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Budget Magic: Richard's Birds (Standard)


Hallo, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! If you listen to the MTGGoldfish podcast, you'll know that Richard swears by an aggro-combo UW Fliers deck as a way to beat the powerful ramp, control, and combo decks on the top of the Core Set 2021 Standard meta. It just so happens that Richard's Birds happen to be budget-friendly, so today, we're going to take his list out for a spin and see just how good it really is in Standard. The deck's goal is pretty simple: drop as many one-mana fliers as possible, play a bit of a tempo game with Lofty Denial, and then kill the opponent with a huge attack, with help from Rally of Wings! How strong are Richard's Birds? How quickly can we win with the help of Rally of Wings? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Richard's Birds

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The Deck

Richard's Birds is essentially an aggro-combo deck. We're trying to win the game quickly by flooding the board with a flock of cheap fliers to start attacking our opponent and then "combo" with Rally of Wings to turn our small fliers into massive threats to win the game in one big attack. 

The One-Drops

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The core of our deck is a massive 19 one-mana flying creatures. On one hand, each one-drop flier comes with some sort of upside. For example, both Faerie Miscreant and Spectral Sailor can draw us cards, Faerie Miscreant if we happen to draw multiple copies and Spectral Sailor for mana in the late game. On the other hand, these upsides don't actually come up all that often; the reason these (and all of our one-drop fliers) are in the deck is simply because they have flying and cost a single mana.

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Rounding out our one-drop fliers are Healer's Hawk, Faerie Guidemother, and Pteramander. In all of the games I've played with the deck, I've never actually adapted a Pteramander, although I'm sure it will happen sooner or later. Meanwhile, Healer's Hawk's lifelink is a nice upside against other aggro decks. We almost never want to block, instead preferring to try to race, and even though one extra life a turn isn't a lot, it occasionally swings the race in our favor. As for Faerie Guidemother, don't be afraid to just run it out as a 1/1 flier. While the adventure-based pump-spell mode is a fine option if we have nothing else going on, in general, we want to flood the board with creatures as quickly as possible, so in many cases casting Faerie Guidemother as a creature is better than holding it in the hopes of getting some adventure value.

Other Fliers

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While the core of our deck is our one-mana fliers, we do have some powerful flying creatures further up the curve as well. Skycat Sovereign is—by far—the biggest creature in our deck and can close out games extremely quickly almost by itself. Picture a pretty typical curve where we start with a one-drop flier on Turn 1, follow up with Skycat Sovereign on Turn 2, and then play two more fliers on Turn 3. This makes Skycat Sovereign into a 4/4 flying attacker on Turn 3! The ability to make flying Cat Birds is also nice if the game goes long. Since our deck features so many one-drops, we usually empty our hand pretty quickly. While making a 1/1 flier for four mana isn't efficient, it does give us something to do when we run out of cards, and adding another flying body to the battlefield is always beneficial. Meanwhile, Watcher of the Spheres is basically a backup, much worse version of Skycat Sovereign. Since so many of our creatures only cost one mana, the discount on flying creatures isn't usually all that impactful, although the +1/+1 that Watcher of the Spheres gets when another flier enters the battlefield is a nice little bonus that allows us to push through a bit more evasive damage. 

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As far as interaction, we have two copies of Brazen Borrower and four Lofty Denial. While Brazen Borrower does increase our deck's cost in both paper and Magic Arena, being a bounce spell that is also a flying threat makes it a very strong tempo play. Bouncing one of our opponent's threats often buys us one extra turn of attack with our fliers to close out the game, while having flash makes Brazen Borrower a good way to pressure planeswalkers in a pinch. Otherwise, Lofty Denial gives us an absurdly powerful counterspell. In a deck with 19 one-mana fliers, it is almost always a better Mana Leak, and Mana Leak is a card that Wizards views as too strong for Standard. 

The Combo Finish

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When it comes to actually killing our opponent, our most important card—by far—is Rally of Wings, which almost gives our deck a bit of a combo finish. While Empyrean Eagle is a solid flying lord, pumping all of our 1/1 fliers into 2/2s to speed up our clock, Rally of Wings is the true power behind Richard's Birds. Let's say we have a pretty normal curve of three one-drops and a Skycat Sovereign over the first three turns of the game. On Turn 4, a single copy of Rally of Wings allows us to attack for 15, which is very likely lethal combined with hitting our opponent for some random damage over the first three turns of the game. Two copies of Rally of Wings is almost always lethal against pretty much anyone. While the primary power of Rally of Wings is the +2/+2 pump of our flying creatures, untapping our team can also be a nice bonus, especially if we're in an aggro mirror and in a tight race, where Rally of Wings will allow us to attack for a ton of damage and still leave back blockers to block our opponent's threats, hopefully swinging the race in our favor. The card is absolutely absurd and is the reason to play Richard's Birds. 

