Cheap as Chips, Ep. 10: Good night and good luck

notorious throng art

Cheap as Chips has run it’s course. Ten decks in eleven weeks (one week downtime for life-related events). We’ve had highs and lows. We’ve brewed – if I may say so myself – an amazing amount of good coffee. And the occasional decent deck. A few doozies as well, but let’s not cry over milled spilk.

Below is my attempt to summarize what has and has not worked, and some avenues I may explore over the summer.

Let’s review our original goals:

  • Spend less than 5 tickets per deck.
  • Win half of our games.
  • Be competitive in the half we don’t win.
  • Rarely suffer blow-out losses.

Top three budget decks (with some tweaks these might be playable):

Notorious Rogues: [c]Invisible Stalker[/c] into [c]Earwig Squad[/c] into [c]Stinkdrinker Bandit[/c] into [c]Notorious Throng[/c]. This is a powerful deck if you can protect your critters. If you manage to resolve and stick [c]Oona’s Blackguard[/c], you can empty your opponent’s hand. Suffers against absurdly fast decks (Infect, Affinity) or Abzan midrange-type decks with 12+ removal cards.

Hungry Centipede: [c]Hedron Crab[/c] into [c]Duskmantle Guildmage[/c] into [c]Mindcrank[/c] is a tried-and-true combo that will catch a few decks unprepared. [c]Consuming Aberration[/c] into [c]Essence Harvest[/c] is a fun alternate win con… but this deck is not interactive enough for my tastes. It wins games that are boring to play.

Cipher Tricks: My second pet-deck on this list. [c]Invisible Stalker[/c] into [c]Contaminated Ground[/c] into [c]Hidden Strings[/c] is fun, although definitely underpowered for the meta. [c]Hidden Strings[/c] into [c]Royal Assassin[/c] and/or [c]Agent of the Fates[/c] is a nice way to clear the board. Better evasive-hexproof creature options would increase the viability of this deck.

Middle of the road (conceptually okay but flawed builds):

Shivers and Shakes: [c]Nightveil Specter[/c] into [c]Maralen of the Mornsong[/c] into [c]Ob Nixilis, Unshackled[/c] is a fun, unusual game plan. But Ob Nixilis is too expensive and different approach using [c]Mindlock Orb[/c] is probably a better strategy. More testing needed.

Glissa and Friends: [c]Devoted Druid[/c] into [c]Quillspike[/c] ended more duels than I thought it would, but overall this was an underpowered deck. There are many options to pair with [c]Glissa, the Traitor[/c] however. I’m throwing the persist approach out and will rebuild this with stronger artifacts and artifact creatures.

Daxos Weenies: [c]Preeminent Captain[/c] into [c]Lavinia of the Tenth[/c] is a nice move, but a weenie deck with a curve this steep is not really a weenie deck. Still, [c]Daxos of Meletis[/c] and Preeminent Captain should be a decent pairing. I’ll keep tweaking to see if I can further improve this deck.

Bottom feeders (delete from MTGO deck list):

Daxos Midrange: I don’t know how to build a proper mid-range deck. I will do some study and self-reflection on this and get back to you sometime… in 2016.

Necrotic Troll: It turns out that abusing [c]Necrotic Ooze[/c] is just not a very powerful game plan. He goes from being a 4/3 for 4-mana to… a 4/3 with some activated abilities for 4-mana.

Mono Black Delve: MBC is not the strongest deck in the current meta. And MBD it seems is not even worth considering. Paired with blue or green a delve strategy might be viable, but it’s not high on my list of rebuilds.

Best gameplay videos

1. Cipher Tricks doing a number on Jeskai Burn. This is not a fluke. Cipher Tricks matches up nicely here because of the hexproof.

 

2. Notorious Rogues wipes the floor with Jund Vengevine. Bob never looked so helpless. Lacking Liliana, however, this is not exactly the strongest Jund build in the meta. Still, the cup is half-full folks.

 

3. Honorable mention – Glissa and Friends just barely squeeks through a game against a Rakdos discard deck.

 

Worst gameplay videos

1. Necrotic Troll obliterated by Abzan midrange.

Warning: The following video contains scenes that may be difficult for players of Magic the Gathering to watch. Cheap as Chips and Magicgatheringstrat.com waive any and all liability for retinal damage that may result from pressing play on this doozie:

 

2. The entire MBD three-game series. My Soulflayer delve deck only succeeded in digging its own grave.

 

That’s all for now, folks. Thank you to Bava and Dan for convincing me to write this series, and thank you to those who contributed by commenting on the decks and gameplay videos. I’ve learned a lot from the series and hope to see you in the playrooms!

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 9: Mono Black Delve

soulflayer banner

If dropping a 4/4 flyer with haste, lifelink, first strike and hexproof on turn 2 is of any interest to you, then a delve deck may be worth your consideration. The Tarkir block has reminded people that delve exists, and [c]Gurmag Angler[/c] has seen play in several decks already.

But for my (minimal) money, [c]Soulflayer[/c] is definitely the definitive demon for delicious deep-dish delving.

The goal of this deck (unsurprisingly) is to mill with [c]Shriekhorn[/c] or [c]Memory Sluice[/c] on the first turn, hoping to garbage-bin a [c]Vault Skirge[/c], [c]Gurmag Swiftwing[/c] and/or [c]Xathrid Slyblade[/c]. Then on turn 2 if you have four cards in the bin, launch a Soulflayer. A 4/4 hasty lifelink attack on turn 2 can, on occasion, end the game. With any luck on turn 3 you can attach a [c]Mask of Memory[/c] to the big, build-your-own flying demon. (Note: turn 3 is also when you’ll find out if your opponent is holding removal or counters, because no one with even cursory knowledge of the game will let you attach a Mask to a 4/4 flyer on turn 3 if they can stop it.)

If you don’t have Demons-R-Us in your opening hand, then attaching the Mask to one your small flyers will help dig it up. [c]Grave Strength[/c] supports delve and can also turn your small flyers into more respectable offensive forces. [c]Gurmag Angler[/c] is your nose tackle on offense and middle-linebacker on defense.

