It’s no secret that Commander is the most popular way for MTG players to engage with the game. As such, we’ve started seeing some premium preconstructed product release for the format, and the previous Secret Lair Commander deck may have been the best thing they ever offered.
If it weren’t for the deep dark stain on the Heads, I Win! Tails, You Lose! Secret Lair Commander deck’s reputation that was the entire year it got delayed in shipping, this would have likely been one of the best Commander products ever. This deck was tuned to compete with not quite cEDH decks, but one rung below that, capable of killing multiple players at relatively high-power tables. With the positive response for the product, once people actually got it, it seemed like all Wizards of the Coast had to do was deal with the shipping issues before creating another hit Commander product!
After seeing the coinflip deck in action, I wished that I had gotten in at the ground level. As such, when the Cute to Brute Secret Lair deck was announced, I didn’t hesitate to get a copy for myself. Part of this was definitely because I wanted the new Esika, God of the Tree, for the Superfriends deck I owned, but the deck also had a lot of cards that I wanted to own, so it seemed like a good fit.
That said, the reaction to this product’s announcement was quite adverse. While there were many things going for the Cute to Brute Secret Lair deck, the decklist, from a play perspective, just seemed… bad. There’s no real overarching theme in terms of gameplay, except for the theme of there being a lot of flip cards? Well, after finally receiving my Cute to Brute deck, I set out to play a few games with it to see how it felt. Here is a review of the product from a financial and a gameplay perspective!
What’s in the Box?
The first thing to get out of the way is what’s actually offered in the Cute to Brute Secret Lair deck. According to the Secret Lair website, this is what is offered in the Cute to Brute Secret Lair deck:
- 1x Foil Borderless Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge
- 1x Foil Borderless Archangel Avacyn // Avacyn, the Purifier
- 1x Foil Borderless Bloodline Keeper // Lord of Lineage
- 1x Foil Borderless Nicol Bolas, the Ravager // Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
- 1x Foil Borderless Westvale Abbey // Ormendahl, Profane Prince
- 42x Double-Faced Reprints
- 53x Single-Faced Reprints
- 15x Double-Faced Tokens
- 5x Display Cards
You’ll receive all this in a Secret Lair box. Alongside that, you’ll get some extra artwork, a foil life tracker (of a similar nature to the ones found in other preconstructed Commander decks, but with unique foil artwork), and the Bonus Slot card, which is actually quite good.
All-in-all, after a few days of use, none of the foils seem to be curling too badly, which is a good sign. Otherwise, the Display cards have been a nice touch since we can technically use them as Commanders with unique art for other decks. Of course, this wouldn’t fly in a sanctioned tournament but you do not want to run any of these Commanders in a sanctioned tournament.
Also of note is that not all of these cards can even be played as a Commander, limiting the use of the Bloodline Keeper and Westvale Abbey display cards. Using these cards as Commander substitutes is not a real issue, but putting them in your main deck can cause shuffling issues since the display cards are so much more thicker than a real MTG card.
All of that aside, let’s take a look at how this deck stacks up financially!
Is Cute to Brute Worth it Financially?
Anyone who has been following this product knows that this answer is a resounding yes. MTG Goldfish has the individual secondary market value of these cards up to $300, twice the amount that the product was selling for on the Secret Lair site! Most of the value in this deck is, admittedly, in the five new full-art double-sided Secret Lair cards, whose retail price actually pushes the deck up to about $350 in value, but, when the lowest price of each card is used to tally up this deck’s worth, there are still a few cards that stand out.
Cute to Brute’s Most Expensive Cards
Thanks to Pioneer’s first flavor of the month before it got replaced with a new one, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy saw a ton of interest, which also means it saw a significant increase in value. The card was going for a lot more recently, but you can find copies of this for $20. That said, if you really want to pick up a playset of Jace, now may be the time to do so. The Cute to Brute versions of these cards are currently selling for $8ish, which is a significant discount compared to the other versions of this card.
Commander’s singleton nature makes Guardian Project a nonstop source of card draw for creature decks. Since the main drawback for this card is nullified in a game of Commander, the card has a $10–$15 asking price. Like the other cards mentioned, the Cute to Brute version of this card is going for cheap, selling for about $8.
Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy is legitimately one of the most powerful cards in all of Commander. You can easily set this guy up at a cEDH table and, not only keep up, but thoroughly trounce your opponents with gigantic creatures. Mana rocks are very good in this format, and Kinnan synergizes incredibly well with them. It is worth about $10 for its other variants, but the Cute to Brute version of this card sells for between $2 and $6!
