Today I'm going to be doing a breakdown of one of my all time favorite Commanders, Talrand, Sky Summoner. This list is going to be on the competitive side, but don't worry. At the end I'll go over some budget alternatives to keep the price down without sacrificing much in the way of power. To make sure this deck is playable at every budget I've included three decklists. One ignores price entirely and is the list as I like to play it. Another is a more budget-friendly list that is comparable in price to a top-tier Standard deck, and the last decklist is entirely focused on budget. The core of the deck is the same as my most expensive list, but it can be bought for $100 or less. So let's get to it.
Talrand, Sky Summoner is a passive commander, and by that I mean that we don't have to invest any resources, or put him into combat, in order for him to win us the game. Our priority will be just to keep him on the battlefield for as long as possible while gaining value from his triggered ability.
Talrand's ability gives us a 2/2 flyer for every instant or sorcery we cast. We get the most value from this by casting as many low mana spells as possible—preferably spells that replace themselves so we can keep the engine moving.
In blue we have a ton of cards to choose from that fit those parameters, but let's start with the spells that are virtually free.
These you should recognize. They're all powerful cards on their own (to the point of being banned in multiple formats), but in Talrand, Sky Summoner they go one step further by giving you a 2/2 flyer. They can also enable other cards in your deck by filling your graveyard, letting you replay islands, and by checking to see if an opponent will be able to interfere with a combo.
All of these are great at digging through your deck to find the cards you need, and in a single turn, a few of these can turn an empty board into a field that you dominate. Resiliency is one of the major strengths of this deck. Board wipes will most likely hurt your opponents more than you, and the only creature you need to worry about protecting is Talrand. If your opponents are wasting kill spells on Drakes you're getting the better end of that trade every time.
Speaking of protecting Talrand, Sky Summoner, this deck plays a very high volume of countermagic. Most of the game will be played on your opponents' turns. Every time you counter a spell with Talrand on the battlefield you gain a Drake token. Force of Will and Force of Negation are obviously all-stars here since they can be cast even while tapped out.
Unlike typical control decks, this one doesn't bide its time waiting to draw a win condition. Every time you counter a threat your opponents play on their turns, you're building up your Drake army for a massive swing on your turn. Nice.
That said, there are a few ways to win here other than overwhelming your opponents with Drakes. You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned a single creature in this deck other than Talrand. That's because in total this deck only plays four creatures. That is a very intentional number, because another win-con is enabled by a single card—Mass Polymorph. Any more than four creatures might cause this combo to fail more than we'd like.
By only having four creatures we guarantee that as long as we have Talrand and two Drakes on the battlefield we will get this combo off. So here is how it works.
First we have Talrand and our two Drake tokens. We should only do this combo if the coast seems clear—a tapped out opponent or a quick Gitaxian Probe will do the trick. We cast Mass Polymorph which triggers Talrand putting a third Drake onto the battlefield before Mass Polymorph resolves. When it resolves we exile our tokens and send Talrand back to the command zone.
Now we reveal cards from the top of the deck until we reveal four creatures. There are only four in the deck so in a casual game, to save time, you can just let your opponents look through the deck after you grab your creatures. The four creatures you just grabbed are Deadeye Navigator, Peregrine Drake, Archaeomancer and Snapcaster Mage. If you want to make this combo function perfectly with only Talrand and one Drake then you can take Snapcaster out of the deck. But Snapcaster is just so good in this deck that I feel it is worth losing a touch of consistency to keep it in.
Anyway, at this point you probably see where I'm going, but I'll walk through it just to be sure we're all on the same page.
You can stack your triggers however you want at this point; 99% of the time, it won't matter. For the sake of this demonstration I'll have Peregrine Drake enter first untapping five lands. Next Deadeye Navigator comes in and soulbonds to Peregrine Drake, and then Archaeomancer comes in grabbing an instant or sorcery out of your graveyard. You now can tap the five lands and use two of them to flicker Peregrine Drake which untaps all the lands again. This nets you three mana each time and is essentially infinite mana but we'll be respectful and tell our opponents it's 3000 blue mana. It doesn't matter. You can then flicker Deadeye Navigator and soulbond him to Archaeomancer and then return any number of instants and sorceries you want to your hand. This is where it gets fun.
Play your Talrand again and start casting cantrips until you have all the Drakes you could want, cast an extra turn spell, and attack your opponents before they get a chance to do anything about it. Brutal, right?
Well, the second win condition is even more mean and can happen much earlier. (It might also ruin friendships. Your mileage may vary.) Again, this combo hinges on just one specific card. This time it's Opposition. If you are playing multiplayer I'd hold onto this until a few people are knocked out or until you have a bunch of Drake tokens already. But if you are playing a one vs. one game, just drop this as fast as possible and you'll pretty much lock the game from the start.
You just need to get Talrand out with Opposition on the battlefield. With this strategy you won't be attacking at all for a few turns. Your goal is to cast at least one instant or sorcery each turn, but bonus points if you can manage two or three. Tap your Drakes on your opponent's upkeep to tap down all of your opponent's lands. So long as you are able to make one Drake for every land your opponent controls you have already won the game. Most people will scoop at the point where your Drakes equal the number of lands they control, so with an aggressive hand you can win by turn four if your opponent scoops.
Like I said this win con is mean, so use at your own risk. Nobody likes to sit down for a game of Magic and have to scoop because they can't cast any spells. If you are playing in a Commander tournament though, go for it. It definitely scored me some wins in my local Commander League.
Those are the three win conditions of the deck: controlling the game and winning fairly through attacking with Drakes, comboing with your creatures typically via Mass Polymorph, and locking your opponents out of the game with Opposition.
