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Budget Magic: $99 (31 tix) UW Naban (Modern)

Muraho, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! As we wait to kick off our exploration of Core Set 2019 next week, we're heading to Modern this week to play one of my favorite cards from Dominaria: Naban, Dean of Iteration. The plan of the deck is simple: basically annoy our opponent to death with tricky enters-the-battlefield Wizards before eventually attacking our opponent's lands with Venser, Shaper Savant and Restoration Angel (to blink Venser, Shaper Savant). While the deck doesn't look that powerful on paper, it has a ton of synergy and tiny bits of value that hopefully add up to a win. Plus, in Modern, we don't have to worry about Goblin Chainwhirler killing our creatures. In some ways, this is the Modern version of the Nabanamonicon deck we played on Against the Odds a while ago in Standard (although without any literal Panharmonicons), and while playing a very Standard-looking deck in Modern probably seems strange, the fact that we don't have to worry about Goblin Chainwhirler sweeping our Naban in 40% of our matches actually makes the deck oddly better in the older format. Can Naban, Dean of Iteration form the foundation of a solid budget deck 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: UW Naban (Modern)

The Deck

UW Naban is basically a strange UW Tempo deck, relying on the power of Naban, Dean of Iteration to double up the enters-the-battlefield triggers of a bunch of tricky and annoying Wizards to eventually generate enough small advantages to pull ahead of the opponent and hopefully put away the game. 


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The namesake Naban, Dean of Iteration is the flashiest card in our deck. Considering we have a massive 25 Wizards with enters-the-battlefield triggers along with four Restoration Angel to reuse those triggers, we generate a ton of value if we can get Naban, Dean of Iteration to stick on the battlefield for just a few turns. Unfortunately, as a 2/1 for two, Naban, Dean of Iteration does die to just about any removal spell in the format, which means one of the biggest challenges of the deck is making sure that it's built in such a way where it functions even when we don't have a Naban, Dean of Iteration. Thankfully, most of our Wizards with enters-the-battlefield abilities are fine on their own, so rather than being reliant on Naban, Dean of Iteration to work, our deck can play like a weird UW Tempo deck without Naban, and then we can typically close out the game in short order once a Naban, Dean of Iteration sticks. 

Card-Draw Wizards

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Like any good Panharmonicon-style deck, UW Naban is overloaded with card-draw creatures to keep churning through our deck. Silvergill Adept and Wistful Selkie simply draw us a card when they enter the battlefield, and they become pretty absurd if we happen to have a Naban, Dean of Iteration, giving us two cards while also leaving behind a body for attacking and blocking. Meanwhile, Sea Gate Oracle draw us the better of our top two cards, while digging four cards deep with Naban. 

While this might not sound all that impressive, the main way our deck wins is by outvaluing our opponent. Compared to the cards in a typical Modern deck, most of our cards are medium to underpowered, but if we can play twice as many cards as our opponent thanks to our endless stream of card advantage, we can often win by overwhelming our opponent's good cards with our medium cards.

Removal Wizards

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Reflector Mage and Merfolk Trickster are either the best or worst creatures in our deck, depending on the matchup. If we run into a control deck (or combo deck) with very few creatures, Reflector Mage and Merfolk Trickster are just below-the-curve creatures (thankfully, we can sideboard them out for counterspells and Damping Spheres in these matchups). On the other hand, Reflector Mage and Merfolk Trickster are insanely powerful against any creature-based deck. 

In the early game, the combination of Reflector Mage and Merfolk Trickster helps us stay alive long enough to play our more powerful cards, with Trickster tapping down a creature (or two with Naban) and Reflector Mage setting our opponent back significantly with its bounce ability. Then, in the late game, these cards are oddly some of our best ways of closing out the game by bouncing our opponent's blockers so we can swing in with all of our random dorks. Together, Reflector Mage and Merfolk Trickster make life miserable for any creature decks we face, and doubly miserable if we have a Naban, Dean of Iteration on the battlefield.

The Finishers

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When it comes to closing out the game, we have a couple of different plans. My favorite is Venser, Shaper Savant. While Venser might look like another random removal / bounce creature, and to some extent it is, the bigger deal here is that Venser, Shaper Savant can bounce any permanent, which includes lands. In the mid- to late game, one of our primary goals is to bounce all of our opponent's lands with the help of Venser, Shaper Savant, Naban, Dean of Iteration, and Restoration Angel, making it impossible for our opponent to play Magic as we beat down with our random creatures. The other big upside of Venser, Shaper Savant is that it gives us a way to deal with our opponent's spells, giving us as least some action against combo and control decks that don't care about our Reflector Mages and Merfolk Tricksters. 

