From Right Field: Being Lead Astray

Read Chris Romeo... every Tuesday at

After Chris’s revelation that From Right Field will be “abandoning” its budget roots for future articles, the forums made their thoughts abundantly clear. Chris responds to the detractors… so where does it leave us?

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Dark Confidant, Birds of Paradise, or Wrath of God. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks "set in stone" or "done." If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

I hadn’t planned on writing this piece. It normally takes me too long to respond to forum posts and e-mails when they spawn an article. But this one, in response to last week’s piece, spurred me on. Here’s what I got (cleaned up grammatically):

Dear Mr. Romeo,

As a faithful reader (I’ve tried to catch your column every week for the last couple of years or so), I was worried about the statement in your Champs article that you’ll be using more Ninth Edition and Ravnica Block dual lands. I read your column because I’m a true budget player. I can’t afford hundreds of dollars worth of lands for a deck. It wouldn’t leave me anything for buying the playsets of commons and uncommons, let alone a few trash rares! Besides, mana issues can be solved with Green land-grabbing spells, Signets, and Terramorphic Expanse. Please, tell me that you’re not abandoning us. No offense, but, if we want to spend hundreds of dollars on a deck, we can just copy a Pro-Tour-winning deck. We look to you for cheap, fun decks.

Say it ain’t so, Chris. Say it ain’t so.

Thanks for the reads,


It ain’t so, Markus. It ain’t so. Kinda.

I am in no way abandoning budget decks. What I was trying to get across is that it’s time for me to start considering the dual lands as what they are: staples that even budget players need to buy. Yes, they’re expensive. The fact that every type of player can use them and use them well in any format is why they’re so expensive. Supply and demand says so. Before I get more in-depth on this issue, let me address a couple of things that Markus brought up.

First, it’s true that Green can solve a lot of problems when it comes to mana. Just as one example, Into the North can go get a Highland Weald. Nice, huh? It’s like playing with Karplusan Forests and Stomping Grounds at a fraction of the cost.

The trouble is it’s not like that at all. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good play. It’s a solid play. It thins the deck and gets you your second color. However, while you’re spending turn 2 to tap out to bring a land into play tapped, your opponent has dropped a second Stomping Grounds untapped and cast a second 2/3 Kird Ape or gotten a 3/3 Scab-Clan Mauler. You’d better be doing something sweet on your third turn. (Sporesower Thallid, anyone?)

Using spells like Farseek, Rampant Growth, and Into the North takes up slots for more aggressive spells. Sometimes you have to do it, but you’d rather have offense or defense. This, of course, is why Sakura-Tribe Elder was so hot. It provided a body and a land. The Elder’s not Standard-legal anymore. So, stop wishing it were so.

Besides, what if you weren’t even planning on playing Green? What if you were planning on playing, say, a Black and White deck? (Hold your horses. We’ll get to Signets in a minute.) Sure, Green can still help in that case. You just need to completely wreck your manabase to squeeze in a third color (Green). That’s not a great idea. It may be all you can do as a budget player, but it’s not the best idea.

Second, you could use Signets. In fact, non-Green decks are where Signets come in most handy, especially for budget players. Check out the Battle Royale decks, if you need confirmation of this. No need to wreck your mana base for that B/W deck by adding Green. Just use Orzhov Signets! Of course, if you don’t actually need all of the extra mana that Signets provide, you’re really just losing a slot for business spells when you play Signets.

Don’t be thinkin’ that I’m hatin’ on Signets. I love me some Signets. Even decks like Solar Flare and Solar Pox, decks that run manabases consisting of hundreds of dollars worth of “pain” and “Shock” lands, still run Signets. Those decks, though, will use all of that mana. They want to play Compulsive Research and Zombify on turn 5, just as an example. Of course, those decks also have huge, expensive spells like Akroma, Angel of Wrath, and Angel of Despair. In other words, they don’t really have “extra” mana. They will use it all.

If you don’t really have a use for extra mana – like, say, you’re playing a straightforward B/W beatdown deck – the Signets have done two things. They’ve smoothed the mana, and they’ve taken up a slot that should be dedicated to beatdown creatures or removal to clear the way for them.

Again, I want to reiterate: I’m not hatin’ on the Signets or Green. As a budget player, I love Signets, Green’s color smoothing (and deck thinning), and the Ravnica block “Karoo”/Guild lands.

