Budget Cuts: Back to Basics

Search for “basic land” in your deck editor, and you’ll find a lot of cards containing that text. With so many of Magic’s cards devoted to its most fundamental resource, surely there’s a way to make a cool deck that revolves around the simplest cards of the game. And since they happen to be amongst the cheapest cards, depending on the versions, they should naturally lend themselves to a budget theme- a fine focus for us in this article!

Let’s begin with a look at some possible ways to take advantage of plentiful basic lands.

Reciprocal Non-Basic Hate

Back to Basics
Blood Moon
Primal Order
Price of Progress
Destructive Flow

These cards should have no effect on your game while disrupting and sometimes devastating your opponent’s plan.


Tribal Flames
Matca Rioter
Evasive Action
Allied Strategies

While this group is not completely broken, they offer a higher efficiency than you get out of similar non-domain cards.

Landfall / Ramp

Rampaging Baloths
Emeria Angel
Vinelasher Kudzu

Certainly a deck that fetches basic lands can trigger lots of landfall activations from Rampaging Baloths and a few other cards. This doesn’t speak directly to basic lands, but basics are the easiest kind to tutor up and belch out onto the battlefield. More generically, you can always use basic land ramping spells to achieve big mana and cast big threats.

As far as possible deck types to abuse basic lands, there are several archetypes, but a few stick out.

UG Storm Combo

This archetype uses basic lands along with Early Harvest and some other big mana boosters to hit a big finisher, such as Tendrils of Agony. It’s a cool deck that relies fundamentally on basic lands.

5 Color Deck

Since it’s easy to tutor for basic lands, some sort of five color strategy would be simple enough to try, and it would be a lot cheaper than doing it with 30+ dual lands.

Let’s Get Nerdy

Having touched on the most obvious basic-land-centric strategies, let us explore a more exotic approach.

Planar Birth jumps out at me as an eccentric card that could be abused if we built the right home for it. Just get a bunch of basic lands into the graveyard, and Planar Birth gives us big mana. Nevermind what we’ll do with the mana — we’ll figure something out later. Here are some cards that conveniently dump basic lands into your yard while doing some other useful tasks:

Compulsive Research
Dreamscape Artist
Gaea’s Balance
Knight of the Reliquary
Trade Routes

That’s already not a bad group, but we can expand that list by including some draw and then discard spells:

Bonded Fetch
Careful Consideration
Careful Study
Enclave Cryptologist
Fact or Fiction
Merfolk Looter
Read the Runes
Strategic Planning
Thirst for Knowledge
Thought Courier

As long as we have the ability to discard basic lands, we might as well use cards that put them into our hand and generate some card advantage along the way. Apart from providing the color fixing we need, these searchers should play well with our plan of finding basics to discard.

Borderland Ranger
Civic Wayfinder
Far Wanderings
Journeyers Kite
Khalni Heart Expedition
Kodamas Reach
Land Tax
Seek the Horizon
Sylvan Ranger

Now we have a bunch of ways to find basic lands and put them into the graveyard, but still only one way to get them back out again. Isn’t it super annoying that Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds are banned? Second Sunrise combos with a few of the business spells, but it’s too situational. A somewhat different retriever is Groundskeeper, which I was actually pretty happy with whenever I drew it — it’s great with the draw/discard stuff. Other than that, there isn’t much to bolster the Planar Birth plan. No problem – that just means we need to find Planar Birth.


This is the type of deck that needs to do some card selection and straight up tutoring. If you like building combo decks, you should just invest in Mystical Tutor and Enlightened Tutor so you’ll have them for many decks in the future. I actually left out Enlightened Tutor to keep this deck under 50 tickets, but it would definitely go into a non-budget version. Note that the Enchantress Rubinia Commander Theme Deck includes Enlightened Tutor along with enough other stuff to make it a good value.

At any rate, here is the tutoring and card selection spread in this deck, apart from the card drawing spells.

