Exalting on a Budget

Posted in Reconstructed on July 24, 2012

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome to ReConstructing on a Budget!

With Building on a Budget retired, I've seen many of you clamoring for something to fill that hole. Two weeks ago, I put out the call for budget decks to see if this could be a popular recurring feature. All I can say is wow—the response was incredible! I'll definitely be taking a look at budget decks again in the future.

Knight of Infamy | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

Before getting into the thick of reconstructing, I'd like to lay out a few basic tenets I have for budget deck building. These can be bent in some cases, but I follow these for the most part. They're going to be useful in helping you to follow my decision making.

    1. Include No New Rares or Mythic rares

Defining budget is trickier than herding a group of velociraptors. Everyone's collection and card accessibility situations are different. Some players have every rare they could possibly need and only some powerful mythic rares are off limits, while others feel budget is nothing but commons. It's hard to strike the appropriate balance when the sides are so disparate.

My general rule is to make the deck as budget as possible, then allow people to add in cards they own.

If the core of a deck is all cards that are easy to acquire, then it's easy for people to tweak that to fit their situation. If the core of the deck starts off further along the rare axis and asks people to remove cards, then many budget players are right back where they started with, by finding substitutions for cards they can't acquire. As a result, I won't add any rares or mythic rares into the decklist that weren't already in the original submission.

With that said, at the end of the article I'll note some rares to consider and other directions you could take the deck if you had access to everything. That way you have some direction with knowing what cards to look out for.

    2. ...Except For Mana Fixing

The one exception to the above are mana-fixing lands. Often, these are rare cards. I refuse to compromise on mana, and neither should you. I might choose which decks to cover based on the mana feasibility—a five-color Modern deck that needs twelve Ravnica dual lands is out of the question—but for Standard purposes I'm going to be adding in lands as necessary.

Isolated Chapel | Art by Cliff Childs

Fortunately, the upside is that these are mostly cards you should try to own anyway since they can be used in so many decks. I know many of you go to great lengths to acquire dual lands each time a new block comes out, and that effort definitely isn't in vain: you'll end up playing with them a lot.

    3. No Substitutions

The number one mistake players make when trying to build on a budget is to make substitutions. You might look at a Pro Tour winning decklist, identify twelve cards you're going to need to replace, and begin looking for substitutions.

The problem is that this means you're just building a much worse deck. Budget should not mean bad (more on this in a moment)—it should just mean budget. Most cards don't have substitutions. If you have to change the arbitrary win condition in your control deck, that's one thing, but there are no good substitutions for cards like Primeval Titan and Geist of Saint Traft.

Instead of trying to retrofit a top-end spaceship with go-kart engines, you're better off just setting it aside and focusing on finding a sturdy ship that you can more reasonably build a good model of.

    4. Budget Does not Equal Bad

Many competitive players seem to equate the word "budget" with "bad deck." That simply isn't true. Playing on a budget is about working with limited resources, and there are still plenty of good decks you can make with those resources. You can still build an awesome spaceship, you just might not be able to fit dinosaurs on it.

Oblivion Ring | Art by Franz Vohwinkel

Most formats have at least one good mostly commons and uncommon deck, whether a red, green, and/or white beatdown deck; a combo deck using a ton of common mana production and card filtering; or even some control decks. Look for the best decks on a budget and you can play competitively without needing a huge collection.

With that said, let's get down to business for today.

Seeing how it's exalted week and all, it was only appropriate to take a look at a deck featuring the mechanic returning in Magic 2013! Let's take a look over Solly Karchefsky's exalted deck:

Solly Karchefsky's Budget Exalted

Download Arena Decklist

    The Battle Plan

Solly's deck takes an aggressive midrange stance. A handful of removal can clear out any blockers while the creatures push into combat over and over, even larger than usual thanks to exalted. It is fairly straightforward: play creatures, attack, and use your removal to get any resistance out of the way.

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis | Art by Aleksi Briclot

The key to reconstructing this deck is going to be refining the theme to be the best it can inside of our restrictions. Right now it falls a little into the midrange camp. You can't up the mana curve to put it more on the controlling midrange spectrum since many of the control finishers I'd want are rares or mythic rare—but moving it to be more aggressive is definitely an option.

Additionally, this deck might just need some more texture. Right now it's just a combination of exalted cards and removal. It really isn't bendy at all; it's very predictive and straightforward. I'd like to give it some other levels of interaction so that you can mess with your opponent's game plan.

    Deck Breakdown

Solly has a good exalted start here. Is every piece necessary? Let's look through the cards in detail!

