4 Important Questions Every Good Magic: The Gathering Deckbuilder Should Ask, by David Inglis
Hi, my name is David Inglis. If you are familiar with the UK PPTQ scene, you will have seen me casting Dig Through Time, Glimmer of Genius and the like. I am 24 and currently residing in Nottingham where I work as a Health Care Assistant. My plan is to go back to university this September and pursue an MA in American Studies/American Literature. In terms of Magic, I have played the World Magic Cup and have numerous RPTQ appearances, and I played at Pro Tour Fate Reforged. My strengths in Magic: the Gathering are playing control decks and fine tuning a decklist. I very rarely build decks from the ground up, although sometimes a card will pique my interest enough to start the process of brewing. I don’t know where this series of articles will end up going but I am excited to start writing again for Manaleak.com and hopefully publish something once a week.
Aether Revolt is a very interesting set in terms of design, and the nature of Standard has changed. With the bannings and the fact we have a turn 4, 2 card-combo deck, it means that are extreme pressures put upon someone who wants to build their own deck. The bannings have seen a number of previous standard titans being removed from the format. At least before the Pro Tour, Aetherworks Marvel no longer exists as a deck, Mardu Aggro has placed the occasional reasonable finish and UW Flash has turned into Esper Aggro, a deck which has the same kind of performance rate as Mardu.
The format as is, is very hostile to random brews because you need to find a deck that can step to the beat of Winding Constrictor into Nissa/Gearhulk/Walking Ballista and then you have to be able to keep up with the turn 4 combo deck that can hang in the late game with Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. But do not despair, the Pro Tour will more than likely shake up the format.
In the early stages of the format, people are very likely to play something strong and consistent for the Star City Games tour because there are time constraints to building lots of new decks and new strategies and often people want to play it safe so therefore playing something established is a logical position to adopt. The Pro Tour is a different animal, where people are chasing the dream of a top 8 or are more likely to take risks to attain Pro Points. Sometimes one can observe that at the Pro Tour boom/bust strategies often occur because of the harder nature of the competition, and the fact there are fewer Pro Tours and the rewards are a lot higher.
I am aware I sound slightly cynical but I am just laying out what I think the rules are for intelligent deck design. I think there is something to be gained from tweaking/developing one’s own deck, but you have to do so in a logical fashion if you want the best chance of success.
I am not saying that you cannot have a notebook full of ideas and plans for deck building. In fact I know that I have a notebook full of observations and ideas about the various formats. But to achieve good results I think these 4 tips outline many of the pitfalls that deckbuilders can find themselves in, and with that in mind, lets get started!
4 Important questions every good Magic deckbuilder should ask
1. Is It A Bad Something Else?
This is a very easy trap to fall into. One of the best examples I can think of is when Sphinx’s Revelation was popular in Standard, and people were trying to make a UB deck work which traded the power of Sphinx’s Revelation for better removal spells and some discard. However, Sphinx’s Revelation was such a powerful card that it wasn’t really worth the trade off. Often when I am working on a deck, I will ask my team mates, “Is this just a bad something else?”. Often, this can happen with mid-range decks where you exchange the power of an end game bomb for playing more mid-range threats.
2. Is It consistent?
Consistency is something all the best Magic decks have. This is why the Saheeli Rai combo deck is dominating Standard; it has a lot of card selection and filtering, and the tools to help stay alive. This is something we should always be looking for while deck building. Tron is one of the premier decks in Modern because lots of its cards are geared towards the same endgame plan. Often when you have a deck with a lot of tutor effects, people can end up getting a little bit too cute and including “silver bullets” for the one time they need that effect. However, as Mr. Gold from Once Upon A Time says, “All Magic comes at a price”. You still have to pay the price of including that tutor target in your deck and that will come at the cost of consistency.
3. Does it interact profitably with the rest of the format?
This leads to more questions such as:
Am I beating the popular removal?
Am I interacting with the other decks?
Is what I am doing faster/more consistent than the other decks?
Often I will look at the top 2 decks of the format and if I don’t want to play one of them (due to the mirror being bad/deck being inconsistent, etc.) then I will try and identify a strategy that can beat the top 2 decks, sometimes it can be as simple as writing out, “What do I expect people to play?” or “What cards can beat what they are doing?”. This does lead more to blue decks, because you are trying to line up counterspells, etc., but sometimes you can end up building a creature deck this way by looking at what creatures can dodge the commonly played removal.
4. Is It Powerful?
Something I have noticed is that sometimes people’s decks aren’t very powerful. This can sometimes be a control deck that doesn’t want to play a win condition, for example: 26 lands, 10 card draw spells, 13 counterspells, 10 removal spells and 1 win condition. Now I love me a control deck but I often like a control deck that can go removal, removal, big dragon type threats because now you have initiative. Another mistake I think people make in deck building is getting too cute with little synergies. While these can be awesome, Standard is designed in such a way that you need to be doing something powerful and not getting half a card’s worth of value here and half a card’s worth here.
These are some basic tips to take with you for your deck building. While this are fairly simplistic I think they are useful to always keep in mind when designing or working on decks in Magic.
Demon Grixis Deck Tech
Now I’d like to talk to you about a deck that I have been working on with some help from friends, and try and break down the process of how I got to the final list.
As mentioned previously, Aether Revolt is a very powerful set with lots of powerful mechanics. Everyone knows that cost reduction mechanics have the potential to be format warping (see Phyrexian Mana/Emerge/Delve/Affinity). I was really interested in Herald of Anguish because it matches up quite well against what I thought would be the popular removal spells in the format, such as Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness and Shock. Herald of Anguish’s awesome power does come at a price; it wants you to play a lot of artifacts and it really wants you to play ones that can generate more than one artifact. However, if my deck had only 4 x Herald of Anguish as a win condition, it would likely not really be consistent enough. So, Maverick Thopterist is the next best improviser in the set and helps power out your demon. On Turn 3 a Thopterist is a really strong play and with the high number of artifacts in the deck, it is not unlikely to make a turn 3 Thopterist which is about the right level of power for Standard.
The core of the deck is the Puzzleknots and Prisms, plus Schematic and Map. These are the fuel for the engine. They are pretty lame on their own, but they are needed for the payoff cards to really shine. It is not impossible to think that I could want Cogworker’s Puzzleknot, but I worry about going too deep on the “bad cards”.
Interaction is very important in the current Standard format. Fatal Push is really good for this, with the Maps, Puzzleknots and even chumping with Servo tokens. Metallic Rebuke is often quite easy to leave up in this deck as you advance your game plan. Getting to fetch a Saheeli or Gearhulk is very important. You cannot just hope to execute your game plan without interaction because while a turn 4 demon is really good you need to be doing a little more. Battle for the Bridge is the way to deal with big Gearhulks and often in this deck you can do it for 6/7 and that just buys you more time.
Reverse Engineer is a way to get ahead on cards and is useful when you are trading one for one a lot which this deck can do.
One-offs are another important part of deck building and I think often misunderstood. In this deck they are tutor targets or in the case of Key to the City a card that you don’t want to draw multiples off.
The strength of this deck comes from the demon and if the demon becomes badly positioned in the format, for example a world of Stasis Snare, Unlicensed Disintegration or Murder, then you may want to move away from this deck, but if you are looking for something reasonably powerful and budget friendly(ish) then definitely give this a try.
Thank you for reading and I am happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments below.