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Modern on a Shoestring: Upgrades, People, Upgrades!

This week on Modern on a Shoestring, we’re going to examine some of the reader-submitted budget lists and attempt to plot out an upgrade pathway we can take to bring these decks up to full strength. This is, generally, a reasonable and rather more palatable way to get into a format like Modern – start with a budget version of an established deck and slowly add more expensive cards to it over time so as to increase its potency.

You can’t do this with every deck, of course – some lists are completely reliant on certain expensive cards, so budget versions are basically impossible. However, plenty of archetypes lend themselves to watered-down, budget-conscious configurations and so today we’ll be looking at three different strategies that do that, alongside some reader-submitted lists. Thanks so much to everyone who sent through budget decks – if you’d like to do the same, get in touch with me on Twitter!

Infect

There was a time in Modern where Infect was one of the best – if not the best – deck in the entire format. Those days are behind us, but there’s still something very scary about a deck that only has to deal 10 points of damage rather than 20 in order to seal a victory. 

Infect is at its best in formats that lack interaction, where linear or combo decks are dominant. Examining the current Modern metagame, there are a lot of heavily-played cards that are nightmarish for Infect, such as Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push and of course Wrenn and Six, which is a big reason why Infect has been pushed to the outer. 

Still, decks like Tron, Amulet Titan or Ad Nauseam remain popular in Modern, and these are all traditionally good matchups for Infect. As a starting point for the format, therefore, you could do a lot worse than Infect. It’s fast, consistent and the games are usually over quickly one way or another, allowing you to get the reps in. 

Here’s a list adapted from alert reader Basedmustaine, who sent in their budget-friendly take on the archetype. 

Modern Budget Infect by Basedmustaine

This list comes in at around $90 or so, which is a great starting point for a deck like this. The corners we’ve cut are designed to have the lowest possible impact on the deck’s overall power level and provide a clear pathway to upgrade the list as time goes on. 

Almost the entire core of this deck is budget friendly. This list is more than capable of the blistering starts for which Infect is known (and feared), although there are of course expensive support cards that turn up the pressure even further. Let’s talk about the path to improving this deck.

Upgrades

Notable absences from this deck include expensive cards such as Noble Hierarch, Veil of Summer, Dryad Arbor and of course Inkmoth Nexus. The first two are easy upgrades for Llanowar Elves and Autumn’s Veil respectively and are good investments when it comes to the format as a whole. Both are widely played and very powerful, so despite their price tag of $11 to $12, they’re worth picking up as you build your Modern collection. 

A single copy of Dryad Arbor is only really worth it if you have fetchlands, and is only included as insurance against edicts or a Plan C assuming your infect creatures don’t make it – it’s safe to skip out on it. However, Inkmoth Nexus is the biggest hit this deck takes due to our budget and is poorly replaced by a few copies of Ichorclaw Myr

Starting at $16, Inkmoth Nexus is not a cheap card – and, unfortunately, it’s not a card you can expect to get much use out of outside this archetype. I don’t mind telling you to spend $11 on Veil of Summer, because that’s a card that you’ll play a lot across various decks – but Inkmoth Nexus is played pretty much exclusively in Infect, so it’s a big outlay for a very narrow card. 

Once fully upgraded, your Infect deck should look something like this.

Modern Infect by fifteenstepper

Overall, however, Infect is a rock-solid starting point for a new Modern player. You can buy a competitively viable deck for under $100 and upgrade it with Modern staples like Noble Hierarch and Veil of Summer as your budget allows. It has very lopsided matchups and may not be positioned perfectly, but Infect will still win games. 

Death and Taxes

Playing on a budget doesn’t mean you are necessarily locked into playing aggro decks. That tends to be how things go though, given that aggressive decks tend to be a little cheaper, but alert reader Deathfather shipped a take on Death and Taxes that offers a solid entry point into the archetype.

Death and Taxes is an archetype that seeks to deny resources from the opponent – typically mana – while providing a clock with small creatures. The deck is at its best against any mana-hungry strategy or a deck that seeks to resolve big, convoluted game plans without paying proper respect to the board. 

Usually running cards such as Aether Vial and Stoneforge Mystic, Death and Taxes can be a bit pricey as a result. Deathfather’s list, however, sidesteps these cards and instead focusses on a different angle of attack: cycling. Abandoning a few of the traditional elements of the Death and Taxes strategy such as land destruction, this version of the deck instead controls the board and gains incremental advantage with Astral Drift

Modern Azorius Blink and Taxes by Deathfather

As mentioned, this is not a “traditional” Death and Taxes list, as it lacks Aether Vial as well as Ghost Quarter. However, any deck that plays to the board will have trouble with Astral Drift and the constant stream of cycling cards this deck plays, while there are still traditional hate pieces like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor. There’s also the extremely sweet Confounding Conundrum, which is bonkers against the fetchlands of the format. 

There’s also Sailor of Means. I’m not sure why. Either it’s a useful creature to blink for extra mana or Deathfather just wanted me to recommend you actually buy and play the card Sailor of Means. Either way, well played.

It’s reasonably cheap too, for what it is. In total, this configuration comes in at just under $200. The problem is, once we try to bring that price down any further, we’re just not playing the same deck any more. You might be able to cut some corners, but the expensive cards in this deck are Thalia, Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor. Cut those, and you may as well play something else. 

The reason I decided to showcase this deck isn’t because of its $200 price tag (which is, in fairness, still a reasonable price for a Modern deck). It’s because, rather, it’s a good way for any potential Modern Death and Taxes players to get their feet wet, as it offers a clear pathway for eventual upgrades. 

Upgrades

The biggest cards missing in this list are, as I mentioned, Aether Vial and Stoneforge Mystic. Additionally, Giver of Runes and Skyclave Apparition make up an important support act in this archetype. These are the more expensive cards you’ll want to keep an eye out for as you flesh out this deck further, starting with the critical Aether Vial

Aether Vial is played in a lot of cheap creature strategies, everything from Death and Taxes to Humans to Spirits, and you can expect to get a lot of use out of it. Stoneforge Mystic is an all-timer of course, across multiple eternal formats, but it’s not just the $25 Mystic you’ve got to worry about – you need to buy the equipment for her to search up. Swords aren’t cheap. 

Giver of Runes is played in Collected Company decks as well as Hammer Time – more or less every deck with small, white creatures wants it, but it’s still a little narrow. Skyclave Apparition might be a bit more forgiving as it’s a Standard staple and you might already have a few copies laying around. If you don’t, it’s a rock-solid investment as it will always remain a powerhouse in Standard, Pioneer and Modern. 

The good thing about this archetype is that it’s relatively modular. You can take out old cards and put in new ones, with a gradual shift towards the deck’s final form (although at some point it will stop being an Astral Drift deck and at some point blue will have to come out altogether). 

Once fully upgraded, here’s what your Death and Taxes list should look like. 

Modern Death and Taxes by Tarrasque1

If you don’t want to move into all-out aggro, this deck and its upgrade path might be a better fit for you. If you’re interested in seeing the deck in action, go and have a look at Death and Taxes aficionado PleasantKenobi putting the deck through its paces and see if it’s the sort of list out of which you might get the same twisted pleasure. 

That’s it for this week – once again, if you’ve got a budget version of an established archetype that offers a clear upgrade pathway, I want to see it! Send it my way on Twitter and I’ll show it off to the world in a future installment of Modern on a Shoestring!

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