No-Cash Commander – Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

Hi all, Crazy’s back with a new instalment of No-Cash Commander.

For the new readers – The only rule for the No-Cash articles is that the deck can only cost $50 at TCG mid using the cheapest printings. And this week we’re also going to have our first multi-colour commander in this series – Skullbriar, the Walking Grave.

Full deck list is available on TappedOut here.

The Plan

Skullbriar likes to punch other players. He punches players hard and then gets stronger by doing that so he hits even harder next time. And since he’s our Commander and we only need to deal 21 – well…

The accepted term for a deck of the style I’m going for today is a “Voltron” deck, where we tank up one titanic threat – Skullbriar in this case – and delete our opponents in one or two well-placed swings. Skullbriar in particular is a very unique style of Voltron as not many other commanders lend themselves to a primarily +1/+1 counter based strategy when it comes to voltron, usually using powerful enchantments like Uril, the Miststalker or equipment cards like Khemba, Kha Regent. The reason we can use Skullbriar for this is that his third ability lends him a certain amount of resilience, since whenever he would move zones – Which now includes hand or library – He can just go back to the command zone and keep all of the +1/+1 counters we’ve worked so hard to put on him.

So without further ado – We’ll start with the most important part of this deck:

The Voltron suite

Here’s going to be all the things we give to Skullbriar to help him destroy our opponents, including some auras, some equips and a few things that give +1/+1 counters.

Alpha Authority – Makes him much more difficult to remove both in and out of combat, making him unable to be double-blocked while also making him hexproof.

Boar Umbra – Totem Armour is best Armour. +3/+3 is nothing to sniff at but the real reason we play it is as an extra life.

Canopy Cover – All the combat benefits of flying without dying to a Hurricane. Comes with free Hexproof.

Curse of Predation – Technically not part of the voltron suite but it makes counters and puts them on Skullbriar whenever he attacks someone. Which he will do all the time.

Eternal Thirst – I think we can all agree that Lifelink is a pretty great mechanic but the real reason we use this is that it gives you value from any of your and your opponent’s non-exile removal in the form of beefing up Skullbriar.

Feast on the Fallen – They played a Shockland? +1/+1. Fetch? +1/+1. Punched another opponent? You better believe that’s a +1/+1 counter.

Forced Adaptation – Ensures that your commander gets his daily dose of +1/+1 counters even if he can’t punch someone.

Gift of the Deity – Now this card I love. +2/+2 Deathtouch that everything has to block? We just turned Skullbriar into a one-sided boardwipe. Double points for giving him Trample first.

Ordeal of Erebos, Ordeal of Nylea – In the early game they’re worth a few counters, in the late game they’re worth one counter and a decent spell effect. Nothing wrong with these.

Phyresis – Did I just go there? You’re damn right I went there. Now we don’t even need to deal 21 damage, we only need to deal 10.

Rancor – Need an aggressive aura that’s just as resilient as your commander? Then look no further than Rancor ladies and gentlemen.

Snake Umbra – And now our punching is also card advantage. Extra points for having Totem Armour.

Grafted Exoskeleton – You know what I just said about Phyresis? This even gives it a power boost to go with.

Hero’s Blade – Auto-Equipping +3/+2 seems pretty bonkers on a threat as resilient as Skullbriar.

Ring of Kalonia, Ring of Xathrid – Forced Adaptation with the upsides of not dying when your commander does and giving him an extra little boost in the form of Trample or Regeneration.

Increasing Savagery – The biggest static +1/+1 counter steroid in the deck, giving +5/+5 for 4 mana then giving a further +10/+10 for another 7 mana.

So he’s already pretty big, but a lot of these things won’t let you kill quickly enough. That’s where these come in:

The Force Multipliers

So there’s a lot of things there to buff Skullbriar. These cards turn that buff into so much more.

Corpsejack Menace – With this down Skullbriar’s own trigger is already doubled for +2/+2 each time he makes contact, but then there’s the ordeals which get doubled, the Rings get doubled each turn and Increasing Savagery goes from a total of +15/+15 to a whopping +30/+30. Nobody’s living through a hit from that.

