There are some commander decks that use a very loose definition of the word “commander.” There have been countless times that I’ve heard plenty of people say, “Oh, I forgot I actually have a commander I can play,” in the middle of an EDH game. Of course, this is most likely because they were able to maintain a good board position without their commander, and that’s completely fine. A deck based completely around the general can become fragile and fold easily to removal. A deck that works without your general means it has synergy with itself too, instead of just with the general.

That said, sometimes, we do want to make a deck with a general that is absolutely crucial to the overall plan. Sometimes, it’s for fun — maybe we’re shooting for a theme, or just want to exploit a particular mechanic. Other times, it’s because the commander’s abilities are particularly strong. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind is without a doubt a very strong commander, and a deck built around simply drawing cards won’t normally win you games by itself … unless the great Firemind is dealing damage to people left and right. Of course, there are other win conditions in the deck, but it’s hard to imagine games where you wouldn’t want him out on the field.

There’s also one more reason you might want to focus heavily on the commander: because you’re on a budget. Since we can rely on having access to our commander, we can build our deck in such a way that the individual cards by themselves may not be very good, but get much better in conjunction with the commander. This strategy works well, because cards that aren’t very good by themselves tend to be cheap. And that leads us to the budget commander deck for today:

Varolz, the Scar-Striped

Varolz has a very fun ability that gives everything in your graveyard scavenge. It’s easy to see the direction we want to go with this deck: stuff our graveyard full of low-cost high-power creatures, then scavenge them onto Varolz to win with commander damage or onto a hard-to-remove creature to get massive board presence. It’s very reliant on protecting our general, but if we can, this should help us get a very strong position even without the most expensive cards.

As before, I’m going to give myself a budget of $30 to build a 100-card EDH deck. I’ll go through all of my choices here, then get you, the readers, to give me feedback as to what you think about it.

The Mana

Let’s start with our mana base. Access to green means that we should have no issues in this section. We’ve included our usual suspects of mana elves and ramping sorceries. A Life from the Loam would be amazing in this deck, but it’s unfortunately a bit expensive for our budget. Dawntreader Elk is particularly nice for this deck, because it ramps you, then gives you a scavengable body.

Filling the Graveyard

This is a typical Golgari deck, so it wants plenty of cards in the graveyard. Any card with dredge is good for the deck, as well as cards like Grisly Salvage and Commune with the Gods. Drown in Filth is actually not a bad card either — it can act as good removal with all the land you’ll be throwing away.

Deadbridge Chant deserves a special mention, because it does a great job of filling the graveyard. You usually want to keep your creatures in there, but you should get plenty of goodies every upkeep along with all the scavenge targets you could want.

Scavenging Bodies

On to the meat of the deck: the creatures we want to scavenge. The best card for the job is easily Death’s Shadow. For the measly cost of one black mana, we get a 13 power creature that we don’t even need a sacrifice or discard outlet for! With Varolz out, this card reads “BB, Exile Death’s Shadow: Put thirteen +1/+1 counters on target creature.” Force of Savagery and Phyrexian Soulgorger are both great as well, giving us high-powered creatures with drawbacks that let us send them to the graveyard quickly.

There isn’t really much else to it. We’re grabbing cards with a high power-to-cmc ratio, preferably ones with drawbacks that force us to sacrifice them or otherwise send them to the graveyard. This not only gives us efficient scavenges, but also allows us to turn the drawback into an advantage. There’s one card we would’ve liked for this deck but can’t due to budget constraints, and that’s Phyrexian Dreadnought. A 12/12 for 1 would be amazing in this deck, but unfortunately, it comes with quite a hefty price tag.

Evasion

Now that we can get tons of +1/+1 counters, we just need to find a way to make it count. We could just scavenge onto Varolz and go for commander damage, but if your opponents have a bunch of chump blockers, it’s not going to matter. That’s why we’re including a good amount of evasion in the deck. Since we’re in green, a good amount of it will come through trample. Rancor is great as always, and Brawn should have no problems finding its way into the graveyard. We also have a few sources of making creatures unblockable, such as Rogue’s passage and Champion of Lambholt. Finally, we’re including Rhox as a way to assign combat damage regardless of blockers.

Supporting Cards

What would a Varolz EDH deck be without Corpsejack Menace? This card is just amazing with scavenge, allowing you to make your creatures that much bigger. Taunting Elf, Golgari Decoy and Wild Beastmaster are all alternate scavenging targets. The first two can either become huge, then force blocks to clear an opponent’s board, or they can just act as decoys to let your 21/21 commander finish people off. The latter is just a natural choice to scavenge onto because it essentially pumps everyone. You might think this deck doesn’t synergize with Lhurgoyf or Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, but the truth of the matter is that you’re usually going to be filling your graveyard with creatures faster than you can scavenge them, especially if we can get our dredge engine going. So, we might as well make use of this.

We’ve added in plenty of removal, using the resources we have in green and black to our advantage. Fleshbag Marauder is nice because it acts as removal, then gives you a body to use later on. Life’S Finale and Plague Boiler are the board wipes in this deck, though Plague Boiler is more a threat and a method to control the pace of the game rather than a true board wipe. Jarad’s Orders is a tutor that is doubly useful because it can get a card in your graveyard, while Diabolic Tutor can help you search up any card, like Deadbridge Chant, Whispersilk Cloak, or even a Treasured Find to get back something in your graveyard. Spider Spawning is useful for regenerating Varolz and can be used from the graveyard. It, along with Spidersilk Armor, should also help against those pesky fliers. Bow of Nylea has some good utility, and if someone tries to exile your graveyard, you can even save some cards. Along those lines, we’ve put in a Witchbane Orb. While it won’t save you from a Relic of Progenitus, cards like Nihil Spellbomb and Bojuka Bog won’t be able to touch you anymore.

Let’s take a look at our finished deck.

Final optimized tcgplayer price: $27.63

Playing the Deck

Varolz is going to be the target. This deck doesn’t have too many threats when Varolz isn’t out, so you need to do your best to protect him. That also means you need to figure out the timing for when to bring him out. You’ll very rarely want him out on turn 3 — the graveyard needs to have creatures for him to be useful, and you’ll be hard-pressed to keep him alive that early. He does have the ability to regenerate as long as you have other creatures out, so that makes it a bit easier, but you still need to watch out for spells like Evacuation, Cyclonic Rift, and Wrath of God.

If you can manage to scavenge with Varolz, though, you will be a force to be reckoned with. If you can manage to get trample or unblockable somehow, it could very well mean the death of one of your opponents within a couple of turns. That’s not to say you need to win with commander damage though — remember, there are cards like Rhox and Wild Beastmaster in there to scavenge onto too. As the games go longer, you’ll find that the Lhurgoyf, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord and Golgari Grave-Troll get that much better, and chances are you’ll be able to grab the Grave-Troll at least through his dredge (or Jarad by sacrificing a Forest and a Swamp).

So that’s it for this deck. Let me know what you think about it, and what you would do with the Golgari maze-runner, in the comments below, and feel free to shoot me any requests for future budget EDH decks.