Exalted Creatures

I'll start right off with the suite of exalted creatures Solly provided. All twenty-two creatures in this deck have exalted, no doubt with the idea that having each creature pump your creatures up would work well in multiples.

It can be a little misleading though. Let's say you have three Knight of Glorys on the battlefield. Which deals more damage: attacking with one Knight or attacking with all three?

The answer is attacking with all three. Of course, there are reasons to attack with just one—a 5/4 has a better chance of connecting with your opponent's skull than a 2/1. However, there are also reasons not to attack with just one. You don't want to time walk your attack step over and over by getting chump blocked. There will certainly be times when I want the ability—it is strong—but at the same time it's important to not overvalue it.

The way I view exalted is it's a nice bonus for combat and useful for dealing some extra damage—but I only want to play cards that are at least on the edge of Constructed playability without the exalted ability. A deck doesn't need to have a ton of exalted for the ability to have a worthwhile effect.

For example, Servant of Neferox is a 3/1 with exalted for . Would I play a 3/1 for ? No. Exalted doesn't add enough to change that. On the other hand, a 2/1 with protection for two is certainly on the edge of Constructed playability. Toss in exalted, and you have a mighty fine card.

Using this criteria, the cards I am interested in keeping around are the two Knights and Nefarox. Neither Duty-Bound Dead or the Servant are cards I would normally want to play enough without exalted, and the exalted doesn't push them over the top.

Aven Squire is a little closer. Its evasion is especially noteworthy because evasion alongside exalted is very powerful. I could see playing it in this deck, but I ultimately found a few other cards with evasion I preferred.

Angelic Benediction

Angelic Benediction helps with the exalted theme a lot by pushing a creature out of the way. However, at four mana it is a little more costly than I would prefer. Most of the time, I would just rather have a cheap removal spell that can permanently clear a blocker away.

Oblivion Ring

Oblivion Ring is a great fit for this deck. It's flexible removal that can deal with everything from Equipment to Planeswalkers. You don't want your hand to be overloaded with them since it costs three and is sorcery speed, but I definitely want to play three.

Tragic Slip

There are plenty of 1-toughness targets to remove in this format, and in a deck with so many creatures enough will be dying so that you can get the morbid to happen. I want to expand the removal base slightly to be more versatile and might cut one of these in the process, but overall Tragic Slip fits well here.

Divine Verdict

While it can destroy anything, Verdict's restriction and high cost makes it too narrow. It's just worse than something like Murder in this deck, which has no restrictions and also costs a mana less. Verdict isn't what this deck wants. I'd like for this deck to have a couple Go for the Throats or Murders, and they will fill this slot.

    Tweaking on a Budget

After all of those changes, we have quite a bit of room to work with. How much room is there really to be added with just commons and uncommon? You might be surprised...

Vampire Nighthawk

Nighthawk is a powerhouse in any kind of creature matchup—and he's even better when he's being boosted by exalted! While not great against control, his strength against beatdown is solid enough that I'm willing to start with four copies. This might need to drop down to three, but it entirely depends on how creature-focused your local environment is.

Lingering Souls

While tokens work poorly with exalted, Lingering Souls is an immensely powerful card. With this deck moving into a more tertiary exalted theme it's not as big of a deal. Even if the deck did still include mono-exalted creatures I would still play Lingering Souls—they fly over with exalted! I'm definitely going to play four of these. Between Lingering Souls and Vampire Nighthawk, I'm good on three-drops—and the ones I have are mighty powerful!

Ravenous Rats

Now this might not have been one you were expecting! However, some discard helps give me the kind of bendiness I was looking for earlier. While it might seem like nothing but an annoyance, it's so much more. The tiny incremental advantage that Ravenous Rats provides adds up, giving you a body while also nibbling a card out of your opponent's hand. In combination with a couple Duresses (which I am also adding) it gives you some much-needed control over the flow of the game.

Doomed Traveler

The versatility of Doomed Traveler is nice. It can block early to buy time to find Nighthawk against quick decks, or swing in for 2 on turn two if you have an exalted creature. It gives you an aerial token, which works well with exalted. It gives you another turn-one play, which works well with this deck's two-and-three-heavy curve. It's also a Soldier. Why does that matter? Well...

War Falcon

Now this guy might seem like a little odd at first, but let me run through his many uses.

First of all, even if he can't attack, the falcon blocks well. Against beatdown decks you're going to take the control role, trading off creatures early and surviving to stabilize with Nighthawk or Lingering Souls. War Falcon trades with Delver of Secrets, Geist of Saint Traft, Huntmaster of the Fells, and more.

