Building_on_a_Budget

One last look at Ben's run on Building on a Budget.

The Final One

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Eyes_of_the_Watcher The letter I!t all started on March 13th, 2008. That day, I received an e-mail from Scott Johns inviting me to write an audition piece for Building on a Budget, as JMS was leaving the column. Ted Knutson (my friend and site editor at the time) asked me two questions: Was I interested in writing the Building on a Budget column? And would I be able to keep a deadline? The answer to both questions was yes, and after an audition piece, I was chosen as the replacement for fan-favorite Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar.

When magicthegathering.com first launched as a content-based website, I was one of the five original columnists chosen by Mark Rosewater for the site. I had taken a short hiatus from Magic during Nemesis and Prophecy. Tony Sculimbrene had written an article about the meaning of Rarity (as in common, uncommon and rare) within Magic's history, and I wrote a two-part opposition piece, which can be found here and here. By sheer and complete coincidence, Mark was looking for someone to write a column about Magic's history. I ended up lucking into the Uncommon Knowledge column at magicthegathering.com. By the end of the year, I found myself out of the column partly (and entirely at my fault) because of missing dozens of deadlines for then-editor Aaron Forsythe.

I'm happy to report that in the case this time around, excepting some true emergencies (deaths in the family, hospital visits), I was virtually 100% for making my deadlines with Ted Knutson and Kelly Digges as editors. Chalk this up to maturity and experience, because I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice in my life, and it's not often that one is given a second chance—so thank you to Ted, Kelly, and Scott Johns for giving me the opportunity to write Building on a Budget for the past two and a half years.

Yes, that's right—I said two and a half years. Technically, I've been writing Building on a Budget from April 3rd, 2006 through today, August 27th, 2008. All right, at 29 months I'm one month short of a year and a half, but compare this to previous runs on the column:

Nate Heiss: April 14th, 2003 through March 18th, 2005 (24 months), 90ish articles
JMS: March 21st 2005 through March 20th, 2006 (12 months) 50ish columns
Me: April 3rd, 2006 through August 27th, 2008 (29 months) 110ish columns

Wow! Seriously, doesn't feel like I've been writing the column for that long—my run was nearly as long as both Nate and Jay's runs put together! In those times, we've laughed, we've cried, we've gone 25-0 and taken you, the reader, on a wild ride through a column that builds decks that cost 30 tickets or less using Magic Online! In today's article, I'm going to take a look back through my entire run on Building on a Budget. We'll visit some fan favorites along with some fan not-so-favorites, and I'll be giving you the behind-the-scenes stories about a lot of went on for the building on these decks!

Column #1: Discard (This Deck) – Black-Blue Megrim / Discard

The first Building on a Budget I wrote was my audition piece, which would appear later in the column, but chronologically this one was published first. This was an interesting effort, but a very bad way to start off the column, because the lesson I taught was that sometimes you have to abandon the central card of your deck (in this case, Megrim and Abyssal Nocturnus) and go with the cards that work better (Debtors' Knell, Hondens). While this is an important lesson, it immediately shattered expectations of my readers, and feedback in the forums was sharply divided between those who agreed with the lesson and those who did not.

Coming into this gig, I knew I would measured against JMS, who had a defining run on Building on a Budget. Whereas JMS was a Johnny/Timmy, I was a Spike/Johnny—I valued winning, but I also wanted to win with my decks. I was also a lot more of a tournament player than JMS (Trivia Question Time: Who won the first public PTQ ever? Answer: Ben Bleiweiss). To answer an often-asked question in the forums and through e-mail: Yes, I do believe that a lot of the records I posted with my decks throughout my run were due to my play skill at Magic. I'm not the best ever, but I can hold my own.

That first column did establish the one defining trait of my entire run of Building on a Budget: I was completely willing to defy reader expectations when building decks or writing each week. And I have to tell you—I adopted this stance wholeheartedly for the next two and a half years, and you guys played along! In all seriousness, it was a tremendous feeling when I finally knew that you "got it," and it allowed me to pull off some pretty spectacular and memorable columns later in the run.

Nothing says that you "got it" more than the results of my last poll:

Wow, Ben hasn't had a poll in quite a long time. Did he forget to finish up the green deck evolution this week?
Given Ben's history, not only are we never going to see the green deck finished, but he'd skip the white deck evolution just to mess with us. 2365 64.7%
Of course he did! I don't see it in this article! 682 18.7%
Of course not! Would he mention it in a poll if he did? 609 16.7%
Total 3656 100.0%

Metaphysical question time: Is it defying expectations if you expect me to defy expectations? In the end, a good, good many of you connected to my style and handling of Building on a Budget, and completely understood that I was willing to turn the dime on a five-part series (more on this later), and come up with a retrospective such as this.

And that, my friends, is how I gave the column a uniquely Bleiweissian style after having taken over for the great JMS.

