MTG is a pretty overwhelming game to learn. It’s heralded by many as the most challenging game in the world. Unfortunately, Magic: the Gathering is also a very expensive game. Thirty years of history have made some cards very difficult to access.
Decks in various formats will easily cost hundreds of dollars, making it difficult for some players to invest in the game. Fortunately, there are powerful budget strategies out there that can allow players to dip their toes into new formats. Here, we will provide one budget deck list for each significant paper MTG format that you can try! We’ll take a look at Standard, Pioneer, Modern, and Commander. Pauper, notably, is budget by nature.
One thing you’ll notice is that most of these MTG budget decks are going to be mono-colored. Lands are, by far, some of the most expensive cards in the entire game, and one of the easiest ways to reduce the price of a deck is by going with a simple mana base. Basic lands can be found for free for the most part, significantly reducing the potential cost of your MTG budget deck.
MTG Best Budget Decks For Modern – Mono Red 8-Whack
8-Whack is an incredibly old strategy that has seen play repeatedly throughout MTG’s lifetime. The deck has not been competitively viable for a while, especially since the release of Modern Horizons Two caused the format to flip on its head. Luckily, thanks to some new Standard-legal Common and Uncommon cards, Mono Red 8-Whack is affordable and powerful against most of the Modern metagame!
This deck revolves around two types of cards: the Kuldotha Rebirth and Goblin Bushwhacker effects. The combo is simple: create a ton of 1/1 tokens using Kuldotha Rebirth and Gleeful Demolition and convert them into massive damage using Bushwhacker effects! You have two cards in each category: Kuldotha Rebirth and Gleeful Demolition that create three Goblin Tokens for one mana and an artifact, and Reckless Bushwhacker or Goblin Bushwhacker to give your whole board an extra power and Haste! This combo works incredibly well with Memnite, which can both be used as a cost to cast the token effect and as an additional attacker alongside the Bushwhacker effect. Combine this with the Shrapnel Blast and Goblin Grenade for easy burn damage that can take out an opponent with little effort.
The strength of this deck in the Modern metagame previous to Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth is how resilient it is against one-mana removal spells. Because of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer‘s presence in the format, many Modern decks are forced to have efficient answers for the monkey. If it happens to get just a few swings in on the opponent, it can easily end the game on the spot because of accumulated advantage from its attacks. This Bushwhacker strategy takes advantage of the overabundance of one-mana removal by creating too many tokens to deal with.
Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth added Orcish Bowmasters to the conversation, which is a really bad shout for this deck. That said, Murktide decks are back on the rise with Preordain being unbanned, which is great for players piloting this budget list.
That said, we are playing on a budget, so there are a few things that you really do not want to run into. Fury is a card that can ruin your day. The card can be Evoked, which allows anyone running the card to deal with your early board. You have the potential to create a lot of tokens, so this can be played around. It does mean that you need to be careful committing your cards since a scammed Fury could take out eight of your tokens! Rakdos Scam is currently the best deck in Modern, so expect to run into this at least once in your tournament runs.
Otherwise, Living End may be a very difficult matchup to overcome. The deck is not considered top-tier, but it is a popular choice for in-person tournaments because it’s not very difficult to pick up. If your opponent manages to get a big Living End off before you deal too much damage to your opponent, it isn’t easy to come back.
In terms of price, Modern can be one of the most expensive formats to get into. According to mtgoldfish.com, most tier-one Modern decks cost around $1000 USD! This isn’t the most common version of 8-Whack that has been doing well recently, but it is about half the price of most 8-Whack decks. You can expect to build the deck above for about $200.
If you want to cut prices further, you can cut down on Arid Mesa and Prismatic Vista – which make up more than half of the deck’s cost. They are the most expensive cards on this list and are not a necessary part of the deck. The tradeoff is that this makes your Mishra’s Baubles a lot worse since you cannot peek at the top card of your deck and shuffle it away with Fetch effects if you don’t like what you see. Of course, you’ll likely be using the Bauble for your Kuldotha Rebirth effects more often.
MTG Best Budget Decks For Pioneer: Mono Blue Spirits/ Mono Red Aggro
Mono Blue Sprits was, once upon a time, one of the best decks in the Pioneer format. Depending on your local metagame, Mono Blue Spirits can heavily overperform. Mono Green Devotion Combo is quite the popular archetype, and Mono Blue was its worst matchup by a mile. With recent changes, that may not remain the case, but your matchup against them should be decent at worst.