Third, Terramorphic Expanse is the newest nod to budget deckbuilders. As a common that can grab any basic land, it serves two very Green purposes. It gets the proper color, and it thins your deck. Think of it as Rampant Growth for half the cost that can be put into any deck without needing Green. Still, the land it gets only makes one color of mana.

Let’s admit it, though. We all know that the best, smoothest, most efficient way to play two or more colors is with lands that come into play untapped and make more than one color of mana. It frees your thirty-six (give or take) spell slots to be the kind of spells that actually win the game rather than spells that simply enable you to cast the spells that win the game.

They key in all of that is efficiency. Magic is a game of resource management. (This is one of the few phrases that I know from game theory, so I trot it out whenever I can. It makes me sound smart, or, at least, smart-ish.) Barring randomness, of which Magic has a healthy dose, games of resource management are typically won by the player who – follow me closely now; this is where it gets tricky – manages his or her resources best. That normally translates to “the player who uses his or her resources most efficiently.” In Magic, you have many resources. Some of those include cards in hand, your library, and land/mana. If you’re using slots in your library to smooth mana only because you don’t have the lands which can do that more efficiently, that isn’t the best use of your resources.

(I have emphasized “only” after about six drafts of that last sentence so that people would understand that I know that there is a difference between using slots solely because you don’t have the best lands for your deck and using slots to accelerate mana because you plan on playing expensive spells quickly.)

There’s one resource, though, that rarely gets talked about in regard to Magic: money. Oh, sure, people will complain about the cost of playing the game (guilty!), but money is rarely (ever?) mentioned in regards to the resource management aspects of the game that’s played on the table. The reason is probably as simple as the fact that money plays no part in the game itself. Money does shape your particular games. If you can’t afford (or simply choose not to pay for) the cards that would make your deck run most efficiently, you will usually, barring that darned randomness, not do as well as a person whose deck is running more efficiently. (Note that I’m not talking here about the monetary cost versus the relative power level of cards. I’m only talking about the efficiency of the cards.)

This is a problem that budget players have always had, as far as I can tell. We can’t play as efficiently as we’d like to. The solution to that lies in one of two directions: manage your Magic budget better; or live with the results you get from what you can afford to buy.

Take, for example, the fact that I played in two drafts after I went 1-2-drop at States. Those cost me twenty-four dollars. I had the money. I had saved an extra five bucks here and seven bucks there so that I could have a good time at this event. Still, I made a decision to spend twenty-four dollars on two drafts. What else could I have done with that money? Well, I could have pocketed it and ordered my fourth Blood Crypt and my fourth Char from this here site here. However, I didn’t. I made a conscious decision to play in those drafts, knowing full well that there was no way that I’d get Char or Blood Crypt in any of my picks. The drafts were Time Spiral times three, after all. I checked after we were done. No one pulled a Char or a Blood Crypt in any of their Time Spiral packs. Apparently, those cards were not Timeshifted. *sigh*

I’ll need that fourth Blood Crypt or fourth Char, probably soon. The question will be: was the draft worth what I gave up? Yes. Yes, it was. I had fun drafting with my friends and getting a chance (that I blew twice) to win more Time Spiral packs.

For someone else, though, the answer may very well have been “No.” For that person, even the chance to win more Time Spiral cards isn’t enough to justify the cost of playing in the draft. He wants to have the cards that will help him win in Constructed tournaments. If you’re that person, make sure that your budget is being used – wait for it – most efficiently.

That means that you have to start with this question: what is your Magic budget? Let’s say that it’s ten dollars per week for regular card purchases. That translates to forty bucks per month with two fifty-dollar months per year. Typically, I save up that money to spend in large chunks. For example, I may get a box from the newest set plus a playset (i.e. four each) of the commons and uncommons. That comes to about 120 dollars, maybe twenty dollars more if we’re talking about the main set of a block because there are more commons and uncommons in the playsets. Sets comes out every four months (Coldsnap shenanigans aside) or every 160 dollars. That would give you three months of structured purchases and one month “free.” That “free” month is where you should purchase the extra rares that you need.