Card advantage is created by Mask, [c]Sign in Blood[/c] and a single [c]Bitter Revelation[/c]. The latter is perfect for this deck, fueling delve as well as card advantage, but at 4-cmc it is sadly one-too-many-mana to be playable. As a one-of it’s okay. But how awesome that card would have been at 3-cmc!

Here’s what we have:

[d title=”Mono Black Delve (Modern)”]

Land

1 Bojuka Bog

2 Ghost Quarter

3 Evolving Wilds

16 Swamp

Creatures

4 Vault Skirge

4 Gurmag Swiftwing

2 Xathrid Slyblade

4 Soulflayer

4 Gurmag Angler

Spells

1 Despise

1 Duress

2 Disfigure

2 Memory Sluice

3 Shriekhorn

1 Doom Blade

1 Smother

3 Grave Strength

2 Sign in Blood

3 Mask of Memory

1 Bitter Revelation

Sideboard

1 Despise

1 Duress

1 Doom Blade

2 Geth’s Verdict

2 Smallpox

2 Necromancer’s Assistant

2 Infest

2 Nihil Spellbomb

2 Desecration Demon [/d]

[c]Smallpox[/c] is in the sideboard because it’s an awesome card. But it’s not great for every match-up and I have to admit I’m not sure what decks to bring it in against. Infect, Auras, and Elves come to mind.

The sideboard has [c]Desecration Demon[/c] as a back-up for game 3 if your opponent has boarded in loads of graveyard hate. [c]Demigod of Revenge[/c] would be even better. Against any deck that doesn’t have direct removal, take out [c]Xathrid Slyblade[/c] for [c]Necromancer’s Assistant[/c], which better supports delve. Sprinkle in removal as needed.

Let’s take a look at some gameplay videos of this fun deck. Next week will be a round-up article, as episode 10 will bring Cheap as Chips to a close!

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 8: Stuck in the Middle with Blue

daxos of meletis art

Win with weenies has been my main mantra. This is partially because the weenie approach works on a budget, and partially because I simply may not have the patience required to play a strict control approach.

This week features two decks because I flip-flopped repeatedly when I tried to build an “Azorius Control Deck.” I pictured myself brewing a sweet pile of frustration based around bouncing [c]Stonehorn Dignitary[/c] to halt your opponent’s attack whilst using [c]Render Silent[/c] to ruin their entire turn. Rage quits baby!

Alas, it just didn’t work. I tweaked and twiddled until I had a bunch of heroic soldiers … and not much else. No bouncing rhinos. Protection spells instead of counters – in other words, not a control deck. Not even close.

So this is the first deck – Daxos Azorius Weenies:

[d title=”Daxos Weenies (Modern)”]

Land

1 Halimar Depths

2 Evolving Wilds

7 Island

10 Plains

4 Glacial Fortress

Creatures

4 Favored Hoplite

4 Battlewise Hoplite

2 Phalanx Leader

4 Preeminent Captain

4 Daxos of Meletis

2 Lavinia of the Tenth

2 Captain of the Watch

Spells

4 Feat of Resistance

2 Ordeal of Thassa

4 Gods Willing

2 Curiosity

2 Apostle’s Blessing

Sideboard

3 Celestial Flare

2 Detention Sphere

2 Relic of Progenitus

2 Render Silent

2 Oppressive Rays

3 Echoing Truth

1 Echoing Calm

[/d]

I played a few games with the weenie deck – and it was fun enough. The goal is to play a [c]Preeminent Captain[/c] on turn 3 or 4 and then attack with it, launching either a [c]Daxos of Meletis[/c], [c]Lavinia of the Tenth[/c], or [c]Captain of the Watch[/c] straight from your hand onto the battlefield. This is plenty powerful when it happens, but like all weenie approaches, the right removal card at the wrong time leaves you vulnerable to any tier 1 mid-range deck or anything with a strong turn 4 or 5 combo.

So I went back to the drawing-board with the goal of making a budget mid-range deck that could keep the board free of pests until the [c]Preeminent Captain[/c] move could take hold (but later in the game, say turn 6 or 7).

So this is the second deck – Daxos Azorius Midrange:

[d title=”Daxos Midrange (Modern)”]

Land

1 Halimar Depths

2 Evolving Wilds

7 Island

10 Plains

4 Glacial Fortress

Creatures

4 Preeminent Captain

4 Daxos of Meletis

2 Captain of the Watch

2 Lavinia of the Tenth

Spells

2 Detention Sphere

2 Render Silent

2 Echoing Truth

3 Celestial Flare

2 Ætherize

4 Delay

3 Reciprocate

2 Curse of the Swine

1 Foresee

2 Singing Bell Strike

1 Oppressive Rays

Sideboard

2 Relic of Progenitus

2 Echoing Calm

2 Mana Leak

3 Dispel

2 Aegis of the Gods

2 Foresee

2 Hindering Light

[/d]

This deck features a slew of removal options lead by [c]Reciprocate[/c], [c]Curse of the Swine[/c], and my personal favorite, [c]Aetherize[/c]. There are also a smattering of counters led by [c]Delay[/c] as an alternative to [c]Mana Leak[/c] (which too often with a slow approach has opponents holding the three open mana). The creature curve starts at three mana, where [c]Preeminent Captain[/c] still leads the charge into a Daxos, Lavinia, or Captain.

Which deck is stronger in the current meta?

I played a half-dozen games with each and ran across everything from infect to elves to a fan of 19th-century German philosophy and a guy playing 2/2 bears. I did better with the weenie deck but only, I think, because I made more mistakes and rushed my games with the midrange approach. (I didn’t upload the infect video, but it was a satisfying 2-1 win for the midrange deck.)

Check out the gameplay videos and let me know your thoughts on which deck is stronger!

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 7: Shivers and Shakes

maralen of the morningsong

Who played Dungeons and Dragons in their youth? Dark elves were some seriously bad dudes in that game. It might not surprise you much to learn that black is my favorite color in Magic. Every deck I’ve brewed for this series is black and some other color. So when I saw that Magic has black elves, I just had to have me some.

Glissa is mostly green, so she doesn’t count. Only one double-black elf has inspired a deck, and it’s this one – [c]Maralen of the Mornsong[/c].