Muddle the Mixture
Mystical Tutor
Personal Tutor
Idyllic Tutor
Sylvan Library
Senseis Divining Top

Note that while Personal Tutor is sort of bad, in this particular case I’m finding it too cheap to turn down. The sorceries are really central to the deck, and at least you can tutor and draw on the same turn sometimes.

Win Conditions

Yes, we need to do something menacing with all of those basic lands once we get them into play. The plan is to include a variety of threats that all play off the land theme:

Emeria Angel
Genju of the Cedars
Genju of the Falls
Genju of the Realm
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Primal Order
Rampaging Baloths
Rude Awakening


This deck definitely needs to find some ways to defend itself if it’s going to survive long enough to pull any neat tricks out of its hat. To that end, we can use the following:

Carven Caryatid
Day of Judgment
Grazing Gladeheart
Oblivion Ring
Path to Exile
Swords to Plowshares
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Omens

Those are the more conventional cards. Our two secret defensive weapons are specially designed for a land deck:

Constant Mists
Eternity Vessel

I’ve done quite a bit of quality stalling with those two cards. One time I even had Eternity Vessel in play with 42 counters on it, thanks to Grazing Gladeheart. It got summarily destroyed, of course, but I did at least get to activate the landfall ability once. Constant Mists is the better of the two, since the only ways to get rid of it are to counter it or discard it. It’s a bummer to sacrifice a land every turn, but this deck can drop lands all day once it gets moving. And they’re all eventually coming back anyway.

Building the Deck

I took a slightly different approach to building than usual. Typically, I brainstorm and add cards to a blank list until I have many more cards than I can fit into a deck. I’m flipping through my binder, searching for key phrases, and just throwing in cards that pop into my mind. In this case, I had a list of nearly 200 cards! Next, I sit and stare at the list and make the most obvious cuts until I’m left with about 110 cards. At that point, I really want to include all of the remaining cards, so I stare at it some more. It takes an increasing amount of agonizing and hand wringing to make each cut. Eventually, seemingly hours later, I get down to exactly 100 cards, just moments before I black out from the mental strain.

This time I followed a different process. I started by asking myself a few questions:

  • What cards are crucial to the deck’s strategy?
  • What cards are really synergistic with what I’m trying to do?
  • What are some combinations of cards that would constitute a God hand?

I also took a quick stab at the approximate number of slots I’m allotting for each type of card. Here are the guesses that I used as a baseline:

38 lands
10 main theme cards
10 land digging cards
18 card draw / card selection / tutoring cards
12 scary threats
12 defense cards

With those parameters in mind, I picked out some cards from each category, saved my list, and I was off to the races. It was surprisingly painless!

At the outset, I was planning on allowing those numbers to vary. That’s fine. I just wanted to give myself some reasonable targets to shoot for. It would be easy, for example, to go too light on defense and too heavy on nifty card draw and land searching. After all, during the deck building phase, I don’t have helpful opponents to constantly remind me why I need that defense.

I have continually tweaked this list between games, and I will admit to changing a couple of cards even after I forced myself to stop playing games and get this article finished. This is the way of the nerdy deckbuilder.

100CS Planar Birth Click the arrow to download the above deck in .txt format

(To load a .txt deck into Magic: Online’s Deck Editor, click “Load”, select “Local Text Deck”, find the location of the downloaded deck file and double-click the deck.)

The price of the deck is approximately 40-45 tickets.


This list is definitely in the category of decks that loses often enough to make you value your wins. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given that its strategy is a little precarious. But it has a load of synergy, and that makes it fun to play. It’s level of defense is enough to deliver you to the end game much of the time, and you get to pop off a Planar Birth even in some of the games when you don’t ultimately win. But it does win sometimes, and it can be impressive when it does.

