Modern is a terrific format, and in recent months has gone from strength to strength with a deep, varied, and dynamic metagame that rewards good deck building and strong game play. Getting into Modern, however, can be a costly exercise. Most of the de facto best decks—Humans, Jeskai, even Hollow One—cost over a thousand dollars, while Jund can be twice that!
Fortunately, there are alternatives. There are much more budget-friendly decks that don’t compromise on power, and have the results to prove it. If you’re interested in getting into Modern, here are some lists that offer strong tournament viability with (comparatively) less restrictive price tags.
Named after a deep-fried pizza dish (swoon), Ponza is the nickname given to decks that focus on land destruction. With seven Stone Rain effects and Blood Moon, the Plan A of this list is to disrupt opposing mana bases. Its Plan B is to use Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl to ramp out enormous monsters like Stormbreath Dragon, which is immune to almost all of Modern’s 1-mana removal, and Inferno Titan, which should lock up the game after a single attack.
Of the nonland cards, Blood Moon is the one that hurts the wallet the most, but as a centerpiece of the deck, there aren’t really valid substitutions to be made. Tireless Tracker and Birds of Paradise also aren’t cheap, but are worthy investments as perennially-playable Modern cards.
It is, of course, the mana base that pushes the price tag up so high. Any deck with fetchlands and shocklands will always attract a higher price tag (although ally-colored fetchlands are considerably cheaper than enemy-colored ones thanks to their abundance), and Ponza is no exception.
Fetchlands are a safe investment, but they still may be beyond the reach of many players, and there’s no shame in that. You can substitute in other, cheaper dual lands, so long as you recognize the slight damage this will do to your win percentage. Karplusan Forest, Rootbound Crag, or even Copperline Gorge can all be of assistance here.
Eldrazi and Taxes
Death and Taxes has been a mainstay deck of the Legacy format for years, and ultimately was ported over to Modern with reasonable success. Bolstered in the last few years by various Eldrazi creatures, this is a near-mono-white deck that plays the classic D&T plan of disruptive creatures then mess with just about everything your opponent seeks to do.
Ouch. Aether Vial is not cheap, but unfortunately there’s no way around it—it’s not reasonable to expect to win consistently without it. The curve of this deck is just too high to be able to function without a way to cheat out creatures, not to mention that many of the creatures are best when flashed in (Flickerwisp, Thought-Knot Seer, and Leonin Arbiter). Thalia, Guardian of Thraben isn’t cheap, either, although her price has come down recently thanks to her Masters 25 reprint.
Apart from that, however, most of the creatures are a few bucks each and should be easy enough to pick up. If you’ve got some Concealed Courtyards lying around from Standard, all the better. In terms of Modern decks, this is a relatively cheap strategy. Not to mention the fact that it attacks the format from a weird angle that most pilots don’t prepare for—a simple turn-2 Leonin Arbiter messes with fetchlands, turns Path to Exile into Swords to Plowshares, and Ghost Quarter into Strip Mine. Nice!
Despite being hit with ban after ban after ban, Storm continues to be the cockroach that scuttles out from under the banhammer every time. It’s an incredibly complex deck, and one that takes a lot of practice to master. Luckily, however, Brian DeMars wrote a pair of articles going very deep on the deck earlier this year. Additionally, Modern is a format that rewards picking a deck and sticking with it, so if you put in the reps, you’ll reap the rewards!
Storm can be played both with or without fetchlands. As Scalding Tarn is the most expensive of all the fetchlands, and as the color requirements of this deck aren’t too strict, Shivan Reef is a perfectly acceptable substitute that will save you a few hundred bucks. It stings a bit that Manamorphose—a common—is one of the most expensive cards in the deck.
Outside of that, however, none of the nonland cards will set you back much more than ten bucks or so. Given that Storm decks have had a string of excellent finishes recently, this deck might be the one that offers the greatest dollar-to-expected-win-rate in the entire Modern format. It takes a fair bit of work to master the deck, but once you do you’re all set to ride this particular cockroach to victory.
I love playing Modern, and strongly recommend finding a way into the format. In my view, it’s the best tournament format in existence, and its wide-open position right now means that any well constructed deck is a viable option, even at high-level tournament play. While the price tags of most decks are a real restriction for many players, hopefully the decks we’ve looked at today provide a valid starting point for anyone looking to dip their toe into Magic’s best competitive format!