From Pre-made to Awesome #3

About one month ago we started to take the pre-constructed Flames of the Dragon deck by Wizards and improve it slowly to a point where it can consistently win. We analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of the deck and started to play some matches. We got rid of the most awful cards by now and the deck already feels much better to play. I was also very happy to receive comments and suggestions from you, the readers! I want to say thank you for that.

So let’s head into the final 6 matches and swap the last 10 cards. This is the deck as we left it 2 weeks ago:

Third Round of Matches

The first match was over pretty quickly. In the first game I drew the optimal starting hand, including Ornithopter and Ensoul Artifact.


A 5/5 flyer on Turn 2 is really nasty. She had no way to deal with it. I happened to draw another Ensoul Artifact and attacked her on Turn 2 with two 5/5 artifacts which finished the game.


The starting hand in Game 2 was much slower, with 2 Shrapnel Blasts but no creature. I drew an Aeronaut Tinkerer on Turn 3 and equipped him with a pair of Rogue’s Gloves. The gloves drew me an Ensoul Artifact before the Tinkerer was killed by a Lightning Strike.


Well that didn’t matter since a 5/5 Sacred Armory and a Shrapnel Blast did quick work.

Result Match 1: 2-0 WIN

In the second match I played against a UR deck. Both of us had a very slow start with creatures hitting the board on Turn 3.


She used an Inferno Fist to kill my Ornithopter. I played the Juggernaut and my Tinkerer flew over the Nivix Cyclops. On her next turn, she played Time Ebb on the Tinkerer and attacked me for 4 damage. I recast the creature on my turn and played a Bronze Sable too. She copied my Juggernaut with an Artisan of Forms and hit me for 5 damage.


I was very happy to see Ensoul Artifact as my next card and buffed my sable. I shipped the team and brought her to 1 life. The Shrapnel Blast finished the rest.

In Game 2, I decided to keep this starting hand, hoping to draw an Ensoul Artifact, which I actually did.


She must have sniffed that, since she conceded when I played the Thopter on Turn 1.

Result Match 2: 2-0 WIN

In Match 3 I went against a UBWG deck that shouldn’t have worked at all. But surprisingly it crushed me in Game 1.

Problems started when she played a Deadly Recluse to stop my Welkin Tern.


I followed with the Tinkerer and equipped the Gloves to the bird in order to give her only bad choices for the spider to block. But apparently I found the only player in the world who maindecks Windstorm.

While I was able to play the Hoarding Dragon, she brought Spear of Heliod and Thassa’s Ire to the table. When I attacked with the dragon she turned it into a frog.


A Siren of the Silent Song then sealed a very weird Game 1.

In Game 2, I started with this hand, hoping to draw an Island, which I luckily did.


So I started to beat her with a 5/5 flyer which she eventually Encrusted on Turn 3. After that, I played a Bronze Sable. To my complete astonishment, she then played Curse of the Swine, a card I hadn’t even heard about, and gave me two 2/2 creatures instead of one 2/1 creature.


I equipped the Gloves on one of my newfound porcine friends and attacked. It drew me a Shrapnel Blast which finished the game next turn.

In Game 3, I decided to not mulligan a very slow starting hand, since her deck didn’t seem to be very fast either. She then played Brain Maggot and had a hard time deciding which card to exile.


What would you choose? Well, certainly not the Brawler’s Plate, which was exactly the one she took. Nothing happened until I could play my Scrapyard Mongrel on Turn 4. I drew an Ensoul Artifact which I cast on an Ornithopter. In response she played Simic Charm for reasons beyond my comprehension.


Despite a Reclamation Sage and a Sundering Growth, I kept the pressure up with a Juggernaut and eventually whittled her down to zero life.

Result Match 3: 2-1 WIN

Analysis and third round of changes

Wow! Three of three matches won. That’s quite an improvement compared to where we started. Especially the Ornithopter-Ensoul Artifact combination worked like a charm. But even without it, the deck appears strong enough to win in the mid game. So what we want to do now is to smooth out the deck, give Hoarding Dragon some juicy targets and thereby make the deck a consistent winner.

The first cards I would like to throw out of the deck are the two “leftover” artifacts that are too clumsy for this deck and never did much.

