Magic: the Gathering Deck-Building 101

magiclogoHey everyone, it’s that time again! Instead of Combos, I want to talk a little about deck building strategies today. With Worlds in Rome just finishing up, that means in a couple months, the 2010 rounds of Grand Prixes and Pro Tours are starting up! Yours truly will be entering the Grand Prix in Oakland, California with my favorite style of deck, which I’m going to talk about today. It’s called “Mill” by a lot of people and the main principle of it is to use your cards to get rid of your opponent’s libraries (decks). It can be played fast and cheap with cards like Tome Scour and slow, but efficient like Traumatize.

I’d like to say before I get started that this is, in no way, the only way to make a deck. After playing for over 5 years, this is just the way I’ve discovered works best for me and my group of friends and local players. It’s meant to be a guide and to offer tips and a new way of thinking and looking at everything, not the sole way. That said, let’s get started.

The first thing any deck needs is an idea. This deck’s idea is mill, so I’m going to search my collection for any and all cards that have that effect. For, say, a burn deck, you would want all your cards that have instant effects on opponent life loss. A big creature themed green deck would need big creatures (base power/toughness of 3/3 minimum usually) and cards that give trample and +1/+1 or bigger counters.

card poolAfter you’ve searched all your cards for the ones you want, lay them out. Do you have anything that really sticks out? For mill, it would be something like 3+ Hedron Crabs or a large number of Tome Scours. If you have a good collection of rares, then you might have a couple Twincasts or Traumatizes. If you’ve been playing for a long time, then you might have things like Glimpse the Unthinkable or Wall of Denial. With Zendikar released a few months ago, Archive Traps are available.

Keep in mind while you go through your stacks of cards that you can only have four of each. After you have all of your cards that fit your theme, sort out what you want in the deck. Not all decks will find the benefit of a Tome Scour when a Glimpse the Unthinkable is available. Some walls are better than others, so a Wall of Denial would probably be preferable over a Wall of Air. This is the first time that you have to start narrowing down what you might want in the final product. A good number for this stage, before land, is between 40 and 60. Keep in mind that a good deck won’t just focus on the style of it. For this deck, for instance, you might want to save room for Path to Exile.

A good deck has 24 lands, 36 spells. That’s 60 cards and the minimum for most tournaments, the exception being sealed and drafts. After you have your first round cuts, that stack of 40-60 cards, start narrowing it down to the key pieces. For this mill deck, you’ll probably want to make sure you have the Hedron Crabs, Traumatizes, and other big mill. Once you have this pool of creatures and spells, it should be at about 36 cards. That’s where it should be, but there might still be a few things that you’ll want to take out. Just because you have a lot of mill cards doesn’t mean the deck will work.Seattle Day 1 004

Once you have your base, then you should see where your deck is weak and what it’s not set up to deal with. For example, a slower deck like mill might have a weakness against burn cards. Aggro decks might be weak against quick swarm like Elf-themed decks. Keep in mind, no deck will be strong against everything or at least not without hours and hours of work and a very large collection of cards. If you know what your deck is good and bad against, then you know how to work on your sideboard. In most tournaments, you are allowed a 15-card side deck that can have any cards you might want as replacement.

A good side deck has a couple cards to work against any deck. A mill deck might have a couple extra bounce or removal cards, a few counters, and a couple extra walls. A burn deck might have bigger, more expensive burn sitting there in case they go against really big creatures. It really depends on what the current “big things” are, like Naya Zoo, in tournaments as to what you might be going up against and what you should prepare for. Like in Extended (Mirrodin and newer), Affinity is popular.

After you have your mana/lands in your deck of 36 spells, then it’s time to test it out. Either you can play the goldfish, which is a means of testing your deck in a mock game against an invisible opponent, or you can get a friend or two that want to play. Play a few games against different decks so you have a feel of what your deck can handle and how it plays overall.

Don’t be afraid of editing your deck in between games and after your testing session. A really good deck doesn’t come out of one shot. It requires some work and some thought. Keep at it and don’t be afraid to lose a few games. Even the pros lose. Now, a special treat for the curious. Below, in the little table, is my mill deck. I’ve spent a few months (and probably more money in trades) than I really should have, but I plan on testing it and taking it to the Grand Prix I mentioned earlier.

Happy Building!

Creatures: 4x Hedron Crab
2x Wall of Denial
2x Wall of Frost
2x Gomazoa
2x Belltower Sphinx
1x Vampire Hexmage
Spells: 3x Mind Funeral
2x Tome Scour
2x Archive Trap
2x Ravenous Trap
2x Traumatize
2x Twincast
2x Logic Knot
2x Glimpse the Unthinkable
2x Path to Exile
1x Haunting Echoes
1x Trapmaker’s Snare
1x Induce Paranioa
Planeswalker: 1x Jace Beleren
Lands: 12x Islands
5x Swamp
4x Terramorphic Expanse
3x Plains
Sideboard: 2x Unsummon
2x Countersquall
2x Perplex
2x Wall of Faith
2x Wall of Air
2x Tome Scour
1x Jace Beleren
1x Induce Paranoia
1x Vampire Hexmage
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