Columns #2 & #3: Gruul: The Wilding, Part 1 and Part 2

This series marked three important milestones in my run on Building on a Budget. It was my first theme deck evolution, it was the first struggle I had with incorporating user feedback for deck evolutions (more on this later, there's a lot to say!), and it was the introduction of BoaB, the Building on a Budget robot.

One of the struggles I had with my vision of Building on a Budget was the concept of adding money to the deck. I hated this idea, because in my mind, it defeated the whole purpose of the column! Building on a Budget was about building decks on a budget. BoaB (the robot, not the column) was my workaround to try to get a voice—not my own—to add money to a deck. BoaB ended up becoming a popular recurring feature in the column, but he evolved into an insult-slinging foil to me, and not as a way to incorporate high-dollar cards into the end of budget builds.

Columns #4 & #5: Exploding Wurms, Part 1 and Part 2

This deck was the one where I finally got into the groove of Building on a Budget. This was one of the concepts I had in mind to evolve when I first landed the Building on a Budget column, and I had a blast (literally) using Undying Flames to pop 15 points of Autochthon Wurm damage upside my opponents' heads!

Column #6: I Heart Sky Swallower

Wherein you will find my first obsession with Battle of Wits, and the results of my first choose-my-build-around-rare pool. Some people loved the deck; others were genuinely disappointed that I built a deck that contained Zur's Weirding. Folks, Sky Swallower plus Zur's Weirding = a way to win with Sky Swallower. It's better than giving your opponent all of your permanents without a net, and Bronze Bombshell is way too obvious a build for this deck.

Column #7: Better Deckbuilding 101: Understanding Tempo with Ghost Dad

One of my few columns in which I built a budget version of a proven tournament deck (a majority of the other columns' decks were Bleiweiss originals). Also one of the few columns in which I did not actually play any games!

Column #8: Grand Spree

This was my audition piece for Building on a Budget, and also one of my favorite decks I built for Building on a Budget. Mycosynth Lattice plus Shattering Spree: a simple yet effective combo to take out your opponent's entire board.

Column #9: Deckbuilding 101: Five Tips for Better Deckbuilding

Every now and then, it's important to write a column that you can reference several times in the future. This was one such column; I wanted to have some general deck-building tips that I could use over and over again, and I was also in the middle of taking Deck Doctor submissions. The five rules:

1. Fix your mana base.
2. Keep cose to 60 cards.
3. Focus your goals, but don't be a slave to your theme.
4. Have a curve.
5. Enchant creature cards are not your friends.

Good rules to follow, even to this day.

Columns #10 & #11: Izzet Pinball, Part 1 and Part 2

First of all, thank you to Yesterdays Fate for the submission of this deck. Second, it was very difficult to run any sort of Deck Doctor challenge, because A) I would get hundreds of submissions and I didn't want to slight anyone's time or efforts in writing to me, and B) by the time I sorted through them all, it would be a few weeks later due to lead time on writing this column, and people were somewhat disconnected from the original idea of a Deck Doctor to begin with. This article ended up being a fan favorite, and the deck itself translates well into modern Standard (note: Cinder Pyromancer and Flame Jab!)

Column #12: Azorius Ascendant: The Prelude

Early in the column, I struggled with a way to make reader feedback relevant to the deckbuilding process. I had very little time between publication and my next deadline to incorporate reader suggestions, and I didn't want you, the reader, to feel left out of having a say in the column's going. One solution I happened upon was alternating between decks each week, so we'd have a one-week-on, one-week-off schedule, allowing me a full week of lead time to incorporate suggestions. This was a bad idea—all it did was get people confused about which deck was appearing when, and just what was Ben up to two weeks ago, huh? I dropped that idea in a hurry, especially after a later point of controversy. (Ha ha! More on this later!)

Column #13: Battle of Wits, Budget Dissension Stylin'

I have to confess; former Sideboard reporter Toby Wachter turned me on to the Battle of Wits deck. If there ever was a medium for playing Battle of Wits, it's Magic Online—paradise for a 250-card deck. There's no shuffling involved, and you don't have to carry around a stack of 250 cards, both of which contribute to an enjoyable game experience. My Battle of Wits deck evolved with every new set, and it was the one recurring feature I stuck with until Wizards took Battle of Wits out of Tenth Edition.

If I'd never written about Battle of Wits, though I wonder how much money I could have collected from the 3136 of you who picked the "I hate Battle of Wits and will pay Ben not to build a Battle of Wits deck.".

My guess is 31.36.

In pesos.

Columns #14, #15 & #16: Azorius Ascendant – Control!, Thank you Sir, May I Draw Another?, and One Piece at a Time

Ben's dirty secret (or not so secret): I really don't like doing theme deck evolutions. They were a JMS staple and well-received by the readership, but I didn't find them very fun to do, though I made the best of it. I would, over time, try to do fewer and fewer theme deck evolutions, for no other reason than that they were not my strength, and I'd rather turn in a piece that I could stand behind 100% than something that I felt I had to do out of obligation.

