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Budget Magic: $92 (11 tix) Mardu Aristocrats (Modern, Magic Online)


Hafa adai, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, as we wait for the sweet new War of the Spark cards to be released and shake up Standard, we're heading to Modern to play a deck that was sort of inspired by War of the Spark spoilers: Mardu Aristocrats. Cruel Celebrant's reveal started me thinking about Aristocrats-style decks again, and while I certainly plan on building one (or several) for Standard once War of the Spark is released, I simply couldn't wait another few weeks to try to win some games by sacrificing my board for value. So today, we're going to give Mardu Aristocrats a shot in Standard. The deck is actually fairly similar to one of my favorite Standard decks back in Khans of Tarkir Standard, looking to use powerful sac-outlet finishers like Butcher of the Horde and Falkenrath Aristocrat to hit for huge chunks of damage in the air while also giving us a way to sacrifice our random creatures to trigger Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat. Can an Aristocrats-style deck work in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Mardu Aristocrats (Modern)

The Deck

Mardu Aristocrats is basically a hybrid midrange / combo deck. It can win just by playing random creatures, making some tokens, and beating down, but it also has a combo-esque finish where we can sacrifice our entire board to trigger our four Zulaport Cutthroats and Blood Artists and drain our opponent out of game directly. Breaking down the deck is pretty simple: we have payoffs, sacrifice fodder, and finishers / sacrifice outlets along with a few random utility cards. Let's start with the two most important cards in our deck: the payoffs.

Payoffs

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Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat are the two foundational cards of our deck, and both are pretty similar, draining our opponent for one whenever one of our creatures dies. Blood Artist has the upside of draining when one of our opponent's creatures die, while Zulaport Cutthroat trades this ability for an extra power on the battlefield. While any one of these cards are good in our deck, the games where we draw two or more are especially exciting since whenever we sacrifice one of our creatures, we end up with a Shock or even a Lightning Bolt at our opponent's face (while also gaining us some life), which means we don't need to sacrifice that many creatures to completely drain our opponent out of the game. Basically, we want to draw our Blood Artists and Zulaport Cutthroats as early and as often as possible—they are the reason to build an Aristocrats deck.

Sacrifice Fodder

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As far as sacrifice fodder goes, we start things off with two one-drops. Doomed Traveler isn't all that powerful as a creature, but thanks to its afterlife-like ability to make a 1/1 Spirit when it dies, it gives us two creatures to sacrifice for just a single mana. Meanwhile, Thraben Inspector gives us a cheap body that (sort of) draws us a card by making a Clue, which we can sacrifice to draw a card when we have some extra mana lying around. 

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While our one-drops are great, our best sacrifice fodder comes in the three-drop slot, in Lingering Souls and Promise of Bunrei. Lingering Souls does two very important things for our deck. First, and most obviously, Lingering Souls gives us four bodies to sacrifice and trigger our Blood Artist effects. Second, Lingering Souls is essential to our backup plan of beating down with evasive creatures. Sometimes, we just draw two copies of Lingering Souls, make eight 1/1 fliers over the course of three turns, and beat our opponent down with small flying Spirits. As for Promise of Bunrei, it's one of the higher-variance cards in our deck. If we don't have another creature (or sacrifice outlet) on the battlefield, it's just a useless enchantment. On the other hand, if we can sacrifice a Lingering Souls token or random one-drop, we end up with a massive four 1/1 tokens for just three mana, which ends up being a ton of damage after we sacrifice all of the (non-flying) Spirits to trigger our Blood Artists and Zulaport Cutthroats. This is the card that gives our deck a sort of combo finish. With two Blood Artists on the battlefield and a sacrifice outlet, if we can sacrifice one random creature and make the four 1/1 Spirits with Promise of Bunrei, we end up with a massive 10 points of drain damage at a minimum. And this doesn't include that some of our sacrifice outlet finishers are really good at getting in extra damage in the air.

Sac Outlet Finishers

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When it comes to closing out the game, our best options are in the four-mana slot, where we have three copies of Butcher of the Horde and three Falkenrath Aristocrat. While the 3 / 3 split probably looks weird, in this case, the cards are very similar but have strengths in different matchups. Beneath everything else, either Butcher of the Horde or Falkenrath Aristocrat offers hasty damage in the air while also allowing us to sacrifice our entire board for free to trigger Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat. However, Butcher of the Horde tends to be better against aggro (since we can give it lifelink), while Falkenrath Aristocrat tends to offer more value against removal-heavy control and midrange decks, where the ability to make it indestructible allow us to fizzle removal spells like Fatal Push (which can kill Butcher of the Horde) before it get in for any damage. 

