Let’s All Play Modern

Chas thinks you should start playing Modern, so he provides a handy-dandy guide to the format’s decks and the $10 and up cards you need to acquire in order to play them.

You should start playing Modern. Yes, you. Start playing right now. [Editor’s Note: Doesn’t take much to convince me.]

I’ve been vocal about disliking the format in the past, but I’ve changed by tune. If you’re still a hater like I was, give me a few minutes of your time while I debate this straw man for the honor of the format. If I don’t change your mind, feel free to keep silently weeping into your Legacy deck or whatever.

Straw Man

D’urr, Modern is expensive! Standard is so much cheaper!

I know you think that, straw man, but it isn’t true. The Esper Control deck that took down the last major Standard tournament had 25 out of 60 maindeck cards retail for $10 or more. In contrast, the Affinity deck that won the last big Modern tournament ran just fifteen cards that cost $10 or more in the maindeck. Modern decks right now are only slightly more than Standard decks on a whole, and many tier 1 Modern decks can be built cheaper than tier 1 Standard decks.

But how can I play Modern without dropping $600 on a set of Tarmogoyfs?

The same way you can play Standard without dropping $240 on a set of Voice of Resurgences. Pick a strategy or two that you like, learn it well, stick with it, and profit. Many good decks in Modern run no Tarmogoyfs, Dark Confidants, Vendilion Cliques, or Thoughtseizes. If you don’t have those cards and don’t want to buy them, pick a different deck.

Yeah, but Wizards is just going to ban whatever deck I build next month anyway.

Wizards went a little heavy with the ban hammer at the start of the format’s life, but that was out of necessity. When you’re building a new format, you need it to be fun and dynamic. If one strategy were to dominate for too long, people would stop playing and might never come back. That was far more important than making sure your pet strategy wasn’t banned. At this point, nothing in the format seems too egregious to warrant a banning in the near future, so I think the next step may involve unbanning some things.

But what’s the point? Modern isn’t as dynamic as Legacy, and fewer people play it than Standard.

Modern will never be Legacy. For some of you, that is a deal breaker always and forever. That’s fine—Legacy is a brilliant format and needs passionate supporters to keep it alive. Modern is never going to have blisteringly fast combo decks, Force of Will battles, Dredge nonsense, Wastelands, or perfect mana. It won’t have as many decision trees in the first few turns or as many varied strategies.

But that’s okay. Modern doesn’t have to be Legacy for it to be a great format. It does play a little more like Standard, but there are bunches more strategies open to you and you can still do a lot of absurdly powerful things that would drop jaws in Standard. You might not be able to play as many decks as you can in Legacy, but it is still a wide-open field. It’s true that fewer people play it than Standard, but that’s starting to change. Like it or not, Modern is the future of Eternal Magic.

If you’ve ever met me, you know that I’m not much of a Constructed player. If you want advice on which Modern deck is best positioned in the current metagame, look elsewhere. The point of this article is to examine how to get into Modern exclusively from a financial perspective. It’s going to focus most of its attention on building a deck from scratch.

All of the decklists I’m going to reference below did well in recent tournaments. I’m going to cover the maindecks only—sideboards tend to vary depending on your local metagame and how the format evolves. If you’d rather brew up your own thing, go for it, but when I take on a new format, I like to start with something established and go from there.

See, the reason I write this column is to help people like you afford to play Magic. At the end of the day, that’s what is important to me—not helping sharks get sharkier or allowing non-players to make a fortune off speculation. Once in a while, it’s important to put down the charts and start looking at decks. Find something you want to build and make it your goal to get there. Ramp up your trading. Sell some of those long-term specs and buy the last few cards you need.

Having a good deck in a new format opens up a whole new world of tournament possibilities for you. Let’s do this thing.

Mono-Blue Tron

This is a pure control deck, though it does have some Voltron-style combo elements with the Tron lands and the Mindslaver lock. Financially, the best reason to play this deck is that the mana base is incredibly affordable; you can pick up the Tron lands incredibly cheaply considering how many times they’ve been printed. Other than that, you’re just looking for an Academy Ruins—a card that was just reprinted in Modern Masters.

