This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series Decksplanations

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

 

This is it. The final countdown. For the last nine articles I have been describing small pieces of my deckbuilding philosophy. Today, they will all be united. I will briefly review each of the topics that I have discussed thus far, describe how they fit into the larger puzzle of making a better deck, and I will share with you my one best tip for how to use that concept to immediately improve your decks. This is a bird’s eye view of the ideas presented in this series; the TL:DR version if you will. This barebones review couldn’t possibly contain everything you need to know about my deck building philosophy, so if you need further explanation of an idea or specific recommendations for cards to play and not play, click the section headings to link directly back to the original article for an in-depth look at that subject.

 

 

First though, let’s take a look at the big picture.

 

For those of you who saw the original version of my “Super Scientific Chart” in my TGZ article “Advantage Theories: Metrics” you already know that I can’t help myself around MS Paint. Whenever I need to make a horrible looking graphic and thoroughly embarrass myself when presenting it in public, Paint is always my go-to.

Eric's Super Scientific Chart

As you can see, the org chart implies certain levels of importance. The lower levels help you build into the higher levels. Power has five equally important pieces. Consistency has three pieces of unequal importance. This hierarchy is important and intentional. I will expand on this more in a moment and explain how each piece plays a role in the bigger picture.

 

If you take a look, a good deck is consistent and powerful. This is my top premise and where I began the whole series. The ability to win the game is the most objective criteria that I could establish for what makes good decks good. There are certainly other ways to think; decks that are most flavorful or are designed to achieve a specific (and usually epic) feat of planeswalking for example, but those are subjective and wouldn’t necessarily translate to all audiences. Quite frankly, if you want to know how to build the most flavorful deck or which version of a card is considered ‘most pimp’ I’m just not the guy to ask.

 

So we start out with this in mind: a good deck is one that can win and do so consistently. ‘Powerful’ within the context of a game of Magic is just a looseterm for ‘better than everything else that is happening at the table.’ So how do we build our decks to be more powerful and consistently so? I have developed an 8-Step plan (plus this one part about redundancy…eww). Here are the important features of deck designing that I use to improve my decks, all laid out in one short article. Get ready, here comes the lightning round!

 

Access

 

What It Is: Access is the ability to quickly get specific cards from your deck. If you need a removal spell, you can go find it. Good access means never being more than a turn away from the thing that you need. Doesn’t it feel great when you just ‘always have it?’ You know, flipping your Delver, topdecking the removal spell, always starting out with Sol Ring? We are going to use access to artificially enhance our luck.

 

Now how do you go about facilitating high levels of access? Tutoring…and lots of it. Hopefully, the tutoring is cheap and powerful too. Now I don’t just mean cards that actually have ‘Tutor’ in their names. Fetch lands tutor for specific types of lands. This increases your access to those specific lands. Having only one copy of a dual land isn’t so much of a problem, because we are going to play 10+ ways to find it. This gives us the net effect of pretty much always having that dual land in play early in the game. In this example, we have great access to the dual land. I merely want to apply this same concept to every other card in my deck. The ideal: never be more than one turn away from any single card in your deck.

 

Where It Fits: Access is the most important part of consistency. By that I mean that it has the highest net effect of increasing our decks consistency, making things play out in a predictably similar manner each game despite the changing game situations we are in, the variance in our draws, and potential disruption from out opponents. Access lets us assemble the pieces of our game plan early on in the game and on a regular basis. This has an effect on the power level of our deck as well, because we are never at the mercy of a ‘bad draw.’ We can always use our best threats and our best answers. It’s very easy to win games when you always have your best cards.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: Tutor for EVERYTHING. Don’t play Moss Diamond when you can play Rampant Growth. You might feel safe with a counter spell in your hand, but you are going to be better off tutoring for a counter when you really need it. The tutor is more versatile and can potentially serve multiple different roles depending on the situation. Try to cram as many shuffle effects into your deck as possible. It does massively slow down the game when you are playing in paper, but it will smooth out your draws and make your deck flow more consistently. Also, if you take lots of lands out of your deck with ramp cards, you are more likely to draw gas when you need it.

 

Selection

 

What It Is: Selection is the ability to choose which cards you are going to have. If you can consistently influence the quality and relevance of the cards you draw, it will influence the consistency of your deck ;D.

 

We typically do this by Scrying, looting away bad cards for good ones, or reordering the top cards of your library. Sometime you can selectively use a shuffle effect or self-mill to get irrelevant cards off the top of your deck.

