Build Budget Modern MTG Izzet Tempo for Cheap!

If there’s one thing that Modern Magic players have loved, for as long as the world has been turning, it’s a blue-red spellslinger deck. From Splinter Twin to Storm and back again, Steam Vents has been an integral part of Modern’s history since day one. You’ve always seen an Izzet pile in the top few decks of the format, and these days the reigning champ is far and away Murktide Regent. While the deck has strayed from its synergistic roots and become more of a goodstuff value pile, the feeling of holding up your choice of Lightning Bolt or a counterspell still holds firm. The unfortunate by-product of this circumstance is the fact that blue-red decks have never been an amazing option for budget-conscious players, with a complicated Storm deck being one of the only viable options. Well now, thanks to some heavy-handed reprinting and power-creep, we have a few more tools to work with in order to recreate that famous and favored play style. Let’s dive into some Izzet Tempo. 


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Budget Modern Izzet Prowess by Darren Magnotti


The Deck

Izzet Tempo has taken many forms over the years, with varying numbers of slots dedicated to each card type. In this iteration, I tried to keep numbers as close to the proven formula that the Murktide deck provides as possible, which means a slightly higher than average creature count and a curve that doesn’t exceed three. Tempo is a decades old strategy stemming from the belief that by using your mana more efficiently and more frequently than your opponent, you’ll be at such an advantage that winning the game is inevitable. While many tempo lists resort to bounce spells like Unsummon to net advantage, Izzet is offered the ability to play cheap red removal spells that also help to increase the deck’s clock. 

Where this list differs from a more stock tempo-style deck (think the likes of Delver or Prowess) is in its ability to catch back up on card advantage and to keep up in the later turns of the game. Usually this sort of deck is prone to running out of steam because it spends a lot of its resources protecting the threat that it wants to establish early in the game. However, thanks to cards like Expressive Iteration and Tolarian Terror, this list is able to recoup some of those resources and pivot into a more controlling role. 

Turning Up the Heat

The first focus in any tempo strategy is the threat package with which it plans on using to end games. Most tempo deck threats need to be some combination of cheap, evasive or strong in the later game, usually picking two of those three.

Dragon’s Rage Channeler is the all-star of this strategy, being the best of both cheap and evasive when you hit delirium. A one-mana three-power flyer has been the backbone of tempo strategies for over a decade, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. With DRC comes Unholy Heat, a generically powerful removal spell that can clear away most creature or planeswalker threats with ease once turned on.

Making that possible is the freshly budgeted Mishra’s Bauble, which pairs well with all of the cards here that like the casting of spells, as well as being an artifact in the graveyard for delirium. While the information gained can be relevant, Bauble’s power here comes from its synergy enabling. Monastery Swiftspear does a fair impression of a good threat as well, between its haste making it a reasonable play at any stage in the game and its ability to reward you for doing the thing that the deck wants to be doing anyway. Sometimes it’s just correct to try and burn the opponent out, and Swiftspear helps move that plan along well.

Sprite Dragon is a bit of an odd-ball in this deck, which is strange since at first glance it reads like the perfect card for the strategy. The way that it plays out though, the Dragon is more of a four or five-mana play than a two-mana play because of how unimpactful it is on its own. Two mana is significantly more than one, which means that this little Sprite needs to pull twice as much weight as something like Swiftspear to be useful. However, moving into a longer game where you’ve been able to produce answers for the opposition’s removal spells coming at this guy, it’s much more able to reward you for that patience. It’s trying to do its best at a Ledger Shredder impression, but without the ability to filter draws and generate delirium, it becomes only a minor inconvenience for most decks. Something that can get out of hand if left unchecked is still a useful tool though, if not just to make sure that the other threats can break through unfettered.

Lastly is the big snake, Tolarian Terror. Combining the cheap and strong in the late game categories comes everyone’s favorite budget Murktide clone. I know that line will ruffle some feathers, because “NoThInG cAn RePlIcAtE mUrKtIdE”, but like, come on. A one-mana 5/5 threat that’s difficult to remove, as compared to a two-mana 7/7 flying threat that’s just about as difficult to remove? You’re basically paying one blue and an extra $50 for the playset for the word “flying.” On top of that, the Terror doesn’t even mess up the graveyard for the delirium spells! Tolarian Terror is an excellent way to close out a game by providing a chonky attacker that demands an answer.

