For nearly a decade, the Modern format has been a fan favorite, and many players have failed to resist its alluring call. From the quick and powerful top tier strategies to the deep card pool that offers a little bit of something for everyone, it’s hard to find reasons to not enjoy the format in some form. The largest – and in my opinion most glaring – reason for many players to skip the format is the tremendous barrier to entry that comes with starting from scratch. As anyone whose ever sold their collection will tell you, getting into Modern and playing with your friends while not volunteering to lose every game you play is a daunting task. In this new series, we’ll take a look at some of my favorite ways to break into the format without having to pawn your grandma’s wedding ring.
For these articles, I’m going to submit a few guidelines. I think that it’s only fair to set both of our expectations early so that neither of us ends up disappointed.
- You will not get to the Pro Tour with these lists. Think of them more as training guides, a springboard from which you thrust yourself headlong into the expansive world of non-rotating Magic. The goal of these lists is to give you something accessible to use as a learning tool while you dive deeper into the format and pick up the little things that can’t be taught but through experience.
- Each list will average out to around $150 at time of posting. Players tend to follow this ridiculous notion that “budget” for a format is tied to the average cost of the top tier competitive decks in that format, when in reality it’s tied to what a player on a budget can afford.
- I will not be handing you a pile of jank that hasn’t been personally tested. I run every list I offer through at least five semi-competitive rounds, similar to the conditions you might expect at your local FNM. Whether you choose to stick with an archetype and build it into its non-budget version or move on to a different offering after discovering that perhaps the deck doesn’t suit your play style, I will do my best to make sure that you are not left hanging with a pile of unplayable chaff. If a deck goes 1-4 or 0-5, I won’t offer it without valid reasoning.
Now, introductions out of the way, let’s take a look at the best way for you to brutalize your friends and neighbors with today’s offering: RG Ponza.
Budget Modern RG Ponza by ServoToken
For those uninitiated, RG Ponza is traditionally a ramp/land destruction deck that aims to gain a tremendous mana advantage beginning on turn one. It looks to chain mana dorks into land hate pieces such as Stone Rain and Blood Moon effects, and turn that disruption into a quick finish, typically by slamming a hefty Dragon or other Standard all-star level card. The main goal of this list is the same, but with a slight twist. Today’s list also has access to a two-card combo to help close out the game. Before we get to that, though, let’s dig in to the bones of the deck.
Confession time – this list is actually my second attempt at budget Ponza this week. The first list used the more traditional package of Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl, which turned out to be tremendously taxing on a mana base that can’t fetch up a Forest whenever it needs to.
One of the biggest downsides to Modern with a budget restriction is that your mana base is not your friend, and will actively inhibit you from doing the cool things that you want to be doing. So to help with that, we’re running a suite of 10 mana Elves to ramp us into our bigger plays. Even with hyper-efficient removal such as Fury in the format, the turn-one mana Elf is always a strong start to any game of Magic.
Moving up the curve, we get into the removal and value generation packages. Lightning Bolt and Pillage help disrupt opponents who also want to build a board state, while Fable of the Mirror-Breaker acts as a Swiss army knife to give us some much needed card filtering and additional acceleration. Kitchen Finks and Llanowar Visionary also help to keep us alive through early aggression and give us the time to find the pieces we need to seal things away.
A core concept of the Ponza archetype is landing a turn-two disruption spell off the back of a mana dork. Traditionally Blood Moon, we’re leaning on Magus of the Moon here for two reasons. The first is that Magus is the cheaper option, obviously. The second is that a fair number of decks are packing ways to remove a Blood Moon at little cost already. Forces of Negation or Vigor, Boseiju – there’s a myriad of ways to deal with an enchantment that a creature avoids. I’m sure I don’t need to go into the specifics on why denying an opponent from potentially all of their mana is worthwhile.
Pillage and Obsidian Charmaw also aid in our fight against opposing mana development by sniping select key lands such as a fetched Triome or a third land while there’s an Urza’s Saga in play. Klothys, on the other hand, offers a little bit of everything that we’ve covered thus far. Life gain against aggression, graveyard disruption when that matters, an indestructible source of damage in the face of a wave of removal spells and additional mana when we just can’t get enough of that.
