Hi, welcome to the first installment of Yogurt Decks. Why yogurt? Well, because sometimes a recipe calls for sour cream. But you know, in a pinch, yogurt will do. And that’s what we’re going to do here, with Magic decklists. We’re going to substitute cards, combos, and sometimes even whole colors until we come up with a reduced-fat option for the more casual player.
Now I’m told that on your first day in any new situation, you should find the biggest, meanest guy you can, and just shank him right there in the yard so everybody knows you’re crazy. Accordingly, we’re going to go after the most cost-saturated, format-dominating deck I can think of: Modern Jund. The challenge we’re going to set for ourselves: no cards that cost more than ten dollars. At all. Lands, creatures, spells… all out.
Now there’s no shortage of cards in Modern Jund that cost a pretty penny, all of which will be replaced before we’re done. But leaving lands aside, there are three that stand out to me as the massive obstacles to casual play.
One by one, we’re going to go through each of them, and figure out why they’re included in the deck to begin with, and what we can use to simulate the effect.
Might as well start with the big guy, right? There’s only one reason to use a Tarmogoyf in any deck: it gets the best gas mileage of any creature. There are bigger creatures, and there are creatures that cost less mana, but no other creature is that big for that low a mana cost. No tricks, no protection, no evasion… just a big old dude at high speed. In most situations, the player using Tarmogoyf will find themselves with a 4/5 creature for two mana, only one of which is colored. Sometimes it’ll be bigger, sometimes it’ll be smaller, but usually that’s how it’ll go. So if we’re going to find a substitute, it’ll need to be at least near to a 4/5 for at least near two mana.
There are few possibilities that would work in other decks… Leatherback Baloth, at 4/5 for three mana, is about as close as we can reasonably hope to get, but three green mana in a three-color deck is a little hard to come by. No substitute works if it sits in your hand the whole game, waiting to be cast. In even a two-color deck, Leatherback Baloth would be a fine substitute, but not here. Another option is Vinelasher Kudzu, although that works best in a deck with fetchlands. The ins and outs of mana bases are best saved for a future column, but… oh heck, spoiler alert: this budget substitution-based deck will not be using $50 lands. Vinelasher Kudzu won’t bulk up at the speed it would need to substitute for Tarmogoyf.
In a three-color, fetchless deck, one card stands out to me as a viable substitute:
At its best, Skinshifter will be a 4/4 creature for the same cost as Tarmogoyf, and the additional cost of one green mana per turn. That one extra mana and toughness is definitely something you’ve given up–and greater vulnerability to removal whenever it’s hanging out as a 1/1 is nothing to ignore–but in the meantime you get an almost-as-efficient beater who has the added bonus of versatility. If you suddenly need a flier, or a big honkin’ wall, you got it.
Well okay, this one’s easy. Dark Confidant is there for card advantage. Two mana for an extra card a turn, and a 2/1 body to boot. Thankfully, the substitute is equally easy to identify.
Look at that, an extra card a turn! It costs one extra black mana, and you don’t get a creature. But as a trade-off, Phyrexian Arena only does one damage; your extra draw probably won’t kill you if it goes too long. This substitution, I feel, needs the least explanation.
Liliana of the Veil
This one, of course, is harder. Liliana’s effect on this deck is subtle, but it also amounts to card advantage. With your Confidants out and running, Liliana forces mutual discard that you can handle but your opponent can’t. (It also feeds your Tarmogoyf, but that’s not necessary here. Skinshifter is many things, but “hungry” is not one of them.) Alternately, if your hand is empty (which Jund shouldn’t have trouble doing), then Liliana’s discard effect is solely directed at your opponent. This is the ability we’ll concentrate on replicating. We won’t be able to find another card that does the same thing, and has a built-in Cruel Edict. So if we focus on the discard ability, we can make up for the loss of the edict effect with removal spells later. Which means we have the perfect candidate for the job:
The downsides: he’s easier to kill than a Planeswalker, and he loses the aforementioned edict effect. But the discard ability is very near the same; we give up a good deal of control over the timing, but place it before the draw step, with a slightly easier mana cost. And we make up the body we lost when we substituted Phyrexian Arena for Dark Confidant.
We’ll be substituting more cards: fetchlands, Deathrite Shaman, Thoughtseize, Scavenging Ooze… man, this is an expensive deck. But a few quick one-to-one substitutions, and we should be able to put something together that fills the same role as a Modern Jund deck, without breaking the bank. We can even keep a few goodies like Huntmaster of the Fells that are already in the budget range.
I have to warn you of two things before we finish it up:
- Don’t take this deck to a Pro Tour. You’ll lose. Competitive Magic hinges on slight advantage, and each card substitution will give your opponent incremental leverage. After thirty-odd increments, that’ll be quite an advantage they’ll have built up.
- You seem to be having a dream in which you’ve been invited to a Pro Tour. Look, all your friends are there, cheering for you! And your junior high crush! And… is that your father? He’s finally going to hug you and tell you he’s proud of… no, never mind. You’re awake now. Time to finish up your yogurt deck, which will be fine for 95% of the situations in which you realistically find yourself.
So to sum up, what have we lost? Our big beater requires a more steady investment of mana than its predecessor. Our draw engine no longer comes equipped with two power. And our secondary card advantage loses an enormous amount of versatility.
What have we kept? Quick power. Draw superiority. Mana ramp. Targeted hand- and graveyard-hate. We’ll move a little slower and hit a little softer, but we’ll be filling all the same roles as Modern Jund.
What have we gained? Well. About $1,500, give or take. See a movie. Take your kid to the zoo. Maybe buy that special someone something nice, they put up with a lot.
But price aside, why should you play this deck over whichever Jund deck won the last Pro Tour? Will you win as easily with this deck? Ha ha, wow, hells no. Not by a longshot. Which is the first reason you should run something like this: it’s good to train with a lesser deck, for the same reason a person might work out with ankle weights. When the decisions you make are harder, it makes you a better player. Anyone can play on easy mode.
But that doesn’t mean you should netdeck this bad boy; the other thing we get from building a good yogurt deck of our own is a better understanding of the choices that go into deck construction. When you substitute for Tarmogoyf, you have to ask yourself why it’s in every deck with even a splash of green. What are the benefits? What are the downsides? How does it fit with other cards? What if all the Cunning Lethemancers in the world were lost in a tragic, Alara-specific fire tomorrow morning? What would you substitute for Liliana then?
Having to answer these questions will also make you a better player, and a better deck-builder besides. And the few times you do win, you’ll see a sight every Magic player should see at some point in their lives: a table rotating in mid-air, flipped up high by an angry Spike who just lost to a Cunning god damn Lethemancer.