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Budget Magic: Zirda's Mantle (Modern)

Бзиара жәбааит, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Ever since the release of Ikoria, we've mostly been focusing on Standard, but today, we're switching things up and playing a new Ikoria card in Modern! While not the easiest companion to build around, Zirda, the Dawnwaker is one of the companions that most easily supports combos. Today, we're playing Zirda's Mantle, a deck that is looking to make the biggest Birds of Paradise in Magic's history with the help of Zirda, the Dawnwaker and Umbral Mantle, possibly as early as Turn 3! How big can we make a mana dork on Turn 3? How strong is Zirda, the Dawnwaker as a combo piece that essentially starts in our hand each game? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Zirda's Mantle

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The Deck

Zirda's Mantle is a combo deck. While it technically requires three pieces to go infinite (Zirda, the Dawnwaker, a mana dork, and Umbral Mantle), the deck is way more consistent than it sounds, in part because Zirda essentially starts in our hand each game as our companion and because we have a lot of redundancy with our other combo pieces. The main goal is to assemble our combo as quickly as possible and hopefully kill our opponent as early as Turn 3!

Step 1: Zirda

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Zirda, the Dawnwaker is in our deck for one reason: to reduce the cost of our non-mana activated abilities by two. This ability allows our deck to make an infinitely big creature early in the game and possibly infinite mana as well. By far the biggest upside of Zirda, the Dawnwaker is that every permanent in our deck has an activated ability, so we can play Zirda as our companion and have access to it every game on Turn 3! We do have one additional copy of Zirda, the Dawnwaker in our main deck as well as a backup, but most of our wins come because of our companion Zirda.

Step 2: Umbral Mantle

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Outside of Zirda, our next most important card is Umbral Mantle, to the point that we are also playing four copies of Open the Armory to tutor up the equipment so we can have access to it as consistently as possible. Umbral Mantle is a strange equipment, allowing us to pay three mana to untap the equipped creature and give it +2/+2 until end of turn. However, if we have Zirda, the Dawnwaker on the battlefield to reduce the cost of our activated abilities, Umbral Mantle only costs a single mana to activate, which is key to enabling our infinite combo.

Step 3: A Mana Dork

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The final piece of the puzzle is a creature that taps for mana, of which we have about a million. In fact, out of the 27 creatures in our deck, 24 of are mana dorks that cost one or two mana. While these cards have several purposes in our deck (they are creatures with activated abilities to allow us to companion Zirda, the Dawnwaker and are essential to our backup plan, which we'll talk about in a minute), their main purpose is to pick up an Umbral Mantle

If we can get Umbral Mantle onto a mana dork with Zirda, the Dawnwaker on the battlefield, we can tap the mana dork for a mana and then use that mana to untap it and give it +2/+2 with Umbral Mantle. We can do this as many times as we want, giving us a creature with infinite power that we can use to kill our opponent with just one attack! Birds of Paradise is oddly our best attacker since it has flying, making it so a chump blocker can't fizzle our attack. But part of our combo's power is that since Umbral Mantle equips for free, we can make all of our mana dorks infinitely big every turn, which is part of the reason why we can play 24 of them in our deck.

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Picture a pretty typical game: on Turn 1, we play Birds of Paradise (or one of our other mana dorks). On Turn 2, we play Umbral Mantle and equip it to the mana dork. On Turn 3, we play Zirda, the Dawnwaker. This allows us to immediately make Birds of Paradise into a 20- (or 1,000,000-) power attacker and kill our opponent. Even better, we can combo off at instant speed, so even if our opponent has a Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, or Path to Exile to kill our Zirda, the Dawnwaker, we can make our mana dork infinitely big in response. On the other hand, if our opponent kills our mana dork, we can simply try again the next turn with one of our other 23 mana dorks. 

The Backup Plan

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The other reason why Zirda's Mantle can afford to play 24 mana dorks is our backup plan: Leyline of Abundance. Leyline of Abundance does three important things in our deck: first, it allows our mana dorks to tap for an extra mana, which allows us to quickly flood the board with creatures. Second, it allows our Zirda Mantle combo to make infinite mana. Think back to the combo—if our Birds of Paradise taps for two mana rather than one, we're technically generating one extra mana each time we go through the tap / untap loop with Umbral Mantle. Making infinite mana means that rather than just making our mana dork infinitely big for a turn with Umbral Mantle, we can make all of our creatures infinitely big permanently by activating Leyline of Abundance's second ability to put +1/+1 counters on our team an infinite number of times. Third, speaking of Leyline of Abundance's second ability, this gives us a backup plan for winning the game if we don't have Zirda, the Dawnwaker and Umbral Mantle—we can simply play a bunch of mana dorks that tap for an additional mana and use all of our mana to put +1/+1 counters on our mana dorks. Eventually, our Elvish Mystics and Llanowar Elves end up being 4/4s or 5/5s, which is usually enough to kill our opponent fairly. 

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The other thing we can do with infinite mana is draw all of the creatures in our deck with Duskwatch Recruiter. While only a two-of since it doesn't directly support our infinite combo, Duskwatch Recruiter is an insane value card with Zirda, the Dawnwaker since its Adventurous Impulse–like activated ability only costs a single mana thanks to Zirda, the Dawnwaker's cost reduction. This allows us to rebuild after a wrath or removal, or just continue to find and play more mana dorks to support our Leyline of Abundance backup plan.