Solidarity of Heroes – Corpsejack Menace but after the fact. The most important thing about this is that it’s an instant for surprise lethal.

Tainted Strike – Speaking of “Surprise Lethal”…

Soul’s Might – Compared to Solidarity of Heroes: Downside – Sorcery speed. Upside – Works with non-counter power boosts like Hero’s Blade and Gift of the Deity.

So as you can see we have a lot of ways to make him utterly titanic – However I think now is a time to discuss something troubling about Skullbriar.

The BIG Problem

Skullbriar’s ability is not limited to +1/+1 counters – it’s ALL counters. This means that if someone were to stick him with a -1/-1 counter he’d never see the board again. Or so they think – We have a couple ways around it but here is the golden rule of Skullbriar:

If he gets a -1/-1 counter that would prevent him from living, leave him in the Graveyard.

In this list at least there are no exceptions to this rule. If he’s in the graveyard we can put him in our hand or on top of our deck as a reset but Command Beacon was a little out of budget for this list. As it is our methods of recovery are quite limited:

Hua Tuo, Honored Physician – A P3K card? In a budget list? It’s more likely than you think. It was also reprinted in a Commander set recently so there’s that. It’s primary use is resetting Skullbriar but it can also be used to get back a nice utility creature like Corpsejack Menace or Varolz, the Scar-Striped. Notably can be activated during your upkeep to put the creature back on top before you draw too.

Mortuary Mire – Creature from ‘yard to top of deck. Very simple, very useful and doesn’t use up a spell slot.

Primal Command – Little bit of a roundabout one, but as well as being extraordinarily useful for a lot of other things you can put Skullbriar through the wash by using mode 3 on yourself to shuffle in your graveyard and then mode 4 to retrieve it from the deck.

And that’s it. Realistically it shouldn’t happen too often but it’s an important consideration. To this end we do have a number of alternative Voltron targets in the deck:

Alternative Bombs

Aura Gnarlid – Benefits greatly from the amount of Auras we’re using even if he’s not the primary voltron target this game, and really punishes any deck not going tall enough.

Champion of Lambholt – Now, while this is a voltron target, it also lends itself to going wide if you draw a hand that’s trending in that direction. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the Voltron plan if it’s looking the best way to go about it.

Den Protector – No I absolutely am not joking. As well as being a way to reset Skullbriar by moving him from grave to hand, the fact that this can’t be blocked by smaller things than it makes it a viable target to go tall with.

Managorger Hydra – Another creature that grows quickly, potentially quicker than Skullbriar, that also lends itself to +1/+1 counters and comes with Trample pre-loaded. Slap him with Hexproof and you’ve got a hell of a threat.

Shrill Howler // Howling Chorus – Eldritch Moon has given us a very unique voltron target in that you need to buff him to get the most benefit but by doing so your board gets wider and wider. This lends itself to some other Wincons we’ll discuss lower down.

So we have backup plans if Voltron seems like the way to win – But should you end up playing sideways rather than up we have some peripheral support for that which also functions in a voltron scenario.

+1/+1 Counter Support

Here’s where we have the Graft, Scavenge, Proliferate, and everything else that’s useful to establishing a healthy boardstate.

Avatar of the Resolute – A great creature at any point in the game, it’s better the wider you’ve already gone but even with just one other creature this guy is already value.

Core Prowler – First off: Infect. He can support that plan should you want to go that way by starting the poison, and then when he dies you get to Proliferate, including the poison you just stuck them with and all of your +1/+1 counters.

RULES DUMP: You Cannot Proliferate Skullbriar’s +1/+1 counters while he is in the command zone. Now back to your previously scheduled deck tech.

Crowned Ceratok – Gives your guys with +1/+1 counters, such as your commander, Trample. Great card.

Cytospawn Shambler – Gives your guys with +1/+1 counters, such as your commander, Trample. Woah, Deja vu. Although he also has the benefit of distributing +1/+1 counters to things that come in after him.

Deadbridge Goliath – One of the more efficient creatures with Scavenge, This guy can trade up into a 5/6 drop with his statline and then provide a +5/+5 steroid to your Voltron of choice later in the game.

Dreg Mangler – I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in here for the scavenge and nothing else but a 3/3 haste for 3 is pretty nice to put on a little early game pressure and potentially snipe an unprotected Planeswalker.

Fangren Firstborn – Will almost definitely not survive past his first swing but he gives enough value on it that I’m willing to put him in.

Golgari Decoy – An excellent card for forcing lethal past the creature-heavy decks, you send this guy in alongside your Voltron and the target pops removal or dies. He also Scavenges later but 5 mana for 2 counters isn’t great.

Gyre Sage – If you’ve been having Skullbriar die a lot this creature will turn your scavenges and steroids into mana to help you get him back out. Plus there’s nothing wrong with a Grow-your-own Dork.

Silumgar Assassin – Flips into removing a utility creature and then proceeds to benefit from the rest of the support here like Proliferate and Crowned Ceratok. Especially Ceratok since it can’t be blocked by things with more power than it so Trample is pretty good.

Sluiceway Scorpion – There’s nothing wrong with having a nice deathtouch creature barring the way to your life total, and this one benefits from being able to scavenge at a reasonable cost after he’s traded with an opponent.

Sporeback Troll – Helps your Voltron target not die. Just watch out for Wrath of God.

Varolz, the Scar-Striped – Makes a lot of your Scavenge far more efficient for one as well as being a sacrifice outlet. The real trick here is that Skullbriar keeps his Power and Toughness in the yard so you can potentially scavenge an incredible number of counters for only 2 mana and then send him back to the command zone instead of exile to be re-summoned later with all of his counters still intact.

Vastwood Hydra – A ticking time bomb of +1/+1 counters lovingly crafted by your ramp. This plus Corpsejack Menace is absurd value.

Contagion Clasp, Contagion Engine – Repeatable Proliferate buttons that also function as weenie removal. The engine in particular I’ve used to great effect in the past.

Decree of Savagery – This can either be used as an instant-speed pseudo-Overrun effect if you’ve ended up going wide or as an instant-speed, uncounterable, cantripping steroid for your Voltron if not. A little expensive maybe but you can’t deny it does it’s job well.

Grim Affliction – Pops a utility creature, buffs your Voltron. No complaints here.

Llanowar Reborn – Makes damn sure Skullbriar (Or Voltron of choice) comes in with a +1/+1 counter for you to use with Proliferate or your Graft creature abilities.

Spread the SicknessMurder with benefits. It’s a little expensive but I feel the proliferate makes up for it since we’re on a budget.

Triumph of the Hordes – This is the main way you’re going to clear an entire table at once if you’d rather do that, get a semi-decent Voltron per opponent then pop this and swing. Has the added benefit of making all of your opponents 100% terrified of Contagion Engine.

Now, like any deck we’ve also got our utility stuff – In this deck that fall into 3 categories, Ramp, Card draw and Removal. Starting from the top:

Ramp

Elvish Mystic, Elves of Deep Shadow – Fairly standard 1 mana elves. Gives us a productive play on turn one.

The rock suite:

1 mana: Sol Ring

2 mana: Golgari Signet

3 mana: Darksteel Ingot

The deck never really needs a huge amount of ramp so it’s okay to not go all-in on the rock suite, but any two of these should give us room to breathe and rebuild if someone pops an Armageddon.

Blighted Woodland – Activating this leaves us with +1 land compared to what we had before, so it’s a 4 mana Rampant Growth – But a 4 mana Rampant Growth that doesn’t take up a spell slot seems pretty good to me.

Kodama’s Reach, Rampant Growth – Standard ramp spells, I’m not going into much detail here.

Then we have:

Card Draw

Drumhunter – Yes it’s technically also ramp but really we’re using it because with any reasonably sized voltron target it’s a card draw engine that can be scavenged later with Varolz.

