On Deckbuilding

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LP, of the Fires
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On Deckbuilding

Postby LP, of the Fires » Fri Aug 09, 2013 4:47 am

The Honorable Patrick Chapin recently wrote a book on how to build decks. I'm probably not going to by it(though I should), but I've been thinking about the evolution of magic how decks are and have been built for a while so I thought I'd throw some of my musings out there for the forum dwellers in aim get people thinking. There have been countless thousands of articles on the subject and many great deckbuilders throught the history of magic, but hey, I figured why not throw my lot in there.

To begin with, it's important that you know what your purpose in building a deck is for. Are you building for fun? Casual kitchen table magic or less casual FNM? Or the competitive grinder? This is going to be geared towards the latter subset of players, so if you do not hold winning as the greatest pursuit, this is not for you. But winning doesn't mean that you aren't having fun! Merely that fun is the byproduct
of winning.

So you know that you want to win the most possible games of magic, and you want to build the deck that best enables you to achieve this goal. Well, luckily for you, the internet does 99% of the work for you. If you are at the middling level of competitive magic(which most of you are) netdecking is a fine place to start. But that's boring so we'll delve deeper. The first thing you need to know when setting yourself to the task of creating the next Caw-Blade is knowing what type of metagme you're in. There are basically two types of metagames. The the tier two metagame as some would call it or simply "The Wild West" , and the established meta. Note that when you find yourself in the Wild West, there are still established decks. Here's a quick and dirty description of the two:

In the Wild West, you're dealing with a relatively open field where there are multiple versions of all archetypes and in a sense "everything" is playable. You'll routinely see different decks
winning GPs each week with very diversified top 8's. Examples of Tier 2 metagames include Legacy(off and on), RTR standard at the beginning of the season, and original Ravnica block where I don't think there was ever a best deck.

In the established metagame, there is a small number of top decks(usually less then 4 which are your regular winners) and a bunch of tier 1.5 and tier 2 strategies which see play, but usually have a bad, nearly unwinnable matchup against one of the top dogs. Examples include Caw Blade standard, Delver standard, and I consider todays standard an Established Meta with the "Big Three" being Jund, UWR, and various G/R aggressive decks.

There are pro's and cons to both types of formats and I personally prefer the latter though I'd wager I'm in the minority. In the Wild West, since the field is so open, you're free to play whatever you like the most a large majority of the time, no matter what it is with the downside of it being hard to prepare for the other decks.
In more established fields, you're usually given the choice of playing one of the top decks, or brewing something aimed at beating one of the boogeyman. In the former case, you get an edge by simply playing something powerful and usually proactive. In the latter, Knowledge of the format goes a longer way in my opinion and it can be very rewarding playing a top deck if you're comfortable with mirror matches.

Moving on, once you've figured out your operating zone, you can begin brewing. The first thing you should do when you begin brewing is obviously to have an idea of what type of deck you want to play. It can be an elf ramp deck, a blue control deck, a red agro deck, whatever, just try to have an idea of what you want to be doing. Once you've found your goal, makes sure that your deck has a powerful proactive gameplan, and then check to see if you aren't building a worse version of an existing deck. The WORST thing you can do is spend all your time building a mono-blue draw go deck only to find out
that the U/B control deck that won the World Championships is strictly better.

After you've gotten this far, what I like to do is I like to remember decks from previous formats that functioned similarly and see if there are existing cards that fill the same roles. The danger here is that context is king in Magic the Gathering and you could end up setting yourself up for failure by blind copying cards from say Demigod Red that served a particular purpose in 08 but have no purpose in 2013. But you wouldn't make that mistake would you? Didn't think so. Another resource at your fingertips are the articles of the great deckbuilders of Magic Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Regardless how one may feel about pro players, it's foolish to reject there thoughts out of turn. Chapin said he doesn't care about how write or wrong information is, merely how useful is it, and most information is very useful, especially if current because you aren't the only person reading it.

example would be if you wanted to build a white weenie deck. There is one magic player who's name is synonymous with WW and that's Craig Wescoe. If he's writing about standard, he's writing about the next white knight and how best he can utilize it. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS RESOURCE. The magic players who historically play 1 type of archetype are going to know it very well because they've played it in many pro tours against the best players in the world. I can say as someone who's played a LOT of blue control in the past as a magic player that when you play an archetype for long enough, you begin to recognize board states and patterns giving you insight into said archetype. At the end of this article, I will leave a list of players and theoryists that have greatly influenced me as a magic player.

Alright. So far, we've identified what type of deck we wanted to play, we've checked to see if there's a better version out there already, and we've done some research on similar decks of the past. Now
what? Glad you asked. Now we start working on the details. The key to a good magic deck is having a solid curve, good mana(not too good, not too fragile), a comfortable power/consistency ratio, and a good sideboard.

