Thursday, September 29, 2016

Building a Deck Revisited

Deck building can be one of the most challenging parts of Magic: you have 100s of cards, all of which look great laid out on your kitchen table and you can't bring yourself to cut any of them. There is no easy way to break the habit of the deck of two hundred cards, but you'll find that if you trimmed it down to the standard 60, you'll end up with a well oiled deck ready to hit the battlefield with a fighting chance. If you still like the idea of the mega deck, maybe Commander is the format for you. But... want to play at Friday Night Magic (FNM) or at a local tournament? You'll want to cut that massive deck down to size. 

First rule ~ In any deck you can have 4 cards of the same name with the exception of basic lands. A good way to think of how many of a specific card to include goes something like this...

4 = a card you want to see EVERY game at least once and hopefully in your opening hand
3 = a card you'd be happy to see in your opening hand, but would rather draw into
2 = a card that answers a specific threat or bails you out of a sticky situation
1 = a card for dire straits or to seal the win

2nd RuleVersatility ~ Make sure that the cards you include are the best for the job. There are tons of 2 mana 2/2 creatures (known as bears) that are nothing but a creature, which is fine, but for every 2/2 bear, there are a plethora of 2 mana creatures that do more than just growl. In evolutionary terms, any of the cards below are miles better than Runeclaw Bear: Ashcoat has flash, but Skylasher also can't be countered and has protection from blue for the same mana cost. There's even a deck built around cheap 2 mana creatures called Hate Bears

In the same way, Instants are more versatile than Sorceries, while Charms offer several options- the Swiss Army equivalent for MtG. Azorius Charm offers the best of Unsummon, Lifelink, and Divination in one package at instant speed and, unlike Unsummon, it places the bounced card on top their library messing up their card draw for 1 turn. 

3rd Rule ~  Synergy ~ As powerful and versatile as the spells are in your deck, if they don't work well together, or worse work against each other, then your deck isn't doing all it can do. Power alone is not enough. I'd love to put Ash Zealot in most of my red decks, but if I'm playing cards with flashback or unearth then I'll be bolting myself each time I cast one of those spells. The Warrior Deck below tries to follow these basic ideas- Versatility and Synergy to create a budget deck that's fun to play and competitive. This is the deck for you if you like building an army, removing any and all threats, and swarming your foes before they can recover. Check out a different take on the Black / White Warrior deck (Athreos's Warriors) for other ideas. 

4th Rule ~ Curve ~ The final part of deck design is to ask yourself- will your deck be able to cast spells and play creatures each turn most of the time? If you only load your deck with 4+ mana cost spells, your early game will go something like this: Turn 1- play land, pass turn; Turn 2- play land, pass turn... not too exciting. Plus, what happens if you miss your turn three land drop? You might not be able to cast any spells until turn 5! In the meantime, your opponent will be building an army and attacking for 4-5 free turns before you can do anything. To figure out if your deck is balanced, lay out your cards by mana cost from 1 up and see how many of each type you have in the deck. 

The 60 card Warrior Deck below is an Aggro deck, meaning it is looking to win as quickly as possible. It doesn't have time to beat around the bush and so needs fewer higher mana cards. It wants to flood the field with low-costing creatures and put our opponent on the ropes as quickly as possible. It's curve breaks down as follows:

1 mana ~ 6 spells (3 creatures / 3 removal spells)
2 mana ~ 22 spells (16 creatures / 6 removal spells)
3 mana ~ 5 spells (3 charms / 2 removal)
4 mana ~ 1 spell (Enchantment)
5+ mana ~ 3 spells (3 creatures- 2 sweepers to clear the field and 1 beater)

Our curve is very low with 45% of the deck costing 1-2 mana. Because of this, we'll be happy to see a 2 land opening hand with several of our early threats out. As the game develops, we'll start to see some of our charms and other removal spells to take care of any threats that start to clog the field. If the game gets out of hand, Ankleshanker (our 2 of sweeper) can help clear the board followed by a mid/late game Zurgo to close it out. If we loaded up the deck with more Zurgos and Ankleshankers, we'd be more likely to flood our opening hand with cards that would be dead for several rounds. For an aggressive deck, this curve is perfect to help dish out max damage over the early rounds. 