How crazy is that effect? Tutor whatever card you want! Cool right? Ok, wait, let’s think this through carefully.

Hmm. That is a seriously bad idea – giving your opponent the chance to tutor a card first, so they can kill you, and you never get to tutor anything. Maybe this deck is a really stupid ide– nah, let’s just go for it!

Shivers and Shakes

Shivers and Shakes is a deck that gives your opponent indigestion with [c]Delver of Secrets[/c] and [c]Nightveil Specter[/c], before giving them chest-constricting heartburn with [c]Maralen of the Mornsong[/c], leading into the shivering, cold-sweat nightmare of [c]Ob Nixilis, Unshackled[/c]. To keep your opponent from killing you with their first tutor, the deck has numerous counter spells.

There’s one important caveat to the Maralen-Ob Nixilis combo – you need to have a total of six lands (on the battlefield and in your hand) before casting Maralen. Otherwise you will need to tutor first for land, a bad idea.

Unless, of course… unless you have [c]Bitter Revelation[/c] in your hand to dig for more land. Which brings us to the issue of card draw.

Shutting down all forms of card draw is indeed a powerful effect. It was better during the reign of [c]Treasure Cruise[/c] but is still relevant against many decks in the meta. It is especially useful if you can still put cards in your hand using the various ‘reveal and keep’ mechanics that do not use the keyword ‘draw.’ [c]Fact or Fiction[/c] would be perhaps the best choice here, but I didn’t pick up any copies in time for this article. I had [c]Bitter Revelation[/c] in my collection so I went with that.

Let it be said, however, that a stronger version of this deck (such as my paper version) includes [c]Jace, Architect of Thought[/c] and [c]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/c] as stronger methods to build card advantage. They allow Maralen to come down as early as turn 3 (tutoring for Ashiok on turn 4 if you are playing a creature deck, or Jace to get another card or two immediately).

I mention those cards because they change the deck into something that can truly give your opponent the shivers. But let’s stick within our budget! This is what we have:

[d title=”Shivers and Shakes (Modern)”]

Lands

4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Exotic Orchard
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Dimir Aqueduct

2 Dismal Backwater
6 Island
8 Swamp

Creatures

2 Oona’s Gatewarden

3 Delver of Secrets
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Maralen of the Mornsong
2 Ob Nixilis, Unshackled

Spells

2 Dispel

2 Despise

2 Duress

2 Extirpate

2 Mana Leak

2 Negate

2 Dissipate

1 Soul Manipulation

1 Quash

2 Bitter Revelation

2 Aetherize

1 Murder

Sideboard

2 Echoing Truth

3 Trickbind

2 Dissipate

1 Aetherize

1 Quash

2 Memoricide

2 Murderous Cut

2 Nihil Spellbomb [/d]

Ideal gameflow

T1: Play a Delver. Cross your fingers. [c]Duress[/c] or [c]Despise[/c] are also an option.
T2: If you crossed your fingers properly, your Delver flips. Keep [c]Mana Leak[/c] mana open.
T3: Play a [c]Nightveil Specter[/c]. Duress or Despise here – anything to throw off your opponent’s game plan.
T4: Another Delver or Specter, or counter spell mana open.
T5: If you have enough land, play Maralen here. It is highly preferable that you have 5 land down and keep [c]Mana Leak[/c] open to deal with whatever your opponent tutors.
T6: Tutor for Ob Nixilis and play it. If your opponent can’t counter or remove it, you should win the game.
T7: If Ob Nixilis did not work, swing with Delvers and Specters and hope for the best!

Sideboard

[c]Aetherize[/c], [c]Echoing Truth[/c] and [c]Murderous Cut[/c] will be the most frequently picked replacements, and a smattering of additional counter spells and strippers round out the sideboard. More testing is needed to see what this deck really needs here.

Let me know what you’d add or change in the comments!

Here are some videos of the deck in action.

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 6: The Deck Colonel Kurtz Would Play

1155_consumingaberration_1

Which is worse? Getting hit with ten poison counters or being milled to zero cards?

Neither is fun, and some would even argue neither is a respectable, gentlemanly way of winning the game of Magic. Others would say that in war, the end justifies the means.

I’m not sure yet where I fall in this debate, but I’m always mildly impressed by mill decks that can get the job done without any creatures on the battlefield. From a playing perspective, however, pure mill decks don’t float my boat. I’m a simpleton that likes to swing with critters that do regular, old-fashioned, face-beating damage.

So my first milling deck – one of the first decks I ever brewed – aimed to mill a moderate amount of cards and then win with one of the biggest creatures in the game of Magic. Queue Marlon Brando:

The horror… The… ho-rror!

Hungry Centipede

Hungry Centipede is a deck that tries to build very large creatures by milling cards into your opponent’s graveyard. It is structured first-and-foremost around the tried-and-true [c]Duskmantle Guildmage[/c]-[c]Mindcrank[/c] combo. This is win-con number one. But as this combo is sensitive to removal, the deck uses a weenie attack ([c]Jace’s Phantasm[/c] and [c]Wight of Precinct Six[/c]) to distract your opponent long enough to either hit the combo or play a huge [c]Consuming Aberration[/c] and go to town with it.

As many decks will have the blockers to keep the huge centipede-horror at bay, the alternate-alternate win condition is to cast [c]Rite of Consumption[/c] or [c]Essence Harvest[/c] on a huge Wight or Consuming Aberration.

[d title=”Hungry Centipede (Modern)”]

Lands
4 Drowned Catacomb

2 Halimar Depths

1 Nephalia Drownyard

9 Island

8 Swamp

Creatures

4 Hedron Crab

4 Jace’s Phantasm

4 Wight of Precinct Six

4 Duskmantle Guildmage

3 Consuming Aberration

Spells
4 Tome Scour

4 Memory Sluice

4 Mindcrank

1 Rite of Consumption

2 Essence Harvest

2 Murderous Cut

Sideboard
2 Geth’s Verdict

1 Cranial Archive

2 Skaab Ruinator

2 Bonehoard

2 Sultai Scavenger

2 Soulflayer

2 Necropolis Fiend

2 Killing Wave [/d]

Ideal gameflow:

T1: Play a Hedron Crab, Jace’s Phantasm or Tome Scour/Memory Sluice.

