In my previous article I discussed the creation of a solid manabase, but that is really the second phase in the construction of a new deck. In this article I will attempt to show you how I create my decks, and hopefully provide some useful information for you to create fun new decks or enhance your old ones.
First of all, I will not be speaking of so-called "net decks", or decks lacking creativity, since you don't think of them yourself. Although a competitive environment might give you little choice (since rogue decks don't tend to do very well in tournaments, unless your name is Guillaume Wafo-Tapa), if you are using netdecks, you don't need my guidance, as you don't have to go through the deck-development process.
When creating your own decks for casual purposes, you only need two things: inspiration and creativity. Inspiration comes first. There are several ways in which a new idea for a deck is born. Often you simply stumble upon a certain card, and think of how much fun it would be if you could cast that card under certain circumstances. Thieves Auction, for example, isn't a very strong card, but it's very fun to play.
The oracle text on Thieves Auction says: "Set aside all nontoken permanents. Starting with you, each player chooses one of the cards set aside and puts it into play tapped under his or her control. Repeat this process until all those cards have been chosen." It's obvious that this is a card which requires a lot of thought to turn it into the core of a deck, but once you've managed that, you would probably end up with a funny UR "steal everything you can" deck.
If you start with a single card, look for cards that will work well with it. In this case, Brand would be a great addition, since it'll allow you to gain control of all your permanents once again. Start by looking at your own collection, and if you can't find enough to build a deck yet, take a look at the Wizards Gatherer, or a similar database. The more options you have, the better. Test some cards, then replace them with others, just to see what works best.
A fundamentally different approach is starting with a complete strategy, without having any idea what cards to include. An easy example would be the idea of creating a mill-deck, specifically designed to deck your opponent. Once you have such an idea, you can start looking for cards that help you reach this goal as soon as possible. Some cards that come up immediately are Traumatize and Glimpse the Unthinkable. Other options are Drowner of Secrets and Merrow Commerce. As you can see, there are two very different paths you can take here, because using either of those strategies will result in a completely different deck. Traumatize leaves plenty of room for counter backup, while a merfolk theme needs a lot of merfolk, thus also having the option of going beatdown.
Once you have either a single card or a strategy you want to turn into a deck, it's time to start looking for more cards that can be included in your deck. StarCityGames has an excellent search engine, which can customize your search in great detail.
Let's come up with some example decks. I came up with this deck after opening a timeshifted Leviathan in a Time Spiral booster. It's a tribal-themed deck, built around Leviathans.
I started by looking up all Leviathans in magic (excluding changelings). I went with a monoblue approach, since the Leviathan I already had needed 4 blue mana to cast. To my surprise, there were only 7 monoblue Leviathans, two of which had a drawback I wasn't interested in (Sky Swallower says "when ~ comes into play, target opponent gains control of all other permanents you control", while Eater of Days makes me skip my next two turns) and another was simply an overcosted 3/3 islandwalker.
The five that remained formed an 18-card core of the deck:
- Grozoth (6UUU, 9/9 defender. When Grozoth comes into play, you may search your library for any number of cards that have converted mana cost 9, reveal them, and put them into your hand. If you do, shuffle your library. 4: Grozoth loses defender until end of turn. Transmute 1UU)
This card is actually perfect, as it allows me to fill my hand with Leviathans, since I have twelve 9-costing Leviathans in the deck.
- Jokulmorder (4UUU, 12/12 trample. Jokulmorder comes into play tapped. When Jokulmorder comes into play, sacrifice it unless you sacrifice five lands. Jokulmorder doesn't untap during your untap step. Whenever you play an Island, you may untap Jokulmorder.)
With this card came the idea for a few more cards, which will be included below
- Leviathan (5UUUU, 10/10 trample. Leviathan comes into play tapped and doesn't untap during your untap step. At the beginning of your upkeep, you may sacrifice two Islands. If you do, untap Leviathan. Leviathan can't attack unless you sacrifice two Islands.)
Again one that requires the sacrifice of islands and doesn't untap.
- Marjhan (5UU, 8/8. Marjhan doesn't untap during your untap step. Marjhan can't attack unless defending player controls an Island. When you control no Islands, sacrifice Marjhan. UU, Sacrifice a creature: Untap Marjhan. Play this ability only during your upkeep. UU: Marjhan gets -1/-0 until end of turn and deals 1 damage to target attacking creature without flying.)
Although this is a Leviathan, it's not a very good one, as it can't attack unless the defending player has an island. It's a very solid blocker, though. Because it can't attack, I decided to use only 2.
- Thing from the Deep (6UUU, 9/9. Whenever Thing from the Deep attacks, sacrifice it unless you sacrifice an Island.)
All I have to say here is that I absolutely adore the name.
What strikes me immediately after compiling this list is that almost all require a large number of lands to be sacrificed. This makes Crucible of Worlds an auto 4-off. Another thing is that Leviathans require a huge amount of mana, so I should find something for that.
When I was searching for things that make my Leviathans cheaper I came up with two possibilities. First of all, there's Urza's Incubator, which makes all my spells with a certain creature type 2 colorless mana cheaper. At a cost of only 3 mana, that's a card I have to play. The other card I came across is Sapphire Medallion, which makes all my blue spells 1 mana cheaper. I'm not sure whether this is worth including, but I'll certainly keep it in mind as a possibility, as it's definitely better than an artifact that makes blue mana.
Then we come at the other drawback most Leviathans seem to have: they don't untap easily. Simply searching for "untap target creature" comes up with plenty of solutions though. The cards I like best are Aphetto Alchemist - because it's cheap and doesn't require mana to activate, and Puppeteer, because it can be used to tap opposing creatures as well, thus buying me some time.