Verduran Enchantress – With all of the auras and other enchantments in this deck it seems silly to not include at least one enchantress.

Triumph of Ferocity – You’re playing Voltron, so really you should always have the biggest creature, making this a decent impersonation of a Phyrexian Arena if everything is going to plan.

Underworld Connections – Speaking of decent impersonations of Phyrexian Arena this has a benefit or two over it in that it’s optional each turn and is an Aura for our Gnarlid but the downside is that you have to tap the land you stuck it to each turn. Decent replacement on a budget though.

Grim Backwoods – Lets you cash in things like those Elves or the weaker Scavange creatures for more cards in the lategame without ever having to cast a spell.

And finally:

Removal

Acidic Slime – It’s a bit overpriced for a 2/2 deathtouch until you realise that it’s also near enough to a Bramblecrush that you don’t really care about the cost.

Beast Within – “Remove target problem” is pretty good for 3 mana at instant speed. I’d save it for a must-answer threat or something that we’d otherwise have trouble dealing with like Planeswalkers.

Murder – 3 words to kill them all. Unless they’re indestructible. Or Hexproof. Look it kills a thing what do you want from me?

Crux of Fate – The best boardwipe we could get on a budget that wasn’t Black Sun’s Zenith but that card is the exact opposite of anything we want around Skullbriar so here we are. Just watch out for the Dragon Tribal deck. Or totally destroy the Dragon Tribal deck, your choice really.

And that’s almost the entire deck. It’s every nonland at least.

Lands

Now bearing in mind this is a budget landbase I think this looks alright – It’s a real shame most of the good budget duals are in allied colours.

Ghost Quarter – Destroys annoying utility land like High Market and big mana lands like Cabal Coffers – Just don’t use it on a fixing land, for the most part you’ll get laughed at.

Golgari Rot Farm – The Ravnica Bouncelands are certainly playable but they attract land destruction like nothing else because they provide 2 mana. Of note though is that this will let you reuse Mortuary Mire or Llanowar Reborn should you need to.

Jungle Hollow – It’s a straight GB tapland that gains a life. It’s pretty terrible really but it fits the budget.

Rogue’s Passage – Lets you laugh at the creature players as you walk past their field of blockers to slap them in the face.

Tainted Wood – By far my favourite cycle of budget duals, I even run these in my non-budget Bx decks (See: Sedris)

And that’s it for the deck. Obviously as a budget deck this is meant as a jumping-off point though, so here’s some pointers on where to go next:

Better Doublers: Doubling Season, Primal Vigor, Kalonian Hydra

I really shouldn’t need to write anything about these – This is a +1/+1 counter based deck and these three cards in particular should be in any +1/+1 counter based deck just for power reasons.

Better Resets: Command BeaconVolrath’s Stronghold, Unholy Grotto

One problem we have is that a well-placed -1/-1 counter can shut down Skullbriar hard for a very long time. But with the Grotto and Stronghold we have permanent ways to reset him rather than the one-shot things we have right now. The beacon in particular is useful if resetting from the graveyard isn’t an option due to a Rest in Peace or Ground Seal.

Prevention is the best Cure: Melira, Sylvok Outcast

Read the little bit above. Melira makes that impossible as long as she’s around, with the added benefit of screwing with other people trying to use infect to win.

Better Voltron: Sword of Light and Shadow and their ilk.

The Swords of X and Y should be in a great many different voltron decks. Including all of them here is debatable but Sword of Light and Shadow in particular also acts as a reset for Skullbriar.

General Efficiency Upgrades: Phyrexian Arena, Argothian Enchantress, Overgrown Tomb, Verdant Catacombs and many more.

Right now we’re running budget versions of all of those cards and then some so they’re obvious steps up for improving the deck.

And that’s it – If you like this article or list or if you want to suggest improvements drop a comment here on the article or go like our Facebook page and leave us a comment there.

Crazy out.

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