Keen-eyed readers may have taken note that I’ve been dancing around some suspicious additions to the deck list above. As mentioned earlier, this iteration of Ponza is looking to win the game by some less-than-traditional means. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and his Reflection offer up an infinite/repeatable combo thanks to Theros Beyond Death Draft seventh pick all-star Hyrax Tower Scout.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with how these sorts of combos work, but for those that haven’t seen it, any creature that allows you to untap a creature upon entering play can enable Kiki-Jiki to create an arbitrarily large amount of hasty copies of themselves, which then attack in for lethal. While Kiki’s Reflection on the backside of his Fable isn’t nearly as efficient, it will still allow you a token copy per mana you have available, which frequently will be enough to seal the deal on the game.
In addition to their combo potential, Kiki and his Reflection are also excellent for creating additional value through the likes of Kitchen Finks, Llanowar Visionary and Obsidian Charmaw with all of their enters the battlefield triggers should a game get to that point. Of course, every creature in the deck also attacks for damage on their own if doing the combo song and dance aren’t particularly your speed.
As mentioned before, mana bases in Modern on a budget are unkind. A distinct lack of mana fixing causes its own headaches and mulligans, and often generates situations where concessions in the nonland slots need to be made.
Some of the best advice I can give to players looking to enter the format on a budget is that once you have a playable deck together, you should focus all of your trade and purchase power on getting the lands needed to play the deck you’re playing, as well as future builds, at maximum capacity. Fortunately RG is one of the most forgiving color pairs when it comes to its mana because it’s often playing nonland cards that smooth out mana issues. This issue will become much more apparent in future articles, however, and needs to be something that you’re prepared for as a budget player.
This first entry will be one of the few times I point out a deck’s sideboard, because the level at which I expect the decks in these articles to be played gives players the most opportunity to grow and learn. What I mean by that is that it’s extremely easy and simple to observe a metagame on the local level and tune your list against the things that you expect to see. The sideboards I include in these articles are meant to act as outlines for the sorts of things you might expect to consider when making your own adjustments.At the FNM level, the fine tuning is best done by you as the player because you’re the one with the experience of what’s in the room. I’m not following you into your local Gaming Goat, and therefore am not the best person to tell you how to prepare your deck for the room.
If this feels like a daunting or dubious task to do on your own, reach out! The Modern community is full of people who would love to give direction and show people the ropes, and I’m certain that someone at the event you’re headed to will gladly give you the rundown of what to expect and some steps you can take to beat it. If you can’t find that person, or if you aren’t comfortable with that level of social interaction, there’s a lot of people on this site that are a lot better at the game than I am who can also point you in the right direction. All that to say that sideboarding, while initially complex, is one of the most important skills to build on your own as a player, and focusing on that early in your career will give you a huge leg up on those that haven’t paid attention to it for themselves. Oh, and Dead // Gone is for Murktide apparently. I had to ask my Ponza consultant about that one – I didn’t understand it either.
The ever important question. This list offered me a lot in my testing. Some folks weren’t prepared for the turn-two Moon, which is to be expected. Others were packing so much removal that it made my head spin with how fast creatures were being sent to the graveyard. While my record for my practice matches wasn’t the most promising from a numbers-only perspective, the play experience offered me a lot of insights on what the deck was capable of given enough practice and format knowledge.
As I played more and more games, I started to develop a sense of proper sequencing and learning which spells mattered more to the strategy, which are absolutely fundamental skills to pick up as you get into a format as complex and ruthless as Modern. I may not have won enough to pick up any prizes in an event, but I certainly walked away from the games with more experience and confidence.
Going into the matches, I should point out that up until this point, I’m just coming off of quite a long break from Modern, and there was a lot of catching up to do. This list offered me the chance to observe the strengths and weaknesses of some of the top decks in the format while also forcing me into situations where I needed to figure out how to beat them with the tools I had available. All of the tools were clearly laid out in front of me, it was just a matter of checking to see if I knew how to use them properly. I think that Ponza is an excellent choice for someone who wants to grow as a player and really just get better at the game on the whole. What its doing is essentially ramping the fundamentals and core concepts of Magic up to an 11, which really rewards the players who’ve put in the time to learn how to handle those situations. I think that that’s an even better take away than playing a deck that cheeses out cheap victories, because with those types of decks you aren’t really learning anything or getting better on a personal level. If you want to step up your game as a player, this is the deck for you.
So that’s all I’ve got on this one! I hope you enjoy the series, you can definitely expect a lot more of these from me in the future. In the meantime, stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading.