Ah Modern. The format that captured every dedicated Magic player’s imagination. It’s an eternal (non-rotating) format that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get into. It just costs an arm. Or a leg. Or possibly a kidney. But definitely won’t require both kidneys like Legacy. OK, let’s face it. It’s rather expensive. But what if everyone at your local shop decided that they’re done with Standard and are now going to play Modern and you can’t fork over a thousand bucks to get that Abzan deck? Well, that’s where budget-ish decks come in.
Wait a minute, but budget is bad right? It’s like value beans – they’re just not Heinz. Well, with Magic things are never simple. Just because a deck is budget doesn’t mean it’s bad. I’m not saying that all budget decks are tournament viable, but there is certainly a possibility for under-looked gems needing just a bit of extra polish and they’ll be completely tournament-viable. And to be honest, as long as you learn to play your deck well and aren’t planning to attend any GPs or PPTQs – these will be completely fine for FNM time fun.
If you’re doubting that budget decks can be great, just think about this. Amulet Bloom was very much a budget deck that no one took seriously, until the second place finish at the Pro Tour last year and the eventual banning just a couple of weeks ago. That’s right, a budget deck with enough spotlight shone on it and enough people perfecting it became so good that it had to be banned. With that in mind, we’re having a look at five Modern semi-budget decks and what they can offer.
A final note before we get into the decks – Modern isn’t cheap by any standard (get it? Standard?). A $200 deck is still considered sort of budget, unless you simply decide to replace all the good cards with watered-down versions. My aim is to present the decks with the best card options for them that still won’t break the bank for a seasoned M:TG player, but also have a legitimate way of standing up to the big bads. And most importantly, decks that you’ll have fun playing. Could you build a Modern deck on a budget of a $100? Sure, just don’t expect it to take you very far.
1. Soul Sisters
Ah, the perennial white weenie life gain deck. The key here are two cards – Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant – two cards that say that whenever anyone plays a dude – we get one life. Which means we probably would like to play a lot of dudes and have a nice life-gain-based finisher – like Serra Ascendant.
There are a number of problems with Soul Sisters (and no, one of them isn’t that the deck’s name sounds like a funk band from the 70s). First of all, Soul Sisters has been known as THE budget deck for so long that, well, it’s no longer budget really. It’s still significantly cheaper than a lot of alternatives, but the cards are always sort of in-demand. Which means that all singles retailers price them higher than bulk rares.
The other problem that Soul Sisters has is that the deck has been around for ages, and it never really elevated itself from the strictly Tier 2 status. You’d think if the deck was any good, by now it would have been perfected and become viable. Sadly, it seems that Soul Sisters will forever be not good enough.
Still, with Amulet of Bloom and Splinter Twin banned from the format, it might just be good enough to win an FNM or two. Combo decks are generally just way too fast for Soul Sisters to build up a board and threaten lethal. Plus, Splinter Twin didn’t really care about the opponent’s life total AND had the benefit of running Anger of the Gods.
On top of that, Sisters has a pretty favorable matchup against burn and that’s really important at FNM-level play. Burn is probably the cheapest competitive deck out there and played often, so having a good matchup against them is nothing to be sneezed at. And let’s not forget – Tron is still in the format and is probably just as bad a matchup for Soul Sisters as the banned combo decks.
2. Takin’ Turns
I think we’ve discovered the key to budget Modern decks – they should be mono coloured. Well, that’s just the breaks. Fetches, shocklands, filters and all the other great two-mana producing lands are pricey and mono-coloured decks are a great way to get around that price. Look, there are no two ways about it. Takin’ Turns is not the best deck in the format but you’re sure going to have fun playing it.
They key to Takin’ Turns is the combo between Howling Mine (or Dictate of Kruphix or Jace Beleren) and the ability to take extra turns. Each card your opponent draws gets them closer to decking themselves and the key part is that you’re drawing extra cards as well.
The deck can combo-off on turn five when a Jace Beleren or a Howling Mine or two are in play and you cast Time Warp. Next turn you’ve drawn two cards (or three, or four) and cast another “take an extra turn” effect. Because you’ve got Elixir of Immortality, your opponent will deck themselves before you do. And since you can activate your planeswalkers on each of your extra turns, you can win just by ultimating Jace Beleren.
Again, with the meta game changes and the banning of the strongest combo decks, maybe Takin’ Turns has a place in competitive Modern. Because you have multiple copies of key effects in the deck, you will draw into the combo fairly consistently. It’s just that the deck is a touch on the slow side and does what it does too late and doesn’t do anything to affect your board presence in the early game. Remand and Cryptic Command are the power cards that protect you and I bet it’s not enough.
The biggest problem, however, is the price. This verges on the range of not at-all-budget as some cards like Time Warp are simply expensive because of collector value. If, however, you have some of these kicking around, it’s not so much of an issue. Regardless, like the previous deck, it’s good enough to take down an FNM or two and you get to be the guy who denies everyone turns. And that’s priceless.
