Commander on a Budget: Zendikar Rising Commanders

Mara Katz Commander

Zendikar Rising is full of exciting legendary creatures with great Commander brewing potential. In addition to the class tribal options I showcased in a recent Brawl article, there are interesting commanders for landfall, party matters, Aristocrats, and even control. In this article, I’ll walk through how to build exciting Commander decks for four of those legends, with a price limit of $50 for each deck.

Verazol, the Split Current

Verazol allows you to copy kicked spells if you remove +1/+1 counters from it. If you build a Verazol deck, you’ll want to focus on kicking spells and adding counters to Verazol. Here are some of the important roles cards need to play in this deck:

Sample Verazol Commander deck
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Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager

Like Verazol, Grakmaw wants to pick up +1/+1 counters from your other creatures. Unlike Verazol, Grakmaw can get those counters when other creatures die, and can turn them into hydra tokens when Grakmaw itself dies. In addition to adding as many +1/+1 counters as possible, you’ll want to include ways to sacrifice creatures in your deck. Here are some types of cards you’ll need:

  • Spells that add +1/+1 counters, including spells that proliferate like Courage in Crisis and Spread the Sickness.
  • Creatures that get +1/+1 counters easily, especially when other creatures die. Mortician Beetle and Pelt Collector are good examples.
  • Sacrifice outlets, so your creatures–including Grakmaw–can die when they need to. These are even better when you’re sacrificing a creature to put more +1/+1 counters on another creature, like on Malevolent Noble or Gobbling Ooze.
Sample Grakmaw Commander deck
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Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor

In the Zendikar Rising Commander precon, Obuun is primarily a landfall commander. Landfall is still important in this deck, but in this example, we’re leaning more into Elemental tribal (the lands Obuun animates become elementals). Here are some good cards to include:

  • Elementals and spells that care about elementals, like Flamekin Harbinger and Thicket Crasher. The elemental tribal theme in Core Set 2020 is a good place to start looking for these.
  • Spells with landfall, like Zendikar’s Roil and Brushfire Elemental.
  • Spells that help you trigger landfall by finding you lands. Since the goal is triggering landfall – not necessarily having a lot of lands – don’t be afraid to include ramp spells that require you to sacrifice lands, like Harrow and Crop Rotation.
  • That said, you may also want to include some cards that do care about how many lands you have, like Woodborn Behemoth and Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer.
Sample Obuun Commander deck
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Anowon, the Ruin Thief

Anowon is a Rogue tribal commander with a mill ability, and that’s the order of priorities in his precon: rogues first, with a little mill on the side. To celebrate the recent introduction of “mill” as an official Magic keyword, let’s reverse those priorities and make an Anowon mill deck with a side of rogue tribal. Here are the cards you’ll need:

  • Spells that mill your opponents, including spells like Jace’s Erasure and Drowned Secrets that allow you to mill your opponents just by drawing cards and casting spells.
  • Cards that give you extra benefits for milling out your opponents, like Syr Konrad the Grim and Blackbloom Rogue.
  • Control spells like counterspells and high-toughness creatures, to protect you so you can keep milling. Bonus points if they also mill your opponents, like Thought Collapse.
  • Some rogues to power Anowon’s mill ability. Try to prioritize rogues with evasive abilities like menace and intimidate, as well as rogues that mill your opponents, like Thieves’ Guild Enforcer.
  • Spells that prevent your opponents from bringing cards back from their graveyards, like Cling to Dust and Silent Gravestone.
Sample Anowon Commander deck
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Commander Staples

In addition to the cards each individual deck needs to work, there are a few types of cards you’ll need for each of these decks. Removal is important, so you can prevent your opponents from stopping your deck from doing its thing. Try to give yourself access to a diversity of removal types, including targeted spells like Blink of an Eye, board wipes like Akroma’s Vengeance, and exile spells like Angelic Edict in case your opponents cast something indestructible. If you’re in the right colors, try to include removal that targets non-creature permanents, like Wilt and Conclave Tribunal.

You’re also going to want some amount of ramp, but how much depends on what your deck is doing. For example, the Obuun deck needs the most ramp, since it’s both built around landfall and includes a lot of expensive creatures; the Anowon deck is going to need a lot less, since its curve is much lower, but you’ll still want to make sure you can hit your land drops so you can cast counterspells.

Beneath the Sands and Cultivate are good budget ramp spells to keep an eye out for. If you’re not playing green, your options are more limited, but you’ll still want to include spells like Farfinder and Traveler’s Amulet, as well as Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse, to make sure you get the lands you need. Try to prioritize spells that put lands on the battlefield, and if your ramp spells are mostly permanents, look for ones that don’t charge you extra mana to find lands after you cast them.

So Much to Brew

Zendikar Rising‘s legendary creatures are full of Commander brewing potential. Let us know who your favorite new commander is, and what kind of deck you’re most excited to build!