It may have only been released just a few days ago, but we’re already riding the waves created by Modern Horizon 2’s impact. Modern is a totally new beast, one that’s proving hard to tame into a settled metagame in the weeks since MH2’s early release on Magic Online. This is a great sign, as it means there is plenty of room in the card pool for everyone to play what they want.
Many players are becoming enticed by this set, with an increasing number of people looking to take their first steps into Modern. The price of entry can look intimidating at first; many decks cost several hundreds of dollars to build, and some of them are even over a thousand! That doesn’t mean you’re priced out of the format if you’re on a budget, however. Modern rewards format knowledge: you can play any of Modern’s countless viable decks and perform well, provided you know how to pilot it.
I’ll take you through three brand new decks, all of which cost less than the average Standard deck. All these decks were made possible with shiny new toys from Modern Horizons 2, so you can try out some of the best new additions to the format without breaking the bank. These decks cover a wide range: one is a more competitive build, one is a quirky choice, and the final one is not for the faint of heart!
More Competitive: Golgari Food ($170)
If you’re hungry for the most powerful deck for your money, look no further than Golgari Food. This is a potent new strategy thanks to Modern Horizons 2, more specifically Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar (I’ll be calling her Asmora going forward) and The Underworld Cookbook. I went into detail on their power and utility in a recent article, and they have really been living up to their hype.
This deck looks to attack from multiple angles, making it a nightmare for your opponents to contain you. You can use Asmora to start your Food production, and her ability is a repeatable source of removal that will keep the board clear. But the card that has really supercharged The Underworld Cookbook is Ovalchase Daredevil. When you discard it to the Cookbook, it sees the Food token enter the battlefield and returns itself to your hand. This allows you to generate as much Food as possible without losing any cards in hand. Feasting Troll King can be “reanimated” by sacrificing three Food tokens, which can happen as early as turn two! It’s an early threat that can give you some free wins, and can buy you time to set up while your opponents scramble to deal with it. The Cat/Oven combo from Eldraine is here, too, giving you even more ways to move cards and permanents around for incremental value.
There are two additional late-game engines available to you: Ravenous Squirrel and Academy Manufactor. Ravenous Squirrel grows with every creature you put into Witch’s Oven and every Food you sacrifice, turning it into a potent threat before long. Its activated ability converts spare Food into card advantage, helping you to outvalue even the most grindy decks. Academy Manufactor gives you a Clue and a Treasure token for every Food you make — which, in this deck, is an absurd amount of additional value. With the Assembly-Worker on board, you’ll quickly go over the top of any opponent. These two creatures also synergize well together, growing the Squirrel with every token used!
Asmora can be difficult to cast if you don’t have a way to discard cards, which is why this deck has 4 Street Wraith, a Tranquil Thicket, and a Barren Moor. The Underworld Cookbook also allows you to cast her, giving you plenty of ways to get her onto the battlefield quickly. Step Through may seem like an unusual addition, but it acts as an additional copy of Asmora. It has Wizardcycling; Asmora is a Wizard, so you can tutor her with this ability. Since you have to discard Step Through to do this, you’ll have satisfied Asmora’s requirements and can cast her immediately!
The sideboard is well set up to fight graveyard hate, which is the main stumbling block you can encounter. Wilt can remove Leyline of the Void or Grafdigger’s Cage if needed, or you can cycle it to enable Asmora. Trail of Crumbs helps you play a longer game; Ratchet Bomb is ideal for dealing with tokens from Crashing Footfalls or Urza’s Saga; Bone Shards gives you more synergistic removal.
If you’re looking to upgrade the deck, the main place to do it is in the mana base. Fetch lands and shock lands will increase consistency, and Nurturing Peatland can turn a land into another card. Finally, Urza’s Saga would dramatically increase the consistency and power of the deck. It can grab you an Oven or a Cookbook, and the Constructs it makes scale with the amount of Food you have. It’s not a necessary addition, but it’s certainly a noticeable one. The other big addition would be Finale of Devastation. For just two green mana, you can search for Asmora and put her directly on the battlefield, dramatically increasing consistency even further!
