Modern on a Budget

Posted in Reconstructed on August 13, 2013

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.

This week, we're going to be diving right into Modern. And not just any approach at Modern—we're taking a budget look at the format!

I received a lot of great submissions, and it's remarkable how, even with the budget restriction, this format is notably open for innovation. (If you're looking for a solid supply of budget Modern decklists, you should definitely be sure to check out the honorable mentions section at the end of this article.) This week, I'm going to be taking a look at a monster under everyone's bed and one of the most classic resource-denial strategies in the book: discard.

Doom Blade | Art by Chippy

This very budget-friendly deck tries to send the opponent spiraling down to no cards in hand. Let's take a look:

Derek Rafol's Shrieking Rack

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Budget Rules

Before hopping into how we're going to be destroying our opponent's hand, first, let me quickly recap my rules for working on budget decks.

  • I will not add any new rares or mythic rares to the decklist. I'd rather make the deck extra budget-y and then let you season to taste with delicious rares than cook it so rare you won't eat it at all.
  • The one exception to the above is mana fixing. Fortunately, for this article you won't have to worry about this one—this deck is one color!
  • I try not to make substitutions. Budget doesn't need to mean making a worse version of a current deck—it just means building toward an archetype that has easier-to-obtain cards. Cards like Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft simply can't be replaced in decks that need them.
  • Budget doesn't mean bad. I'm not setting out to make a deck we know will be suboptimal through this process. There have been plenty of highly successful low-rare decks throughout Magic's history, and there are certainly ways to follow in their footsteps.

If you want more explanation on any of those points, check out the beginning of my first budget article.

Now, onto the discarding!

The Battle Plan

There are an awful lot of cards legal in Modern. But almost every single one of them has one thing in common: they can be discarded. (And if you run headfirst into Loxodon Smiter, I do apologize. Even monsters under the bed have nightmares.)

This deck is built around resource denial. By stripping your opponent of cards, he or she won't be able to do much in the way of his or her game plan. Now, you will also be low on cards... but that's where two key cards come in: The Rack and Shrieking Affliction. These one-mana all stars provide a continual source of damage as long as your opponent is low on cards. Lay one of them down amid your fury of discard spells and your opponent is going to be taking damage turn after turn.

Otherwise, the key to a strategy like this is redundancy. You want to play a critical mass of discard spells so your deck can repeatedly do the same thing, game after game. After that, you are going to want some efficient removal spells to pick off creatures that would seek to kill you while you're busy keeping your opponent low on cards.

Get rid of opponents' cards so you can turn on your The Rack and Shrieking Affliction, deal with any creatures they might have cast, and then watch as your repeated damage sources send you to victory!

Deck Breakdown

Which cards do we want to play, and which might we want to discard right out of the deck? Let's take a look!

Ravenous Rats

As a lover of value, I always consider Ravenous Rats right up my alley. (Although that could be perhaps because it's, you know, a rat.) Your opponent is down a card and you end up with a permanent 1/1 to do your bidding.

Unfortunately, in this format, I don't think Ravenous Rats is going to cut it. The 1 damage is fairly negligible, so the Rats's main strength comes in blocking. While making your opponent discard a card and hopping in the way of a Tarmogoyf for a turn isn't necessarily bad, with the wide card pool of Modern and the speed of the format I feel like we can do better. As long as this deck plays enough ways to keep creatures under control, I would rather play more one-mana discard spells and strong two-mana cards.

Liliana's Specter

A lot of what I said about Ravenous Rats applies here as well. While the 2nd point of power and flying is certainly a lot more meaningful than the Rats's 1/1 ground body, a strike against the Specter is that it costs three mana. I really want to push the mana curve on this deck down low since it is absolutely crucial your discard fires on all cylinders early in the game. After all, once your opponent has played cards, discard no longer does anything.

Additionally, another reason why I've been moving away from creatures (and expensive cards) is because a card I want to add into this deck is Smallpox. The black sorcery makes for a great way to catch whatever creature your opponent has left lying around, while also hampering his or her mana resources and hand. Value creatures lying around and Smallpox don't often play that well together, which adds to the removal of Rats and Specter.

