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"The (Casual) Deck," Part One
By David James Bruce
“The (Casual) Deck”
Part One: History, Concepts, and Theory
David James Bruce, aka theBruce58

A great writer once wrote, “How would you like to learn about a deck even Kai Budde might take a while to master?” The statement inspired me, even more so today, although I suspect for reasons not guessed, at the moment. To be polite, I will certainly expound on my interest in this deck, “The Deck,” and more specifically how and why I intend to fill a few coffee breaks with more words written on this powerful archetype.

“The Deck,” as presented by Brian Weissman in 1995, was entirely a tournament phenomena – why write about it on the Casual Player’s Alliance, a website that by its definition is dedicated to casual content? The answers are neither myriad, nor soundingly deep, but I will hope to entertain while we examine the latent interest I have in “The Deck.”

“The (Casual) Deck”: History

Please note that the following work is built on the shoulders of far greater articles: “The Deck, May ’95-Nov ’96,” by Frank Kusomoto (1 Apr 1997, TheDojo.com), “Type One On A Budget,” by Oscar Tan (14 Jan 2001, BeyondDominia.com), “The Control Player’s Bible,” by Oscar Tan (Ongoing work, Star City Games).

At the risk of treading ground that may well be worn flat by exposure by greater authors than myself, I find myself returning again and again to a deck built over ten years ago by a man I have never met. It arose in California, amidst a healthy Magic: the Gathering scene. A school of thought, pioneered by Brian Weissman, put forth the idea that a deck can focus on something other than winning; that of surviving. It took time, but the idea spread and became the school of thought now known as Control (within the tiered paradigm of Aggro-Control-Combo). And thus was begun the great pyramid of Magic: the Gathering.

Frank Kusomoto, in his capacity as editor of the fine site theDojo.com, put together a collection of writings by authors all discussing the above into a cohesive whole. The collections were in three parts; “The Deck,” May ’95-Dec ’95, “The Deck,” Jan ’96-Aug ’96, and “The Deck,” Nov ’96. These articles can still be found here and there about the ‘net. I would offer URLs, here, but any I would so offer would likely be defunct as of the publishing of this article. Suffice it to say that any search engine should lead you on the right track by using keywords like “The Deck” or “Brian Weissman.”

After these venerable writings were offered, the editor of the fine site BeyondDominia.com put together another relevant (to our discussion) posting of thoughts entitled “Type One On A Budget.” While we, as casual players, traditionally adhere to no set of rules (such as the denomination “Type One”), the article itself contains theory and deck building tips that are very specifically relevant to our current discussion. Any record of this article has been tragically lost, at least by the searches conducted by this author, around the ‘net. Any reply to this article with a current URL to this work would be much appreciated.

The final contribution to the relevant parts of this manuscript by other authors comes in the form of an ongoing dialogue into the evolution, concepts and theories of the aforementioned “The Deck,” posted by one Oscar Tan, Featured Writer for StarCityGames.com. These writings are still available and may be located by conducting an “Author Search” on the StarCityGames.com website; look for the title “The Control Player’s Bible.” Note that there are numerous entries under this heading.

“The (Casual) Deck”: Concepts

As has been an issue of debate on this fine website, recently, we must first grasp the concept of playing “The (Casual) Deck”; winning is not the goal of play. Once this concept has been embraced and accepted, one is ready to accept the larger world that is “The (Casual) Deck.” It helps to establish that your self-esteem, your success in life and/or your self-worth as a person is not tied intrinsically into the outcome of this game of cards. “The (Casual) Deck” is designed for one purpose, and that purpose is not to win, it is to survive.

Going further, Brian Weissman himself posited that once you take care of not losing, winning takes care of itself. Our intent, however, is not to win through negligence of the intent to win, our intent is to survive. “The (Casual) Deck” is a puzzle, an intellectual Rubik’s Cube put together by sixty (or less or more) cards, to be examined and enjoyed each and every time the collection is picked up to play. Many times, it may seem as if you lose sight of your opponent, now only concerned with the board state, the cards he/she plays. Do not lose sight of the social aspects of the game, and remember to treat your opponents with courtesy, attention and respect. Bear in mind, however, that you are as much playing a game with yourself as you are with your opponent.

And, above all else, do not be afraid to lose. Or, better yet, to draw in a tie match.

“The (Casual) Deck”: Theory

Theory One: Interaction Is Key

What I fervently intend with “The (Casual) Deck” is a collection of cards which, when played, will perform at, or better, than fifty-percent win-to-loss ratio against any deck, any time, anywhere. The goal is not to win, mind you. The goal is interaction.

