Brewing on a Budget MTG
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Since I started writing for Three Kings Loot back in February I’ve highlighted a fair number of decks. The one thing that most of these decks have in common is that I would describe them all as being “budget” decks. This means that I am interested in trying to find a relatively inexpensive way to build a deck that is still powerful and presents a number of problems for my opponents. These decks aren’t usually Tier 1 competitive decks, but they can surprise someone who underestimates what the deck can do. Today, I’m going to showcase some budget substitutions that will allow you to build your own budget deck and help you to keep your cost down. We’ll look at land, creatures, and lastly other spells in an effort to briefly touch on all the key elements of your very own budget deck.
If you routinely stop by here on The Bag of Loot you know that I have a thing for land. Basically Magic is entirely dependent on the land you draw. I don’t care how many awesome spells you have in your library, if you don’t have the land to cast them you are likely sunk (unless you’re playing Legacy/Vintage in which it seems possible to play with no land). Without access to the correct land it doesn’t matter what spells you have, you’re likely to lose. As a result, this is one of the few areas where you really can’t skimp too much. You can use things like Guildgates and Life Gain lands from Zendikar if you aren’t fussy on format, but most people want to play Standard. If you want to play Standard you need the lands. It becomes even MORE apparent in the realm of Modern where Fetches and such are super expensive. Bottom line, unless you play Casually and you and your friends don’t mind you mixing in different things, you’re probably on the hook for having the “right” land for your deck. Temples. Shocks. Mana Confluence. Nykthos. Guildgates. Pain Lands. There is a large variety of lands available, some more expensive than others, but if you want to play you need to get the right ones for you and your deck and cheaping out and just running basics just won’t cut it usually.
While you can’t cut corners on your land, you most certainly can make up ground with the suite of creatures you opt to run. Basically, at almost each and every converted mana cost along the curve you can run a variety of choices. Now, the creatures that are very expensive in a given format are expensive because they are the optimal creature for that converted mana cost in that colour. That doesn’t mean that alternatives don’t exist. These alternatives are typically much cheaper and can help keep your cost down. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few examples.
Let’s start with Stormbreath Dragon. 4/4 flying for 5 mana and has haste, protection from white, and a Monstrosity ability. There’s no doubt this is a premium creature and well worth the $15 a card you’ll pay as a single. However, there are other options available to you if you really wanted to run a creature at the 5 spot that was more inexpensive. Hypersonic Dragon is the same 4/4 with haste and 5 mana (although a blue and red are part of its casting) meaning it could fit the bill. Scourge of Valkas from M14 fits those stats pretty well too and is still a dragon. Both of these options are red, can fill the same hole in your deck and cost you significantly less in terms of money to pick up.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa is another 5 mana creature, this one is 4/4 with protection from white and black, lifelink, and can trigger some ridiculous bonus if you have enough life, or your opponent is running low on life. Some other options at 5 cmc are Serra Angel (which is unexciting, but still perfectly viable), Keepsake Gorgon, and Celestial Archon. These are all very playable at five and are even in Black and White so they can hold a spot in your deck. Don’t let me fool you…Blood Baron is the optimal choice, but if you’re budget is tight, these guys are viable options.
Polukranos a 4 mana for 5/5 hydra with a ridiculous Monstrosity ability. This one is tough to replace because 5/5 for 4 mana AND has an ability is pretty ridiculous. However, there are a few options available like Deadbridge Goliath. This is probably the closest from a statistical standpoint, and isn’t a bad card and makes a suitable alternative. If you can splash another colour, Reaper of the Wilds is another solid option and much cheaper as well. A 4/5 for 4 mana is pretty close and the abilities on it make it a tricky critter to deal with…and costs a fraction of what Polukranos costs.
Soldier of the Pantheon– The aggro decks out there are not immune from having some pricey cards too. Soldier of the Pantheon is a $2 card that is a 2/1 for 1 mana. There is no doubt that they are an optimal 1 drop to kick start your beatdown with an aggro deck, but $8 for four 1 mana creatures leaves me scratching my head and my wallet empty. You could opt instead to run Favoured Hoplite or Satyr Hoplite, both 1 drops that can lead the beat down band wagon for you in place of the Soldier. They need a little more work than the Soldier, but with their Heroic triggers might give you a bigger beat stick with which to bring the pain. If you really wanted the 2/1 for 1 you can instead turn to RTR block and grab the Dryad Militant as an inexpensive option.
