Play Standard on a Budget in Paper, MTG Arena and MTGO!

Standard is in an exceptionally healthy place at the moment, with many different decks and strategies available at all levels of play. With The Brothers’ War, we saw a huge shift away from the primarily black-dominated meta that we had been plagued with and are left with a field that’s open to basically any non-green strategy. As far as varying levels of play go, the lower end of Standard is also more open than we’ve seen it be in a long time, with a multitude of decks and strategies available that forego some of the most popular and expensive cards around. There are also more ways to play than we’ve seen in prior years, with paper play becoming a regular thing in anticipation of the RC season, Arena thriving as ever and even MTGO challenges popping off with extreme regularity. Today, we’re going to take a look at the best budget deck to pick up regardless of the platform that you’ll be playing on. 


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As far as card prices go, there’s no doubt that paper is where you’ll be spending the most for any given deck. Between the fluctuating singles market, shipping fees and the ever-dwindling pool of IRL drafters, it can be difficult to get a deck together for a reasonable price tag. Fortunately, we’ve been blessed with some real treats in the form of commons in the last couple of years. Enter: Mono-Blue Tempo.

Budget Standard Mono-Blue Tempo by Darren Magnotti


Blue Tempo is a deck that aims to outpace the opponent by disrupting their game plan and making better use of its mana turn over turn. Eventually, this series of micro-advantages begins to compound and become too much to overcome. This is accomplished with a string of one-mana interaction spells meant to throw the opponent off their plans just enough that they lose balance and the threats can capitalize. Backing up two ever-growing creatures is a flurry of countermagic, bounce spells and protection like Slip Out the Back. 

The main objective is to spend the first handful of turns cantripping and interacting, filling up the graveyard in order to jam out one of the creature threats on or around turn three. From there, it’s a game of “protect the queen” as you counter removal spells, remove key blockers and do all you can to send your threat across the finish line. This sort of tempo strategy has a very high ceiling in combination with a relatively low floor, which means that it isn’t very difficult to start playing the deck and understand what you’re supposed to be doing, but there’s also a lot of room to make advanced high level plays and reap the rewards too. It’s the sort of deck that doesn’t play exactly same in any two games, and offers an interesting experience regardless of how long you plan on playing it. It’s also an excellent deck for learning the meta at large, as an in-depth knowledge the opponent’s deck is one of the keys to success, so it sort of forces you to learn every deck’s strengths and weaknesses. 

From a financial perspective, this deck is cheap due to an abundance of narrowly useful cards. That’s to say, the density of “cards that see play in decks that aren’t this one” is quite low with the single Otawara being the first and last on the list of cards with heavy play. The non-rare suite of the deck is also largely commons, so finding any version among the many that exist should be a simple chore. Haughty Djinn is seeing some marginal demand based largely on this deck’s existence, but also for some light play in Commander, so those are in truth the only other expensive pieces. On the whole, this deck could easily be traded for in a single trip to an LGS, though if you’re looking for the best place to get the whole deck with the version of each card that you prefer, YOU CAN CHECK OUT TCGPLAYER DOT COM FOR THIS AND MORE AMAZING DEALS–


If in-person play isn’t quite your jam, there are fortunately two digital avenues to get your game on as well. MTGO is the less popular of the two, with the majority of play coming in the form of competitive Standard Challenges on the weekends. Some people don’t enjoy the platform as much as others, but with a dedicated user base and a healthy/functioning economy, in my opinion MTGO is still the premier place to play Magic online. I mean, it’s in the name. With how the MTGO market reflects the paper trading experience, it’s quite simple to cycle through decks at your leisure without needing to commit too heavily to one decision as you can always get your money back by selling the cards that you’ve gathered. This is even further bolstered by rental programs that several vendors offer for low-adjacent monthly rates. Playing on a budget on MTGO is quite simple actually, as many rares and mythics are at true bulk prices when dealing with vendors and trade bots. This makes playing a deck loaded up with rares that no one else wants a really reliable method. One deck that does this extremely well at the moment is Azorius Soldiers. 