Including all these cards, I've created the following decklist:
4x Urza's Incubator
4x Sapphire Medallion
4x Thing from the Deep
4x Aphetto Alchemist
4x Crucible of Worlds
The cards I've found added up to 38, which left me with room for 22 islands. That should be enough, even though I would like to get my first 6 or so land drops. With 8 artifacts that make my Leviathans cheaper and 4 Crucibles I wouldn't be running short soon though. I decided against running fetchlands for two reasons. One, I'm not sure if I can afford the life. Paying one life might seem like a small price to pay, but since the earliest Leviathan I could drop wouldn't reasonably come before turn 5 or 6, so I'd rather be on the safe side. Second, I don't need the deck-thinning functions of fetchlands. I want to draw a lot of islands, as I'll get plenty of Leviathans from casting a Grozoth.
I haven't created or tested this deck yet, but it seems fun to set an Incubator to "Leviathan" and see the look on your opponent's face. I fear it's a bit light on protection for my creatures, so the only thing I can do is hope they'll stick around, as I can't make a lot of room for protection. The problem is of course that my bashers are very expensive, leaving very little room (manawise) for protection.
Now that we've got a deck from scratch using a predefined strategy, let's try to make one starting with a single card. Here's another deck I've imagined, but have not yet actually built yet. Again, it only exists on paper. The card I used is Umbilicus, which says "At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player pays 2 life or returns a permanent he or she controls to its owners hand." I played this card in my Confusion in the Ranks deck, in which it got abused by my opponent who played an enchantment, gaining control of Confusion, then during his upkeep, returned it to its owner's hand, which was not the way I intended it. Therefore, I took it out of the deck, but I figured it could work quite well in a deck with some free creatures and perhaps some bounce.
Building a deck around a single card can be tricky, simply because you won't always draw the card when you need it. Therefore I added some tutors to the deck, and Fabricate seems like a good choice. I came up with a basic gameplan: First, I wanted to drop an Umbilicus as soon as possible, then let my opponent either pay 2 life every upkeep, and then bounce whatever he played, or let him take a permanent to his hand. If this was the case, I needed a way to kill my opponent. Fortunately, there are a few artifacts which help me achieve just that: Black Vise and Ebony Owl Netsuke.
Now that I have a kill condition in the deck, it's time to add some utility. Blue is an excellent color to draw cards, especially combined with artifacts, so I included Thoughtcast and Thirst for Knowledge. To prevent my opponent from destroying Umbilicus, I added a way of retrieving it: Academy Ruins, a card that gives me access to Intuition to use as a tutor as well.
Combined with the free artifacts and bounce I spoke of earlier, this resulted in the following decklist:
4x Thirst for Knowledge
1x Echoing Truth
4x Welding Jar
3x Black Vise
3x Ebony Owl Netsuke
1x Tolarian Academy
4x Seat of the Synod
4x Tolaria West
3x Academy Ruins
Again this adds up to 22 lands, I don't seem to be following my own article about manabases. The thing here is that I have no need for more than 4 mana and with the Academy I have all the mana I want.
Now that you've seen how I create my decks, here are some specific points to keep in mind while building your own.
The problem I often run into is that I select way too many cards for a deck, so I have to choose some that won't make it into the deck. These choices can be very hard, and it's not uncommon that I change my mind after testing the deck. It can be almost impossible to predict which one will be the better choice, so the only thing I can advise is to try them both, then determine which one you like best.
Remember that these are only guidelines to help you make these choices.
First of all, creating a deck is more than selecting a bunch of cards that work well together, but at the same time that's exactly what you should be doing! All decks have a theme. Whether it's a creature type, a strategy or a single card doesn't matter, but any deck has a purpose. When you decide if you should include a certain card in your deck, think if it fits in this theme, and if it doesn't, you can most likely cut it.
Choices such as this aren't static, you can always change a deck if you don't like the way a certain card performs in it, don't forget your theme, but don't get too stuck in it either - find the balance.
Don't decide against running a card because of some drawback it might have; see if you can find a way around it. For example, I never thought of using Intuition until I went looking for a way to get Umbilicus back to my hand when it got killed. If I can tutor up 3 Umbilicus, then put them on my library one by one, Intuition suddenly becomes a lot better than Fabricate.
There are plenty of free artifacts available. Ornithopter was the first I considered, while Welding Jar served double-duty, protecting my key artifacts.
And here are a few points you should generally give some thought to when you are looking for inspiration:
When you create a new deck, take your local metagame into account. The Leviathan-deck above wouldn't win any games in a metagame which is full of (mass-)removal, while the Umbilicus deck wouldn't be my first choice in an Affinity-infested environment.
When everyone brings the same decks over and over again, it's easy to predict what kind of deck can come out on top. Then you can attempt to create just that deck. During the process of thinking about the cards you will play, keep in mind that a card which is vulnerable to a lot of things that are currently being played in your metagame might not be the best option you have.
Try something new
Don't be afraid to try something completely different than what you're used to. Magic is a great game because it's so incredibly diverse. Doing something original makes the game much more enjoyable.
It's alright if you don't win many games. A fun deck which can pull off an incredible combo once is already worth playing.
Since you should now have plenty of things to use while building your own deck, go ahead! Build something new, and play with it.
If something doesn't work the way you had planned, replace it by something that does. Almost every deck is flexible enough to allow some minor changes, and if you want some major ones, don't let anyone stop you.
A deck is your own creation, do with it as you like.
Keep an eye out for my next series of articles, in which I'll attempt to give you all some strategic advice on how to actually play the game, and to determine the best course of action given a certain set of options.
Until then, enjoy yourself while building some new decks!
Special thanks to Eric Turgeon for proofreading and providing me with some tips on writing.