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By: lordmalinari, OP Frith
Mar 13 2015 11:00am
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Several years ago I tried to start an article series based around ridiculously cheap decks to play on Magic Online, with a $5 budget cap and an eye towards Standard or the block format at the time. While I knew of Pauper's existence, and have dabbled in it from time to time, there's just something alluring about the challenge of crafting a budget list for Magic's most popular format. While I ended up writing a few articles, for this very site in fact, I never really hit my stride and a lack of solid vision, and real life, got in the way, leading to the project falling by the wayside.

I’d originally intended my unrelated article last week to be a one-off, just an exercise to stretch my writing muscles and see if I could still produce a coherent collection of sentences on the topic of Magic. I’d like to think I mostly succeeded (coherence is in the eye of the beholder, after all), and with that, my passion for writing has been reignited.

I always enjoy reading Pete Jahn’s State of the Program series, and I believe it was the State of the Program for the twentieth of February that made me aware of the recent change in MTGOtraders’ policy regarding minimum card pricing.

Previously, the price floor on cards from the MTGOtraders’ bots and website was set at a couple of cents, but now cards can be had for as low as a single cent. While this change doesn’t seem too dramatic for most, when you set yourself a tight budget, every little helps. Coupled with the current depressed prices for many Khans of Tarkir cards, there’s never been a better time to be a budget player, and I felt the time was right for a one-off budget decks article.

So without further ado I present to you: Five decks for $5!


While these decks are all Standard legal, and all cost $5 or under from MTGOtraders at the time of writing, I make no guarantees that anyone would ever be capable of cashing a competitive daily event with them. What I can guarantee is hours of fun in the Just for Fun room (or even Tournament Practice, if you’re feeling brave enough) for less than the price of a cup of coffee!

$5 ($4.92) Boss Sligh

While in my last breath I said that I wouldn’t expect any of these decks to cash a daily, this mono-red list did exactly that, placing 3-1 in a recent Standard Daily! I can’t claim to have designed the list (that honor goes to the pilot CFUNK), but what I can do is provide the list, discuss the choices CFUNK made, and inform you that the current cost of the deck, including sideboard, is $4.92 on MTGOtraders, with a full $3 of that coming from the playset of Firedrinker Satyr.

$4.92 Boss Sligh
CFUNK - 3-1
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Satyr Hoplite
18 cards

Other Spells
4 Mardu Scout
2 Goblin Heelcutter
4 Lightning Strike
4 Titan’s Strength
4 Hammerhand
3 Coordinated Assault
3 Dragon Mantle
1 Blinding Flare
15 cards
17 Mountain
17 cards

4 Act of Treason
3 Arc Lightning
3 Peak Eruption
3 Scouring Sands
1 Temur Battle Rage
1 Blinding Flare
15 cards
Akroan Crusader

With eighteen one drop creatures, the curve for Boss Sligh is as low as they come. Every card choice in the deck is dedicated to closing out a game before an opponent can enter their mid- or late-game and stabilise. Even in situations where the deck doesn’t kill as quickly as you’d like, Blinding Flare and the reach of (Titan’s Strength) and Lightning Strike give you the ability to end a game that has gone on slightly longer.

Akroan Crusader’s heroic trigger typically powers the deck’s most explosive starts, and the noncreature spells in the deck (bar Lightning Strike) all interact favourably with the tiny army builder – yes, even Blinding Flare. Don’t forget that you can always cast Blinding Flare, or strive it, targeting Akroan Crusader to get a heroic trigger and an extra attacker, in addition to shutting down opposing blockers!

While the sideboard is cheap, it’s undeniably potent. A full playset of Act of Treason facilitates the theft of the powerful midrange creatures that seem to be dominating Standard, removes potential blockers, and generates additional damage; while Arc Lightning is clearly included for its utility against token strategies, the mirror, and the mono-black aggro decks based on Tomoharu Saito’s GP list. Scouring Sands serves much the same purpose.

I’ve seen sideboard Peak Eruptions played in the mirror, but it really shines in cracking open Rocks that might be Chaining your tiny little bundles of damage, with an added three points to the dome as a kicker.

Some people decry mono-red strategies as requiring little skill to play but Boss Sligh offers a high number of decisions, and while the number of turns you play might not be as high as with other decks, the deck's diminished power level means each decision you do make is very important, and might be the difference between putting your opponent to one life and defeat or getting them to zero and victory.