My favorite game was actually my final contest, during which I faced up against thekid’s Rec-Sur + Blue deck. He is a much better player than I am, and he had just brought this Rec-Sur deck to the Top 4 of the 10/09/10 Weekend Challenge. After handily defeating me in an earlier game, I tried again with this opening hand:

If you think that looks like a slow hand for beating Rec-Sur, you’d be right. I kept it anyway, and by Turn 4 things were looking like this:

That’s not looking too good, but then things took a positive turn. With his Fauna Shaman, my opponent opted for Krovikan Horror recursion instead of the instant hasty Vengevine. That gave me some extra time. Then I drew Constant Mists on my turn, opening up a path into the long game. A couple of turns later, here was the board state:

I had drawn Mystical Teachings (good!), while my opponent now had Zur the Enchanter to go along with his Fauna Shaman (bad!). I decided that I had little choice but to search for Mystical Tutor into Day of Judgment. Left unchecked, he would find a way to kill me despite the Constant Mists. For example, he might decide to repeatedly recur Acidic Slime to kill my lands.

Soon after getting wrathed, he dropped a Tarmogoyf to go with his Stirring Wildwood, so that meant that I would have to sacrifice land each turn. Fortunately, I drew Gaea’s Balance to go along with my Far Wanderings, which had just reached threshold. That brought me up to 10 lands, with 10 more in my graveyard. With a bit of luck, I would be able to turn Read the Runes and my second helping of Mystical Teachings into something useful.

I dug through my library for a while as thekid attacked me each turn. He also killed my Journeyers Kite and Trade Routes, which was a bummer. Eventually, I drew Idyllic Tutor, which presented an interesting decision. I could have selected Back to Basics to mostly shut his lands down, or Genju of the Realm to get aggressive; I decided to simply fetch Primal Order to put my opponent on a four turn clock. He had just used up two of his utility spells, after all, so maybe he wouldn’t be able to destroy it. He wasn’t, but he did get Knight of the Reliquary to help him reduce his non-basic count and buy a bit more time. Meanwhile, though, I drew into all kinds of good stuff with the help of Bonded Fetch and Sylvan Library. Here’s where the game ended up:

I was this close to having an Emeria Angel in play and casting Planar Birth on the same turn, but I was one white mana short. I was trying to decide how to proceed when I stumbled upon Meloku the Clouded Mirror with my Sylvan Library. So I Planar Birthed up to 26 lands, dropped Meloku, and forced the concession. Glory is mine! And thanks to thekid for some good games.

Budget Good Stuff, Basically

Now it’s time to take an entirely different approach to building a basic land centered deck. This next list uses all five colors, including some of the best staples out of each. Rather than looking for combinations of synergistic cards or setting up a combo, now we’re totally focused on the raw power of individual cards. Let’s go straight to the list.

100CS Greedy Basics Click the arrow to download the above deck in .txt format

(To load a .txt deck into Magic: Online’s Deck Editor, click “Load”, select “Local Text Deck”, find the location of the downloaded deck file and double-click the deck.)

The entire deck can be had for around 30 tickets if you’re a smart shopper. I’m honestly a little surprised at how much power you can get into a 100CS deck for that amount. The bottom line is that a lot of really strong cards are also pretty cheap to acquire.

Let’s look at some of those cards.

Color Fixing

A five color deck with no dual lands obviously needs a fair bit of basic land searching. Here are the cards I selected:

Armillary Sphere
Bant Panorama & family
Borderland Ranger
Evolving Wilds
Kodamas Reach
Pilgrims Eye
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Solemn Simulacrum
Terminal Moraine
Terramorphic Expanse
Wanderers Twig
Wayfarers Bauble

These cards are the least inspiring group in the deck. But that’s just the price you pay when you run a five color deck with no expensive lands. If you upgrade this thing to a $500+ deck, you can ditch those cards and convert most of the slots to threats and answers. If that intrigues you, check out the 2009 article on the successful endeavor that was Travis’ Greedy deck. I drew some inspiration from that list, but it was impossible to copy it to any great extent on a budget.

Anyhow, I limited the amount of green land searching spells and went with as much colorless stuff as possible, because sometimes you won’t have a green source. This allows me to include a more even mix of basic lands in the deck and survive when I don’t draw a Forest.