Column #17: Stealing My Muse

Hands down, this ended up being the favorite deck I built for Building on a Budget. It wasn't the most fun to play (or play against), and it wasn't the most powerful, but I took a card (Muse Vessel), built a deck around it, and made it work on my terms. This was the first deck that a large number of people built for themselves, and I was playing against it for weeks afterwards in the casual rooms of Magic Online.

Columns #18 & #20: Deck Doctor: Sasaya My Dreams, Part 1 and Part 2

Thank you to Major Domo for submitting this deck! Not much to say here, except that I really wish Sasaya herself worked well, but getting seven lands in hand means you probably aren't going to have much to play once you flip Sasaya. This was also one of the columns where I tried alternating decks from week to week, which again served no purpose other than to confuse the readership.

Columns #19, #21 & #22: Wrecking with Rakdos, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

The third column was an experiment in trying to run the column backwards, so that the finished evolution comes first, and I work the reader backwards through my choices, until we got back to the start of the deck. This confused a good number of people, and I didn't use that conceit again. It did, however, give me the opportunity to use the word conceit in a sentence in my farewell article.

Columns #23, #24 & #25: Living a Double Life, Part 1, Life Support, and Eight Mana to Paradise

In which I take a Friday Night Magic deck that I once built, which was decidedly not budget, and try to get it to work as a budget deck, to disastrous results. This was originally a two-part series, but I stubbornly stuck with it for a third part, trying to get the False Cure / Beacon of Immortality combination to work in a winning deck. I should have stopped this after the second part. If anyone ever wants to point to a deck that I didn't do well with, bookmark this three-part series, and enter the Schadenfreude.

Column #26: Blue Snow Aggro

OMG, countermagic in the casual room! Throughout my run on the column, I would debate about what should or shouldn't show up in the casual room of Magic Online. My personal point of view: as long as it isn't a deck that's been winning GPs and PTQs and PTs, it's fair game. I'm all for facing masses of countermagic, land destruction, burn, or what have not. I'm not for facing a copy of the deck that just won the Pro Tour the weekend before. Again, my opinion, but that's what the tournament practice room is for. However, if you don't want to play against counterspells, and you advertise "no countermagic!", that's fine—but if you don't advertise it ahead of time, just suck it up and play. You might learn a thing or two, like how to beat a counterspell-heavy deck. (Hint: Throw threats at them until something lands.)

Columns #27 & #28: Battle of Wits, Minus 100 Degrees and Deep Freeze

My second Battle of Wits evolution, in which I add Coldsnap and go 15-5. I went 6-4 my first go-around with Battle of Wits, so my total Battle of Wits Building on a Budget record is 21-9. Not bad for a 250-card deck that has only four rares (Battle of Wits) and a bunch of budget commons and uncommons.

Column #29: There Can Only Be Fun: Five-Color Highlander in Standard

I really liked the introduction to this one:

It's Halloween week here at Building on a Budget, and you know what that means!

October 31st, 2005: JMS, "Selesnya United: Tokens on my Table"
October 29th, 2004: Nate Heiss, "The 10 Best Budget Cards of all Time"
October 27th, 2003: Nate Heiss, "Budget Control"

That's right – absolutely nothing! For better or for worse, neither of my predecessors really liked to give out any sort of treats for Halloween. What a curmudgeonly pair! The thought of depriving the neighborhood youts of boxes of raisins and penny-jars fills me with the very essence of Juffo-Wup (10 points if you get this reference).

By the time Halloween came around the next year, I had completely forgotten my new BoaB tradition.

Column #30: What's Upton?

I had started the BoaB Sidebar a couple of weeks earlier, and it helped clarify the purpose of the column: 30 tickets or less, Magic Online, format, etc.

Quick trivia question: Which person have I name-dropped the most during my run on Building on a Budget? If you answered Hurkylme Jenklefors, you're completely wrong. If you said StarCityGames.com employee and 2003 Virginia State Champion Wes Moss, you're completely right. Wes (at the age of 16) was the person who beat John Upton thanks to a particularly fortuitous Persecute (see the article for the story). What's even better about Wes is that really wants to get to know everyone in Magic—and he gets on my case when I don't introduce him to people at events.

So Mark Rosewater contacted SCG about the Timbermare preview card—a card dedicated in part to Marilyn Wakefield, late wife of Jamie Wakefield. I talked for about 10 minutes on the phone with Mark, and we discussed the card, the power level, whether or not Jamie would want to do the preview (of course he did!), and what I thought of the tribute (it was swell). The end of the conversation went like this:

Mark: So Ben, anything else you want to ask?
Me: Well Mark, one thing I wanted to say. Former Virginia State Champion Wes Moss wanted me to say hi to you from him.
Mark: (stumbling) Uh... Hi?
Me: Thanks Mark! Talk to you later!
*Hangs up phone*
Wes: Ben, you are a total *******!

And that's what I get for giving Wes exactly what he wanted. So Mark, if you were ever wondering what that was about, there's your answer!

Columns #31, #32 & #33: The Evolution of Fractured Crusading Sliver Fungus, Wait for it...., and Burning with Suspense

Pollgate '06! My original intention was the throw all four Time Spiral theme decks into one huge 240-card monstrosity, play with it for a while, and then see what worked and what didn't. After five games with that deck, I threw that idea out—didn't work. In that regards, my poll vote (which deck do you want to see evolved?) would have worked, because everyone's a winner!

In reality, I ended up throwing out the vote because my idea didn't work, but I evolved not the first-, or even the second-place vote getter, but the third most popular choice: the Reality Fracture deck. And holy frijoles, did the people rebel! Heck, I don't blame them—there's one thing for turning around an expectation, and another for running a popular vote, and then disregarding the will of the people. The decision to evolve the Reality Fracture deck (instead of Fun with Fungus or Sliver Evolution) soured a lot of people on my column, and it still gets brought up to this day.

When life gives you lemons, so-on and so-forth—and from that point onwards, the irreverent poll became an integral part of the column. In fact, the poll I ran in my last column...

Wow, Ben hasn't had a poll in quite a long time. Did he forget to finish up the green deck evolution this week?
Given Ben's history, not only are we never going to see the green deck finished, but he'd skip the white deck evolution just to mess with us. 2365 64.7%
Of course he did! I don't see it in this article! 682 18.7%
Of course not! Would he mention it in a poll if he did? 609 16.7%
Total 3656 100.0%

...is a perfect example of this!

Column #34: Eight-Post

25-0. Legions of people building the deck, infesting the casual and competitive rooms for weeks to come. Two PTQ Top 8s. This was the first deck I built that fully took advantage of the 30-ticket budget, and it caused a problem: once the article hit, everyone and their sister started buying up the pieces to this deck. The price of several key cards (Divining Top, Vesuva, Mindslaver, Oblivion Stone) literally doubled and tripled within a day of publication, putting the deck more in the 50-60 ticket range by the end of the week. This was one of the risks of my more popular decks: the more popular the deck, the more risk there was of cards in the deck sharply rising in value immediately after publication of my articles, making some of those cards fall out (or should I say upwards) of the budget range.

Another question I'm often asked: do I doctor the results of my playtesting at all? The answer is no—the only games I don't include are ones where people concede after the first turn, usually after they've taken a triple-mulligan or some-such. Otherwise, every win and every loss is there for the world to see. 25-0 with Eight-Post was a solid 25-0 (and when I took the deck to the competitive room, I ended up with about a 66% winning percentage overall).

Column #35: Buying on a Budget

I wrote a guide about how to use the Magic Online Marketplace... for Magic Online version 2.5. This article is no longer relevant to our interests. Nothing to see here, please move along!

Column #36 & #37: Fun with Fungus, Part 1 and Part 2

After Pollgate '06, I just had to evolve the Fun with Fungus theme deck! I made sure to get to it early in 2007 (January, to be exact), just to make up for the botched Reality Fracture deck choice.

Column #38: Battle of Wits, Now with 100% More Time Spiral!

Battle of Wits went 9-1-1 this time (including the only drawn game in my run of Building on a Budget), to bring my total Battle of Wits record to 30-10-1

Column #39: Booby Trapped!

Bennie Smith: a good man, and lover of the deck involving the dredge cards! Bennie and I talk quite a bit each week, and one of the decks Bennie almost ran at States in 2006 was the Booby Trap / Mishra, Artificer Prodigy deck that ended up in this column. I think Bennie instead opted to run dredge again that year, and went 0-10, in an eight-round tournament. Did I mention that Bennie Smith, like Wes Moss, is also a former Virginia State Champion? Gotta catch 'em all!

Column #40 & #41: Back to the Rak, Part 1 and Part 2

My column's first foray into the tournament practice room. I ended up going 7-1 with a budget Rakdos deck, making the dreams of FNM players worldwide a reality.

