Play Patterns: Discard

It’s about as iconic as “Bolt the Bird.”

Turn 1, Thoughtseize

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It’s the perfect turn 1 play for G/B decks. Control decks have their Serum Visions, Chord decks have their Birds of Paradise, and G/B decks have Thoughtseize. At the cheap cost of one mana and two life, you get to look at your opponent’s hand and take any non-land spell. The ability to trade one-for-one is exactly the kind of interaction many decks are looking for. What’s even better about discard spells compared to most one-for-ones is that it trades as early as turn 1 and can take spells that would otherwise be difficult for you to deal with, breaking the color pie philosophy. For example: while B/R decks struggle severely against enchantment card types, discard spells provide the perfect solution.

Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are the most popular discard spells because they hit the largest portion of the cards played in Modern. When sequencing these two spells, it’s important to start with IoK (Inquisition of Kozilek) since it has more narrow applications. Leading with Thoughtseize could put you in the awkward position of taking the only spell IoK could have taken. A perfect example of this would be if you Thoughtseize against Tron and see Expedition Map, two Tron Lands, two Forests, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and a Karn Liberated. You want to take the Map to keep them off Tron but that now means IoK is dead in hand. By leading on IoK, you’ll increase the spell’s impact in the game.

Alongside the one-for-one trade, you also have the ability to poke holes in your opponent’s hand. If you take their only threat, you may have bought enough time to win the game yourself. Against Elves for example, you can take them off their one payoff, like an Archdruid or Ezuri, and leave them with a bunch of 1/1 Elves that aren’t winning the game on their own. If you take your opponent’s one removal spell, you’re eliminating the only way they can deal with your creatures. If your opponent has two Tarmogoyfs and a Terminate in hand, take the Terminate. The key to poking holes in your opponents hand is ignoring  redundancy when possible and taking the card that sticks out the most.

Poking a hole in their hand could also mean taking them off curve. Perhaps a Birds of Paradise, while light on lands, was meant to curve into a number of different 3 drops like Knight of the Reliquary. By taking the Birds of Paradise and leaving them with no play on either turn 1 or turn 2, you’ve gained a significant amount of tempo advantage.

While taking a card from your opponent is great, the power behind discard spells are actually two-fold: on one hand you get to take a card from your opponent, and on the other hand you get the information of everything else you didn’t take. The information is actually where most of the power lies in these spells. Yes, you get to take the best card in your opponent’s hand, but “best card” is completely subjective depending on what’s in yours.

Like a chess master you can begin to line up the next 3-4 turns and predict exactly how they are going to unfold. You can sequence your threats against your opponent’s interaction and line up interactive pieces against your opponent’s threats. The information can be lethal. With discard spells it’s very important to think turns ahead of where you are now. Having this kind of foresight can help you navigate the game in a way that benefits you the most.

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Remember that there’s no need to take what looks the scariest at face value or what your opponent thinks is the best card. If it’s something you already have an answer to, you can easily ignore it and utilize your discard elsewhere. In an earlier example I used Birds of Paradise and Knight of the Reliquary as a way to illustrate poking holes in your opponent’s curve. In general, your opponent may value Knight of the Reliquary much higher than Birds of Paradise. If you can afford to take advantage of the tempo gained by leaving your opponent without a turn 1 or 2 play, then there’s no reason to take the Knight. There’s a chance you’ll be able to get down multiple threats before the Knight can even be cast. If you had taken the Knight, simply because it’s the “scariest” card, then you will have allowed your opponent to be mana efficient in their early turns. Sequences like this can win you many games, all based on the information given to you through discard.

To demonstrate the power of turn 1 discard, here’s a scenario from a game I played against a Ponza (land destruction) deck.

onza

My options here are between two pieces of ramp and two pieces of land destruction. I can’t take the Chandra because her CMC is greater than 3. My opponent has a pretty redundant hand that lines up nicely against discard.

