A Card Kingdom gift card is a better present than fruitcake – it’s easier to use and tastes better. Let’s say you’ve been a busy adult, making ends meet and beginnings sweet, and you haven’t had a chance to pay attention to your beloved Commander format this year. Then – bam! One of your frie-latives listens and gets you a gift card. How would you best spend it?
In this article, I’ll suggest 25 cards from 2018 that you’ll be sure to use for years to come, and they total around $25 – the smallest Card Kingdom gift card. And if you don’t get a gift card, then consider this article a review of the best budget Commander cards in 2018 – because it was secretly (until I told you) doing that, too.
Grouped by set, here we go!
RIVALS OF IXALAN
Honden of Seeing Winds and Staff of Nin are the most similar cards to Kumena’s Awakening, but I watch my five- and six-drop slots carefully, and I prefer having my card draw cost less mana. Kumena’s Awakening is my kind of card.
This and Crackling Doom are the only two instants that force each opponent to sacrifice a creature. In most situations, Vona’s Hunger goes further and makes each opponent sacrifice half their creatures, rounded up (so if they have just one, it’s gone). And all this is for three mana, which is easy to leave up. Buy these now before everyone understands how great this card is.
A land that can go into any deck and draw cards is always playable. Like Vona’s Hunger, I’m surprised they printed something this universally useful with no drawback. Your red- and white-based decks are begging for this card.
The reprint cut this Commander 2014 card’s price by over half. There are few blue creatures that are great against board sweepers; this one is great against three sweepers. You can run it with sacrifice decks, token decks, cloning decks, or just by itself in a deck that’s otherwise vulnerable to sweepers. For style points, Mirrorweave the entire board to Reef Worm in response to a sweeper and watch the control player get very sad.
This was about $10 until the reprints this year (it’s also in this year’s Commander Anthology). It’s one of red’s best card draw spells and it can be cast at instant speed. You can reanimate the Magus if you’re running black or white; if you’re in green, activate this with Abundance and get whatever mix of lands and non-lands you want. Writing this article has convinced me I need to own more than my lone copy.
Another potent three-drop, this was consistently a dollar before the reprint, just expensive enough to substitute Mwonvuli Beast Tracker if you were cash-strapped. Now, you can have both. Tutoring for your best creature is good enough that you don’t even need Elf or blink synergies to make this worth running.
Wizards has spent years making variants that cost more mana (Eternal Witness and Recollect) or are conditional (Nature’s Spiral); they’re never going to make a strictly better Regrowth. It used to be $3; it isn’t now. Get some.
I started playing Magic right after Cabal Coffers came out and (thankfully) have kept a copy since then. This will do most of Cabal Coffers‘s job, and the Stronghold‘s ability to tap for black mana matters more than for other colors. If you’re on a budget, you’re running a lot of basic Swamps anyway, and this card rewards you for it.
A 4/5 menace for four mana is at a sweet spot in the early game – not too hard for everyone to spend defensive energy on, not too soft to go unnoticed. In the late game, ten mana gets you 20 power of menace across nine bodies, and it all enters untapped. Who’s going to have enough to block all this? Nobody, that’s who.
It’s a little spendy for this list, but A) artifacts can go into any deck, and B) this artifact creates absurd board states. I have a friend who loves nothing more than this on Crested Sunmare; I love it on Silumgar, the Drifting Death. It’s good on anything.
They hadn’t printed “Exile all nonland permanents” on a card before, so paying the full eight mana for this card is perfectly fine. Unique effects rarely are so nicely priced.
If Etali, Primal Storm was the chart-topper this year for red card advantage, this is the deep cut. Unlike Etali, this doesn’t cast the cards for free, but it’s not like you usually want all the things you get off Etali‘s attack trigger, and not having to attack to get the cards is really nice in several instances. If Etali hadn’t been printed, we’d be calling this red’s best draw spell in forever.
One of the tough things about budget Commander is consistent access to great non-basic lands. This can find you those lands while possibly setting opponents back in mana – a perfect turn-four green play.
Multicolored cards typically aren’t the best budget choices because they can go in fewer decks. But this is a three-mana board wipe with a drawback we can work with. As long as there are a reasonable number of low-powered creatures (and in black-red, they could be your own Goblins), this will kill everything you care about.
