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Budget Magic: Carth & Friends (Modern)

Anyoung, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Carth the Lion is one of the sweetest and most unique cards from Modern Horizons 2, digging for planeswalkers and then powering them up once they are on the battlefield by giving each of their abilities +1 loyalty. A few months ago, we played a Golgari Carth deck on Much Abrew, and it was super fun. The problem is that the deck cost a massive $1,000 because planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil, Liliana, the Last Hope, Karn, the Great Creator, and Liliana, Dreadhorde General are pretty expensive. Well, today, we're going to give a budget build of Carth a try. While our planeswalkers are a bit different than the ones we played in the Much Abrew deck, it might not matter if we can ultimate them quickly enough with the help of Carth. Can cards like Garruk, Primal Hunter, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, and Liliana, Waker of the Dead work in Modern? Is it possible to build a version of Carth that only costs around $100? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Carth and Friends

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The Deck

Carth & Friends is a midrange-y, ramp-ish Superfriends deck. The main goal is to play Carth the Lion, use it to ultimate planeswalkers quickly, and hopefully turn this planeswalker value into a win!

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Carth the Lion is one of my favorite cards from Modern Horizons 2. It's not super overpowered in the way some other Modern Horizons 2 all-stars are, but it's still a strong card in the right deck. Carth does two things: it finds us planeswalkers, both when it enters the battlefield and when one of our planeswalkers dies, and it also super-powers our planeswalkers once they are on the battlefield, giving all of their abilities +1 loyalty. One of the big upsides of Carth is that it costs four mana (making it hard for decks to kill with Prismatic Ending) and has five toughness (allowing it to dodge red removal like Lightning Bolt), which means it's actually fairly likely to stick on the battlefield for a few turns once it resolves, which is exactly what we want. The longer Carth the Lion sticks around, the more value we get out of our planeswalkers and the more likely it is that we will end up winning the game. By far the biggest strength of Carth is that it allows us to ultimate planeswalkers much quicker than normal. In general, it's not wise to play planeswalkers because of their ultimate, because getting enough loyalty to ultimate is often a pipe dream. But thanks to Carth, ultimating planeswalkers is surprisingly easy in our deck, to the point where ultimating various planeswalkers is our primary plan for winning the game!

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All in all, we have six different planeswalkers in our deck, and we'll break them down by how quickly they can ultimate when Carth is on the battlefield. Both Garruk, Cursed Huntsman and Nissa, Vital Force can ultimate right away if we have Carth the Lion out. They come into play with five loyalty and normally cost six to ultimate, but the +1 loyalty from Carth means that it actually only costs five mana to ultimate. Nissa, Vital Force is mostly in the deck to be a source of card advantage. Once we ultimate for the emblem, we should be drawing an extra card most turns as we make our land drops, and with the help of Field of Ruin, we can sometimes draw two cards in a turn. That said, we do sometimes use Nissa to return another planeswalker to our hand or to beat down with 5/5 lands.

As for Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, its permanent Overrun ultimate is one of our main ways of winning the game. While our deck technically only has one creature—Carth the Lion itself—many of our planeswalkers make tokens, so we can flood the board with various tokens, give them all +3/+3 and trample with Garruk, and win with just one or two attacks. Even apart from the ultimate, Garruk, Cursed Huntsman is pretty insane with Carth, with the 0-loyalty Wolf token ability becoming a +1 and the –3 removal ability becoming a –2 so we can use it two turns in a row to deal with our opponent's biggest threats.

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Next up, we have two planeswalkers that take two turns to ultimate with Carth the Lion on the battlefield, assuming we use the +1 ability on the first turn. Garruk, Primal Hunter is the reason why I wanted to build this deck. It works super well with Carth. We can play it; use the +1 (which becomes a +2 thanks to Carth) to make a 3/3 Beast token to block for a turn; and then ultimate the next turn to make 20, 30, or 40 power of 6/6 Wurms, which is usually enough to win the game, and doubly so with the help of the emblem from Garruk, Cursed Huntsman. Meanwhile, Liliana, Waker of the Dead probably looks a little bit strange in our deck since we don't have many creatures to reanimate with the ultimate, although if our opponent is playing creatures, we can always reanimate them from their graveyard. In reality, Liliana does two important things for the deck. First, it works like a budget-friendly version of Liliana of the Veil against control and combo, by attacking the opponent's hand with the +1 discard ability. Secondly, the ultimate is sneakily powerful with Carth the Lion. If we can find two copies of Carth, we can reanimate one, dig for a planeswalker, and then, on the next turn, reanimate the second copy (which legend-rules the first Carth so we'll have a copy in the graveyard to reanimate again the following turn) and dig for another planeswalker, giving us a strong source of card advantage.