T2: Play another Crab, a Jace’s Phantasm or either of the Duskmantle/Mindcrank combo.

T3: Play a Wight of Precinct Six, a Jace’s Phantasm or either of the combo pieces.

T4: If you have 4 land down and your combo pieces, enact Duskmantle’s first ability, play a Tome Scour or Memory Sluice, go to the next duel.

T5: Blow up the combo here, or if it’s been removed then play a Consuming Aberration.

T6-T7: Essence Harvest the Aberration or swing with it. If you’ve done a bit of damage already, you can also Essence Harvest a big Wight or even a Jace’s Phantasm to push through the final damage.

Sideboard:

The current sideboard for this deck attempts to completely change the strategy of attack against decks that can either stop you from milling them ([c]Leyline of Sanctity[/c], [c]Aegis of the Gods[/c]) or that benefit excessively from you milling them ([c]Vengevine[/c] and other dredge/delve decks).

Put in all the delve critters (judge for yourself whether you need the [c]Murderous Cut[/c]) and take out either the Jace’s Phantasm, a Mindcrank or two, and all the Consuming Aberrations. Mill yourself and use the graveyard cards to play your big delve guys.

 

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 5: Enjoy a hot mug of Golgari

glissa_general

I’m lazy when it comes to card advantage. It’s a bad brewing habit I’m trying to break – stuff a bunch of cool synergistic creatures and spells into a deck, then realize you don’t have any ‘card advantage’ spells. Take out two or three cards and add a few [c]Curiosity[/c], [c]Read the Bones[/c] or [c]Hunter’s Insight[/c] into the mix. Deck done, ok let’s go play!

Clearly, there are much more sophisticated ways to achieve card advantage. I don’t know those, and they probably cost a lot of tickets – but let’s at least try to see if we can move from caveman-dumb to middle grade-school clever in terms of keeping a stock of cards in hand or on the battlefield.

We’ll do it in Golgari, my favorite color-combo for budget Modern and a word so smooth it could easily be a high-end organic coffee blend. And so…

Espresso!

Glissa and Friends

Glissa and Friends is a deck that aims to beat opponents with little critters that either refuse to die or can be recurred repeatedly via [c]Glissa, the Traitor[/c]’s triggered ability. In addition, a two-card combo with [c]Devoted Druid[/c] and [c]Quillspike[/c] offers the potential for a supersized kill-swing that your opponent will need to respect. Glissa herself is a beast of an elf that demands removal.

The main fighters are bantamweight swinger [c]Safehold Elite[/c] and super flyweight [c]Perilous Myr[/c]. The former can persist indefinitely thanks to Quillspike or [c]Bow of Nylea[/c] removing the -1 counter. The Myr blocks, dies, does damage on its way out, and then recurs later thanks to Glissa. [c]Vault Skirge[/c] is included to give you another pesky critter that your opponent will eventually want to remove (and that Glissa can bring back).

On the defensive side, Glissa can recur [c]Executioner’s Capsule[/c], giving you plenty of removal. The amount of dying going on makes [c]Tragic Slip[/c] a good secondary removal choice.

In addition to allowing your persisting to persist, [c]Bow of Nylea[/c] provides a life-gain option and takes care of pesky flying critters. Needless to say, giving all your attackers deathtouch means far more dying, and thus more recurring. Keeping a Glissa on the battlefield is a challenge, hence the addition of [c]Mwonvuli Beast Tracker[/c].

If you need more power on the battlefield (against a removal heavy deck, for example), bring in [c]Soulflayer[/c] which can gain Glissa’s awesome deathtouch+first strike ability, or gain flying courtesy of an exiled [c]Vault Skirge[/c].

[d title=”Glissa and Friends (Modern)”]

Lands

1 Bojuka Bog

1 Golgari Rot Farm

4 Woodland Cemetery

10 Forest

8 Swamp

Creatures

2 Vault Skirge

4 Safehold Elite

3 Perilous Myr

3 Devoted Druid

4 Quillspike

4 Glissa, the Traitor

2 Mwonvuli Beast Tracker

Spells

4 Executioner’s Capsule

2 Tragic Slip

2 Explorer’s Scope

2 Grisly Salvage

2 Read the Bones

2 Bow of Nylea

Sideboard

2 Hex Parasite

2 Nihil Spellbomb

2 Pithing Needle

2 Gleeful Sabotage

1 Cranial Archive

2 Infest

2 Putrefy

2 Soulflayer

[/d]

Ideal gameflow:

T1: Play an Executioner’s Capsule.

T2: Play either Safehold Elite or Perilous Myr.

T3: Swing with your critter, play Bow of Nylea or Quillspike.

T4: Use mana to remove a -1 counter on Safehold Elite, play a Devoted Druid or leave mana open for Executioner’s Capsule if your opponent has a combo piece on the battlefield (Pestermite, etc).

T5: Play Glissa and start to kill stuff, recurring either a Capsule or a Myr.

T6: Go off with your combo on a cleared battlefield, or just keep swinging with your critters if your combo pieces have been removed. 

The sideboard is a mix of cards intended to deal with planeswalkers, pesky artifacts and enchantments, and a bit more brute force with Soulflayer. This is a fun one to play with, but I’m not sure there’s enough firepower in the mainboard to keep up with the top decks. A card like [c]Mishra’s Bauble[/c] would be good a good upgrade if you have the budget for it. Me? For now I’m sticking with [c]Read the Bones[/c].

Have ideas for budget decks in Modern? Send them my way in the comments below!

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 4: Lickety-split, Cipher Trick

hidden strings

It’s shocking. With fetches and shocklands everywhere, your well-heeled opponents are often at 14-15 life by the time they’ve established a board position – and that’s if you haven’t already hit them with an attack or two.
 Mind you, they don’t care – because their game plan is to go off the next turn with an auto-kill, or otherwise lock you down and make it impossible to push through the final 8-10 points of damage.

But if you can somehow postpone their combo-licious game plan and take advantage of the shockland hit… well folks, that’s what we budget brewers call a window of opportunity.

