When you’re building on a budget, it can be difficult to know where to start. I have a bunch of ideas for more Budget Brews, but I’m preoccupied trying full-blown fancy pants decks with rares and mythics for the upcoming Pro Tour. Meanwhile, various brews are swimming around in my head as a big murky mass just waiting to come to fruition. Then I realized that instead of showing you a murky budget brew idea, I could help point you down some roads for your own exploration.
Every deckbuilding exercise starts with the building blocks. You might be trying to brew around a card, tune a list with certain building blocks in mind, or just get your Modern deck to the perfect place for the upcoming weekend tournament. For budget brews it’s about knowing which expensive cards you can replace, and what types of cards can serve similar functions.
As a marquee card of the set, Chandra hits hard. She has a whopping four abilities! That makes her incredibly difficult to replace due to her sheer versatility, but if you break apart her abilities into layers, there are a few budget alternatives available. In this case, you could replace Chandra with Hedron Archive to get her ramp ability. It also provides cards back if you need to dig when you have too many mana sources, and I could see non-budget dedicated ramp decks simply wanting access to both cards to have lots of copies of this ramp effect.
On the other side, Chandra leaves behind a threat while neutralizing a creature when she enters the battlefield. Goblin Dark-Dwellers does that, but also lets you play with different instants and sorceries in addition to removal, which makes it a very proactive threat like Chandra even if it costs an additional mana. Sure, you won’t be able to use every part of the buffalo in a single card like Chandra with these alternatives, but you also don’t have to shell out $35 a piece.
Choosing which parts of an expensive card you want to utilize in budget form can be tricky. You’ll almost never get as much pure efficiency as the chase card, but you still get some benefits if you choose the right substitutes, because they provide some utility that the expensive card lacks. That’s true of both Hedron Archive and Goblin Dark-Dwellers in this case. Another bonus I’ll come back to again and again is that these non-‘walkers can’t be attacked. When you have important key cards, letting them sit in play can often be better than having a vulnerable planeswalker.
I didn’t think I’d be saying that Tireless Tracker was a great budget alternative, but here we are. For 1/4th of the price of Nissa you can get a fantastic landfall creature that applies pressure while providing cards. The comparison to Nissa’s ultimate is natural, though you do have to invest mana every time you crack a Clue. On the plus side, Tracker comes down way faster than Nissa so you can always take advantage of its early board presence and can build your budget decks with Tracker anywhere from aggro to control, whereas Nissa is mostly a midrange card.
If you want the regrowth effect, Wildest Dreams is a strong replacement and can even be more effective than Nissa because the card can’t be attacked, unlike a planeswalker. It does have the downside of being stuck in your hand and requires a very large initial investment cost. But it can get back any spell and works nicely as a finisher in green budget decks. Don’t forget the card just because it’s a cheap alternative.
Retreat to Kazandu plays off the landfall theme of Tracker and Nissa’s ultimate, but provides a different type of value more attuned to the kind of midrange shell that Nissa normally inhabits. It can permanently increase your board presence without any additional mana, and therefore has Nissa-like applications even though it might not look like it at first glance. When you do cast a Nissa’s Renewal with a Retreat in play, I guarantee your opponent will not be happy with you.
This comparison is less about translating versatile effects and more about looking at a powerful build-around to see if a budget option can play a similar role but with a different twist. Aetherworks Marvel offers up a lot of power in the form of an energy producer and energy sink that can spit out giant threats quickly. As a mythic rare it’s hard to directly port that to a budget build, but you can get similar effects with lower rarity cards as long as you’re willing to work a bit harder. Whirler Virtuoso and Era of Innovation combine to create a Thopter generating combo that doesn’t go infinite, but produces Thopters at the very effective rate of 1 energy and 1 mana (as long as you have 3 to start). If you need more energy, Aethertorch Renegade helps supply it, but also functions as a powerful energy sink that provides a giant punch that’s different than Marvel but can still be extremely effective.
Sure, Jace costs 1 more mana. But I also think Jace has been criminally underplayed. He ticks up to draw cards rather than ticks down, can generate tempo by bouncing creatures rather than letting them sit in play, and only costs a single color of mana, letting you mix and match colors rather than be forced into a stifling 2-color combination that controls your deckbuilding options like the Consulate controls Kaladesh. Getting a bunch of new options with an older card at half the price sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
Sometimes the name helps clue you in. Saheeli lends herself to an aggressive game plan by coming down early and granting small advantages, but she also demands to be built around. Her true effectiveness is in copying powerful creatures and artifacts, and her Artistry does the same for some additional mana but has some added benefits you don’t get with the planeswalker. The first is that you don’t have to worry about protecting her. When you’re really interested in copying your enters-the-battlefield effects, it can be frustrating to set up and protect Saheeli. Instead, you just need to worry about living long enough to cast Saheeli’s Artistry on high impact targets. The tokens also stick around forever, and you can copy your opponent’s permanents. The coolest part is there is so much room to innovate with this card, and I’m excited to try it later in a future budget brew. I’ll let you get a head start though.
These two cards are pretty similar aside from Demon’s restrictive mana cost. Both help wipe out small creatures and leave behind a particularly strong threat. Skysovereign does match up better against planeswalkers, but Demon is surprisingly good at still being relevant in those spots. Chandra doesn’t kill it, Nissa is weak to flyers, Saheeli will copy something once then die, and Dovin can slow it down but not at a great profit. Some of the older planeswalkers are a bit more effective against the Demon, but it still impacts the board a lot and does a heck of a better job stabilizing versus a small creature horde. Furthermore, it generates a larger army itself whereas Skysovereign needs a good surrounding cast to keep attacking. Combining Demon with some other good energy sources to get the reanimation part of it going is a reasonable option but it doesn’t necessarily need them to get fully charged. You should be able to rebuy a creature easily enough without too much surrounding support, but simply combining it with kill spells is some nice synergy.
Furthermore, it generates a larger army itself whereas Skysovereign needs a good surrounding cast to keep attacking. Combining Demon with some other good energy sources to get the reanimation part of it going is a reasonable option, but it doesn’t necessarily need them to get fully charged. You should be able to rebuy a creature easily enough without too much support, but simply combining it with kill spells is some nice synergy.
Card: Smuggler’s Copter
Not every card is replaceable! You can’t always force a good budget alternative, and Copter is just too efficient to replace.
I hope you all enjoyed thinking about budget alternatives. Just because the options are budget doesn’t mean they’re inferior. There’s value in these budget options that the more expensive cards don’t offer, and as brewers it’s our job to crack that full potential. There’s also a lot of room for exploration with these alternatives. I’m excited to brew with them soon post-PT, but first be sure to let me know what types of decks you’re thinking up with them in the comments!