So, shouldn’t you stop buying boxes and use that eighty dollars on rares? Maybe, maybe not. Personally, I can’t stop. I have a sickness for opening packs. I like the spread of cards that I get in boxes. I enjoy opening packs with the gang. I like seeing what Luanne opens and comparing it to mine. It feels good to have extra commons and uncommons that I can give away or trade. Looking at it purely from a standpoint of efficiency, though, yes, I should stop buying boxes. The eighty dollars that I spent on my Time Spiral box, for example, could have paid for a Blood Crypt, two Breeding Pools, and a Hallowed Fountain, putting me a mere two Hallowed Fountains from having a complete playset of all of the Ravnica block Shock lands.

Of course, I wouldn’t have gotten the two Psionic Blasts, either. Or the Stronghold Overseer for our Solar Flare Redux deck. Or the extra set of Knight of the Holy Nimbus that I could loan out. Hmm… decisions, decisions.

Anyway, my point is to illustrate how a budget player budgets (or doesn’t) well. If you truly want to be competitive on a budget, make the most of that budget. Don’t do what I do. I’m a freak. I enjoy way too much the physical act of opening packs and flipping through the cards. No, I don’t go straight to the rare. If I could get a part time job sorting cards, I’d gladly help someone bust packs and sort the cards into piles. Like I said, “Freak!” I am resolving, here and now, to change my ways on this.

As a budget player, you should save your money for playsets of commons and uncommons first and the rares that you find you want to play second. I always go for playsets first because the sheer number of commons and uncommons give you the most options and often have some very powerful cards in them. Think about U/G Madness when it was a Standard-legal deck. That deck was nothing but commons and uncommons. The only rares were…

… the lands that allowed the deck to make both Blue and Green mana – Yavimaya Coast and sometimes City of Brass. (Okay, some versions ran Bird of Paradise, too. Also, a rare mana-maker, Birds doesn’t change the fact that the only rares were there to make Blue and Green mana.)

See what I mean? Even when we look back through time at a Pro-Tour-winning deck that had no rare spells, it still needed rare lands to make it run most efficiently. Of course, it could have run Rampant Growth instead, but that deck would rather have made a 3/3 Elephant token on turn 2 or a 2/2 Wild Mongrel than do nothing but bring another land into play.

Getting back to Markus’ worries, though, I’m not going to start making three-color decks that abuse rare lands. You won’t see me suggesting any three-color decks that start:

4 Godless Shrine
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Watery Grave
4 Underground River

This isn’t to say that I won’t do three-colors at all. I just won’t have the manabases consist of twenty-four rare lands. Most likely, the deck would have a Green base (I know, I know) to fetch the other two colors, but Green would have to be in there for more than simply fetching the other two colors. As I said above, if that’s all Green’s there for, you should just go two colors.

What I will be doing, though, is using more of the rare lands to make the two-color decks more efficient. I’ve said this before, and I will continue to say it. The best investment you can make as a budget player is in your manabase. If you like playing Red and White, if that’s your color combination, you should be saving all of your money to get four Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forges[/author] and four Sacred Foundries even before you try to get other cards for a R/W deck. Am I saying that you should get Sacred Foundries before you get Chars? Yes. Before you get Wrath of God? Yes. Before Paladin En-Vec? Yes, because the fact is that you can use the lands in any R/W deck, but you may not use Wrath or the Paladin or Char in each and every R/W deck you try to make. (Okay, so you’ll probably use Char in all of them, but that’s because it’s soooooo good. You should get my drift, though.)

Spend your money first on the cards out of which you’ll get the most use. Usually, that’s the pain and Shock lands.

Many of you budget folks already understand a lot of this. Some of you have got even less that forty dollars a month to spend on this game, and you’ve figured out how you can afford to play in tournaments on that. I know one person whose budget is only five bucks a week. That’s it. Twenty bucks a month. (I honestly don’t think you can possibly play this game on less money than that unless every card you ever use is borrowed.) Yet he still has a lot of fun playing the game. How? He plays mono-colored decks or he borrows cards. This column isn’t about borrowing cards, though. If a person has access to the cards to make a Tier 1 deck, he usually will, even if he has to borrow them. This column is for people who typically have access only to their own cards. When we budget folks do have access to another person’s cards, it’s usually one person like a brother or friend who’s in the same boat as us. If we had access to four of everything, we wouldn’t be budget players, would we?

So, rest assured, Markus, I won’t be abandoning my budget-ness. I’m merely going to shift the focus a bit. The presumption for many of the decks will be that, if you are a fan of these two colors, you have four of each of the Ninth Edition and Ravnica block lands that make those two colors. Then, if you’re intrigued by how the deck works, you can go get the other rares in the deck. If you aren’t already a fan of those two colors but the deck wins you over, you should start by saving your money for the lands.

