Ultra Budget Brews – Alesha, Who Smiles At Death

(Alesha, Who Smiles at Death | Art by Anastasia Ovchinnikova)

An Ultra Budget Update

Hello, and welcome to the 33rd edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the monthly EDH article series that builds entire EDH decks that contain no card that costs more than $1, commander included.

That last bit – a $1 restriction – has been a mainstay of this series since its inception. To be entirely transparent, I am toying around with removing the $1 cap on the commander and changing it to $5, starting in 2020. The goal would be to open up a lot of potential commanders that we currently can’t build. After all, some color combinations have incredibly limited legendary options that cost less than $1.

Obviously my hope is to create interesting decks with interesting commanders at an affordable price. Opening up the budget restriction could help with that, though I don’t wish to alienate readers or write articles that cease to be helpful. I’d love to know your thoughts on which direction you’d like to see this series go, so please feel free to comment or respond to the poll at the end of the article.


Speaking of Polls

Here’s how the voting went last time:

Man, people really don’t like new Zegana, do they? Why play an average Simic general when there are so many busted, ludicrous options available? Can’t say I blame anyone for that. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised Alesha, Who Smiles at Death won out. The legendaries that win these polls are typically a bit less popular, and Alesha is #34 out of 893 on EDHREC. Then again, it’s a card with an interesting ability in a color combination that doesn’t often get legendaries, so I get it.


Our Commander

Pros

  • Cheap mana cost
  • Decent stats
  • Unique and interesting triggered ability
  • Second-most metal name among all legendaries (Mogis, God of Slaughter takes the first place title, and it’s not particularly close)

Cons

  • Triggered ability is a bit color-intensive
  • Can be difficult to attack profitably in the late game
  • Only being able to reanimate creatures with power 2 or less is limiting
  • She basically doesn’t exist anymore because of lore reasons, so we likely won’t see another version of her

Alesha provides a powerful triggered ability with some restrictions that are very limiting, but I also think this is part of what makes her such an interesting deck to build. Only triggering when she attacks, while a very red ability, can make activating said ability a bit difficult to use in the late game when everyone is likely to have creatures that easily outclass a 3/2 with first strike.

The other restriction – only reanimating creatures with power 2 or less – makes sure that Alesha stays distinct from cards like Kaalia of the Vast. If she could reanimate anything, you’d likely just play the most powerful Dragons, Demons, and Angels you had access to and call it a day. While we can still reanimate things like Master of Cruelties (eww), we get to look at a wider variety of creatures that might not see as much play.

What your mountains of bulk are thinking

Your typical Alesha deck is actually fairly easy to build on a budget. With Aristocrat cards in the Mardu colors, we use cards like Judith, the Scourge Diva, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Cruel Celebrant to get value from sacrificing creatures like Beetleback Chief, Ponyback Brigade, and Militia Bugler. Then we bring them back to the battlefield with Alesha. Rinse and repeat until your opponents die to overwhelming value.

I could have built that, and I started to, but frankly, I got a bit bored and wanted to try something a bit less competitive and more off-the-Wall. This led me to create the following mess of cards.


Our Deck

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TcgPlayer cost: $31.45


If you want to play defender tribal, typically Arcades, the Strategist is going to be your jam, but why should we let Bant have all the fun? Vent Sentinel is not in Bant colors and it’s the coolest defender around.

Vent Sentinel is actually the card that inspired this deck. I’ve always wanted to find a way to build a deck around it, and once I realized that Walls work really well with Alesha’s triggered ability, it all came together in a rush! I’m going to go ahead and warn you that this will not be the most competitive deck I’ve ever brewed. That being said, I do think it’s interesting, creative, and will lead to fun stories when you do manage to pop off. If that sounds like a good time, read on.

Simply stated, our goal is to find a way to get a bunch of defenders into play. Once we manage that, we can then proceed to find a way to win with them. Since we’re playing a bunch of defenders, our deck will naturally play defense incredibly well. Our Walls won’t often kill attacking creatures, but they’ll make it a fool’s errand to attack us, which should hopefully lead to our opponents attacking elsewhere.


Walls Are Cute… But How Do We Win?

The most straightforward win condition is the aforementioned Vent Sentinel. It’ll (hopefully) regularly deal at least 5 damage per turn. Our creatures are just as vulnerable to Wraths as everyone else, but our Walls are unlikely to evoke a Wrath, or to be the target of pinpoint removal. Vent Sentinel will buck that trend a bit. Thankfully, Alesha gives us a way to recur Vent Sentinel should it meet an untimely demise.

Obviously, we can’t rely on Vent Sentinel alone to bring us to victory. We need to find a way for our Walls to be able to attack. Cards like Animate Wall, Warmonger’s Chariot, and Wakestone Gargoyle will allow us to pick specific Walls to enter combat, while Rolling Stones allows all of them to do so.

There are some Walls that are better to attack with than others. The best ones to attack with are, obviously, Walls that already have some amount of power. Others come equipped with firebreathing, which allow you to pay mana to give them the ability to do actual damage. Gauntlets of Light is another way for our Walls to do damage, and lots of it, since it uses toughness instead of power. Unfortunately, all of the other cards that allow us to turn toughness in to damage require us to be playing either green or blue.

Wall of Blood is one of the most versatile cards in this deck. It turns a resource we are likely to have an abundance of (our life total) into damage. If we can find a way to attack with it, we basically have a Hatred attached to our Wall. This works incredibly well with Alesha, as well, as she returns creatures to the battlefield tapped and attacking, so even if we don’t have a way for our Walls to attack, she allows us to skirt around this fact.