A deck doesn't operate on its win conditions alone, though. So we've got a bunch of tools to keep our deck running smoothly. Let's take a look at some of the unsung heroes of this deck. This first card is one of my favorites because I've never run into anyone else playing it in Commander. The moment I told my friend Derek that I was making a Commander video he was like, "You're gonna make a video about that one blue card you love aren't you?"
Yes I am, Derek, Yes I am.
Retraced Image. You reveal a card in your hand and if it has the same name as a permanent in play you can put the revealed card into play. It is completely understandable why so few people are running this card. In Commander, other than basic lands, you can only have one of each card in your deck. So at a glance it seems pretty useless. What are the odds that an opponent is going to have a permanent of the same name as a card in your hand? Not great, but it does occasionally happen; however, that's not why it's here.
What I love using it for is blue ramp. With this in your opening hand you can play an Island and cast this to put a second Island into play immediately. If you draw it late-game you can use it to recover from a Gush faster or as an alternate casting cost of Force of Will or Force of Negation. I've even used it alongside the infinite combo I mentioned earlier, to get infinite Drakes without having to draw cards when my opponent had a Nekusar, the Mindrazer in play. The card is only 70 cents, so if you've got a mono-blue deck, seriously give it a try. You can thank me later.
These next three all work together: Snow-Covered Island, Scrying Sheets and Extraplanar Lens. Snow-Covered Islands are functionally the same as normal basic islands so there's no downside to playing them. But they do have an upside I'll show you in just a second. Scrying Sheets is in the deck to pull snow lands off the top of the library to improve draws, but it also gives you information about your next draw, so even if you don't hit a snow land, the activation wasn't a waste. Finally, Extraplanar Lens is one of many mana doubling artifacts in Magic, and at three colorless mana it is by far the cheapest of them. That's because it works symmetrically. Any land with the same name as the land you exiled, taps for two instead. So if you were just using standard Islands, anyone playing blue would benefit from it. But, by imprinting a Snow-Covered Island instead, nine times out of ten we just made the card benefit only us.
While we're talking about lands, I know I can't be the only one excited about what Mystic Sanctuary is going to do in Commander. I figured the island in this cycle was going to be good when Wizards revealed Witch's Cottage, but I wasn't expecting it to be this good. Mystic Sanctuary can put miracle spells in the graveyard back on top of your library, right where you need them, and can also enable repeated castings of Gush, Deprive and Cryptic Command every turn. Finally, the icing on the cake is that Mystic Sanctuary can be tutored up with fetch lands. So naturally, I put every blue fetch land I could in the deck. The life lost to these fetch lands isn't really a concern. Putting an instant or sorcery onto the top of our library is worth far more than the 1 life lost. And since I've got them in here, I decided to add in Moonring Island as well, just to have another non-basic option for fetching.
The last three lands left to talk about are Cavern of Souls, to make sure we can cast Talrand even against control decks, Boseiju, Who Shelters All to make sure our most important spells resolve, and Reliquary Tower because we sometimes draw more cards than we can cast in a turn.
I also snuck Narset, Parter of Veils into the deck. I haven't played with her much so I may switch this back to the original Tamiyo after some testing, but... we'll see.
We've got a couple artifacts here as well. First, Isochron Scepter lets us imprint an instant and cast it, and since Isochron Scepter doesn't copy a spell already on the stack (it has to copy a spell and then cast the copy), we actually get Drakes from it. This is awesome because many other cards simply copy a spell on the stack which doesn't trigger Talrand. Finally, we also have Sensei's Divining Top. Utility for days, and with a built in way to protect itself at that. Not bad.
That's pretty much the breakdown of the deck as I run it! But it wasn't always so competitive.
It started out as a jumble of every blue card in my trade binder and it still was a great deck. Let me show you how we can cut the price of this deck in half just by taking out 10 cards.
The fetch lands and Cavern of Souls can be replaced by Snow-Covered Islands or your choice of utility land. Time Spiral can be swapped out for Commit // Memory which actually gives us 2 Talrand triggers as well. Force of Will is a tough one to replace but Foil is a similar effect at the cost of an extra card. Commandeer might be a good choice as well but while it's much cheaper than Force of Will, it still isn't exactly budget-friendly.
Sensei's Divining Top has a few alternatives. If you're looking to know exactly what you opponents are playing, consider Telepathy in its place.
If you want to be able to check the top of your library, Soothsaying is probably just what you are looking for. With it's X cost you can look a lot deeper for a card that you need and if nothing is looking good, pay the five mana on your opponent's end step and shuffle the library. I actually ran this alongside Sensei's Divining Top for a long time and have been considering putting it back in. So while this is a budget alternative, I wouldn't consider it a downgrade by any means.
Personal Tutor can be swapped out for Long-Term Plans which is more mana, and puts the card third from the top but grabs any card in your deck, so in some situations it will be even better than Personal Tutor.
And the last budget swap is Snapcaster Mage. A very solid replacement is Mission Briefing. The card is 60 times cheaper than Snapcaster, doesn't interfere with the Mass Polymorph combo and creates a Drake token if Talrand is on the field.
Now that I think about it, I'm actually going to just swap those out myself... anybody want to buy a Snapcaster Mage?
There's a lot of budget Commander content out there, and that's great! Commander is a really accessible format, and is tons of fun. But I made this video to work the other way around. By starting out with a highly optimized build and then providing options to fit the deck into whatever budget you have, you can always look back on the optimized list to see what you might want to add in later, when you feel your deck is ready for an upgrade.