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Budget Magic: Demonic Learning (Modern)

Selamat siang, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're teaching our opponents a Modern! Is it really possible that cards like Eyetwitch, Poet's Quill, and Hunt for Specimens could compete in a format as powerful as Modern? That's what we're going to find out today, with a deck I'm calling Demonic Learning. Our main goal is to flood the board with cheap black creatures and then sacrifice them to Demon of Death's Gate or the backside of Extus, Oriq Overlord, Awaken the Blood Avatar, to get a massive threat on the battlefield on Turn 2 or 3. Hopefully, that threat will win us the game, but if it doesn't, we have a bunch recursive one-drops and—of course—Pest Summoning, which we can tutor up with our sideboard to close out the game. How good is Awaken the Blood Avatar in Modern? What about lessons? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Demonic Learning

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The Deck

I consider Demonic Learning to be a combo-aggro deck. Our "combo" is getting a Demon of Death's Gate into play on Turn 2 or an Awaken the Blood Avatar on Turn 3. However, thanks to a bunch of recursive Savannah Lions and our lesson plan, we also potentially can win like a weird aggro deck just by flooding the board with cheap creatures and beating our opponent down. 

The Payoffs

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The primary goal is to get a massive threat into play on Turn 2 or 3. Demon of Death's Gate—one of the most underappreciated payoffs in Modern—is our best way to win the game. Our deck is designed so that we should have three black creatures in play on Turn 2, which allows us to sacrifice our board and pay six life to get a 9/9 flying, trampling Demon. Assuming we can chip in for some damage on Turn 2 before we sacrifice our board or if our opponent plays a couple of fetch lands or a shock land untapped, Demon of Death's Gate is a two-turn close, which should be able to close out the game on Turn 4. Of course, we can get blown out if our opponent has hard removal like Path to Exile or Dreadbore, but since all of our cheap black creatures either come back into play from the graveyard or find us a lesson from our sideboard, getting our Demon of Death's Gate killed isn't necessarily game over. 

Meanwhile, Awaken the Blood Avatar is basically our backup Demon of Death's Gate. We don't have any white mana in our deck, so we can safely ignore the Extus side of the card and focus exclusively on the backside. While still very powerful, there are two big reasons why Awaken the Blood Avatar is worse than Demon of Death's Gate. First, the earliest it can come down is on Turn 3 since we'll always have to pay at least two mana for the sorcery, even if we can sacrifice three creatures. Second, rather than being a two-turn clock like Demon of Death's Gate, Awaken the Blood Avatar is a three-turn clock (it's also a ground creature, so it's more likely to get blocked, and it dies to Fatal Push). Despite these drawbacks, having a 3/6 that hits for three direct damage when it attacks and forces our opponent to sacrifice a creature when it resolves is still a very powerful threat on Turn 3.

Sacrifice Fodder

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To get a Demon of Death's Gate into play on Turn 2, we need to have three black creatures on the battlefield. There are a couple of ways we can do this, but one of the easiest is to play a one-drop on Turn 1 and two more one-drops on Turn 2, followed by Demon of Death's Gate. Since the main purpose of our one-drops is to be sacrificed, we're playing as many recursive one-drops as possible, so we can get them back into play from the graveyard later if the game goes long. Along with being Demon food, the combination of Bloodsoaked Champion, Dread Wanderer, and Gutterbones give us a backup plan: especially against control or midrange, we often can win the game just by flooding the board with one-drops and attacking. If our opponent has removal, we can get them back into play cheaply and keep attacking until our opponent eventually runs out of answers and dies.

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Lazotep Reaver also helps to support our Turn 2 Demon plan. Perhaps the easiest way to look at it is as if it's two one-drops mashed together. Since the Zombie Beast makes a 1/1 token black Army token when it comes into play, another way we can get Demon of Death's Gate into play on Turn 2 is to play a one-drop on Turn 1, Lazotep Reaver on Turn 2, and then our big Demon. 

Learning Lessons

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Next up, we have our learn / lesson plan. Eyetwitch is the main reason why we're playing lessons. It's unironically great in our deck, giving us another saccable one-drop for our "triple one-drop into Demon of Death's Gate" plan. While it doesn't return to play from our graveyard like our other one-drops do, being able to tutor up a lesson from our sideboard (especially Pest Summoning, but more on this in a minute) is surprisingly powerful support for our primary game plan. Hunt for Specimens is middling—only adding one creature to the battlefield immediately, so it doesn't directly support a Turn 2 Demon of Death's Gate—although playing Hunt for Specimens on Turn 2 into Pest Summoning on Turn 3 does give us a Turn 3 Demon. Poet's Quill is probably the most controversial of the bunch, although it works incredibly well with Demon of Death's Gate, giving us a 10/10 lifelinker, which can be essential to beating aggro. While we sort of glossed over it, Demon of Death's Gate does have the drawback of costing us six life, which can be a problem against burn and aggro, but if we can follow up our Demon with Poet's Quill to gain 10 life, it becomes really difficult for most aggro decks to win. The other reason for Pest Summoning and Poet's Quill is that if we're going to spend nearly half of our sideboard slots on lessons, we want to make sure we're going to be able to tutor them up with some consistency because sideboard slots are valuable, especially in a format like Modern where there are a ton of different decks attacking in different ways and requiring different answers. 

