October 14, 2015

Image Credit:

Easing into competitive modern

It should not surprise anyone that Magic is an expensive hobby. It becomes even more expensive to be able to compete at a competitive level. With competitive staples ranging from $5 into the hundreds, a complete tournament-quality deck can command a significant sum.

Though not as expensive as Legacy, Modern decks come with hefty price tags with current top Modern decks ranging from $430 to $1950 USD (according to MTGGoldfish). This is certainly daunting for the casual player who plays kitchen table using what they've cracked or drafted at FNM. Thankfully, there are ways to keep costs as low as possible. I want to talk about strategies to gradually ease yourself into Modern and keep entry as cost-effective as possible.

Make sure you like the deck you’re building

I know it sounds silly. When you think about it, though, not everyone likes Affinity when they play it. There will be deck types that you (and I mean YOU, SPECIFICALLY) will gravitate to. If you're on a budget, you simply can't afford to buy into a deck and realize halfway that you don't want to play it. Trading is onerous and buylisting is convenient, but usually not value-positive.

Look at your past patterns for deck and card preferences. Some thoughts to get you started:

  • Do you hate being at the mercy of you or your opponent’s top decks? Avoid grindy midrange decks (Jund, Abzan)
  • Do you enjoy nail-biting races to 0? Affinity, Burn, Zoo
  • Do you enjoy the idea of trading spells and creatures in an interactive game? Jund, Abzan, Grixis Control
  • Do you enjoy the moans and groans of your opponents? Boggles, Lantern Control, Burn
  • Do you know priority and phases really well? Infect, Affinity
  • Do you want to be adapted to, rather than have to adapt? Affinity, Burn, Zoo, Merfolk, Infect, Tron
  • Do you hate to mulligan? Avoid fragile combo deck and aggro decks.
  • Do you hate being neutered by opponents’ silver bullets? Avoid all-in combo decks
  • Do you enjoy puzzles and probabilities? (the good and the bad) Storm, Bloom Titan
  • Do you enjoy always having an out? Splinter Twin, Scapeshift

Notice that none of these questions are related to cost. Targeting a deck UNIQUELY because of cost is a mistake. I can’t imagine I’m the first person to put together budget Burn as my first real Modern deck, only to detest every aspect of it. Although building a budget-burn deck did help me learn, I found it absolutely enraging to lose to a combo deck (juvenile, I know). With draw-go control being excruciatingly boring for me to play, this pointed me towards aggro-control or combo-control variants.

If you really want to be sure about your decision:

  • Watch videos of the deck being explained and piloted. Don't forget to watch the videos where the game goes disastrously for the narrator, too. Seeing videos of turn 2 and turn 3 infect kills are exciting, but seeing the occasional mulligans to 4 paints a more accurate picture of reality.
  • Borrow cards from fellow players at casual events. (Bonus: Ask on Facebook prior to the event) Chances are someone’s got the deck you’ve been dreaming of tucked away, ready for a pilot.
  • Proxy the deck and play with friends to really get a feel for it.

If you are a player who tends to wander from deck to deck, try your best to stick to decks with versatile pieces. For example, decks like Splinter Twin, Grixis Control and UR Delver are not that far from one another, whereas Affinity leaves you with cards you can’t use in any other deck or format.

Buy at the right time

The answer to the question "When should I buy card X?" is almost always "Now!" For your modern cards, the price usually only goes up. $15 or $80 for a card may seem daunting now, but it is better than $20 or $90 later if you’re committing yourself to the format.

A general understanding of Magic cards' ebbs and flows will save money in the long run. Conveniently, modern staples are probably at the lowest they will be for the next while having just wrapped up the Modern Pro Tour. On top of that, Modern staples from Modern Masters 2015 were just reprinted making them (relatively) cheap pickups. Though they may seem obvious, here are a few quick tips:

  • Buy Modern-playable cards shortly after rotation (ex.: Thoughtseize)
  • Buy cards shortly after they've been reprinted (ex.: in a Modern Masters run)
  • Don't wait to buy cards with mechanics/flavour that don't lend themselves to easy reprints (ex.: flip cards, mechanics high on Mark Rosewater's storm scale)
  • Don't buy cards right before or during a possible reprint
    Exception: During spoiler season, if you can keep up on card numbers and spoilers, you can scoop up a Modern staple once it's known it won't be reprinted. (ex.: Inkmoth Nexus)

While there are corner cases where a reprint would cause a complete price tank (ex.: Serum Visions, Zendikar fetches), most staples are not being reprinted in any meaningful way to significantly impact cost. Also, the instances of people I know that have regretted not buying a card hoping for a reprint by far outnumber those who simply splurged from the get-go without regret.

Understand how a deck can be slowly upgraded

Buying a deck staple every month or two won't get you playing very quickly so it's important to understand how to gradually upgrade a deck. If you're eyeing Splinter Twin, it may make sense to start off with a budget mono-red Burn deck, gradually upgrade into UR Delver and eventually, finish it off with full-blown UR Splinter Twin.

Pro tip: The Modern Event Deck provides a reasonable base to be upgraded into a more competitive token deck. Though even the best token deck isn't ultra-competitive, it can still hold its own at a FNM.

Researching the sideboards of variants of your preferred deck will also give you ideas for cards that you could temporary use in your main. Eventually, they would find their way to your sideboard. Some examples of cheap temporary cards:

When building your in-between deck, you need to be weary of a few things. Don't dump money into pricier temporary cards if you don't need to. While 4 Shivan Reefs might be appealing to get you started, you will have find a way to get rid of them to make way for Steam Vents, leaving you to buylist them (at a loss) or leave them to rot in a trade binder. Basics are perfectly serviceable until you get your Steam Vents.

For the purposes of short tournaments at your LGS, budget decks are perfectly usable. Over 3 or 4 rounds, inconsistent decks can have robust showings. However, be cautioned that lengthier tournaments are meant to weed out those that don't consistently perform, and that means a well-tuned, perfect deck.

Note: Top tier combo decks are very delicately crafted. While you could steal wins with budget versions of most Modern decks in an FNM setting, it is more difficult with a combo deck where every single card is there for a reason. This is why you see budget Tron, Burn, Infect and Delver lists but not budget Bloom Titan lists.

Trade online

As we all know, trading with fellow Magic players is your best bet a maintain your collection’s value. Trading with your friends can only go so far, but thankfully technology can help. Import your trade binder (and even your boxes of junk) into a service like Deckbox. Deckbox allows you to build a tradelist and wishlist and helps match you with people around the world to trade. You’ll assume your own shipping costs, but if you trade enough value, it’ll be well worth your while. It also allows you to understand the value of all cards in your collection. Some old cards you’ve held onto may even surprise you with how much they’ve climbed. You may be lucky and find people looking for specific versions of strange cards you might have overlooked.

In addition, it pays to trade out of volatile formats while it’s good. Most cards in Standard will be worth less come rotation. Why not trade them as soon as you can? You wouldn’t hold stocks for a company you know will tank, why should you do differently with Magic cards?


Playing competitive Magic is expensive, but it doesn't need to be as expensive as you think. Avoiding some of the hidden costs and common pitfalls will help you save money in the long run. Every dollar counts along the way.