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Budget Magic: Hardened Human Allies (Modern)


Dobry den, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! It's been a while, but this week, we are finally heading back to Modern to play a rare dual-tribal deck—Human Allies, backed not just by Hardened Scales but also our new Core Set 2021 creature version of Hardened Scales: Conclave Mentor. Our deck is overflowing with creatures that can put +1/+1 counters on themselves or on other tribe members, which allows us to build massive creatures super-quickly with the help of the extra counters we can get from Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor, hopefully allowing us to run our opponent over before they draw into a wrath or too much removal. Can Humans and Allies work together to make a powerful budget deck in Modern? How good is Conclave Mentor in the format? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Hardened Human Allies

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The Deck

Hardened Human Allies is a tribal-aggro deck. Our main goal is to play cheap creatures that grow with the help of +1/+1 counters, use Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor to grow them twice as fast, and beat our opponent down with combat damage before they manage to sweep our board and ruin our day.

Hardened

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The first pieces of our deck are our Hardened Scales effects, both Hardened Scales itself and our new Core Set 2021 addition, Conclave Mentor. These cards give us an extra +1/+1 counter whenever we put a +1/+1 counter on our creatures, allowing us to grow cheap threats like Hada Freeblade and Champion of the Parish into massive beaters in short order. Hardened Scales is the better of the two, mostly because it's much harder to kill an enchantment than a 2/2 creature, so once we play it, it's likely to stick on the battlefield in most matchups. That said, Conclave Mentor is important to our deck as well since it gives us additional copies of Hardened Scales. With six Hardened Scales effects in our deck, we're likely to have it on the battlefield by Turn 2 more often than not. The other reason why Conclave Mentor is a welcome addition to our deck is that having multiple Hardened Scales on the battlefield is quite powerful since the abilities stack. With a Hardened Scales and a Conclave Mentor on the battlefield, every +1/+1 counter we would add to our creatures ends up being three +1/+1 counters, which turns our random Humans and Allies into the biggest creatures on the battlefield in just a turn or two.

Allies

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Our +1/+1 counter Allies are the best creatures in our deck since whenever any one of them enters the battlefield, we get to put a +1/+1 counter not just on the creature we cast but on all the Allies we have on the battlefield. Let's say we have a Hardened Scales on the battlefield alongside a Hada Freeblade and a Kazandu Blademaster. When we cast Oran-Rief Survivalist, we're adding a massive seven power to the battlefield for just two mana since Oran-Rief Survivalist will put two +1/+1 counters on itself and two more on Hada Freeblade and Kazandu Blademaster

As far as our specific Allies, Hada Freeblade is probably the best of the bunch since it only costs one mana and quickly grows into a 4/5 or even a 6/7. Kazandu Blademaster is also solid thanks to the combination of first strike and vigilance, which allows us to attack through chump blockers and, after attacking, still have a big blocker back on defense. Finally, we have Oran-Rief Survivalist, which is more or less a filler Ally, although it still can be very strong because it grows all of our other Allies when it comes into play (sometimes two or three times thanks to Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor).

Humans

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While mashing together Humans and Allies might sound strange, it's important to point out that all of the Allies in our deck are also Humans, so an Ally like Hada Freeblade also triggers Champion of the Parish when it comes into play. Champion of the Parish and Experiment One, backed by Hada Freeblade, give us a total of 10 one-drops and help to make sure that we get off to a fast start every single game. Champion of the Parish is great in our deck since every single creature we play is technically a Human, which means everything we play grows Champion of the Parish with +1/+1 counters. With the help of Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor, it's pretty easy to get Champion of the Parish up to eight or even 10 power in just a couple of turns if it sticks on the battlefield. Experiment One, on the other hand, is less exciting, mostly because it's hard to trigger its evolve ability. Even though most of our creatures end up massive, most are also technically 1/1s when they enter the battlefield, so they don't grow Experiment One. On the other hand, Conclave Mentor and Abzan Falconer are big enough to grow Experiment One naturally, and Thalia's Lieutenant can also grow when it enters the battlefield. More importantly, we don't need Experiment One to end up huge to be good—just growing into a 3/3 with the help of Hardened Scales and / or Conclave Mentor is more than enough to make it a solid one-drop in our deck.

