I’m always happy to showcase the breadth of decks available to the budget-conscious Modern player and today we’ve got a real barn-burner. Any chance to fight against the stereotype that all budget Modern decks are aggro is a chance I’ll take – and with the help of alert reader Mathhatch, today I’m here with an “Aristocrats”-style budget deck.
The name Aristocrats emerged around the time of Pro Tour Gatecrash, won by Tom Martell with a deck featuring both Cartel Aristocrat and Falkenrath Aristocrat – a deck whose primary game plan was to exploit the advantages you could gain from sacrificing your own creatures. The name has stuck and today is used to refer to any deck that seeks to sacrifice its own creatures for fun and profit, even if it doesn’t play any actual aristocrats.
Which brings us to today’s budget build – a $100 deck (well, $101.30). Using cheap, sticky creatures plus sacrifice outlets and payoffs, this deck aims to whittle down opposing life total, grind them out or finish things off with a huge Return to the Ranks!
Modern Budget Aristocrats by Mathhatch
If you’ve never played an Aristocrats deck before, they’re a little counterintuitive and require a fair bit of out-of-the-box thinking. They test your ability to managing various resources – from life total to creatures to interaction – and require precise timing from their pilots in order to succeed.
The primary game plan is to flood the board with dorky little creatures like Doomed Traveler, Hunted Witness and some Spirit tokens. Then, you use them to leverage tiny, incremental advantages to the board and life totals before doing a chunk of damage thanks to the payoff cards like Blood Artist or Cruel Celebrant. With multiple copies of these cards out, even your puny 1/1s become respectable threats that are difficult to block, given that their death could cost your opponent three or four life.
As this deck gums up the board, chump blocks for days and punishes the opponents for using removal, they’ll often have to find other angles of attack. Additionally, if they’re ever a bit loosey-goosey with their life-total – something all too common out of fetch/shock decks – you can catch them unawares with just how much burst damage the deck is capable of.
After chipping away at the opponent’s life total with Blood Artist triggers or nickel-and-dime attacks with Spirit tokens, this burst damage comes from having one or more Blood Artists/Cruel Celebrants out plus a sac outlet like Viscera Seer. Then you then sac your entire board and watch the triggers take care of the rest.
Don’t have a board? Drawing Return to the Ranks will give you one immediately, ideally with a sac outlet and a payoff to end the game on the spot – a combo-like finish. You can even engineer situations where you sacrifice your entire board to halve your opponent’s life total, untap, cast Return and polish them off.
Even sweepers, the traditional enemy of small creature decks, aren’t insurmountable for this deck – in some cases, they’re actively bad for the opponent. With eight Blood Artist effects, a Wrath won’t come cheaply for the opponent, and that’s not even mentioning the Doomed Travelers and Hunted Witnesses that leave an auxiliary force behind once they die.
Finally, playing white and black allows this deck to play some of the very best interaction in the format in both Fatal Push and Path to Exile. That’s in addition to the absurdly flexible Kaya’s Guile, which has plenty of very relevant modes for this deck.
This deck relies on having a critical mass of tiny creatures whose deaths trigger the payoff cards, and there are plenty of ’em in the list. Both white one-drops provide two bodies for one mana, while Lingering Souls can generate four creatures with just one card. On top of that, Kaya’s Guile can poop out a little token as it edicts your opponent or removes their graveyard. In short, this deck shouldn’t have trouble filling the board with 1/1s.
Having ways to sacrifice creatures a) at instant speed and b) without paying mana is critical, and that’s why Viscera Seer is perfect for this deck. You can “combo off” at instant speed with Viscera Seer, sacrificing your entire board for lethal or use your little dorks to chumpblock and get a scry off them.
Priest of the Forgotten Gods fills a similar role, although can only be activated once a turn cycle, albeit for a much more potent effect than a scry 1. These seven cards may be enough on their own – you never really need more than one Viscera Seer out – but should you need more, Cartel Aristocrat is another possible inclusion.
Blood Artist is the headline act in this deck, and the slightly-less-powerful Cruel Celebrant is a great second fiddle (although it doesn’t trigger when opposing creatures die, a small but not insignificant downgrade). These two cards are the most important cards in the deck, as without them you’re going to have a very hard time winning.
This deck might be able to chumpblock until the cows come home, but you’ll quickly run out of any material advantage if you’re not pressuring their life total with these payoff cards. They pad your life total nicely, and once you’ve assembled multiple copies of them, your 1/1s start looking a lot more dangerous. As I said before, a drawn-out game will often end with you attacking your 1/1s into their larger creatures, with their blocks costing them more life than just taking the damage would.
Finally, Return to the Ranks can extend the reach of this deck enormously. You can sacrifice much of your board away, untap, cast a huge Return (Priest of Forgotten Gods is the only creature that cares about being tapped, you can tap your Blood Artists to convoke without losing value) and burn your opponent out from range. Brilliant!
As mentioned, the interaction in this deck is top-notch. Both Fatal Push and Path to Exile are first-rate removal spells and Modern powerhouses and you get to play both in this deck. It’s possible you want more copies of Path to Exile (perhaps it’s better than the second Kaya’s Guile), although remember that even without fetchlands this deck will have no trouble at all enabling revolt for Fatal Push.
The sideboard offers a robust suite against much of what the format might throw at you. Nihil Spellbomb and Ashiok offer asymmetrical graveyard hate (we need death triggers and a stocked graveyard for Return to the Ranks, so stuff like Rest in Peace is right out) and Ashiok also does splash damage against anyone looking to search their libraries for any reason.
Kor Firewalker is the budget replacement for Auriok Champion, and while it’s not as powerful, it is a hell of a lot cheaper. Finally, I like Fulminator Mage as a land destruction spell, as it will trigger Blood Artists and Cruel Celebrants on the way out. Of course, as a three-drop, you’ll have to remove Lurrus of the Dream-Den as a companion to play it – same goes for Ashiok – but that’s alright, as Lurrus is a bit of a freebie in the first place.
This deck isn’t about to take over Modern, but it’s a fresh take on an old archetype that I know many people love to play. Best of all, it’ll only cost you a hundred bucks to play it! I want to thank Mathhatch once more for sharing it with me, and invite you, dear reader, to do the same – send me your budget brews, as I’d love to showcase them here!