Friday, June 10, 2016

How to try to win on a budget, Heavy Salami style

Pictured: Not you.
Hey my fellow poor people, this is Dan. Recently, WotC ran an article about how to win on a budget. Though overall a good article, and containing some solid advice, it was met with a bit of criticism. For example, one of the first images in the article shows a picture of a playset of Collected Company with a giant green thumbs up on it.

So budget friendly!
Yeah. Get real. I don't work for Wizards, so I can totally talk about the secondary market all day. So let's do that. I think we can all agree CoCo is one of the least budget friendly cards at the moment, and is honestly pushing a large portion of the playerbase off of green entirely until the card rotates. I mean, I know that personally I've tried building a handful of aggressive decks using green, and every time I finish up a list, I look it over, and I'm like "You know, 4x CoCo would make this 100x stronger." CoCo is in huge demand, is hugely expensive, and is not what you should be looking at if you're aiming for a budget list. That said, if you have them sitting around from doing a tons of Dragons of Tarkir drafts, then congrats! You can make a budget deck with CoCo.

What about those of us that don't have many Dragons cards? How do you build a good budget deck without slam-jammin' a playset of Gideons/Avacyns/CoCo/Sorins, and actually win? It isn't easy, it isn't always successful, but it can be done. I'm not a huge fan of the "pick a top tier deck, replace good cards with crappy budget cards, hope" strategy. I am however a huge fan of the "out-of-nowhere deck that people get angry about when they lose to it" strategy. Being creative can have its advantages, and it has worked out for me quite a few times. I'm going to explain to you how Heavy Salami comes up with our budget decks, and share some of our meaty tips for successful, powerful budget decks.

Look for under-used powerful cards

This is a massive recurring theme in our articles. If there's one thing Gaige and I like, it's taking a janky-ass card that no one uses, and wrecking kids with it.

"Wait, what does that do again?"
In every format, there are insanely powerful cards that nobody uses for some reason or another. The colors aren't popular, there are stronger decks, they're stupid, etc. The bomb mythic/rare resides in obscurity until some brilliant brewer picks it up, and totally shrek's some kids with an out of the blue deck.

Let's look at an example of something from the latest set that everyone will be familiar with:

So packed with value that they couldn't even fit flavor text on it.
Relentless Dead is almost out of the range I'd deem "budget," currently sitting at around $8 a pop. "Wait, Dan, then why teh fuck are you mentioning this, you goober?" Well, that means a playset of him is ~$25, and if he's your big bomby card, then chances are you can put together a deck with him that won't run you much over $40. That is a budget deck, Wizards. A deck that features a card where a single playset is over $100 is not at all. For the rest of this article, I'm gonna keep referencing Relentless Dead as we go through the steps towards strapping together a competitive budget list.

Consistency Consistency Consistency Consistency Consistency 

This is honestly one of the most important parts of building a budget deck. When throwing together a budget list, you're not going to have the raw power of tier decks, so you're going to need to capitalize on their stumbles. A budget list just can't afford to have a smattering a different spells a la tier 1 control decks. You're going to have to have a game plan, and commit to that plan hard. Why?

A deck like the one I linked above is happy drawing just about any card in their deck - they're hugely impactful, many have multiple modes, they kill stuff, they create a big board, and so on. They are shelling out big bucks for cards like Kolaghan's Command that are great in a huge variety of situations, so they can squeeze in a buttload of these kind of cards by just running 2 or 3 of each, and then run card-draw along side to dig for whatever is optimum in the situation.

A budget deck doesn't have these kind of options, as inexpensive cards aren't typically multi-functioning powerhouses. If they were, well, they would quickly stop being "budget" cards. So we focus on single-purpose, but powerful cards, and consistency. Being extremely consistent gives you the chance to capitalize on your opponent's hiccups. Grixis control's mana isn't cooperating, so they have a hand with several blue spells, but only have black and red mana? Your deck is thrilled - you just keep playing your simple threats, turn them sideways, and win before they can recover from their stumble.

Let's return to our Relentless Dead example, comparing him to the multi-situational cards. He actually is good in a few situations. If you're behind, he can chump and return forever, and if you're ahead, he attacks with slight evasion. But he's miles away from a card like Archangel Avacyn.

God damnit I hate this card.
Avacyn's requirements to be spectacular are "have access to two white sources" and maybe "play creatures." Hardly any synergy required. Relentless dead can be top-notch, but he definitely has more restrictions. He needs a critical mass of zombies to make any use of his second ability.

