Last week, I explored some more budget-friendly (relatively speaking) options that serve as entry points into Modern. It’s an expensive format—there’s no doubt about it—and the price tags on many of the leading decks are prohibitive. Nonetheless, there are on-ramps to Modern that allow you to remain competitive without emptying out your wallet.
Much of the response to last week’s article revolved around suggestions of various mono-colored decks. This makes perfect sense, as much of the cost of most top-tier archetypes is tied up in fetchlands and shocklands. I attempted to avoid those mana bases wherever possible this week, but why not reduce the cost further by maximizing the number of basic lands we can play?
It’s important to note that these lists are not optimal as a result. For example, each of the following three decks would benefit greatly from two or more copies of Cavern of Souls, but as Cavern is one of the most expensive nonbasics in the format and provides a nonessential effect, it’s not impossible to cut it altogether. It’s just important to understand that you lose percentage points by making sacrifices like this!
Mono-White Martyr Proc
Martyr Proc is an off-the-wall control deck that is perfectly suited to those who like recursive value engines, small white creatures, and gaining a lot of life. Don’t be fooled by the various cheap creatures—this deck plays a long, slow, drawn-out game that often involves looping Martyr of Sands with Proclamation of Rebirth until it’s impossible for your opponent to overcome your massive life total.
This list is adapted from one Gabriel Nassif streamed a few weeks ago, and is something of an non-traditional take on the archetype. Despite playing Legion Conquistador and Oketra’s Monument in lieu of a planeswalker package, the core game plan of the list remains the same—fill your hand with white cards, reveal them to Martyr, gain a squillion life, and eventually win with Serra Ascendant.
Allen Wu published an in-depth guide to the archetype, so I’ll defer to that for further strategic advice. From a budgetary perspective, this is just about as lean as you can make it without starting to make huge compromises. Path to Exile is a must-include if you hope to tussle with the format’s creatures, and Serra Ascendant is the synergistic payoff. If you’ve got Gideons and Elspeths lying around, the Conquistador/Monument package should be the first thing you look to cut.
Usually played with a light black splash for Shaman of the Pack and post-board disruption, it’s possible to strip back the classic Elves strategy to just mono-green. This gives up the one-shot kill that Shaman of the Pack offers, but saves you a fair stack of cash—who knew that Gilt-Leaf Palace was so expensive? While it’s also nice to have Thoughtseizes and Abrupt Decays in the board, they’re by no means essential to the deck’s game plan and can be cut without completely hamstringing the deck.
Reid Duke published a video series with a similar list (with white cards rather than black). Essentially, the plan is to flood the board with lots of tiny Elves, then land and untap with an Ezuri to attack for several thousands of damage in one fell swoop. To that end, both Collected Company and Chord of Calling are very important inclusions. Some recent versions cut Chord of Calling and instead play more copies of Lead the Stampede. Should you choose to take the same path, be sure to cut the “toolbox” creatures (Reclamation Sage, Scavenging Ooze) from the main deck.
If you’re looking for a deck that is enormously customizable, Elves is a terrific choice. You can upgrade this deck over time and eventually include a second color, whether it’s the traditional black for Shaman of the Pack, or white for the Vizier of Remedies/Devoted Druid combo. Elves is a difficult deck to play well, but strongly rewards those who put in the hours to master its complex play patterns.
An old-school beatdown deck, Merfolk seeks to assemble a critical mass of various fishy characters and pumps them to massive proportions with various lords. This deck has been around for a very long time, but received an upgrade in Merfolk Trickster. Interaction stapled to a tribal creature like this is an important effect, as tapping down a blocker to get in damage on a key turn can win games.
This deck is often described as “bad Humans,” and that’s a reasonably fair assessment. But it would also be fair to describe 5-Color Humans as “expensive Merfolk.” That knife cuts both ways. This deck is explosive and powerful, and with blue decks experiencing something of a resurgence with Jeskai Control being back in form, islandwalk effects are powerful.
Aether Vial sticks out like a sore thumb here, costing a lot more than any other card in the deck. There’s no way around this, though—there’s no reasonable substitution for the Vials. If you want to play Merfolk, you need to splash out and snag a playset. Without them the deck becomes weakened to the point where it’s inviable to play in a tournament. Mutavault is also critical in supporting the tribal beatdown theme. Remember that you get a free Mutavault for playing in a GP, so that’s one way to add them to your collection!
Finally, before we wrap this up, here’s an important reminder. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a deck that doesn’t cost as much as someone else’s, and you should never let anyone tell you otherwise. You need to be realistic, and realize that expensive, sought-after cards have a higher power level that often correlates to a higher win percentage, but don’t pay heed to anyone who seeks to make you feel bad for not spending the amounts they do on Magic cards. Everyone has different financial needs, priorities, and responsibilities—there is no shame in not being able to afford a playset of Scalding Tarns, and you’re no less worthy a Magic player for it.