$10 and Up Cards: 2x Wurmcoil Engine, 2x Snapcaster Mage, 1x Oblivion Stone, 4x Remand

You aren’t getting much better than this. Wurmcoil Engine is still pretty easy to find because it was a Prerelease card. If you’ve played any Standard at all, you probably have a Snapcaster Mage or two already, and if you don’t you can probably pick them up when they rotate. That leaves an Oblivion Stone and four Remands as the only moderately difficult trade targets.


When Modern was announced, it was widely thought that Merfolk would be one of the decks to beat. After all, it survives the transition from Legacy reasonably intact.

That wasn’t the case, though. Merfolk struggled right out of the gate, and it has never really dominated in Modern. It is powerful, though, and it’s nice to see the deck starting to show up more and more.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Aether Vial, 3x Remand, 4x Mutavault, 1x Cavern of Souls

Aether Vial is at its cheapest point in years, and picking up four while Modern Masters is fresh shouldn’t be difficult. Cavern is a moderately easy pickup on rotation. While Mutavaults won’t be cheap to get, the fact that they’ll be a normal rare in M14 makes it possible to pick up a set in trade at your local shop. That leaves Remand yet again as the only really difficult card to find and acquire.


While Storm isn’t the pre-banning monster it was, the deck isn’t gone from the format entirely. Winning on turn 2 or 3 is much harder, but there’s significantly less hate in the format. If you’re new to Eternal play altogether and you want to try something totally different, give this a shot

$10 and Up Cards: 1x Cascade Bluffs, 2x Misty Rainforest, 4x Scalding Tarn

The beauty of Modern Storm right now is that the mana base is the only expensive part of the deck. Almost every other card is $2 or less and is very easy to get. No deck with six fetchlands is a truly budget build, but if you’re planning on buying into the format in general, getting the lands isn’t a bad place to start.


Affinity is a great deck. It has been playable in nearly every format it has ever been legal in. The changes to the legend rule make Mox Opal better too. The deck isn’t that hard to play, and it is capable of taking down tournaments right out of the box.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Arcbound Ravager, 4x Blinkmoth Nexus, 4x Glimmervoid, 4x Mox Opal

The problem is that the expensive Affinity cards are only good in Affinity. If you get bored of the deck, you can’t use your Mox Opals to play something else the way you could with Tarmogoyf or Misty Rainforest. Of course, those four $10 and up cards have been staples for years, so chances are you’ll always be able to trade them for close to what you pay. I really like this deck as an entry point to the format for that reason.


Naya has efficient creatures, two-way threats, planeswalkers, and tons of value. This deck is pretty similar to what’s going on in Standard right now only this is a heck of a lot more powerful. I recommend it to anyone who plays G/W/x decks right now and love the way they play as long as they already have a large Magic collection.  

$10 and Up Cards: 3x Deathrite Shaman, 3x Noble Hierarch, 4x Tarmogoyf, 2x Thundermaw Hellkite, 1x Ajani Vengeant, 3x Domri Rade, 1x Elspeth, Knight Errant, 4x Arid Mesa, 1x Marsh Flats, 2x Misty Rainforest, 4x Verdant Catacombs

Any list with the phrase “4x Tarmogoyf” is going to start $600 retail in the hole, and the hits just keep coming with this brew. It is decks like this that make Modern seem impossible to break into, though if you’ve been playing a while it might not be impossible to put together. All of these cards were very good in Standard, so if you were savvy in picking up post-rotation sleepers you might have half of these things already. If not, start elsewhere.

R/G Aggro

Gruul bash! Gruul crash! This deck basically exists in Standard already, but the Modern port is even faster and has way fewer dead draws. If you like smash, deck also like smash.

 $10 and Up Cards: 4x Tarmogoyf, 4x Goblin Guide, 2x Misty Rainforest, 4x Stomping Ground, 3x Verdant Catacombs

Unfortunately, deck also like Tarmogoyf.