Before I make my decision I need to consult my hand. I have two interactive spells and a pretty good clock in Tarmogoyf. Because G/B decks don’t interact with instants and sorceries as well as they do permanents, I decide I’m going to take the Stone Rain. Even though Molten Rain represents 2 damage, it’s also harder to cast. Stone Rain can be cast with one more land regardless of what it is while Molten Rain requires a specific draw. Before my opponent takes their first turn, I’m already picturing how turns 1-3 are going to happen. In my head, the game continues like this:

(Opp.) Turn 1: Forest, Utopia Sprawl on Forest

(Me) Turn 2: Forest, Abrupt Decay the Sprawl

(Opp.) Turn 2: Foothills, Birds of Paradise

(Me) Turn 3: Catacombs into Overgrown Tomb, Liliana minus to edict Bird

The reason for playing Liliana is to not only continue attacking my opponent’s mana sources but to also ensure I can play all the cards in my hand. If they do find the mana for Molten Rain, I will still be capable of casting Tarmogoyf on turn 4, whereas I may not be able to cast the Liliana. Chandra is also a very scary threat and I want to pressure my opponent’s hand before they are able to cast her.

By putting myself in my opponent’s shoes, I can play out the game from their perspective, get inside their head, and use it to my own advantage. The game jumps tremendously in my favor when I get to have all the information, and take a card from my opponent, before my opponent even gets a turn. Much of the power behind these spells is having an understanding of what your opponent is trying to do and what their game-plan is, so you can determine how best to stop it. Even if the line of play is obviously bad, it’s a good exercise to play it out in your head anyways. Doing so will help you evaluate what plays are good and which are non-optimal.

The game draws on exactly the way I wanted to. My opponent eventually found the red source for Molten Rain, but my Liliana and Tarmogoyf were already in play. My opponent then found a Tireless Tracker but my Liliana had recouped enough loyalty to dispatch it. My Tarmogoyf runs away with the win and my opponent never gets the chance to cast their Chandra.

There is a lot of information to digest from this turn 1 play and how it affected the rest of the game, but there’s no doubt in my mind I won because of it. One of the main reasons I kept my hand was for Abrupt Decay. It’s one of the best ways I can deal with Blood Moon. Upon looking at my opponent’s hand and seeing that they didn’t have one, I knew I could put it to use elsewhere. So not only did I get the information of what was presently in hand, but also of what wasn’t there and I didn’t have to play around.

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It’s almost always appropriate to play discard turn 1, but there can be situations where this is not always the best time to use it.

Against decks with a lot of cantrips (cards that replace themselves like Serum Visions or Street Wraith), discard doesn’t really give you the information you’ll need to navigate the game beneficially. The cantrips represent cards that you don’t know about, making them hard to evaluate. This typically makes them bad takes and lends more value to discard spells after the cantrips are played.

When playing against Storm, their turn 1 will almost always be a cantrip. If you see a hand full of Serum Visions and Sleight of Hands, you’re not getting the whole picture. You’d much rather take the Pieces of the Puzzle, Gifts Ungiven, or Goblin Electromancer that they draw off the cantrip. The only time a cantrip can look like a juicy target on turn 1, is when the opponent is light on lands and is relying on the cantrip to dig for more. Now don’t misunderstand me, if you have a discard spell into a threat against Storm, this is most likely the best line to take, but lets look at a scenario where we don’t have a turn 2 threat against Storm. Upon looking at this hand, ask yourself what you would do turn 1?

hand

Like an impulsive reflex, many players will answer with Blooming Marsh and IoK turn 1. But why? What’s driving a player to take this line?

The answer, is most likely habit. Much like the Chord decks play their Birds, and the Storm player plays their Serum Visions, it’s the best turn 1 play for the deck. What else are you doing on turn 1 anyway? The upside of turn 1 discard is fantastic, but we should also ask ourselves what the benefits of holding onto them are.

