Lately I’ve been on a bit of a budget kick; makes sense, really. Working on a budget closes some doors, but it opens others. If you have an unlimited
budget, there’s a lot of cards and strategies that you might look past, especially now. Standard is more expensive than it has been in years, thanks to the
three sets of fetchlands, playsets of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and the format’s best aggro deck features sixteen mythic rares, and 38 rares. In
short, going budget has never seemed more attractive.
Some people’s approach to a budget deck features a replacement approach. Basically, you take a popular archetype and replace the expensive,
archetype-defining cards with something superficially analogous. Truth is, though, it’s never going to be what you want, and if you were given the chance,
you’d just replace all those fake bits with the real thing. As a vegetarian, I have an easy analogy for this. My favorite dishes aren’t ones that have soy
beef crumbles, tofu chicken, or “fake-n” instead of bacon. Instead, I prefer dishes where you don’t miss the meat because the meat was never really
supposed to be part of the dish. In the same way, I prefer budget decks that don’t need a big staple to be fun, or that the staple is important to the
synergy of the deck instead of as the reason the deck is good.
Thankfully, lots of folks feel the same way. Lots of great brewers in the community at the amateur, semi-pro, and professional levels work tirelessly to
utilize less frequent choices in Standard, and several folks I interact with on a weekly basis choose a budget path based on their own financial situation
or because they enjoy the challenge, or ability to brag, that comes with building a deck that costs considerably less than the format’s defining
And that’s where we find ourselves this time. One of my playtesting friends was telling me about cards he expected to go up in value following rotation and
the cards he considered ripe for picking while the buying was good. In an offhand comment, he mentioned a deck Patrick Chapin had made around Disciple of
the Ring using red and blue spells to counter creatures and burn players.
“Oh, that’s a good idea, Hagen.”
(Matt furiously makes mental checklist of synergetic cards.)
“I bet it will be good after delve rotates because the instants in your graveyard won’t have much a second life.”
(Matt buys a playset of Disciple of the Ring.)
“Maybe lots of graveyard strategies will be viable after the mechanic rotates. Hey, so I’ll talk to you later…”
Disciple of the Ring is at a rock-bottom price at the moment, right around bulk pricing, but it has all the makings of a high-quality finisher: instant
board impact, resiliency, and ability to affect the board in relevant, repeatable ways. You’re only limited by the number of instants in your graveyard.
With a budget focus in mind, where do we start?
This is just a first blush, and I think those are okay. This deck isn’t ready for prime-time, but when you’re brewing something completely from scratch,
it’s hard to know what kind of an impact certain cards will have on the plan of your deck. Most of the time, I overestimate some cards’ impact, as is the
Screeching Skaab and Sultai Skullkeeper are functionally identical, the only difference being their creature types. They even both have two words that
start with “S”! Still, saying such simple sapients save such a set of sleeved synergy seems somewhat so-so. In the end, these are 2/1s for two that do not
draw you a card and, at least in this configuration, have roughly a 35% chance of hitting an instant or sorcery with each triggered ability, and only about
a 10% chance of hitting two. Most of the time you’re left with a 2/1 that does nothing else, which isn’t great. It’s on theme, but considerably weaker than
I’d like. R.I.P. Satyr Wayfinder, right?
There are twenty instants and sorceries, with four dedicated to the prospect of dumping more instants and sorceries into the graveyard. The others have
spell mastery or an additional alternative function that helps them scale as the game progresses. The landbase is mono-colored and, thus, very inexpensive.
Even the slickest colorless lands would only set you back a couple bucks each, but this setup seems fine.
Well, sort of. A couple dry run matches with this deck proved how horrendous the 2/1s were. Most of the time they hit nothing, and with no use for the
graveyard cards I hit, it really did very little for me. Moreover, on one particularly ominous trigger from a Sultai Skullkeeper, I hit both
Disciple of the Ring. With no way to get them back, I had almost no way to win the game outside of a random 3/3 land creature or a couple unanswered,
But that’s okay. Just have to adjust the spices a bit.
I jumped ahead of myself a bit. I took a second to review the Disciple.
The tap ability was clearly pretty decent, keeping a huge creature like Siege Rhino, Ulamog the Ceaseless Hunger, or an indestructible Gideon from getting
in the red zone every turn. The untap ability was relatively, well, untapped in this particular in this configuration. The ability to Spell Pierce is
obviously pretty decent, and the +1/+1 ability lets the Disciple take large chunks of life at a time and either survive combat or avoid being pulverized by
toughness-based removal. The untap ability intrigued me, and I tried to think of the best on-color targets.
…okay, maybe we need a bit of beef stock in this one.
Hangarback Walker is so darn versatile. Even though it’s somewhat against the budget plan, Hangarbacks are a bit easier to come by, thanks to their
presence in the Event Deck. They untap with the Disciple, and they offer something helpful to do for an end step where you’d otherwise do nothing. As it
is, there were twenty instants, and I think we can do better. Let’s leverage those instants a bit harder, tune the lands a bit, and emerge with something
exciting on the other side.
The creature count was slimmed to things I can easily cast, with four Hangarback Walkers prominently featured. The spells became more removal-oriented,
with Anticipate being another way to leverage the end step. Artificer’s Epiphany seemed like the right fit after I considered something like Weave Fate,
with the added upside of being one mana less, the ability to be an on-curve, instant Divination with Hangarback Walker out, and being able to put two instants into the graveyard with just one spell. The single Hedron Archive could help answer one of control’s biggest issues: being able to
cast a spell and have counter magic up to protect it.
Speaking of extra mana…
With some spare mana, Mage-Ring Network lets you take that idle mana you’d otherwise waste and battery it up every turn. On the turn when you need it, you
can crack it open for that colorless mana, giving cards like Clash of Wills lategame power and offering a huge Hangarback Walker when you need it. Multiple
copies of Mage-Ring Network make a huge difference; like most lands, the ability to tap it once per turn is the largest bottleneck to its power. Storing two mana every turn with two copies out can quickly add up. The color requirements are fairly small, considering, and so these are considerably
easier to add.
The sideboard is here to help fight aggro. In fact, those colorless lands slot right out when I’m fighting a fast deck in exchange for the heavy
blue cards like Harbinger of the Tides and Shorecrasher Elemental, some of the most efficient mono-blue threats left after Theros Block rotated.
Even with the Hangarback Walkers, you’re still only looking at about $100 here, though the Constructs make up the vast majority of the cost. Still, a whole
deck plus sideboard running about 1.3 Jace, Vryn Prodigy is pretty decent, right? What’s more, this entire deck survives the post-delve rotation next
Adding another color won’t increase the cost too much. What if we decided to go the direction Chapin was thinking with red/blue? Maybe the Disciple can be
used as a sort of planeswalker, protecting you while you win another way, say, with Sphinx’s Tutelage?
Despite the fact that this one is (technically) four colors, the whole list runs less than half the cost as the mono-blue version.
See? Something can be tasty even if the ingredients are simple!
Disciple of the Ring has much more potential than what I discussed here. Have you been fiddling with this Wizard, too?