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As far as our lessons themselves, we have three options. Pest Summoning is the lesson we tutor up the most. Adding two black creatures to the battlefield for three mana is quite powerful in our deck. While it is often too slow to help us cast our first Demon of Death's Gate or Awaken the Blood Avatar, Pest Summoning provides two-thirds of the creatures necessary to cast our second payoff. Picture this: On Turn 1, we play a one-drop. On Turn 2, we play two more one-drops, including an Eyetwitch, and sacrifice everything to Demon of Death's Gate and tutor up Pest Summoning. On Turn 3, we can Pest Summoning, which sets us up to cast either Awaken the Blood Avatar or, with the help of one more creature, another Demon of Death's Gate on Turn 4. The Pest tokens also provide a nice buffer against edict effects like Liliana of the Veil, which can be very good against Demon of Death's Gate if we don't have another creature on the battlefield. 

While Pest Summoning is our main lesson, we also have Necrotic Fumes and Start from Scratch. I don't think we tutored up Necrotic Fumes a single time in our games, although I'm sure it will happen eventually as we keep playing the deck. Being able to snag it and answer a big Eldrazi or a planeswalker like Karn Liberated or Jace, the Mind Sculptor seems solid. Even if we rarely tutor up Necrotic Fumes, it's the kind of card that will be a huge swing in our favor in the games where it is good. As for Start from Scratch, it's even narrower than Necrotic Fumes is, but it does have a purpose: answering cards like Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge, which can beat our deck all by themselves if they stick on the battlefield. 

Other Stuff

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Otherwise, we have a couple of utility spells. Fatal Push offers some removal and is better in our deck than it is most non-fetch-land budget decks since we usually can sacrifice a creature to trigger revolt if we need to kill a bigger creature. Meanwhile, Village Rites synergizes with all of our saccable one-drops to keep us drawing through our deck to find our payoffs. 

The Mana

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By far the clunkiest aspect of our deck is the mana. The idea is to play as many cheap duals as possible that have a reasonable chance of coming into play untapped. Our deck really needs untapped mana on Turns 1 and 2 for our Demon plan to work. And while our mana base is functional in games where we have a Swamp or Smoldering Marsh, we occasionally get draws with a bunch of Dragonskull Summits and Foreboding Ruins where all of our lands come into play tapped. Still, considering that our deck is already slightly over budget, this is about as good as it gets. That said, if you have access to the RB Pathway, Blood Crypt, or Sulfurous Springs, feel free to play them over the current lands. Just try to avoid dual lands that always come into play tapped—Demonic Learning really needs untapped mana. 

Playing the Deck

When things go well, the deck is super easy to play: cast three one-drops, play Demon of Death's Gate, and win the game. On the other hand, things get trickier in matchups where our opponent has hard removal for Demon of Death's Gate. As you saw in our matchup against Esper Control, after sideboarding, we waited a few extra turns to cast Demon of Death's Gate so we could find a Duress and check our opponent's hand for answers first. While Turn two Demon is the default for the deck, try to keep the matchup in mind. If  the opponent is likely playing four copies of Path to Exile or Assassin's Trophy (or other similar removal spells), it can be better to wait in some situations. 

Don't underestimate the janky one-drop beatdown plan. Especially against control and midrange, we often can win the game just by playing Bloodsoaked Champion and friends and beating down. 

As far as our learn / lesson plan, like 90% of the time, we're tutoring up Pest Summoning; maybe 8% of the time, we're grabbing Necrotic Fumes; and then the other 2%, we're getting Start from Scratch. In general, just grab the Pest Summoning because it's never really bad, while the other two lessons are much more matchup and situation dependent. 


All in all, we went 4-1 with the deck, with our only loss coming to an absurd Yorion Eldrazi Gifts Tron deck that was using Gifts Ungiven to find Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and our deck is basically drawing dead to an Elesh Norn. Otherwise, we beat Jund, Eldrazi Tron, Clever Boros, and Esper Control. The deck felt surprisingly strong. Demon of Death's Gate is incredibly powerful, and I have no idea why it has never found its way into a top-tier deck in Modern. 

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I don't really think there are any. The mana is clunky, but as we talked about before, I don't think it's possible to improve it much while sticking (mostly) to the budget since all of the upgrades are significantly more expensive than the lands we have already. There was also a small error in the deck we played for the video, with only 14 sideboard cards. The missing card should have been a fourth copy of Pest Summoning.

So, should you play Demonic Learning? I think the answer is a clear yes. The deck is powerful and quite competitive for a budget brew. It's also hilarious to see the lesson mechanic not just show up in Modern but also actually be good in Modern! Eyetwitch was solid through most of our matches. Poet's Quill won us the match against Clever Boros, saving us from a lethal board by giving Demon of Death's Gate lifelink. And Start from Scratch offered some protection from Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge against Eldrazi Tron. If you're looking for something different to play in Modern that's cheap and good enough to win some games, give it a shot!

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I almost didn't include an ultra-budget build this week. There just isn't a way to get the Rakdos version of the deck down near $50 without playing a bunch of tapped dual lands, and the deck just can't function with tapped dual lands since curving out into Demon of Death's Gate is so important. However, it is possible to play something similar in Mono-Black. We lose Awaken the Blood Avatar and replace it with Torgaar, Famine Incarnate, which is a lot worse but still can come down as a big threat on Turn 3 if we sacrifice three creatures. Otherwise, the deck is basically the same but with an all-Swamp mana base. 

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Finally, our non-budget build is basically the same exact deck but with upgraded mana. As we talked about earlier, the non-land cards in the main deck of the budget build actually felt quite solid—we just occasionally struggled by having too many lands come into play tapped. Adding fetch lands and shock lands (along with some Castle Locthwains for extra card draw) should solve the problem. Unless we get super unlucky and have an all–Castle Locthwain hand, all of our lands will come into play untapped all of the time. Of course, the drawback is that this change adds over $300 to the cost of the deck. Otherwise, we get Thoughtseize in the sideboard over Duress along with a copy of Blood Moon, which our updated mana base can support.


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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