Second, it's pretty easy for him to attack in this deck. With eleven Knights and Soldiers combined, he's not too difficult to push into combat. Your exalted Knights can pump him, and so in many cases you can be attacking for 3 in the air on turn two! You don't want more than a couple because an all-War Falcon draw is pretty poor, but a couple means you'll see one every now and again in your opener and be able to build around it.

Go for the Throat

As mentioned above, I'm looking to expand my removal suite a bit and Go for the Throat fits nicely.

That brings the final main deck to:

Exalted Orzhov Midrange

Download Arena Decklist

The sideboard is going to be very dependent on the local metagame and especially what cards you have access too. However, some additional pinpoint removal and the rest of the Duresses are where I would start. I'd also consider some strong five-drops to bring in for long matches, depending on which rare ones you own.


If I was looking to unbudgetify this deck and start adding in rares, what might I do? Well, there are a few different ways I could see taking it.

One way would be to go a much more aggressive route. The Knights are humans, so a Champion of the Parish-powered deck with a full set of Doomed Travelers, Champions, Knights, and Gather the Townsfolk would be a place to try. I'd top out with Sublime Archangel, although you could also play one or two Angelic Destiny depending on how popular Vapor Snag is in your metagame.

Champion of the Parish | Art by Svetlin Velinov

You could also continue to push the midrange/control avenue. Cutting some of your cheap aggressive cards for Liliana of the Veil and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad changes the deck pretty radically, but allows it to grind down your opponent in the long game.

Restoration Angel could also be a route to explore since it's good alongside Ravenous Rats. At that point you could also try some other creatures that are strong with flickering, like Disciple of Bolas and Skinrender. Disciple of Bolas is especially awesome alongside exalted: Get a power bump on one of your creatures, and then sacrifice it after combat while the power is still huge!

Overall, though, for a build that can go both aggressive and defensive, this budget one looks pretty solid without many compromises. Cards like Lingering Souls are plenty powerful even though they aren't rares, and this deck can either go on the offensive or play the control game if necessary. Give it a try, and then see what direction you want to take it depending on which rares you own!

    Honorable Mentions

I received plenty of great budget decklists this week. Take a look, and see what strikes your budget fancy!

Gary McClung Jr.'s Blood Humans

Download Arena Decklist

Evan Stanton's Mono-Blue Talrand

Download Arena Decklist

Johnnie Alexandro's Bant Tempo

Download Arena Decklist

Rodrigo Segovia's Mono-Red

Download Arena Decklist

Benjamin Wheeler's Storm

Download Arena Decklist

Mark Schofield's Caged Control

Download Arena Decklist

Sean Van Hoesen's Bloodthrone Beatdown

Download Arena Decklist

Brandon Buncher's Back From the Brink Control

Download Arena Decklist

Sam Barlekoff's Elves

Download Arena Decklist

Joseph Agustin's Flashback Control

Download Arena Decklist

Mark Ian Alloso's Big Red

Download Arena Decklist

Kevin Pitsch's Mono-Black Beatdown

Download Arena Decklist

    Beyond the Budget

That's a budget deck in the books! Put it together and give one of Magic 2013's major themes a try!

In two weeks, I'll be writing a Zero to Sixty, meaning it won't feature a reader's deck and will instead focus on a specific aspect of deck building. This means you all don't need to send in a deck this week.

Knight of Glory | Art by Peter Mohrbacher

However, if you find yourself suffering from emailing-Gavin withdrawal, feel free to send me anything helpful, from what you think the top decks in Standard are, to if there's any deck critique or Zero to Sixty articles you'd like to see me write, to complaints that cornfields are overpowered. It's all welcome—I love reading what you guys have to say!

If you have any comments on this article, you can let me know over Twitter or by posting in the forums. I'm curious to see how you all enjoyed my approach to budget, and if there's anything you'd like me change for my next budget go-around. If enough people out there say they like it, then I'll definitely be doing more of these in the future!

See you all next week when I tackle the new Standard format. Have fun!

Gavin (@GavinVerhey)

Latest Reconstructed Articles


January 4, 2016

Kozilek's Return by, Gavin Verhey

Kozilek had quite an explosive reappearance. Everything on Zendikar was starting to go all right. And then, in one earth-rumbling swoop, the beast below awoke: Kozilek surged up and reap...

Learn More


December 28, 2015

Jumping for Jori by, Gavin Verhey

Welcome to Oath of the Gatewatch previews! This set has a lot of awesome elements going for it. Support. Surge. And—oh yeah—that colorless mana symbol, just to name a few. I was on the d...

Learn More



Reconstructed Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All