Although I’m playing budget decks, and have done for a long time, I’ve never written about the process I go through. UNTIL NOW! This article is here to help you make a deck budget all by yourself.
There are some simple steps you can take to make your deck friendlier on your wallet. It’s useful to know the process, because your budget may not be the same as mine. As always, you have to acknowledge that your changes will have an affect on the overall performance of your deck, but with the right tweaks, you can minimise the pain!
First of all, you need to work out your starting point. You may have found a sweet card to brew around, or you have seen a cool deck that you want to play but can’t afford. For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on the latter, since that’s where most players kick off.
So, we have our decklist. Load it into something like MTGGoldfish, where it tells you the price in both paper and online. It’ll look something like this:
Now you can quickly see the online price and paper price, and switch tabs to look at individual prices for either. So far so good.
Next we’re going to look at those individual card prices. Instantly some will jump out because they’re expensive, and those are the cards we have on the chopping block – that’s not ideal, because generally speaking, they’re expensive because they’re in demand, because they’re good!
Here’s the challenging part, and it may take a little bit of theory-crafting or testing – but it’s also the fun part! Which cards are not key to the strategy?
Generally speaking, the first places to look are the manabase and the sideboard. Manabases are generally tuned to be the very best they can be, but a mana base that’s close but not perfect can sometimes work. As an example, cavern of souls is only going to be relevant against counter-magic, and when you’re not facing blue decks, there’s plenty of other options for that land. Will that impact your winrate? Well, yes, but only in some matches. In addition, some of these cavern decks already have a good U match-up, and it’s there to gain more %. You may go to FNM and not even notice the missing card. On top of all that, the land you replace it with will have some text! So, you might lose a few % vs UW, but potentially gain elsewhere. Even basic lands improve your deck vs blood moon, field of ruin or assassin’s trophy. Don’t underestimate that.
The great thing about the sideboard is that individual cards aren’t used in every match. Your main deck is going to be the same Game 1 vs every opponent, and key pieces will never be cut postboard. However, your sideboard cards are never used Game 1 (unless you play glittering wish!) and will only come in some of the time. As a result, you can easily go 5 matches and never touch a sideboard card. Let’s say you run some Stony Silence in an optimised list. Well, artifact decks will rarely make up more than 20% of the format, at its very worst. Now let’s say you play 5 matches with your deck. You face 1 artifact deck, and play 2-post board games. You don’t draw your Stony Silence in 1 of those 2 games. In potentially 15 games of magic, you drew the card once. IF stony silence won you the game by itself, it improved your winrate by 6%. This is not unrealistic and it could easily be 0%. The point is, hacking away at the sideboard will affect your winrate, but not drastically. It’s not as if the card you’re adding does nothing either.
Now that you’ve highlighted the cards you can cut, use a database search to find replacements – whichever you’re comfortable with. Generally speaking, you can assume the deck you’ve found has a good balance of hate for each match-up, so try to swap your stony silences for more artifact hate, and your surgicals for nihil spellbombs etc. A quick google search can give you pointers on budget manabases, but the key is to try and make sure you have enough of each colour. If your deck has 4 heritage druid and 4 llanowar elves, make sure your green sources come into play untapped, but if the deck splashes black for a 4-5 drop, feel free to run something conditional.
To help save you some time, you can type the following into google and get images of cards that do a job:
Fast Lands MTG – 2-colour lands that come in untapped if you have ❤ lands in play
Check Lands MTG – 2-colour lands that “check” to see if you have others of that colour in play. If you do, then they come in untapped. If not, tapped
Pain Lands MTG – 2-colour lands that deal a damage when tapped. They also tap for colourless without dealing damage, making them perfect in eldrazi decks.
Rainbow Lands MTG – not all of these are modern legal, so be careful. But all these lands add mana of any colour.
Fetch Lands MTG / Shock Lands MTG – you probably know these if you have played magic before!
Hopefully your deck is now cheap enough for you to build. But if not, it’s time to look at the non-land cards in the main deck.
First of all, look at the big offenders. If they’re run as a 4-of, it’s likely they’re key. But if they’re a 1-of, then it’s very possibly a flex slot that you can cut.
If it is a 4-of, consider how the deck would function with just 3. As an example, a dredge deck with 3 bloodghast is going to be worse than a deck with 4, but you see a lot of cards in any given game, and occasionally trim these post board anyway. It’s probably fine to cut it. On the other hand, cutting Primeval Titan out of Amulet Titan is probably a bad idea. Cutting a summoner’s pact may be more realistic.
Finally – is the card new? I highlighted Wrenn & Six above as a card that hurts the wallet. But, Jund decks existed before that card was printed. Go find an old list without Wrenn & Six and see how they differ.
Modern’s cardpool is massive, so often there’s cards that do a similar job. It takes a bit of time to find them, but there’s resources available. Is there a discord or MTGSalvation thread? If so, people often post “what about this card” as ideas, test them and decide “it’s slightly worse than x”. However, slightly worse and $100 cheaper might be ok!
I have an example of this from my Amulet Titan days. Wayward Swordtooth got printed, and I cut my 4th Azusa to test the Swordtooth out. In my very first match, I had a very unique board where I needed to pact for exactly swordtooth to block a Reality Smasher, when I didn’t have 6 mana to cast Primeval Titan. I would have lost without it in my deck. As a result, I continued to test the card. I played 50 matches, and in 48 of them, it made no difference. I either didn’t draw it, or when I did, I either won or lost regardless. So I played another 50 matches. By the end of it all, I was able to say that Swordtooth lost me 3 matches, and won me 1, and the other 96 were irrelevant. So, Azusa is 2% better than Swordtooth. Currently, Swordtooth is $22 cheaper in paper.
Check forums, because I shared all that info on Discord and MTGSalvation, and I’m not the only 1 that does that! You can even post on reddit and ask for help!
- Get a list and load it into MTGGoldfish or similar, have an idea of your budget
- Highlight the big offenders
- Look at the sideboard, as it has the least impact
- Look at the mana, and try to keep the number of coloured sources similar to the original
- Try to pick out flex slots in the main
- See if there’s any old lists or cards that do a similar trick
- Go to forums for help!