercharge your Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying!
Instant Tutor: Sunforger
The Boros player’s prized hammer has fallen somewhat by the wayside in recent years, but I believe it’s better now than ever before. Just as new utility lands have helped raise Expedition Map’s stock, there are always new and exciting instant spells being released with every set, which make Sunforger even better with time! The classics are always there, like Boros Charm for board protection and Chaos Warp for removal, but there’s much more play to the famous Equipment than simply red or white cards, even on a budget.
If you’re Jeskai colors, you can Sunforge a copy of Render Silent from your deck to either blow out a combo player or shut down development for a turn. (You could also run Trophy Mage to fetch the Sunforger). Adding black to the mix instead gives you Rakdos Charm, allowing you to either nuke a graveyard out of nowhere, or eliminate a player that tried to pull off a Kiki-Jiki combo. Dromoka’s Command is there for any Naya players that want powerful utility, either through interacting with the board in three different ways or shutting off a massive spell like Blasphemous Act or Crackle with Power.
Finally, while it may not need additional colors, any Sunforger deck would be remiss not to include Settle the Wreckage in their repertoire. It’s still exactly as satisfying as it was in Standard, and it will very often save you — or win you the game!
There are genuinely hundreds of available options for Sunforger decks, and the choices just keep expanding with every new set. If you’re in these colors and looking for a way to keep things in check while still having a blast, Sunforger is far and away the best bang for your buck.
These are just some of the fantastic tutors available to budget players; they will help to elevate your decks in either power or performance, depending on how you decide to include them.
Do you use tutors in your decks? If you have any other tutors or interesting tutor targets to suggest, let me know over on Twitter. I love to see what amazing cards are out there that people are enjoying!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.