Welcome to Thrifty Fifty, a series where we build budget EDH decks for $50, or around the same price as a Gilded Drake. We’ll be paying special attention to new and/or underplayed commanders, and crafting efficient decks that you’ll be proud to bring to EDH night. In the process, we’ll discover budget gems, rad combos, and, hopefully, cards you never knew existed.
In our first installment, we’re going dark and wading deep into the heart of the Otarian marshes of Dominaria, domain of the feared Cabal, to seek out the blood god himself: Torgaar, Famine Incarnate.
Standing about three stories high, Torgaar is impossible to miss, so I was dumbstruck by the fact that he’s only at the helm of twenty decks. Twenty!
The blood god demands greater sacrifice.
How does Torgaar stack up against some of the other legends of Dominaria?
Muldrotha, Jodah, and Tatyova, besides sounding like a Swedish folk revival band, are natural choices for the most popular commanders from Dominaria. Muldrotha (959 decks) and Tatyova (408 decks) are card advantage machines, and Jodah (681 decks) is a Fist of Suns in a bath robe.
Looking at Torgaar under this light, it’s understandable that some players see his high converted mana cost, non-game-ending abilities, and just move on. Among the five mono-black Dominarian legends, Torgaar is the second least-played as a commander, only edging out Urgoros, the Empty One, otherwise known as Bat Signal.
I think Torgaar is better than these numbers would imply, so let’s dissect him.
First off, he’s a 7/6 for eight mana. Those aren’t great stats, but we can sacrifice creatures to pay for that mana cost, with each creature paying for two colorless. Suddenly, we’re looking at a 7/6 for potentially two black mana. That’s a three-turn clock. No evasion, but a haymaker nonetheless.
Like the best sacrifice outlets, our opponents can’t respond to us sacrificing our creatures. This lets us trigger important abilities, like Butcher of Malakirs, Blood Artists, or Smothering Abominations. There’s also no limit to how many creatures we can sacrifice to cast Torgaar.
Finally, when Torgaar hits the field, he just casually sets someone’s life to 20. With all the sacrificing and reanimating this deck will do, it won’t be uncommon to sacrifice Torgaar himself and then reanimate him to bring the rest of our opponents low. If we’re hovering at the edge of death, we can target ourselves with Torgaar’s ability to claw our way out of the red zone. No biggie.
We’re building an Aristocrats deck, which means we want to flood the board with as many creatures as possible so that, naturally, we can sacrifice them for value and punish our opponents. The great thing about mono-black Aristocrats is that a thriving little cottage industry of budget-friendly cards exists to facilitate this strategy.
Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder is Torgaar’s top dog and this deck’s MVP, generating plenty of sacrifice fodder. He’s also a backup commander if we want a slight change of pace. Endrek does die as soon as we create seven Thrull tokens, and casting Torgaar with him in play does bin him, but he’s never gone for long in a deck like this.
Our other creature token generators include reliable cabalists like Skirsdag High Priest, Pawn of Ulamog, Ogre Slumlord, and Abhorrent Overlord. A notable exclusion from this deck is Grave Titan, a mono-black staple that sees play in 45% of Torgaar decks but is far too pricey for this budget brew.
No aristocrats deck is complete without the gruesome twosome of “BRB dying,” Reassembling Skeleton and Endless Cockroaches. The synergies that these creatures have with the rest of the deck are too many for me to list here, but two cards that we love to see alongside this duo are the ever-dependable Skullclamp, and a nifty little offering from M19, Desecrated Tomb. With Tomb, we get a Bat token every time we resurrect Skeleton, or whenever Cockroaches dies and goes back to our hand.
A cool one-card combo is casting Final Parting, a newbie from Dominaria, to grab Skullclamp and Skeleton. We dump Skeleton into the yard and resurrect it, equip it with Skullclamp, and profit.
Speaking of value, our card advantage suite is sweet. We really leverage our ability to generate tokens and reanimate our creatures by trading them in for cards. In addition to Skullclamp, we run cards like Vampiric Rites, Krav, the Unredeemed (another good backup commander), and Morbid Curiosity, which if used to sacrifice Torgaar, draws us eight cards. Remember the scenario where we cast Torgaar for two mana? It’s delicious, I know.