Unfortunately, the Cute to Brute deck has not created a discount for this card. Since Nicol Bolas, the Ravager received a new full-art treatment, this version of the card is instead demanding a small premium over the cheapest version of the card from M19.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager only has three printings – only one of which was from a main set. The other two are promotional, making the card rather difficult to come across. While Nicol Bolas doesn’t really see competitive play, it is quite a splashy effect for Commander. Both sides of this card have some impressive features, and flipping Nicol Bolas into its ridiculous backside usually correlates with the game ending. In playing this deck in testing, that proved to be true.
You can find these for $25, but this version of Nicol Bolas is currently selling for $30. At the moment, it’s the most expensive card in the Cute to Brute deck.
Interestingly, the new artwork for Bloodline Keeper is currently the cheapest version of the card available, but this probably will not last long. Currently selling for $10, Bloodline Keeper is a powerful card for decks that care about Vampires. This card is literally capable of creating an army on its own when left alone.
Interestingly, there seems to be a small Vampire synergy package in the deck. Between, Velentin, Dein of the Vane, Legion’s Landing, and Voldaren Pariah, this creature may be easier to flip in this deck than you think, and flipping it can be a big problem for your opponents.
There are a ton of $5-10 cards available in the deck, like one of each of the Pathway Lands that just rotated out of Standard, or one of each of the flip-walkers from Magic Origins. All of this is to say that, in the value department, this deck is 100% worth it, should you want it. It’s the other half of this review that is going to be more interesting.
Is the Cute to Brute Commander Deck Any Good?
I was prepared for the worst When I started to play the deck, especially off the back of all the negative reviews regarding the decklist. At first glance, the Cute to Brute deck looks like a jumble of powerful double-sided cards. The issue is that these cards do not work towards an end goal. They are all just kinda doing their own thing, and when you do come across synergies, that’s a nice treat.
Anyone expecting this deck to play like Heads, You Win! Tails, You Lose! is going to be severely disappointed. The power level difference between these two decks is massive, and the previous Secret Lair Commander deck will definitely eat this one for breakfast. That said, this deck did perform better than I expected it to. Of the four games I played against mid-power level decks (slightly above a preconstructed deck’s power level, so like a four or a five), I won two of them. Honestly, this is because the deck wasn’t doing anything obviously powerful and instead forced me to take advantage of the other game decisions happening at the table. In other words, I won because no one really saw me as a threat.
So, there are some good things happening here, but there’s a lot that can be done to streamline the experience. Having a gameplan that isn’t super tuned does give the opportunity for you to build up with others not seeing you as a threat, but, honestly, that’s probably the only way you’re going to be winning with this. The deck has some issues.
A Lack of Removal
The Cute to Brute deck does not have a lot of ways to remove high-impact threats. There are a lot of Planewalker effects in the deck that can deal with creatures, but finding an answer to a powerful enchantment like Anointed Procession or Smothering Tithe proved to be extremely difficult. I was generally only seeing one piece of conditionless removal per game, and, a lot of the time, I was forced to use it to equalize my standing on the board instead of removing something that was a big deal.
It may just be the decks that I usually play, but watching everyone’s board presence slowly get worse and worse as no one can deal with the Mondrak, Gory Dominus, or Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger on the table is not where I want to be with a deck. This was the issue that bothered me the most with the deck.
A Slow Manabase
Five-color mana bases in preconstructed Commander decks are tough. As we all know, good lands in MTG have massive price tags, leading to many preconstructed Commander decks running multiple colors to have an overabundance of tap lands. This deck is no exception. That said, there are a series of better lands in the deck, namely the set of Pathway lands, that do make this mana base better than the average precon. Don’t get me wrong, though; it’s still not great.
If one wanted to upgrade this deck for some reason, this is the thing I would take care of first. Being able to play on-curve without disruptions can really help streamline the interesting gameplan you have into something that keeps up with stronger decks better.
Gameplans are Inconsistent
Depending on the type of Commander pod you play in, this could both be a blessing and a curse. Each of the cards in this deck are strong enough on its own that you can stitch some powerful things together, but you need to draw those threats in the correct order. This can create a more curated Commander experience since every game is genuinely different, but it will absolutely not stand up to decks that do have a gameplan that is strongly working towards one goal. For example, this deck lost to the Heliod and Walking Ballista infinite, which is way more powerful than anything this deck is doing.
If that kind of thing is a common occurrence at your table, this deck will not be good enough. Additionally, that deck was not built to be very optimal outside of the combo, which should give you a better perspective of where this deck’s power level resides.
