Updated: Oct 28
Commander is often praised as a format for great diversity in playstyles and card selection. However, like any format, people tend to hone in on the most powerful and optimal cards. This unfortunately leads to price hikes.
In fact, Commander is often pointed to as the leading driver of the MTG singles market.
Today I want to look at some of the staples of the format and discuss some budget alternatives. My aim is to push you toward some lesser-known cards.
Maybe you're trying to save a couple dollars, perhaps your playgroup is looking to power down a little bit, or perhaps you just want redundancy by including extra copies of these effects.
Regardless, let's have a look at some hidden Commander gems on a budget.
What is a Staple?
First off, what is a staple? In general, I would consider a format staple to be a card that is a combination of iconic and powerful. These are instantly recognizable, sometimes feared, and often hated.
Many staples also have the advantage of being incredibly flexible. They can slot into a lot of decks to suit a variety of playstyles and use cases. They don't need to be the best at what they do, however they are good enough in most situations that they are worth playing.
MTG Commander Staple Budget Alternatives
Teferi's Protection made its debut in the Commander 2017 Commander decks. Since then its only appearance en mass has been in Double Masters 2022 at rare. This has allowed the card to reach players' hands, however, it is still regularly seen around the $20 mark.
What make's this card so versatile is its ability to protect your board in the event of a disastrous Wrath of God, or to save you from a lethal attack. It can also put a damper on your opponent's combo if it targets you or deals damage.
If you are playing Teferi's Protection as a means of denying your opponent a win, I suggest trying out Angels' Grace. For one mana, you deny your opponent their combo win. It also saves you from lethal combat damage, allowing you to potentially crack back on your turn.
Split Second is further icing on the cake ensuring the opponent has minimal ways to interact. This one does however not protect your board in the event of a board wipe. However, for two mana and around $18 less this is a strong contender for some versatile protection.
Alternatively, if your goal is to protect your creatures, then Guardian of Faith is a fantastic option! At three mana you can phase out any number of creatures. Naturally, this lends itself to protecting your creatures from a board wipe. Alternatively, you can use this on the defensive. When your opponent attacks, declare blockers but then flash this in before damage is dealt. Suddenly you have blocked your opponent's attack while also preserving your creatures so you can attack the next turn.
Heroic Intervention is an awesome way to protect a huge board in a pinch. Hexproof and Indestructible is a great combo on both the attack and defense. This rare was first seen in Aether Revolt, later in M21, and most recently in the Forgotten Realms Commander decks. Despite being printed in two Standard sets it still commands (no pun intended) a $15 price tag.
Thankfully for blue mages out there, Heroic Intervention has a budget alternative, Lazotep Plating is two mana to grant you and permanents you control Hexproof until the end of the turn. While the Indestructible will be dearly missed, you might be able to stomach it when you realize Lazotep Plating is only $0.40! Additionally, it comes with a free Zombie Army just in case you need an extra blocker.
In a similar vein, Simic Charm offers mass Hexproof for two mana but also has extra functionality. You can choose between the Hexproof, +3/+3 for a single creature, or returning a creature to its owner's hand. This one is rarely a dead card thanks to its ability to play well on offense and defense.
Lastly, if you would like to stay out of blue I have a recommendation. Grand Crescendo is two white mana and X for an instant that creates X 1/1 creature tokens, and grants all creatures you control indestructible. This one is quickly rising in price thanks to its ability to pump out tokens and protect your board. At its floor, this is two mana for mass indestructible! Crescendo was only printed recently in the New Capenna Commander decks.
Stores may still have some of those decks on shelves, and could even be selling them at a discount to make room for newer products. This could be a great pick up, and a potential rising star in the future. It is less budget-friendly than many other cards on this list at $7-$8, however, I think it is a great option at that price.
Force of Will
Force of Will is a real granddaddy of counterspells. Nothing does Force quite like Force and anything that comes close is similarly priced. Some of the best alternatives to Force of Will while still being budget require you to be heavily in blue.
First up there's Foil. This does a pretty good impersonation of Force for the cost of discarding an Island, and any other card. In a similar vein, we also have Thwart, which asks you to return three Islands you control to your hand in exchange for a counterspell.
Thwart would likely feel most at home in a Simic Landfall deck where you can likely replay those Islands quickly. Decks such as Aesi would have no issue putting lands into play again. Alternatively, use those lands as fodder for Foil!
Lastly, there's Commandeer. This one is a weird one. In the grand scheme of Force of Will and "free" counterspells its budget, but in the U.S. it comes in at $10-$15 on a good day. Additionally, a special shout-out to EU readers, this card can be as low as four euros if you are willing to buy a poor-condition version! Commandeer is no doubt a powerful spell. Countering a spell is awesome, but stealing the spell is just an insult to injury. I think this deserves more play in blue decks!
Akin to Force of Will, Deflecting Swat is a free spell if your commander is in play. (Hint: It's usually good to play your Commander). There are a plethora of redirect style effects in this format. However, very few come close to Deflecting Swat.
I think Bolt Bend does the best impersonation. While it cannot be cast for free, one mana is pretty close. The four-power creature stipulation is not a big hurdle especially in decks with a four-power commander. Besides having a big commander, your deck may be filled with plenty of creatures that fit the bill to turn this card into an easy, under-costed auto include.
Ashnod's Altar/Phyrexian Altar
Lastly, let's look at the duo of Ashnod's and Phyrexian Altar. Both of these are outstanding in their own right, turning creatures into mana. Nothing does this effect better! Aristocrats decks love them, however, sometimes you don't care about the mana, hence our budget options today!
If your goal is simply to have a hard-to-interact sacrifice outlet, I suggest Martyr's Cause and Fanatical Devotion. Both of these are three-mana enchantments, notably harder to destroy than the Altars while providing some unique boons in the form of regeneration and damage prevention. If you simply want to kill your own creatures give these two a try.
Alternatively, I want to give a shout-out to one of my favorite multi-functional sacrifice outlets; Dimir House Guard. Sacrificing a creature to regenerate Dimir House Guard is nothing to write home about, especially for four mana and being attached to a creature. However, it will do the job in a pinch.
The real unique piece of utility with this is Transmute. This allows you to get any four mana spells from your deck! That could be a Wrath of God in a dire situation, or perhaps a Pitiless Plunderer to turn one of the other aforementioned sacrifice outlets into a DIY Phyrexian Altar, or grab a Dread Return and prepare for a game-ending reanimate. Maybe you want to start locking down the game with a Grave Pact. Dimir House Guard is a surprisingly flexible sacrifice outlet.
What do you think of these budget picks? Are they better than the original or maybe they'll just attract less heat than their pricey predecessors? What cards do you think are too expensive and deserve a budget replacement?
Let us know and we'll try this again with your suggestions!
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