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Master of Waves is our best way of closing out the game quickly. Thanks to the fact that we have a lot of blue mana symbols in our deck, with Merfolk Trickster adding two and Wistful Selkie adding three, Master of Waves often makes at least five Elemental tokens, adding 10 or more power to the battlefield for just four mana. If we throw Naban, Dean of Iteration into the mix to double up Master of Waves' enters-the-battlefield trigger, it's very possible that we can make 20 power with just a single copy—enough to potentially close out the game with just a single attack step. Of course, this power comes with a downside: if our opponent can kill our Master of Waves, we lose all of our Elementals as well, although having protection from red is a legitimate upside and a form of protection against some decks. While only a two-of, we'll find a copy of Master of Waves eventually, since our deck is so good at drawing cards, and if our opponent doesn't have an immediate answer, they are usually just dead within a turn or two, making it a great way of finishing the game.

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Restoration Angel is the one non-Wizard creature in our main deck, although it still works amazing well with Naban, Dean of Iteration, since it allows us to reuse any of our Wizards' enters-the-battlefield triggers by drawing more cards with Silvergill Adept (and friends), bouncing more creatures with Reflector Mage, or bouncing lands with Venser, Shaper Savant. Apart from all of the value that Restoration Angel generates, Restoration Angel is just a solid creature on its own, giving us a blocker for random fliers, flashing in at instant speed when our opponent's shields are down, and saving a creature from targeted removal. While not the fastest clock in the world, a 3/4 in the air is still a fine way of killing the opponent over the course of a few turns. 


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Rounding out our main deck is a playset of Path to Exile to deal with our opponent's creatures. There isn't much else to say—Path to Exile is simply one of the most efficient removal spells in the format and one of the best ways to make sure we live long enough to get our powerful midrange plan online.


As for our record, we ended up 4-1 in our video matches and 4-2 overall, including a game against a strange wall deck where we didn't get past two lands in both games and scooped early, which is a pretty solid performance for UW Naban. This being said, we did benefit somewhat from our matchups. While we played a lot of the best decks in Modern, including Eldrazi, Humans, and Death's Shadow, we were a bit lucky do dodge creature-free combo and control decks, which invalidate our Reflector Mages and Merfolk Tricksters. Still, beating up on a lot of the best decks in Modern is a pretty good day's work for a budget deck like UW Naban. 

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As far as changes to the build of the deck now that we've played some matches, I'm not really sure there's much to be done within the confines of the budget. As is, the deck is extremely solid against anything looking to win with creatures, and our sideboards help improve the bad matchups in games two and three. This being said, there are a handful of other Wizards worth considering. Deputy of Acquittals provides a cheaper Wizard version of Restoration Angel but with the downside that we have to spend our mana recasting the creature that we target. While it is good at saving our creatures from removal, Restoration Angel is just better most of the time. Otherwise, there are a bunch more "good against creature decks" Wizards like Harbinger of the Tides, Tidebinder Mage, and Sower of Temptation, and while these cards are probably good enough to play in the deck, the issue is that UW Naban is already solid against creature decks, and these cards don't help to improve our worse matchups against combo and control. Vendilion Clique would help against control and combo, but unfortunately it's a bit too expensive to run in the budget build.

All in all, UW Naban was a ton of fun to play and surprisingly effective. It's good enough to win without its namesake card, and once we get a Naban, Dean of Iteration on the battlefield, the value quickly becomes overwhelming. If you like tricky tempo-based decks and are looking for a way to make a pseudo-tribal Panharmonicon-esque deck work on a budget in Modern, UW Naban seems like a pretty solid option, being good enough to beat some of the best decks in the format and offering a lot of fun along the way!

We need to make a few changes to get UW Naban down into the $50 price range. First, we strip back the mana base a bit, with Evolving Wilds replacing Glacial Fortress and Field of Ruin. Next, we swap out Path to Exile—the most expensive card in the budget build of the deck—for Condemn and Declaration in Stone. Finally, we drop Restoration Angel and add in a couple more copies of Master of Waves and two Momentary Blinks. While all of these changes represent a slight decrease in power, the deck should still be pretty functional even with the changes. If you have a few extra dollars to spend, try to keep Restoration Angel, if possible (even over Path to Exile)—it's very good in the deck, and it really hurts to go without it.

For non-budget UW Naban, the creatures are already in good shape. In fact, the only Wizard we add to the deck is Vendilion Clique, which is especially helpful in our worse matchups (against control and combo), since it sort of acts like a blue, Wizardy Thoughtseize. However, by far the biggest (and most expensive) addition to the non-budget build is Aether Vial, which is amazing in our deck. It allows us to cheat on mana and to play things like Reflector Mage at instant speed when it enters the battlefield, which can be especially devastating. Otherwise, we improve the sideboard with some good white cards; touch up the mana with Flooded Strand, Hallowed Fountain, Seachrome Coast and more copies of Field of Ruin (since if we have Aether Vial we can spend our mana activating Field of Ruin rather than on casting spells) and we're good to go! Overall, the non-budget build is an upgrade, but unfortunately, all of the big additions to the deck add a lot to the budget. This being said, both Aether Vial and Vendilion Clique are good cards to own for Modern anyway, so even if you end up getting bored of UW Naban, you should find a place to put them to good use.


Anyway, that's all for today. Next week, we'll start our exploration of the new Core Set 2019 Standard format! Until then, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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