The obvious place to start is: Why build a $20 EDH deck? For me, the reasons were two-fold. First, I thought it would be an interesting challenge. I saw a video by Jumbo Commander where he built a $15 Ruric Thar EDH deck and I was intrigued. It was a great deck building challenge.
I thought $15 was kind of an odd target cost, so I picked $20 to make things nice and even. Building a deck with strict limits of some kind (tribal, a theme, no card over a dollar) can force you to consider cards and strategies you would otherwise dismiss out of hand. Being able to include
Cultivate (at $0.44) but not
Kodama's Reach (at $2.49) adds a new dimension to deck building.
The second reason I wanted to try out $20 EDH decks was due to something I noticed at my local game shop. There was a divide between older established players with larger/more expensive collections and newer players with less money invested. The newer players seemed to be less inclined to play with older players for fear of being blown out due to card power levels. If you look at
Xenagos, the Reveler and
Growing Rites of Itlimoc, they all have similar abilities. They generate one mana for each creature you have in play. Unfortunately, there is a very real reason why people play Cradle over the other two if they have it. The money divide hurts everyone playing EDH. The older players miss out on getting to play new, excited players with innovative ideas and the newer players lose out on benefiting from the older players experience and better understanding of the rules helping them improve their game. I definitely fell into the older category of players. It was my hope that if I had a $20 EDH deck with me, I could safely play with any of the newer players and not have the game turn into Archenemy or cause them to feel bad about getting wiped out by raw card power levels.
NOTE: If you are playing a $20 or budget EDH deck for the reasons I mentioned, don't rub this in if you win or use it as an excuse if you lose. Ideally, don't mention it at all. Doing so will pretty much destroy any goodwill you created by playing the deck in the first place. It also makes you look like a jerk.
After deciding why to build a $20 EDH deck, the next thing to figure out is the rules for building the deck. I tried to keep things a simple as possible:
1. The deck must cost $20 or less.
2. Basic lands are free. I didn't want the hassle of figuring out exactly how much a basic land should cost since these are quite often free if you asking nicely at your local card shop.
3. Prices are set at the time you look up the card using the lowest price on Scryfall.com. This rule is to help with randomly fluctuating card prices making a stable dollar value for the deck impossible. For example, I built a Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist $20 EDH deck (link at the bottom if you are interested) and Mirri has gone from $2.59 when I built it to almost $8 now. That change in price eats more than a quarter of the budget for the rest of the deck. Locking in the prices at some point is required for me to maintain my sanity.
With the motivation and rules established, the next step is to build the deck. As with most EDH decks, the first place to start is with the Commander. I picked
Tatyova, Benthic Druid for the general. She has a relatively forgiving mana base, being only two colors. Blue and green are very strong colors in EDH. Also, and most importantly, she has an incredible ability: "Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control you gain 1 life and draw a card". I can't understate how amazing this is in play. It's surprising how often she is the go-to clone target for other players. Tatyova is so good she provides real card advantage to decks not set up specifically to benefit from her ability. Having a deck set up with her in mind makes it even better. Tatyova also weighs in at $0.17. A nice perk where every penny counts.
After deciding on the commander, the next step is to figure out what you want to do with the deck. In honor of Tatyova's blue-green-ness, I thought I would try and do the things that make blue and green distinct: copy things, steal things, counter spells and ramp. The first three of these also play very nicely into the budget nature of the deck. We may not have the expensive toys, but we can copy them, take them away or keep someone else from getting to have them. The ramp part is, well... it's ramp.
Luckily for us (and this deck) there are some very affordable options for what we want to do.
Stunt Double and
Spitting Image are all solid clones (although
Stunt Double is a bit of a splurge, but well worth it).
Body Double even lets us copy something in a graveyard. For stealing, we have
Dream Leash (which I have loved more and more each time I cast it),
In Bolas's Clutches,
Dominate. Our counter arsenal consists of:
Plasm Capture (a surprisingly useful card),
Summary Dismissal and
Void Shatter. My favorite of these is easily
Envelop. The surprise value of countering a critical sorcery when you only have one blue mana open always makes me smile.