How about messing with their lands? Land destruction is too slow, you say? Hmm, ok. So let’s try [c]Contaminated Ground[/c] and [c]Pooling Venom[/c] and see where they take us.

Et voila:

Cipher Tricks
Cipher Tricks is a deck that aims to use [c]Hidden Strings[/c] on evasive hexproof critters to tap your opponent’s land for extra damage. In many match-ups, turning your opponent’s best dual or Urza land into a lowly Swamp will slow them down the crucial one or two turns you need to become the big spoon to their little spoon. Even if you don’t find Hidden Strings, they will still likely need to tap their lands and ping themselves with damage. Untapping your own lands with Hidden Strings allows mana to be used twice in one turn – so say hello to my little fren’ [c]Mana Leak[/c].

All this extra card playing does burn through your hand fast, however. So [c]Curiosity[/c] is used to counteract the overall card disadvantage of the strategy. (Initially, a whopping three cards must be in play to do 3-4 damage per turn. While this can escalate with more enchantments on more lands, it’s not very efficient).

On the defensive side, you can tap to kill creatures with [c]Royal Assassin[/c] or [c]Agent of the Fates[/c]. For decks able to counteract land enchantments (karoo lands, for example), the sideboard has some additional creatures and removal. You’ll need to draw into removal pronto to have any hope against very fast decks (Infect, Affinity).

[d title=”Cipher Tricks”]

Lands

1 Bojuka Bog

2 Dimir Aqueduct

4 Drowned Catacomb

2 Exotic Orchard

7 Swamp

7 Island

Creatures

4 Invisible Stalker

4 Nightveil Specter

2 Royal Assassin

2 Agent of the Fates

Spells

3 Curiosity

2 Dispel

4 Hidden Strings

4 Mana Leak

4 Contaminated Ground

4 Pooling Venom

4 Cloudform

Sideboard

2 Negate

2 Trickbind

3 Aetherize

2 Echoing Decay

2 Agent of the Fates

1 Royal Assassin

2 Murderous Cut

1 Nihil Spellbomb

[/d]

Ideal gameflow:
T1 – Play a land, pass the turn.
T2 – Play either [c]Invisible Stalker[/c] or [c]Contaminated Ground[/c].
T3 – Play a critter if you haven’t already. Play [c]Hidden Strings[/c], tapping your opponent’s land for damage and untapping your land for [c]Mana Leak[/c] or [c]Dispel[/c]. If Hidden Strings isn’t around, play [c]Cloudform[/c] and hope you draw into your cipher spell soon – because a 1/1 Stalker and a 2/2 Cloudform critter do not make for a very impressive attack all by their lonesome.
T4 – Play more land enchantments and/or creatures. Play your [c]Nightveil Specter[/c] here but be aware this guy is just there to soak up a Lightning Bolt and keep it off your face. While a specter can win you the game if left unblocked for several turns, that won’t happen very often.
T5 – Continue to play land enchantments and tap them with Hidden Strings. Untap a karoo land the turn you play it and use your defensive cards to keep your opponent from crushing you.  There are several tricks with Hidden Strings to be aware of, so let’s look at that now:

A short Hidden Strings user guideline
In descending order of importance, Hidden Strings is used to: 1) Tap your opponent’s land to do damage, 2) Tap your opponent’s critters so you can attack over them or kill them with [c]Royal Assassin[/c], 3) Untap your lands for counter or removal mana, 4) Untap your creatures for a pseudo-vigilance effect (key point: you can target Royal Assassin or Agent of the Fates to kill more than one creature per turn).

How to kill three creatures in one turn
It’s fun and anyone can do it: 1) Tap [c]Royal Assassin[/c] to kill a tapped critter, 2) Cast Hidden Strings and tap another critter while untapping your assassin. Tap the assassin to kill the second creature, 3) Cipher Hidden Strings and attack with your unblockable creature, the cipher goes off and you can tap/untap to kill a third creature.

Now, hold on, I know you’re thinking ‘or instead of the shenigans you could play one card called [c]Damnation[/c]….’ Yes, but this keeps your board position intact to constrict him to death with land enchantments on following turns. Options to sweep only your opponent’s creatures and keep all of yours alive are mana-intensive, so the Royal Assassin trick does have a place in many match-ups. It won’t be enough to deal with a huge token army, however.

Regardless, the key for this deck is messing with your opponent’s lands. If you can completely Swampify a non-black color from a three-color deck, for example, you may be able to pull off the upset win. Expect some rage quits with this one!

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 3: Cake and Ice Cream

Ice cream and chocolate cake. Bagels and cream cheese. Prosciutto e melone. Trample and regenerate.

Some things in life go together so well that, as time passes, you really can’t imagine one without the other. In the pantheon of Magic creature static abilities, trample holds a special place. Almost every other creature static ability is designed to either wound your opponent or wound your opponent’s creatures. A few static abilities do neither, but instead help protect your creature.

But trample? Trample is all about crushing through a wall of critters to smash your opponent’s face all in one go. Do that and also throw in the ability to protect your creature and you are well on your way to a rib-tickling good time at the Magic table.

Enter [c]Lotleth Troll[/c].

Now, before we go further, let me say that at a current price of 0.25 tickets on Mtgotraders, Lotleth Troll is at the outer end of what we uber-budget brewers are willing to spend on a card. But for Lotleth Troll, it’s worth it. We want this guy so bad we’re going to build a deck with 8x of them (well, sort of, keep reading). This deck may stretch our 5-ticket limit, but let’s see what we can do.

Lotleth Troll’s ‘discard a creature’ buff ability led me to think that adding [c]Necrotic Ooze[/c] would allow a range of fun activated abilities to stay on the table even if a pile of creatures are in the graveyard. And if one of your precious Lotleth Trolls should somehow perish, Necrotic Ooze becomes a big impersonator of the troll (well, ok, minus the trample, but that’s what [c]Rancor[/c] is for).