With this hand, on the play against Storm, I’m much more inclined to play the tap land on turn 1 so I can play two discard spells on turn 2. I can benefit more from them after my opponent plays their turn 1 Sleight of Hand or Serum Visions. There’s also the potential for future draws to take into account. What if I draw a Tarmogoyf?

Getting down a threat early against Storm is incredibly important to win the game. If I do draw a Tarmogoyf after playing the tap land turn 1, I can then deploy it, and have multiple options available to me on turn 3. If they played an Electromancer, I can IoK and then Abrupt Decay it or Liliana edict. If they simply passed, and are possibly representing Remand, I can first cast my IoK to see how I need to sequence the rest of my spells.

If we take the line of turn 1 discard and tap land on a subsequent turn, we’re playing a bit shortsighted. If we then draw a Tarmogoyf, decide to play it, and delay the tap land until turn 3, your options become very limited. Remand becomes effective against your discard with only one black source, Liliana isn’t castable, and Abrupt Decay may not have a target that turn. If we hold the Tarmogoyf for turn 3 by playing the tap land and second discard spell turn 2, we’ll have taken a turn off our clock. Allowing the Storm deck one more turn could mean the difference between a win and a loss.

While turn 1 discard may certainly feel like the best/only option with this opening hand, you can see the possible trickle of consequences from doing so. Your opponent isn’t going off turns 1 or 2, so there’s no rush. Typically holding onto discard until the turn before a combo player is looking to go off can be the best time to cast it. They’ve done all the leg work to set up for next turn and now you can set them back efficiently. Again, I’m not saying it’s always beneficial to hold your discard back, most of the time it’s not, but it is important to recognize the situations where it is.

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These awkward scenarios with tap lands can put you in a position where you have to choose between a discard spell on turn 1 or a threat on turn 2. Is it worth it to play a discard spell on turn 1 if it means losing your second turn?

While it can be difficult to evaluate the loss of value your discard spells will have the longer you hold onto them, skipping your second turn is a hard sell. There’s very little any deck can do on turn 1 that you would’ve wanted to take with discard anyways.

Obviously you can feel a bit punished if your opponent then goes turn 1 Expedition Map off Urza’s Mine, but if my opponent’s deck is unknown, I’m prioritizing a Dark Confidant on turn 2 over my IoK turn 1. IoK could very well have the same value on turn 3 that it would’ve had on turn 1 whereas skipping my second turn and delaying the Confidant is a measurable loss of 1 extra card drawn and 2 points of damage at my opponent.

A hand with multiple fetches and shock lands can also put you in a tough spot where you have to decide between going to 15 life on turn 1 or 18 life on turn 2 with Thougthseize. Two life doesn’t always matter in the long run, but would Thougthseize be playable if it instead read, “Lose 5 life?” Probably not.

This is another scenario where it can be okay to skip the first turn by fetching on the opponent’s end step or playing a shock land tapped to save some life and gain some information from the opponent’s turn 1 play. Again, the loss of value for not having played Thoughtseize turn 1 is hard to evaluate, but 2-3 additional life saved for not playing it can make a big difference in some matches.

Many of these lines are of course dependent on your opening hand and the match-up. Sometimes you have to go to 15 on turn 1, or sometimes you have to risk losing your second turn. The point is to learn to be patient; ask yourself if turn 1 discard is actually the best line to take and not simply the one that’s obviously available to you.

inquisition-of-kozilek

Sometimes discard spells can seem useless when you’re top decking late into the game. Maybe your opponent is empty handed, or you desperatley needed something that affected the board state instead. This is part of the downside of running discard spells and is the reason decks aren’t loading up on 12 different discard effects. We want to play enough to see them early in the game, but not so many that we are constantly drawing them when they don’t matter. Typically you’ll see these numbers range from 4-7 discard effects.

There are some cases though, where late game discard can still be advantageous, so long as you know how to use it. When you are playing against a control deck, you can use a discard spell to clear the way for a threat.