With the mostly blue elements of what we want to do addressed, next comes the ramp. This is the place where Tatyova really shines. She turns every piece of ramp into free card draw.
Explosive Vegetation is not bad.
Explosive Vegetation with gain two life, draw two cards tacked on is mind bogglingly good. One surprising change I ended up making from the initial version of this deck to the current one was I cut card draw almost completely in favor of more ramp. With my first draft I ended up with games where I was having to discard to hand size and often pitched card draw over ramp. The deck includes a fairly broad spread of ramp cards ranging from
Farhaven Elf and
Wood Elves to the more traditional
Explosive Vegetation. There is even a little bit of artifact ramp from
Wayfarer's Bauble. Cycling
Shefet Monitor is also very good in this deck. I included
Evolving Wilds and
Terramorphic Expanse as some low cost extra card draw if Tatyova is in play.
After dealing with the basics of the deck it's time to look at general utility cards and more win conditions (beyond stealing them from other people).
Acidic Slime is almost an auto-include if you are playing green.
Trygon Predator can be painfully disruptive for your opponent if you get it out early and start eating their delicious mana rocks and
Greenwarden of Murasa is a more budget
Eternal Witness and a little graveyard recursion never hurts. On the topic of recursion,
Seasons Past is a card with very relevant text.
Sea Gate Oracle and
Wall of Blossoms are a little bit of early card draw (or card selection with the Oracle) that aren't dead cards late game because they effectively cantrip.
Tishana, Voice of Thunder is card draw but she is mainly a huge creature due to all the cards this deck ends up drawing.
Reality Shift are instant speed answers to inconvenient creatures and
Beast Within is a kind of catch all for problem permanents.
Chancellor of the Spires is a big, flying trick we can do all kinds of things with depending upon the contents of our opponents graveyards. The Chancellor can build you an army all by itself if someone has a
Bribery in their graveyard and you start pulling all the clone cards out of everyone else's decks.
Rampaging Baloths is pretty much an auto-include with all the landfall triggers we will be generating.
Avenger of Zendikar would be in here if it were a little less expensive, but sometimes "you can't always get you want."
Rishkar, Peema Renegade is a card I have found I like more every time I play him. He turns
Farhaven Elf's and
Sea Gate Oracles into mana producers after they have done their thing coming into play and having him out improves other cards like
Altered Ego by making them able to tap for mana as well. Rishkar isn't as unbelievable in this deck as he would be in a deck specifically doing things with +1/+1 counters (like the
Marath, Will of the Wild deck I've been working on) but he is pretty solid on his own. With all of the come into play abilities (and clones you can reset) a method to bounce creatures would be a good idea. For this we have
Crystal Shard and
Crystal Shard is a great card that can be used offensively if your opponent taps out to cast their expensive general or defensively to bounce your own critters.
Temur Sabertooth is a little different. It only works on your creatures, is a bit more expensive than the shard (both to cast and use) and is the one card I have been always disappointed with while playing this deck. The cat has been on my cut list over and over and I keep leaving it in hoping it will earn its keep and be amazing. I feel like it's a good card on paper, but in practice it doesn't quite make it.
After all of the above, there was one final thing I wanted to try and do with this deck: simulate the feel of a more expensive and splashy EDH deck. I wanted a speed boost and the ability to make lots of mana fairly early. The faster Tatyova hits the table, the sooner her card advantage will kick in. Normally, the non-budget answer is:
Gaea's Cradle, ... etc. Although
Sol Ring would be one of my first improvements for the deck if the budget were increased, the others aren't so wallet-friendly. To help with the speed I went with a few two mana mana rocks (
Sky Diamond and
Simic Signet). Unfortunately that isn't enough. The next part of the big/fast mana strategy requires a bit of a gamble. Many of you probably share the opinion I have that using Aura's on your own cards is simply asking for someone to two-for-one you. That being said, green gives us a way to take a chance and speed up our mana by enchanting our lands.
