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Budget Magic: $116 (14 tix) Restore Balance 2019 (Modern, Magic Online)


Witéjta, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! You're probably wondering why today's deck is slightly over our normal $100 budget. Well, that's because rather than playing a brand new deck, we're revisiting and updating a Modern Budget Magic classic this week: Restore Balance! If you've been following Budget Magic for a long time, you might remember that we played a Restore Balance deck for the second ever episode of Budget Magic, way back in April 2015. A lot has changed since then, with some sweet new cards being printed for the deck and an important rules change shaking things up. As such, we're going to take an updated 2019 edition of Restore Balance out for a spin today. The basic plan of the deck is to cheat Restore Balance onto the stack with the help of cascade spells and then use cards like Greater Gargadon and Borderposts to help break the symmetry of Restore Balance, to help ensure that our opponent is losing pretty much all of their creatures and lands (along with most of their hand) when the spell resolves. Can Restore Balance compete in 2019 Modern? How has the deck changed over the past four years? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Restore Balance 2019 (Modern)

The Deck

Probably the best way to think of Restore Balance is as a combo deck, with the combo being resolving a Restore Balance and breaking the symmetrical aspect of the card. The main plan of the deck is to use Restore Balance as a one-sided Armageddon plus Plague Wind that might also Mind Twist our opponent's hand and then hopefully close out the game with one of our handful of finishers post-Restore Balance

Restore Balance

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Restore Balance is a functional version of one of the most powerful cards in Magic's history—Balance—except we can't just cast Restore Balance, since it doesn't have a mana cost. When it resolves, each player sacs lands and creatures and discards cards in hand until they have the same number as the player with the lowest amount. Our deck is built so when Restore Balance resolves, we'll hopefully have zero lands and zero creatures on the battlefield thanks to some tricky deck building, which means our opponent will lose pretty much all of their resources, while our deck can still function because we're built to withstand Restore Balance

Of course, we can't plan on playing Restore Balance fairly. Suspending it and waiting for six turns is simply too slow for Modern. Thankfully, we have tricks to speed up the process in our eight cascade spells: Ardent Plea and Violent Outburst. Because Restore Balance is the only card in our deck with a converted mana cost less than three, we know that whenever we cast an Ardent Plea or Violent Outburst, the end result will be that we cascade into Restore Balance and can cast it for free. This means that, rather than suspending and waiting for six turns, we can Restore Balance as early as Turn 2, although we often wait another turn or two to set things up, to make Restore Balance as devastating as possible for our opponent.

Breaking the Symmetry of Restore Balance

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The trick to winning with Restore Balance is realizing that simply resolving the card isn't good enough. To really make Restore Balance game-breaking, we need to build our deck so that Restore Balance hurts our opponent way more than it hurts us when it resolves. This means that when we resolve Restore Balance, we want to make sure that we have zero creatures on the battlefield and zero (or as close to zero as possible) lands on the battlefield as well. 

The first way that we break the symmetry of Restore Balance is with our mana base. Rather than playing just lands, our deck has an even split of 14 Borderposts and 14 lands. Borderposts do two really important things for our deck. First and most obviously, since Restore Balance doesn't hit artifacts, Borderposts are essentially lands that survive Restore Balance, which means we'll still have mana to cast our spells after Restore Balance resolves. The second benefit of our Borderposts is their alternate casting cost, which involves picking up a basic land. Let's say that we cast Borderposts for our first three turns, picking up the same basic land each time. This means that on Turn 4, we'll have three mana from Borderposts—enough to cast a cascade spell to find Restore Balance—but no actual lands on the battlefield, so when Restore Balance resolves, our opponent will have to sacrifice their entire mana base!

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The second way we break the symmetry of Restore Balance is with Greater Gargadon, which also works as our primary finisher. The idea here is that we can suspend Greater Gargadon, hopefully on Turn 1 or 2, and then when we cast a cascade spell to find Restore Balance, we can use Greater Gargadon to sacrifice whatever lands we happen to have on the battlefield, which then forces our opponent to sacrifice all of their lands when Restore Balance resolves. Hopefully, we'll have some number of Borderposts on the battlefield to make mana, but even if we don't, Greater Gargadon is still a way to break the symmetry of Restore Balance, as it will come off suspend and kill our opponent in just a couple of attacks. 

