Hello and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget…wait a second. I feel something. Do you feel it too? It feels as if a great weight has been lifted. As if my hands that have been ceaselessly shackled are now free. As if…I am no longer restricted by a budget.
Also, as if a millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
If I were Matt Morgan, this would probably be the place I would regale you with tales of my Modern prowess, extolling the virtues of my podcast (which is actually pretty good, despite Matt. Check it out here http://articles.edhrec.com/announcing-edhrecast/) and singing the praises of undercosted (read: boring) Selesnya beaters. Alas, I am not he.
I’m Andrew Cummings, the author of the Ultra Budget Brews series here at EDHREC. I typically write articles about EDH decks in which no card costs more than $1. While I do love writing about budget decks, as well as playing them, every once in a while it’s nice to be able to stretch out a bit and play around without any restrictions, hence the whole “feeling like a weight has been lifted” schtick.
While we’ve been friends for forever, Matt and I approach Magic in fundamentally different ways. He is more of a tournament player, whether it be legacy or modern and is a pretty Spiky player. I’m more of a Johnny/Timmy, almost never play in any sort of tournaments, and build casual janky nonsense. That’s not to say Matt doesn’t like to have fun or that I don’t like to win. We just find different things to be fun and enjoy winning in different ways.
Because of this difference, we thought it would be an interesting experiment to switch columns, hoping that our different points of view would bring something unique to the table. Matt already did this here (http://articles.edhrec.com/60-to-100-valduk-and-the-ultra-budget-brew-takeover/) and the outcome was, for lack of a better term, spicy. Here’s hoping I can follow that up with something equally interesting.
While I did say that I almost never play in tournaments, I still do upon occasion. I’ve built three Modern decks over the course of my history with the game (I started In Avacyn Restored): Mardu Burn, Owling Mine, and Taking Turns. Burn is a tough sell in EDH, Matt recently wrote about an Owling Mine deck, leaving me with Taking Turns, which is probably my favorite deck of the bunch anyway.
I thought about posting up my mono-blue list, but felt it would be better to show you how an actual professional might build the deck. The above list is the one that Daniel Wong took to a 7th place finish at GP Las Vegas in 2017. It’s a thing of beauty.
For the uninitiated, Taking Turns is a deck that wins by playing a Howling Mine or Dictate of Kruphix, and then casting extra turn spell after extra turn spell. Before Part the Waterveil was printed, victory was achieved by milling the opponent out using Jace Beleren and Elixir of Immortality. After Part was printed, the path to victory was much more straight forward and (thankfully) much quicker, using a 6/6 land to smush your opponents face in.
The other spells are there to get you to the late game in which you are nigh-unbeatable. Censor, Commandeer, and Snap Back all help control the board. Cryptic Command and Gigadrowse do similar things. In my opinion, the most underrated card in the whole deck is Exhaustion. Against most decks, its basically a Time Walk that costs 3 mana, since it makes it where none of your opponents lands or creatures untap, rendering your opponent (hopefully) impotent.
So, how do we change this to work in EDH? Thankfully, it shouldn’t be too difficult. Extra turn spells are a bit of a known quantity in most EDH playgroups. So, how do we keep the spirit of a Taking Turns deck and still come up with something playable, competitive and fun? Here’s what I came up with.
I want to walk you through my thought process and how I ended up playing Azor. Most Taking Turns decks are either mono-blue, U/W, and most recently, U/B. I like building decks that function better with the commander, as its what makes EDH unique, so picking a commander for nothing more than its color identity wasn’t something I considered. This left me building either mono-blue, U/B, U/W, or Esper. I quickly nixed Esper as most of their commanders want to be doing something specific, often centered around artifacts. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed in to a single color, so mono-blue wasn’t an option. That left me with U/W or U/B. None of the U/B commanders fit what I wanted to be doing, so I decided on U/W. That’s when I gazed upon this underrated gem:
I had built almost an entire deck around it and Helm of the Host when I spied something…troubling. You probably spotted it far faster than I did.
A commander that can’t attack during extra turns seems like a bit of a flavor fail in a deck dedicated to taking as many turns as possible, so I had to go back to the drawing board. I briefly considered building Grand Augustin IV, but felt he didn’t really fit the fun, underdog vibe of Taking Turns. Thankfully, salvation came in the winged form of the progenitor of all Sphinx, Azor the Lawbringer.
There are some pretty interesting things going on here. At the very least, Azor is a 6/6 flyer with a stringent mana cost. Thankfully, we’re only playing two colors, so if we build our mana base right, by the time we hit 6 mana, we’ll hit the required mana fairly easily. Being a 6/6 means that he puts our opponents on a 4-turn clock. Obviously, 7 power would be preferred, but 6 power will get us there enough of the time.
The enters the battlefield effect is…interesting. It does hit each opponent which is helpful. What is up for debate is how exactly how useful the ability is. In what I’m sure is a shocking twist, it’ll be very matchup dependent.
Against spellslinger decks, like Mizzix of the Izmagnus or Narset, Enlightened Master, you’ll typically get a fair amount of value out of it. Against creature heavy decks like Rakdos, Lord of Riots or Animar, Soul of Elements, you’ll get next to no value out of it. Obviously, those examples are the extremes. Your experience will typically be somewhere in the middle, hosing your opponents that are relying on spell based, sorcery speed removal, but doing nothing against the plethora of creatures with enter the battlefield triggers of their own (Ravenous Chupacabra, Noxious Gearhulk, Shriekmaw).