$5 ($5.00) Mono-U Robots

Without the recent changes to MTGOtraders’ pricing policy (as mentioned in the introduction), our next deck wouldn't be able to feature in this article. As a result of many of the cards in the main deck and the sideboard currently costing a single cent I was able to budget for full playsets of Scuttling Doom Engine, Phyrexian Revoker and Chief Engineer, without any of which the deck loses a lot of consistency and a lot of power.

Thanks in no small part to those one cent commons, as of the time of writing, this deck will set you back exactly $5.00 assuming you buy the cheapest version available for each card in the list. Something particularly interesting to note was that the older versions of Phyrexian Revoker and Springleaf Drum are cheaper than their most recent printings. As any budget player should know, it pays to shop around!

$5.00 Mono-U Robots
Phyrexian Revoker 
Chief Engineer 
Daring Thief 
Scuttling Doom Engine 
18 cards

Other Spells 
2 Renowned Weaponsmith
3 Hewed Stone Retainers
Ensoul Artifact 
Ghostfire Blade 
Springleaf Drum 
Bident of Thassa 
14 cards
Darksteel Citadel 
19 Island 
23 cards

Disdainful Stroke 
Singing Bell Strike 
1 Hewed Stone Retainers 
Icy Blast 
Stubborn Denial 
15 cards
Scuttling Doom Engine

Mono-U Robots looks to take advantage of the ramp provided by Chief Engineer and Renowned Weaponsmith to power out expensive artifact threats in the early game. Other lines of attack open to the deck include the use of Ensoul Artifact to generate a surprise 5/5 attacker out of nowhere, using (Ghostfire Fire) in conjunction with your smaller artifact creatures to push through damage, or even taking advantage of the incidental synergy between Daring Thief and Springleaf Drum. Getting to exchange a dead Ornithopter in the late game for your choice of your opponent’s powerful creature threats is just good value!

The sideboard contains a counterspell suite, a pair of Singing Bell Strikes to act as pseudo-removal in mono-blue, while Icy Blast’s ferocious is surprisingly easy to turn on between Scuttling Doom Engine, Hewed Stone Retainers, Ensoul Artifact and Ghostfire Blade, offering a game-ending blowout against creature-based midrange decks.

If you can’t get enough of playing Affinity in Modern, and want to take some grey creatures for a spin in Standard, you could do a lot worse with your five dollars than spend it on this brew!

$5 ($4.27) UW Control

Our next budget list is on the opposite end of the aggression spectrum to Boss Sligh. In fact, it could be described as positively glacial.

This deck is an attempt to port a Blue-White Control deck into Fate Reforged Standard for under five dollars. While UW control has fallen out of favor at the higher levels of play compared to UB, Sultai and Abzan Control, it was a reasonable contender while Khans of Tarkir was still the newest kid on the block. With the core of the deck being composed of mostly commons and uncommons, and Pearl Lake Ancient costing less than $1.20, the following list (including sideboard) would set you back $4.27 from MTGOtraders at the time of writing:

While many UW Control decks moved towards playing Nullify prior to the release of Fate Reforged, this list is eschewing them as a concession to the mana base being unable to produce double blue on turn two reliably, compared to more expensive lists with Flooded Strand and Temple of Enlightenment. Despite this, between Dissolve, Disdainful Stroke, Suspension Field, End Hostilities, and various means of generating card advantage, you are still more than able to maneuver the game into a position where one of your finishers can end the game.

The inclusion of a full set of Last Breath in the main was a conscious choice made to combat the decks you’ll typically run across in the Just for Fun room, and it doesn’t lack a shortage of targets among top tier Standard decks as well. Courser of Kruphix, Rakshasa Deathdealer, Goblin Rabblemaster, a glut of early aggressive or heroic creatures, and even Monastery Mentor (as long as you play around the possibility of a Prowess trigger pushing it out of range) all succumb to the two-mana white instant.

Obviously, not being to fit Dig Through Time in the $5 budget hurts the deck’s ability to find silver bullets to solve the problems your opponent may pose you, but the list contains a reasonable spread to answers to most situations, with the ability to further tailor your game plan with the budget sideboard. Most of the inclusions are self-explanatory, with Wall of Essence taking the spot typically occupied by Nyx-Fleece Ram as a playset of the divine sheep would’ve eaten 40% of the deck’s budget on its own. Whelming Wave is present as a two-of, and can often act as an instant speed Wrath of God against token strategies.

If you do decide to take the deck against top-tier standard decks, there are a few vulnerabilities you need to be aware of. In game one, Fated Retribution, and to a lesser extent Prognostic Sphinx, are your main ways to deal with a resolved Planeswalker (aside from getting to exile an attacking Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker with Devouring Light). This is because the universal catch-all of Banishing Light would’ve pushed the deck far beyond its $5 budget. This means you need to prioritise holding a counter for a Planeswalker if you suspect one may be waiting in the wings, and after board Negate and a second Fated Retribution offer you more ways to fight these powerful permanents.

$5 ($2.24) UG Morphs

Based on a list I saw a friend playing in Paper, this deck is more a fun exploration of the Morph support Wizards gave us in Khans of Tarkir than a competitive killing machine. However, I’ve played a similar list to a greater than fifty percent win record in the Just for Fun room, and if you read the disclaimer above, that’s basically what we're hoping for. It’s also the cheapest deck in the article today, coming to a mighty $2.24, including a playset of Temple of Mystery (which were surprisingly only $0.15 each!).          

$2.24 UG Morph
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Rattleclaw Mystic
4 Temur Charger
4 Icefeather Aven
4 Sagu Mauler
2 Kheru Spellsnatcher
22 cards

Other Spells
3 Dragon’s Eye Savants
3 Secret Plans
4 Trail of Mystery
4 Ghostfire Blade
11 cards
4 Temple of Mystery
4 Thornwood Falls
4 Radiant Fountain
5 Forest
7 Island
24 cards

3 Disdainful Stroke
2 Stubborn Denial
1 Polymorphist's Jest
2 Icy Blast
3 Monastery Flock
2 Feed the Clan
2 Negate
15 cards
Sagu Mauler

The deck’s gameplan is straightforward, and leverages the engines provided by Secret Plans and Trail of Mystery to turn your morphs into legitimate threats and card advantage. Sagu Mauler is just as devastating when it turns face up as it is in limited, and the average quality of the spells your Kheru Spellsnatchers get to pilfer are so much higher in constructed play. Icefeather Aven provides a Tempo swing in your favor, and equipped with a Ghostfire Blade presents a reasonable clock.

The creatures that unmorph for free allow you to trigger your enchantments without investing additional mana past the initial morph cost. Temur Charger helps you push through damage, and (Dragon’s Eye Savants) flips into a brick wall if you need to stymie an opposing assault or can even just provide a free Peek if you really need to know what's going on in your opponent's grip.

The sideboard features a versatile counterspell suite, Monastery Flocks and Feed the Clans to battle aggressive strategies, and Icy Blast and (Polymorphist’s Jest) to supply unexpected blowouts against opposing decks packing chunky creatures. Polymorphist's Jest is especially sweet, and there are few feelings better than getting to eat your opponent's team of giant creatures with your nameless, colorless, mystery 2/2s.

$5 Mardu Midrange

When I was scrolling through the Khans of Tarkir card prices on MTGOtraders as inspiration for this very article, I noticed that while multi-format all-star Siege Rhino is hovering around two tix, many of its tri-colored brethren are selling for pennies. Coupled with the one cent price tag for basically any tournament playable common or uncommon in KtK that I keep going on about, if you declare allegiance to a clan you should be able to craft a beautiful budget monstrosity without much difficulty.

In this case, I swore my fealty to the Mardu, and taking inspiration from various Mardu Midrange decks that I'd seen floating around I give to you: Budget Mardu Midrange!

$4.62 Mardu Midrange
4 Seeker of the Way
4 Butcher of the Horde
2 Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury
2 Zurgo Helmsmasher
10 cards

Other Spells
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
2 Mardu Charm
4 Crackling Doom
2 Murderous Cut
2 Utter End
1 Crater’s Claws
22 cards
4 Nomad Outpost
2 Bloodfell Caves
2 Wind-Scarred Crag
3 Evolving Wilds
7 Mountain
3 Swamp
4 Plains
25 cards

Butcher of the Horde

The deck's early- and mid-game typically revolves around playing a single card each turn: either a removal spell to deal with an opposing threat, or a powerful threat of your own. Murderous Cut is a potent way to break this play pattern, and the turns where you get to slay your opponent's high cost creature for a single mana and deploy a threat of your own are often turning points in games.

Hordeling Outburst interacts well with Seeker of the Way's prowess, Butcher of the Horde's hunger for creatures and (Kolagahn, the Storm's Fury)'s battle cry, and both Kolaghan and Zurgo Helmsmasher can take unexpected chunks out of your opponent's life thanks to Zurgo's haste and Kolaghan's dash.

The deck's removal suite is varied enough to deal with most threats, and can be further tailored with the sideboard. Opponents going wide with a token or aggressive strategy? Arc Lightning, End Hostilities, even Magma Spray depending on your opponent's deck composition, all set up favorable exchanges for you. Glare of Heresy, Murderous Cut and End Hostilities assist with decks inspired by the various Abzan strategies in Standard at the moment, and Hammer of Purphoros is a singleton inclusion that provides a relentless stream of hasty Golems (for as long as you have lands to crack!).

Chained to the Rocks was a possibility I considered, and often makes its way into similar lists. However, I felt that it wasn't possible to contort the mana base in such a way as to include enough basic Mountains and Evolving Wilds to have enough rocks for chaining, while still being able to cast the deck's powerful Wedge-colored cards consistently.

Obviously increasing the deck's budget would allow the inclusion of Bloodstained Mires to enable Chained to the Rocks, as well as opening up the possibility of transitioning into a more controlling shell using Read the Bones and leveraging the power of expensive Planeswalkers like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Sorin, Solemn Visitor to close out a game, but with both those cards costing multiple times the total cost of this deck, we seem to be moving away from the original point of the article in pursuing this line of thinking further.


Even if you don't immediately go out and buy any of the decks described above, I hope you've enjoyed reading the first (and perhaps only) installment of Five Decks for Five Dollars, and if your only take-away from the article is to notice the current rock-bottom prices of many powerful Standard cards I'll feel like I've done my duty as a budget player. If you do end up playing one of the $5 decks, or are inspired to create your own, I wish you good luck and more importantly hope you have a great time piloting it!

Until next time,



A great example of how far by Procrastination at Sat, 03/14/2015 - 20:54
Procrastination's picture

A great example of how far you can stretch a budget if playing and brewing are your goals. I'm also excited about the price changes; now a lot of cards that looked like they could be fun to test cost next to nothing to take for a spin.

I'd also like to say how much I enjoyed your previous articles that increased the cost of a deck by five bucks each week. It was really fun to see the decks improve and careful use of a budget is something I stress a lot to folks as well. Any chance you'll give that article format a try again?

Thanks for the feedback :) I by lordmalinari at Thu, 03/19/2015 - 03:57
lordmalinari's picture

Thanks for the feedback :) I think I figured out the flaw in my previous article series with that aim, and I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to start something similar very shortly.
The main difference would be that I'd release update articles fortnightly, meaning that while the budget would still only be $5 a week, I'd end up with $10 in difference between the articles.
This alleviates some of the pressure that the existence of mythic rares puts on collection building. Most decks have quite a low price ceiling before they're considered complete aside from relatively expensive (but still often reasonably priced) mythic rare options. Picking up a single $3-4 Mythic in the new buys often makes for unexciting reading when it's the majority of a week's purchase, and in this case there'd still be another $6 leftover for additional content.

These look like Block by MrWishyWashy at Sun, 03/15/2015 - 12:31
MrWishyWashy's picture

These look like Block constructed decks haha. No but seriously, if someone was looking to play Block Constructed, these decks arent totally embarrassing. Block constructed is where cheap decks like these could probably get you in the cash.

Yeah, block constructed was by lordmalinari at Thu, 03/19/2015 - 03:47
lordmalinari's picture

Yeah, block constructed was always a good plan if you'd just gotten into MODO and wanted to build up a collection of cards prior to jumping into Standard on rotation.
It's a shame the block dailies have been removed in the recent event changes, but if they aren't firing I guess it's Wizards' prerogative to do so. I think it'll be even harder to find a game now it's been consigned to the two-man queues alone though.

Great article thanks for by Flippers_Giraffe at Tue, 03/17/2015 - 15:49
Flippers_Giraffe's picture

Great article thanks for taking the time to go through some of your budget decks, with the new pricing structure there's no reason not to buy in loads of cards for next to nothing to try out.

Looking forward to the next article ;)

I know right! Being able to by lordmalinari at Thu, 03/19/2015 - 03:50
lordmalinari's picture

I know right! Being able to pick up 50-100 staple commons and uncommons for a ticket is incredible. While some are still reasonably expensive, they're the outliers, and if you're looking to build a lot of different shells for decks it's pretty great.
Thanks for the kind words :)