3. Skred Red
What’s even going on? Even burn decks aren’t budget anymore. These days a good burn deck will have three colours, run fetchlands and shocklands. and splash for all kinds of things. Building this thing on a budget is just no longer an option, unless you want to play something suboptimal. But what if we go in a different direction? Enter Red. Skred Red.
A long time ago there was a block called Ice Age and that block never got finished. Until it did like ten years later. Basically, Wizards decided to complete the set by printing Coldsnap much much later than the previous sets, and that’s how we have Snow-Covered basics in Modern.
The reason we want to run Snow-Covered Mountains with Skred Red is because of a card called Skred. You see, Skred is probably the best burn spell printed in Magic, ever. Except unlike other burn spells, it doesn’t target your opponent, but rather their creatures.
“That completely defeats the purpose of a burn deck!” you might yell at me and you’d be right, except we have something called Boros Reckoner. This is why Skred is pretty versatile. You can always choose to use it as a removal spell and get rid of whatever’s bothering you, or you can just go to the dome and target your own Boros Reckoner – redirect the damage wherever you like!
On top of that, we get to play with cards like Thundermaw Hellkite, Stormbreath Dragon and Koth of the Hammer. Although, if you said these cards were big, beefy and slow, you wouldn’t be wrong. Skred Red is definitely not as fast and not as brutal as a traditional Naya Burn deck. Does it hit hard enough to make up for that? That’s for you to find out.
4. Vampire Rally
No, that’s not the name of the next Anne Rice novel – it is in fact a Modern deck with vampires. In fact, the final two decks are true budget, meaning you can buy these for under a $100 each. You might find different incarnations of this deck under the name Aristocrats, an archetype where the strategy revolves around cards like Blood Artist and creatures that either let you sacrifice things or have recursion. What’s good about this version is that it’s dirt cheap!
The objective of the deck is to build up a board of creatures that you can sacrifice for value and win through life-drain effects. All your creatures got killed? No worries – bring them all back with Rally the Ancestors or Return to the Ranks. If you have a Mogis’s Marauder in your graveyard you’ll even be able to attack with them and hopefully sac the stuff that was blocked for value.
The deck can certainly come out of the gates swinging. Getting rid of dudes that will come back anyway and bring hurt later can be an arduous task and decks like that have proven to be very strong in Standard in the past. However, in Modern you have to be a lot more careful when a single sideboard card can ruin linear strategies.
Rest in Peace takes you from a highly aggressive deck with great recursion to a deck with some mediocre draft commons. Same with Leyline of the Void, and even Leyline of Sanctity makes you protected against cards like Blood Artist. Finally, anything as common as Path to Exile or Scavenging Ooze can just remove a key piece like Blood Artist to never return.
Put it simply, the deck can be great and explosive and there are many ways to switch it around (you can add green, for example) but some match-ups it just won’t ever win. That might be OK with you however. Some people are happy with their less-competitive decks as long as they can at least win sometimes.
5. Ironworks Combo
Do you hate people? Then this might just be the perfect deck for you. Eggs used to be a very powerful combo deck in Modern. It wasn’t just strong – it won the Pro Tour in what was probably one of the most unspectacular Pro Tour finals in the tournament’s history. See, the problem with Eggs was that one player got to play a game of Magic whilst the other got to sit down and watch. Yuuya Watanabe famously helped his opponent Stanislav Cifka play his deck for him by moving his dice around, because he had nothing better to do. It didn’t take long for Wizards to ban the deck.
But some of the deck still remains in Ironworks Combo. The idea is pretty much the same. Cast a lot of artifacts, sac them on the same turn, generate an infinite amount of mana by recurring them back with Faith’s Reward, and win by milling out your opponent as you do this.
Why would you want to play this deck or how do you become good at it? Well, the key of the deck is sequencing. It’s a deck you could learn to pilot well without an opponent to practice. It’s all about what to sacrifice first, what to cast when and what is the correct order of doing things. Before the banning, the deck had a functional reprint of Faith’s Reward (a card called Second Sunrise).
This made the deck a lot more consistent. Now you only have the four copies of Faith’s Reward, however you do get Open the Vaults – which is more expensive but still makes it possible to play the deck. And the addition of Krark-Clan Ironworks, as innovated by Conley Woods, makes it possible to generate all the mana you need for the deck to take off.
Whilst the deck is still susceptible to the aforementioned Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void, it is a lot more resilient to disruption. The only problem it faces right now is that it is a lot less consistent than Eggs used to be. However, I think a deck like this has a lot of potential and scope for updating.
There are plenty more budget choices out there. Some of the decks I listed are still on the not-so-budget side and some really don’t cost a lot in comparison. Either way, I hope you found plenty of choice here and lots of inspiration for your next (or possibly first) Modern deck. The great thing about the format is that there is so much variety and so many different decks you can mess around with, and your deck is never likely to become unplayable (unless of course you are playing the best deck in the format and Wizards decides to ban it).