Warhammer 40,000 preconstructed decks have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We’re going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to create a high-impact list of upgrades for under $30.
Forces of the Imperium is an Esper Tokens deck looking to flood the board with a wide army: there are plenty of token makers including a new type of token “kicker” mechanic called squad (Space Marine Devastator) to drop on the battlefield and plenty of anthems to make your army more lethal (Ultramarines Honour Guard). You can also utilize your tokens to draw extra cards (Reconnaissance Mission) or sacrifice them for mana to The Golden Throne, but the goal remains simply to pump out tokens and smash them into your opponents’ life totals.
If you like the idea of an aggressive Esper Tokens deck that focuses on combat with a dash of Artistocrats and Lifegain subthemes for added spice, then Forces of the Imperium is for you!
The Precon List
Before we talk upgrades, let’s take a look at the stock list to see what we’re working with:
Forces of the Imperium is first and foremost a combat-focused Esper Tokens deck and does that job well enough: I count 31 cards that support a Go Wide strategy, either making tokens (And They Shall Know No Fear) or have abilities that scale up the more creatures you have (Thunderwolf Cavalry), which is good but a little less than I’d like.
We also have some very minor subthemes: Lifegain, Sacrifice, Artifacts, and Flash. However, none of these themes have more than a single support card: Lifegain has Celestine, the Living Saint, Sacrifice has Sanguinary Priest, Artifacts Belisarius Cawl, and Flash doesn’t have any payoffs (they’re just neat!). They all tie into the main theme of Go Wide Tokens, but they’re incredibly minor.
Analyzing the Precon & Identifying Weaknesses
Now that we’ve glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let’s take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.
As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:
- 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
- 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
- 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
- 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
- 2 graveyard recursion
- 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
- 1 graveyard removal; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest
- 1 finishers; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup
That’s always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck’s strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.
Let’s see what the rough ratios are for Forces of the Imperium and how it compares. I count:
- 48 mana; 37 lands and Space Marine Scout, Epistolary Librarian (kind of), Everflowing Chalice, Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, Mind Stone, Talisman of Dominance, Talisman of Hierarchy, Talisman of Progress, Commander’s Sphere, The Golden Throne
- 12 card draw; Inquisitor Greyfax, Commissar Severina Raine, Cybernetica Datasmith, Sicarian Infiltrator, Belisarius Cawl, Inquisitor Eisenhorn, Vanguard Suppressor, Marneus Calgar, Sister Repentia, Skullclamp, Reconnaissance Mission, Birth of the Imperium
- 12 targeted removal; Space Marine Devastator, Grey Knight Paragon, Sister of Silence, Callidus Assassin, Swords to Plowshares, Collective Effort, Mortify, Deny the Witch, Entrapment Maneuver, Utter End, Birth of the Imperium, Primaris Eliminator
- 4 board wipes; Fell the Mighty, Exterminatus, Hour of Reckoning, Martial Coup
- 3 graveyard recursion; Sister Hospitaller, Celestine, the Living Saint, Neyam Shai Murad
- 0 flexible tutors;
- 0 graveyard hate;
- 3+ finishers; Reaver Titan, Thunderhawk Gunship, And They Shall Know No Fear
The ratios are pretty good; I could use a bit more ramp, one GY hate, and a bit less targeted removal, but overall it’s solid enough.
The ramp we do get are excellent: we’ve got Talismans and new hotness with The Golden Throne. The targeted removal is very good too, such as Space Marine Devastator. I think the card draw is overall the worst: we have the staple Skullclamp and some new hot ones like Marneus Calgar, but some terrible ones like Belisarius Cawl. We’ll take out some of the bad options during the upgrades.
Choosing Our Commander
- Inquisitor Greyfax is the face commander of the precon and is the better candidate for the stock list: her anthem is great for a Go Wide combat strategy and her activated ability is good at tapping down potential blockers / attackers while providing slow but reliable card draw. Her abilities are reliable but not very abusable however, making her an unappealing candidate when upgrading the deck since there’s only so much you can build around her.
- Marneus Calgar, on the other hand, is the most powerful commander from all the precons — if properly built around. While the precon has a modest amount of token generators so he’s not too crazy in the stock list, it’s important to realize that his card draw is “uncapped” in that you can keep drawing more and more cards off him each turn if you keep creating tokens, so the more token generation we add to the deck the better it becomes. Even his second ability, while costing a ton of mana, is still very powerful since it can enable game-winning combos usually involving Ashnod’s Altar.
This time the choice is obvious: Marneus Calgar is far too powerful to ignore if we’re upgrading the deck. We’re going to shift the precon into a more focused Tokens list to take full advantage of such a powerful draw (and Combo!) engine in our command zone.
I have some specific goals when upgrading Forces of the Imperium:
- Focus more on Tokens
- Cut non-Token archetype cards
- Upgrade our card draw
- Upgrade our finishers
Marneus Calgar being in the command zone means we’re focusing the entire deck around Tokens: the more tokens we make, the more cards we draw, and drawing is the best thing in Magic!
Not only are we going to add generic good token generators like the ramp + removal of Grim Hireling, but there’s also some spice I’m super excited about: the populate mechanic is super sweet with squad cards like Space Marine Devastator, and the most fun populate card of them all is Song of the Worldsoul.
We’re also going to level up our finishers too by adding the best ones available to Marneus, and that’s infinite combos: Marneus Calgar + Nadir Kraken + Ashnod’s Altar = infinite mana and draws our entire deck. Toss in a death trigger like Zulaport Cutthroat and that’s game. I know a lot of readers prefer avoiding combos, but I feel like it would be a disservice if I did an upgrade guide without showing the best finishers for the deck, so if you don’t like combos simply leave them out from your upgrades.
Disclaimer: Card prices are volatile and may be different at the time you read this article.
Here’s how I’d swap in $30 worth of upgrades. If you want to upgrade on a smaller budget then just makes less swaps:
And here’s the deck with the upgrades installed:
The deck has an injection of 11 powerful X-spells, 2 ways to untap Magus, some of the best burst card draw to refill hands, and we splurged for Unbound Flourishing which is simply the best X-spell support card available.
Smothering Tithe is one of the best cards with Marneus as each treasure made is another card draw and it’s one of the best ramp cards in Esper colors. Pitiless Plunderer moves us further into an Aristocrats deck, which our main combo finishers push us towards. The typical tutors like Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor also give us far more consistency, be it to find our finishers or our answers.
3 Down, 1 To Go!
The Ruinous Powers is left and we’ll get to that this thursday!