There’s no denying that the ubiquity of pricey Commander staples can make them feel like required game pieces, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Generally speaking, budget has very little impact on power level when building a Commander deck. After all, as I explained in the first installment of this topic, many popular cards are expensive either because they’re the best version of the effect or they’re the only card in their color(s) that perform their specific function.
Neither of those reasons require you to run Cyclonic Rift or Wheel of Fortune to play strong Magic: The Gathering, though. As a case in point, almost every deck I own is less than $150 — and I regularly play alongside others with decks five times the price while having a great time.
You may lose some effectiveness or flexibility when you choose a cheaper card, but it might be worth it for your wallet. It could also be the right choice for the power level of your playgroup. And in the end, some of these options might actually be better for your deck than the “best” card you could play.
With that in mind, just look at these five, expensive EDH all-stars and the affordable yet potent options you can use instead.
Assassin’s Trophy ($8)
This is one of the most efficient and least discriminating removal spells in all of Magic. Replacing any permanent an opponent controls with a basic land is a fair tradeoff, but spending nearly $10 for a removal spell can sting. Thankfully, players are spoiled with choices when it comes to cheap, targeted removal.
Option 1: Beast Within ($0.99)
Beast Within is one of the most popular choices for removal in green, and for good reason. It’s cheap, effective and just as indiscriminate as Assassin’s Trophy. A 3/3 beast token is negligible in a 40 life format, and three mana is still efficient enough for this to see play in higher power builds.
Option 2: Mortality Spear ($0.25)
If you’re already running Beast Within or you’re looking for something a little different, Mortality Spear can work wonders. It’s similar to Utter End, except it trades the exile ability for cost reduction. This card is best in decks with dedicated life gain packages, like Dina, Soul Steeper, but you could make use of its cost reduction in decks with Blood Artist or similar drain effects.
Option 3: Witherbloom Command ($1.49)
Part of Assassin’s Trophy’s power lies in its flexibility; destroying anything is as flexible as dedicated removal can be. However, if you want to get more out of your interactive spells than just removal, perhaps consider choosing Witherbloom Command. With it, you can do everything from taking out small creatures and nonland permanents to draining opponents to filling up your graveyard. It doesn’t do one thing brilliantly, but its wide range of applications makes this an underrated utility card.
Demonic Tutor ($37.99)
Tutors are a popular choice in Commander, as they provide consistency for combos, win conditions, engine pieces or even secret commanders. Demonic Tutor is the one efficient enough to see play in cEDH, but the card sees its fair share of play in higher power Commander, too. But this effect isn’t restricted to an almost $40 price tag, and you can save a lot of money by switching this out for something similar.
Option 1: Diabolic Tutor ($0.79)
If you’re looking for a no-strings tutor at an affordable price, Diabolic Tutor is the card for you. It’s identical in every way to Demonic Tutor — except for the mana cost. Four mana can be a lot at more high powered tables, but if you want great flexibility and consistency in a casual deck, this is among the best options.
Option 2: Profane Tutor ($2.99)
If four mana is too much, you can always give Profane Tutor a try. It’s identical in cost to Demonic Tutor, but you have to wait two turns before you can cast it from Suspend. While opponents may see it coming, they know you could be nabbing an answer to whatever issue is plaguing the table when the spell resolves. You can use this to your advantage since maybe they won’t commit too hard to the board for those turns. You can also cast it for free in a number of ways, with cards like As Foretold, Electrodominance or using Cascade.
Option 3: Dark Petition ($7.49)
If you don’t want to pay four mana or wait two turns, you should check out Dark Petition. It requires some setup to become a two mana tutor, but it’s not hard to get to five mana and put two spells in your graveyard. This option is best if you want to find something to play right away so you can make the most of the mana rebate, but it works perfectly fine as a tutor even without spell mastery.
Time Warp ($14.99)
Extra turns are a divisive kind of card in Commander. If you’re looking to abuse them with commanders like Narset, Enlightened Master or Edric, Spymaster of Trest, they’re usually met with disdain. However one or two extra turns in a deck can be a great way to gain extra value or simply close out a game when you just need one more combat step. Fifteen dollars can be a bit much for that kind of effect, though, so here are some alternatives:
Option 1: Walk the Aeons ($1.79)
The main difference between Walk the Aeons and Time Warp is Walk the Aeons costs one more mana to cast. That’s a small price to pay to save you 90% of the financial cost! The buyback effect is also very powerful, and some decks can be built to take advantage of this. I actually prefer Walk the Aeons to Time Warp in my Slogurk, the Overslime deck, as I can continuously replay the sacrificed lands to take infinite turns if needed.