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Thalia's Lieutenant is pretty insane in Hardened Human Allies, putting a +1/+1 counter on each of our creatures when it comes into play, which is often two or three counters thanks to Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor. Then, once Thalia's Lieutenant is on the battlefield, it grows like Champion of the Parish as we play other creatures, quickly becoming a massive threat itself. 

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Abzan Falconer is basically our finisher. While our deck is really good at growing massive creatures, unfortunately, none of our creatures are evasive, so our opponent can chump block them for days. Abzan Falconer's ability to give all of our creatures with +1/+1 counters flying (which is typically all of our creatures) for just three mana is extremely powerful. The idea is that we can grow our other creatures big enough that we can kill our opponent with just a single attack, play Abzan Falconer, and fly over for victory while our opponent is tapped out and unable to kill our Abzan Falconer. If we don't win the game on the turn we cast Abzan Falconer, it can also grow itself with +1/+1 counters thanks to the outlast mechanic, which is a nice bonus, although the main reason it's in our deck is to enable one-shot kills with our other Humans and Allies.

Other Stuff

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Last but not least, we have a bit of removal, with four Path to Exile and two Collective Effort. While not amazing as removal (only hitting creatures with power four or greater and being sorcery speed), the fact that Collective Effort can also put a +1/+1 counter on our team is a big upside. The flexibility of being bad removal, expensive enchantment hate, and another +1/+1 counter payoff (perhaps all at the same time thanks to escalate) makes up for the fact that any individual mode of Collective Effort isn't especially efficient.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished 4-2 with Hardened Human Allies, with both of our losses coming to Goblins (although we arguably got unlucky to lose the first one, with our opponent top-decking their game-winning combo piece the turn before we would have killed them. Along the way, we managed to beat Bant Control, Ad Nauseam, Dredge, and Rakdos Skelementals, which is a pretty solid gauntlet featuring aggro, control, and combo. 

Perhaps the biggest issue with the deck is the budget mana, which is pretty high variance. When things go well and we have a basic land in our opening hand, the mana is great, but we have some games where we're stuck playing tapped lands for the first two or three turns, which is especially punishing in an aggro deck like Hardened Human Allies, which really wants to curve out. Unclaimed Territory is fine, although it can be awkward with Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor. If you have Temple Garden, adding it to the mana base over some basic lands would go a long way toward reducing the variance and shoring up this weakness. 

In general, the deck felt solid. The clock is extremely fast, and after sideboarding, we have some decent options for fighting through wraths and removal. If you're a fan of tribal strategies, +1/+1 counter decks, or aggro, give it a shot!

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Getting Hardened Human Allies down into the ultra-budget price range is pretty tricky since the only semi-expensive cards in the deck are Hardened Scales and our dual lands. To get the deck down near $50, we turn Sunpetal Grove and Fortified Village into Selesnya Guildgate and Blossoming Sands, which is painful because it slows down the deck significantly. Remember those games where we had to play off-curve because our lands all came into play tapped? That will happen a lot more often with the ultra-budget build. We also drop two copies of Hardened Scales for two more Conclave Mentor, which is a downgrade but not a huge one, especially compared to the tapped land. Because the mana is so slow, I wouldn't want to play the ultra-budget build of Hardened Human Allies competitively, but it should be fine for kitchen table play.

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For our non-budget build this week, most of our changes come to our mana base and sideboard. We do get Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the main deck over Experiment One to help slow down spell-heavy combo and control decks, but the big upgrades are untapped lands in our mana base (along with Cavern of Souls for control and Horizon Canopy for more card advantage) and cards like Rest in Peace, Damping Sphere, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the sideboard. Overall, this represents a big upgrade to the deck but mostly because of how much better the mana is in the non-budget build. If you're looking for a more mid-price upgrade, adding any untapped dual lands you have (Windswept Heath, Temple Garden, Razorverge Thicket, et al.) is a great way to make the budget build more competitive.

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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