The Best Budget Commanders in Strixhaven

Scott Cullen Commander

Pay attention, class! Strixhaven’s release is almost upon us, and you must be sure you’re ready for it. There are 22 new legendary creatures in the set, and that’s not even counting the ones in Commander 2021. If you’re looking for a new commander but don’t know where to start, fear not: you can borrow my notes!

These are my cheat sheets for three of the new commanders; I’ll go through their different playstyles, the cards that work best with them, and any neat synergies you can take advantage of. And to make sure these notes are useful for everyone, I’ll be approaching them all from a budget perspective. You won’t have to spend much to get a lot of power from these three study buddies!

Dina, Soul Steeper

First up is Dina, and she’s not just bringing the tea. Her abilities would usually lend themselves to a more traditional Aristocrats build, but Witherbloom College is very different from the Golgari Swarm. I thought I’d help highlight Witherbloom’s identity by showcasing Dina’s abilities in a more unique way: Stompy Voltron!

Dina’s ability to gain temporary power by taking the power of others is extremely potent, especially on a commander that costs just two mana. You can capitalize on this by playing cheap creatures with high power, then sacrificing them to give her a huge boost. Creatures like Lupine Prototype and Phyrexian Soulgorger have incredible stats for their cost, but they come with significant drawbacks. Thankfully, you’ll rarely suffer the downsides, as you’ll be sacrificing them to power up Dina. These creatures have low mana values, so you can easily recur them with the likes of Unearth and Call of the Death-Dweller for double the damage!

When you’re being this aggressive, you need to be sure that others don’t try to work together and race you. One of the best ways to win the race is to give Dina lifelink: not only will this make it harder for opponents to take you out, but Dina’s first ability essentially means lifelink is equivalent to double strike for her. Vampiric Link is an efficient option for lifelink, and trample gained from the classic Loxodon Warhammer will also help her punch through opposing defenses. If you aren’t able to make use of Dina’s abilities, Whip of Erebos’s ability to grant lifelink to your team means those massive misfits can be used as an unusually effective assault force in a pinch. Not only that, but it grants additional ways to reanimate them, if needed.

One of the best approaches to winning with a Voltron-style deck is to reduce the number of combat steps needed to end the game. Sanguine Bond works in concert with any of your life gain effects to drain an opponent, and will also double up with Dina’s drain trigger for even more life loss. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose does the same job, but is also a repeatable lifelink enabler. Fireshrieker is another way to double up damage, but unlike the drain effects, its additional damage when attached to Dina will count as commander damage.

In case you can’t quite get the job done through combat, there are more than enough options for additional reach that will work in tandem with sacrificing your creatures. Poison-Tip Archer is a great way for you to punish sweepers on large boards, and Bastion of Remembrance can recoup some life while adding that extra bit of reach. Syr Konrad, the Grim is an all-star in most black decks, but is especially useful here. He will ping your opponents whenever you sacrifice or reanimate creatures, and you can even activate him a few times a turn to close out tight games.

Okay, so we weren’t able to go the whole way through a green/black deck without adding some Aristocrats elements. But the end result is a unique blend of resilient aggression with the ability to close out games when opponents have stabilized. If you like how Dina puts your opponents in hot water, this may be the brew for you.

Codie, Vociferous Codex

You don’t need to be book smart to know that Codie, Vociferous Codex is an unusual and powerful commander. They may prevent you from playing permanent spells when they’re on the battlefield, but their activated ability more than makes up for it; giving your spells cascade is incredibly powerful, even if it only can hit instants and sorceries.

This commander is very well-suited to a Polymorph-style strategy, with plenty of room to fit some of the most powerful budget spells in all five colors of Magic. Put on your reading glasses — it’s time to get stuck into this powerful body of work!

You’ll want to reduce the number of permanent spells in your deck to prevent them from being dead cards while Codie is on the board. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer is an exception to this rule, as she can generate multiple creatures for you to transform. Lazotep Plating is an underrated protection spell that also generates a token, and Emergent Sequence is a new Rampant Growth that also turns the land you find into a creature.

Next, your Polymorph effects can make your incidental tokens much more impactful. Transmogrify is a color-shifted Polymorph, but it exiles instead of destroying. This is usually irrelevant, but it can sometimes be used in a pinch as a removal spell for an indestructible creature. Reality Scramble is a repeatable Polymorph effect, and Mass Polymorph will dramatically transform your board and turn the tide of battle. Remember, if you cast any of these spells after activating Codie’s ability, you’ll be gaining even more value by cascading into another spell.

