New EDHREC Feature! Commander Showdown — Budget vs Expensive

Budget Showdown

Watch out world, because EDHREC has a brand-new feature in town. You may remember when we unveiled our new Theme Selection tool back in September. For those who don’t remember, it’s the thing to the right of the pie chart that looks like this:

That’s the Theme Selection tool for The Scarab God. Using these options, you can choose to see statistics for all decks, or decks that bias toward a certain tribe, or no tribe at all, or towards mill, and so on. Some folks like Scarab God Zombies, others like Scarab God Goodstuff, and it’s helpful to differentiate the two so you don’t see recommendations for cards you don’t actually want to play. Depending on the commander, there are lots of possible themes, so you can select the one you’re most interested in to tailor recommendations more closely to your deckbuilding preferences.

Now there’s something new added to the Theme Selection tool. Take a look at the themes for Meren of Clan Nel Toth, and see if you can spot the difference:

That’s right, we’ve added a budget selection tool! Beyond tribes and counters and mill, you can now choose to view either very expensive decks, or very budget decks!


How Does This Work?

EDHREC collects data on decks ranging from below $50 to above $1,000. By selecting Budget: Expensive, you’ll see data from the Top 10% Most Expensive Decks for that commander. By selecting Budget: Cheap, you’ll see the Top 10% Least Expensive Decks for that commander.

Why Not Set a Price Threshold? Under $50, Under $100, etc?

That idea was attempted, but it didn’t work out very well. By setting a limit to see only decks with total price $50 or below, or $100 or below, or $500 or more, it skewed the numbers a bit too much, especially for five-color decks with expensive mana bases. Plus prices tend to be, for lack of a better word, arbitrary; Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice is currently $25, which would eat up quite a lot of the budget for a $50 or less datapoint. Rather than picking a specific price, choosing the cheapest 10% of decks and the most expensive 10% of decks provides a nice range for each commander.

Why Do This At All?

Because prices can screw with statistics. Take a look at the Top White Cards page and look at the difference between Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile.

They’re both hyper-efficient removal spells that exile any creature for a single mana, and the two most popular white cards in EDH. Yet despite their similarity, they have a significant statistical gap between them. Swords to Plowshares, at less than $2, shows up in nearly half of all white EDH decks. Path to Exile, at $8, shows up in just below a third of all white EDH decks.

If you’re playing white, you probably want both, but not all players can afford both. Prices affect deckbuilding, which affects our statistics, which affects recommendations. If you don’t have the means to play with expensive cards, the Budget: Cheap option is here to help you find good cards in your price range without recommending a bunch of cards you can’t afford. If you have the means to play with expensive cards, the Budget: Expensive option should help weed out some of the chaff you know you aren’t going to use. Budgets can affect a deck’s entire strategy, so by choosing the option that more closely mirrors your means, you can find more appropriate recommendations for the strategy you prefer.


Budget Meren vs Expensive Meren

Let’s take a look at this new Budget tool in action to illustrate what I mean! Our case study today is Meren of Clan Nel Toth. If you’d like, you can check out the results yourself by clicking here for the Budget: Cheap option, and here for the Budget: Expensive option. For the rest of you, I’m busting out my old Venn Diagram tool from my regular Commander Showdown series!

As usual, this Venn Diagram compares the Top and Signature Cards for each commander—or in this case, for Cheap Meren and Expensive Meren. Let’s see what kind of results we get!

Cheap Meren Both Expensive Meren
Butcher of Malakir Eternal Witness Phyrexian Tower
Mycoloth Sakura-Tribe Elder Bayou
Kessig Cagebreakers Skullclamp Survival of the Fittest
Viridian Zealot Victimize Diabolic Intent
Viridian Emissary Reanimate
Scourge of Nel Toth Verdant Catacombs
Shriekmaw Demonic Tutor
Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord Vampiric Tutor
Vivid Grove Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Phyrexian Plaguelord Fleshbag Marauder
Wretched Confluence Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Primal Growth Caustic Caterpillar
Champion of Stray Souls Buried Alive
Vivid Marsh Birthing Pod
Putrefy Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Acidic Slime Reclamation Sage
Golgari Signet Sylvan Library
Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest Merciless Executioner
Terastodon Deathrite Shaman
Satyr Wayfinder Viscera Seer
Lightning Greaves Birds of Paradise
Golgari Charm Entomb
Wood Elves Green Sun’s Zenith
Eldrazi Monument Phyrexian Arena

Holy wow, these are some very different lists! Right off the bat we can see that the recommendations for budget and expensive decks are vastly dissimilar. Let’s look closer and see if we can’t notice any specific trends from those lists.