Dawn's Reflection and
Market Festival all make the land enchanted produce additional mana. These should only ever go on a basic land so you don't open yourself up too much to a random
Strip Mine and
Ghost Quarter still hurt. To take advantage of having lands that can produce multiple mana the great grandmother of Landfall,
Stone-Seeder Hierophant is included in the deck.
Arbor Elf and a
Simic Growth Chamber further round out this strategy. I also included
Retreat to Coralhelm because sometimes you have to shoot for the stars. All of the cards dedicated to this strategy aren't bad by themselves, but if you have a few show up together, truly exciting things can happen.
Note: as a fun aside, it is possible to play Tatyova on turn 3, then play your land for the turn. One way this can happen is turn 1: Forest +
Wild Growth. Turn 2: Island +
Overgrowth. Turn 3: Tatyova + play 3rd land. In playing this deck I've had this happen twice. One I got to live the dream. The other time I had got greedy and had the Wild Growth and Overgrowth on the same land and got blown out by a Strip Mine the turn after casting Tatyova.
If you wanted to expand the budget for this deck there are a number of upgrades that wouldn't break the bank. I would swap in a
Sol Ring for one of the Diamonds. The lands would get some tweaking by swapping out basics for
Alchemist's Refuge and
Kodama's Reach needs a place in the deck. With it showing up in Ultimate Masters, it should drop down to a sane budget price. I have also been looking for a place for
Circuitous Route (this one is like $0.09 and isn't really a money upgrade though).
Avenger of Zendikar and
Eternal Witness are both cards that need a home here.
Phyrexian Metamorph and
Clever Impersonator are good clones that didn't make the deck due to price. Making all of the above changes would move the deck from the $20 range to the $50-60 range. You would see a little increase in power from these upgrades with
Sol Ring and
Avenger of Zendikar being the most dramatic.
$20 Budget EDH Tatyova, Benthic Druid
1 Acidic Slime 1 Altered Ego 1 Arbor Elf 1 Body Double 1 Chancellor of the Spires 1 Clone 1 Farhaven Elf 1 Fertilid 1 Genesis Hydra 1 Gigantoplasm 1 Greenwarden of Murasa 1 Kiora's Follower 1 Mystic Snake 1 Rampaging Baloths 1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade 1 Sea Gate Oracle 1 Shefet Monitor 1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant 1 Stunt Double 1 Temur Sabertooth 1 Tatyova, Benthic Druid 1 Tishana, Voice of Thunder 1 Trygon Predator 1 Wall of Blossoms 1 Wood Elves 1 Confiscate 1 Control Magic 1 Corrupted Conscience 1 Dawn's Reflection 1 Dream Leash 1 Fertile Ground 1 In Bolas's Clutches 1 Khalni Heart Expedition 1 Market Festival 1 Overgrowth 1 Retreat to Coralhelm 1 Take Possession 1 Wild Growth 1 Blatant Thievery 1 Cultivate 1 Explore 1 Explosive Vegetation 1 Far Wanderings 1 Seasons Past 1 Spelltwine 1 Spitting Image 1 Crystal Shard 1 Moss Diamond 1 Simic Signet 1 Sky Diamond 1 Wayfarer's Bauble 1 Aethersnatch 1 Beast Within 1 Disdainful Stroke 1 Dissipate 1 Dominate 1 Envelop 1 Insidious Will 1 Plasm Capture 1 Reality Shift 1 Repulse 1 Summary Dismissal 1 Void Shatter 1 Bant Panorama 1 Blighted Woodland 1 Evolving Wilds 16 Forest 16 Island 1 Simic Growth Chamber 1 Terramorphic Expanse
If you are interested in the exact costs of everything included in the deck at the time I built it, here's a link to a google spreadsheet for the deck
Below is a Tappedout.net link for the most current version of the deck as well as the original draft I started with:
Also, here are the links for the $20 Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist and Omnath, Locus of Rage decks I mentioned above:
Mirri v 1.1: https://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/20-budget-mirri-gw-v11/
Omnath v 1.1: https://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/20-budget-omnath-gr-v11/