U/W Control

U/W Control has been good in nearly every format for the past ten years. There’s rarely a time when the Azorius aren’t competitive, and you could do worse than simply buying up all the blue/white cards that Wizards prints. This deck is no exception: lots of card draw, some tempo, some tricks, and a whole lot of powerful spells.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Restoration Angel, 3x Snapcaster Mage, 1x Vendilion Clique, 2x Hallowed Fountain, 2x Mystic Gate, 2x Scalding Tarn, 1x Batterskull, 3x Cryptic Command, 2x Remand, 1x Sphinx’s Revelation

If you play blue/white in Standard currently, you’ve already got the Angels, Mages, Fountains, and Sphinx’s Revelation. That leaves you with a small handful of expensive but not impossible to get cards in order to fully port your deck to Modern. Much like Affinity, this deck never really falls out of favor and should always be playable in some form.

Kiki Pod

Along with the Melira variant, this is one of the two Birthing Pod decks in Modern. This one looks to go infinite with Kiki-Jiki, making it something of a toolbox/ramp/combo deck.

$10 and Up Cards: 1x Aven Mindcensor, 4x Noble Hierarch, 3x Restoration Angel, 2x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, 3x Arid Mesa, 1x Breeding Pool, 3x Fire-Lit Thicket, 4x Grove of the Burnwillows, 1x Hallowed Fountain, 3x Misty Rainforest, 3x Chord of Calling

The mana base is the bulk of the value here, but finding Hierarchs and Chords of Calling in trade these days is very difficult. Neither was in Modern Masters, and I’ve heard people speculating that Chord will be a whopping $30 next season. I tend to agree—it will probably hit $20+ sooner rather than later. This is a wildly fun deck to play, though, so if you can get the pieces I recommend giving it a shot.

Melira Pod

This is the other Pod deck, and it operates in a similar way. This combo involves Melira, a sac outlet, and a persist creature as well as a few other possible interactions that are very tough to beat. It took down GP Portland, so it clearly has game.

$10 and Up Cards: 3x Deathrite Shaman, 2x Voice of Resurgence, 1x Godless Shrine, 4x Misty Rainforest, 2x Overgrown Tomb, 1x Temple Garden, 4x Verdant Catacombs, 3x Chord of Calling

The mana is still pretty pricey, but it is surprisingly cheaper than the Kiki Pod deck. If you already have the Standard cards you need, it’s a matter of going after the lands and the Chords of Calling before they jump in price even more.


This deck is pretty straightforward: ramp and kill stuff until you can Valakut them out with a giant Scapeshift. If you like playing with Primeval Titan and you’re sad he’s gone from Standard and Commander, this might be the brew for you.

$10 and Up Cards: 1x Breeding Pool, 2x Misty Rainforest, 4x Scalding Tarn, 4x Stomping Ground, 3x Prismatic Omen, 3x Remand

Yet again, the mana base and the Remands are the only real barrier here. A lot of these cards are only good in this deck, making them fairly easy to acquire in trade. Much like with Affinity, though, if you go for this deck, you won’t be able to use the cards to build anything else.

Gifts Rites

Holy mackerel, this deck looks fun! If you liked the Frites deck from last summer or you’ve ever been a fan of toolbox Gifts decks, look no further. As a staunch Reanimator player in Legacy for years and someone who played Gifts in Standard when it was legal, this seems like an extra sweet one to me.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Deathrite Shaman, 1x Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, 3x Liliana of the Veil, 1x Breeding Pool, 1x Godless Shrine, 1x Hallowed Fountain, 3x Marsh Flats, 2x Misty Rainforest, 1x Overgrown Tomb, 1x Temple Garden, 3x Verdant Catacombs, 1x Watery Grave, 1x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, 2x Thoughtseize

There are a lot of one-ofs and two-ofs here, making it look more expensive to build than it actually is. If you played Jund at all this year, you probably have the Deathrites and Lilianas already. The Thoughtseizes will be much easier to get if the rumor is true and they’re reprinted next month.

Living End

Living End has long been the Modern deck of choice for budget brewers. Most of the deck is made up of commons so it’s cheap and easy to build. It isn’t the strongest deck in the format, but it is more than capable of winning on a given weekend. If you like Legacy Dredge (but don’t love it because this will feel like a cheap imitation), this might be the right deck for you.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Fulminator Mage, 1x Godless Shrine, 1x Overgrown Tomb, 1x Stomping Ground, 4x Verdant Catacombs

Even with Fulminator Mages at $11 each, this is one of the cheaper decks to build. The three shocklands are easy to acquire, leaving you with only two difficult playsets to trade for or buy. This is a nice, fun, easy entry into the format.