The other pricey card on this list, but you will have an immediate home for it. If you’ve been playing on a budget for awhile (as I’m used to), you’re not used to this level of card draw outside blue. It’s intoxicating, I assure you.
CORE SET 2019
A lot of writeups during preview season missed this card’s versatility. It can act like Darksteel Mutation and Imprisoned in the Moon by making an opposing threat small, but it also can act like Clone and upgrade your worst creature into a threat. All this for just two mana!
Guilds of Ravnica‘s Beast Whisperer, another great green card draw engine, came out so soon after this that I want to make sure the Armasaur gets your attention. Beast Whisperer is more proactive, because you have the creatures that fuel the card draw. With Runic Armasaur, your opponents fuel your card draw, but that card draw will come in one of the situations it matters most: during infinite combos. If it’s a combo with, say, Viscera Seer and death triggers, or Azami, Lady of Scrolls and untapping creatures, Runic Armasaur will give you a card for each activation – which will almost certainly let you find the answer. Don’t sleep on this card. (Dinosaurs don’t like being pillows.)
You won’t be able to point this at the Izzet player who has loads of tiny spells, but you can point this at the green mage for ramp or the white/black mages for creature removal. Looking at my own decks, I see very few instants and sorceries that are so specific to the deck that an opponent with Chaos Wand couldn’t get value out of them, and the Wand‘s ability to cast sorceries at instant speed puts this over the top. Beat expensive decks with their own cards – it’s fun!
Stop death triggers, and you stop several deck plans. This does it not by a mana activation, like the well-established Scavenging Ooze, but by sitting there – and it grows huge in the process while demanding real blockers on the attack. This is one of the best Commander-centric exile creatures ever printed.
GUILDS OF RAVNICA
It’s a common tactic for opponents to cast Lightning Greaves/Swiftfoot Boots before their commanders, because that’s when it’s theoretically safest to play them. Bounty Agent can show up beforehand and threaten that safety. It also kills enough other random cards (like Helm of the Host) to be worth it, it wears pump Equipment well thanks to vigilance, and it has two relevant creature types.
I love Retribution of the Meek for decks with a lot of small creatures. In Commander, the only practical difference between that card’s destroying power four or greater and Citywide Bust‘s destroying toughness four or greater is defenders; I’ll take that for a three-mana sweeper that punches above its weight class.
More breaking of sorcery-speed rules, more cheating of mana costs. Instant-speed River’s Rebuke, Decree of Pain, and Tooth and Nail (the Adept is kind enough to let you entwine) are just the beginning of its greatness. Like Bounty Agent, having two relevant creature types helps.
Similar to Cackling Counterpart, but substituting a discarded card for the extra mana investment. They have different strengths, but if you suspect opponents have one counterspell available, the six mana to cast Quasiduplicate twice makes it more likely you will get the copied creature you need this turn. And discarding with jump-start can be an upside – if you’re cloning Sun Titan, for instance, discarding a cheap card you were about to play is added value.
Strictly better than the widely-played Explosive Vegetation. Like with Pir’s Whim, fetching dual lands normally costs more money than this, and if you use a lot of Guildgates, being able to put them directly onto the battlefield adds so much to deck consistency.
Two years with various reprints have brought this powerhouse from $8 to $1. I’ve often tried to figure out how to do without it, but now I don’t have to. Its floor on the battlefield is an efficient flyer; its ceiling is doing as many recursion and blink hijinks as you want.
This list is just a sample of what you can do with a small gift card around here. Even if you lived under a budget-induced rock this year, you can catch up with these cards for less than the cost of a prerelease in some places. Commander’s gotten a great boost this year, and no matter what’s been going on in your life, you can get in on the action.
Magic is always better when you enjoy what you acquire. Think it through, and then go get it. And if your frie-latives are getting you gift cards for it…even better!
Brandon Isleib plays a lot of Commander and Brawl and loves finding the intersection of unusual and effective plays. He worked for Wizards of the Coast in 2014, he has put flavor text on a few cards, and he’s partly responsible for “create” being the word for cards making tokens. He is a legislation editor for the city of Seattle, he has written a baseball book, and he is proficient at making his bio sound more impressive than it is.