How would this new philosophy have changed how I built my States deck? Well, it would have looked like this:

Notice that the deck still only has fourteen rares. (I’m counting the Warhammer as an uncommon since that’s what it was in Mirrodin, and those are the versions that I played. See what I mean? I didn’t sell the cards.) As I said last week, I should have listened to my man Joe and splashed White for Mortify. I worried about using the Godless Shrine because of the budget-ness that I was shooting for. I couldn’t justify it to myself because this wasn’t really a B/W deck. You know what, though? It needed to be, sort of. It should have been not a B/W deck but a B/w deck.

I know that collecting all of the lands that you might want won’t be easy or quick for those of you on tight budgets. As you can tell, it’s not easy for me, either. I still don’t have all of the Ravnica block Shock lands. I love playing Black and Red, and I’m still short one Blood Crypt. I’m three short on Hallowed Fountains. Heck, it took me three years of collecting before I got my fourth Birds of Paradise. Remember, though, you can always slide in one of the common Guild lands if you need to. That’s what I’ve started doing for my B/R decks. My manabase starts with four Sulfurous Springs, three Blood Crypts, and a Rakdos Carnarium. I may throw in a Molten Slagheap in the future, or a couple of Tresserhorn Sinks. They aren’t the most efficient cards, but they are what I have.

The next logical step in this discussion is to figure out which rares to get first. Since Time Spiral is the new set, I should figure out which ones of those to get. Since I’ve been harping on this issue, lands come first. There aren’t many rare lands in Time Spiral even with the rare Timeshifted cards. The ones I would recommend getting first are:

Flagstones of Trokair: If you don’t think you’ll ever play a White deck, though, you should obviously not consider these.

Arena: What a great card for controlling the board. You get one free land per turn, right? Why not make it removal, too?

Desert: Ditto. [I’d definitely plump for the Desert first, folks… the Arena doesn’t tap for mana, so its usefulness as a land is rather marginal. – Craig.]

Gemstone Mine: This card may be the next best way for budget deckbuilders to smooth their mana. The great news is that it fits into any deck, regardless of the colors. Once you have four, you’re in a good place. The bad news is that a G-Mine goes away after the third time you use it. The best news is that there’s a copy in one of the Time Spiral Preconstructed decks. (I believe it’s the Sliver Evolution deck.) So, you can buy the precon, steal the Gemstone Mine, replace it with a Forest or something, and give the deck to your little brother for a present. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that…

In White, I’d have to recommend Magus of the Disk; Serra Avenger; Tivadar of Thorn; Akroma, Angel of Wrath; Resurrection; Sacred Mesa; and Soltari Priest, depending, of course, on whether you like beatdown or control.

Blue rares that I’d try to get are Ancestral Vision; Draining Whelk (although most decks would only run two, maybe three); Moonlace; Psionic Sliver (if you plan on playing Slivers); Sprite Noble (if you’re planning on making a Neo-Blue Skies deck); Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir; Lord of Atlantis (Merfolk will make a comeback, I tell you); Psionic Blast; and Whispers of the Muse. Geez, Blue really did get a ton of good cards in this set.

For Black, you’ll want to add to your “must have” list Living End, Plague Sliver (note: he’s not for Sliver decks), Stronghold Overseer, Sudden Spoiling, Avatar of Woe, Bad Moon, Dauthi Slayer, Faceless Butcher, Funeral Charm, Shadow Guildmage, and Stupor. If you like Zombies, also make sure to grab Twisted Abomination, Undead Warchief, and Withered Wretch. As with White, prioritize these based on whether you think you’d play Zombies, non-Zombie Black Weenie beatdown, or control. Also, don’t forget that Twisty Swampcycles, so he’s good in a control deck to fetch lands, too, even if you don’t play Zombies per se. Plus, he regenerates for late-game heroics. Lordy, lordy, I love me some Twisty.

Red cards on that list would be Bogardan Hellkite; Jaya Ballard, Task Mage; Magus of the Scroll; Word of Seizing; Avalanche Riders; Browbeat; Desolation Giant (though, maybe only two copies for your R/W Control deck); Disintegrate; Dragon Whelp; Fiery Temper; Pandemonium; and Suq’Ata Lancer. Yes, really. The Lancer.