Three of my favorite cards in this deck aren’t defenders at all, but do play well with them: Greven, Predator Captain loves sacrificing creatures with high toughness, as it leads to dealing lots of damage; Grenzo, Dungeon Warden can get very large depending on what stage of the game you are in, and allows you to get card advantage from the bottom of your library; and Kheru Bloodsucker is a card I had never seen nor heard of before, but it works incredibly well with all of the high-toughness creatures we have running around in this deck.

One of the last ways we have to win is using our defenders to do damage directly to our opponents’ faces. Kyren Negotiations and Burn at the Stake are the most effective ways we have to do this, but Thermo-Alchemist and Brimstone Trebuchet also do the trick. We also added an Approach of the Second Sun as a sort of nuclear option to get the win if nothing else has worked.


Tutors and Assorted Odds and Ends

You might notice that I added in a number of tutors. Longtime readers will know that I typically avoid tutors like the plague, even in the non-budget decks. I don’t typically enjoy how linear they can make decks feel, as there is often a single correct card to get in most situations (looking at you Cyclonic Rift). However, in a deck like this one, which really needs specific cards to do its thing, I think a few tutors are more than acceptable, even if most of the time you are going to just go grab a Vent Sentinel.

The rest of the deck is rounded out with cards that every deck needs. We are running a fair amount of mana rocks to hopefully get us off the ground a bit faster, and have a few board wipes and removal spells for the moments when things get a bit out of hand. We also are running a couple of card draw spells, but I specifically tried to add cards that drew us cards while also helping to fill our graveyard, like Cathartic Reunion and Thrill of Possibility. One of the things that Alesha needs to really operate at maximum efficiency is a graveyard with cards to recur, and if we can do that while also drawing cards, the better off we likely are to be.


Notable Inclusions


Flamewright

If there is a card I want WotC to print a legendary version of, it’s this card. It’s a very unique Boros card, and it does powerful things in this deck: providing a sacrifice outlet, creating defenders, and doing damage. I’ve never seen this card in a Commander game, mostly because there aren’t a ton of decks that can use its effects well, but it’s the exact kind of card I love adding to decks.


Glyph of Destruction

This card is a bit… strange. It only works when blocking, and the Wall you block with dies at the end of the turn, so you might be wondering why it’s in here at all. The answer to that is Wall of Limbs. Using the glyph to make our Wall of Limbs huge and then sacrificing it to dome someone for 10+ damage seems hilarious, if not entirely competitive.


Foul Renewal

In bulk boxes everywhere, this card is a great example of the kind of card that makes budget decks tick. It’s terrible in most instances, but in this one deck, it’ll perform beautifully. It’s instant-speed, which is what we want our spot removal to be, even if it costs a bit more mana than we’d like. The fact that it can help us recur cards that Alesha might not be able to is certainly beneficial.


Wall of Dust

When I first started playing Magic, I played mostly aggressive decks that played next to no removal. One of my friends discovered the card Wall of Frost and my Rakdos Cacklers got real sad. Wall of Dust might not be quite as good as its cooler cousin, but in Mardu Walls, we’ll take what we can get.


Desecrated Tomb

I’ve always wanted to find a home for this card, and this seems like the perfect place. We’re hoping to recur creatures from our graveyard, and when we do, getting an evasive 1/1 Bat for our trouble seems like solid value. It might not kill the table right away, but if opponents aren’t careful, it’ll take over the game in time.


Notable Exclusions

These are cards that I would add if I weren’t concerned about a strict budget, had them laying around, or were looking to power up the deck a bit.


Slaughter the Strong

Wraths always feel fair because of their symmetrical effect, but there are a number of Wraths that simply won’t affect our deck. I could have picked Fell the Mighty, Wave of Reckoning, or Retribution of the Meek, but I decided to go with Slaughter. It only costs three mana and gets around indestructible creatures by sacrificing instead of destroying. It won’t work every time, but its upside more than makes up for that fact.


Wall of Omens

Honestly, this is kind of a boring pick, but boring doesn’t mean bad. It’s the best Wall that we can’t play for budget reasons. Tacking the words ‘draw a card’ onto any creature is very powerful. This combos well with Alesha and with other cards like Jeskai Barricade.


Marble Titan

A cheaper Meekstone with a body is nothing to sneeze at. This will potentially buy you a lot of time to find one of your win conditions. There are some decks this will likely do nothing against, but there are enough decks that this will have a large effect on that you should be ready for a bit of blowback when you drop this in to play.


Mirror Entity

One of the weaknesses of this deck is finding a way to do significant damage once you’ve assembled Walls that you’re able to attack with. This neatly fixes that problem by turning all of our Walls into creatures that can do a large amount of damage with the simple payment of a few mana. Mirror Entity is egregiously overlooked, and I’m glad to find a home for it here.


Buried Alive

Buried Alive works a bit like a tutor for our deck. You’re typically going to use it to find some combination of Vent Sentinel, Wall of Blood, Souls of the Faultless, and Wall of Limbs, but the flexibility offered here is great. If your opponents have showed a proclivity towards graveyard hate, be wary about putting too many of your win conditions in the graveyard at once.


End Step

What did you think of the deck? Was it a bit too meme-y for you, or is it just off-the-Wall enough to spark your interest? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

As mentioned at the start of the article, today’s poll will be focused around the future direction of this article series. If you think we should keep the hard-and-fast $1 limit on every card, commander included, vote for that. If you would like to see the hard-and-fast cap raised to $5 for the commander only, vote for that. I’m curious to see what you all will say. Until next time!

Andrew is a life-long gamer and has been playing Magic since 2013. He works as an ASL interpreter, enjoys running, and sitting on his porch reading, while simultaneously silently judging his neighbors. He lives in Joplin, MO with his wife.