To bring our creatures back from the grave, we’re using a fairly standard list of reanimators, including Animate Dead, Victimize, and Dread Return. While some detractors call Whisper, Blood Liturgist ‘slow,’ I prefer the term ‘dependable.’ Demon of Dark Schemes doubles as both removal and recursion, and if left unchecked can plunder a lot of graveyards. Nezumi Graverobber is a surprise hit, being able to both remove graveyards and rob them.
Mimic Vat and Nim Deathmantle are some of the priciest cards in the deck, but put in a lot of work. Vat just generates a ton of value and lets us hate on other graveyard-reliant decks, and Deathmantle, in addition to giving one of our creatures evasion and recursion, has the potential to go infinite. More on that later.
Removal in a deck like this almost needs no introduction, but since he’s new to the club, I’d like to name-drop Plaguecrafter from Guilds of Ravnica, who’s a strictly better Fleshbag Marauder — he can hit planeswalkers! Tragic Slip and Bone Splinters are rock stars here, and it’s worth noting that Slip basically kills any creature in the game except for Emrakul, the Promised End. Unstable Obelisk and Meteor Golem aren’t great, but they do get rid of permanents that mono-black traditionally has trouble dealing with. Perilous Vault is just a big emergency button for when board states get FUBAR.
Dictate of Erebos, which sees play in 75% of Torgaar decks, is sadly missing from this equation, because its status as a format staple and its lack of reprints puts it way out of budget. Grave Pact is notably absent for the same reasons, although Butcher of Malakir, which has seen many reprints but is weak to removal (not that we care!) and higher CMC, puts in a good showing.
We round out the deck with a heap of utility and ramp cards. No aristocrats deck worth its salt (or your opponent’s) goes without Blood Artist, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Falkenrath Noble, who all moonlight as win conditions. Then there are solid enablers that generate incremental value, like Viscera Seer, Ashnod’s Altar, Mind Slash, Soldevi Adnate, and Pitiless Plunderer.
Plunderer is a card that flew under my radar when Ixalan was released. It solves the poor EDH player’s problem of, “No Phyrexian Altar. What do?”
We’ve assembled a thieves’ kitchen of great cards that all feed the blood god’s appetite. To close the game, we’ll mash them together in a gruesome series of combinations to bleed our opponents out.
It’s perfectly acceptable in this deck to win by clearing our opponents’ boards and beating face with Torgaar and his minions.
On the other hand, such a victory gets zero points for style, so instead we’ll drain our opponents’ life totals to the last, exquisite drop. Importantly, the first three of these combos require Pitiless Plunderer to generate colored mana in the form of Treasure tokens whenever one of our creatures dies. More importantly, these combos only work if one of our life-drain creatures is on the battlefield.
Autocrat and Overlord produce at least three other tokens when they enter the battlefield. Sacrificing all of them gives us enough energy via Demon and mana via Plunderer to reanimate them as many times as needed to drain the table.
Casting Cockroaches generates three Thrulls via Endrek Sahr. We can sacrifice two Thrulls and Cockroaches to generate three Treasures via Plunderer. Cockroaches goes back to hand, and we can repeat the loop using the Treasures for mana, draining our opponents in the process.
Sacrificing Skeleton generates one Treasure via Plunderer. We resurrect him to generate one Bat token via Tomb, then sacrifice both to create two Treasures. We use the Treasures to repeat the loop and drain the table.
With the token-producing creature equipped with Deathmantle, we sacrifice it along with at least one token to Altar, using the generated mana to pay for Deathmantle’s triggered ability and reanimate the token-producer. Proceed to drain the table for the win.
And that, my friends, brings us to the end of a $50 recipe for how to trivialize the value of life! For what are things for but to die… over, and over, and over again?
I hope you enjoyed the first installment of Thrifty Fifty. Stay tuned for our next episode, where we’ll planeswalk to Ravnica and experiment with a new batch of commanders.