Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deck-Building in Magic - some lifted thoughts

Mathematically running a 60 card deck gives you the best chance to get any spell at any given time. I've talked about in a few other post but i'll say it again here. There is a basic rule when u start deck building.

[This is not really true, 60 cards is the minimum amount of cards one is allowed to have to make a legal deck and because of this is it is the optimal minimum. If 7 cards were alowed people would run 7 card decks.

Also 60 cards, being the minimum is the optimal amount of cards for 1 vs 1 tournament play where people start at 20 life. In multiplayer games deckbuilding is an entirely different ballgame. 60 cards becomes a weakness rather then a strength as a single game can easily take several hours and you will mill your own deck. It also becomes harder to have an answer to everything in a 60 card deck.

So yes 60 cards is fine if you have a single purpose like aggro or combo decks and you are racing. For control decks who try to stall the early game this 60 card limit becomes less important.]

It's Called the
Rule of Nine

This rule helps the deck have a focused direction and higher consistency and makes it easier to change as you play and test it.

First you pick the nine cards that will make up the core of your deck. Only 9. Once you have picked these nine you will have 4 copies of each. this will give you 36 cards with 24 slots left open for lands.

I'd like to expand the "9 cards theory" a bit.

When creating a deck, before selecting cards you'll have to determine what type of deck you are constructing.

Begin firstly by selecting 3 creatures, and 3 spells that go well with the chosen theme of the deck. Next chose 3 cards that you determine will protect, support or amplify previously chosen cards.

You now have 9 cards as a basis for your deck that should nearly be a 1 per 3 ratio of creatures, spells and lands. 2/3 of your spells should be doing what your deck is ment to do, and 1/3 of your spells should give your cards the advantage and speed required.

Also try to keep in mind the 1O1D guidelines. Magic is a game of resources - be it life, cards, mana or creatures. Your cards are either designed to take one (or more) of these resources from your opponent (being an offensive card) or either protecting (or adding to) your resources, being a defensive card.

The thumb rule of 1O1D is having a 1 offensive card per 1 defensive card ratio, making the deck able to be agressive and defensive at an equal ratio.

When analyzing cards out of this perspective, notice the cards being both offensive and defensive at the same time, such as "target player looses 2 life, you gain 2 life". These cards that both takes resoruces from your opponent while adding to your own. Simply put, these cards are "unfair" as they are both 1D1O in a single card slot.

[This is an interesting approach but in my opinion you are making it look far too simple. Lets say my favourite 9 cards all cost 9 mana and more. Playing 4 of each just doesn't make a deck. It does not work like that.

The important concepts of deck building are mana curve and mana fix.

These 3 points should be taken into account when building a deck:

- The mana cost of your spell should determine how many copies you play.
- The color of mana required should determine how many copies you play
- The importance of a card for winning the game should determine how many copies you play.

For tournament play there is a pretty basic rule that says if it costs more then 4 mana it better win you the game or it is not worth playing. Though there are exceptions to this rule it is a good starting point.

Mana Cost

If a spell costs more then 4 mana you should not play 4 copies simply because you don't need these cards in your opening hand (they will be dead cards for many turns). If these cards are part of a combo or if they are your only win condition you can play 4 despite their mana cost.

Type of Mana

A spell like Cruel Ultimatum is obviously more difficult to cast then a mono colored spell of the same converted mana cost. This should be taken into account as well. If your deck has lots of mana fix or you play lots of dual lands and fetch you might not care about the type of mana a spell cost. This depends on the meta game however. Obviously in tournament play like legacy where there is a lot of land removal even your duals won't cut it.

Concept and Aim

Rather then build a deck around 9 cards I would suggest building a deck around a concept, an archtype if you will. Do you want a fast aggro or combo deck that wants a short game or will you make a control deck that is able to handle any type of game. This is very important as a control deck needs means to stall the early game so it can dominate the mid to late game where an aggro deck most of the time does not care about the mid and late game and just wants a fast and efficient kill. This plays an important part in your choice of cards.