The best part of both cards is the sheer amount of damage they offer in conjunction with our Blood Artists and sacrifice fodder. Even a relatively normal curve of something like Doomed Traveler on Turn 1 into Blood Artist on Turn 2 into Promise of Bunrei on Turn 3 into either of our four-mana finishers on Turn 4 allows us to hit for at least 11 evasive damage on Turn 4. And if we can chip in for some early damage and throw another Blood Artist or Zulaport Cutthroat into this mix, this same curve can basically just kill our opponent from 20 out of nowhere!

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Viscera Seer and Cartel Aristocrat give us some backup sacrifice outlets. While not nearly as powerful at closing out the game as Butcher of the Horde or Falkenrath Aristocrat, both cards come with one big upside: they're cheap. Viscera Seer comes down as early as Turn 1 and then allows us to sacrifice creatures to scry, to look for more sacrifice fodder and our finisher while triggering our Blood Artists along the way, while Cartel Aristocrat is extremely difficult to kill since if our opponent tries to target it, we can sacrifice a creature to give it protection. Plus, the protection ability makes it solid on defense and allows it to chip in for damage here and there by giving it protection from whatever color of creatures our opponent happens to have on the battlefield.

Other Stuff

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Rounding out the deck, we have a handful of utility spells. Faithless Looting gives us a way to loot away extra lands (and potentially discard Lingering Souls for value) to make sure we have a steady stream of action. While Mardu Aristocrats isn't a Faithless Looting deck, it seems that just about any deck performs better whenever I play a few copies. Meanwhile, Tragic Slip and Dreadbore give us some removal for our opponent's creatures. Assuming we can sacrifice a creature, Tragic Slip kills anything in the format for just a single mana, while Dreadbore gives us a way to kill a planeswalker directly, which is a nice hedge in case we run into a deck playing Liliana, the Last Hope, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, or Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we played five matches with Mardu Aristocrats and ended up 3-2, which is a pretty solid performance for a budget deck. In general, the deck performed really well against midrange and control. Also, it did struggle with fast combo (as seen in our loss to the Breach Titan Scapeshift deck and a tough mana-screw-filled loss to Hardened Scales). Basically, Mardu Aristocrats felt great against the fairer decks in the format but struggled with the unfair decks. In some ways, this isn't a surprise. In Modern, slower midrange and combo decks lean heavily on a few powerful but expensive sideboard cards (like Surgical Extraction, Stony Silence, and Rest in Peace) along with discard like Thoughtseize to compete with the unfair decks of the format, and all those cards are a bit expensive for a budget deck. The good news is that with some non-budget additions, the unfair matchups can be greatly improved without costing us much in terms of win percentage against fair decks.

As far as changes to make to the budget deck now that we've played some matches, the main deck felt pretty solid outside of the mana base. Mardu mana is strange in Modern. There are a lot of good white / X dual lands, but Rakdos dual lands are expensive, so we had some games where we got stuck without black or red mana. While it would push the budget slightly over $100, squeezing in a few copies of Sulfurous Springs or Graven Cairns would go a long way toward shoring up the issue and making sure we have all three colors most games. The other possibility is cutting back on a copy or two of Promise of Bunrei. While the card is great when it works, we did have some situations where we wanted something that impacted the board more directly. Going up to four copies of Thraben Inspector and cutting a copy or two of Promise of Bunrei might be a good plan.

All in all, Mardu Aristocrats felt solid. We had some really explosive combo kills, and Lingering Souls is still a great way to grind out the fairer decks in the format. While some semi-expensive upgrades are probably needed to improve the hard matchups against fast combo, even in its current state, the deck can win a lot of matches. If you enjoy midrange strategies, sacrificing your own creatures for value, and combo-esque kills, Mardu Aristocrats seems like a more than decent budget option for Modern.

Getting Mardu Aristocrats down into the ultra-budget range isn't too difficult, but it does require making the mana base even clunkier by cutting the eight fast lands for Evolving Wilds and more basics. Still, considering that most of the other cards are in the deck are cheap, there isn't really another way to get the price down near $50. Otherwise, we do need to trim one copy of Blood Artist (turning it into a Thraben Inspector) and cut some of the semi-expensive sideboard cards like Wear // Tear and Relic of Progenitus, replacing them with Banishing Light as a catch-all removal spell and more copies of Tormod's Crypt for graveyards. While this version of the deck is probably fine for kitchen-table play, the clunky mana makes it a risky choice for tournaments. You'll lose some games by having too many lands coming into play tapped and by missing out on one color or the other, so make sure to upgrade the mana base at the first opportunity.

As for our non-budget build, the main plan is to fix our rough matchups against combo (while also improving the mana base). While we do get Thoughtseize as a catch-all answer in the main deck, apart from the standard fetch-lands-for-shock-lands mana base, most of the updates come to the sideboard, where we get Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, Surgical Extraction, and two different Lilianas. In the end, this leaves us with a deck that works almost exactly the same as the one we played in the videos but should rarely run into the color-screw problem we had on occasion during our matches and should have more game against combo, thanks to some powerful sideboard cards.

Conclusion

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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