So, finally, here is where consistency enters. Relentless Dead needs zombies. You want Relentless Dead to perform well. What should you do? Make sure you are deploying plenty of zombies every single game. If your deck is 4x Relentless, 4x Prized Amalgam, and then the rest are 2 or 3 of copies of removal and Hangarback Walkers or some other non-zombie thing, then there are going to be a ton of games where you don't get to utilize his full potential. Instead, make sure you get sick value off of him each and every game. Make your creature base something like this:

4x Shambling Goblin (zombie that can ping or shrink something early)
4x Screenching Skaab (zombie that puts zombies in the yard to reanimate)
4x Relentless Dead (spooky zombie ressurector duder)
4x Prized Amalgam (free 3/3 zombie with every zombie you reanimate)
4x Fleshbag Marauder (a removal spell on a stick, extremely powerful to reanimate over and over)
4x Stitchwing Skaab (zombie that can reanimate and put more zombies in the yard)

And so on. Back up this strong suite of zombies with cheap, efficient removal like Grasp of Dankness and Ultimate Price, and you'll have a deck that will do the same thing every game. And with only two colors, a majority black, you'll have an inexpensive mana-base that can function even if you have few to no dual lands.

For an example of this in action, check out my article of the best standard deck that I ever created. It excelled at catching opponents with their ill-fitting pants down, and a missed land drop meant that I was probably going to win. Immediately you'll notice the important bits: Few cards that aren't four-ofs, a very simple mana-base, redundant cards that will all benefit from my main strategies (put counters on critters and pump) and strong synergies that make my deck play very similar every single game. Oh, speaking of land...

The fewer colors, the better

This might be obvious, but more colors means more cost. For a multi-colored deck to be truly competitive, it needs have a smooth land base that can support all of its colors on time. This often means shelling out a bunch of extra cash on lands that can get you multiple colors and come in untapped. Often times an opponents lands cost more than my entire deck!

Mono-colored is obviously the best. Mono red? Find 20 mountains, be happy. But two-colored is totally possible, too. In my example from Theros standard, I used a few duals for added consistency, but I could have easily dropped the Mana Confluences (around $10 each when I picked them up) for basics, and it wouldn't have wrecked the deck. The Battlefield Forges and Temple of Triumphs were very cheap since practically no one was playing R/W at the time. More on that in a moment, too, but for now, lets apply this to our zombie example.

So we're running U/B. That's two colors, so duals will make it better. Do you have to drop the $30 or so on a playset of Choked Estuaries and Sunken Hollows, though? Of course not! We're crafting our deck for mad simplicity, and few colors. Out of the cards we listed so far in our hypothetical deck, Amalgam, Stitchwing and Screeching Skaab are the only ones that need blue sources. Only Screeching Skaab is an early game card, and it's not vital that we get it right away on turn two since we also have Relentless Dead to play that turn, so we can afford to only have swamps for a while. Even if you get color-screwed, a great majority of the deck is black, so you won't be entirely unable to play if you need to wait a turn on an island.

So with that in mind, assuming we're playing 22 lands since we have a fairly low curve, we can craft a mana base that is 13 to 15 swamps and 7 to 9 islands and be just fine. Have a few extra bucks to spend and want to upgrade the land base? Sunken Hollow is only $4 right now, whereas Estuary is almost $8. Opt for Hollow. Not only is it cheaper, but since our deck doesn't ever need a blue source on turn 1, we can play basics and then get this as an untapped land on turn 3. Taking advantage of small money-saving options like this that won't have a massive effect on your game plan can end up saving you a nice pile of cash.

Look for less-favorable colors

This one is fairly minor, but it's something to consider. During the Theros standard, there were dual lands for each color pairing with the Temples. A Temple of Malady (G/B) was over $10, since Abzan was such a dominant deck in the format. Temple of Triumph, though? I bought the playset for $6, since there were very few decks running the R/W color combo.

Sadly, this standard won't let you use this trick as much. Between Bant, Grixis, Esper, B/W control, U/W humans, G/W tokens, etc, most of the color pairs are very well represented in top decks. Though there aren't any strictly U/B decks topping lists right now, the color pair is seeing play, so the duals aren't particularly inexpensive. In other standards, though, be sure to keep a lookout for color pairs that aren't seeing as much play!

Be good

This might seem obvious, but be good at playing your special homebrew. Who do you think would win - A player playing our zombie homebrew who has a heap of experience and knows the ins and outs of his deck, or a new player playing his net-decked G/W tokens for the second time ever? Though the G/W deck may be objectively more powerful, knowing your deck can net you a huge advantage. Do I have to kill this Sylvan Advocate with my Grasp of Darkness, or can I just ignore it for a while, as I'm going to be playing a Prized Amalgam next turn that can stone-wall it until he hits his 6th land drop?