I define a good curve as being able to use as much of your mana each turn for the first 5 turns at the best consistency possible. People usually think of curves being exclusive to agro decks, but that's blatantly wrong. Every deck has a curve, they're just different. In time spiral block when think twice was first printed, there was a UB draw go https://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/ ... y/deck/641. You typically don't think of control decks having a curve but this deck did and think twice was a large part of that. The deck had 7 turn one plays(tapped watery grave counts along with spell snare), a million turn 2 plays with various 2 mana counters, a couple turn three
plays, and dreadship reef along with repeal as mana sinks. In standard, todays Jund deck has a powerful curve. A million tapped lands plus tragic slip which it can play on turn 1, farseek plus removal which can be played turns two through three, and Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk into Oliva crushing dreams since the birth of Reid Duke as an elite player. And this deck has even more powerful mana sinks in Kessig Wolf Run and [card]Rakdos's Return[/card]. In the agro decks, it's obvious that you usually want 8 one drops, 8 two drop, at least 4 three drops etc. but even in the midrange and control decks, you can't be durdling, wasting mana until turn 4/5 when your CA tools start coming on line.

The next thing you need is good mana. This seems obvious, but there's a happy medium between good mana and mana that's TOO good. Mana is too good when you never
have mana problems but neither are you getting any value out of your lands other then mana. If you're playing naya midrange on 24 lands with 4 mana dorks and no utility lands, your mana is likely two good and you'd be better served squeezing in a kessig wolf run or something to help mitigate flood and get added value from your lands. Control's been doing this basically forever with value lands like nephalia drownyard, stalking stones, dessert, etc. With agro decks, this is rarely an issue because you usually want consistency to trump power and having perfect mana goes a long way towards this goal allowing you to have the greatest number of turn 4/5 kills with the least amount of stumbling issues. If you're playing a mono-colored deck, you're ironically usually less inclined to include value lands as generally you're playing 1 color to maximize the power of color intensive spells a la demigod of revenge, predator ooze, or phyrexian obliterator.

Once you've established your curve, examine you're
decks power vs. it's consistency while keeping an eye towards your mana base the entire time. An exteme example would be Blecher in legacy. For those of you not in the know, belcher is a turn 1/2 combo deck in legacy that cares only about whether or not it's going to mulligan. The deck consistently goes off on turn 1/2 but because it auto loses to disruption, I wouldn't call it very powerful. It's simply linear. The opposite example would be naya blitz in standard. This deck is absurdly powerful in the draws it can have, but it's a 3 color agro deck that runs 20/21 lands so it's consistency is...suspect. When you're opener is temple garden, clifftop, 1 drop, burning-tree, double 2-drop, ghor-clan, you feel like there's no way you can lose. When your opener is cavern, champion, medic, boar, silverblade paladin, ghor-clan, burning-tree, you agonize over your mulligan, keep, don't hit your second land draw ever and die terribly. Also bant Hexproof. And that's ok. Ultimately, there's no right or wrong
answer with deck consistency. It's all about what you're willing to accept. A general guidline though would be agro decks want more consistency then power(usually), Midrange decks are in the middle leaning towards power, and control decks want pure power with draw spells and removal plugging holes to try and make your deck consistent.

After all of THAT is done, check to make sure your sideboard compliments your maindeck. Most people build there 60 first(I'm guilty of this as well), but a deck is 75 cards and your sideboard is just as important if not moreso then your main since you're playing more board games then game 1's assuming you don't 2-0 all of your competition in which case you either need better competition or quite frankly don't need to be reading this. Good sideboards come in all forms, but you always want to make sure that you don't dilute your decks plan by sideboarding. Sideboarding is also an art more then a science. I advocate powerful, but flexible cards in sideboards to allow
more fluid boarding, hence my sideboards often have many 1-ofs. It's better to have a doom blade and a go for the throat, then to have two go for the throats and get paired against affinity or 2 doom blades and face zombies. This applies more to main decks, but even in boarding, I've been known to have a ground sealand a grafdiggers cage especially in more open fields. It's also important to make sure your board cards do what they're actually meant to do. For this reason I highly recommend you test boarded games more then you do because most people don't do it enough. Nobody every beat dredge just by sideboarding in some copies of extripate. I imagine it would suck thinking your junk reanimator matchup was awesome with 3 [card]rest in peace's[/card]in your sideboard only to lose to thragtusk, restoration angel and multiple beast tokens. It's worth noting that a very valid sideboarding option is a "transformative
sideboard" or at least having a transformative package. You see this in UWR flash decks that board in 3 thundermaw hellkites against 70% of there matchups to position themselves as the beatdown or UR combo decks that could switch between splinter twin combo and a control deck between games.

This deckbuilding guide was rough, but I plan on updating in the future and below as promised is a list of players who are masters of there archetype.

White Weenie: Craig Wescoe

Green agro midrange: Brian Kibler

Sac Themes: Sam Black

Mono Red: Patrick Sullivan

Red Aggro and Combo(in general): Tomohora Saito

Tezzeret...: Shouta Yasooka

U Control: Guillamo Wafo-Tapa, Gerry Thompson, Patrick Chapin

Elves: Matt Ness

Tapout Control: Shaheen Soorani

Mana Acceleration and High Threat density: Zvi Moshowitz

Brewers: Caleb Durward

Theorists: Mike Flores, Adrian Sullivan

I've read articles by all of these players/personalities minus Wafo and the Japanese and they all have either
mastered there archetype or contributed an enormous amount of knowledge to myself and the magic community as a whole. I endorse there writings 100% for whatever that's worth.
You gotta understand, I love the beatdown. I really do. I always have.

Beatdown is hard, though.

Patrick chapin

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