The Sideboard

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Most of the sideboard is pretty easy to understand. Burrenton Forge-Tender and Apostle's Blessing protect our combo pieces from removal. Tormod's Crypt hates on graveyard decks like Dredge, Storm, and various Vengevine builds, and Nature's Claim is the perfect answer to artifacts and enchantments as giving our opponent four life isn't much of a downside since we're planning on dealing infinite damage. That said, we do need to talk about Blessed Alliance. When it comes to white removal spells in budget decks, my normal progression is to start with Path to Exile since it is the best option. If that doesn't fit in the budget, move on to Declaration in Stone or Winds of Abandon. If those cards still don't fit in the budget, the fallback is Banishing Light or Oblivion Ring. When I was building Zirda's Mantle, I went through this exact progression, finally sticking Banishing Light in the sideboard since we were right up against our $100 budget. After recording our matches (and never wanting to sideboard in Banishing Light), I realized my mistake: Banishing Light is a permanent without an activated ability, so we can't play it if we want Zirda, the Dawnwaker as our companion (which we obviously do—that's the entire point of our deck). As such, I ended up switching to Blessed Alliance, although when you see Banishing Light in the sideboard during the video, now you'll know why it's there. If you have access to Path to Exile, you should certainly play it, and if you don't, both Winds of Abandon and Declaration in Stone are upgrades over Blessed Alliance as well. Whatever you do, don't play Banishing Light


All in all, we finished 3-2 with Zirda's Mantle, which is a solid enough performance for a budget Modern deck in general. If we dig into the matchups a bit more, they really illuminate both the strengths and weaknesses of the deck: we crushed Bogles twice and took down a WB Lurrus Taxes deck but lost to Smallpox and Four-Color Control. This suggests that Zirda's Mantle is really good against decks that aren't super heavy on interaction—our combo is super consistent and fast enough to race even the faster combo decks of the Modern format. But things are a lot harder when we run into decks that are overloaded with discard and removal. We can pretty easily beat one removal spell, and with a bit of luck, we can beat two removal spells. But if our opponent has more than two, it becomes really difficult to win. While Zirda's Mantle is good at winning on Turn 3 with some consistency, it isn't great at rebuilding after a few of our creatures get killed by removal.

As far as changes to make to the budget build, apart from cutting Banishing Light, I'm pretty happy with where the deck ended up. Adding another copy or two of Duskwatch Recruiter over Ilysian Caryatid is probably worthwhile to give us more card advantage to fight through removal and sweepers, and it might be worth considering another main-deck copy of Zirda, the Dawnwaker in case our opponent manages to deal with our companion copy (although I don't think we'd want more than three since Zirda is legendary). But in general, I think the build we played in the video offers a very solid, if all-in, budget option for Modern. 

In the end, Zirda's Mantle was almost shockingly consistent—having one of our combo pieces start in hand each game as our companion is absurdly powerful—and really good at winning on Turn 3. If you're looking for a fun, new way to combo off in Modern, give it a shot! While there are some less budget-friendly upgrades that can help the deck fight through its bad (i.e. removal-heavy) matchups, the budget build is certainly good enough to 5-0 a league on Magic Online or win an FNM if you hit the right matchups. Plus, turning a harmless Birds of Paradise into the biggest, most vicious attacker in Magic is a hilarious way to win a game!

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Getting Zirda's Mantle down near $50 isn't too hard, but it does require a couple of painful cuts. First, we lose Birds of Paradise. Even though Birds is our best mana dork, at $25 a playset, there just isn't a way to get the deck down near $50 with it included. In Birds of Paradise's place, we make some of the changes we talked about in the wrap-up by adding two more Duskwatch Recruiters to the deck along with a couple of Apostle's Blessings to protect our combo pieces. Second, we trim the mana to the barest of bones, with Blossoming Sands and Selesnya Guildgate replacing our rare dual lands. Tapped duals are especially troubling in Zirda's Mantle since we really need an untapped green source on Turn 1 to start playing our mana dorks if we are going to win on Turn 3, so there is a risk that the deck will be an entire turn slower in some matches because we have to take a turn off to play a tapped land. But for kitchen table play, it should be good enough.

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For our non-budget build this week, we get a ton of changes, with the biggest being dropping Leyline of Abundance and a bunch of mana dorks for a more resilient backup plan to fight through removal. While our main goal is still to go infinite on Turn 3 with the Zirda's Mantle combo, we get Stoneforge Mystic to tutor up Umbral Mantle instead of Open the Armory, which in turn allows us to play an equipment package of Batterskull and Swords to win on the creature beatdown plan if we can't pull off the combo. We also get Giver of Runes and Shalai, Voice of Plenty to protect our combo pieces, while Ranger-Captain of Eos offers protection and a way to tutor up a missing mana dork or Walking Ballista, which is another solid backup plan, with Zirda reducing the cost of putting a +1/+1 counter on it to just two mana. The end result is a build that should be able to combo off on Turn 3 almost as consistently as the build we played for the video but that should also be much better at fighting through removal and sweepers, which was the biggest challenge of the budget build.


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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