To make Polymorph decks work, you have to have great creatures to hit with these effects. As you’re in all five colors, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Diluvian Primordial or Sire of Stagnation can generate absurd value, and Ashen Rider (or Agent of Treachery, if budget allows) are perfect answers to any permanent. Magister Sphinx can put opponents at an uncomfortably low life total, making it even easier for you to close out the game. These can also be put back into your deck with cards like Fire Prophecy, in case you draw them at an awkward time.

To ensure you get the most out of Codie’s ability, you’ll need some powerful spells to cast! Conflux is one of the strongest sorceries at your disposal; not only will it tutor five cards for you, but it can cascade into any other spell in your deck. Codie’s ability even provides fantastic fixing for it! If you accidentally draw one of your creatures, or you want to set up for either your Polymorph effects or Codie’s “cascade,” cards like Brainstorm are perfect for the job. Finally, if you can play Manifold Key before you cast Codie, it can untap them for an additional activation every turn. That’s double the chaotic cascade value!

Whether you love all colors of Magic or just love a good book, Codie, Vociferous Codex is a great choice for you.

Rootha, Mercurial Artist

It wouldn’t be one of my articles without a blue and red commander! Rootha is the star pupil of the Prismari College, and she’s one of the latest in a long line of spellslinger commanders. Her ability to copy your spells can be a potent power, and can lead to all manner of stack-based shenanigans.

If you’re going to copy instants and sorceries, you might as well copy powerful ones. Treasure Cruise is an easy addition, often acting as an Ancestral Recall in spellslinger decks, and getting two Ancestrals for just three mana is an incredible rate. Brass’s Bounty may be pricey to initially cast, but it effectively doubles your mana if Rootha makes her own version. Copying a Frantic Search with the Orc Shaman will also net you mana, especially if you untap a land like Izzet Boilerworks. These spells will all help you set up for the bigger turns when you can really start to go off.

One good copy deserves another! Plagiarism may be frowned upon in academia, but all bets are off at the Commander table, especially if you went to the effort of copying the spell yourself. Reverberate is a classic that can function as anything from a copy of your own card draw spell to an opposing counter. Insidious Will is a fantastic modal spell; it can even redirect spells like Dovin’s Veto. Finally, Expansion//Explosion may be restricted by mana value for copies, but it comes with an excellent spell attached that’s worth copying, too.

You can add some classic spellslinger payoffs, like Talrand, Sky Summoner or Young Pyromancer to give the deck a more traditional feel. There are plenty of new kids on the block that can stand up to the older classics, too: Storm-Kiln Artist is one I talked about in a recent article, and it will fit right at home beside Rootha. Between casting a spell and copying it, Storm-Kiln Artist will have generated two Treasure tokens, effectively paying for Rootha’s activated ability. Ral, Storm Conduit is another honorary magecraft payoff, dealing opponents damage for every spell that’s cast or copied, and copying spells themself. Ral can even deal infinite damage by using one copy spell to copy another, resulting in a loop that will trigger his “magecraft” ability ad nauseam!

No crafty spellslinger deck would be complete without some spicy tricks, and Rootha won’t be the one to break this tradition! Rings of Brighthearth doubles up your Rootha abilities, and it recently became more affordable thanks to a reprint in Commander Legends. You can add Basalt Monolith as a way to go infinite with Rings of Brighthearth, too, which I explained in detail in my recent Budget Commander Combos article. This will give you extra mana for larger spells like Expansion//Explosion, or you can filter it through Gemstone Array for any color, then bounce and replay Rootha to your heart’s content! You can even add Teferi, Mage of Zhalhir to give Rootha flash, so she can repeatedly copy a Lightning Bolt for the win.

There are countless spells and tricks you can fit into spellslinger decks, and Rootha makes sure you get to savor the best parts by experiencing them twice. If you’re an Izzet mage looking to transfer to the Prismari College, Rootha is best suited to show you the ropes!

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Whether you’re new to Magic or you’ve got tenure, you’re bound to find something new and exciting among the legendaries at Strixhaven. I hope this article shows that you don’t need to apply for funding to get the best Strixhaven experience, either, and that no matter what level you play at, these exceptional study buddies are sure to help you pass the test at your Commander table.

What do you think of these commanders? Do you have a favorite new legendary creature from Strixhaven? Let me know over on Twitter — I’d love to hear what you think of the set!