Column #42: Building on No Budget

Remember earlier in the column? You know, the part where I said "see later?" This is one of those points! Hallelujah! Sometimes it's good to be the Bleiweiss delivering the goods! Building on No Budget was part of "What If?" week, an imagining of things that might have been, but were not. The conceit for this article: What if BoaB, the budget-building robot, actually worked as intended? To fully enjoy this column, you had to have bought into the style and ideas I brought to Building on a Budget. For the most part, people got it—that I was messing with them, but in a way to let them in on the joke, self-aware that I was, indeed, making "all-land" decks as a way to poke fun at people who want a budget to mean 0 tickets or less. It was all good natured, I swear. I'm not 100% sure who did the photoshop in this article, but it was one of my favorites:

Now's a good time to say thanks to the people who do the graphic design for magicthegathering.com, for making my articles look good week in and week out. Thank you also to Monty Ashley, for all those poll results I bugged you for over the past 2 years. : )

Columns #43 – #52: 10 Decks in 10 Weeks

The Two Ladies (G/W)
A Wild Pair (R/G)
Aeon in Flux (U/R)
Grim Outlook (U/B)
Rescue Me (W/B)
A Blink in Time (W/U)
Sheer Pandemonium (R/W)
Madness (B/R)
Profusion Confusion (B/G)
Fungal Behemoth (G/U)

This was (just about) my one-year anniversary, and I'd tried a lot of different ideas: theme deck evolutions, Deck Doctor clinics, building decks from scratch, budgetizing tournament decks, talking general deckbuilding theory, and acting as a Magic Online price guide. The only real recurring feature was my Battle of Wits build, and I wanted to come up with an idea that would put my stamp on Building on a Budget once and for all.

I was also still struggling with a way to get reader input integrated into the column. As I mentioned earlier, lead times on the articles meant that I had maybe one to two days after an article was published in order to use any ideas that people posted in the forums, or through e-mail. How could I run polls that were still timely, all while keeping a series of articles going week after week?

It suddenly hit me: what if I started with a deck, and evolved it as normal, but after each week I would take out one color from the deck, and add in a brand-new color? This series would allow me to capitalize on all ten color pairs of Magic (which were extremely popular at this time, due to the amazing success of Ravnica block), and would also let me plan out my column for two and a half months, allowing readers to vote (and anticipate) ahead of time the next deck that was coming.

I pitched the idea to Scott Johns, and Scott was initially hesitant, but I really, really liked the idea of 10 Decks in 10 Weeks. Scott was worried that readers might balk at the idea of a series that ran for over two months, but I was convinced that this idea had legs. In the end, Scott saw how enthused I was about doing this experiment (and believe me, it was an experiment–nothing like it had been done before), and gave me the green light. 10 Decks in 10 Weeks ended up being one of the two most popular series of articles on my entire run on Building on a Budget.

Column #53: Battle of Wits con Planar Chaos

My previous Battle of Wits record: 30-10-1. This go-round: 10-5. Total Battle of Wits record thus far: 40-15-1. Not bad for a 240-card deck, eh?

Column #54: Little Big Black

Based on a Mark Rosewater gunslinging deck, minus the Snow-Covered Swamps.

Column #55: 10 Decks in 10 Weeks: Battle Royale!

Wow, did this column take a long, LONG time to write! I played every deck from my 10 Decks in 10 Weeks column, and played them from both sides of the equation at some point. Thanks to Craig Stevenson, Eric Lewandowski, Evan Erwin, Nicholas Sabin, Adam Simpson, Raymond Morse, Morten Batbukt, Dick Curtis, and Brletich for your help with this grueling, reader-demanded exercise. Of all my Building on a Budget columns, this one took the absolute longest to playtest and write, clocking in at some ridiculous total work time (40+ hours). In the end, Fungal Behemoth came out on top!

Column #56 & #57: Madbent! Part 1 and Part 2

I don't know at what point I became obsessed with black-red decks, but I had quite a few of them within my first year of writing Building on a Budget. It might be because this color combination is often neglected, leaving a lot of room open for deck-building possibilities. Madness plus hellbent was a peanut butter plus chocolate type of equation, by the way.

Column #58: Completely From Scratch

Another Bleiweiss innovation! This was Deck Doctor in reverse. Instead of getting hundreds of disparate decks, I gave you (the reader) a pool of cards, with ticket costs, and told you to do my job for a week: come up with a unique, exciting deck based on a certain theme. This was a great article, because it walked people through the process of making my column each week, and then gave people the opportunity to essentially 'Deck Doctor' a list of cards on their own. This is another feature that ended up being extremely popular, and the decks people came up with were fantastic!

Column #59 & #60: Jhoira Goes Up, Part 1 and Part 2

This was both a theme deck evolution and an interlude before the results of the deck-building contest. As a note, Urzatron decks started running Aeon Chronicler shortly after this as a kill condition, so if you got the Chroniclers while they were budget (half-a-ticket each in this column), you found yourself with a card that was quickly going for the upwards of 5 tickets each within a month after this column ran!

Columns #61, #62 & #63: The Great Dredge Contest! Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Whenever I ran a build-a-deck contest such as this one, I would read every submission that came in, and break them into archetypes. Whoever got in the first version of a particular archetype would be the person mentioned in the article, assuming they followed the rules (30 tickets or less, only using the cards on my list).

