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Competitive in a Year: Getting to Modern’s Tier One on a Budget

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Competitive in a Year: Getting to Modern’s Tier One on a Budget

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all! While brainstorming articles each week, I try to think back to which articles impacted me the most as a player. On my computer, there’s links upon links of Magic content about every type of decision, deck, and tournament. I crave this information. In order to grow as a player, I read some of these articles multiple times over. I cannot begin to tell you how frequently I visit the Karsten guide for building functioning manabases or Reid Duke’s article on how to cast Thoughtseize. But, sometimes, there’s an article that doesn’t just teach me something, but, pulls me deeper into the game. The series that reminded me of that was Drew Levin’s series from 2014 “How to Get into Legacy.” Levin carefully crafted what he believed to be the 4 pillars of the format:

Force of Will, Wasteland, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and the Sol lands. Levin crafted a masterful series that focused on budgeting your money to slowly craft budget decks while accumulating the cards that would get you to a Tier 1 Legacy strategy. However, the true genius of the series was that the decks that Levin built for you along the way were built to teach you specific skills, techniques, and strategies that would help you understand not just the competitive deck you built towards, but, the value and power of that format’s pillar strategy. This series was how I designed my Storm deck. I worked my way up to the deck through months of careful budgeting. As a college student, I didn’t have much money to spare and having the money to play in the tournament was always more important than having the most optimal deck.

I’ve thought about this series a lot and what it would look like today. The $60-200 duals that Levin tells us about are long gone. The value of Legacy cards has skyrocketed in small pockets but come down on others. Today, Levin would likely direct us to Rishadin Ports and Wastelands, whose value has dropped significantly. 250 dollar City of Traitors and 600 dollar Underground Seas aren’t part of a balanced budget, they ARE the budget. Getting into Legacy on a budget is likely not possible in this moment, but, maybe it’s possible in Modern. My hope for this series is to create a planned budget for a newer player entering Modern to follow. The budget will be built on an additional investment followed by monthly improvements to be built to help improve the player’s deck and build them into the tier 1 strategy I hope to present to them with at the end. Upon looking at the value of decks on MTGGoldfish, the cost of the average deck falls somewhere in the 800-1100 range. While it’s easy to say “set aside $100 for 10 months and buy the deck you want”, Magic players, as I understand them, like to play through the waiting. With this in mind, I’ve put together a series of budgeting deck guides that following this formula:

An initial $250 investment gets you to an known strategy that helps you understand the tier 1 archetype you’ll eventually play. Each month, the guide will offer $120 of cards to buy in order to supplement your collection and build you closer to your goal. After several months you will have accumulated cards to build a new deck that builds off the principles. At the end of each year, you will have spent close to $1,500 and will have access to 3, maybe 4 known Modern decks, all utilizing similar principles.

A few things to keep in mind about these decks:

#1: I obviously cannot promise that the decks you start with or play with before you get to the finished product are the most competitive decks in the room, but, each deck has been seen in Modern before so you’re not playing with utter trash.

#2: As often as possible, I hope to include decklists month to month of how the improvements shape your deck so that you can see how the cards are coming together.

#3: Sometimes these lists will not have sideboards together, but, this is for several reasons: Firstly, it’s important that you’re actively learning how to play the deck. If you see a weakness, trust yourself to search out cards that solve that problem. If you see something missing from your plan, feel free to deviate from the guide in order to play your deck more efficiently.

#4: The entry decks that I crafted are constructed for the explicit purpose of helping you understand how to play the tier 1 deck, but, also whether you actually LIKE doing what that deck is trying to do. It’s never any fun to spend time, energy, and effort into getting towards a deck that you are excited about building, only to find out you hate what’s happening in the games.

#5: The purpose of this guide is not to get you to the Tier 1 archetype as quickly as possible, but, to begin to accumulate a collection of Modern cards that you can utilize after bannings, format shake-ups or major metagame changes. Most deck groups feature decks that are much better in certain metagames than others, so rotating back to original decks is not a bad idea.

#6: At the end of the day, feel free to adhere as closely or as far from this guide as you wish. Many of these decklists end up with a playset of Cavern of Souls or Scalding Tarns at the end of the process. If you want to save some money and cut down on the high dollar lands for budget replacements, I certainly don’t think less of you. The point of the guide is to give you multiple decks to play while you build up to this Tier 1 strategy and while a year is a timeline that made it easier to write this article, feel free to play the earlier decks for as long as you enjoy them. It’s very possible that you’ll enjoy playing many of these lists so much, you’ll be sad to put them away after only 3 months.

My plan is to release an entire guide every week. Before writing this article, I decided to map out exactly how I would get to each Tier 1 archetype. As such, I have a skeletal outline for each strategy to quickly churn out the guide that is most asked for each week. The current maps I’ve made get us to the following decks:

Blue Red Phoenix
5C Humans
Bant Spirits
UW/UWR Control
Mono Green Tron
BG Midrange

Each final product costs approximately $1,000 and is mapped after a recently placing decklist. While this guide doesn’t necessarily include all of Modern’s top decks, I am working to build them into this plan. It’s hard for me to come up with exactly how the play patterns from a deck like Bogles, Scapeshift, Amulet or Dredge can be learned from other decks, as is the case with many Modern decks. One of the challenges in creating the series was recognizing that not only are the high dollar “staples” of Modern far less omnipresent than they would be in Legacy, the decks that make up Modern share very little with each other on the surface. Moreover, many of the decks not listed cost approximately $500 and are filled with cards that don’t have playable, cheap budget counterparts.

The next article should be on the site soon. Sound off in the comments which guide you’d like to see published first!

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