Budget Building for Fun and Frugality

Darren Magnotti
March 24, 2020

Markets are crashing, sickness is spreading, governments are melting down. We’re all feeling the impact of the Corona Virus to different degrees, but today I’m out here trying to turn some cardboard sideways. So what do we do with our favorite pastime when the world is seemingly in jeopardy? How do we manage to get our fix when our wallets are focused on other things like a crashing stock market and battling toilet paper hoarders? How do I keep playing magic if I have to sell my collection to be able to afford food while I'm temporarily out of a job? If any of this sounds like something you’re going through right now, I’ve got one wild trick that doctors don’t want you to know about. Today, we’re going to be looking at How to Play Magic on a Budget.

I don’t think you need me to inform you of what’s currently unfolding in the world. Covid-19 has brought upon us a swath of misfortune, and a lot of us might be put into a tight spot soon if we weren’t already. Before we dive into this, I do want to mention that Magic is just a game, and you and your family’s needs and safety are more important. Don’t feel bad if you need to cut back; we all need to make personal sacrifices sometimes. Remember to follow the guidelines given to us by health professionals, and that to get through this we need to think of everyone it affects, not just ourselves.

That being said, you don’t have to give things up entirely either, and no one is forcing you to be miserable. Like many things in life, Magic can be done on a very tiny budget - it just takes a little creativity. 

There are two main ways to tackle the challenge of playing Magic on a budget, and both focus on how you go about constructing your deck. The first is the simple path that most people think of when they try to budget build, and that’s to take a current top tier deck, strip out all of the expensive cards, and add in cards that do similar things but also fit your budget.




 Taking a look at these two decks, we can see that they’re both trying to do UW Control things, but in moving from the complete version to the budget version, we lose a lot of the key pieces that make the complete version function. A lot of people see the $20 price of Supreme Verdict, for example, and think “Oh, that can just be any wrath!”, so they slot in Fumigate. Or they see Teferi, Time Raveler and replace that with some card draw spell like Opportunity or removal like Deputy of Detention. While this method works to some degree, sometimes those expensive cards offer something that no budget substitute can.


Taking a look at the difference between Supreme Verdict and Fumigate, there isn’t a lot. 1 mana more, can be countered, but with the upside of a stabilizing effect? Seems like Fumigate might do a pretty good job as a replacement.


Looking at the difference between Teferi and Opportunity or Deputy of Detention though, we see a large discrepancy. Sometimes the expensive tools that the complete decks use far outclass everything else, and that’s why they’re the expensive cards. When this is the case, we might need to look into altering our strategy a bit instead of trying to copy over 1 for 1. Here, you can see that I've gone for more of an aggressive late game approach that synergizes with the early game control elements, as opposed to the stalling approach of the complete deck. We’re still getting the same feel as the complete deck; we still draw a bunch of cards, counter opposing threats, and go for a long game, but the way that we’ve chosen to win the game has been altered for the sake of the budget. While it makes the deck look a lot different on paper, a lot of the play patterns and lines of thinking are the same.

The other way to look at budget deck building is from the ground up; where we find a strategy whose pieces are cheap already. Here is one of my favorite decks: Enchantress. This deck got a huge power boost from the most recent set, Theros: Beyond Death, on top of being something that wasn’t widely played to begin with as far as the Pioneer format goes. Usually, decks that take advantage of new cards are going to be cheaper because the new cards are in plentiful supply. This is especially true when a new card that’s caught your eye hasn’t gotten it’s time in the spotlight; we’ve seen this with cards like Setessan Champion.


We can look for and find these generally more narrow cards, hone in on what the cards want to be doing, and maximize our efforts at executing that plan. Taking a look at the Enchantress Decklist, you can see that I've taken some inspiration from the archetype as it exists in other formats, but I’m using the tools that Pioneer has to offer to try and emulate the effects that make the deck work in those other formats. This gets easier with practice, but one of the biggest skills in Magic is the ability to break down a deck and figure out the effects and abilities that make it tick. Whether in game, piloting a control deck to know the best pieces to counter, or at the drawing board, knowing the cards that make the other parts go, being able to break down a deck to its core elements and understand why they need to exist in a certain fashion will make you a better magic player and deck builder. If this isn’t one of your strong suits, and the decks that you’ve tried to build have floundered, maybe try approaching a different archetype for a while. It could help you learn that skill of observing a strategy and picking it apart, which in turn will help you build your next deck from the ground up.

However you look or choose to go about it, Budget Building is one of the most fun and rewarding ways to play the game. Whether it be through necessity or simply as a challenge for your next FNM, everyone can get something out of playing a budget deck. There’s infinite potential in the budget world, and limitations breed creativity. If you want to up your deck building game or are just after the challenge of playing “strictly worse” cards, I recommend giving your wallet a break and giving budget building a try. 

If you liked this article and want to see more, feel free to drop a comment below. You can also find more of my work over on the PioneerMTG subreddit where I post weekly Budget content under my username, ServoToken. I’m always looking for ways to improve, so don’t be afraid to speak up! 

But in the meantime, thanks for reading!