 

Where It Fits: This is the second most important piece of consistency. It is not as good as access for the following simple reason: access regularly lets you find and use your best cards. Selection just lets you choose the best of what is currently on hand. While is may not be quite as ‘good’ it is incredibly necessary because many of the highest quality cards in Magic are situational. You want those cards around when they are relevant, but you don’t want to see them when you don’t currently need them. This still has the net effect of increasing your deck’s effective power level because you draw fewer dud cards, miss fewer land drops, and generally have smooth, productive draws. You are going to draw a card every turn, so it might as well be a good one.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: In general, playing more tutors is the best thing you can do, but there are only so many good tutor cards in Magic. Certain colors are particularly limited in this regard. Once you have run out of good tutors to play, start including cantrip effects like Ponder and Brainstorm. Cards that have a ‘bonus’ Scry rider like Dissolve are also options, but try to keep the power level high and the cost low.

 

Velocity

 

What It Is: It is the speed at which you can draw through your deck, the faster the better. Drawing more cards on each turn will grow the total number of cards that you can draw in the average game. If you are regularly drawing – or able to draw – most of your deck, then you will inevitably see your best cards more often. It’s quite simple, really. Drawing cards directly increases your chances of having EVERYTHING in your deck available to you. Note that we don’t necessarily care about keeping all of these cards, as we’re still going to be applying selection to divert cards that aren’t relevant to the current situation away from our hand.

 

Where It Fits: This has the least impact on improving the consistency of your deck. Drawing more cards will help, but it doesn’t always result in drawing the right cards. That being said, drawing cards is an important part of a balanced breakfast. Try to do it a lot.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: Start early and never stop. Playing lots of cheap cantrip effects is great, because they get the flow of cards moving. Once you are a couple turns into the game you can really start ramping things up, but don’t get carried away. Remember that card draw is no good unless you can actually cast those cards. Again, the idea is to keep things cheap and efficient. Enter the Infinite is awesome, but not always realistic. As an anonymous internet sage once said, “Every game has an early game. Not every game has a late game.” The sweet spot for me is 3-4 mana, such as Fact or Fiction and Thirst for Knowledge, that kind of thing.

 

Redundancy

 

What It Is: The poison that turns good decks into steaming piles. Redundancy is having multiple nearly equivalent cards that all achieve the same thing. You don’t need four screwdrivers for one screw. That’s just wasted space in your tool box.

 

Redundancy has the insidious effect of lowering the average card quality in your deck. There’s usually only one best card for a given situation, but then there are also hundreds of other cards that could work, but not as well. Whenever you have to use one of these suboptimal cards instead of a better one, it hurts your deck’s performance. Sometimes it is just a small difference and may not be immediately noticeable, but it can be a silent killer.

 

Where It Fits: It has the exact opposite effect from the one that we want. It lowers your card quality and therefore lowers your win percentage. It can boost your consistency, but not as effectively as the previous three ideas. Having redundant cards can easily result in you drawing a big pile of things that you don’t need and not being able to get rid of them (e.g., having three removal spells in hand when your opponent has no threats that you need to deal with).

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: We still need to use redundancy to some degree because having just one threat or one answer in our whole deck is likely not going to actually help us win, but we need to be conscious of that opportunity cost of drawing situational cards in a bad situation. If you are going to have redundant copies of something, have redundant amounts of access, selection, and velocity. Having extra card draw will flow very easily into the things that you need. Try to have lots of ramp and card draw and limit the number of redundant threats and answers that you have.

 

Durability

 

What It Is: The ability to resist disruption and dodge answers. This occurs at multiple levels. We want to have a durable approach to our metagame, choosing a deck that isn’t easily poached by the most common decks in the format. We want to have a durable strategy, one that isn’t vulnerable to the most common types of disruption and answers (think Dredge…and then go wash your hands so you don’t feel too dirty). And lastly, we want to play cards that are hard to stop or require highly specific niche answers that are not commonly played. Keywords like Hexproof and Protection are great mechanics for this principle as well as uncounterable spells.

 

Where It Fits: It is a piece of the power puzzle. It makes our deck more resilient and thus harder to stop. Once our gameplan is unstoppable then we just have to worry about having the best game plan at the table, which is what the other parts of power are for.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: Instead of playing mana creatures for ramp, try to use cards that search for lands from your deck and put them into play. Board sweepers are already good enough, there is no reason to let your opponent(s) attack your mana base and your threats at the same time.

 

Solidarity

 

What It Is: Picking your best plan and sticking to it. Solidarity is all about unifying your deck’s purpose. Every card in your deck should be helping you achieve the same goal. Remove distracting cards or conflicting themes from your deck. Know what your deck’s ‘A-Plan’ is and start out every game with that in mind.

 

This doesn’t mean that you always have to win with the same card or combo. In fact you should always have multiple ways to win that hopefully aren’t susceptible to the same answers, high durability remember? If your deck is built to take control of the board and survive into the late game, then you should have win conditions that are priced to come online in those moments. A suite of small aggressive creatures won’t help you achieve that game plan. That conflicts and interferes with your deck’s primary gameplan and should be cut from the deck. We’re aiming for coherence.