(I) Sacred Armory -1
(II) Brawler’s Plate -1

Sacred Armory is just too expensive for the deck. It doesn’t have any mana ramp nor does it generate a lot of small tokens. +1/+0 for 2 mana is therefore just too expensive for this type of deck. In fact, I never activated the ability of this card once in the last 9 games.

The same thing afflicts Brawler’s Plate. With a total cost of 7 mana, most of the time it needs two turns before it can be attached to anything. Those are two turns in which we don’t play any creatures. It could be bearable if the effect would be game-changing. But most of the time the trample effect is wasted, since we already have a creature with flying or trample on its own. And +2/+2 for 7 mana is a simple no-go.

Instead of those two cards, I want to include something that we can fetch with the Hoarding Dragon. Currently our deck suffers from not having very good artifacts that could actually scare our opponent away from killing the dragon. Despite the Brawler’s Plate, I still like equipment, especially in this deck where we need artifacts. I also like creatures since we actually need to attack with something. So I decided to get both with a single card: Haunted Plate Mail. Yes, this card is even more expensive than Brawler’s Plate, with a total cost of 8 mana. But its effect is also much stronger. And it can become a powerful creature on its own. In most cases we can get rid of our other creatures via Shrapnel Blast and get ourselves a nice 4/4 surprise blocker. I really like this card for this specific deck and hope that it will do some work.

(III) Haunted Plate Mail +2

The next change was proposed by magikado in the last article’s comments. While the Glacial Crashers are okay-ish creatures, they are neither artifacts nor do they have any synergy with them. They also cost double blue which might lose a game to mana screw. We also need more late game artifacts that can close the game and be fetched with the Hoarding Dragon. So here they go:

(IV) Glacial Crasher -2

Great. So now we are looking for a big, nasty artifact creature on the 6 mana slot. What about this one? Soul of New Phyrexia. It is 6/6, which is huge. It tramples, which is nice. And it provides indestructibility to all our other permanents. On first glance, it seems to fit right into our deck. But does it really? We don’t have any permanents that need protection. Our plan is to throw creatures at our opponent until she is weak enough to get smacked by a Shrapnel Blast or two. It is very rare for us to have more than 2 creatures on the table and paying 5 mana to make our 2/1 Bronze Sable indestructible seems a bit of a waste. No, I think there is a better alternative as magikado suggested:

Scuttling Doom Engine. This card is just perfect. It is also 6/6 for 6 mana. It cannot be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less which makes it very nice against weenie decks and walls. And if it gets killed it deals 6 points of damage anyway. Combine that with a Shrapnel Blast and it should be a sure-fire win most of the time. With a price tag around $1 at the Academy Sellbots, it doesn’t strain our budget either.

(V) Scuttling Doom Engine +2

This leaves us with one more card to change. I decided to get rid of the single copy of Rummaging Goblin. It’s not a bad card by any means, but we got Rogue’s Gloves for card draw and as a 1-of I don’t like the goblin.

(VI) Rummaging Goblin -1

Well, but what to put in? First, I thought about another Bronze Sable or Welkin Tern. Both creatures are okay for what they do but nothing to write home about. A fourth copy of Shrapnel Blast also wasn’t that appealing. We want this spell as a finisher. Instead I decided to include a second Darksteel Citadel. This brings our land count up to 26, which is quite a lot, and I am a bit unhappy about it. But we can fix this in the last round of changes and meanwhile it gives us another chance of a Turn 2 5/5 creature.

(VII) Darksteel Citadel +1

Great! So this gives us the following deck:

It costs around $5 at the Academy_Sellbots, which is less than a fancy coffee at Starbucks. So let’s see how it fares in the final three matches.

Fourth Round of Matches

In match 1 I was up against a RB deck with some interesting cards in it…

I drew a terrible starting hand and mulliganned it to an even worse one:


It was probably a mistake to keep this and not go down to 5 cards. I didn’t draw anything but 2 copies of Rogue’s Gloves and she played Master of the Feast followed by Desecration Demon which ended the game on Turn 4. Oh well. I drew terribly and she drew very good. Nothing to be done about it. Let’s head into Game 2!

Here, my starting hand looked much better despite the absence of Ensoul Artifact.