If you have an appetite for graveyard shenanigans, but want to be able to play a long game too, then Golgari Food is the freshest deck on the menu!
Quirky Choice: Mono-Red Phoenix ($180)
I’ve mentioned this many times before, but I’m one of Arclight Phoenix’s biggest fanboys (I affectionately call them my “bin chickens”). Any time I see the birds popping up in Modern, I immediately resleeve my playset. Since the banning of Faithless Looting, every attempt to revive the archetype has been in vain, but this might just be the exception to the rule.
Mono-Red Prowess was already a popular and powerful deck, with Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage being two of the best creatures in the format. One issue the deck had was a low density of cheap yet powerful threats: there has always been a wide gap between those two creatures and the other available options. Dragon’s Rage Channeler is already gaining a reputation as glowing as that of Monastery Swiftspear, and its performance is exemplary in this deck. The surveil ability is perfect for squeezing every bit of value from your spells, while also turning on delirium to make Channeler into a real threat. Once you add Arclight Phoenix to the mix, this gives the deck a total of sixteen potent threats!
It may seem like the deck is low on instants and sorceries to enable Arclight Phoenix, but looks can be deceiving. There may be only 22 cards that can help revive the birds, but Lava Dart’s flashback and Maximize Velocity’s jump-start also count toward your spells. Add Faithless Salvaging’s rebound ability, and suddenly you’re looking at thirty instants and sorceries instead, which is more than enough to reliably return the bin chickens! Most of the spells also help you see more of your deck, like Manamorphose and Light Up the Stage. These spells ensure that even when you’re low on cards, you’re never short of things to do!
This is by far the best Faithless Salvaging deck in Modern, by a wide margin. I go in-depth on the spell in my article on the Best Budget Modern Horizons 2 cards, and this deck takes advantage of every aspect of it. Not only is it ideal for discarding any of your bin chickens, but if you have no cards in hand when you cast it, you still get to draw a card. You can also stack its rebound trigger after your Mishra’s Bauble trigger; if you’re empty-handed, you will draw from Salvaging, draw from the Bauble, then draw your card for the turn. Starting a turn by drawing three cards and casting one spell for no mana investment feels exactly as good as it sounds!
The sideboard is mostly set up to deal with specific problems. You never want to sideboard too much, as you could risk slowing the deck down. By Force is ideal for dealing with Urza’s Saga, Chalice of the Void, and Food decks, as well as any graveyard hate. Unholy Heat is a single red mana for what’s often an instant-speed Dreadbore, making it ideal against Primeval Titan, planeswalkers, and Niv-Mizzet Reborn. As there are no double mana costs in the deck, you get Jegantha as a companion without making any deck building concessions! It’s not often you’ll cast them, but they’re ideal for long games where you might need one more threat to close the game.
As it stands, there aren’t many upgrades to be made to the deck. It’s a very cost-efficient strategy, and in this form, it’s already at about 95% of its power. The only real upgrades you could make would be to add red fetch lands to turn on delirium sooner, and some number of either Fiery Islet or Sunbaked Canyon to mitigate flooding. Blood Moon would be a decent upgrade over Cleansing Wildfire, but it’s definitely meta-dependent; this deck is so fast, it’s rare you’ll want to spend three mana to cast a single spell, no matter how backbreaking it might be.
Mono-Red Phoenix walks the line between quirky and competitive, and it could become a real player in the competitive scene in due time. It’s a real thinking person’s aggro deck; if you enjoy finding the most optimal way to sequence spells, gaining free value, and having a fully stocked graveyard, then this will spark a fire in you like no other.
Off The Deep End: Gruul Storm ($160)
What’s the point in playing a high-power format if you can’t have a little fun?
