This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Decksplanations

Grandpa (Eric)


By Eric, aka Grandpa Growth


This is part of a series on how to build more consistent decks. Consistency can’t be created on its own, but it can be built up by emphasizing these concepts: access, velocity, and selection. If you missed the previous articles, I encourage you to go back to the beginning and catch up on my previous articles about access and velocity before continuing.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s begin with a quote:


Natural selection is anything but random.” – Richard Dawkins


That pretty much sums it all up right there. Consistency is the opposite of randomness. Selection is the weapon we use to defeat the whims of fate.


What is Selection?

Selection can be defined simply as the the ability to choose which card you are going to draw. The choice between two options is great. The choice between more than two options is even better. So we can determine that the more cards we have to select from, the better the selection effect is.


There is a second characteristic that can further improve selection effects: the ability to NOT draw something. Rearranging the top cards of your library is great, but what if you activate your Sensei’s Divining Top and see no relevant cards? Selection effects that include the ability to either shuffle away unwanted cards or Scry them to the bottom are better than effects that simply rearrange them.


Just claiming that selection effects are good is not enough. What evidence is there that they improve your deck’s performance? Well, selection allows you to pick the more relevant card(s) from a host of available options. Having that choice is powerful because we can choose the cards that are most advantageous. Every time we choose one card over another we have the potential to increase the overall card quality in our hand.


This is easy to demonstrate logically. If you Preordain and see one good card and one bad card, you would then take the good card and put the bad one on the bottom. If you had to draw both, the average card quality would be…well, average, but since we only drew the good card, the average card quality of our draw went up. Using selection effects increases the quality of your draws very naturally, but there are some limiting factors. The cost of selections effects can vary widely. To understand this better, I have prepared some case studies that will highlight the important concepts.


A Study in Selection

Looter is a classic card and one that I mentioned last week as a great way to drive up velocity in your decks. This card is cheap (money), low cost (mana), provides incremental advantage, doesn’t draw much attention, and occasionally has a relevant body. The longer you have a looter in play, the more time you can activate it. Each time you do so, the average card quality in your hand goes up a bit. You won’t necessarily have MORE cards in hand, but the cards that you do have will be the best of what you have seen.


On the down side, that body is fragile and vulnerable to removal. Looters will often get caught in the first board sweep, which limits their potential to create more opportunities for selection and can put behind in card advantage. Also, Looter takes significant set up costs. You have to invest a card to the board with no immediate effect. In essence, you are trading two mana, a card, and a lot of time for a degree of selection. It may not always turn out to be worth it.


One final note here, if you simply trade Looter for a piece of removal, that isn’t good. You aren’t behind on cards, but you didn’t achieve your goal. You didn’t get any added selection. Conversely, you can get some extra value if your opponent doesn’t remove it immediately. You end up trading cards, but you got several extra loots. This added value means you are coming out further ahead in the exchange the more times you loot before trading.


I mentioned last week that I don’t think Red has any velocity-adding cards that are worth playing. (c)Rummy here is a good example. Let’s compare:


Rummaging Goblin has a higher mana cost. Not great. It has all the same investment problems as Looter, but it comes down a turn later, making it more difficult to activate it many times. The body is identical and therefore can be removed in virtually the same ways. This is a wash, but remember we already have ground to make up. The biggest difference, and the biggest drawback, is that the activated ability is significantly worse.


When you draw then discard, you add a random card which will tend toward average quality. You then get to evaluate all options before deciding to discard the worst card. Your hand can never decrease in quality; at worst, you will be back where you started.


When you discard first then draw, you are trading your worst card for a random card, which again is of average quality. What if the card you discarded was bad, but the card you drew to replace it turned out even worse? This easily demonstrates that your average card quality can DECREASE each time you iterate this process.


Over time your hand will tend towards average quality with no reliable way to increase that quality over time. Well, you know what will also give you average card quality over time? DOING NOTHING. You don’t need to cast this and keep it in play. You don’t even put this in your deck. The average card quality of your draws will match the average card quality of your deck. That is the starting point.


