Building on a Budget – The Top 15 Cheap Modern Cards

Today I’d like to ponder a bit about what in my opinion are the best and most underrated cards in the Modern format. Modern card prices have rocketed in the last two years, and unfortunately a ban like that of Deathrite Shaman can make a card like Noble Hierarch rise up to the 40€ out of nowhere.

This is no coincidence, and even though I’ve seen a few decks that power themselves with this card (Birthing Pod being the main deck), I still haven’t seen that much use for it (outside of Pod), and 40€+ is waaaay overpriced for an enhanced version of a Birds of Paradise. Modern is very unstable when it comes to prices. The rise or fall of one tier deck can increase the price of even an uncommon card by 200%, or plummet it to almost nothing.

Still, Modern is a great format that is very fun to play, and it has a lot of cards that are slightly underrated in comparison to others. I’ve made my own top 15 of cards that cost roughly around 2-3€ (at the time of writing). There are many budget decks that could potentially abuse these cards in order to grow stronger, and with the economic crisis that has struck many countries across the globe (especially in a country like my native Spain), saving some money could be potentially beneficial for everyone.

DepriveLet’s start off with Deprive. An incredibly powerful card that serves as the closest thing to a pure Counterspell (both in terms of cost and function), and has the ability to manipulate lands. It’s true, you have to return a land to your hand, but this is often irrelevant in the mid to late game. This is officially a counterspell.

I wouldn’t suggest in putting more than 2 copies of this card in one deck, but I find it much more powerful in the mid to late game when Mana Leak starts to lose its power. This card is a perfect defensive topdeck against pretty much anything, and can say “no” to anything at any time. And the average price is roughly about 13 cents, which is way cheaper than a Remand, for example.

Duress is another card that can serve as a good substitute for currently played pricy cards. People are jamming both Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, which are good, and I get that. Both cards are incredibly good, but Duress is still a powerful alternative as well. In G/B decks you’d normally want to strip some creatures with Thoughtseize, or would you always? Having an Abrupt Decay in hand or in deck with more removal, it might be better to proactively take that pesky planeswalker, or counterspell, or Path to Exile, or any non creature card. And it’s all free of life!

All of the discard spells have a subtle drawback. Inquisition can’t pick Birthing Pod or Splinter Twin, but Duress can! Duress can’t snatch a Tarmogoyf, but the idea is you have enough removal to handle more resolved permanents, and that by spending less mana for your disruption you’re gaining tempo and mana efficiency. Duress can also remove opposing Lightning Bolts and removal, and that comes in very handy against pretty much every matchup, except maybe hatebears. And the price? Under 10 cents, and you can get them FOIL promo for 2.5€!!!!! (and I mean the nice, original picture).

Wall of Omens is one of those cards that might not have an incredible range of appeal, and won’t fit in every deck. It’s not aggressive and it can be killed, but it is very underrated, and basically only sees occasional play in UWR variants. Anybody remembers Wall of Blossoms? This guy is exactly the same. It cantrips, slows down decks like Zoo or Burn from the very beginning, and it’s pesky to get rid of. By the time it’s been removed it’s already done its job, and you’ve likely already moved to something else. Price? About 1 Euro (or 2 if you want to get the promo foil).

Supreme Verdict is also a card that is occasionally seen in UWR control decks or sideboards, but it is also underplayed in my mind. Modern is a most often a grindy mid-range creature-based format, and this is an uncounterable Wrath of God! This awesome spell only costs about 3€, with foil promo versions not much more expensive!

Jotun GruntJötun Grunt is another favorite of mine, and this guy is tough. You won’t find any other white creature with this power level for 2 mana. And not only is it tough, but it can chew up the graveyard, to combat opposing Tarmogoyfs, Snapcaster Mages, Grim Lavamancers, dredge cards (like Life from the Loam), and presents a serious clock to the opponent. The only drawback is that it won’t last for long at the early game, but it is a huge card at mid late games, and at turn 3 or 4 it can slow down an aggro deck. It will even save you a few precious life points in the first two turns against very aggressive decks like Zoo or Burn, and later in the game has the ability to recycle your used threats and removal that you’ve already used once. And the price? Only about 1€, or 2-3€ if you want it foil.

Condemn is another one of those cards that are very mana efficient, that have kind of lost focus in the Modern metagame with such a large card pool. I really, really like this card a lot.It’s like Path to Exile, but won’t give an extra free land to your opponent to help them power out more expensive cards from their hand. And even though they don’t have quite the same uses (since Path to Exile can be used at any time, and is much better against Twin decks), Condemn is very good against aggressive decks such as R/G Beats, Merfolk, or Zoo. It slows down these decks down for 1 mana. It’s nearly useless against combo, but then again, for only 50 cents you cannot expect it to do everything.

Rancor is a card that is different than many of the cards listed here, because creature enchantments are rarely played anymore. But why this card isn’t played at all in Modern I can’t barely begin to understand. The competition for every free deck slot in Modern is intense, but nevertheless this card is still awesome. It wins creature wars, and transforms early mana accelerants like Birds of Paradise into an actual threat later in the game. It is quite pesky and won’t go away that easily. Forget about chumpblockers. They are part of the past. This card can render token decks completely useless. And the price? About 1€ since it’s been reprinted so many times.

Birds of ParadiseBack in my early days of playing Magic, Birds of Paradise could cost the equivalent of 15€ each. They used to be a very expensive card that inspired respect when played in your deck. These creatures would accelerate your spells, and in a pinch could chump block flying creatures (since most of them don’t actually trample). And while Deathrite Shaman was almost strictly superior to Birds, Deathrite has been banned in Modern, and is no longer playable. And since 40€ for a Noble Hierarch is clearly overpriced for what the card actually does, I’d say Birds of Paradise is the best modern mana ramp creature right now. And it flies! Stick any Sword or a Rancor on it and you’ll have the angriest chicken of all time. And it’s price? They’re down to about a measly 2€ each. Man, that’s so awesome!

The counterspells available in Modern are generally limited in scope in one way or another, but one recent printing that’s very underrated in Swan Song. As of right now it costs about 2 Euros, but I am very sure this card’s price will rise in the next couple of years so I’d call it a safe investment. And what it does right now in Modern (and Legacy) is quite impressive. Yes it gives your oppnent a 2/2 flying swan, but who cares? This card will disrupt the Twin combo, counter a Scapeshift for 1 mana, and it will protect your own combo(s) against pretty much everything that can potentially disrupt you.

Next on list, but not any less important, is Lightning bolt. Yes we all know this card, and yes it’s insanely good for the mana, but nevertheless what is right now the best killer in the format. It simply must be on this list because it only costs about 1€!!! What did you expect me to put? Rift Bolt!?

Hellspark ElementalSpeaking of Red, Hellspark Elemental is another card that has a powerful and efficient effect for the mana, but doesn’t see enough play. When thinking about Mono Red decks (or Boros, for that matter), there is usually a budgetary concern in general, but mono red decks are powerful, fast, and quite reliable. It’s easy for some decks to protect against a ton of direct damage, but still they are a constant reminder to all of us of how a 14 year old kid with no income whatsoever could beat you in the Top 8 of a moderately important tournament. And this guy is incredible in these decks for just 1€. It’s played here or there, but whenever I see a red deck without these guys I want to hide in the shower and cry. (well, not really, but I’m guessing you get the point).

Without the cycling lands from the Onslaught block, a card like Life from the Loam loses some of its power, but it is still a great engine. You can recycle good Modern lands like Ghost Quarter, Tectonic Edge, and any of the manlands (all of which are underrated). You can make Knight of the Reliquary even more powerful, and or team up with cards like Raven’s Crime, Liliana of the Veil, or Flame Jab. And that’s before we get into other awesome interactions like with Vengevine and Gravecrawler. My only question is, why are we not seeing more Loam decks around the Modern metagame? You can build in so many different directions with this card, and yet rarely do we see it Top 8. Not that long ago Loam won a Grand Prix in Lincoln! I don’t see how things have changed that much right now for it to basically be absent from the metagame, so what gives? Come on!! Stop netdecking and start building around this card, as it’s only around 3 Euros!

Meddling Mage is probably my favorite blue guy. It will stop any combo deck for a few turns until they are able to get rid of it. And by then you can often have backed him up with so many counterspells that it will grind your opponent into the mud. While there is an immense amount of removal played in Modern, there is often not a ton in combo decks. So while Meddling Mage may not win you the game on its own, it is an important (and affordable) tool that will increase your odds greatly. And only for about 3€, that’s worth trying in my opinion.

Dryad MilitantWhile we’re on the subject of hatebear creatures, how about Dryad Militant? Why are we not seeing more of him? Hatebears could benefit so much from this card. It’s a 2/1 body for just 1 mana that will totally screw with Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage (2 of the most played cards in the format). It’ll increase the clock quite a bit, and having to get rid of it with Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile is almost insulting. And you can get it foil for under 1€ !!!! Seriously? A GW hatebears deck actually won the most recent Bazaar of Moxen Modern event (307 players), and this would fit perfectly into a deck like that!

To wrap this up, let’s look at two equally underrated cards that you can get in foil for under 1 Euro, and that are so good that you could build a deck around either one of them. Boros Charm and Izzet Charm are both versatile and efficient. They both have numerous modes that actually impact the game in important ways in their respective deck shells, and are almost never dead draws. And with that, you have my Top 15 underrated/inexpensive cards in the Modern format. They are all efficient and powerful, and yet don’t see enough play in the current Modern metagame. Perhaps you can help me in changing that!

I’ll end up this article with a small comment. Never base your prices on the MagicCardMarket average price. They are often unreal and unfair because many people just put extremely unreasonable asking prices (100€ for a German Cryptic command? Bitch please), and that website just takes any asking price into account, increasing the overall average price of what the card should cost. I don’t know why anyone should put a Noble Hierarch for sale at 70€ a piece, when plenty of ones that actually sell are closer to 40€. These guys seem to be doing it on purpose to increase the prices. As of right now, Magic is having increasingly unrealistic price points, and they’ve spiraled out of control in a way I can’t seem to comprehend, but that topic is something for another discussion. As I said, just a small comment 🙂

Juan Vilar

Graduated in Computer Engineering, Juan Vilar has been playing Magic for over 15 years. He has won many Legacy, Extended, and Modern tournaments throughout Spain and is a big fan of Eternal. His unconditional love for Merfolk drew him to fish decks long before Lorwyn, and he was one of the first players sporting them in a Legacy deck. As an old school player he is all in for fun and everything that surrounds Magic (not just the tournaments), and if you ever happen to play against him in any tournament you'll have a really good time. Fair play and let the games begin!

  • Mago de Bogardan

    Amazing post! I think that many of the cards that you’ve mentioned are pretty good (I really love rancor, supreme verdict and deprive). I also believe that, according to market prices, it is a good moment to get a playset of those cards. Thank you again for the post, fellow countryman