Without Wild Nacatl, Zoo has taken a backseat recently. It’s a little different now—gone are some of the dedicated aggro cards, replaced by a little more reach and some solid midrange value spells.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Deathrite Shaman, 2x Noble Hierarch, 2x Snapcaster Mage, 4x Tarmogoyf, 4x Geist of Saint Traft, 2x Elspeth, Knight-Errant, 4x Arid Mesa, 1x Blood Crypt, 1x Breeding Pool, 1x Godless Shrine, 1x Hallowed Fountain, 2x Marsh Flats, 1x Sacred Foundry, 4x Scalding Tarn, 2x Stomping Ground, 1x Temple Garden

This is a very expensive deck. You probably won’t build it if you’re already this far into this article. Unless you take that as a challenge and decide to build it just to spite me. To that I say, “… Okay?”

B/G Pox

In a previous era, this deck would have just been called “The Rock” like a thousand others similar to it. It’s a B/G midrange sort of thing with a bunch of attrition-based cards that add up over time. Seems sweet to me.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Deathrite Shaman, 4x Vengevine, 4x Liliana of the Veil, 4x Verdant Catacombs, 4x Marsh Flats, 4x Overgrown Tomb, 3x Thoughtseize

This deck takes advantage of a lot of $5 cards that are pretty easy to get right now, so it’s a decent time to buy in. It also uses the two cheapest fetchlands. If you want to build this deck (and Thoughtseize comes back), there will be a time this fall where both that card and the rotating Liliana of the Veil will be at their cheapest points. That’s when you should make your move.

U/R Twin

If you like going infinite with Kiki-Jiki but you don’t want to run Birthing Pod, this deck is closer to the Splinter Twin deck that dominated Standard a few years back.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Snapcaster Mage, 2x Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, 1x Arid Mesa, 2x Cascade Bluffs, 4x Scalding Tarn, 4x Misty Rainforest, 2x Steam Vents, 1x Stomping Ground, 4x Remand

If you love combo and don’t want to play straight Storm, this might be your cheapest option. The mana base is pricey, but the deck is otherwise quite affordable.

G/W Auras

If you like annoying people and love attacking, this might just be the deck for you.

$10 and Up Cards: 4x Horizon Canopy, 3x Misty Rainforest, 3x Verdant Catacombs, 3x Temple Garden, 4x Daybreak Coronet

Other than the mana, the only pricey card in here is Daybreak Coronet. Perhaps you have a couple lying around in a casual box from years past? If so, you’re in business. If not, this deck is still pretty cheap if you’ve got the fetches.

U/W/R Geist

When I first read Geist of Saint Traft, I knew it was going to be good. I did not expect that it would create a new archetype of “clear the way for the Geist” decks that would reverberate all the way down to Legacy. This Modern deck seems like one of the best packages.

$10 and Up Cards: 3x Restoration Angel, 4x Snapcaster Mage, 4x Geist of Saint Traft, 2x Vendilion Clique, 4x Arid Mesa, 2x Hallowed Fountain, 4x Scalding Tarn, 1x Sword of Feast and Famine, 4x Cryptic Command, 4x Remand

Yeah, this isn’t a cheap deck. Luckily, the best parts of it overlap pretty significantly with many of the other blue/white decks, so if you do start to collect these pieces you can theoretically play tempo or control depending on what the metagame looks like that week. That’s a valuable thing.

Jund (Ajundi Variant)

We’re seventeen decks in and Dark Confidant has finally made an appearance. Interestingly enough, Jund hasn’t done as well in the post-Eggs world, though the sample size is still quite small—by that point, the bulk of Modern season had ended. The Bloodbraid Elf banning was certainly significant, though, and while the deck is good it is no longer the unequivocal best in the format.

 $10 and Up Cards: 4x Dark Confidant, 4x Deathrite Shaman, 4x Tarmogoyf, 2x Thundermaw Hellkite, 3x Ajani Vengeant, 4x Liliana of the Veil, 1x Arid Mesa, 1x Godless Shrine, 4x Marsh Flats, 1x Overgrown Tomb, 1x Stomping Ground, 4x Verdant Catacombs, 3x Thoughtseize

This deck requires playsets of each of the three most expensive cards in Modern. Enough said.