To Rummage or Not to Rummage?

I love to read articles about when it is appropriate to NOT activate your Merfolk Looter. This topic is complex and nuanced. I wouldn’t dare enter an arena full of such skilled gladiators. Instead, I will cover a much simpler topic: when not to rummage. (Hint: it is similar to the best time to wear a striped sweater).


Some would argue that, if activating Rummaging Goblin wasn’t advantageous, you should just skip activating it for that turn. This will limit the downside potential of the card and maintain a higher (but not higher than average) card quality over time. So, at best, we have a situational card and at worst we have a card that actively decreases your chances of winning. That idea by itself is enough for me to recommend NEVER playing this card.


Let me put this in perspective. Activating Rummy is only advantageous if your hand is full of low quality cards. Over time, the rummaging will push your hand up to average quality. This is certainly helpful, but I am quick to point out that you don’t want to have a hand of low quality cards. That is not the situation that you want to be in. If you find yourself in this spot you are likely going to lose as a result. So, if Rummy is good in bad draws, but bad in good draws, your best case scenario is to just draw well and hope you never see Rummaging Goblin (which in the context of a ‘good’ hand is a low quality card). Despite what Daft Punk may have wanted you to believe, ‘get lucky’ isn’t a good plan for your evening.


This is perhaps the most basic example of card selection. Look at the top two. Choose one, ditch the other. Simple. The costs are very low. One mana and no cards. You immediately recoup your investment and receive a small increase in the average card quality of your draws. This isn’t exciting, but it makes the point.


The major downside of Sleight is that it just doesn’t do enough. There are other options that perform better in the same circumstances and cost the same. It is also possible to go overboard and include too many selection effects that each have minor impacts. Collectively, they result in a large increase in the quality of your draws, but you have actually included a bunch of ‘hot air’ in your deck by playing so many weak cantrips. As a result, your win percentage won’t go up much.


Think back to the beginning of this series. I emphasized that access is the most important and most effective way to create consistency. To come full circle on that idea, compare Impulse and Merchant Scroll. Which would you rather have? If you know what you need, Merchant Scroll will allow you to get it, whereas Impulse only has a chance at finding it. If you don’t know what you need, you are better off not casting either until the situation changes and you can crystallize your goals. Be patient and think all the way through your decisions, not just the immediate concerns.


Choose Wisely

These are the key concerns to keep in mind when trying to build for selection:


  • Lower cost is better. As I mentioned before with access and velocity, a few cheap ways to get the cards flowing is much more important that having an expensive flashy effect.
  • The more cards you see, the better. The power comes from choice.
  • Repeatable effects are great, as long as they don’t require too much investment. Keep in mind that they take more time to get going and are often vulnerable to removal that wouldn’t stop a Ponder


Here are a few cards in each color that are reasonable and should be available on most any budget:


White: Surprisingly, White has the biggest problem with this (yes, even worse than Red).


Judge Unworthy

New Benalia

Windbrisk Heights

Puresight Merrow That’s the best I got folks.




Advice from the Fae



Second Sight

Eyes of the Watcher




Ancient Stirrings

Commune with Nature

Cream of the Crop

Gift of the Gargantuan

Gilt-Leaf Seer




Moonlight Bargain

Plunge into Darkness

Viscera Seer

Drown in Sorrow

Read the Bones and just about everything else I talked about last week for Black.




Spinerock Knoll

Magma Jet

Riddle of Lightning

Portent of Betrayal

Sigiled Skink I am trying hard here guys.




Darksteel Pendant

Crystal Ball

Shrine of Piercing Vision

Jar of Eyeballs

Heroes’ Podium


That is all for today guys. Be sure to leave your comments and questions below. I will be back next week to present the culmination of this series on consistency.


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.

Series Navigation<< Strategy: “Decksplanations” – Be Consistent, Not RedundantStrategy: “Decksplanations” – Velocity >>