Augur of Skulls

Now, with all that said about creatures, this is one that I can get behind.

Two mana for discarding two cards is a great deal! Now, this deck doesn't have a lot of creatures for your opponent to use removal on, so sometimes your opponent will have a Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile ready for this guy. That's not too bad—it means he still took a card away from your opponent and forced your opponent to spend a mana. He's already sitting around Ravenous Rats level.

But aside from all of the discarding, he also has a secondary purpose, which—as unusual as it sounds—is surprisingly valuable: being Drudge Skeletons!

While I'd never actually played literal Drudge Skeletons in a deck like this, the ability for one of your discard spells to do double duty by cutting off a Tarmogoyf from getting to your throat is not to be understated. The inherent problem with discard is that it's only good while your opponents still have cards. Sometimes, you might run them out of cards and even have The Rack rolling, but their creatures are threatening to kill you long before The Rack finishes them off. Augur of Skulls helps make sure that doesn't happen. I'll keep all four!


Nyxathid looks so tempting—it can be so big for just three mana! However, the problem with Nyxathid is that it tends to be strongest when you're already ahead. If your game plan works out well, then it's good. However, in all of the hands where you are missing early discard spells but have Nyxathid you are really going to wish those three-mana Nyxathids just made your opponent discard cards somehow.

With four copies of both The Rack and Shrieking Affliction, I am pretty confident that in most games those will be able to finish off your opponent. Drawing two copies between those eight already shoves your opponent into taking 6 damage a turn when he or she has zero cards. With all of that redundancy, it should be enough.

The Rack
Shrieking Affliction

These two cards are cornerstones of the deck. Your goal is to deploy several of these, which will quickly chip away at your opponent's life as you whittle away the number of cards in his or her hand. For one mana, I can't ask for too much more. A lot of the time, you will be okay having these in multiples since it really puts a squeeze on your opponent as you drop down his or her hand size. All eight are sticking around.

Mire's Toll

I have really been pushing down the mana curve of this deck, and this deck isn't going to have many extra lands. (Especially considering that Raven's Crime and Smallpox will occasionally remove your own land.) It's pretty unlikely that Mire's Toll is going to hit for more than three cards; plus, in this deck your opponent, will seldom have more than three cards by the time you have four lands, so I would rather just have Blackmail. It's a lot more effective on turn one, and comparable later in the game.

I could see running a couple Mire's Toll in addition to Blackmail, but after working out which discard spells I wanted there was no room for a fifth or sixth Blackmail. Sorry, Mire's Toll!


Duress is one of Magic's historically strong discard effects, and is something I definitely want around here. It's the best one for you to cast on the first turn. However, something very important about a discard deck is that you want all of your cards to trade off for one of theirs; you can't afford to be missing on your discard spells. While Duress is great on the first turn, it quickly diminishes in value and I'd prefer to not play it here.

I should note that if I was going to unbudgetize this deck and have access to both Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek (Inquisition of Kozilek is not a rare, but I'm not adding any in since I know it's a hard uncommon to find), I would consider playing some of those just because they are so strong and won't tend to miss in Modern—but Duress is a little more risky than I'd like for this deck.

Wrench Mind

Often, this will be two cards for two mana—that's a great rate in a deck focused around discarding. While some decks will definitely have artifacts to pitch, it's worth the risk. I definitely want to keep all four.

While this deck does one-for-one discard well, I'd like a couple more cards like Wrench Mind that cause multiple cards to be discarded. An unusual card that hasn't traditionally seen much play is a little gem called Delirium Skeins. Normally, this kind of symmetry when you're also spending a card to cast it is dangerous... but in a deck with such a low mana curve, your hand will be pretty low by the time you want to cast it. If you get a slow discard draw, Skeins can put your opponent on the back foot out of nowhere—using one card to make him or her discard three isn't something most players will expect.

I'd like to play two Delirium Skeins here. It costs three mana and you don't want to draw multiples, but seeing one can be situationally very good.

Raven's Crime

A discard deck absolutely cannot afford to flood on mana. You want every card of yours to trade for one of your opponent's and, well, lands don't do that very well... unless you have Raven's Crime!