Your strategy is traditionally what Mono-Blue wants to do: create pressure in a way where you can react to your opponent’s game plan. Most of the Spirits in this deck have Flash, which allows you to dodge Sorcery speed removal and gives you plenty opportunity to protect your threats with counterspells. Ideally, you want to attach a Curious Obsession to one of your early creatures since it can accumulate a ton of advantage over a game and make fighting through your counterspells incredibly difficult.
The big reason why Mono Blue Spirits has fallen off in recent times is that it does not have a great matchup with two of the best decks in the format – Rakdos Midrange and Rakdos Sacrifice. They have all the tools needed to disrupt your gameplan: cheap instant-speed removal to remove your Curious Obsession creatures and Thoughtseize to figure out what cards that they need to play around in your hand. All of their cards also generate a ton of advantage, allowing them to grind effectively against one-for-one trades – something your deck loves to utilize.
Mono Blue Spirits has now generally been traded for the Azorius variant, but this deck is still serviceable. Mono Blue Spirits builds all tend to float around the price range of $150-$200. The list above goes for about $200. Alternatively, this Mono Blue deck list went 6-2 at a less recent NRG event, and was worth about $115 at the time. For reference, the average price for a top tier Pioneer option seems to be around $450-$500 currently.
Notably, there are cheaper budget options for the Pioneer format, but Mono Blue Spirits is the cheapest archetype that offers a competitive performance. There are incredibly budget Mono Red Burn strategies out there, but these heavily cut on the archetype’s efficiency to make ends meet financially. The above decklist is an example of a cheap Mono Red deck that should be able to perform ok at your locals. This is worth about $40 and can be upgraded to a more competitive deck over time. Just note that, currently, Mono Red is not considered a super competitive strategy in the Pioneer format.
Bonus: Boros Prowess
Boros Prowess is a competitive newcomer to the format that is relatively budget-friendly. Boros Prowess originally won the Magic Online Pioneer Showcase Challenge with over 400 players, showcasing the deck’s competitive viability. The goal of the deck is to utilize the one-mana Prowess Creatures that typically see play in red aggressive decks in Pioneer and combine them with a package set to maximize Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival. The above list is one from a recent Pioneer Challenge.Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival is an incredibly powerful card when built around. Cards like Wrenn’s Resolve, Reckless Impulse, and Showdown of the Skalds help provide the deck with a constant flow of Prowess triggers as well as a constant source of fuel for Pia Nalaar. What helps make this deck so successful is that it’s capable of having aggressive starts that put your opponent on the backfoot but can also play into the late game with lots of card advantage and value generated from Pia Nalaar.
Most of the cost of the deck is in the manabase. The entire list above goes for about $200, with most of that going towards the manabase and sideboard. While it’s reasonable to cut the four copies of Sacred Foundry to help keep the cost down further, this will make Chained to the Rocks a lot less consistent, so be careful. Even still, this is a great option as a deck that is both on the cheaper side and still competitive in the Pioneer format.
Read More: Top 12 MTG Best Pioneer Decks! (July 2023)
MTG Best Budget Decks For Standard: Mono Blue Tempo
Of all the budget deck lists available in this article, this one is the most budget. Mono Blue Tempo was not a tier one archetype in the Phyrexia: All Will Be One metagame, but the deck still saw some consistent play thanks to its strong matchup against midrange decks. That said, as Esper Legends became the obvious deck to beat in the format, Mono Blue Tempo became a much worse deck to bring to a major tournament.
Nowadays, right before the release of Wilds of Eldraine, Dimir decks should grind these out, but the option to play this is still available. If you’re just trying to assemble a deck of cards to bring to your LGS’s Standard night, this is a great way to do that on a budget!
Your strategy is similar to other Mono Blue strategies, but your clock in the Standard format is very slow. As a result, the deck plays from behind in the early game. You want to delay your opponent’s game plan for as long as possible until your threats start to come online. Once you can start casting your Tolarian Terrors for just a couple mana, or threaten a gigantic swing with a single Haughty Djinn, the game quickly starts to turn in your favor.
