Planes of Planechase - standard on a budget MTG

So you want to play Standard on a budget?

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

Spring is here! Thank goodness because winter felt VERY long.  The sun feels warmer, the snow is all gone and the excitement of summer is just around the corner.  It is also the time of change.  New flowers, new leaves, new clothes, new activities, new plans…ah…new plans…here’s an idea.

The Spring set is here with Journey into Nyx.  Standard will start to evolve with the new cards, but rotation is only 4 months away with a new block on the way that will change the complexion of the Meta-game completely.  Players who aren’t already committed to this Standard format but are looking to get into playing Standard have a very serious conundrum. They COULD run around and track down the chase rares to put together a strong Standard deck, but that can be pretty pricey for a limited 4 month window where the cards will be well and truly playable.  And if you are on almost any sort of budget, well, now we are talking a near impossibility.  So what is an aspiring Standard player to do? Well, let this be a sort of a road map to help you find your way to getting ready to play Standard. I’ll lay out a series of steps that an aspiring Standard player on a tight budget could follow in order to get ready to join the ranks of competitive Standard players at any Local Game Shop.

Once again, here is my usual disclaimer. There will be some players out there that won’t heed a single word of this.  They have the deep pockets needed to pick up all the Standard playable staples they need.  I however have players with a limited budget each month.  What exactly is that budget?  I have no precise number in mind, but the basic tenets will remain the same.  Players with slightly larger budgets can likely accomplish the steps more quickly, but even those with tighter budgets can hope to get there following these steps. So, without further delay let’s see what we’ve got.


Step #1- Acquire the mana base you will need.

As uncool as this sounds, the mana base is the backbone to every deck.  I have often maintained that the mana base can’t win you the game…but you sure as heck can lose the game if you don’t have the right mana.  Now is the time to track down full play sets of all the Scry lands, Nykthos, and Mana Confluence as these will be key lands in every two colour (or more) deck once rotation hits.  The nice thing with the mana base, from a monetary standpoint, is that they at least seem to hold their value once you’ve invested in them.  So, once they rotate out, you can probably still find a taker who will be willing to either allow you to trade for reasonable value or a shop that will give you decent (notice…decent) value off their Buy list.

Now, this is absolutely an investment.  Lands don’t come cheap and the scry lands all look to run at least $5 a piece (more for some of them), but if you can find someone willing to trade with you for them ,or a decent price on them somewhere, your budget will be wisely spent on these.  Don’t worry if you get fleeced a little on your trade.  If your end goal is to play Standard, then you will need the lands to play, and if you have other older cards that someone is willing to trade for to give you those lands, well, guess what? You’re doing it.


Step #2- Draft…LOTS

One of the biggest traps that players fall into is that they want to “crack packs”.  I love cracking packs…we all do…but the numbers don’t play out very well in your favour.  So, how else do you get cards? The answer is easy…draft.  For your entry fee into a draft you get the equivalent of 3 packs of cards…AND you get to try those cards out in game play.  This is the perfect place to try out that kind of unusual rare card you opened, just to see what it does. Maybe you want to try out a different colour combination that isn’t your all time favorite in order to get a feel? Draft is a great place to get your feet wet experimenting and trying out new ideas.  Heck, you might even win a few prizes along the way to further expand your pool of available cards without costing you any extra. Don’t bank on the prizes because you are out experimenting, so your decks may be somewhat less streamlined than other players, but every once in a while a little prize support is a nice bonus for your night of drafting.

Now, the danger with draft this time of year is that soon the new stand alone set will be out.  Last year it was Modern Masters, this year it’s Conspiracy.  These cards aren’t Standard playable, so if you do sit down to draft these, this won’t help you much in terms of getting you ready for Standard post-rotation (although it is fun!). So, be sure to be familiar with the format you will be drafting and the sets that will be used.


Step #3- Play Block constructed

It has already been said by Gerald right here on Three Kings Loot that one of the best ways to prepare yourself for the NEXT Standard format is to sit down and make a conscious effort to play block constructed.  Whether that is with your buddies at a kitchen table, or at a shop if they host a Block Constructed event, the experience of limiting your key card pool will be a huge factor in determining how prepared you will be for the next Standard format.  You will see what cards emerge as cards that were underplayed in the current format and that might make a splash once rotation hits.  So, Herald of Torment…time to shine big guy!


Step #4 Read. Watch. Learn.

The biggest difference with Magic in 2014 versus when I started in 1996 is that the amount of information available to players is staggering.  Between all the various discussion groups, websites, articles, podcasts, and videos there is no shortage of information for the average player.  I would strongly suggest that you take the time to sit down and read the thoughts of players and writers you like and respect.  As we near rotation many of these players will have the advantage of sitting down and doing their utmost to figure out the best strategies in the new format and can give you some helpful tips to help you along…just by reading the internet.

The other great asset is all the coverage of various events available.  Between the Pro tour coverage and coverage from other events around the globe (and watching MTGO for those who have time) you can not only see the deck lists of these many top players, but you can actually see them in action.  This will give you a chance to see the decision making processes tied to each choice made.  This is super useful so that you can make optimal use of whatever strategy you like best.  Let’s be honest, many of the guys on the Pro-Tour are going to get maximum bang for their buck with each card and it is undoubtedly helpful for us less experienced players to see them in action.  The same can be said of watching players at your local game shop that you respect and like the way they play.  Yes, it can be nerve wracking to sit down and watch someone live and in person at a store, but if you start talking to them you might find that they are quite willing to sit and talk shop with you to give you some pointers


Step #5- Time

It takes a lot of time in order to get really good at something and Magic is no different.  If you want to play Standard, and presumably if you are playing on a competitive (or semi-competitive ) basis you would like to be as good as possible,  then you will need to sink time into this.  This is by far and away the hardest part of making this transition. Up until this point you can do most of the steps I’ve laid out with some money you’ve saved up or for free on open sources on the internet.  However, there is a finite amount of time in each day and unless you are independently wealthy or playing Magic for a living, there will be other things that will drain your time.   This will mean evening trips to the game shop to sit down and play.  It likely also means some weekend as well.  You will need to sit and read about changes to the meta game and how it will impact your deck of choice. And most of all, you will need to play. Play lots.  Play lots against just about anyone.  The more you play, the better you will get at playing your deck and the choices you will need against each other archetype. Time is absolutely a commodity and something else you will need to gauge closely if you hope to perform to the best of your abilities.

So, these are the 5 steps that I’ve seen and other players I know take in order to climb into the realm of Standard competitive Magic. For some this works out great because they are prepared to invest wholeheartedly.  For others, this process is difficult for a number of reasons.  Needless to say, these 5 steps each have their own pit falls that must be navigated and may not come easy.  This is part of the reason making the transition from playing Casual Magic to Standard is tricky.  Not impossible…but it is tricky.  Needless to say, it can be very rewarding once you get yourself into the format, but it is not for everyone, and that’s ok.  Not everyone on the planet needs to play Standard…there are formats aplenty for each and everyone.

Thanks everyone and I hope that some of you find this helpful.  If there are aspiring Standard players out there I hope I haven’t made the process seem too daunting.  It is achievable, but it does take a plan.  This is just one of many ways to getting to your end goal. In the mean time, I’ll go back to brewing up silliness and see where my Casual meandering takes my Magic and my decks.

Take care and until next time Keep it fun, Keep it Safe…Keep it Casual.

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters