Playing Competitive Magic on a Budget - Week Three
Eric Z. Beard
I want to start the article by first thanking everyone who has commented on the series so far - I really appreciate the encouragement! Hopefully I can keep things interesting every week and help budget-minded players find ways to succeed at Friday Night Magic.
This week started with the pre-release for Magic 2013. This is always an exciting weekend at our store. We hold a "Midnight Madness" sealed tournament after FNM on Friday and we consistently have a high turnout for the event - there's nothing more fun than staying up all night playing Magic with a whole new set of cards!
I played in the Saturday tournament and it was a relief for me to move past Avacyn Restored limited, since I've been having no luck in that format at all. I put together a pretty mean Red Green Dinosaurs list:
1 Volcanic Geyser
1 Furnace Whelp
2 Searing Spear
1 Firewing Phoenix
1 Turn to Slag
1 Chandra's Fury
1 Garruk's Packleader
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Yeva, Nature's Herald
1 Duskdale Wurm
2 Sentinel Spider
1 Centaur Courser
1 Spined Baloth
1 Yeva's Foremage
1 Ring of Kalonia
1 Evolving Wilds
The deck didn't do much in the first few turns, unless I was lucky enough to be holding a Searing Spear or two, but then in the late game it just dropped an endless stream of very large dudes - thus the name for the archetype, "Dinosaurs". Yeva, Nature's Herald did some good work for me. Being able to flash in a 4/4 blocker is very powerful in limited. And I was very fortunate to pull the Volcanic Geyser, since an X-damage spell is always a bomb in sealed or draft. That card is uncommon, so expect to see a lot of games end with "Geyser you for 6". Another card you can expect to see a lot is Sentinel Spider - it's a big body, it has reach *and* vigilance! And it's common! I might even play that in a budget Standard deck.
I only lost one game with this deck, and I got myself into the prize, which gave me plenty of trade stock to spruce up my Spirits list. I was interested in adding some form of sweeper to the deck, since it seemed like I was often losing to decks that got ahead of me with creatures on the board. I traded into a playset of Terminus, which definitely helped sometimes, but the RG Aggro match-up was still really bad.
Yesterday, I went with Alex to Orlando for the TCG 5K event. Around 225 people showed up for what was to be 9 rounds of Magic. A "5K" event is an event with $5,000 in prizes total, by the way. 1st place would take home a check for $1,500. I didn't have the highest hopes this weekend, since my deck isn't exactly tier one yet, but I thought I had a chance at a decent record.
But this was one of those tournaments where not much seemed to go well for me or for anyone else from Birds.
Round 1 - Adam - Infect
I actually started the day on a high note, winning my first game after being infected for 7 on turn 2 by a Glistener Elf that was buffed by a Revenge of the Hunted. My opponent had horrible luck in game 2, mulliganing to 4 (which is not so unusual in a 19 land deck, but the hand he kept was all land).
1 - 0
Round 2 - Stephen - Mono Green Aggro
It makes me a little sad that I'm not playing this deck. I am a green mage at heart, and I love Dungrove Elder. Now that Rancor has been re-printed, it's basically a guarantee that I will be sleeving up some big green monsters in the near future. My deck really couldn't handle a large, trampling, hexproof Treefolk. If I had lucked out and hit a Terminus, I might have been able to steal a game, but as it was I went down quickly.
1 - 1
Round 3 - Ian Murphy - Red/Black Goblins
I've played Ian before, at States last year, where he was playing Illusions and blew me out with a few well timed Gutshots on my poor Birds of Paradise. This match was interesting, and closely contended. I won the first game by getting ahead on blockers, and then when the board really thickened up with Goblins, I cleared them out with Terminus. I won that game, but didn't see any of the black cards in his deck, which took me by surprise in game 2. I kept a somewhat sketchy hand with just an Evolving Wilds and a Swamp for land, but I had a Ponder, so my plan was to search up and Island and then dig for the Plains. But he Duressed me on turn 1, took the Ponder, and I never saw another land. I ended up discarding 3 times before losing. Game 3 was a typical Goblins blowout, with Goblin Chieftain followed up by a Goblin Grenade.
1 - 2
Round 4 - ? - Goblins
Goblins again! This one didn't have any Black cards, but it was still effective. In yet another match I was shown a fundamental weakness with my deck, which is falling behind on creatures. If my opponent can profitably attack each turn, clearing out my spirits and leaving a few guys on his side, I can never catch up. I lost this match, and to add insult to injury I got a Game Rule Violation warning for accidentally targeting a Goblin Grenade with Outwit when the grenade was aimed at my Drogskol Captain and not at me. After the mistake, instead of backing up what was an illegal play, I put the Outwit in the graveyard, forgetting that it didn't actually fizzle. Ironically enough, backing things up after my warning worked out in my favor and I won that game. But it wasn't enough, as a horde of Goblins and several grenades took me down in game 3.
1 - 3 Drop
So, it was not the best day, but you can't win them all. That's one thing you have to realize about competitive Magic, is that it is a game of variance. Sure, skill is definitely way more important than luck, since there are so many decisions that get made in the course of deck building and playing. But luck is a factor, and even the best players scrub out of tournaments. When evaluating yourself, you need to look at the combination of many events to see how things average out. It's tempting to look at any early drop from a tournament and think "my deck sucks", or "I suck at this game", but you should reserve those statements for when early drops start to become the norm rather than the exception.
So, now I want to talk about the future of this article series. I could keep tweaking on the Spirits list, but I think if I kept on about the same deck every week the articles would start to get repetitive and boring. And now that Jacon van Lunen is no longer doing his weekly column "Building on a Budget" for Wizards of the Coast, there is a bit of a vacuum for articles about budget decks.
When the next installment of Event Decks comes out, I want to repeat this experiment, but in the meantime I have a few other cheap decks that I want to try out. The original premise of the series remains intact: a new player lays out an initial investment of $40 or $50, and then spends roughly $20 per week on Magic. I'll profile a new deck every few weeks, modifying it to get it to the point where it's worthy of the top 8. And I'll keep a close eye on the value of the deck to make sure it never breaks the $100 mark. I think this is a good guideline for qualifying the deck as "budget". I added a new feature to our deck viewer which shows the cost of the deck if you were to buy the entire list from our store, so it's easy to keep track of the total value.
Just for reference, the average standard tier 1 deck today runs from $250 to $350. If you are on a budget and really want to play one of these decks, you can get there in 2 to 3 months if you're careful with your trades and you anticipate the changes that will happen when a new set comes out, and if you're willing to play the same deck every week.
Next up for me is Infect. The Mono Green Infect list is literally the cheapest deck you can possibly make in Standard. It's at about $50 right now, depending on how you build it. My biggest concern is consistency, since the deck can rack up a string of impressive quick wins and then lose several matches in a row due to the low land and creature count. Tune in next week to see how it goes!
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