Other Stuff

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The last non-land card in our main deck is two copies of Sea-Dasher Octopus, which, combined with a one-mana flier, allows us to start drawing an extra card each turn as early as Turn 2. While drawing an extra card each turn is powerful, Sea-Dasher Octopus is far from the focus of our deck, instead being a nice bonus that comes up once in a while. Our primary plan is to kill our opponent so quickly that drawing extra cards won't really matter.

The Mana

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The one change I made to Richard's build of the deck was dropping Temple of Enlightenment for Tranquil Cove. While scrying is better than gaining a life, since both lands come into play tapped, substituting gain lands for scry lands is an easy way to minimize the number of rares it takes to build a deck on Magic Arena that doesn't cost much in terms of power. If you have Temple of Enlightenment, you should slot it in over Tranquil Cove.

Playing the Deck

Perhaps the most important aspect of playing Richard's Birds is to be as aggressive as possible. As tempting as it may be to focus on getting extra value out of our cards (by using Faerie Guidemother as a pump spell before casting it or drawing cards with Spectral Sailor), the deck is at its best when it's spending all of its mana to deploy threats, with the goal being to kill the opponent as quickly as possible, hopefully around Turn 4 with the help of Rally of Wings

Lofty Denial and sideboard counters like Miscast (and also Unbreakable Formation) are extremely important to beating decks with sweepers. In general, you want to hold onto Lofty Denial to counter something like Extinction Event, Shatter the Sky, or Ritual of Soot rather than spending it to counter one of the opponent's threats—even a powerful threat. In general, we're fast enough to race whatever random creatures and planeswalkers our opponent might be playing, assuming we don't get hit by a wrath. As such, if possible, save Lofty Denial for a wrath and plan on dealing with various creatures and planeswalkers the old-fashioned way by getting the opponent's life total down to zero as quickly as possible.

Sephara, Sky's Blade is a weird card to figure out, and I'm not sure how I feel about it in the meta. Our deck is really good at getting Sephara, Sky's Blade into play quickly with its alternate casting cost (perhaps as early as Turn 3), and a 7/7 flying lifelinker that protects our other creatures seems great. The problem is that tapping all of our creatures to cast Sephara, Sky's Blade costs us a bunch of damage (since we're not attacking with those creatures). In general, you only want to bring in Sephara, Sky's Blade against decks that can't easily interact with it (Mono-Red, Gruul, Paw Blade, etc.), but leave it in the sideboard against decks with Elspeth Conquers Death, Teferi, Time Raveler, or black removal like Heartless Act or Murderous Rider. In the matchups where Sephara, Sky's Blade is good, it might be the best non–Rally of Wings card in our deck, it's horrible but in matchups where it is bad (like Bant Ramp or Sultai Ramp, which is both extremely popular at the moment), which is why Sephara, Sky's Blade resides in the sideboard rather than the main deck. 

Wrap-Up

All in all, we finished 4-1 with Richard's Birds and arguably got a bit unlucky to not go 5-0, with our one loss coming against Paw Blade in a game where we got Sephara, Sky's Blade into play to stabilize the board only for our opponent to have double Redcap Melee in hand to kill it and steal the win since the rest of our creatures were tapped from casting Sephara. Along the way, we beat both Bant and Sultai, along with Mono-Black Aggro and Jund Sacrifice (which, according to Richard, is a bad matchup, although it seemed pretty easy), a who's who list of the best decks in Standard! If you're looking for a budget-friendly deck that can compete with the top tier of the current Standard meta and likely take you all the way to mythic on Magic Arena (in a fairly short amount of time since it wins so quickly), Richard's Birds is very likely the best option (or at least one of the best) for Core Set 2021 Standard!

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For our ultra-budget list this week, we have a build of Richard's Birds that only costs $35 in paper and eight rares (and zero mythics) on Magic Arena. The biggest cut to the deck is Hallowed Fountain, which we replace with more basic lands since we can't really afford more tapped dual lands. While this will probably cause some consistency issues, it drops the cost of the deck a ton. Otherwise, Brazen Borrower becomes Unsummon, Sea-Dasher Octopus becomes Staggering Insight, and we drop one Sephara, Sky's Blade from the sideboard for another Miscast, which I really like as a cheap way to counter a sweeper. My biggest concern with the ultra-budget build is the mana. The other cards we drop all have good to great replacements, but without Hallowed Fountain, we will have some games where we draw all white or all blue mana and simply can't deploy our hand. As such, the ultra-budget build is a fine starting point, but I'd look to upgrade to Hallowed Fountain as quickly as possible for more competitive play.

Non-Budget Richard's Birds

No non-budget build this week. The build we played in the video is, according to Richard, the optimal build of the deck if we trade in Tranquil Cove for Temple of Enlightenment.

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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