Once we wipe our opponent's lands and creatures, our main goal is to sacrifice enough stuff to get Greater Gargadon onto the battlefield, which means we sometimes sacrifice all of our permanents and just trust that Greater Gargadon will close out the game before our opponent draws the combo of lands and removal necessary to deal with the Beast. Thanks to being a hybrid finisher and symmetry breaker, Greater Gargadon is one of the most important cards in our deck, and we want a copy in our opening hand every game, if possible.

Finishers

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While we often win with Greater Gargadon beats, we have a couple of backup plans as well. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is one of the biggest new additions to the deck. Planeswalkers work incredibly well with Restore Balance because they remain on the battlefield through Restore Balance, and after Restore Balance resolves, it's unlikely our opponent will have the resources to deal with a planeswalker before they ultimate. As for Chandra, Torch of Defiance specifically, it's perfect for the deck. At four mana, it's cheap enough that we can cast it before Restore Balance (and maybe even use her +1 mana ability to immediately cast a Violent Outburst) or play it with our Borderpost mana after Restore Balance. Her +1 generates card advantage to help us dig for cascade spells but doesn't put the cards in our hand (which is actually an upside for breaking the "discard cards" aspect of Restore Balance), and then her ultimate wins the game quickly, since half of our lands (the Borderposts) are actually spells that deal five damage. 

As for The Antiquities War, it's just a one-of, but it does offer another avenue for winning the game. The older version of Restore Balance played March of the Machines as a finisher, and The Antiquities War is mostly an upside, since we can cast it before we Restore Balance (which doesn't work with March of the Machines, since we'll have to sacrifice all of our Borderposts) and then animate our Borderposts into 5/5 attackers after wrathing our opponent's board and lands with Restore Balance. With just four Borderposts on the battlefield, The Antiquities War will give us 20 power worth of attackers, which should be enough to kill our opponent with one attack. Meanwhile, the first two lore counters are good for digging through our deck to find more Borderposts, ensuring that we have at least four on the battlefield when we hit the third lore counter.

Other Stuff

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Simian Spirit Guide helps us speed out a cascade spell for Restore Balance a turn earlier, while also getting a card out of our hand, which helps to ensure our opponent is discarding as many cards as possible when Restore Balance resolves. The best Restore Balances are the ones where we not only get all of our opponent's lands and creatures but also all (or at least most) of our opponent's hand as well. With no lands and no cards in hand, it typically takes several turns for the opponent to do anything, giving us plenty of time to finish the game with Greater Gargadon or Chandra, Torch of Defiance. On the other hand, if our opponent has several cards in hand after Restore Balance, it's possible that they can rebuild their board enough to deal with our finisher and force the game to continue. The combination of being free mana and getting a card out of our hand makes Simian Spirit Guide a great option for our build.

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Beast Within gives us a catch-all removal spell that works especially well with Restore Balance. While giving the opponent a 3/3 is normally a drawback, since we're planning on wrathing everything with Restore Balance, it isn't usually too much of an issue. Meanwhile, being able to destroy everything, from a land to a planeswalker to an artifact or enchantment (along with creatures), is a huge upside, with Beast Within offering an answer to any hate card in the format that could stop our combo (like Chalice of the Void on zero or Rule of Law effects). 

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Last but not least, we have a couple of split cards, with Discovery // Dispersal as a Preordain to help find our cascade spells to set up Restore Balance and Dead // Gone giving us a bit of early-game removal to slow down the game. Here, the most interesting aspect of both cards is that back when we first played Restore Balance in 2015, neither of these cards would have worked in the deck. The rule used to be that, with cascade, you used either half of a split card, so when we cast an Ardent Plea, we would hit Discovery or Dead and not Restore Balance. Well, things have changed since then, and now split cards go by their combined converted mana cost every place but the stack, which means Discovery // Dispersal has a converted mana cost of seven and Dead // Gone has one of four, avoiding our cascade spells. This is a huge change for decks like Restore Balance, which cannot play a more "fair" game without damaging the primary cascade-into-Restore Balance plan. Even beyond our main-deck split cards, we have some more in the sideboard to take advantage of the rule change, with Wear // Tear and Hide // Seek to deal with Stony Silence and Consign // Oblivion as a general-purpose bounce spell.

