Welcome to Andrew Jackson Highlander! AJH is a series where I build and share $20 deck techs. While this series will probably be new to most of you, I started posting this series six weeks ago on Reddit (those older articles will also be accessible on EDHREC via my author page). For new readers: Welcome! For those who followed my content before: Thank you for helping me get here!
For my first official EDHREC article, death is implacable and just keeps coming for our opponents. Like the Terminator or any slasher-movie villain, our commander, Skullbriar, the Walking Grave, just keeps coming… no matter what.
The term ‘inevitability’ is often discussed in Magic the Gathering, and is usually applied to control decks. In those cases, inevitability refers to the idea that if a game goes a certain length, those types of decks are virtually guaranteed to win. While that may apply here as well, the inevitability of this deck is that Skullbriar is going to get absolutely huge. Skullbriar makes himself stronger each time he does damage to an opponent, plus we have a lot of other ways to generate +1/+1 counters, and best of all, those counters stay on Skullbriar when it moves to almost any zone (except for our hand or library).
I’ve been wanting to dive into budget Voltron decks, as they are the style of deck I gravitated towards when I first got into the format. Running over everyone with one creature appeals to the Timmy in me and to the Jedi/Chosen One/Superhero-trope fanboy in me as well. Skullbriar has always intrigued me, so I thought I’d try it out. When I saw that our commander was over $7, I didn’t know if I could make a deck under our budget threshold. Surprisingly, I found a lot of great budget support and figured this is a great way to showcase that ‘low budget’ does not necessarily mean ‘weak.’
Voltron is a fun strategy for a lot of players. Choose your fighter, arm them, protect them, and repeatedly SMASH with them. This linear style also makes Voltron decks a great playstyle for newer players. This Skullbriar deck certainly fits that bill, but it does have some added nuance (well, at least some added arithmetic) thanks to the +1/+1 counter subtheme.
We want to play Skullbriar on turn two, immediately start attacking, and throw +1/+1 counters on Skullbriar as early and as often as possible. While you typically always want to protect your Voltron commanders at any cost, you actually tend to save your protection options in this deck. You want to focus on making Skullbriar as big as possible, as fast as possible, so as long as you generate +1/+1 counters, it is ok to let Skullbriar die once (4 mana recast) or even twice (6 mana recast) before we really put the shields up.
Solidarity of Heroes / Strength of the Tajuru – These are great ways to put Skullbriar into the lethal (or at least extremely large) power category. They’re also instant speed, which means they’re fantastic combat tricks.
Increasing Savagery- This card is insane value in this deck. This can put fifteen counters on Skullbriar throughout the game, counters that tend to stick around.
Varolz, the Scar Striped- We don’t run a ton of creatures (and some of them already have Scavenge) but this just adds so much value to any of our creatures in the graveyard. Also – and this is maybe the most important part of the card – Varolz is a free sac outlet, which can help keep counters on Skullbriar in case an opponent were to try to send it to our hand.
Ring of Kalonia / Ring of Xathrid- I think this whole Ring cycle is underplayed in EDH, especially Xathrid and Ring of Evos Isle. They are great budget equipment. In this deck, these two Rings are absolute all-stars. They generate counters while providing utility that the deck wants: evasion and protection.
If we went outside the Andrew Jackson $20 mark, here are some excellent upgrades.
Hardened Scales- The first card I would add to the deck for sure. An efficient effect on an efficiently-costed enchantment that this deck definitely wants.
Kalonian Hydra- Another beater (this deck could certainly use other threats) that makes Skullbriar get absolutely huge.
Greater Good- Fantastic way to draw a ton of cards in this deck. Having a free sacrifice outlet is fantastic. I recommend picking this up quickly if you feel like you want it, since it was just reprinted.
Vigor- Great card that goes in any +1/+1 counters deck. I recommend picking this up quickly too, if you feel like you want it, since it was also just reprinted.
Bounce- This deck hates bounce. Screw you, Cyclonic Rift! Heck, screw you Aether Adept! Getting Skullbriar bounced back to hand can set this deck back so much, since it loses the counters. If your meta is heavy on bounce, run more sac outlets, especially free ones like High Market and Viscera Seer.
Spot Removal / Board Wipes- While getting Skullbriar removed for a turn or two doesn’t hurt as much as most decks, it still really slows us down. If your meta has a lot of spot removal, add more Blossoming Defense-type answers. If it has more wipes, Hammer of Nazahn-type answers look much better.
No matter what your opponents do (I’m ignoring you right now, bounce effects), Skullbriar just keeps coming. Murder it, throw a Wurmcoil Engine in the way, or Wrath of the God the whole board and Skullbriar JUST. KEEPS. COMING. While it seems like Michael Myers or the Terminator are threats that just won’t die, your opponents will know a true unstoppable force after facing down this Skullbriar deck.