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
As with any Blue and White based control strategy we find a stock shell with this deck sporting a trio of Jace, Architect of Thought for draw and protection from creature swarms, a set of Sphinx’s Revelation to restock your hand with options and incidental lifegain to boot, a set of Supreme Verdict to deal with Aggro creature swarms, and a set of Detention Sphere which is able to answer most every other problem the deck may face. The meat of the deck comes from its planeswalkers, where we find the duo of the light and darkness alongside a pair of Jace options. First looking at the light we have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion as a primary win condition spitting out soldiers three at a time, while also able to sweep the board of all creatures with power greater then four and should she go ultimate will pump those soldiers of hers into veritable jet planes. Next plunging into darkness we find Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver who is especially powerful against creature decks to steal away their threats by milling away the top of the library and given enough support then dropping them into play. Then we have the two Jace, Architect of Thought integral to the deck surviving creature rush Aggro and grinding out card advantage, but also a singleton Memory Adept to work against Control strategies and mill them down to no library while you sit back playing a defensive role. The potatos of the deck come from a variety of Control staples of permission, removal and draw. The permission package is two-fold using the potent Thoughtseize to strip away their threats before they can play them while also providing you with very valuable information about what their plan is, and also a pair of Dissolve as the deck only real denial with a bonus Scry tacked on to help dig through your deck for more answers. As for removal this deck is chock full of including Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere already mentioned, but also some spot removal with a trio of Devour Flesh to abolish that huge threat when the enemy doesn’t have a swarm present and a Doom Blade able to destroy anything in RG Monsters in a pinch. As for draw power the main tool lies in Revelation and Architect, but the deck also leans heavily on the eleven Temples for Scry to help filter draws into what is absolutely needed. We wrap up with the utility player Azorius Charm which can gain a few points of life with Soldiers if desperate, filters itself into a new draw when needed, and even bounces an attacking or blocking creature to the top of its owners library to set them back and save some life.
While it’s true we are on the verge of a new Standard format in a few weeks it is certain that UW Control will be a strategy to continue going forward. Normally I would also say that with the summer here and Magic in its dog days that it isn’t important what to play, but remember that the World Magic Cup Qualifers are coming up. If you like oppressive Control strategies then I would definitely recommend this deck for you but be sure to clue into the current meta as this is always a deck that needs to be tweeked and tuned for what’s current. And good luck chasing down that glory.
Grand Prix Manchester Champion – Theros Block Constructed on June 1st 2014
Winner of ‘the other’ Theros Block Constructed tournament was Fabrizio Anteri playing a powerful BUG Midrange deck. This deck is the flip side of the Elspeth, Sun’s Champion coin and as such runs the means to beat it rather then join it. As was proven at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx that the battle lines were drawn with the majority taking sides between either Elspeth and Prognostic Sphinx then jamming in the formats Green acceleration package.
In this format the most commonly played cards it turns out are a pair of Green mana accelerants which most likely are going to become the dynamic duo come the next Standard season. This decks ideal opening lies with a turn one Scry land into a turn two Sylvan Caryatid followed by a turn three Courser of Kruphix before making your land drop. That provides the deck with the possibility of rushing out that early five drop which is where the deck plays into. The main avenue of attack lies in the Prognostic Sphinx which was discovered to be the main foil to Elspeth as it not only will fly over her ground forces but also is able to skirt her destroy creatures ability by virtue of being not too powerful. There is also additional beatdown provided by Reaper of the Wilds which sports great stats as a 4/5 for four mana able to protect itself if necessary, but also provides some added bonus with a Scry whenever another creature dies. A pair of planeswalkers are included with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver doing a lot of heavy lifting by not only milling away possible threats and answers from the opponent but also stealing some of those threats away, and Kiora, the Crashing Wave which can add extra draw and acceleration, lock down a particularly troublesome creature or even ‘Call the Kraken’ if allowed to build up enough loyalty. As this deck chose the Midrange route instead of Control the only disruption in the deck is provided from a set of Thoughtseize to not only strip them of their most bothersome card but also provide you with all the information about their plans so you are able to set yourself up properly. Then we have the removal suite which is as robust as they come. Centering around the formats best there is a full set of Hero’s Downfall to rid the board of creatures or planeswalkers alike, a trio of the pseudo-sweeper in Silence the Believers which can often hit two or three necessary targets, a pair of Bile Blight that is extremely good at taking care of an army of Elspeth tokens, and a misers Unravel the Æther to deal with any troublesome artifacts or enchantments including Gods as they are shuffled back into the library. A solitary Read the Bones provides the deck just a tiny bit of draw power to help dig for the cards it needs.
We had on one side of the Theros Block coin the RG Elspeth deck and other White based decks like Patrick Chapin’s winning Junk Midrange running the powerful planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. But the flip side of that coin has the decks which were able to figure out its natural enemy was Prognostic Sphinx. That second pillar which emerged in the format was BUG Control which used the Sphinx to attack into Elspeth through her natural defense, ramp up quickly with the staple Green creatures and dipped into Black for efficient removal. This is definitely going to be a player at Grand Prix Manchester.