Wrap-Up

Well, it looks like Restore Balance is still a pretty solid option for Modern. We finished our matches 4-1, only losing to Mono-Blue / Mono-Counterspells control, which felt like a rough matchup (and even there, we managed to steal a win), and beating some pretty powerful Modern decks along the way, including Jeskai Control, Abzan Midrange, Mono-Red Phoenix, and a unique take on Soul Sisters. The deck is surprisingly consistent at doing its thing, and its "thing" (making the opponent sacrifice all of their lands and creatures) is pretty devastating for our opponents, even in a format as streamlined and powerful as Modern. 

While Restore Balance is especially good against creature decks where the Plague Wind aspect of Restore Balance is relevant, it's good enough against control as well, where the Armageddon effect is good. As a result, Restore Balance tends to be good in a lot of different matchups. Probably the worst matchups are fast combo, although here, the Mind Twist part of Restore Balance can be game winning if we manage to fire it off fast enough. The heavy counterspell matchups are probably the hardest, although Ricochet Trap gives us a chance after sideboarding, and it usually only takes a single Restore Balance to get a win against control. 

As far as upgrades to the deck, one possibility is Nahiri, the Harbinger and Emrakul, the Promised End over Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The problem is that, despite the Ultimate Masters reprints, Emrakul itself is still close to $30, which makes it really difficult to sneak under the budget. It's also possible that we should be exploring the split-card rules change more. Response // Resurgence gives us more removal, and Failure // Comply is a pseudo-Counterspell, and I'm sure there are some other possibilities out there as well. 

All in all, Restore Balance was great the first time we played it nearly four years ago, and it was still great today! Restore Balance itself is a uniquely powerful card and more than powerful enough to build a deck around. If you like making your opponent not play Magic or just love Borderposts, give it a shot!

It's not really possible to get Restore Balance all the way down to $50, since just a playset of Greater Gargadon and Restore Balance ends up being nearly $40, and these cards are the uncuttable foundation of the deck. The good news is that we can make the deck cheap by replacing Chandra, Torch of Defiance with more copies of The Antiquities War, switching Simian Spirit Guide for more interactive spells in additional copies of Dead // Gone, and making the sideboard as cheap as possible. The end result is a $67 version of Restore Balance. While Restore Balance itself should be almost as devastating as it was in the build we played for our videos, the downgrade in finishers from Chandra, Torch of Defiance to The Antiquities War does make the deck weaker (mostly because there are some situations where we ultimate The Antiquities War and are unable to win because we don't have enough Borderposts or because our opponent gained life, and if we don't win on the turn that we get the third lore counter, we lose our finisher altogether. As such, I'd look to upgrade to Chandra, Torch of Defiance (or Nahiri, the Harbinger / Emrakul, the Aeons Torn) quickly if you're planning on playing the deck in a competitive setting.

For our non-budget list this week, we have a Restore Balance list that 5-0'ed a league on Magic Online a few months ago. While the primary plan of the deck is the same, the deck gets some even more powerful win conditions in Nahiri, the Harbinger for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Nahiri, the Harbinger is pretty straightforward. If we can resolve it before Restore Balance, we should have enough time to ultimate, tutor up Emrakul, and win the game. Meanwhile, Jace, the Mind Sculptor does two important things in the deck. First, its fateseal +2 can lock the opponent out of every rebuilding after a Restore Balance by putting lands to the bottom of their library. Second, being able to put Restore Balances from hand back on top of our library is a really nice upside, not only getting rid of a dead draw but also allowing us to cascade into copies that we happen to draw naturally. Otherwise, Blood Moon gives us a backup lock piece, while Detention Sphere and Oblivion Ring offer some additional removal. All in all, the planeswalker finishers represent a big upgrade but also add a ton to the cost of the deck. Considering that the budget build is good enough as is, I wouldn't run out and spend $400 on Jace, the Mind Sculptor just to play Restore Balance, although if you have them, you might as well stick them into the deck. On the other hand, Nahiri and Emrakul offer a nice medium-price upgrade—you can simply play the package over Chandra, Torch of Defiance and The Antiquities War with no other changes.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestion in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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