She started the game with a Thoughtseize, a card that, at 7 dollars, is more expensive than our whole deck. She made me discard the Doom Engine, which was probably not the best choice. I would have taken the Welkin Tern since that’s the only card I could actually play. Well, she killed it with Scouring Sands, but I played a Scrapyard Mongrel on Turn 4. She then used another Scouring Sands and a Searing Blood to kill it. A 2 for 1 exchange in our favor is pretty good. Then she played Chandra, Pyromaster, another $7 card.

Interestingly, she didn’t use the +1 ability but chose to exile a card which turned out to be another Thoughtseize, which she didn’t play for some reason. On my turn, the planeswalker died to my Ornithoper-Haunted Plate Mail combo.


Take that! I played one of the Hoarding Dragons and exiled a Scuttling Doom Engine. The other dragon was removed by another Thoughtseize. Jeez! I drew an Ensoul Artifact for lethal damage, but before I could cast it, she surrendered.

In Game 3, I started with an Ornithopter and a Bronze Sable. She opened with an Master of the Feast. I let it give me a card before I blew it up with Shrapnel Blast, sacrificing the Thopter.


After that, she played Whip of Erebos and I drew myself a Mountain with the Rogue’s Gloves. She decided to kill the Bronze Sable with Hero’s Downfall. I instantly replaced it with another copy. She brought back the Master of the Feast and hit me for 5. Not a big problem though, since I drew a Scuttling Doom Engine and played it. She summoned Liliana Vess just for good measure and used the -2 ability.


I killed the planeswalker and drew another Doom Engine, which I played. She executed it with Hero’s Downfall and received 6 damage from its ability. She then played a Spiteful Returned, probably hoping to kill my Sable. I crushed that hope with the Haunted Plate Mail, to which she conceded.

Result Match 1: 2-1 WIN

In Match 2, I was up against an equally overbudgeted deck. She had a Courser of Kruphix to keep him alive and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver who whittled away my library. I probably shouldn’t have attacked the planeswalker, but it didn’t matter since she used AEtherspouts to get rid of my creatures.


While she played Kruphix, God of Horizons and Shipbreaker Kraken, I managed to get two Aeronaut Tinkerers equipped with Rogue’s Gloves onto the board.


My only hope at this stage was to survive the next round, attack her for 4 and find 2 Shrapnel Blasts via the Gloves. Anyway, this didn’t happen since she played Nissa, Worldwaker and stomped me. Screw you, Heart of the Cards.

In Game 2, I started with a Bronze Sable which I turned into a 5/5 but which then got Whelming Waved away. Didn’t matter, I followed with a Juggernaut, the Sable, and an Aeronaut Tinkerer. Look at this board and think about what she was up to:


That’s right. She has enough mana for AEtherspouts left open. So I only attacked with the Juggernaut which was promptly sent back to the bottom of my library. But when I played the Hoarding Dragon in my second main phase she conceded.

In Game 3, she had two coursers to keep her alive. I tried to play around Whelming Wave by casting the Haunted Plate Mail.


That worked, but then she found the Shipbreaker Kraken again. With enough mana to make it monstrous there was nothing I could do, so I conceded.

Result Match 2: 1-2 LOSE

In Match 3, my opponent actually played Ornithopter!


I attacked her with a Bronze Sable. She then played Hour of Need and exiled her Thopter for a 4/4 Siren. In response, I sacrificed the Sable to blast the Harpy into oblivion with a Shrapnel Blast. I didn’t draw any lands and whacked at her with the Welkin Tern. Apparently, she drew only lands and surrendered.


Game 2 ended even faster, when she conceded on Turn 2. Oh well.

Result Match 3: 2-0 WIN

Last round of analysis and changes

Well, our deck certainly improved. It won against a $100 deck and went 1-2 against another one. That’s exactly what I want to accomplish in this series. I want to show that you can build cheap decks that are fun to play and stand a good chance of winning. You don’t need to spend a fortune on Magic in order to be creative and successful. That said, we still have one round of changes left. Since our deck is already working pretty well, these changes shouldn’t be too dramatic. But I really want to include an answer to all these planeswalkers. Luckily there is one card that fits right into our deck: Phyrexian Revoker.