Let’s say your only card in hand is a fetch-land you’ve been holding onto just in case you draw a Tireless Tracker, and your control opponent has 2-3 cards in hand. You draw Thoughtseize. Do you play it?

You may think that it’s a simple one-for-one trade and a way to ensure they don’t pull too far ahead on cards. You may also think, “What else am I doing this turn?” so you go ahead and cast it. They Cryptic Command in response. Counter-Draw.

Was this worth it?

Not really.

They cycled a counterspell, essentially tapping themselves out, but you couldn’t do anything to take advantage of that. They keep the same amount of cards in hand, and you are down another card for no value.

Lets say they instead reveal 2 lands and an Opt.

Now was it worth it?

Again, not really.

You see that your opponent is out of gas and the coast is clear, but you have no follow-up to take advantage of it. As soon as your opponent goes to draw for their turn, your perfect information is wasted.

The impulse to cast it can be strong, but by doing so you’ve wasted its potential for future use. Remember this isn’t a Serum Visions or Birds of Paradise, the card gains value if you can choose the right moment to cast it.

Now let’s say you instead wait another turn and voilà, you draw Tireless Tracker. Now you can lead on Thoughtseize to clear the way for your threat and the potential 2 clues with your fetch-land. Without the Thoughtseize, you’d be casting Tracker blindly and praying it resolves instead of knowing it will resolve.

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Discard is one the most powerful tools our decks can utilize. Trading one-for-one early in the game and gathering information to help guide our future plays is how many matches can be won. Practice playing out your hand before the game begins to determine what the best line is, taking into account all possible draws and sequences. Remember that while turn 1 discard is incredibly powerful, it may not always be the best line to take.

Study your opponent’s decks. Your discard isn’t powerful if you don’t know what your opponent is trying to do, and don’t know what to take. Learn to put yourself in their shoes and become the Affinity player, the Storm player, or the Tron player, to know how they plan to defeat you and how you can best stop it.

Finally, learn to have patience. Whether this means waiting until turn 2 or 3 when appropriate or holding onto discard to force threats through counter magic. Don’t be impulsive or habitual. If you can properly determine the correct moment for execution, at the cost of 1 black mana, you can tip the scales in you favor.

Play Patterns: Playing on a Budget

You’ve just finished watching Reid Duke make the Top 8 at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan with Abzan. It was awesome. You start looking up YouTube videos of other players crushing the competition with Abzan, Jund, and G/B Rock; players like Willy Edel, Yuyu Watanabe, and Jadine Klomparens. You decide,

“This is it! This is the deck I’m going to play in Modern!”

You go online to look up the most recent list and find something a bit discouraging.

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Notice anything about Jund compared to the other decks in the meta? It’s nearly $1,000 more than any other deck among the top most played decks in Modern. G/B decks are notorious for being expensive. Tarmogoyfs have only recently dipped below $100 this past year. With Bloodbraid Elf’s unbanning and the resurgence of Jund, almost every staple has doubled in price. Cards like Liliana of the Veil have shot up from $70 to $130 and Dark Confidants have gone from $40 to $80. Why is the deck so expensive?

The deck has a very low synergy with itself. All of the cards are capable of standing on their own as powerful and strong. They don’t require other cards to make them good and don’t need any kind of set up to be effective. Compare this to a card like Thalia’s Lieutenant:

Thalia's Lieutenant

The card is very powerful, but only under certain circumstances and in certain decks. The card requires you to play a decent amount of Humans in your deck to fully take advantage of its enter the battlefield trigger. On a board full of humans, this card could add a lot of damage to that turn’s attack. By itself though, on an empty board, it’s just a two mana 1/1. Yes, it can grow from there, but again, your deck needs to have humans in it for that to happen.

These kinds of cards have narrow applications,  therefore their price tends to stay fairly low even though they’re considered very strong cards. Other examples of cards like this are Prized Amalgam, Baral, Chief of Compliance, and Cranial Plating.