It is no surprise to see that as a Green deck the creature package starts with both staples of the format in Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix there to help ramp quickly into an early Sphinx or getting multiple planeswalkers out. The only other creature is Prognostic Sphinx who’s main goal is to fly over defenders to beatdown Elspeth and conveniently skirts her destroy ability, not to mention is already able to protect itself well with its Hexproof granting ability. Moving into planeswalkers there is first Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver that while there is a low threat density in the deck from creatures can often steal one of the opponents fatties to bring down the beats upon them. The other is Kiora, the Crashing Wave who plus is able to lockdown the biggest threat on the other side of the board, can do a fantastic impersonation of Explore, and realistically will be able to create an emblem to ‘Free the Kraken’ if you can offer he a bit of protection. The title is a bit misleading as it does not play a big permission role as a Control deck but more of a board control through removal which is why there is only the misers copy of Dissolve in the main deck. As far as removal though there’s a full set of Hero’s Downfall to smash either creatures or planeswalkers, the pseudo-sweeper Silence the Believers to banish at times two or three nuisance creatures, Bile Blight which is an excellent way to rid the board of an overwhelming amount of Soldier Tokens or any other creature they have out in multiples, and also Unravel the Æther which will save you from enchantment or artifact alike especially an Indestructible god that’s ruining your day. It wouldn’t be right for a Control deck running Black to not include some discard and for that we have a full set of Thoughtseize to not only strip away the opponents most relevant threat but also to provide you with some extremely valuable information about their game plan.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what configuration of this powerful deck emerges as the most dominant. I’m sure we will see some tweaks shake out to mold to the expected meta. As three different copies were able to make the top 8 at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx I would be surprised if it doesn’t show itself in Manchester. Definitely going forward into the next Standard season this is well positioned to be a powerplayer there as well.
The final pairing at the Pro Tour consisted of two Junk decks, this one and that of the champion Patrick Chapin. For those that aren’t aware Junk is a three color combination consisting of White, Black and Green. While the two decks both went for similar packages of removal, ramp and included Elspeth they went in different directions with the focus of their creatures. Nam Sung decided instead of going for raw power from monstrous creatures to work with the synergy of enchantments from Constellation.
The deck focuses itself around the card drawing engine from the Constellation ability on Eidolon of Blossoms and the 19 enchantments in the deck where Eidolon will draw you a card whenever you play an enchantment with it in play. There is also the formats standard Green excelleration package consisting of the two awesome anti-Aggro ‘walls’ Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix which happens to also be an enchantment for the Constellation engine. The beatdown plan comes in the form of another enchantment with Herald of Torment who is either able to Bestow itself to beef up one of the other creatures or just go to town itself, which is very relevant in the format as a Flying threat and possible blocker against Prognostic Sphinx. Another enchantment Brain Maggot is there as part of the disruption package in conjunction with Thoughtseize to strip away those hard to deal with threats and gain valuable information about the opponents game plan. It wouldn’t be right for a White Midrange deck to not play one of the most powerful cards in the format and we find the decks lone planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to provide additional threats to the board, destroy any creature which are too powerful, or even create an emblem to pump your entire team into a Flying horde. The deck rounds itself out with an robust suite of removal with a full set of Hero’s Downfall to kill creatures or planeswalker threats, a pair of Silence the Believers to banish a few pesky creature threats in one shot, and also Banshing Light which not only hits a wide range of permanent threats but is also an enchantment to trigger Constellation. While the deck is already strong on draw, when you stick an Eidolon, it does also run all three sets of on color Temples to Scry through the deck as fast as possible.
Charlie Rinehart was able to stymie SCG circuit superstar Chris VanMeter on his mission to shave off his beard, which he has sworn to wear until he is victorious in a major tournament. This came down to a battle of the Midrange decks after both successfully dispatched Esper Control decks in their semifinal matches. While CVM chose to attack the format with an ever popular style with Jund, Charlie took a different route and combined the strengths of Black and White known as Orzhov midrange, which has been a powerful choice of late.
The deck follows some similar lines that this formats bogeyman Mono-Black Devotion has in using a trio of creatures that form the foundation of the Black deck. We see the pest know as Pack Rat as the two drop of choice in the deck, quick to grow into a swarm of vermin if unchecked and synergistic with the manland Mutavault to big fast and effective beats to the enemy. There is also Lifebane Zombie which against the Green based monster decks is truly effective but also is able to sneak past most defenders to either chip away at life totals or finish off annoying planeswalkers. Then continuing up the curve we the other borrowed creature with Flying powerhouse Desecration Demon which is a bargin at four converted cost and will most often force your opponent to sacrifice his worst creature in an effort to stave off the onslaught for another turn, but eventually he will be out of fodder and you’ll have a gigantic flying demon. Then we get to the creatures which helped to inspire the dabble into white. There are two five drops which both help the deck to recover lost life points first with a singleton of the legendary Obzedat, Ghost Council which also has a great synergy with another singleton Whip of Erebos that allows it to be returned from the grave and then use its own trigger to stick around for more turns after. The other five drop is the powerful and elusive Blood Baron of Vizkopa with not only Lifelink to assure that you remain alive against aggressive strategies but also protection against both White and Black which ensures it dodges a lot of the formats removal to ensure it keeps you alive and kicking. The last creature is a one of Sin Collector which work with the other key disruption in your deck Thoughtseize to provide important information about the opponents plans and strip away a valuable card. For planeswalker power we find Theros Block superstar Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which this deck is often able to drop down behind some protection then use it to ramp up the board state into a one sided slaughterhouse on your road to victory, and is also a very key as additional removal to rid the board of huge monsters that have accumulated on the other side of the table. As far as removal is concerned this deck is rife with a plethora of choices starting with a full set of the creature and planeswalker killer Hero’s Downfall, then also adding pairs of Ultimate Price to rid the board of any of the many mono-colored creatures in the format, Bile Blight that functions as the decks sweeper although it is limited to shrinking all copies of one particular card, and as a catchall answer Banishing Light which is able to remove a good variety of threats. The final card is the decks only real source of card advantage, although the scrylands do help filter bad draws, with another choice borrowed from Mono-Black with Underworld Connections that is so key for this deck to grind out small bits of advantage to try and pull ahead to seal the deal.