 

Where It Fits: Solidarity drives power. Your deck should be like a highly trained athlete. You can’t win an Olympic medal in the 100 meter dash if you only practice by playing shuffleboard. The other parts of power are all about designing the most effective game plan for your deck; solidarity is about maximizing your ability to execute that game plan. In this regard, it’s helped along greatly by having a high level of consistency in your deck already so that you can regularly complete those first crucial steps to achieving what your deck is designed to do early in the game.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: Jumping off from the idea of cutting redundant win conditions, try to focus on your top three. You really don’t need to have a super-high threat density. Apply the other lessons that I have laid out so far. If you can consistently produce your best win condition, and that win condition is durable enough to survive any hate that is thrown at it, you will win more games.

 

Proactivity

 

What It Is: The simple art of going after what you want. Don’t wait for other decks to put up their shields before you start attacking; seize the moment! Being proactive means having a plethora of early plays in the game. It means taking advantage of every turn you have, even when other people are wasting theirs. Proactivity has a lot to do with the speed of your deck, but speed isn’t everything. The key idea is to start running the race from the instant the pistol fires. Start immediately and never stop chasing your goal.

 

Where It Fits: This is the functional part of power. Everything else is theoretical. Being proactive is where rubber meets the road. We want to be able to get out to explosive starts and punish decks that have slower plans or who stumble early on.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: Lower the mana curve in your decks. Commander is overweight on six, seven, and eight drops. Cards like Mirran Crusader come down early and can present a reasonable clock. You have disruption and removal to keep that path clear. Getting out to a quick start can win a surprising amount of games.

 

Interactivity

 

What It Is: Interactivity is about doing the ‘right’ thing for your situation, match-up, or format. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. We want to interact more favorably with our opponents. Stop what they are doing without being stopped ourselves. Attack from unconventional angles where they have little-to-no defenses. We always want to have the deck that is favored in the match-up we are playing. I don’t mean be a jerk and always pick your deck last when you shuffle up for a new game, I mean prepare ahead of time by matching up your deck’s strengths with the weaknesses you see in the format.

 

Where It Fits: This is at the heart of having a powerful deck. It doesn’t matter what’s ‘powerful’ in a vacuum, we need context. Our strategy becomes inherently more powerful if our opponent can’t interact with it profitably. The point of having all that tutoring and card draw is so that we can deploy our carefully chosen cards that totally wreck the opponent’s deck.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: Study your opponents’ decks. Take note of what specific, removal, threats, and ramp they play. Then choose cards for your deck that fight well against those cards. Did you notice that your opponent plays Wrath of God, but not Path to Exile? Show up with an indestructible creature next time!

 

Value

 

What It Is: Value is the habitual practice of exchanging resources favorably. It’s also my job, my religion, and my favorite food group. We want to get the better end of every deal and bury our opponents in a pile of incremental resource advantages.

 

Where It Fits: Value enhances and enriches our already solid game plan. It adds power to our deck by letting us work with more resources than our opponents have. It also removes power from opposing decks by forcing exchanges that favor us; we devalue their cards, driving them further away from victory while advancing ourselves toward it.

 

Grandpa’s Top Tip: As always look for cards that are generally cheaper and more efficient, but keep an eye out from cards that have the magic words ‘draw a card’ tacked on to the end of the text box. We will add value to our deck by generating a little bit of card advantage during the course of our normal activities. Armillary Sphere is unassuming, but strong. It is a cheap, colorless way to turn one card into two cards. It also thins lands out of our deck, lets us consistently hit Uncle Landdrops, fixes colors, and shuffles our deck. It isn’t stopped by creature removal, it isn’t going to get caught in a board sweep, and people aren’t likely to waste a counter on it. It’s basically the perfect little value card and draws on many of the lessons that I have shared already.

 

Well, here we are. Those are all the little bits that you need to make a high quality table flipping machine. I hope you have enjoyed “Decksplanations.” This three month long tour of my deck building philosophy has now come to a close. This isn’t the last “Decksplanations” ever, but for the foreseeable future I’m going to be transitioning to back to my more regular community fare: “In General.” If you have questions about the material in this series, feedback, suggestions for future deckbuilding topics to be covered in “Decksplanations,” or just a bone to pick, please leave your comments down below. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next week.

 

-GG

 

Decksplanations is all about sharing my deckbuilding philosophy. If you want to change how you behave, you must change how you think. The same is true of your decks. My goal is you give you the foundation to analyze and improve your decks. In each article I will share one idea that shapes how I approach creating a new deck.

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