Most Optimal Sub-Optimal Deck Construction

Hey everyone,

I think in a month or two I will finally have enough money saved up to get my first piece of power! I'm looking at you Black Lotus!!! I have posted before about the best order to get power and where to get it. Thanks for the advice everyone has given me.

Looking at my budget I think it will take me about 3 years to acquire all of the power to make a fully powered vintage deck. I know myself however and I am sure I will want to play sanctioned vintage before that 3 years is up. This leads me to my deck building question.

Which of the following is the least sub-optimal for a WUR Mentor/Dack/Jace deck

Playing with 3 on color moxes and shock lands instead of dual lands


Playing with only 1/2 on color moxes and the dual lands

Essentially once I have the Black Lotus, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall and Mox Sapphire what should I prioritize first when it comes to playing suboptimally - the remaining two moxes or appropriate dual lands.

My initial thought is the moxes are more important as there is no real substitute while the shock lands are at least bad substitutes. Thanks for your comments in advance!

The first dual is always more valuable than the second because of fetches.

I dont know the makeup of your final list though, like if you are running 3 volcanic islands or something you absolutley can de-prioritize the 3rd and maybe even the second.

I dont think there is a simple answer to this. There are plenty of decks where moxen are critical components and others where they are simpily a speed enhancer.

I'm going to guess that the Mox Sapphire is more important than duals, but all the other moxen may be less important than the first of each dual.

I really love this question, it's something I've put a lot of thought into before. I like Protoaddict's advice, and I think your instincts about shocklands are correct. Here's some food for thought!

I ran two manabases through the card-pricer at mtgGoldfish, dunnno how accurate it is but it was easy to use 🙂

not counting the price of the moxes or lotus, they clock in at $3100 vs $800. (Not that $862 is "budget" by any stretch, but it's for sure cheaper). But this isn't a simple swap of duals to shocklands ... here are some things I would consider when trying to keep the cost of the deck down.

mox count

The lower your curve, the less important moxes are. There are UR Delver lists so full of cards that cost {U} that they don't WANT more than 2 Mox in their deck. You can still play URW if you're considering only having 2 Mox in your deck, but be mindful of what that does to your curve. You don't want to be running the high-mana stuff. Things like Jace, the Mindsculpter get worse when you don't have off-color Moxes, and that's all the same to someone building a collection because Jace ain't cheap to begin with.

That doesn't mean your deck is worse though, it just means if you're sticking to cheap cards, embrace that. Your advantage is going to be tempo and consistency, not inevitability. Run more cards that push a tempo advantage, maybe more Young Pyromancers than you would have in another list. I would even consider running some number of Delver of Secrets even if you don't want to build a full-on delver deck. Any cheap maindeck creature where you might have had a spell contributes here. Mana denial like Stony Silence and Wasteland become your friend. Wasteland does budget double-duty, because even though it's not the cheapest land, it replaces more expensive cards. Speaking of which ...

Library of Alexandria

$1k of the pricey manabase came entirely from Library of Alexandria. Library is a great card but cutting it doesn't have to be all downside. The whole idea of Library is that it's complete bomb in grindy control mirrors ... but there are lots of approaches to playing a grindy control mirror. If your approach to the Mentor mirror is to put on pressure as fast as possible and force your opponent to react before they build up their resources, Library becomes a lot less useful to you. In contrast, cards like Wasteland become better. Cavern of Souls is also an awesome option for breaking mirrors open, especially if you're running more creatures than the other guy. At $70 Caverns isn't budget for most people, but it's a LOT cheaper than Library or a Dual land, and if you already have access to it, 1 or 2 of them could absolutely be part of a strong manabase.

Color choice

White is just cheaper to play than red. Tundra and Flooded Strand are cheaper than Volcanic Island and Scalding Tarn. Even Hallowed Fountain is cheaper than Steam Vents, and Polluted Delta is a lot cheaper than Scalding Tarn when you're looking for fetches #5+. This pushes you down a particular path. Many UWR Mentor decks run a basic Mountain, because even though they have a mix of colors, against Wasteland decks (Workshops) they need that red mana to function. Running 2 Moxes already makes your splash color worse, and the price difference means it's a lot cheaper to be Blue/White-splash Red, than it is to be Blue/Red-splash White.

This means you're going to want a Plains over a Mountain and forget the Tarns entirely. Starting from that, this affects some of the other cards you might run.

Cheap Red anti-artifact spells like By Force, Ingot Chewer, and Shattering Spree get a lot worse, but good cheap White removal gets even better, like Swords to Plowshares, Fragmentize, and Path to Exile.

Though Dack Fayden is a Red anti-artifact spell, it's not so bad. As a 3-drop that has big impact, you don't need to expose a red mana to Wasteland until the spell is on the stack. If you play a turn 3 Dack and your opponent Wastes your Volcanic? That's not so bad, you still have a Dack, and you don't have other things you need that mana for. Losing a Volcanic after a turn 1 Ingot Chewer is another story entirely. Young Pyromancer is somewhere in the middle, it's not fantastic when your opponent is Wasteland heavy, but it's not awful either.