Why state a desire for a win-to-loss ratio, then? Excellent observation, and I may be utilizing confusing terminology; my apologies. What my intent is with a fifty-percent ‘win-to-loss ratio’ is that in fifty percent, or more, of games played with “The (Casual) Deck,” the deck participates in a meaningful and lively manner. Further, that it never finds itself in a situation in which it cannot interact with the opposing deck, in some way.

More specifically, my intent is a deck that ‘rolls’ to no particular archetype, that it does not lay down and die to any particular deck, no matter the format or content. Let me further clarify that I am not looking for an unbeatable build (if such a thing is even possible); I’m looking for a build that cannot ever be shut out by any particular deck, casual or otherwise.

A secondary interest is a deck in which you learn something new about card interaction or, better yet, player interaction every single game. A build that cannot be shut out and that will not shut out the opponent, as well. Again, we return to a fervent desire for interaction and a collection of cards that further that aim. It is not important simply to be a solid coin-toss to play, but also a solid coin-toss to play against. For example, instead of playing an Enlightened Tutor or Golden Wish for your Light of Day to shut out your opponent’s Black-based Shadow creature deck, you fetch instead Story Circle, which is limited by your available White mana and far stronger against far more decks than Light of Day. Instead of ‘silver bulleting’ your friends’ decks, you take on the theory that you could face not only their decks, but every deck on the internet and beyond, as well. You’re prepared not just for them, but for anything.

The above is the most important theory (and, indeed, concept) of “The (Casual) Deck.” Once grasped, we can move on to the more specific aspects of constructing this monstrosity.

Theory Two: Budget Tiering

Let me be completely frank in that I, even being a working adult, find nothing casual about spending more than 5.00 USD on any given slip of cardboard, regardless of effect or art. Certainly, others will disagree, however, I don’t feel I’m completely alone in this notion. It follows naturally, then, that a tiering of affordability will mitigate what cards may, or may not, make the cut for possible inclusion in any theoretical builds for “The (Casual) Deck.” I present the following theoretical tiering structure for the sake of continuance within this article:

Tier One: I would consider any card retailing for less than, or equal to, 1.00 USD to be considered ‘tier one,’ that can be afforded by anyone, regardless of income. Most, if not all, commons should fall into this category, and many uncommons, besides. Depending on retailer, there may even be rare cards that would fall into this category. I base this on personal experience; the local card shop in Marietta, OH, has a ‘Dollar Rare Box,’ and charges only 1.00 USD + tax for cards therein, some of which are quite valuable.

Tier Two: I would further consider any card retailing for greater than 1.00 USD, but less than 5.00 USD to be in this category. Based largely on personal experience, I would fill this tier with tournament-relevant ‘chase’ uncommons, strong rares and most cards found in a binder or box at a local retailer. These cards I would contend are still largely available to most, if not all, players.

Tier Three: These gems are likely from over 5.00 USD to 10.00 USD, containing powerhouse cards like non-tournament ‘chase’ dual lands, newer dual lands (depending on vendor, of course), powerful rares and so on. I would contend that every casual collection has one or two of these, but are not otherwise obtainable without significant effort and expense on the part of collectors.

Tier Four: Much more expensive cards retailing for over 10.00 USD to 20.00 USD, such as ‘chase’ dual lands like Tundra and Underground Sea, and so on. Most casual collections will not contain any copies of these cards and will be largely unobtainable by most casual players.

Tier Five: Anything over 20.00 USD up to 40.00 USD should fall into this category, possibly including foreign power-cards like The Abyss. Like Tier Four, there will likely be no copies of these cards within a casual collection and no plans to obtain any by the casual collector.

Tier Six: Anything above 40.00 USD is getting into the realm of the ‘really expensive,’ such as Mana Drains, various Mox cards and the legendary Black Lotus. These cards are primarily the realm of serious Type One competitors or collectors and will be nothing more than fantastical wishes on the lists of casual players.

When examining each aspect of “The (Casual) Deck,” I will do my best to make suggestions relevant to each tier, based on my own experience and theory. Bear in mind, this entire work is both theoretical and certainly full of limited knowledge or flawed theory; bear all with a grain of salt. My intent is merely to entertain, not present a system of absolutes.

Theory Three: Be Prepared

Once my mantra within the Boy Scouts, the motto is a good rule of thumb to define the third and final theory behind “The (Casual) Deck.” Always have an answer!

This section will detail preparation and card selection for the various archetypes known, or unknown, within the subsequent article to this one.

Indeed I intend to draw down this article to a close, at the present time. The intent, history, concepts and theories of “The (Casual) Deck” have been put forth to wet the appetite of you, fair reader, and I hope to deliver the bulk of specific card selection and evaluation next week.

Thank you for your time and attention,

David James Bruce
Proud Member of the Casual Player’s Alliance; theBruce58

Read More Articles by David James Bruce!

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