Storm is an infamous mechanic, and an archetype that has a dedicated following. However, this isn’t quite what people think of when they imagine a Storm deck. The goal of this deck is simple: cast a flurry of spells that generate mana, and flood the board as quickly as possible. This is done through the use of mana-neutral spells, like Manamorphose, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Priest of Urabrask. Once you have the mana to cast them in the first place, they effectively become free spells thanks to the mana they give you. Each of these spells adds to your Storm count, and once you cast enough of them, you can cast one of your payoffs.
The payoffs in this deck work in different ways, giving you multiple angles of attack. Chatterstorm is a smaller, green equivalent to Empty the Warrens, and an ideal early payoff. It’s easy to play three or four spells on turn two, and following them up with a small band of Squirrels can really apply the pressure. Reckless Bushwhacker is your payoff for going wide, rewarding you for casting several creatures in a turn. Playing multiple Burning-Tree Emissaries into a Bushwhacker is a combo that’s also popular in 8-Whack decks, and it’s one of the most explosive starts in the format.
Thrasta, Tempest’s Roar is another new win condition, and the reason I built this deck in the first place. It’s almost trivial to play Thrasta on turn two in this deck; casting four spells in a turn makes it cost just two green mana, which you can easily pay with the likes of Hidden Herbalists or Manamorphose. It may not win the game immediately, but it’s an impressive beater that outsizes even a Primeval Titan!
Galvanic Relay is our last payoff, and while it’s the slowest option here, it’s ideal for grindy games. You can throw out an early burst of creatures and finish the turn with Relay, exiling a number of cards that are available to use on the following turn. These cards can’t be touched by Thoughtseize, and give you much better longevity; if you don’t have access to these cards, you can run out of gas and risk falling behind if your opponent takes out your first wave of attackers.
Mishra’s Bauble and Manamorphose are two of the most powerful cards in the deck, as they add to your Storm count for free and replace themselves. These greatly increase the deck’s consistency, and work in conjunction with Galvanic Relay to keep you stocked with cards. Strike It Rich is similar, as it’s mana-neutral and technically draws you a card. The flashback ability may not look like much, but it can be used later in the game when you have excess mana to increase the Storm count, generate a Treasure to trigger Revolt on Hidden Herbalists, or even just to sink some spare mana for the following turn.
The sideboard plan is similar to that of Mono-Red Phoenix: only bring in what’s needed, as you don’t want to dilute your game plan. Gut Shot is great against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Tormod’s Crypt is for when you’re facing graveyard decks but still want to cast free spells and Storm off; Reclamation Sage is needed against Ensnaring Bridge or Damping Sphere; and Flame Slash takes care of troublesome creatures like Urza, Lord High Artificer, Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, or Eidolon of Rhetoric. You don’t want to bring in too much hate, so it’s usually best to choose a specific card or subset of cards to try and fight and sideboard accordingly.
Similarly to Mono-Red Phoenix, the main upgrades are in the mana base. Fetch lands and shock lands will dramatically improve your mana, and can help to protect you from Blood Moon. And speaking of Blood Moon, you can easily add it to the sideboard over Cleansing Wildfire here, too, if you wish. With Strike It Rich and Wild Cantor, you can actually play a turn two Blood Moon if you’re lucky, which is usually enough to hamstring many decks.
If you’re not sure whether you want to play aggro or combo in Modern — or if you want to be the only person with your deck at a tournament — look no further than Gruul Storm. It’s a wild deck with some ridiculous turns that cause even more hilarious reactions. It’s not a high-tier deck by any stretch, but the power of the rogue deck is in the field’s lack of preparedness for it. If you learn the deck inside out, practice, and get a little bit lucky, you’ll take your LGS by Storm!
Modern is in a fantastic place right now. As you can see from these decks, there are many wild ways to play, and you don’t have to drop a whole month’s pay on a deck to be a part of the fun. Even enfranchised players can pick up an affordable backup deck for a nice change of pace.
Which of these decks appeal to you? What are you looking forward to playing in Modern? Are there any other decks you’d like me to cover? Please let me know your thoughts over on Twitter!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.