{R}{R} cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance are right out, but you didn't really want too many 4-drop planeswalkers anyway, and if you really wanted one (and didn't want Jace), some Gideons and Elspeths could be pretty effective for you.

Pyroblast is no issue because in the matchups where you want it, your mana is rarely under attack. 7 Fetches and 2 (Duals or Shocklands) is plenty there.


Years back I moved to a place where they didn't have a vintage scene, and I got into Legacy while I lived there. I played in a weekly Legacy tournament, and I won store credit pretty regularly and used that to build up a Legacy collection. At one point I wanted to play a U/W/x deck, but I didn't own Tundras, and I wasn't sure if I should invest in them when I didn't know if I liked the deck. I won some store credit that week, and I made a deal with myself. I'd buy Hallowed Fountains instead, and if I ever lost even a single game to the damage, I would immediately buy Tundras. Two years later I had never stopped playing that deck, and I moved away without ever buying the Tundras. If you have on-color fetches and basics and you're careful and you think ahead, the damage very rarely matters. Honestly you could get away with 0 Duals for a while ... but if you run 1 Dual and X Shocklands, it is extremely unlikely that you're going to have serious problems.

Basically you just want to make sure that if you're ever in a situation where you know you aren't going to need the mana - it's at the end of your opponent's turn and you have no plays - fetch for the shockland tapped. Sure, there isn't always a good time for it, and those are the games you take 2 damage. But usually there's going to be an opportunity to get the card for no drawback if you're looking for those opportunities ... especially if your manabase and curve are built for it.

There's also the general subject of how many Duals to run in the first place. I think it's pretty rare that 4 of the same dual is correct in a vintage deck, even when ignoring budget entirely (the exception is extreme off-color mana requirements like Shattering Spree, Pulverize and Doomsday). If you focus more heavily on one or two colors, it makes it easier to operate on basics and makes the 3rd and 4th dual a lot less important. That doesn't just cost less, it can be a huge edge against decks running Wasteland. If you've decided to run a shockland/dual mix, it'll only save you the cost of a shockland, but if you're trying to stick with real Duals only, an extra basic could save you a lot.

what's in your binder?

All that applies if you're building from nothing, but most people getting into vintage have SOME collection to draw on. If you already happen to own Scalding Tarns that could open up an entirely different, red-centric approach (but you're still going to want to be more 2-color focused and lower-to-the-ground, the fewer moxes you have). If you already have any pricey vintage cards, consider taking advantage of them. If you're playing in an X-Playtest Card environment (e.g. 5 vs 10 vs 15), this thinking can help you build a pretty strong vintage deck with a very cheap collection, by arbitraging your 10 playtest slots with the most expensive stuff that supports your 65 other best value-for-dollar cards

putting it all together!

So I took a random list 5-0 list from a recent vintage league:

Then I threw together an (untested) list based on the stuff I've been talking about:

I like both of these lists. But the second list is (19,135.50-12,134.06) $7,000 cheaper than the first. I have to admit it feels very silly talking about a $12,000 deck as "budget", but these same principles apply when you already have a collection, or you're playing in a 10-playtest-card-meta, or you're playing on MTGO where the decks are dramatically cheaper.

Another way to look at it makes it more appealing. Assume you're trying to build the first deck eventually, but you want a cheaper deck to play in the meantime (like the original poster). There are 30 cards in the second deck that aren't in the first deck.

of these, Caverns is VERY optional, I'm pretty into it in this list as a Library replacement, but it could easily be a Wasteland or Karakas or another fetch or basic, whatever. The total price of those cards without Caverns is $144, and most of THAT is from ultra-staples like Polluted Delta, Wasteland and Grafdigger's Cage (I'm kind of surprised Cage isn't in the first list anyway).

Certainly if you have your heart set on the more controlly, big mana versions of Mentor, my more-aggro version may not appeal to you, but (without having tested it), I think it feels pretty cohesive and has an approach to each matchup and sacrifices very little by not having access to a limitless collection

@brass-man I love this post, i know you have been thinking about this exact problem for awhile, but it is nice to see it all written out in a place, and be able to direct new player to vintage to this page.

@brass-man this is the same approach I take when building vintage decks, since I have no power and locals despise play test cards. I get laughed at when I run shock-lands in vintage but nobody laughs when I beat them with the deck. It's so much more difficult putting together a budget deck this way but in the end, it's well thought out and you know exactly why each card is in the 75 and it's purpose.

I think lands like Darkslick Shores are pretty good if you wanted to go without fetchlands and actually have more colored mana potential in the late game. (Fetchlands don’t tap for mana, though they take up land slots)

I’ve actually played the UR one in a 4 Volcanic Island deck and thought it was strictly better than Steam Vents.

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@desolutionist You know I never really thought about this before, but I think there could be a place for Filter Lands? I've played 4 Volcanic Islands to support Shattering Spree before. I know you wouldn't run 4x, but a Cascade Bluffs could actually be better than Volcanic Island for hitting {R}{R}. It could be pretty relevant for cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance as well

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