Knowing the meta in and out is a huge boon as well. In our U/B vs G/W tokens game, lets say the G/W guy has never seen our deck, but since it's been jammed down our throats at every GP feature match for a month, we are all intimately familiar with G/W tokens. G/W dude has five untapped mana, a Sylvan Advocate on board, and you have an Ultimate Price in hand. Currently on board all you have is a Screeching Skaab and a Shambling Goblin. Neither have the power to kill off the Advocate and get in damage. An inexperienced player might think "Hah, fuckin' sweet, I'ma make that Advocate pay the ultimate price, and swingarooni at G/W's fat face." That inexperienced player is then gonna be super, super sad when an Avacyn flops onto the field in response to his Ultimate Price.

Definitely not a Sylvan Advocate's head in that sack.
If our stupid guy would have known G/W plays like 400 Avacyns, s/he would have seen the five untapped mana as a tell that Avacyn was probably on deck ready to protect the Advocate and ruin his/her day. By just playing it safe, dropping another threat and keeping up two mana, then passing, there's a good chance the G/W player will flash in his/her Avacyn at the end of turn, and then she is a ripe Ultimate Price target. Strong plays like this can make the difference between dropping after round three to sob into your mother's arms and winning a handful of packs at the end of the night.

Put it all together, and keep improving

So you've followed it all. You've got a sick theme to your deck. You made sure to put together an extremely tight, consistent list. You have a mana base that is simple and cooperative. You know every single card in your deck, what they're good at, what they're bad at, and how you should use them. You've sat on the couch covered in chicken tendie crumbs watching standard tournaments over and over to learn the meta. You're ready to pilot this U/B Zombie Apocalypse monstrosity to victory at FNM! You get in your car, drive to the store, sign up, sit down for game one against G/W tokens, and...

Oh. Shit.
You get fuckin' wrecked. Yeah. It happens. It's ok, though! Round two you get paired against U/R control with Thing in the Ice, and your insane graveyard recurring out-paces their removal, and you beat them handily. See? You can do well at FNM, have fun using GY shenanigans, and all for only around $40 or $50. The most expensive parts of your deck - Relentless dead, Amalgams, and Diregraf Colossus - also don't rotate for a very long time. And now you have a great base to make a truly powerful deck. Crack some packs and score a Choked Estuary? Throw it in to make your land more consistent! Trade off a card that you don't use to get an Ob Nixilis? Screw it, take out a weakass zombie card and put him in for some late-game power. A budget base is wonderful because it opens you up to so many possibilities for improvement, and as you see cards that are weak or strong in your shop's meta, you can tweak until you can put up some solid results.

And maybe you'll do what I did. At the release of DTK, I thought U/W enchantments seemed fun, so I pre-ordered a bunch of Dragonlord Ojutais for like $8 each. Next thing I know they're worth over $30 and I trade off two of them, and suddenly I'm able to afford a ton more cards, spawning all sorts of fun new budget decks and feeding my crippling Magic addiction. Relentless Dead is a zombie, and there's sure to be more zombie synergies in Eldritch Moon, so who knows, maybe your budget deck will actually give you the starting point for a powerful tier 1 or 2 tournament deck next season.

Like the article? Like the deck? Have your own budget brew you've been dying to share? Send us a message, an email, or hit us up on Twitter at our fancy new Heavy Salami Twitter account!


  1. You guys really need to write more stuff. I enjoy how you both write. And I check everyday to see if you all have posted something.
    Love what you guys are doing keep at it your material and fun approach to the game is what magic needs. Keep it up I look forward to reading more

    1. Thanks man, we'll try to keep doing non-shitty things.

  2. Hey I really like this U/B zombie list, was building something similar myself. What would you put in your sideboard? I assume things like To the Slaughter/Silumgar's Command to deal with planeswalkers and the like, but I'm a bit lost after that. Your thoughts? I would very much like to take this to FNM next week.

    1. More Ruinous Paths can help with walkers, too. Virulent Plague will save you against tokens decks. Other than that you could try out Dead Weights and Compelling Deterance for agro. I'm not sure, it's hard to say without having tested it much myself.

    2. Cool I'll give those a shot. Will update next week when I get blown out by Ormendahl.

    3. Compelling Deterrance is also good against ormendahl!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Wow you guys actually have pretty good advice. I might actually read up on the rest of your posts.