As can be expected, Cheap Meren’s Top and Signature Cards bias toward the Precon Effect. Since Meren originated from a precon, the most budget-friendly option to build her is by just picking up the Plunder the Graves product. What I’m most interested in are the cards in the Both column. There are only four: Eternal Witness, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Skullclamp, and Victimize.

When both low-budget and high-budget players agree on a card, it’s worth paying attention to. Eternal Witness in particular is a great recursion engine for Meren, and nothing ramps up your mana like Sakura-Tribe Elder.

Meanwhile, the Expensive Meren list is absolutely stuffed with tutors. Demonic Tutor, Green Sun’s Zentih, Birthing Pod… it comes as no surprise that high-budget players like their decks to be consistent, and there’s nothing like a tutor to make your deck run more consistently. Of course, there are also all the pricey lands, from Verdant Catacombs to Bayou.

What grabs my eye are the inexpensive cards in Expensive Meren’s column, yet don’t show up in the Both column. Caustic Caterpillar, Fleshbag Marauder, Merciless Executioner, Reclamation Sage—these cards are all under $1 and excellent selections for Meren players, yet they don’t show up for both versions.

This is a really good lesson for players on a tight budget. Don’t disregard the Budget: Expensive tool completely just because most of the cards are out of your price range. You may find some really great and perfectly affordable cards among those expensive decks. Instead of finding a diamond in the rough, you could find some high-quality rough amongst the diamonds!


Filling out the 99

Top and Signature Cards are all well and good, but I actually think the best part about this new feature lies deeper in the data. For players on a budget, the Top and Signature Cards aren’t usually the main concern. The real problem is filling out the rest of the 99 with cards that are affordable but still powerful. That’s where this new tool really shines.

After wading through cards that came in the precon, we can find inexpensive cards on Cheap Meren’s page, such as Jarad’s Orders, which lets you tutor for cards, just like all those Expensive Meren players. Lower down in the Artifacts section, we find Ashnod’s Altar, a fantastic sacrifice outlet that helps you rack up the experience counters. Speaking of sacrifice outlets, there’s also Evolutionary Leap in the Enchantments section.

That’s the other valuable takeaway when using this new tool: don’t get too hung up on high percentages. These recommendations are more closely tuned to your preferences, which means even the lower-percentage recommendations are still worth your attention. True, Gray Merchant of Asphodel only shows up in 20% of Cheap Meren decks, but he’s an excellent card to revive over and over with Meren’s ability. Grim Haruspex only shows up in 28%, but his synergy with sacrifice outlets is just plain fantastic. To get the most value out of this new feature, make sure you don’t ignore the underdogs.


Let’s Brew!

Using these new tools, let’s finish up with a decklist for an expensive Meren deck and an inexpensive Meren deck. Hopefully these can give you a good idea of how to use these new budget features in your own deckbuilding enterprises. Enjoy!


Expensive Meren

Commander (1)
Creatures (32)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (10)
Artifacts (8)
Enchantments (8)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (35)


Cards to Consider

As long as I have you, I want to draw your attention to some great cards for Meren that go under the radar. Check them out:

Deathreap Ritual Twilight's Call

  • Twilight’s Call: Played correctly, this is a second copy of Living Death.
  • Farhaven Elf: This is very similar to Wood Elves, yet sees way less play. Let’s fix that. They’re both very good.
  • Cauldron of Souls: Nothing feels better than giving your creatures persist, sacrificing them for a bunch of experience counters, then getting them all back for more enters-the-battlefield effects!
  • Gonti, Lord of Luxury: A powerful commander in their own right, Gonti offers a fun new source of card advantage for a Meren deck. The fact that you can still cast the exiled card even after Gonti has left the battlefield is just wacky. Recur Gonti a few times with Meren’s ability and they’ll provide you with a handsome grip of cards to use against your opponents.
  • Deathreap Ritual: Because not everyone owns a Phyrexian Arena. Besides, in this deck, Deathreap has the potential to draw you more cards than Arena!

That’s Cheap!

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about the new Budget selection tool. I have a deck or two that are incredibly high-budget, and this new feature should help me weed through the statistics to find better matches for decks like mine. I also have a much greater number of low-budget decks, and these tools will be very helpful to find great new cards in a reasonable price range.

Enjoy the new feature, and let us know what other features, themes, and tools you’d like to see on the site!

Til next time!

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Joseph Schultz is a Creative Writer from Seattle who works in a library by day and shuffles libraries by night. He has played Magic since 2005 and EDH in particular since 2010. He was also born exactly one year before Magic the Gathering, which he thinks is probably some kind of sign.