Entering the Modern Format on a Budget

Darren Magnotti
June 09, 2020

There's no doubt that the Modern format is a favorite among the more entrenched players of Magic. From the deep complexities and infinite choices at every turn, to the vast card pool available with decks featuring fan favorites all the way back from 2003, Modern really has something for everyone. However, many players are put off from playing the format for various reasons, the main one of which is that the price of a top tier modern deck is extremely high. Seeing the daunting 4 digit price tags associated with top contenders like Bant Snow and Jund can be quite the turn off, but i'm here today with a couple of decks and ideas that newer players can use to dip their toes in the water and get a taste of what modern is like without needing to fear the dreaded 0-5 at their local modern FNM event. 

These decks offer a range of different play styles that show off some of what's available in Modern. They're not meant to take down the next Magic Fest (fingers crossed that they start back up again eventually!); but to be an introductory point to the modern format, and something that you can build on to possibly become your first fully powered modern deck. Budget used to be a huge concern of mine, and I know it is still for a lot of people. The budget point for these decks is around $100 in paper, and around $50 or less on MTGO. 


Starting with the obvious go-to budget staple, we've got your typical Red Deck Wins style deck. So what does the budget Mono Red deck look like in Modern? Well, there's a couple of variations, but the most popular is called 8Whack, a twist on the old 8Rack deck name that was popular a few years ago now referring to a pair of pesky goblins. This archetype was introduced and popularized by Saffron Olive over at MTGGoldfish, and you've likely heard about this strategy before. The game plan is to vomit our hand onto the board in a “go-wide” fashion, and beat down with all of our cheap creatures as quickly as possible. Most of the creatures in this deck cost 1 or even 0 mana, which means that it's very common to have 3-4 creatures on board at the end of turn 2. We then play one of the “Whacks”, Goblin Bushwhacker or Reckless Bushwhacker, which can add 4-8 total power to your board the turn they're cast with no issue. A lot of decks in the format don't have clean answers game 1 to an aggressive “go wide” strategy that gets everything on board in the first 2 turns. Since we're relying on spreading out our damage, spot removal doesn't hurt as much as it does against other Red Deck Wins variants, which leads to this deck having a lot of favorable matchups game 1. 


Moving into the sideboard games, we don't have a lot of answers to what opponents will be bringing in, but that's okay in Mono-Red. When in doubt, focus on “going-under” your opponent's gameplan with your speed. 


As far as upgrades go, this deck moves reasonably well into Boros Burn, as well as a Shrapnel Blast Affinity style strategy. If you're looking to upgrade, I'd start with Sacred Foundrys, because shocks always come in handy. But some other lands for Boros if you're on a budget include: Battlefield Forge, Inspiring Vantage, and even Clifftop Retreat. This deck is a lot of fun to play, and arguably one of the most competitive budget decks available in modern right now. People will choose to pick up this style deck when they want to make games short, which is a very viable method of turning a budget strategy into one that can compete with the expensive players in the format.

Dimir Ninjas

Modern Horizons was one of the most controversial sets released in all my years of playing, and with it came some devastating new cards that immediately took over the Modern format. From the now banned powerhouse of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis to oppressive and ubiquitous mythics like Urza, Lord High Artificer to new staples like Seasoned Pyromancer, Canopy lands, and Force of Negation, Horizons truly reshaped the Modern format. Sneakily, it also dropped off some powerful tools to one of the most beloved casual tribes, and we're taking full advantage with our next deck, Dimir Ninjas. 


Ninjas are a tempo oriented tribe who look to maximize mana efficiency in the early and mid-game and keep the opponent on the back foot the whole way. This deck has become fairly popular as a budget option since Horizon's release because it does most things that players want to be doing in the format. Drawing a ton of cards? Check. Powerful instant speed interaction? Of course. An excuse to wear your Naruto Leaf Village Headband out in public? You know we got it, baby! This Ninja deck offers an experience that few other intro-level decks can provide: becoming intimately familiar with the Stack. Learning to play this deck successfully will make you a better magic player, guaranteed. There are so many combat tricks and weird timings when you want to activate Ninjutsu that you really have to learn Stack interactions to find success. I wouldn't be surprised to not see immediate results with this one; this is one of those decks that can greatly reward pilot skill. Where can this deck go as an upgrade path? Bant Spirits is the first that comes to mind, though Dimir Faeries is also entirely viable in the hands of someone who knows their stuff. If you enjoy surprises or ending the game with 20 cards left in your library, this is a really solid choice right now. Players will pick this one up when they want a deck that can grow with them as a player. As their budget increases, so does their skill level in piloting this deck.

Doom Gifts

I'll be completely honest about this one, Doom Foretold is a pet card of mine and this brew is absolutely under-tested...

Wait! Wait, stop scrolling away!

I know that isn't the best sales pitch, but hear me out. Iona, Shield of Emeria. Ah, I can tell you're interested again. Fantastic. Well, if you'd just come right this way to the decklist where we can look at all of our 1-ofs…

This is a Gifts Ungiven Midrange deck. Gifts decks in Modern are notoriously difficult to polit, and due to that and the inherent slowness of being a control deck, they aren't very popular either. This deck looks to mix the traditional style of Good Card Soup with a Doom Foretold Stax package to help control the game from several different angles. Looking at the list, you're bound to notice the huge amount of 1-of cards. 

Gifts acts as a powerful tutor, finding between 2 and 4 cards with different names and putting up to 2 of them into our hand. So the deck is constructed in such a way to abuse this by eliminating the choice we give to our opponent while we fill our hand with answers to whatever they've got going on. For example, against a deck like Humans, we're looking for Wrath effects to keep their board clean, so we can gifts for Kaya's Wrath, Wrath of God, Day of Judgement, and Shatter the Sky to make it so that our opponent has no choice but to put 2 wrath effects into our hand. There are many, many packages of 4 cards in this list that we can use to answer just about anything in the format. Need to finish the game? Unburial Rites, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Iona, Shield of Emeria, Yorion, Sky Nomad. Need to draw some cards? Auramancer, Omen of the Sea, Yorion, Treacherous Blessing. Need to make sure your Doom Foretold resolves next turn? Mission Briefing, Mana Leak, Drown in the Loch, Doom Foretold (ya know, just in case they want a round 2). 


Doom Gifts is a true Johnny's control deck. Each game is going to be different from the last. This is another one of those decks where knowing your deck well really matters, but at the same time, there's a good number of decks that just can't beat a control deck that uses Iona as a finisher. If you're a lover of value, a lover of jank, or want to score those extra points for confusing an opponent because you're playing something they've never experienced before, this deck is a great choice. 

In terms of upgrading, there's always the traditional UW control deck to move into, though I would also recommend giving the full Gifts Control archetype a try too. You might want to try this one out if they are looking to experiment and enjoy the process of optimizing a list using your previous experiences and games.

Green Devotion

The last two decks we've talked about were full of intricate decision trees and tiny micro advantages, so let's move on to something for all of those who are looking for something more straight forward. Green Devotion is a stompy style beatdown deck that looks to spend its early turns accumulating mana and devotion “pips” to skip the mid game and start dropping giant, game-ending threats quickly. We're taking advantage of Ol' Reliable, the ramp package of Arbor Elf plus Utopia Sprawl. This deck moves very quickly, with some very explosive early turns available, and can pivot into a more grindy game if needed. We play a variety of finishers for every situation, and have no trouble finding the ones we need thanks to the likes of Primal Command and Genesis Hydra


This deck also uses a decent number of planeswalkers to make sure we get that extra bonus value turn after turn. Once you have your decklist memorized, the lines in this deck are fairly straightforward and there's not a lot of pre-planning involved, which makes this deck a better choice than others for those long tournaments. We're often playing from the top of the deck, but that's not to say that this deck is absolutely brainless either. This list is a great teacher of analyzing board states, as well as planning attacks alongside combat math. Two very valuable skills that a lot of higher level players won't tell you you need to learn. 


You may have heard the saying “Math is for Blockers”, but this deck is a good example of a deck where math is very much for attackers, deciding how to get your chip shots in the early stages and figuring out how much devotion and life you're able to give up while still being able to win the game the following turn. 


Upgrading this deck can be as simple as purchasing 4x Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, or, if you're not super happy with the devotion archetype, moving into a Primeval Titan deck like TitanShift is also a viable option. If you're a fan of playing ahead of the curve and simple yet elegantly tactical gameplay, this deck is certainly one worth checking out. The players who want to pick up this style of deck are the ones who want to play a flexible game, being able to flip flop easily between being the beatdown and playing the control role. If you haven't checked out the famous article on this topic yet, You can find that Here. It's definitely worth the read if you want to up your mental game as a competitive player.

Mono-Blue Tron

Last up, we've got one of my favorite budget decks, and the archetype that I personally entered Modern with. Mono Blue Tron has a place in the hearts of many, and in the fireplaces of many more. It combines the thing that Modern players hate most - Tron - with the thing that casual players hate most - Blue - to form a true clockwork masterpiece, a “Well Oiled Control Machine”. Love it or Hate it, Blue Tron is a ramp based control deck that looks to abuse the mana advantage provided by the Urza lands. Unlike it's Green based counterpart however, this variation is going for an end-game based approach instead of trying to turbo out Karn. It accomplishes this plan by playing a suite of counterspells and early disruption in order to land a giant devastating artifact(or colorless) threat. The deck also features a tutor package of Trinket Mage and Treasure Mage, to help find the pieces you need when you need them. 


One of the best parts of this archetype is that you can customize it to play whatever flavor of control game suits you best. Throughout the years, this deck has taken a lot of different shapes, and its cult-like following has always been more than eager to share their current build. This isn't really one of those decks that you can build and forget about for 6 months, unlike a lot of other modern archetypes. The hive mind that works on this deck has something new going on seemingly every other week, and it can be great fun keeping up with their exploits. If you're not just looking for a deck to play, but a community to build with, Blue Tron has one of the best I've ever experienced in Modern. 

Upgrading your list can take you down as many routes as the archetype itself. You could shift into Green or Eldrazi Tron, which are more of an aggro prison style deck than true blue control. Any way you slice it, if you enjoy the feeling of tapping an Island for mana, you'll enjoy playing this deck. A player will choose to pick this archetype up when they want to exercise their brain a bit, thinking long term down the course of the game while also being able to rest on the fact that sometimes their deck will just win games for them on autopilot. This is a deck for a player who likes to keep their options open.


Well, that's all I've got this time. Regardless of what the 400 people on Reddit are crying about this week, Modern is still an extremely diverse format that can show you all of the best aspects of playing Magic. Even though it looks expensive, Magic is only as expensive as you want it to be, and there are certainly routes to diving into any format you want to play. No matter your situation and no matter your background as a magic player, if your goal is to have fun, you're welcome into the Modern community. 

If I were clever, this is where i'd put a “Modern Problems require Modern Solutions” joke, but i'm not, so instead you just get this boring 4th wall break. 

Anyway, thanks for reading!