As you may imagine, aggressive strategies are not a good matchup against your strategy. Unfortunately, Standard has sped up a lot throughout the last Regional Championship season, which makes the field rather nasty for Mono Blue Tempo, providing popular matchups that are both heavily unfavored and heavily favored.
On the bright side, you should be able to put this deck together for around $40. You could do it for even less if you find some deals! Other Standard contenders can go for as much as $600, but there are a lot of strong decks priced at around the $200 range.
Bonus: Mono Red Aggro Post-Kiki Ban
After Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Reckoner Bankbuster and Invoke Despair kicked the bucket, the Standard format saw a resurgence of a few archetypes that got hated out by the Rakdos menace. Of the ones that reemerged, Mono Red Aggro has had a rather violent one. Aggressive decks generally start fast out of the gate for a new format, so this isn’t shocking.
What is shocking, however, is that the Mono Red menace, in its entirety, only costed about $80 according to MTGGoldfish! This can get knocked down to about $60 if you decide to find replacements for Invasion of Tarkir. You can read more about it here.
MTG Best Budget Decks For Commander: A Precon With a Twist
There are a lot of ways to build a budget deck in Commander. This isn’t the most budget method out there, but many budget decks do require players to hunt down various cards that can be pretty difficult to track down. As a result, instead of scouring the internet with the best cheapest Commander deck out there, I will share a strong budget deck that I stumbled on. In order to build this particular budget Commander deck, all you need to do is find a Streets of New Capenna preconstructed deck and one additional card.
With minimal packaging, the Obscura Operation preconstructed deck can be purchased from TCGplayer for just $35. According to mtggoldfish, the overall value of all the cards in this deck amounts to $67, an incredible deal!
This deck offers a powerful Esper go-wide strategy focusing on the Connive mechanic. This mechanic cares about looting but rewards the player for discarding nonland cards to the Connive ability. If you do so, the creature that is Conniving will receive +1/+1 counters equal to the number of nonland cards you discard.
Unfortunately, even though this deck can create a powerful board, the preconstructed Commander does not do the best job of synergizing with the deck’s capabilities. That reward, instead, goes to a Mythic Rare Standard staple from the Streets of New Capenna main set: Raffine, Scheming Seer.
Raffine is the perfect Commander for this aggressive Connive deck. You have a lot of small bodies that cannot be blocked, which scales incredibly well with Raffine’s attack trigger. The deck still cares a lot about Connive, which means your deck’s intended Commander becomes a powerhouse in the 99. Overall, Raffine speeds up the clock your deck presents while allowing you to Connive an insane amount of cards in a short time. This card is worth only $2, bringing up your total for this budget Commander option to $37. If you’re interested in reducing the price as much as possible, and can find someone willing to buy your copy of Smuggler’s Share that comes in the deck, you could reduce your deficit to about $25. It’s incredible how much more powerful this deck becomes just by swapping Commanders.
Another potential Commander card is the recently released Hidetsugu and Kairi. We looked deeper into this trending budget Commander option from March of the Machine here, but this Commander promises powerful turn-three kills (occasionally) without breaking the bank! It’s not a Commander that will be super engaging for the table, which is important in Commander since it’s a casual play experience before it’s a competitive game. That said, if your pod is playing with some incredibly powerful decks, this can be a great way to catch up with them without breaking the bank.
Pauper: Just a Budget Format
If you want to play MTG on a budget while maintaining a high power level in gameplay, Pauper is your best bet. Because this format only allows cards printed at a common rarity to be legal, one can both build incredibly powerful decks while not spending too much on it.
For reference, the most expensive Pauper deck in the current metagame according to mtggoldfish.com is Dimir Control. That clocks in at about $90 and is considered among the top decks in the metagame. In Pioneer, buying one of the best decks can cost north of $500. In Modern, more than $1000.
Players should expect to spend $60 on the average top tier Pauper deck, which is a bit more expensive than some of the other options presented, but you get to do the best thing that the format is capable of for that money. You won’t be competing against a thousand-dollar deck with a fifty dollar one.
The only issue here is that older cards may be tough to find. In exchange for cards being cheap, some supply issues can be seen since everyone else playing Pauper will also want access to those cards without money being a big issue. This is the best option to play Magic on a Budget at a high level.
Read More: It’s Time to Unban Some Cards in Commander