This little guy can shut down any planeswalker and a ton of other cards too. He is a strictly better version of Bronze Sable so I simply swap them.

(VIII) Bronze Sable -3

(IX) Phyrexian Revoker +3

And since we have 26 lands from our last round of changes, I think it is safe to remove one land in order to get a full playset of Revokers. We have an equal number of Islands and Mountains. But we really want to have Islands early on to be able to play our 2- and 3-drops, especially Ensoul Artifact. Therefore I swap 1 Mountain for the 4th Revoker.

(X) Mountain -1

(XI) Phyrexian Revoker +1

Since our spells look pretty good now, I think the last card to change should be also a land. We could include Shivan Reef or Temple of Epiphany for some mana fixing. But since more than half of our cards cost colorless mana, there is not really a need to do so and it would just increase the cost of the deck. Instead I throw out another Mountain for a Darksteel Citadel.

(XII) Mountain -1

(XIII) Darksteel Citadel +1

So this is what the final version of our deck looks like now:

With the Phyrexian Revoker the total cost of this deck is about $8 at the Academy_Sellbots. That should fit the description of a budget deck. It’s beyond the scope of this series, but if you want to add a sideboard to the deck, look for cards like AEtherspouts or Encrust. I found it very hard to deal with the Theros gods, and with RTR rotating out of Standard, we will see much more of them being played. Since they are indestructible, even a Shrapnel Blast won’t help. The problem with these cards is their mana requirement of UU. So if you include them, you probably should think about some mana fixing too, which will increase the price of this deck.

Final Thoughts

I hope I could show you that you can construct fun and powerful decks even when you are on a budget. I tried to explain the reasons for each card I picked to put in or to throw out. I hope you could learn something from my thoughts and go ahead and try out to construct your own decks instead of copying the top 10 decks from the last Pro Tour. If nothing else, try out this deck and watch your opponent’s face, when your Scuttling Doom Engine and Shrapnel Blast hits for 17 after attacking!

As always, any additions and comments are hugely appreciated. Do you like how the deck turned out? Do you think I should have developed it more toward a control style deck with countermagic and burn spells? Do you want to play against this deck on MTGO? Just call me up under Gurkengelee when online.

  1. Quite like what you did there, esp. since I have a liking to budget/rogue decks!

    I’d have been curious to see the results against some more “competitive” matchups (like mono red aggro/burn, white/blue control, RG monsters and the likes), but the results in game 1 and 2 show already some potential even in “more serious” matches! I like! :)

    Looking forward to see some other of these! Good work :)

  2. That was really cool! And it ties into what the Starter Decks are supposed to do, which is only a very underwhelming basis for a real Magic deck.

    Gosh, the opponents played some odd cards, especially in the initial three matches. But it was interesting to see a deck that costs less than 1/60th of one of theirs, and actually win! The latter changes really buffed it up as well, even if it did become more expensive than a Double-tall Mocha Latte.

    Thank you for the neat article!

  3. Nice series! I like the way you describe your thoughts and reasoning on which cards to replace. Also, the short descriptions of the matches make for a very pleasent read.

    I would have also enjoyed it if the deck had gone a more controlish route, e.g. add some Divinations, Jace’s Ingenuity, Lightning Strikes, Arc Lightning (KTK), maybe Polymorphist’s Jest + Barrage of Boulders (KTK) / Circle of Flame / Scouring Sands (albeit a bit awkward mass removal), Cone of Flame and possibly another win condition next to Darksteel Citadel + Ensoul Artifact such as Stormtide Leviathan.

    This approach would mean cutting on the early aggression (e.g. Ornithopter) and would probably not be as beginner friendly as the Ensoul beatdown plan. Anyway, if you feel like exploring the deck in this direction, I would certainly enjoy reading your ideas.

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Great column, reminds me of the old Building on a Budget that they had on the Wizards site. Keep it going!

  5. Hey Kolazomai,

    nice suggestions there! I can certainly see the deck going into this direction. But I really wanted to try out Ornithopter/Ensoul Artifact and it is very fun to play if it works.


    thanks for the appreciation! Building on a Budget is actually where my inspiration came from. Good to see other people who are so old, that they can remember that one.

    Stay tuned for Monday when we will look at a new deck.

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