I've put off writing about this for a couple of weeks because more timely pieces took priority, but I think I have space this week to talk about an interesting issue in Magic: card availability.

This came to my mind recently while playing at Game Day. As you might recall, I wrote about the two decks I played over the Game Day weekend a couple of weeks back. I played GR Devotion at one and UW control at the other. It was while unsuccessfully piloting the GR deck that I had to put up listening to a player on the next table over (whom we will refer to as “Guy”) who, during one round, had entered into some serious tilt. I felt even more sorry for his opponent (“Dean”) who was, essentially, being accused of being a scumbag. The cause for Guy's tilt? He was losing and, in his eyes, it was because Dean’s deck was more expensive than his.

He kept on and on about how he never stood a chance against people with more money than him that have the best decks, saying it was unfair. He was so focused on this perceived unfairness that I don't think it would have mattered what he was piloting. He had decided his deck couldn't win against the other based on a factor of money.

The most expensive deck does not always win. I have won tournaments with some of the cheapest decks in the room. I piloted mono-red [card]Devastating Summons[/card] to a Game Day win when I'd been playing for about 6 months, and I'm also pretty sure that mono-green [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] list I piloted at the WMCQs in 2012 was insanely cheap compared to the beautiful Delver lists it crushed. Equally, I have piloted incredibly expensive decks to 0-4 finishes at GPs—yeah, I never quite got the hang of Caw-Blade. The truth about Magic is that you can win with any reasonably competitive deck given the right about of skill and luck.

This is possibly less true the higher up you go in competitive play. If I were choosing a deck for a Pro Tour, I wouldn't want to run a budget brew because you can't just outclass others on a skill test, because everyone is very good. However, here we are talking about FNMs and Game Days—Guy really needed to chill out! Dean looked so uncomfortable for something that wasn't his fault. Odds are, Dean had bought [card]Master of Waves[/card] before they cost a fortune or had simply borrowed them from his friends.

I empathized with Dean, as it reminded me of the time I took Splinter Twin to FNM when that deck was about to rotate out of Standard. In Round 1 I faced a player running a very casual mono-red burn deck. I combo'd him on turn 4 in game 1, to which his response was a very sulky, “well that wasn't very fun.” I spent the entirety of game 2 feeling bad and tried to avoid combo'ing off for ages, despite having it naturally on turn 4 again, so that he could do all of his little shenanigans with [card]Fire Servant[/card] and would at least feel like he'd played some Magic—but the truth is that wasn't much fun for me either.

That experience caused me to move away from FNM—it is hardly high-stakes and I just want to hang out with some people that share interests with me and play with a deck I enjoy. When I do attend FNMs or Game Days, I want my deck to have the chance of being competitive, of course, but it doesn't have to be perfect.

Returning to the aspect of cost, I think we can all accept that playing Magic is expensive. We have an expensive hobby, cheaper that sailing yachts and eating caviar but still reasonably pricey. How much each individual can afford to expend on it is different. However, there are a number of ways you can play that competitive deck of your dreams without living outside of your means.

1.) Choose your deck wisely.

2.) Substitute cards where possible.

3.) Make friends.

Again, I'll use my Game Day weekend as an example.

Before the weekend I needed to choose a deck to play, so I did what any Spike does and looked at tournament results, in this case the Pro Tour because that had just happened. Mono-Blue was a big hit that had performed well but, because I was choosing wisely, I did not even consider it. Why?

I had no [card thassa, god of the sea]Thassas[/card] or [card]Masters of Waves[/card] of my own. As Theros was still very new I knew few people who had them, and it always seems a bit rude to borrow 8 mythics from the new set when others probably want to play with them. I could have purchased the cards, but I was a little short on time for them to arrive before the event and I didn't even know if I liked the deck.

The final, most important factor is that those cards are completely irreplaceable in the deck. It has to have 4 of each of those cards to be good. You might be able to shave a Thassa, but the deck is built around enabling those cards. Without them, it's a rubbish mono-blue aggro deck. You need 4 copies to ensure you hit one of the 8 awesome cards every game so you can win.

When looking to substitute cards, you have to look at what they are bring to the deck in terms of function. You can then look to replace them with a similar effect.

As you know, I ended up playing UW control. I made a number of substitutions to the deck from the original list which provides me with some excellent examples to make here.

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 7.42.28 PM

(Jace was kind of hard to define here. He does so much: he stabilizes the board and draws cards, but essentially it all boils down to him being a big threat and game winner.)

I had to substitute one of each of these cards in the deck because I simply couldn't get hold of a copy. When you consider what each of them is bringing to the deck it is easy to see how I came up with the replacements I did.

To draw cards I added [card]Opportunity[/card]. The life gain of Revelation is awesome and often game-turning, but the deck also just needs to draw cards at instant speed, so [card]Opportunity[/card] was a fine stand-in.

To counter spells I put in a [card]Cancel[/card]. It has exactly the same cost as [card]Dissolve[/card] but doesn't have the very valuable scry 1 effect. It's important to realize the counter part of [card]Dissolve[/card] is why the card is good, the other stuff is a sweet bonus. There are a number of other counterspells I could have chosen but I wanted it to be as unconditional as [card]Dissolve[/card] so [card]Cancel[/card] was my choice.

Finally, Jace I replaced with an [card]Aetherling[/card]. Nothing can do as much as Jace does, but [card]Aetherling[/card] does allow you to stabilize in some board states and then win the game. It was the best I could come up with and it certainly worked well enough. Plus, two copies of [card]Aetherling[/card] felt correct.

While I substitute one each of [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card] and [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card], I wouldn't want to run any fewer copies of these than I did because they are too key to the overall strategy. However, this is where having friends comes in. If each of you can afford to acquire or have traded for one copy of the expensive, key pieces of several different types of deck then, between you, you should have close to a playset. Friends will happily lend you cards they aren't otherwise using. This works especially well if you can repay in kind. It is quite common when attending a tournament with my friends that we each have a copy of a recent top tier list, rarely will any of us be running the same deck but each has a good deck that can win and which we feel comfortable playing.

If the tournament is that important to me, then I will pick up missing copies of cards should I be short, but what I'm trying to get across to you is that there are lots of ways you can go to a tournament with a deck that can win.

That's all I have for this week. I hope you found this useful to your future endeavors. Please don't be that Guy. As ever feel free to reach me on Twitter @onionpixie and I'll see you same time next week.