Columns #64 – #68: Dragon War!

Intet, The Dreamer!
Numot, the Devastator!
Teneb, the Harvester!
Oros, the Avenger
Vorosh, the Hunter

My ill-fated follow-up to 10 Decks in 10 Weeks. I set up way too many rules for what cards I could use (only mono- and multicolored cards in the Dragon's main color? What was I thinking?) and the Dragons are inherently flawed as build-around cards—once you hit someone with a 6/6 flyer a couple of times, that player is likely dead. Reader response was extremely poor, so I scrapped the original concept (Rule #3: Don't be a slave to your theme!), and just did a natural Dragon evolution for the last couple of parts. Of these decks, four were pretty bad, but the Teneb, the Harvester deck was a lot of fun to play. If you skipped the middle of this series (and believe me, I might have too if I were a reader—not my strongest effort), go back and check out the Teneb deck right now. I'll still be here when you get back.

Column #69: The Joke's On You!

Whereupon I let BoaB run wild, and he calls me a "fleshbag" and a "protein bag" in the same article. Ah that BoaB—what wit! The wit that could only be found in a soulless budget-building robot gone wild!

Column #70: Tight Sight '07

Brian David-Marshall (Or BDM, as you might know him) really, really liked the Tight Sight deck. Never could get it to work beyond tier 2 or 3, but a lot of us tried to help out on the deck. The concept was neat: get yourself down to just a couple of cards in library with Future Sight out, get infinite mana with Early Harvest, and then Deep Analysis (or Brain Freeze) your opponent to death. Even in the retooling, it felt just one turn slow for the Extended Environment.

Column #71: Tight Sight Wrap Up / Wily Arcanis

One turn slow? Make that 0-X turns slow, as I repeatedly get my hide tanned in the tournament room. This also began my next-to-last theme deck evolution. I took the 40-card Tenth Edition Arcanis's Guile theme deck, added 20 cards, and went to town.

Column #72: That Wily Arcanis!

An evolution twist! I visit and revisit sets one at a time to see what I could add to the Arcanis deck. I think that this method was pretty fun to use, because it forced me to make do with what I found in each set, and then made me double-back to see what new possibilities have opened up by the time I reached the base set again. Sort of like a game of telephone, ifyouknowhatImeanya?

Column #73: BoaB Unplugged – Kithkin Militia!

My last theme deck evolution, and probably my best one while on BoaB. I really like White Weenie, and it showed over the three weeks my Kithkin evolution ran! This was pre-Mirrorweave Kithkin, so forgive me for running the little beaters – these days, they kill on turn four or five, on the backs of mighty Lieges.

Column #74: The Best Budget Cards in Lorwyn

Because sets on Magic Online need to go through public beta testing (which, of course, can't start before the real-life Prerelease!), there's some time when the set is publicly available but isn't yet on Magic Online. Rather than ignore the new set entirely, I used columns like these as a bridge to talk about the new set during that time without needing to build decks.

Columns #75 & #76: Kithkin Militia Victorious! and Strategy Session

Wizard_Mentor I was a huge fan of Ted Knutson's run on Magic Academy and an even bigger fan of Jeff Cunningham's run on that column. For those who aren't familiar; Wizards commissioned Ted (and later Jeff) to teach people the basics of how to play Magic from the ground up. There aren't many such articles out there, and the ones written by Ted and Jeff are top-of-the-line. Jeff's work on the Magic Academy may be some of the best "technical" Magic writing ever done in Magic's history, especially thanks to Jeff's extremely clean writing style.

I bring up the Magic Academy because my Kithkin Strategy Session article was along the same vein, and was one of my most important articles during my run on Building on a Budget. This was a "teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime" type deal—but more importantly, it was an article that helped people understand the fundamentals of how to play Magic, at the purest level.

Here's a little secret that I never came out and said, but really tried to push during my run on BoaB: understanding Magic is absolutely vital to being a good deck builder. I'm not talking about knowing how to play Magic in the most rudimentary sense (lands, spells, creatures), but understanding how the game works (understanding tempo, curves, having a game plan, percentages, odds, statistics, control, aggro, combo) and knowing as much of the rules as possible (timing rules, corner cases, all facets of keywords). In short, being a better player will also help you be a better deck builder, because you will understand, more and more, the subtle things that go into making correct deck choices.

Column #77: The Joke's Still on You!

After I wrote this column, I swore I would never use Momentary Blink again in one of my decks. It's one of the most versatile utility cards ever printed, it's ridiculously fun to play with on a budget (since it's a common), and I didn't want it to be a crutch, given that I built no less than five separate decks that abused the card. I'm just glad that Reveillark quickly went out of the budget range, because otherwise I might have been tempted by the Blink one last time.

