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Budget Magic: 12 Bolt (Modern)

Swastyastu, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Guilds of Ravnica is almost here, which means that before long, we'll be playing a ton of sweet Standard decks featuring spicy new cards. But while we wait for rotation, we have a super-powerful Modern list this week that takes advantage of some cards rotating from Standard: 12 Bolt! In some sense, 12 Bolt is a burn deck, but in reality, it's Lightning Bolt tribal, playing not only the original Lightning Bolt but Wizard's Lightning and Fiery Temper as well. The main plan of the deck is to turn Wizard's Lightning and Fiery Temper into actual Lightning Bolt, giving us a massive 12 spells that deal three damage for just a single mana. Combine our 12 bolts with the power of The Flame of Keld to refill our hand and power up our burn spells (and turn Gut Shot into even more Lightning Bolt) along with some cheap, aggressive creatures, and the end result is a deck that can win quickly like Burn but also has a surprising ability to play a longer game. How many bolts is too many? Can some of our rotating Standard cards find a home in Modern? Can 12 Bolt challenge 8 Whack for the title of most competitive budget deck for Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: 12 Bolt (Modern)

The Deck

12 Bolt is a weird deck. In some ways, it's a burn deck, but apart from Lightning Bolt, most of the staples from the traditional burn deck in Modern are missing. In other ways, it's a mono-red aggro deck that happens to play a lot of burn spells. On paper, the deck looks a bit strange, playing a lot of cards that you wouldn't expect together (or even at all) in the Modern format, but all of the cards have a purpose: to turn our pseudo-Lightning Bolts into literal Lightning Bolt, allowing us to kill our opponent with a ton of damage to the face!

The Bolts

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Lightning Bolt is the best burn spell ever printed. Three damage for just a single mana is as efficient as it gets. Combine this with the ability to hit both creatures and players, making it both a way to stay alive (by using it as a removal spell) and a finisher (by throwing it at the opponent's face), and the power of Lightning Bolt becomes clear. Because Lightning Bolt is so powerful, it's a card that doesn't get reprinted in Standard sets very often. Instead, we often see cards that can be a Lightning Bolt but only when a certain condition is met. For example, Fiery Temper is an Open Fire if you are casting it from your hand but a Lightning Bolt if you can discard it and then cast it with madness. The same is true of Wizard's Lightning, but instead of discarding it, we need a Wizard on the battlefield to turn it from a Open Fire into a bolt. The main idea of 12 Bolt is to make sure the weird conditions of Fiery Temper and Wizard's Lightning are met as quickly and consistently as possible, giving us a deck full of one-mana, three-damage burn spells to throw at our opponent's face until they are dead.

Build-a-Bolt: Wizard's Lightning

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Turning Wizard's Lightning into a real Lightning Bolt is pretty simple: we just need to have a Wizard on the battlefield. In all, we have 10 one-mana Wizards in our deck to support our bolts. Ghitu Lavarunner is great in 12 Bolt, in part because we have Faithless Looting to help turn Fiery Temper into Lightning Bolt, which helps us get two instants or sorceries into our graveyard early in the game. In our deck, it's pretty common for Ghitu Lavarunner to be a no-downside Goblin Guide as early as Turn 2, giving us a hasty attacker to chip away at our opponent's life total. 

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Meanwhile, Soul-Scar Mage often ends up attacking for two or three damage thanks to all of the spells we have in our deck for triggering prowess, making it a very above-the-curve attacker. It also has some additional upside with our 12 bolts. One of the downsides of relying on Lightning Bolt as our primary removal spell is that we can be in trouble if our opponent plays something with more than three toughness, like Gurmag Angler or Thought-Knot Seer, but with a Soul-Scar Mage on the battlefield, we can use our Lightning Bolt to put 1/1 counters on the creature, killing it over the course of a couple of turns (with multiple bolts) or minimizing its impact on the game by making it small enough that we can keep attacking with our aggressive creatures. 

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Our last Wizard is Grim Lavamancer, which is just a two-of in our deck. While it's the weakest attacker of the bunch as a 1/1 for one, the ability to eat away the bolts in our graveyard to throw Shocks at our opponent's face gives us a bit of extra reach to close out the game, and in some matchups, being able to repeatedly kill small creatures is a very big deal. While Grim Lavamancer doesn't work well in multiples, since we'll quickly run out of cards in our graveyard, as a two-of, Grim Lavamancer is solid as a source of damage and a way to up our Wizard count for Wizard's Lightning.

Build-a-Bolt: Fiery Temper

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To turn Fiery Temper into a Lightning Bolt, we need ways of discarding cards. While we have a few options, The Flame of Keld is the best of the bunch. Our curve is extremely low to the ground, so it's pretty easy for us to empty our hand over the first few turns of the game. Then, on Turn 3 or 4, we can cast The Flame of Keld to discard (and cast) our Fiery Tempers, setting us up to draw extra cards on the next turn. If our opponent isn't already dead, then we can wait for the third lore counter to throw the rest of our Lightning Bolts at our opponent's face, with each turning into a one-mana version of Lava Axe

The other big upside of The Flame of Keld is that it allows us to go long. Normally, burn decks don't have a way to refill their hand if something goes wrong. Thanks to The Flame of Keld, 12 Bolt is pretty good (at least, for an aggro deck) at pushing through the last few points of damage to close out the game, even through some amount of disruption.