Apart from the robust land searching, this deck list has two other features that help it avoid color screw:

  1. None of the spells have double-colored mana costs. Bringers don’t count!
  2. I mostly avoided gold cards with three color mana costs. I’d rather draw a really solid mono-colored card than something like Sprouting Thrinax or Rhox War Monk that will usually be difficult to cast. This is less of an issue with the bigger guys, because I will have searched up a land or two by the time I get to 5 or 6 mana.

Hopefully the color breakdown of the deck will help to demonstrate that with this deck you don’t have to continually pray for Woolly Thoctar mana to be successful. Just look at all of those easy to cast, mono-colored spells.


Witness the depth of the removal spells in this deck. Including the utility creatures, we have over twenty utility / removal cards, all of which are high quality. This outstanding depth of good removal is a key advantage of a five color 100CS deck. Suffice it to say that you’ll usually be able to remove a pesky critter or two.

Firespout deserves special mention, because it might seem like an odd choice for a deck that runs so many creatures. Look a little closer, and you’ll see that every single creature in the deck falls into one of two categories: 1) it can survive Firespout if you aim it at the ground, or 2) it provides card advantage to offset its loss to Firespout.

In a certain way, non-basic hate is a form of utility. This deck runs Back to Basics, Ruination, and Blood Moon. In a deck that only uses basic lands or basic-searching lands, why not? It has a miner, too, for good measure. Feel free to add more if you’d enjoy Primal Order or Destructive Flow.


When you build a greedy deck, one of your central objectives should be to make every one of your creatures count. Therefore, almost all of the creatures provide some sort of card advantage or other boost to your game plan in addition to their bodies.

Two notable exceptions are Quirion Dryad and Vinelasher Kudzu, but those are our pseudo-Tarmogoyf cards: 2cc guys that get large enough to be a significant problem. Pretty often the opponent will spend removal on them, and that’s good news for the other creatures in your deck. Both creatures will easily accumulate counters, because we do a lot of land searching, and other than the Quirion Dryad we have only eight mono-Green spells in the deck.

Basically, you get a little of everything. It’s pretty nice when you can run Flametongue Kavu, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Loxodon Hierarch, and Shriekmaw in the same deck. Eliminating the double-colored mana costs limits our options somewhat, but we still have plenty of good creatures to choose from.


This deck can win some games, and it’s fun to play. Playing some of the strongest cards in Magic’s history provides a certain satisfaction. In topdeck mode, it can draw some gas and just win. Naturally, you’ll sometimes need to spend time fiddling with mana in the early game, but if you can avoid getting flooded later on, you’ll have a good shot at winning. If you enjoy ripping the utility spell you need off the topdeck, you would probably have some positive experiences with this deck.

Anyone who gives this list a try will notice that Back to Basics can really paralyze some opponents. The ironic thing is that it’s at its best against the more expensive cousins of our own deck! With so many good dual lands available, you can bet that lots of people are out there using them to fuel 4 and 5 color decks full of powerful spells. Trust me, it’s perfectly fair to use your opponent’s $500 mana base against him, because that’s the risk he takes when he minimizes his basic land count to maximize the average power level of his spells. Life is full of tradeoffs.

For 30 tickets or less, you could do a lot worse. If I wanted a more competitive deck for the same price, I would start by comparing it to a 30 ticket Red deck or a 30 ticket White Weenie deck. If those types of aggro decks aren’t your style, this Greedy deck might be just what you need to get hooked on 100CS.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some basic land themed decks. I’d love to hear what you think — I welcome praise and constructive criticism alike!


  1. You mentioned: “My favorite game was actually my final contest, during which I faced up against thekid’s Rec-Sur + Blue deck. He is a much better player than I am, and he had just brought this Rec-Sur deck to the Top 4 of the 10/09/10 Weekend Challenge.”

    I’d say he probably is a pretty good player since “thekid” is the MTGO ID of Charles Gindy, the 2009 US Nationals champ (“the kid” being an old nickname from Tallahassee). So that was indeed a pretty good player… provided there isn’t a Master of the Wild Hunt in play. :)

  2. Another nice article bud.

    Makes me want to pull out my storm deck with the moons and B2B again.