Patriot Games

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Deck building 101

I have started this blog about 4 times now and have not been able to capture the feel for the subject in quite the right way.  I've tried mentioning net decking and it's strengths and weaknesses, using your intuition to look for cards with natural synergy and several other tacks.  I was not happy with any of them so I have started again once more.

Deck building is an art form all of its own some people get it and some don't.  That is a fairly negative statement to start with but its true.  There are some really great Pro Magic players who can't build a deck for toffee!  Others, and I will name Mike Flores as a prime example here, are truly innovative deck builders whose ability as players does not reflect their understanding of card synergy and deck design.

Mike's knowledge and deck building skills do not translate 
to as many wins as they should.

So what can we do to make ourselves better deck builders?  There are things which we can ask themselves when looking at cards to put together which may help when it comes to building decks.  Rather than do a top ten tips list I am going to use a number of words to remember when building decks and hopefully this will provide you with a "formula" to use when building decks.

Lets take a look at the above card.  This card is a prime example of "value" with regards to mana cost against what it potentially does.  A 1 mana 1/2 guy is slightly above the standard for 1 mana which is good in itself.  Then we look at what he can do once he doesn't have summoning sickness; turn 3 Thraktusk - no problem, make your Lightning bolt say BR deal 5 damage to target player - sure thing, exile the snapcaster that you flashed in as a chump blocker and gain 2 more life - and why not?  This card is amazing it also stops the mad rush of Stromkirk Noble from getting in ad gaining +1/+1 counters (its not a human but an Elf - oh wait elves are like a deck or something I think).  Value is all about cards that "do" something other than just give you a man, mostly with Enter the Battlefield (ETB) effects.  Prime examples of these are Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel and of course the M11/M12 Titans cycle.

A card with obvious value...

So value is a card that costs about what it should but has extra benefits and is something we look for when we are building decks.  Not all cards that have ETB/keyword effects are worth playing.  Trained Caracal is a bad card but people keep including it in decks at FNM Relax, please don't.  Some cards have greater value in other formats than they do in standard, Deathrite Shamen is very playable in Legacy as an anti Tarmogoyf card among other things.

A game winning combo with Restoration Angel.

The second thing I want to look at is Synergy.  I looked up the definition of synergy and found this;

"Synergy is when two or more forces come together with a positive effect."

Kiki Jiki in combination with various other cards was a massively strong combo in the recent Modern GP where it would win out of nowhere and people found it very hard to do anything about it.  

Synergy is talked about a lot when it comes to Magic, not just in combo but for all decks.  Cards that work together can make exceptionally strong pairings and give you massive advantage against your opponent.  For synergy to really make an impact your deck has to have a purpose or plan, it needs to do something and for you to know in advance what that thing is.  I know that sounds kind of obvious right?  You would be amazed how many people don't know exactly what their deck does and lose games as a result!  Mike Boon tells a great story of a game he played one time at quite high level where he had to tell the guy he was playing how to play his deck!  If you have a clear idea what your deck does you should find it easy to build decks with synergy as you can recognise which cards will work with which in order to obtain your desired outcome with your deck.

Why do I see this card so much?

There are some cards which are the opposite of value and I just wanted to pick on one of them right now - Wayfaring Temple.  When you play this card the only creature you can be sure you will have is itself.  This means you are paying 3 mana for a 1/1 guy that comes in and does nothing.  If you have some guys or tokens in play he is bigger and should you be lucky enough to get him through to a player (he doesn't have trample so can be chump blocked all day) you get another token, as long as you had one to start off with.  That's a lot of ifs.  Good cards don't need ifs, they are good cards that get better if...  For the same price Centaur Healer gives you a guaranteed 3/3 creature and you get the incidental life gain of 3 when it comes in as well for the exact same amount of mana.  This fortunately goes into the next essential element of deck building - consistency.

Consistently good in so many things.

Thragtusk has been seeing high levels of play all over the place recently.  His synergy with Restoration Angel is obvious, chump block with him, flash in Restoration Angel, Target Thragtusk, Blink out get a 3/3 Beast, blink in gain 5 life and now have an extra 6 power on the table to swing with.  So how do we make sure that we can do this consistently?  Well 4 Thragtusk and 4 Restoration Angel make the likely hood of pulling off the above much greater.  Consistency is about far more than just putting 4 of each key card into the deck it is about every card in the deck getting you closer to winning.  In this case Farseek is your friend to ramp a bit and drop a turn 4 Thraktusk.  A turn 3 Garruk Relentless that gets flipped will help you go find the Angel or Thragtusk if you need them, and make your deck more consistent.

Sometimes the right common is the perfect piece of the puzzle.

In my Eldrazi ramp deck that I played in Standard when Rise was legal every card in the deck worked towards casting Emrakul and his Eldrazi buddies.  Explore allowed me to consistently drop a turn 3 Primeval Titan and go get those Eldrazi Temples/Eye of Ugin.

So next time you want to build a deck for FNM remember these words:

  • Value
  • Synergy
  • Consistency

That's all for the blog until after Christmas.  Mr Smith and myself will again be teaming up to take on all challengers this Friday in 2 Headed Giant at FNM Relax with a combination of Esper tokens and Bant Tempo.  So from all at Patriot Games Sheffield and the Magic team let me wish you;

and a 
Happy New Year!

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