Budget Standard Azorius Soldiers by Darren Magnotti


Soldiers is a classic strategy that looks to flood the board with a multitude of its preferred creature type, buff them up with anthem effects to create a huge wall of power and net additional advantage through some more niche and narrow synergies to push the whole deck over the top. Soldiers has been an extremely pushed archetype in the Dominaria sets after being a small subtheme in the Innistrad sets as well, so there’s plenty of ammunition to work with when constructing a deck.

Being a creature deck, this list is looking to get as many Soldiers into play as possible in the early turns of the game. One-drops like Recruitment Officer and token producers like Resolute Reinforcements make this a simple task, establishing a sizable board presence in no time. Valiant Veteran, Harbin, Vanguard Aviator and Siege Veteran add power to each of these early creatures to turn them into sizable threats capable of closing things out by themselves. Though if that plan doesn’t work, Skystrike Officer swoops in to turn each of these creatures into a repeatable cantrip. 

Fiscally, the Soldiers deck is widely affordable as compared to many of the other decks seeing play in Standard right now, and this comes down to the fact that it isn’t relying on some mythic that sees play in non-rotating formats. This is one of the biggest disparages in card prices on the platform, and by avoiding mythics (aside from our $2 Myrel, Shield of Argive), we answer a majority of the issues that MTGO deckbuilders might face. This deck checks out for about 12 tix, which can either be purchased outright or rented from the major vendors for about one dollar per week. Considering that winning a Challenge pays out about $200 in treasure chests, this seems like a no-brainer in terms of return on investment. While this isn’t necessarily an outlet for financial advice, it’s my opinion that the Soldiers deck is too cheap to pass up right now for how powerful it is in the Standard format.

MTG Arena

I hate the Arena economy. That’s a majority of the reason that I seldom write about the platform or the formats thereon, but as it’s one of the most popular ways to play, it’s only fair that the wildcards get their time under the sun as well. Budget lists for Arena are extremely difficult due to the strange dichotomy and mismatched distribution of rares against every other rarity when it comes to power in sets. Basically: most decks need a lot of rares to perform well. Decks that load up on mythics tend to not have the supporting cast to draw the most from those powerful spells, and decks that rely on commons and uncommons tend to lack that big punch to push them over the finish line. When given a challenge such as this, it’s usually a good time to break out ol’ reliable.

Budget Standard Mono-Red Aggro by Darren Magnotti


Mono-Red is a deck that does not care. It doesn’t care about your wallet, about your opponent’s permanents or about how much or how little time you have to play. Like a lit match, it’s here for just a good time instead of a long one, and as such it doesn’t need to muck around waiting on some expensive rare or mythic to bail it out in the late game. With its mix of cheap burn spells, efficient creatures that provide additional benefit to those spells cast and the simplest mana base this side of the Mason Dixon line, Mono-Red Aggro is an absolute mainstay when it comes to budget deck building. 

This specific iteration leans into the prowess model of the archetype, with Monastery Swiftspear and Phoenix Chick leading the charge. Thermo-Alchemist and Kessig Flamebreather supply a bunch of additional reach, turning Play with Fires into Lightning Bolts. This is further bolstered by the only rare non-land in the deck, Mechanized Warfare, which provides a similar effect on a much more difficult-to-remove permanent type. This list is as simple as it gets in terms of construction as well, with 20 creatures, 20 spells and 20 lands, which is a breakdown as old as red aggro decks themselves. Without the fear of the late game, forgoing the rares and mythics that usually pull us through, this iteration of Mono-Red is excellent for either way to play on Arena, be it lightning-quick ladder matches or grinding through the nine-round events. 

Economically speaking, this deck is extremely simple to build if you’ve done your daily quests for about a week. With Warfare being the only mandatory rare playset, there’s very little commitment needed whatsoever. Usually I like to include one of the rares that budget decks seldom get to play with, such as Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, in these builds, but this version doesn’t even need the luxury. Its only goal is to beat face, and we’re fortunate enough to have that plan be facilitated by a menagerie of common cards.

That’s all for this one. Phyrexia is coming soon, and I’m looking forward to how some of these sweet cards will impact the Standard metagame overall. Hopefully someday soon we’ll be able to tap Forests for mana again, but in the meantime I’m still excited to see what we have in store for new offerings. The Dominarian sets have made Standard a very fun environment, so I’m sure that there will be plenty more exploration of the format in the weeks to come. In the meantime, remember to stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading. 

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