The starting point falls within the same overall playbook as my rogue deck from last week: play weenies that can grow, and disrupt your opponent’s hand while you’re hitting them in the face. The difference here is better disruption, but at the cost of having some more expensive 4-mana critters. [c]Necrotic Ooze[/c] offers up a range of possibilities. Let’s see what I came up with:

[d title+”Necrotic Troll”]

Lands

8 Forest

9 Swamp

4 Woodland Cemetery

1 Bojuka Bog

1 Golgari Rot Farm

Creatures

2 Slithering Shade

1 Elvish Mystic

2 Scute Mob

2 Slitherhead

4 Lotleth Troll

1 Royal Assassin

4 Necrotic Ooze

1 Glissa Sunseeker

2 Reaper of the Wilds

1 Avatar of Woe

Spells

2 Despise

2 Duress

3 Extirpate

3 Rancor

1 Font of Return

2 Wrench Mind

4 Grisly Salvage

Sideboard

1 Font of Return

2 Geth’s Verdict

1 Infest

1 Memoricide

2 Murderous Cut

2 Killing Wave

2 Gleeful Sabotage

2 Great Sable Stag

2 Glissa Sunseeker

[/d]

Ideal gameflow:

T1: Disrupt your opponent’s hand. Consider using Extirpate to remove a set of fetch lands from the game, for example.

T2: Play Lotleth Troll. You know you want to. In fact, this is risky here because you have no mana to protect him. It requires a monumental amount of patience, but try to play him next turn. Instead play one of your one-drop dorks or disrupt again.

T3: Okay, play your Lotleth Troll here so you can protect him.

T4: Discard a Slitherhead and then scavenge it. Swing with a 4/3 trampler. Grisly Salvage or Wrench Mind, while leaving black mana open to protect Mr. Lotleth.

T5: Now consider some of your other creatures, primarily [c]Necrotic Ooze[/c] or [c]Reaper of the Wilds[/c]. Depending on what’s in your graveyard, you can tap the Ooze to destroy stuff, buff it by discarding creatures, or give it hexproof or deathtouch.

The many options you’ll have make this a fun deck to play with. I feel it’s missing a big finisher, however. There’s no real way to jump up and surprise your opponent with a huge pile of damage (like [c]Notorious Throng[/c] from my deck last week, for example). But your board presence by T6 can get substantial if you have a [c]Scute Mob[/c] down and either of your 4-drops. The question with this deck is whether there’s really enough power to close out fast enough to avoid the T5-T6 kills that most premium Modern decks can easily manage.

Card analysis:

[c]Duress[/c], [c]Despise[/c], [c]Wrench Mind[/c], [c]Extirpate[/c]: These cards work well together as combo-busters, but they do take up a lot of space I would normally reserve for weenies. But I feel like the deck lacks power against tier-1 or 2 match-up without a bit of disruption.

[c]Slithering Shade[/c]: Once in the graveyard, allows you to pump your [c]Necrotic Ooze[/c].

[c]Scute Mob[/c]: Loads of fun when he starts to grow.

[c]Slitherhead[/c]: A key engine to grow Lotleth Troll.

[c]Font of Return[/c]: You may end up with too many critters in the graveyard. A single Font is there as deep back-up. Do you guys know rugby? This card is your full-back.

[c]Royal Assassin[/c], [c]Glissa Sunseeker[/c], [c]Avatar of Woe[/c]: My attempt to be a bit tricksy with Necrotic Ooze. You want these cards in your graveyard, so toss them to Lotleth Troll’s ability if you can.

[c]Necrotic Ooze[/c], [c]Reaper of the Wilds[/c]: Four mana creatures are not the normal style for a budget deck that needs to swing fast before the combos start going off. Reaper’s scry ability is great, she also helps out in the graveyard. I just couldn’t resist.

Sideboard: Just some standard removal cards and [c]Great Sable Stag[/c] if you run into dimir colors. The [c]Killing Wave[/c] is my attempt at a budget [c]Damnation[/c]. Yeah I know, not the same thing. I feel like this sideboard needs a lot of improvement. Let me know what you think.

How does it play? Let’s check out some sample games.

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 2: Going Rogue

Last week I discussed the win-win game theory model of budget Magic. This theory posits that you win even if you lose, because moral victories count when your entire deck costs less than your opponents one-drop.

Now let’s look at a deck that manages to roll all of my advice points into one ball of roguishly good fun. (Gameplay videos at the bottom as long as I can figure out how to link them!).

Notorious Rogues

The goal of this deck is to beat your opponent with a fast, unblockable weenie attack that is also (hopefully) forcing specter-style discards. For maximum impact however you need [c]Oona’s Blackguard[/c] on the battlefield and counters on your critters. Really, how often is that gonna happen? Forcing discards is therefore not the primary win condition, because most opponents have enough removal to avoid being spectered to death.

[d title=”Notorious Rogues (Modern)”]

Lands

9 Swamp

8 Island

4 Drowned Catacomb

1 Dimir Aqueduct

1 Bojuka Bog

1 Evolving Wilds

Creatures

3 Earwig Squad

2 Infiltrator Il-Kor

4 Inkfathom Infiltrator

4 Invisible Stalker

4 Oona’s Blackguard

2 Stinkdrinker Bandit

Spells

1 Aetherize

2 Dispel

1 Echoing Truth

2 Mana Leak

4 Morsel Theft

3 Notorious Throng

2 Read the Bones

2 Curiosity

Sideboard

2 Aetherize

1 Dispel

1 Echoing Decay

2 Extirpate

2 Geth’s Verdict

2 Murderous Cut

2 Nihil Spellbomb

3 Trickbind

[/d]

The main battlefield tactic is to swing every turn no matter what your opponent is putting on the board. Don’t stop attacking. Only in later turns should you consider playing a chump blocker to stop an attack or two. Swing even if it looks like death is imminent. If you have [c]Curiosity[/c] down or play [c]Morsel Theft[/c], you may well draw into a win condition. This deck loves come-from-behind victories. Like I said in the intro article, we are not trying to land a Pro tour spot with this deck – we are having fun!

The potential win conditions are [c]Earwig Squad[/c] landing with prowl and removing a key combo piece your opponent needs, or landing [c]Notorious Throng[/c] after a big hit. If you land Notorious Throng for its 6-mana prowl cost, you should win the game. [c]Stinkdrinker Bandit[/c] is another card that can win the game the turn it lands if you already have several hands on deck.