Mardu Warriors (Tribal Deck) 

  • Disowned Ancestor (B) Common Spirit Warrior (0/4)
  • Chief of the Edge (WB) Uncommon Warrior (3/2) 
  • Chief of the Scale (WB) Uncommon Warrior (2/3)
  • Oreskos Swiftclaw (1W) Common Cat Warrior (3/1)
  • Borderland Marauder (1R) Common Human Warrior (1/2 & 3/2 when it attacks)
  • Mardu Skullhunter (1B) Common Warrior (2/1)
  • Ankle Shanker (2RWB) Rare Goblin Berserker (2/2)
  • Zurgo Helmsmasher (2RWB) Rare Legendary Orc Warrior (7/2)
The goal here is to play early treats that share the creature type Warrior, building synergy from the Chiefs and Raider's Spoils pumping them (+0/+1) with Chief of the Scale and (+1/+0) with Chief of the Edge to ensure they continue to threaten the board. Disowned Ancestor is a great 1 drop to slow down explosive openings with decks that use Monastery Swiftspear. The only non Warrior in the deck is the little goblin that could, Ankle Shanker, who gives all your creatures first strike and deathtouch to sweep the board of any threats (Versatility). Call out Zurgo to wrap things up-


  • 4 Borderland Marauders for War-Name Aspirant or Battle Brawler
  • 3 Disowned Ancestors for Bloodsoaked Champion or Mardu War-Reaper
  • 3 Mardu Charm for Merciless Executioner 

  • Oppressive Rays (W) Common Enchantment- Aura
  • Lightning Strike (1R) Common Instant
  • Mardu Charm (RWB) Uncommon Instant
  • Pillar of Light (2W) Common Instant
  • Ride Down (RW) Uncommon Instant
To get through your foe's defenses, you'll need removal and plenty of it. These spells should take care of most of your opponent's threats while making sure that yours get through round after round. Consider swapping out the Oppressive Rays for Banishing Light (hits all permanents though a little slower) or Suspension Field. Other budget cards worth mentioning: Kill Shot, Magma Spray, Dark Betrayal, Bile Blight, Valorous Stance or Ulcerate. If you can get your hand on Crackling Doom go to town removing their best creatures.

  • 1 Raiders' Spoil (3B) Uncommon Enchantment (Creatures get +1/+0) and allows for card draw

LANDS (23)

To figure out how many different lands to run, add up all the color mana symbols in your spells.


and round up... Black (20), White (25), Red (15) then divide by 10: Black (2), White (2.5), Red (1.5)

This part gets a little tricky with the maths :) but is worth it in the end: For every 2 Swamps I add, I'll need 2 1/2 Plains and 1 1/2 Mountains. Now I'm not one to tear my mountains and plains in half so for an easier fix, double everything to get ride of the half. Now it's simple- for every 4 Swamps I need to add 5 Plains and 3 Mountains. To help balance my land base, I'll use Dual Lands and Tri-Lands for consistency.

  • 5 Plains 
  • 4 Swamps 
  • 3 Mountains
  • 3 Nomad Outpost (taps for R, W, or B)
  • 3 Scoured Barrens (taps for W or B and gains me 1 life)
  • 2 Bloodfell Caves (taps for B or R and gains me 1 life)

For the last three lands, not wanting any more "comes into play tapped lands," I'll add 1 extra Plains, Mountain, and Swamp to round it out. 23 lands is about right for a 3 color deck with most of its spells costing 3 or less mana. The whole deck comes in at around $7.00 dollars as it is built with mostly  Commons costing 10 cents each. Most uncommons here are 25 cents each and the lone Zurgo a whooping $0.65.

For more deck ideas, check out the last post on Aggro Decks.