This is one of the better “good stuff” decks in the format. Of course, good stuff is usually expensive stuff. This is no exception.

$10 and Up Cards: 2x Huntmaster of the Fells, 4x Snapcaster Mage, 3x Tarmogoyf, 3x Vendilion Clique, 1x Breeding Pool, 3x Misty Rainforest, 4x Scalding Tarn, 1x Stomping Ground, 1x Batterskull, 1x Engineered Explosives, 3x Vedalken Shackles, 3x Cryptic Command

I assume you’re starting to see the pattern by now, as this deck features pretty much all of the best cards in blue, green, and red. In this format, many of the decks are like that right now.

Modern At Large

After looking at all of these decks in depth, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

Nearly every strategy is viable in Modern to some degree. Aggro, control, combo, Storm, midrange, tempo, ramp, Reanimator, and tribal decks all exist here in some form. If there is a deck style you like to play, there’s a good chance you’ll find something in Modern that lets you do want you like to do.

The linear/synergistic decks are the most accessible. Affinity, Scapeshift, Living End, Storm, Tron, Auras, and Merfolk all have a clear and straightforward plan. Because of that, they each forgo many of the format staples from the “good stuff” decks and are much cheaper because of it.

Land is the highest barrier for entry. A year and a half ago, the Ravnica shocklands were all $30-$40, and no one could afford Modern mana bases. They’re $8-$15 now…and the Zendikar fetchlands are all $30-$40, meaning still no one can afford Modern mana bases. The return of the filterlands will help a little, but make sure you have all of the shocks and Scars fastlands that you think you’ll need going forward—it’s going to be a while before we see either again, and both sets of lands are omnipresent in the format.

Most of the “good stuff” decks use the same cards. Tarmogoyf, Deathrite Shaman, Restoration Angel, Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, Vendilion Clique, Geist of Saint Traft, Noble Hierarch, Thoughtseize, and Cryptic Command each show up in a bunch of decks. Make sure you trade for Snapcasters, Restos, Lilianas, and Geists this fall when they rotate—they’ll be right back up to where they are now or will go higher in the spring.

The other thing to keep in mind is that these decks are much more impervious to bannings—most of them can survive the loss of a single card and keep right on trucking.

Remand is the most egregious omission from Modern Masters. So many decks need a full playset of this suddenly $12 uncommon. For some, it is the single hardest card in the deck to find.

So which deck in Modern do I recommend you build? That depends on how you like to play Magic. Overall, starting with a linear deck seems good until you get a handle on the format. From there, trying to acquire all of the staples in one color combination— white/blue, say, or black/green—is a smart move. Whichever deck you try to build, make sure it’s something you want to play. Life is too short to play crappy games of Magic.

This Week’s Trends

Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant were both hot commodities on the floor at Vegas; dealers were paying as much as $90 each for the little Lhurgoyf and up to $50 for Bob. The retail price on both cards has risen, too, as people have started to realize that the Modern Masters supply wasn’t enough to meet demand.

Interestingly, now seems like a bad time to buy in on these two cards. People are going nuts over them because the price just went up, but Modern season is still a while away. They’ll probably fall back off to their previous values due to soft demand during the dog days.

Now is still an excellent time to pick up literally any of the other cards from Modern Masters, especially the ones that have dropped by 30% or more. Ever wanted Vials? Finks? Shackles? Explosives? Go get them.

My favorite purchases right now, if you can find them cheap enough, are the alt-art cards—especially in foil. I’ve snagged a foil set each of Manamorphose, Grapeshot, and Empty the Warrens for my long-term spec box as well as a bunch of Trygon Predators.

StarCityGames.com raised their price on foil Modern Masters Sword of Fire and Ice to $150. People are making that out to be a bigger deal than it is. SCG sold out immediately at their old price, and they were going for higher than that on eBay the weekend the set came out. SCG just raised the price to meet demand. There are so few of these I can’t imagine the price to go lower unless the new art foil is released in some other set.

Note that while Goyf and Bob are still climbing, the price for sealed Modern Masters boxes have leveled off. I still think this is the best place to make money over the long term. These will hit $500 at some point, I guarantee you.

Until next time –

– Chas Andres