WELCOME TO AA!!
Nice to see another Minnesotan here! If you have the means go for a sump. It will add water volume to system and, therefore, you will see less dramatic changes in water parameters. The higher the water volume you have, the more stable your tank will be. Besides that, a sump gives you a nice place to hide a lot of things. You can put your skimmer in there, heaters, it is a good place to dose trace elements and other chemicals. You can certainly buy a perbuilt sump. I have a Pro Clear 150 with a built in skimmer on my 72 gal
. bow front. It like it just fine. However, you can put your own together for much less $$. I agree that you should skip the bio-balls and use LR
rubble as your filter media. YOur Emperor will do just fine for now if you wanted to wait. Where do you buy most of your stuff?