 Prized AmalgamBaral, Chief of ComplianceCranial Plating

Now let’s look at a card like Dark Confidant, and why it’s so expensive compared to other Modern staples. A two mana 2/1 is a fine rate, it’s easy to cast with its only restriction being that you play black-producing lands, and it doesn’t require other specific cards to be good. It can come down on turn 2 by itself, or be similarly just as powerful on a complicated board turn 7. It’s only downside is its life loss, which means it has a small deck building restriction when it comes to the CMC of your cards. In any deck it’s played, it’s a threat poised to take over the game. Nothing feels quite as powerful as keeping your opponent’s hand empty with Liliana of the Veil while drawing two cards a turn with Dark Confidant.

Dark Confidant

Not only is Dark Confidant incredibly good but he’s also leaps and bounds ahead of his imitators. Wizards of the Coast has tried for years to make Dark Confidant look-a-likes but in the end, nothing sticks. They just can’t seem to make a card similar to Dark Confidant’s power without falling miserably short.

 Pain SeerBlood ScrivenerDark Tutelage

Most of these imitators have the same CMC as Dark Confidant, have a similar power and toughness, and may give you a sense of familiarity, but none of them come close. Their restrictions and clauses are too much to make them reliable. Confidant’s ability is essentially free and nothing beats that. In the case of Dark Tutelage, you’re not even getting the option to attack and block.

Because Dark Confidant is so unique and efficient at what it’s trying to do, it demands a big price tag. The same thing could be said about most of the cards in Rock decks. What can replace Tarmogoyfs? Sylvan Advocate? Lotleth Troll? Grim Flayer being perhaps the best option, and yet still not as good. Don’t even get me started on Liliana of the Veil; the card encompasses multiple different cards every turn.

Powerful, unique, and impossible to replace; its no wonder these cards come with a hefty price tag. So to create  a budget deck in these colors, where do we begin? When building a deck without Dark Confidant, but with Dark Confidant in mind, the best questions to avoid here are –

“What looks like Dark Confidant?”

“What cost the same as Dark Confidant?”

“What other cards reveal the top card of my library, put the card in my hand, and make me lose life equal to it’s CMC?”

Instead we should look at what role Dark Confidant is playing in these decks. What’s its purpose? Why are we playing it? When you realize that the answer to that question is recurring card draw, you can begin to look at a broader range of good options.

Tireless Tracker

The best example of this is Tireless Tracker. If you ask someone what card most closely resembles Dark Confidant, I would bet next to no one would guess Tireless Tracker. One is green and the other is black, one is larger than the other, and one generates card advantage on your upkeep while the other does it via land drops. That’s okay though, remember: we’re not directly substituting for Dark Confidant but rather playing a different card for the role. A deck playing Dark Confidant probably can’t swap one for one with Tracker. Confidant decks play a low curve and has been heralded as an early tempo play as much as it card advantage. Conversely, a Tracker list probably wouldn’t want to swap one for one with Confidant. Tracker lists tend to play a more painful manabase with more fetches and have a higher curve making Confidant too painful. It’s important to understand that the cards are very different even though they are filling similar roles. To further prove the point that they are as wildly different as they are similar, some decks even opt to play both; Dark Confidant as early tempo card advantage and Tracker as an end game finisher. Of course another big advantage of Tracker, and what we’re focusing on in this article, is that it’s 1/8th the cost of Confidant right now.

Let’s look at another example with Tarmogoyf. What questions should we be asking ourselves?

Tarmogoyf

“What other creatures have */* in their power and toughness?”

“What other creatures cost two mana?”

“What other creature’s power and toughness are based on graveyards?”

Nope. Like with the Dark Confidant, instead of trying to find the cheap knock-off, we want to figure out what role the Goyf fills. What’s its purpose? Tarmogoyf’s role is simple: to be a big stupid idiot that hits your opponent hard. The card doesn’t have any cool abilities and doesn’t even have any key words like Trample. It’s expensive because it’s the best big stupid idiot in the game, and that’s all.