Option 2: Karn’s Temporal Sundering ($3.49)
Consider Karn’s Temporal Sundering if you’d like more from your extra turn spell, especially when playing at a lower power level. Unlike Time Warp, this spell requires a legendary creature or planeswalker in play before you can cast it, and it exiles itself upon resolution. These may usually be drawbacks, but it also lets you bounce a nonland permanent to make up for that. It’s perfect if you need to remove a blocker or deal with a Ghostly Prison effect.
Option 3: Alrund’s Epiphany ($5.49)
Alrund’s Epiphany is one of the newest extra turn spells, and it’s relatively affordable. Foretell can help you reduce its cost while also protecting it from discard or wheel effects, which is perfect if you draw it early in the game. The two 1/1 bird tokens may not seem like much, but they do translate to extra damage almost immediately, especially if you have board-wide effects they can take advantage of, like Intangible Virtue.
Phyrexian Arena ($12.99)
Phyrexian Arena costs what it does because it’s one of the best at its jobs: drawing an extra card every turn. Doing so at the cost of one life is an incredible rate, and that isn’t really found on many other cards. Good news, though: there are plenty of excellent alternatives that perform admirably for a fraction of the financial price.
Option 1: Underworld Connections ($0.35)
Underworld Connections is the closest analog to Phyrexian Arena, and it does a phenomenal job for the price. It’s still an enchantment, you still have the two black pips for devotion and it still gives you a card for a life. The only downside is you need to tap the enchanted land to get its effect. You can, however, activate it at instant speed. This lets you hold up mana to respond to your opponents and then draw a card if you don’t need to act.
Option 2: Greed ($0.25)
Greed has been a reliable card draw engine for years, and it’s a brilliant substitution for Phyrexian Arena. You may have to pay life and mana to draw a card, but Greed makes up for this inefficiency by being repeatable. You can activate it several times a turn, drawing cards for as long as you have the resources available.
Option 3: Dread Presence ($2.29)
Dread Presence is a fantastic card draw option for a Mono Black deck (or a deck that runs Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth). Drawing a card whenever you play a swamp is extremely powerful, and when you don’t need the cards, you can start removing small threats while recouping the life loss instead. This flexibility makes Dread Presence a powerful tool for attrition, and it’s one that all Black-heavy decks should consider.
OK, Timetwister isn’t exactly a staple, but it absolutely would be if it wasn’t too obscenely expensive for 99% of Commander players. Timetwister is, after all, a lot of fun to play. It gives you a fresh hand, it removes problem cards in opponents’ hands that you might know about and it’s technically graveyard hate.
Some also say it’s essentially blue’s equivalent to Wheel of Fortune. But this kind of enjoyment isn’t restricted to those lucky enough to still have their Magic collection from the mid-90s. Just like I showed with Wheel of Fortune in the last article, you don’t need to be on a six-figure salary to afford this effect.
Option 1: Game Plan ($2.29)
Game Plan is expensive at six mana, but it’s also about $2. In addition, you can get another player to help pay for the mana cost thanks to Assist. Most of the time, someone at the table will be willing to help out, either as a favor or payback in kind. It isn’t quite the same as Timetwister, but it’s about 95% of the same effect — which isn’t bad for a card that’s 0.2% of the price.
Option 2: Time Reversal ($3.49)
Time Reversal is easier to cast than Game Plan, but you have to pay for it all yourself. If you want the “best” version of this effect without actually forking out for Timetwister, then this is probably the right choice. Two mana is a lot more to pay in competitive games, but so is $1,600. The disparity in price more than excuses the difference in mana at all but the most competitive tables.
Option 3: Commit//Memory ($0.35)
Once again, I’ve got a flexible option for you. Commit//Memory can be used early on as a way to remove a problematic permanent or spell and then you can use it as a Timetwister later. It’s pretty inefficient on both halves, but that flexibility is worth it.
Players also used this card extensively in Standard at the time, as Torrential Gearhulk would allow you to cast the Memory side at instant speed. You can still do this in Commander, and it feels exactly as good as it sounds. At just $0.35, this card deserves to be taken out of the bulk rare box and put into your deck box instead.
Now that you know how to save your wallet, how do you feel about these affordable alternatives? Do you have any other budget cards you like to run over more costly staples? I’d love to hear about over on Twitter.
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.