In reality, the ability we are here for is the attack trigger. Did you play during Return to Ravnica standard? If you did, you know exactly where I’m going with this. If you didn’t, well…
During my one foray into Standard, I played a deck built around Satyr Firedancer, Guttersnipe, Lightning Strike, and Searing Blood (Why, yes, I am a bit of a gangster. How kind of you to notice). This card was absolutely back-breaking. So, when I tell you that you can cast this every single turn when you attack with Azor, if you aren’t excited, you should be.
In modern, Taking Turns only really loses when one of two things happens: You get outraced, or you can’t draw enough cards to combo off. Azor helps stabilize your life total and draws you a ton of cards, helping ensure that you continue to draw into your extra turn spells.
Enough about Azor. Obviously, we would love to have access to our commander all of the time. If you’ve played any amount of EDH, you know that this isn’t always possible. Maybe you are playing against someone that is playing Humility and you are too distracted considering the life choices you made that brought you to this awful, awful point. Perhaps someone is playing removal tribal and has made your Azor cost an untenable 14 mana, or perhaps someone has a smirk on their face that basically screams “I’m definitely not holding a Hero’s Downfall. Promise.” Who knows. The fact remains; We need to be able to win without our commander. Enter, the B-Team.
As mentioned, the first part of our plan is to take all of the turns. Not some of them. All of them.
With all of the extra turn spells that we are playing, this shouldn’t be difficult. All full 10% of our deck is dedicated to extra turn spells. If you have access to some of the more expensive and hard to find extra turn spells like Temporal Manipulation and Capture of Jingzhou, feel free to run them. I simply didn’t think $50-$100 for a single extra turn spell was worth it. If you want to flex on the peasants in your playgroup to establish dominance, running those would be a solid start.
So, how do we win once we’re taking all of the turns? Nobody likes the player that takes 10 turns in a row and does nothing but draw a card, play a land, attempting to kill everyone with sheer boredom.
We have a few options. The first and most simple is just to beat everyone else down with big threats. Nezahl, Primal Tide, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Chasm Skulker all should be significantly large enough to end the game in a hurry, and as a bonus, they all provide some amount of card draw or benefit from all of our card draw. Nezahl and Ojutai have a bit of built-in protection to make them more difficult to blow up, while people naturally avoid destroying Chasm Skulker because of it’s army-in-a-can effect.
We also have a couple of alternate win conditions. The most simple and straight forward of these is Approach of the Second Sun. Take some extra turns, cast this card, and during those extra turns, draw until you hit this, cast it again and win. This costs roughly a thousand mana to pull off, so when you do manage it, you earned it. We also have Azor’s Elocutors. Your opponents are going to be unlikely to be able to do any damage to you in the middle of all of your turns. The card essentially reads, take 5 turns, win the game. Also, it’s a huge flavor win, cause, you know, Azor’s name is on the card. Also, he’s a Lawbringer and nothing quite says law like a good ole fashioned filibuster.
Metallurgic Summonings gives you lots of additional value by turning your huge extra turn spells into huge beaters. Yes, I would like to get a 9/9 creature when I cast Expropriate. It’ll speed the clock up nicely, thanks. Perhaps my favorite alternate win condition is Sphinx’s Tutelage. You’ll be drawing quite a few cards between your Azor and your other cards, so milling out an opponent is actually reasonable. Obviously, don’t pick the graveyard themed deck if you have other options and pick an opponent who plays fewer colors.
The rest of the deck focuses on getting us to the point that we can start chaining together extra turn spells and helping us not fizzle once we start. Not fizzling is very important as you are going to draw a ton of hate if you allow your opponents to untap and have a turn.
These cards all help ensure that we have the requisite card draw to help us find the cards we need during all of our extra turns. They also help gain us political goodwill in the early game, hopefully buying you a bit of extra time before people try to dogpile you, which is a thing that WILL happen once your opponents are savvy to your game plan.
In a lot of ways, we nothing more than a control deck. As such, we need ways to control the board and insure that we can make it to the late game. We have a ton of ways to protect ourselves. We can counter spells with cards like Arcane Denial and Render Silent, we can tap down attackers/blockers with Gigadrowse and Thaumatic Compass or do both with Cryptic Command and Mystic Confluence.
We also have a plethora of ways to remove problematic permanents. Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares are targeted removal that almost no white deck should leave home without. Wrath of God and Supreme Verdict take everyone back to square one if necessary, and Austere Command wrecks exactly what you want while leaving everything that you want to keep.
It wouldn’t be commander without a few ways to go big. Really big.
That’ll do the trick. The only thing better than one extra turn spell, is two of them. The only thing better than a normal amount of mana is an obscene amount of mana.
What did you all think of the deck? Did I do the Taking Turns deck justice, or did I miss the mark? I would love to hear your thoughts below! Next time, I’ll be back to my usual tricks, talking about all things budget EDH, but I did enjoy this short detour. Restriction does breed creativity, but sometimes it can be fun to play in a sandbox with no restrictions. Until next time!