Columns #78, #79 & #80: Deckbuilding Challenge: Hostile Intentions, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

From the second part, the second time it posted:

Editor's note: Due to an unexpected family situation, Ben was unavailable for this week's article. All of us here at magicthegathering.com wish Ben and his family the best. For those that may have missed it, the article that follows is the one that ran in this slot last week.

I was married on August 4th, 2007, and my mother was happier than I had ever seen her before while attending my wedding. A month later, she was diagnosed with advanced cancer. On the afternoon of December 2nd (a Sunday), I received the call that my mother (in California) was not going to be alive for very much longer. I immediately booked a flight to California (I live in Virignia), and this was during a pretty major snowstorm in the Midwest. My wife and I ended up getting stranded in Washington, DC that night, and my mother wasn't expected to live through to the next day. I had intended to write Scott and Kelly an e-mail to let them know that I wouldn't turn in my article that week. Instead, unable to sleep and feeling pretty helpless, I wrote the entire article (having already selected the decks earlier in the week) from midnight until 7 o'clock that next morning. My mother held on to life to see me and my brother one last time. She died in her sleep in the morning of December 4th, with me and my wife Kate by her side.

Column #81: Classically Red

RED BLOW STUFF UP GUD!

Columns #82 & #83: Intruder Alert, Part 1 and Part 2

Intruder Alarm + mana Elf + Imperious Perfect = infinite Elves. Intruder Alarm + Essence Warden + the previous = infinite life. Intruder Alarm plus Sprout Swarm = eventual infinite creatures. Magic Online making you go through each step over and over and over = boring for your opponents, because unlike in real life, you can't just say "make 1,000,000 Saprolings at the end of your turn, and then attack!"

Column #84: Fighting the Good Battle (of Wits)

In which I port Battle of Wits to Extended and pilot it to a 9-1 record. That brings my final Battle of Wits record to 49-16-1 for my run on Building on a Budget, a 74% winning percentage. I firmly believe that Battle of Wits could win an Extended PTQ if someone had the patience to build it right and play it. It can be just as fast as any other turn-four combo-kill deck currently running around that format.

Column #85: The Five Lost Tribes of Morningtide

Personally, I would have voted for the Assassin deck, and I'm glad it won. I would have been happy evolving any of these decks, which were pretty much my own take on making tribal theme decks—except with the readers choosing which of the five I evolve.

Column #86: The Best Non-Tribal Budget Cards in Morningtide

This is another "bridge" column between a set’s paper Prerelease and Magic Online release. This is the last comment I wrote for this article, after Kelly pointed out that I was missing commentary about the Morningtide budget article. I don't have much to say about this article, other than I can see why I hadn't said anything about this article previously. If I hadn't commented about not having anything to say about this article, you never would have known that this was the one article I missed writing commentary about. Thanks Kelly!

Column #87: Ninjaffinatog

Another favorite of mine, and I just love the name of the deck. Ninjaffinatog. I hope someone builds it for real some day. Papa Geppetto?

Column #88: Overrunnin' Elves

Kelly Digges, my ever-stalwart editor, is the one who writes the little blurbs you see for each of these articles. In this case, he took my math—3(X) + Y – Z = Dead—and made it the catch for the front page. I really liked that one. I really liked the next week's Elf deck better, though.

Column #89: Thousand-Year Elves

To this day, I have yet to track down the original Japanese decklist that this deck was based off of. Thousand-Year Elixirs had the Building on a Budget price jump thanks to this article.

Columns #90 & #91: Silent Killers, Part 1 and Part 2

I will never get over how cheap the Lorwyn planeswalkers ended up being online. I should have used them more often in my column.

Columns #92, #93, #94, #98 & #99: Round Robin!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

This was my last great series on Building on a Budget. If there's one gimmick I used that I hope the next BoaB writer picks up on, it's the Round Robin concept. Pick a deck, play it for ten games, and then switch to one of the decks you played against that caught your eye! This is Building on a Budget at its purest: playtesting, deck doctoring on the fly, playtesting some more, and learning what tweaks you can make from deck to deck. It has energy, and the decks move quickly so it never feels stagnant. All in all, this series ended up being a home run. When the first part ran, Scott Johns contacted me to say that he was surprised that nobody used this concept before. That was a pretty big compliment, and it made my day!

Columns #95-#96: BoaB Unplugged: Budget Cards to Think About, Part 1 and Part 2

I love making lists, and a lot of my other writing (both on this site and on StarCityGames.com) revolves around lists. Top 50 lists, bottom 100 lists, lists of every cycle in Magic—there's a simple effectiveness about laying out some orderly document which details exactly what you're looking for, in strict order. I ended up using several of the cards from this column over the next few weeks.

Column #97: BoaB Unplugged: Twenty Older Gems

And this one as well. I'd suggest trading for as many of these old cards as possible—this is a great time for the Magic Online buyer.