A two mana 4/5 or 5/6 is an incredible rate of efficiency. When looking at your own deck, if Tarmogoyf is a card you don’t have access to, you’ll need to find your own efficient beater. Remember that it doesn’t have to resemble Tarmogoyf at all to be good. An example of this could be Tasigur the Golden Fang. The card can be cast for very cheap with a graveyard full of cards, hits hard with a 4/5 body, and even has the ability to generate some card advantage. It can be a very powerful finisher and dodges a lot of popular removal in the format like Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, and Lightning Bolt. Like Confidant and Tracker, comparing Tasigur and Goyf is like comparing apples and oranges. The cards are very different but they can both fulfill the same role as a strong finisher.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Now, repeat this process for other cards you may need. What’s your choice in discard spells? Removal spells? Hard-to-handle threats like planeswalkers and creature lands?

Once you have all your spells, you’ll want to evaluate your mana base. This is where budget decks get hit the hardest. Lands are expensive, especially fetch-shock mana bases. Since most Rock decks are 3 colors, it can be difficult to deviate from this at times. Modern has a very large card pool though, and every block has a land cycle that you can evaluate for your own deck. Some of the more budget friendly cycles of lands that are under $10 are Battle for Zendikar creature lands, check lands, cycle lands, Kaladesh fast lands, battle lands, and pain lands.

Shambling VentIsolated ChapelSheltered Thicket

 Blooming MarshSmoldering MarshLlanowar Wastes

Preferably, I would say you should prioritize lands with the ability to enter the battlefield untapped so you can use the mana right away. Generally you want to stay away from lands that enter the battlefield tapped unless they do something very powerful beyond mana fixing. Creature lands or cycle lands that turn late game draws into relevant spells can be worth the slight delay. If you can, try to avoid the land cycles that include Jungle Hollow, Sandsteppe Citadel, Forgotten Sanctuary, and Rakdos Guildgate. These lands will slow down your game-plan and don’t balance the downside of coming into play tapped with any relevant advantages.

So let’s put these techniques to use and look at some possible budget lists. Here are two separate Jund lists, the first one’s budget is $550 and the second one is $100.

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This list looks pretty similar to a lot of optimal Jund list. We even get to squeeze in two Lilianas! Many of the cards are popular and powerful, including Thoughtseize, Bloodbraid Elf, and Fatal Push. The mana base takes the biggest hit here to preserve some of the more powerful cards in the mainboard. In the end, we still get to have a playset of fastlands and 5 creature lands despite the budget restrictions. I should clarify that the mana base should absolutely be the first thing you upgrade, even over more Lilis or Tarmogoyfs. Modern is built on the fetch-shock mana base and G/B decks are no exception. Once you start assembling those pieces, it becomes much easier to build decks in the future.

Jund 100.png

This list is ultra budget, sitting at around 5% of the cost of an optimal Jund list. If you have next to zero cards in Modern, this may be the place to start. Bloodbraid Elf is the most expensive card in the list but I wanted to prioritize it because it’s such a fun card to cast and play with. Blightning makes for a great budget cascade, and creatures like Skinshifter can be fun threats to interact with. Garruk Relentless is in here because I think it’s important to keep a planeswalker slot. It’s good practice for anyone new to Magic or just new to Modern, and maintains the threat diversity that Rock decks employ. Players should get used to having one on the field and the strategical implications they bring with them. We’re still trying to keep the heart of the strategy alive here with discard, removal, creature lands, and other big threats.

Here’s a look at some possible Abzan lists with the same budget restrictions.

abzan 550.png

Again we can see a lot of heavy hitters in this list despite our budget and again the mana base takes the brunt of the cuts. While I believe most would say that buying Modern mana bases is the first and biggest step when getting into Modern, I understand that players don’t want to play Verdant Catacombs and Overgrown Tomb just so they can cast their Lotleth Troll or Putrid Leech. I get it, people want to be casting powerful spells and would rather do that than fetch for shock lands. I just want to emphasize that it really needs to be the first upgrade for these lists before switching out threats for more powerful ones.