Boon Satyr – This super awesome 4/2 for 3 mana is a staple in Green decks, but can also Bestow for a very reasonable 5 mana…oh…and has flash. There is really nothing else that approaches this level of versatility, explosive damage, and just being down right nasty to play against. No wonder it’s $1.50 a card. However, you could run Feral Invocation if you were looking for the Flash aura effect. If you wanted the Flash effect on a creature, Briarpack Alpha probably comes closest as a 3/3 for 4 mana and a fun Enter the Battlefield trigger.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos– King Kitty is a huge threat at 3 mana and the abilities packed on him are just full on value…no wonder he’s $20 a card. However, if you wanted a card with just about as much devastating punch, Fabled Hero runs you about a $1 and packs double strike and heroic. Things can get out of control very quickly with our Hero…and the extra money you saved will bring a smile to your face as well.
Now, these are just some suggestions for substitutes in your deck to help keep the cost down. All the substitutions have significant drawbacks compared to the optimal creatures in the deck. I fully admit that a Serra Angel doesn’t stack up with Blood Baron very well, and that Fabled Hero is a poor substitute for King Kitty. However, if you’re wallet can’t handle the $80 to pick up a playset of Brimaz, Fabled Hero can do in a pinch.
Spells are a little tougher to replace. The super expensive spells and staples of a format are that way because they don’t have a substitute…or at least not exactly. The thing is spells don’t leave behind a body that can be utilized after they have been cast, so you need the impact of the spell itself to be pretty terrific. However, there are a few options for some of the spells.
Thoughtseize– This Legacy playable piece of hand disruption just crushes decks by stripping away all the most important pieces of your opponent’s hand. It really is crippling…and it is going to be in rotation for another 14 months! Yikes. However, at $20 a card is a little steep. Duress is probably the closest option and is regularly reprinted. It is a little more limited in terms of what it hits, but let’s be honest, you are almost always going to take an instant or sorcery spell from your opponent because you can find other answers in your deck to deal with creatures and planeswalkers. So, Duress is a reasonable substitute. Brain Maggot is another possible route, and it even gives you a body. Sin Collector is the last option, but for 3 mana is significantly slower and not as optimal.
Supreme Verdict- Premium 4 mana wrath effects are always key to a control player’s strategy. Supreme Verdict really has no equal because it also can’t be countered…meaning that you hit it and your opponent cries every time as they watch their board disappear. However, at $8 a card this can burn a hole pretty quickly in your wallet. The only REAL option is Planar Cleansing…but it’s a 6 mana sorcery…which feels kind of yucky. Fated Retribution is another option…but it’s 7 mana (although thankfully at instant speed). These can do in a pinch if you really want to play the control game, but you may have to alter you game strategy because you’ll need to get to at least 6 mana to have either of those spells come online.
Sphinx’s Revelation- Ok, there is no equal to this card. Mass card draw AND life gain is a Control player’s dream come true. However, the most important piece is always the card draw because it gives you access to more resources. Divination is the cleanest way to get access to some of the card drawing power of Sphinx’s Revelation, but Jace’s Ingenuity from M15 will be another option that draws 3 cards for 5 mana at least at instant speed meaning you can jam it on your opponent’s turn. After that, you can play poorer spells like Inspiration, or the more expensive Opportunity, but you’re still longing to get a Sphinx’s Revelation and run it.
Hero’s Downfall- Instant speed spot removal of creatures AND Planeswalkers is huge. However, Black has lots of good removal right now ranging from Ultimate Price to Bile Blight to Doom blade. This means that Black decks should have no issue dealing with creatures…pick your removal spell of choice and go to work. Planeswalkers are tougher, but you can always resort to fighting them directly which always gives you at least one option.
Planeswalkers- I have no substitute for a Planeswalker. Honestly, they represent 3 (or 4) potential different spells and abilities that you just can’t replace in your deck. You can try but prioritizing which of the abilities are most pertinent to you and your deck and substituting for cards that recreate that effect, but you still need to pay for it while the Planeswalker can replicate that effect for free turn after turn. No, there’s no real option to playing these guys if you want to emulate a Tier 1 deck, but lots of decks can also run just fine without a Planeswalker (just look at Mono-Black Devotion decks that typically run no Planeswalkers).
Well, there we have some options to help limit the damage done to your bank account while still allowing you to play and have fun with some solid decks. Of course the options available go up significantly when you start shifting formats from Standard to Modern, but so do the price tags on the optimal cards. I hope this was helpful to you guys and that it gives you a few options to go out and brew some of your own decks using some of these alternative pieces.
Thanks for reading and until next time Keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
Bruce Gray @bgray8791