Drawing one of these makes all of your lands become discard spells, which is a huge advantage. Your opponent will try to start holding cards to take less damage, and Raven's Crime makes it easy for you to always have the discard spell. (Especially with Dakmor Salvage around!)

While excess Raven's Crimes aren't great, they are still passable. You're going to be casting discard spells the first few turns, and Ravens Crime is a fine one to have to slot in anywhere from turn one onward. It's so important that I want to bump up from one to play the full four. Four Crimes also means I can play the twenty-first land and not be concerned about drawing too many lands, which is nice.

Funeral Charm

While this is a Charm, in reality you're never really using the swampwalk mode and +2/-1 isn't going to be used that often. (Though you can snag a Birds of Paradise, Dark Confidant, or such with it.) Yet, I want to bump it up to two copies. Why? Because there is one thing that Funeral Charm does well: make someone discard at instant speed.

While this could be a couple Mire's Toll, I like the flexibility of casting it in your opponent's draw step once you have him or her out of cards to essentially Time Walk. Your other discard spells can't do that, and every draw step you deny your opponents becomes increasingly more crucial when you're leaning on The Rack to do them in. Between instant speed discard and the ability to kill 1-toughness creatures, I'm on board with a second.

Having cheap, flexible removal spells is crucial here. If your opponent gets a creature into play, your (non-Funeral Charm) discard spells won't help you fight it; you have to use removal to get it off the table. That's what these are here for.

In addition to the four Smallpox I mentioned adding in earlier, I'd still like to up the removal count a little bit to ensure you have answers to something like Tarmogoyf. Doom Blade is solid... but I think we can do better.

A card that's great in a mono-black deck is Victim of Night. It kills almost everything, and the downside versus Doom Blade of costing double black is irrelevant. I'd like to bump the Smother count up to three, and then play four Victims to add to the removal package.

With all of those changes in mind, that brings the deck to:

Gavin Verhey's Look Ma, No Hands!

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Now how's that for a budget deck! I even ended up cutting the only rare it was sent with. Aside from a couple Time Spiral Timeshifted cards, you should be able to acquire most of the cards for this deck fairly easily.

What would I do if I wasn't on a budget?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are both cards I'd consider. Dark Confidant is almost assuredly a four-of all star in this deck, giving you a constant source of card advantage at very little damage. Liliana of the Veil, despite costing three, is likely worth it as both a discard engine and removal spell.

While those can be a little harder to find, a card I wanted to put in (but didn't add because it's a rare) which is a little easier to acquire is Ensnaring Bridge. That takes care of all your creature troubles! After the first few turns, you're going to have no cards in your hand, and at that point it should be pretty easy to let The Rack and Shrieking Affliction seal the deal. I would have played it over some of the creature removal spells.

Either way, though, this deck attacks the Modern metagame in a unique way and definitely puts a lot of the combo-heavy decks in a pinch. While creature decks can be harder to beat, all of the removal (or Ensnaring Bridge!) goes a long way toward helping that.

If you've ever wanted to dip your feet into Modern, this is a great place to start that isn't too hard to get the cards for. Have fun!

Honorable Mentions

Speaking of budget modern decks, there were several great entries this week to draw inspiration from! With so many great ideas, this was one of my favorite batches of submissions ever. Let's take a look!

Patrick Downey's Blitzing on a Budget

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Nick Montalbano's RW Pyromancer Burn

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Anonymous's Blood Illness

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Jordan Marshall's Aura Ramp

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Braden Dafoe's Budget Goblins

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Oliver Law's Mono-Black Infect

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Robbie Tulip's Creature Storm

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Charlie Ringer's Pili-Pala

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Matthew Gottshall's Budget Soul Sisters

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Matt's Izzet Dead Yet?

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Le Taylor's Miracle Living End

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Khanman's Chimes-a-Wastin'

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Tom Parry's Merfolk

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Jimmy Shotwell's Cackling Faeries

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Noah Barron's Proteus Belcher

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Greg Dreher's Crystal Rat

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John Kennedy's Kiln Fiend Combo

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Tendie's Owls and Calamari

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Theo's Cairn Wanderer Reanimator

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