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Bomat Courier is surprisingly strong in our deck, coming down on Turn 1, hitting for some hasty damage and exiling cards to eventually generate card advantage. In many ways, it plays like The Flame of Keld. We look to empty our hand quickly and then cast Bomat Courier on Turn 3 or 4 to draw a few extra cards, potentially madnessing our Fiery Tempers along the way. While it might seem like Bomat Courier would get stonewalled quickly, thanks to all of our bolts, we can keep the path clear for attacking if we decide to burn creatures rather than our opponent's face. The combination of generating card advantage, hitting for hasty damage, and turning Fiery Temper into Lightning Bolt makes Bomat Courier a great addition to the deck.

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Last but not least, we have Faithless Looting, which allows us to filter away extra lands to find more action while also stocking our graveyard for Grim Lavamancer and Ghitu Lavarunner. If we manage to discard and madness a Fiery Temper, we can turn the card-filtering aspect of Faithless Looting into card advantage, getting a Lightning Bolt and two fresh cards out of the deal. Combined with Bomat Courier and The Flame of Keld, it gives us yet another way to go long and play a fair game, compared to other aggro and burn decks in the Modern format.

Other Stuff

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Gut Shot probably looks weird, but it's in our deck for two reasons. First, it's extremely powerful with The Flame of Keld, offering a free Lightning Bolt when the Saga gets its third lore counter. Second, even without The Flame of Keld, it's surprisingly good in our current Modern format. One damage kills a lot of things, with Noble Hierarch, Snapcaster Mage, Phantasmal Image, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Champion of the Parish, Thalia's Lieutenant and Walking Ballista all being among the 10 most played creatures in the format. Even outside the most played cards, it's great against Affinity and Hardened Scales decks, along with anything using mana dorks. While there are some matchups where it is pretty bad, having Faithless Looting helps to minimize the downside, since we can always discard it in matchups where it doesn't have good targets. Meanwhile, Insult // Injury is just a one-of, basically giving us a Searing Blaze that we can cast from our graveyard. Out of all the games I've played with the deck, I'm not sure I've cast the Insult half of the card a single time. While I'm sure it will happen eventually, it's mostly in the deck to discard to Faithless Looting, Bomat Courier, and The Flame of Keld.


As for the record, we cruised to a super-easy 5-0, and a lot of the games weren't even close. After recording, I played a competitive league for fun and ended up finishing with a 3-2, with one of the losses being a match where we got stuck on mana both games. Basically, the deck felt extremely competitive, to the point where it might be on the same level as 8 Whack as the best Modern budget deck, if your goal is to compete at a Grand Prix or other high-level tournament. 

As far as changes I'd make to the deck now that we've played some games, the only card I don't like is Insult // Injury, although I'm not sure what to run in that slot instead. In theory, any cheap creature or burn spell could work. At first, I was skeptical about Gut Shot as well, but after playing with the deck, I think it's actually quite good and more than worth a slot in the deck. All this is to say that the deck is pretty great as is, so making any major changes isn't really necessary. 

If you're looking to compete in Modern on a budget, 12 Bolt seems to be one of the best options available. I'm not completely sure whether it's better than 8 Whack, but it's certainly on the same level. The other big upside of the deck is that it's essentially complete as is. The only real upgrade to make would be adding Relic of Progenitus to the sideboard over Tormod's Crypt and, if you wanted to go really deep, adding some fetch lands just to power up Grim Lavamancer, but even if budget isn't a concern, the current build is pretty much optimal. As such, if you're looking to grind tickets on Magic Online or compete in paper tournaments on a budget, or you just like being aggressive and throwing a million Lightning Bolts at your opponent's face, give 12 Bolt a shot—I don't think you'll be disappointed!

To get 12 Bolt down in the ultra-budget price range, the primary card we need to drop is Grim Lavamancer. The main criterion for the replacement is that it needs to be a Wizard to help power up Wizard's Lightning, making Magus of the Scroll the perfect replacement. While slower and more expensive than Grim Lavamancer, it works similarly, giving us a way to repeatedly Shock our opponent's face or snip their creatures. Otherwise, we cut Insult // Injury for another Gut Shot, although I'm not 100% sure that's the right replacement, and make the sideboard as budget friendly as possible, dropping Goblin Chainwhirler for Electrickery and Young Pyromancer for Searing Blood. All in all, these changes hurt the deck a bit, but they are small enough that you shouldn't notice a huge difference in power level.

For our non-budget list this week, we have Relekkam's build, which recently 5-0ed a competitive league. As you can see, apart from some small sideboard changes, it's exactly the same as the build we played in the videos. As we talked about before, one of the upsides of picking up 12 Bolt as your budget Modern deck is that you're essentially getting the optimal build of the deck—it just happens to also be budget friendly!


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

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