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Rounding out our planeswalker package are two planeswalkers that take three turns to ultimate with Carth but do other important things for our deck. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is our cheapest planeswalker, and the 0/1 Plant tokens it makes are really good at keeping us (and our planeswalkers) alive by chump blocking as we set up our powerful end game. Meanwhile, Vraska, Golgari Queen is just a one-of, but it offers a bit of removal and incidental life gain. While we do still ultimate these planeswalkers on occasion (and both ultimates are powerful, with Nissa drawing us a bunch of cards and gaining us some life and Vraska making any of our creatures lethal one-shot attackers), we're mostly playing them for value and as support cards.

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One thing you probably noticed about the deck is that our cards cost a lot of mana. We've got a bunch of cards that cost between four and six mana, and considering how fast Modern can be, we need a way to get them onto the battlefield a bit quicker. For this, we turn to some good ol' land ramp with Rampant Growth, Search for Tomorrow, and Farseek. Each of these cards can get us to Carth the Lion on Turn 3 and greatly speeds up the process of getting expensive planeswalkers like Garruk, Cursed Huntsman onto the battlefield. 

So, why are we playing land ramp rather than mana dorks, which are generally more popular in Modern? There are two main reasons. First, mana dorks tend to die, and we don't want to have our ramp spells be killed and then get stuck with a bunch of powerful but expensive planeswalkers in hand. Second, and more importantly, several of our planeswalkers care about the number of lands we have on the battlefield. Garruk, Primal Hunter makes 6/6 Wurm tokens equal to the number of lands we have on the battlefield, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar draws us cards and gains us life equal to the number of lands we have, and Nissa, Vital Force draws us a card whenever a land comes into play. Since so many of our best cards care about lands, land-based ramp like Rampant Growth and Search for Tomorrow is perfect for our deck, even if it looks a bit odd in Modern, where most decks use things like Noble Hierarch and Arbor Elf to accelerate into their big plays.

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Last but not least, we have some removal, ranging from Bloodchief's Thirst and Heartless Act for early-game creatures to Maelstrom Pulse and Binding the Old Gods, which can hit any permanent. Ideally, these spells will be able to keep our opponent's board in check long enough for us to get Carth and some planeswalkers on the battlefield, at which point we should be able to take over the game with insane planeswalker value. Our late game is pretty hard for most decks to beat. Our removal helps us get there.


Record-wise, we ended up going 3-1 with Carth & Friends, playing some pretty insane games along the way. We beat a solid cross-section of popular Modern archetypes, ranging from control (Jeskai) to midrange (Grief Blade) to aggro (Burn), with our one loss coming to Izzet Phoenix in a crazy three-game match where game three came down to our opponent getting exactsies with Young Pyromancer tokens the turn before we would have stabilized and likely won. The deck felt oddly competitive. Carth the Lion is so strong with planeswalkers that it didn't really seem to matter that we couldn't play some of the strongest and most expensive planeswalkers in the format. The second- or third-tier was still more than good enough to win a lot of games.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck now that we've played some games, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. The one thing I did want to mention is Woodland Chasm. It was supposed to be in the deck we played for the video, but I apparently forgot to add it and didn't realize it was missing until halfway through recording, so I just left it out. It's in the deck primarily to be a Farseek target so we can snag a dual land. If you have one, toss it in, although as we saw during our matches, it isn't necessary for the deck to function.

So, should you play Carth & Friends in Modern? I think the answer is pretty clear yes! This was one of my favorite Modern budget decks we've played in a while. It's competitive, unique, and super fun to play. Plus, there are tons of upgrade possibilities if you're willing to spend some money (especially on the mana base). With fetch lands and shock lands to make the mana work, the deck can be anywhere from two colors to five colors; plus, you can toss in basically any planeswalkers you like, and they should be solid!

Ultra-Budget Carth & Friends

If there's bad news about Carth & Friends, it's that there isn't really a way to get the deck down in the $50 price range. While our planeswalkers are cheap compared to the Liliana of the Veils of the multiverse, they aren't cheap enough to make an ultra-budget build. Rather than throwing together a non-functional deck with uncommon planeswalkers, we'll just skip the ultra-budget build for the week.

Non-Budget Carth

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For our non-budget build this week, we have the Golgari Carth deck we played for Much Abrew back in June! The idea is the same—play Carth, ultimate planeswalkers—but the planeswalkers in the deck are a lot different. Rather than me rambling on trying to describe the deck, just go watch the video—it's super sweet!


Anyway, that's all. 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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