What else? Ah yes, the quicker picker-upper. The ‘defense-wins-games’ win condition is to resolve [c]AEtherize[/c] when your opponent is swinging for their big kill move. It will normally take them two turns to rebuild their army and you win in the meantime. If you don’t think bouncing two 6/7 Goyfs and then killing someone with a couple of 2/1 guys is your idea of fun – well … you and I aren’t gonna be friends.

Some combination of Stinkdrinker Bandit, Earwig Squad, Notorious Throng, and AEtherize is enough to win a surprising number of games with this very fun to play and very cheap to build deck (under four tickets!).

Ideal gameflow

T1 – Play a basic land. Watch your opponent play an expensive fetch land. Be a bit jealous but smile knowingly because you are going to win with a cheap-as-chips deck whereas they are eating tuna out of a can because their deck cost them a month’s rent.

T2 – Play an Infiltrator or Oona’s Blackguard and hope it’s not removed. Hah! Don’t count on it. A safer move is play [c]Invisible Stalker[/c] but that only turns out well if you are holding an Earwig Squad, a Morsel Theft to sneak in more damage, or Curiosity to draw cards with.

T3 – Play Blackguard or Earwig Squad. Your opponent may have an army breathing down your neck already. Don’t panic. If you played a critter on turn two and swing with it this turn, then your ideal play here is Earwig Squad. Resolve it, go get a cup of coffee and take an obnoxiously long time to study your opponent’s entire deck list. Gaze longingly at all the amazing land cards they have. Remove the three most expensive cards in the deck, the ones they are eating tuna because of. Exile them. Make a faux-polite comment like ‘oh i got lucky’ when in fact you want to say ‘ha! eat it sucker!’ (Actual advice: take a key combo piece or their best removal cards, I’m lookin’ at you Abrupt Decay).

T4 – Resolve an Infiltrator. If Blackguard is still there then you swing for 5-ish damage and force one discard. Then play another critter plus Morsel Theft. But you can also play Notorious Throng or leave the mana open for an AEtherize.

T5 – If all the above happened, you are set for the win by turn T6 or 7 latest. The cheap casting cost of your critters means it is possible to lose them all to a sweeper but rebuild and still win. Please play Earwig Squad here if you haven’t already. That should be obvious – never save the big guy for later, always resolve it for prowl cost on T3 or ASAP to remove a combo piece (and also consider what’s not visible in your opponent’s library, because if you only see three Path to Exile, they are likely holding the fourth).

Card analysis

The unblockable guys: [c]Invisible Stalker[/c] is great and there are a few ways to grow him in this deck. Even at 1-power the prowl cost comes online often enough to make him a worthwhile addition. [c]Inkfathom Infiltrator[/c] and [c]Infiltrator il-Kor[/c] are responsible for maybe 70% of the damage inflicted to opponents. They are your bread-and-butter guys. Love and respect them.

[c]Oona’s Blackguard[/c]: A mixed blessing. Weak overall as far as lords go. Potentially awesome when you get some build-your-own specters going. But normally this guy just soaks up removal. Because of that, don’t think of it as your win condition. More likely it’s the card you play to distract your opponent while you are working on your other win conditions. Having said that, if your opponent can’t get rid of this guy after a few turns, you normally win the game.

[c]Earwig Squad[/c]: This guy is a house. Tears up combo decks. I find that the effect is worth the 3-mana prowl cost. Even if you never swing or only chump block once, doesn’t matter. Still worth it.

[c]Stinkdrinker Bandit[/c]: This a new addition to the deck as I played Cloak and Dagger for a while. Bandit is an obvious keeper and combined with the unblockable critters he helps make up for Blackguard being a weak lord. This card makes Invisible Stalker way more playable.

[c]Notorious Throng[/c]: All kinds of awesome. Play this with Blackguard down and you normally win. Play this for its 6-mana prowl cost and you should always win. An extra turn? How do you not win when you have an extra turn? Of course, hard to do in practice which is why I only run 2-3 of them, not a full set.

[c]Morsel Theft[/c]: This card does a ton of work in this deck. I smile every time I draw it. Keeps me in a lot of games I might lose otherwise.

[c]Mana Leak[/c], [c]Dispel[/c]: Utility cards to protect your Blackguard and other critters. I would love to run more counterspells in this deck but I can’t find the space.

[c]Curiosity[/c]: This works fairly well. Best played on Invisible Stalker but I’ll throw it on anything if I can safely draw one card with it and then hope for more. Results in wins if you play it on Invisible Stalker early and they don’t have a sweeper.

[c]Read the Bones[/c]: After experimenting with [c]Dream Salvage[/c] and [c]Distant Melody[/c], I went back to this industry-standard, ISO-20,000 classic. I like Read the Bones better than [c]Foresee[/c] because the name is awesome to say, and that double-eyeball lady on Foresee freaks me out. If you look at the Foresee lady for more than two seconds you’re eyes hurt.

Sideboard

[c]AEtherize[/c]: Ssssh! Don’t tell anyone but I side this in almost every game. It’s a bit slow but believe me it works. I have won many games because of this card. It is so good I almost didn’t want to mention it in this write-up. It’s My Precious and I want to keep it secret. I can hear you saying, ‘yeah but there are lots of sweepers in Modern that destroy everything and they can’t be regenerated.’ Ok fine but those cards are not nearly as fun as giving your opponent back a fistful of cards that they can look at helplessly on their screen while you beat them to death the next turn with some 2-power guys.

[c]Echoing Decay[/c], [c]Murderous Cut[/c], [c]Geth’s Verdict[/c]: Removal is always good.

[c]Extirpate[/c]: Another attempt at a combo-buster, but without Duress or Despise to pick out cards, it’s seems too hopeful that what you need to strip will end up in the graveyard. I may pull this out for one of the alternate cards listed below.

[c]Nihil Spellbomb[/c]: Because emptying your opponent’s graveyard when they need it is almost as much fun as Aetherizing their attack.

Cards to think about: [c]Triton Shorestalker[/c], [c]Frogtosser Banneret[/c], [c]Cloak and Dagger[/c], [c]Specter’s Shroud[/c], [c]Raven’s Crime[/c].

