Tuning Top Modern Decks for Budget Players

Posted in Top Decks on February 19, 2016

By Melissa DeTora

Melissa is a former Magic pro player and strategy writer who is now working in R&D on the Play Design team.

Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch is in the books, and the mighty Eldrazi have taken over the Modern format. I'm sure many of you would love to help defeat these monstrous creatures, but may not have the means to do so. Modern can be a challenging format to get into, especially for newer players or players on a budget. Today I'm going to talk about a few Modern Pro Tour decklists and how to tweak them for players who may have a more limited card pool.

Modern can be overwhelming. If you look at a typical Modern decklist, you may see a lot of rares and mythic rares, especially in the mana base. Fetches and shock lands are great at fixing mana, especially if you want to play more than two colors. However, by sticking to two colors, we still have plenty of options in creating a great mana base without using these high-end lands.

First, an aside on what we mean by "budget." When we say budget, we're primarily talking about cards that are hard to obtain—older cards, rares, and mythic rares. If you have some of these cards already—great! But if not, we're going to look for ways to build the deck with newer cards, uncommons, and even some commons, while still staying true to the spirit of each deck.

For example, when looking to build mana bases, the pain lands from Magic Origins are relatively simple to acquire. They're in Standard and are easy to trade for. You might even already have a few from some drafts.

We also have the "buddy lands" from past core sets and from Innistrad. The friendly buddy lands have seen multiple printings and are therefore plentiful. The enemy buddy lands from Innistrad are a bit more difficult to obtain, but are still not as sought after as fetches and shock lands. With these lands we have the backbone of a strong two-color mana base. There's also Mana Confluence, and while it does hurt to tap it, sometimes it's less painful than fetches and shocks.

Budget Deck #1: Blue-Green Infect

The first deck we're going to be talking about is Infect. Infect is a combo deck that looks to land a creature with infect as soon as possible and protect it with spells such as Apostle's Blessing and Vines of Vastwood, and then make the creature hard to block with spells like Rancor and Distortion Strike. Once the coast is clear, the next step is to attack with that infect creature and then cast a flurry of pump spells to give the infect creature 10 or more power.

William Jenson's Infect—9th Place, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch

Download Arena Decklist

William Jensen of Team ChannelFireball piloted this Infect deck to a 9th-place finish at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. As you can see, the nonland cards are already pretty budget-friendly, but the mana base is quite intimidating. Fetches, shock lands, and Inkmoth Nexus can be difficult for players to obtain, so they have to go.

We also want to make the list stronger at fighting Modern's number-one enemy: the Eldrazi. Here is my proposed list:

Melissa DeTora's Budget Infect

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We're losing a big component of the deck here: Inkmoth Nexus. Inkmoth Nexus gave us a way to attack through blockers on the ground. Without Inkmoth, we only have Blighted Agent as an evasion creature. However, we do have ways to break through in Distortion Strike and Rancor. These cards are really important for us, because they allow us to ignore blockers.

Ichorclaw Myr is our replacement for Inkmoth Nexus. It's great at getting into combat with opposing creatures and it wears a Rancor really well. Even if it's blocked, the bonus it receives will ensure that trample damage will get through.

With this version of Infect, we have to cut down on copies of Become Immense. Without fetch lands, we won't have enough cards in our graveyard to fuel delve. As long as we are aggressively casting spells, we should be able to cast a one-mana Become Immense during the game, but it's pretty unlikely that we can cast a second.

Tips on Playing the Deck:

  • The best way to play this deck is to always protect our creatures. This means we may wait to cast our Glistener Elf until turn two or our Blighted Agent or Ichorclaw Myr until turn three so that we can keep mana open for our reactive spells, such as Vines of the Vastwood, Apostle's Blessing, and Spell Pierce. You can ignore this rule if you have backup creatures in your hand.
  • Use Gitaxian Probes aggressively, but don't use them all at once. Gitaxian Probe is an important card in our deck. It gives us valuable information about the opponent's hand so that we can play around whatever removal spells they may have. If you are holding more than one copy of Gitaxian Probe, it's best to use one on turn one to learn your opponent's game plan, and then the other the turn you are going for the kill.
  • Always hold at least one land in your hand in order to get the best use out of Groundswell.
  • Be conservative against opponents with open mana. If your opponent is letting your infect creature through, sometimes it's better to just have them take that 1 damage instead of risking a pump spell and getting two-for-one'd. If you are holding Vines of Vastwood or Apostle's Blessing, then go for it!

How to Fight Eldrazi

Budget Deck #2: Blue-Red Delver

The next deck we're looking at today is Delver. Delver is a pretty cool deck. It's disruptive aggro, one of my favorite deck styles to play. The game plan for Delver is to play an early creature, such as Delver of Secrets or Tarmogoyf, and then do everything you can to protect it. You'll often see Delver players with Remand, Mana Leak, and even Cryptic Command in their decks.

Grzegorz Kowalski's Grixis Delver—24th Place, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch

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As you can see, this three-color Delver deck is much harder to build than Infect. There are Snapcaster Mages, Blood Moons, and tons of rare lands, all of which might be difficult to obtain. Kowalski is taking a controlling approach in his list, with his inclusions of spot removal spells, big delve creatures like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and two-for-ones such as Kolaghan's Command and Snapcaster Mage. We are going to take a more aggressive approach in our list.

Melissa DeTora's Blue-Red Delver

Download Arena Decklist

This blue-red deck is much more aggressive than other Delver decks you may see. It gets the most use out of prowess and looks to cast many spells in one turn. Gitaxian Probe, Vapor Snag, Lightning Bolt, and Serum Visions are great at accomplishing this. There's also plenty of countermagic that's useful for disrupting our opponent or protecting our creatures.

And if you have a few lying around, Abbot of Keral Keep from Magic Origins can be a great addition to this deck as well. Since it's a rare from a recent set, it's a bit easier to find.

Tips on Playing the Deck:

  • It's usually a mistake to keep a hand without at least one creature. Regardless of how good the hand looks, it's crucial to drop a creature early. While it may look like you're doing well in Remanding and Mana Leaking everything, this deck does not want to prolong the game. It wants to win as quickly as possible.
  • Gitaxian Probe is our most useful spell. It's great that it triggers our prowess, but it's also really good for knowing how to play against your opponent. If you know their hand, you'll know if you should use your Mana Leak now or if you should save it for something more threatening later.
  • Save Serum Visions until after you've played Delver of Secrets, or until there is something specific you need. Serum Visions is a fun card to play, and it's really tempting to cast on turn one. Who doesn't love scrying? However, in this deck you may need specific answers at specific times. If you cast Serum Visions on turn one on the play and see a Vapor Snag and a Lightning Bolt, how will you know if you should keep them? They are awful cards against decks like Tron, Storm, or any creature-light deck, but are amazing against Affinity or Zoo. Waiting to cast Serum Visions until you know what your opponent is playing is almost always a better play, and it's good at helping you transform your Delver, too.

How to Fight Eldrazi:

Wrapping Up

While the Modern format can be challenging to get into, even players with limited collections can have the resources to build a competitive and fun deck. Both Infect and Delver have proven to be strong archetypes at the Pro Tour level, and their budget counterparts are great choices for less competitive environments like Friday Night Magic or Magic Online Modern Leagues. I hope you try them out! As always, any questions, comments, or feedback may be directed to my Twitter, @MelissaDeTora.

Good luck in defeating the Eldrazi,

Melissa DeTora

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