Synergies Felt Weird
The biggest weird thing for me with this deck was not the cards that flip, but the ones that are one-sided. These felt like they were haphazardly thrown into a deck that otherwise cared about its theme and not about its playability too much. To be clear, these cards are absolutely needed for the deck to function at the level it does, but the additional cards provided were strictly synergy pieces for your Commander. Sisay, Weatherlight Caption, for example, only needs Prismatic Bridge online to become a 7/7 and search up a variety of powerful toolbox options. Unfortunately, none of those toolbox options are overly powerful. Remember how I wanted to remove an Anointed Procession? Even with Sisay at full power, there were no cards I could search for that would do that.
This is made more apparent by the appearance of random haymakers in the deck. Sphinx of the Second Sun is absolutely fantastic in Prismatic Bridge decks since it, essentially, triggers Prismatic Bridge twice a turn. Additionally, this will untap your mana after combat, which helped me fight through a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger.
The message here, though, is that for the gimmicky double-sided theme to work, payoffs that are outside of the deck’s theme that synergize with the Commander felt like they needed to be thrown in. Additionally, I didn’t end up flipping that many cards for a deck about double-sided cards. It was, on average, less than ten per game – including the ones that I won.
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Inner Sleeves Heavily Recommended
Even though you may not be flipping a lot of cards, most of your threats do flip. For that reason, I heavily recommend getting inner sleeves for this deck. Taking the naked card in and out of a sleeve as you flip it means that damaging it will be quite easy. Inner sleeves will provide an extra layer of protection.
While this deck is definitely not a good choice for high-powered tables, it does do a lot better than it looks on paper. Each individual card in this deck is powerful enough to keep up with decks doing more than a preconstructed one does, and there are a bunch of smaller synergies that create unexpected payoffs. Here are some things I liked about the play experience for the Cute to Brute deck.
This Deck Cares About Both Halves of Esika
However, one thing I found quite nice about the deck was that both sides of Esika had some strong uses. Typically, decks that run The Prismatic Bridge want nothing to do with Esika and are flipping bomb after bomb with their Prismatic Bridge triggers. I did cast Esika a few times to take advantage of other draw engines like Guardian Project and Beast Whisperer. There is a real Legendary subtheme here, which allows you to snowball a ton of mana with Esika, but there needs to be some sort of payoff to doing that. Otherwise, one board wipe takes strategies like this out of the game – which did happen every time I played the Esika side in testing. If I got enough value beforehand, it didn’t matter. Otherwise, I had nothing to do.
The ways that this deck synergizes with The Prismatic Bridge is also different than usual. The triggers off this card feel a lot more like a gamble since you can flip everything from a 0/2 creature to a massive seven drop, but there are some cards in the deck that synergize incredibly well with the Bridge on their own. These were referenced in the above section.
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Multiple Relevant Subthemes
The absolute mishmash of creature-type matters cards in here makes first attempts with the deck seem daunting, but the subthemes presented in this deck are actually more pronounced than it seems. The deck has an underlying Legendary, Vampire, and Wolf subtheme. The Vampire subtheme is the lightest one, but has the heaviest payoffs. The Legendary theme is relatively consistent and streamed through the whole deck, thanks to Esika’s static ability. The Wolf theme is surprisingly prevalent, more so than the Vampire one, but it does not seem to have a substantial amount of payoffs. This could be another area to upgrade the deck.
This Deck Plays Better Than it Looks on Paper, But its Not a ‘Seven’
The above line summarizes my thoughts on the Cute to Brute deck’s playability. If you’re expecting your $150 EDH precon to play at the level that the coinflip deck did, this is going to be a miserable experience. This deck is legitimately weaker than the average deck tech or streamlined homebrew, but can still take games if three titans are busy keeping one-another in check. In comparison, the coinflip deck could compete with anything under a cEDH level, commonly capable of taking a few players out before being felled itself.
That said, this deck is more powerful than normal preconstructed decks. The end goals of this deck are similar to the more powerful preconstructed decks, but each individual card in the Cute to Brute deck is more powerful than most preconstructed decks. This means that each card in your deck will be doing a good amount of work, even if the deck isn’t overly synergistic.
Overall, this will be a surprisingly good fit if you’re looking to play at a level slightly above preconstructed decks. You can, mind you, build a stronger EDH deck for less money than it costs to buy this, so if you’re trying to build the most powerful EDH deck you possibly can for $150, you can do a whole lot better. I would recommend the Exit From Exile or Necron Dynasties Commander preconstructed decks if you’re looking for a deck that can see play out-of-the-box with a lot of power, but this deck is fun to play.
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