I know that I started that last bit with the word “lastly”, but lastlier comes Lightning Bolt, a stand out card for the simple fact that it says “any target.” As mentioned with Swiftspear, sometimes this deck just wants to end a game and Bolt facilitates that plan perfectly. There’s a reason it’s been a staple card for as long as it has; its flexibility and capacity to finish things is unparalleled. 

Cool ‘Em Down

On to the blue cards, this tempo deck is packing a tight package of disruptive spells to help buy time for the creature threats to cross the finish line, or even be used offensively to disrupt crucial pieces of the opponent’s strategy.

Spell Pierce is a prime example of this, adding an additional two-mana tax to any relevant spell from a Wrenn and Six on an empty board to an unfortunate Terminate. Where Pierce is only a temporary measure, good ol’ Counterspell can fill in in the later turns. The combination of these two cards will usually be enough to keep any spell-based threats like Scapeshift or Crashing Footfalls at bay while providing that extra layer of protection from removal and interaction.

Thought Scour and Expressive Iteration are here to help churn through the deck. Frequently, spellslinger style decks like this will need specific pieces at specific times, and these draw spells are particularly good at making that happen. Thought Scour is included over Consider for sheer card quantity, as without the likes of fetchlands and Ledger Shredder, we’re going to have a more difficult time getting every card type we need into the graveyard for delirium, and Expressive Iteration is just your classic draw two for two, which can help dig out of any situation where we find ourselves without enough gas in hand.

Wrapping up is Vapor Snag, which is just a generically powerful catch-all answer to every creature that you can expect to face today. Excellent at removing Rhino tokens and cycling creatures from Living End, opposing Murktide Regents, and even those random robots like Hangarback Walker that a deck like Hardened Scales can produce. 

How Does It Play?

Coming out open and honest at the beginning: this is not a budget Murktide deck that can do everything that the full list can do. Non-budget decks are expensive for a reason, and that reason is usually a combination of flexibility and raw power, and this list falls just behind on both fronts. While the cards in the list are still individually powerful and can emulate a similar feeling to the Murktide deck, it shouldn’t be expected that this list can perform to the same level just because it shares a few cards and a core strategy. You just won’t see the same power without access to fetches and Ledger Shredder. 

What this deck is good at is teaching. Between the threat base being so similar and still intricate, the spell package being almost identical and the lands all coming in untapped to facilitate the strategy as it should, this is one of the closest approximations of a tiered strategy that’s available right now. Most of this list’s play patterns will translate extremely well to a full Murktide list, which makes the experience of play picked up while piloting this list very worthwhile to anyone looking to get into Murktide at some point. 

As far as the deck against the meta at large, it’s not too bad, in my fairest assessment. I’ve certainly seen better budget lists, but this deck has the tools to succeed in an open field if given enough preparation and occasionally hitting the right side of variance. Some of its better matchups include the likes of Creativity, Tron and Control because of its speed and ability to outplay the larger spells. It also has the tools to fight against its not-so-great matchups, though the issue there comes with consistency in finding them. As far as trade-offs made in exchange for a cheaper deck go though, I’m fairly impressed with how well this list is capable of handling itself against the field. There’s a reason that Murktide sits at the top of the meta, and it’s not just because people love Izzet strategies. These tools are just genuinely powerful.


Modern Izzet Murktide by Do0mSwitch


We’ve all seen what a full Murktide list looks like, and fortunately the upgrade path from here to there is relatively straight and narrow. There are a million resources out there for how to build this deck, but the short version of the story is that fetchlands, Ledger Shredder and Ragavan are all must-haves. With the creatures, the ability to snowball is just too good to pass up, and can offer a second angle of attack that the creatures in this list don’t exactly support. 

If you’re looking for a great free resource on Murktide, Mengu just released a free Deck Guide and video on the topic that can be found here!

That’s all for this one. Next week we’ll be diving in to the Phyrexia spoilers and new cards, so keep your eyes peeled for that! Until then, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading. 

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