Let’s be honest: Magic is an expensive hobby.
When you factor in the cards, event entry, sleeves, playmats, deck boxes, and everything else, it’s easy for this hobby to be a serious drain on your finances. And that can be off-putting.
But contrary to some beliefs, it’s possible to play the game on a budget. While I could write numerous articles on this subject, today we are just going to focus on building a good deck on a budget.
Find a budget deck
The easiest way to build a good deck on a budget is to find a deck that is already good and budget. It’s tautological, but it’s true.
A Google search for “MTG budget” including the format is usually enough to get you started, though be aware that limiting the results by posting date (especially for formats like Standard) may be necessary. But not all budget decks are created equal, so once you find one that looks affordable and fun, see if you can find any videos or articles written on it which highlight its strengths or weaknesses.
A good place to start is SaffronOlive, who writes for MTGGoldfish. His budget magic articles (besides being entertaining) also have attached gameplay footage, analysis and possible ultra-budget or non-budget alternatives. Once you have found a deck, I also recommend the MTG salvation forums, on which players are very active in building and tweaking decks on their way to the top.
A few hours of Googling can get you started, and introduce you to a world of content in the meantime.
Tweak a Tier 1 deck
Sometimes there is a particular deck that you want to play, and instead of finding a budget deck, you want to make a good deck budget. This can sometimes be done, but you have to be careful.
Some decks simply do not work on a budget. Modern Jund is as expensive as it is because it runs (among other things) three colors, the best planeswalker in Modern, and the best creature in Modern. Downgrading all three key pieces is not really feasible if you want to have any chance to compete.
But other times, it can be done. Take, for example, Infect. Infect is as expensive as it is thanks to three things: Noble Hierarch, fetch/dual lands, and Inkmoth Nexus.
The fetch/duals are a good place to start, because you can play the deck without them - though you may lose a few percentage points. Botanical Sanctum or Hinterland Harbor can take their place if you are pressed, and while you very well may lose games on the back of worse mana, your mana will be good enough a good percentage of the time.
Inkmoth and Hierarch are tougher to replace because Inkmoth has the advantage of dodging some important removal while having evasion while Hierarch’s Exalted trigger and mana ramp/fixing are both useful. Still, if you were going to run neither, you could run 4 Ichorclaw Myr and more colored mana. Some budget versions run some number of Cathedral of War as an extra pump effect with the myr. If you have the Inkmoths, replacing Hierarch with Birds of Paradise or even Elvish Mystic can give you some of the utility back, but you will miss the Exalted trigger.
And yes, these are all downgrades. You are going to lose games because of it. But even so, the deck is innately powerful enough that it will win you some games.
Proxy and playtest
To be clear, I’m not saying “take cards that are not real to FNM”. What I am saying is that before you build a deck, try it out with your friends. Your proxies don’t need to be extravagant. Hell, I usually just mark a basic land with a sharpie marker and use that. But it lets you get a feel for the deck before you shill out money.
Because sometimes you think a deck looks sweet, then you start playing it and you don’t like it - maybe it doesn’t play right or maybe it’s just not your style. And that hurts all the worse if you spent hundreds on a pile of cards you want to turn around and sell because you hate the deck.
Alternatively, if you have a friend with the deck, ask if you could play it against them. Or ask them how they feel about it - do they like it? - is it good? That way, you can avoid uncomfortable situations.
Use your collection
This is a simple point, but it bears repeating. Keep in mind what you have when you start to build, since if you have any pieces of the deck you don’t need to buy them, and you can maybe substitute a card or two.
For instance, you pulled a Karn from a Modern Master’s pack a few years ago, and now you want to build Tron. Remember that you can take his price off the cost of that deck, since you have him already. Alternatively, maybe you have a Myr Battlesphere that you think is sweet, and want to try in his place. Either way, that one card shaves approximately $50 off the price of the entire deck.
Playing on a budget is hard, and you must first and foremost accept that doing so is going to cost you some number of games. But if you are willing to take that loss to play more games, then it is absolutely possible to play on a budget.
I’ll see you next week!
Written by Robert Trueblood