On the Green list, I’d put Spectral Force, Squall Line, Stonewood Invocation, Thelonite Hermit, Avoid Fate, Call of the Herd, Hail Storm, Spike Feeder, and Thornscape Battlemage. Man, are the Hermit and the Herd excellent in Glare of Subdual decks.

The multi-colored cards to shoot for are Kaervek the Merciless; Mishra, Artificer Prodigy; Saffi Eriksdotter; Lightning Angel; Mystic Enforcer; Mystic Snake; Nicol Bolas; Shadowmage Infiltrator; Stormbind; and Void, depending on the colors you like to play.

Artifacts are a bit lacking, but I’d feel bad leaving them out. Gauntlets of Power, Lotus Bloom, Stuffy Doll, Triskelavus, Feldon’s Cane, Grinning Totem, The Rack, and Tormod’s Crypt are all strong… in the right deck. Only Mirari and Serrated Arrows truly appear to be must-have cards, although Tormod’s Crypt is an awesome sideboard card. Everything else needs to have a deck specifically designed to use its ability. I know, that’s something you can say about just about any card, but it’s a little different for artifacts. For example, Spectral Force is awesome and slides into pretty much any Green deck that wants to attack. The Rack is also awesome but only works in decks that are dedicated to discard.

Just so no one gets their panties all bunched up, I am not saying that everyone needs four copies of each card that I just listed. That wouldn’t really be budget, right? What I’m saying is that, if you like that color, look into those cards. You’re bound to find something that you just have to have four of. In the coming months, I will be attempting to make decks with some of them.

Oh, and, yes, I was kidding about Moonlace. It doesn’t even say “Draw a card” on it. I’d rather have Squire. Luckily, I haven’t gotten any of either… yet.

Just to calm down the folks like Markus – and there were many – I won’t be going overboard with the dual lands. I’ll stick to two colors when I use them. We all know that we can make the manabases cheaper with common Guild lands, Signets, and Terramorphic Expanse, but that’s not the best way to make your deck work. Sadly, a lot of casual/rogue decks perform worse than they should because of less-than-optimal manabases. Invest in your manabase, but know that you have those cheaper alternatives.

In essence, all I’ll be doing is flipping how I worked manabases in the past. Before, I’d give the cheap version of the deck, the one that people just scrolled down to, and then I’d talk about how to make the mana better. Now, the default will be the good, efficient manabase followed by ways to make it cheaper.

In addition, beginning with this week, I’m going to start keeping a budget for this column. Obviously, I can’t start completely at zero. I’m going to presume that you’ve already got four of each common and uncommon that’s Standard legal. Because those cards are already out and legal, you would have already saved and paid for them. I’ll also presume that you’ve purchased whatever Ninth Edition “pain” and Ravnica block “Shock” lands are important to you. That doesn’t mean all twenty of them, just the ones that are for “your colors.” I won’t be limiting the decks to whatever we’ve saved. That’s a separate issue. I will price out the rares in the deck and tell you how long you’d have to save for it at ten dollars per week. The actual savings account will be something to track to see what you could get at that point in time. We’re going to track our spending and/or saving from this week forward, setting our budget at ten dollars per week. Therefore, we have ten Magic dollars in the bank, none of which we’re spending this week. Weeeeee!

Tune in next week for the article that I had planned on sending in when Markus and others wrote to me worried that I was abandoning them.

Dear Markus,

In the future, yes, I am going to start using more of the rare Ninth Edition “pain” and Ravnica block “Shock” lands. These are cards that even budget players need to have. I don’t expect that every budget player will get four copies of all twenty of the lands. I do, however, urge budget players to get four copies of the lands that represent the colors that they like to play the most. If a particular deck that I write about isn’t in colors that you like to play, don’t spend money on those lands. If you’re interested but don’t want to buy the dual lands, find a way to fix the mana accordingly.

This isn’t to say that I’m going to make every deck a two-color deck with eight rares lands. I still want to give young and newer players something to play right away, decks they should be able to build with what they have or can easily get. So, I’ll still work on some very cheap decks that don’t need any or many rare lands. Even though it should be obvious from the decklists (many rare lands or not?), I’ll try to preface my pieces by explaining what group I’m aiming at with a certain deck.

Still, I can’t stress enough that I think that you should focus your budget on picking up those rare lands. In the long run, they will be the best investment you make in this game.

Thanks for reading,