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This list is going a little bigger on the curve than the $100 Jund list with Smiters, Lieges, and Siege Rhinos. Sorin, Solemn Visitor is the Planeswalker of choice here and pairs very nicely with Lingering Souls. I gave up some of the more powerful interactive spells to hold on to Path to Exile as I think its a good card to buy that can go towards all future builds and iterations of the deck.

Lastly we’ll look at G/B Rock with all the same budget restrictions.

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Two things were important to keep here for me: one, to ensure I could fit four Tireless Trackers in with the Field of Ruin and Ramunap Excavator package and two, to make sure the full four Fatal Pushs are included since it’s the best removal spell for the deck. Like the other lists at $550 we get to play two Lilianas, a good diversity of threats, a good discard package, and good removal spells. Compared to all the other lists, this one requires the least amount of upgrades to the mana base. By swapping out the Cemeteries, a Swamp, and the Ghost Quarters, you only need two Overgrown Tombs and four Verdant Catacombs for an optimal mana base.

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This ultra budget G/B Rock deck maintains the Tracker package even while on a $100 budget. This deck also gets to play an awesome grindy combination of Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor with Whisperwood Elemental to tie it all together. Deathmist Raptor can be nearly impossible to get rid of for good and Den Protector gives the deck a lot of late game play. The removal spells suffer here a bit without Fatal Push, but other budget options could include Hero’s Downfall, Smother, and Victim of Night.

 Victim of NightSmother

Depending on what cards you already have and how much money you can invest, these lists may prove to be fairly decent places to start. I tried to include as many cards as I could that can go towards the final iterations of these decks. It’s important you’re not wasting money on expensive cards that won’t be in the final versions. If you can invest more, you can take the $550 lists and start improving the mana base. If you can’t afford the $100 list, you can take the shell of it and eliminate some of the more expensive cards.

The point I want to make with these lists is that regardless of budget you can still play a Rock deck with threats, removal, and discard without playing the most popular or optimal versions. Everyone has to start somewhere and not everyone can dish out $2,000 before next week’s FNM. I find that most people, including myself when I started, were more than happy to throw something together that had a resemblance of tier 1 Jund or Abzan. I remember I just wanted to grind games and out maneuver my opponent, regardless of which cards I could do it with at the time.

bloodbraid-elf
“Bloodbraid Elf” by Steve Argyle

It can be disheartening when newcomers trying to join the community, looking for a place to start, prefacing that they do not have the money for tier 1 versions, are being turned away. Often times, you’ll see people say things like this:

“Just play Tron or affinity, those decks are cheaper.”

“If you can’t afford Goyfs or Lilianas then you shouldn’t play this deck.”

It’s hard to see someone who is trying to play a Rock deck, a strategy we all love and enjoy, be given the advice to play something else.

Could you play a different tier 1 deck for a 1/3 of the price of Jund? Yes.

Does this help you take steps toward playing the deck you want to be playing? No.

What this suggests is that somebody on a budget spend $600-$800 in the opposite direction of Rock decks. One of the biggest mistakes I made when getting into Modern was buying decks and playing them because they were cheaper than the ones I actually wanted to play. I enjoyed playing sub-optimal versions of Abzan ten times more than when I was playing cheaper, more linear decks. The advice to play other decks with no crossover cards is just not helpful. If someone wants to play a Rock strategy,  we as a community should welcome them and help them do just that, even if it means playing it for $50.

Not everyone is trying to play in a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour and if they are, it’s possible they may just need a place to start. When helping someone with their deck,  it shouldn’t be assumed that it’s always at the top tier of competitive play.  Some people just want to play with their friends at the kitchen table, and why shouldn’t they be able to call their decks Jund or Abzan just because they don’t have Tarmogoyfs in them?

Regardless of which direction you choose to take your deck or whether it ever evolves into the tier 1 versions, the most important thing, is that you enjoy what you play.