Gameplay Videos

 

Cheap as Chips, Ep. 1: Fun Modern Lists for Under $5

With over one zillion cards to chose from, the game of Modern Magic should be almost completely unpredictable. Every deck you face should boast a unique strategy and reveal card combinations you’ve never pondered. Sounds exciting!

Alas, reality creeps in.

The Magic online playrooms are stuffed full of net-decked lists that look and play the same. The same tier 1 and 2 decks that cost an arm and a leg, over and over again. I sometimes get bored of that. I don’t begrudge people for wanting to win, and there are only a few archetypes in Modern that will reliably pile up victories. But I aspire to a higher calling. Maybe it’s a fresh take on an old mechanic, a unique twist on an established archetype, or playing a card with a really cool name and great art.

Also, I’m cheap. Really cheap. How cheap you ask? How about three tickets to build a deck that can crush people’s dreams and spit on their world-view? No? Well I’m up for scaling that mountain even if I slip and fall two steps from the peak. My mommy told me to dream big.

Ergo, this series will highlight the mental and financial health benefits of uber-budget brewing for Modern Magic.

Can you brew a competitive deck for under five tickets? Yes you can! Can you win tournaments and make the Pro tour with a five-ticket deck? No you can’t! But as long as you manage your expectations, you may find that brewing and playing your sub-five-ticket deck will unlock the childlike fun and wonder that Magic the Gathering is intended to generate.

First, let’s set some expectation-managed goals.

We are not trying to make the Pro tour here. So what are we trying to accomplish?

Goals:
1) Win over half our games.
2) Be competitive in the half we don’t win.
3) Rarely suffer ‘blow-out’ losses.

If ‘winning half’ sounds like ‘losing’ to you, I can understand that. But as the great military strategist Sun-Tzu once wrote, if you win 50.5% of your battles, you will eventually win the war.

Ok, I made that up.

So why would we actually play such mediocre lists?

Let’s use a French word:

Raisons d’être:
1) Save more money for your education, or your children’s education.
2) Have fun, be social, enjoy the game and the Magic Online community (no really).
3) David vs Goliath. Joe vs the Volcano. The Alimo. Any of my decks vs Splinter Twin. Write your own chapter in the ongoing saga of the hero’s journey.
4) Be original, unique and special. Again, think of what your mother would want.

Point two above is not a joke. If you play an original list, your opponents may actually say more to you than just ‘hi, gl’. They may say ‘cool deck’ and start an actual human-to-human interaction with fully spelled-out words. In this era of bots, Siri, and pre-recorded messages, I feel any human contact is to be treasured and promoted. If you disagree, play Jund.

So, how are we going to build decks for under five tickets?

You should, to be sure, ask a Magic expert. But here’s what I would say:

1) ‘Win more‘ – Troy Drinkard has already told the MagicGatheringStrat faithful how to win, and his articles top my recommended reading list, right after James C. Scott’s Weapons of the Weak. In a nutshell – play small, fast creatures that can grow. This is obviously a budget friendly approach as well. There are lots of good weenie options out there.

2) Tribal – The fastest, easiest, cheapest (but least creative) way to build a budget deck is to stick to a tribal theme (elves, goblins, zombies, soldiers, faeries, etc). The built-in synergy of a tribe makes this easy and solid – although a really good elves or goblins deck is still an expensive proposition. My advice: the Lorwyn block had the best built-in tribal decks in budget Magicland. Cheap to build and fun to play. Not super powerful but a good place to start and they can get new players thinking about interactions not based on a tribe. Experienced players don’t really need the help a tribal theme offers. You all know how to advanced search your way to cool interactions among unrelated cards.

3) Pick a theme – Your deck, even if not tribal, should have a secondary theme beyond the ‘win more with weenies’ approach. Whether it’s gaining life, ramping mana, drawing extra cards – whatever synergizes best with your creature base. But be consistent, because it’s hard to build a life-gaining, poison-infecting discard deck. Pick a theme, not three. My advice – forcing discards and disrupting your opponent’s hand is easy to do on a budget, and if combined with a decent weenie attack it can win you games you would otherwise lose. Go ahead and put your opponent’s expensive cards straight into their graveyard or out of the game, it’s fun! They key part here, please make note, is that you already have a weenie attack going.

4) Counterspells – Always a powerful choice, and countering your opponent’s juiciest cards is a great budget-friendly way to stay in a game. The very best counters are expensive, but lots of good budget options exist. Mana Leak and Dispel are the industry standards, but there are others that offer interesting additional benefits at no extra cost – I’m thinking of Soul Manipulation, Hindering Light, Render Silent, Trickbind… there’s quite a few counter spells that support particular gameplans. Search them out.

5) Strippers – Eh, strippers you say? Yes, and by this I mean extreme hand disruption cards that pull an entire playset out of your opponent’s Fortune-500 deck. Extirpate, Quash, Earwig Squad, Memoricide, Shimian Specter and Slaughter Games are all budget-friendly cards that offer lots of combo-destroying potential. They are typically slow to enact, however, so they fall mainly into the sideboard category. Even then you don’t just throw them into a deck blindly. Integrate them into a coherent plan. My experience with Earwig Squad has been nothing short of dreamy. Loads of people (rage) quit when on turn three you take a crucial combo piece or remove 3x Liliana of the Veil and then Mana Leak the fourth the next turn. It’s a great feeling to know you’ve ruined someone’s day.

6) Removal – I’m always searching for a quicker picker-upper. Should you pack loads of kill spells? No, this is probably not the best approach for most budget decks. Lots of the top decks in Modern can protect or recur their creatures, so piling on the budget Doom Blades and Murderous Cuts is perhaps not the best choice in most cases. It’s a one-for-one that will end in favour of the more powerful deck. But the right sweeper can keep a budget deck going the one or two extra turns needed to end a game. My advice… I can’t tell you. That would be killing the goose to feed the gander.

Now, let’s get started!

For my first trick, I will wave my Magic brewing wand and… Poof! Presto! Shazam! A 4-ticket tribal list that hits fast, disrupts what it doesn’t counter and strips anything that’s still left, before it wipes the deck with the quickest picker-upper of them all! I’m sure you’re dying to know what it is.

So check back soon for the first Cheap-as-Chips deck tech (and hopefully some gameplay videos).