Column #100: Exploding Phytohydras! Part 1

I knew that the following week was going to be Evil Twin Week, and (to toot my own horn) I think I was looking forward to Evil Twin Week more than any other writer on magicthegathering.com. Why? Because it would be a test of whether or not I'd connected with my readership on this column. In short, I was going to take everything that I'd done wrong, everything that had rubbed my readers the wrong way over the past two years, and turn all those things on their head so that both myself and the reader could get a jolly good laugh about how far we'd come. To this effect, I planted three polls at the end of the column, with the explicit intent to use the lowest vote-getter for the next week's article!

Column #101: Evil Phytohydras! (Written by Evil Ben Bleiweiss)

So did it work? Heck yeah! Scott and Kelly were really wary about my approach to this column, but I reassured them. "Guys, don't worry. My readers will TOTALLY get the joke, and this will be one of my most popular columns." And you know what? You guys TOTALLY got the joke, and it WAS one of my most popular columns. I used the lowest poll results. I openly insulted the people I was playing against, and you (the reader). I completely ignored playing with a budget, put One with Nothing in the deck, and ended up with a (completely doctored) 10-0 record. But man, it was a blast, because I took everything negative people had to say about the column, and pushed it to such an extreme that people couldn't help but laugh.

As for the poll in this column... I'm afraid you'll have to use your imagination on that one, as my editors refused to post the image on this family-friendly site!

Column #102: Good Phytohydras!

After the Intruder Alarm deck, you'd think I wouldn't play a deck that relies on making infinite anything, would you? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on my poor hapless opponents who had to sit through 10-20 minute turns!

Column #103: Los Señores Gigantes!

Once again, Ben Bleiweiss (that's me!) makes his own personal theme decks, all based around five different Giants decks. I voted for Control of the Court. Big Guys, Big Discounts won. I built a creatureless control deck the following week, knowing that I would have two weeks before I came back to the Giant deck, and knowing which deck already won the vote.

Column #104: Look Ma, No Creatures!

Wow, Chandra is SOOOO GOOOD! Why isn't she played in Standard and Block? Every game I drew her, it was a blowout. Also, Boom // Bust was a blowout as well. People are used to throwing down every land they get as they draw them, leaving them with no outs against the big land destruction spell. That's just sloppy Magic—don't play your extra lands unless you need to! You never know when you'll need to dodge discard, or have an extra land in a pinch.

Column #105: Big Guys, Big Discounts!

Scott, Kelly, and I were fascinated by the results of the poll for this column. I was expecting for everyone to peg me as an (obvious) Spike/Johnny (in that order), so imagine my surprise when I was voted 31% Timmy, 30% Johnny, and 17% Spike! Sure, the column with the vote was a Johnny/Timmy Giant deck, but it shouldn't have influenced the vote that much! Looking back on my run on Building on a Budget (which I've done in this article, yay! See, I really do love lists!), I had an awful lot of Johnny decks. I would never have pegged my readership to view me as a Timmy, but hey, maybe there was some Timmy there. Timmy likes Battle of Wits because it's big and flashy, Johnny likes Battle of Wits because it's a toolbox with near-infinite silver-bullets, and Spike likes Battle of Wits because it posts a 75% win percentage. Hootie hoo!

Column #106: Counterintelligence

I knew that my time on the column was coming to an end, and I had been floating the idea of a Power Conduit deck for quite some time. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to get this column written before I stepped down from this site. First you make the Peanuts, then you make the peanut butter!

Column #107 – #111: The Final Five!

The Final Five: Black!
The Final Four: Blue!
The Final Three: Green!
The Final Two: Red!
The Final One

Over the course of two and a half years, I opened the majority of my columns by stressing that my definition (and this column's definition) of a budget was a deck that cost 30 tickets or less using Magic Online pricing. To hammer this point home, I spent (hours and hours and hours of) time researching every budget rare on Magic Online (half a ticket or less), making lists (yay lists!), and evolving my final five decks based upon a start of 35 rares / 25 basic lands.

I didn't get a single letter of complaint about the decks being off-budget.

Huh.

My favorite evolution was the white deck, because it took off in unexpected directions. It really exemplified my run on the column: teaching people about why certain shades of difference make all the difference (who can forget the game I won because I had Arrest instead of Faith's Fetters?), and showing that even the smallest of cards can win in the mightiest of circumstances (Squire plus Wrap in Vigor? Who'd have thought?) Most of all, it gave me an excuse to once again link an article to itself, and leave people wondering... what white deck? Wasn't that supposed to be this week's column? Did Ben really just leave us hanging with one and a half of the Final Five decks completely missing from this site?

And to that I say: good night, good day, and thank you ever so much for joining me for the past two plus years here at magicthegathering.com, as I bid farewell to you, the reader, and the Building on a Budget column. Take care!

Ben

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