For instance I could make a control deck with a single card as win condition, a Nicol Bolas Planeswalker for instance can serve this purpose. That means I have a lot of open card slots to spend on anti cards that shut down my opponent.

Basic deck building tips

A good basic rule for a 60 card deck is the 20/20/20 rule meaning 20 land, 20 spells and 20 creatures. This is your template and you change these proportions based on your card choice.

If you play lots of spells that cost more then 3 mana play more land 22-26. 20 will be your minimum unless you are building a legacy tourney deck in which case this post will be pretty useless to you anyway.

Build in multiple victory conditions, for example a green deck with lots of mana accelleration can play a single Rude Awakening as an alternative kill while it will usually win using big creatures the rude awakening serves as a backup plan. Adding 1 mountain and a fireball to that deck adds another win condition. The more versatile a deck the stronger it becomes. Spells like Thought Hemorrhage, cranial Extraction, extirpate and the likes won't hurt you as much and you'll have a deck that is harder to predict by your opponent. He might opt to spend his last counter countering a creature that will kill him in 3 turns while your alternate kill can now finish him right away.]

After doing this you will have a "First Draft" version of your deck. Play with it, Play against your friends and at this point you may notice that the strategy isn't working or you missing a crucial card. This is the point where you may want to take 1 or 2 cards down to 3 copies to make room for 2 copies of another card etc.

Ps. If your going to play extended or legacy mana ramping is important the best things to do is look at tournament lvl version of the deck you are trying to build and try to understand why each card has its place there.

Now for the best Gf in the world that was actually talked into playing magic, god bless your soul.

A very easy way to figure out mana is to count all the mana symbols in your deck exclude the colorless ones. Once you do that you make a ratio and that gives you your split. for example:

Your Deck has 4 cards...
1uu - card 1
uu - card 2
bbb - card 3
b - card 4

So you have 4 blue(u) mana symbols
And 4 Black(b) mana symbols
This gives you a 50:50 split

so if you have another deck that has 9u:3b you have a 3:1 ratio so for every 3 blue mana you will want to have 1 black mana.

It may seem a little confusing at first but once you get the hang of it you will always have reliable mana : )

Perhaps you want to build a standard deck in the current format?

1) Are you familiar with the cards in the set - even if you do not own all of them?

2) Are you familiar with any current decks being used in tournaments?

3) What kind of decks are popular where you play?

4) What kind of player are you (this has to do with your temperment and personality)?

5) Are you familiar with the new game mechanics, i.e. Landfall or the rules for Planeswalkers, etc.

6) How will my deck win or what is its win condition? Many players actually do not comprehend the importance of this and in a 2 out of 3 matches timed event they play on, for example, against a Control deck which is happy to win slowly so there isn't enough time for a second or third match. So if you can't realistically reach your win condition save the time for a second and third tie breaking match.

7) Do you have a relaistic win condition and implementable strategy?

8) Do I know what the 15 side board cards are for? Have I written notes so I know specifically which cards to add and which ones to remove when I sideboard against a deck.

9) This is a postulate or general rule and applies as appropriate, but like the rule of 9 (4 x 9 = 36) which establishes your core nine cards and how they interact is good. You are duplicating how those 9 cards interact. For example, the 9 core cards in a Kor Soldier deck may be Kor Duelist, Kitesail Apprentice, Brave the Elements, Armament Master, Trailblazer's Boots, Kor Firewalker, Kor Outfitter, Kor Skyfisher, and Magebane Armor - in order of casting cost.
Some of the new comes into play effects of mana (Lands) such as Sejiri Steppe should be counted in your land ratio, although if used they add synergy to your 9 core cards. My general rule is the rule of 3. If you wouldn't at least run three copies in your deck leave it out.
Exception: The Mana curve by groups and outliers. I like at least one card that cost one mana in my opening hand, two that cost two mana to play, one that cost three mana, and only one that cost 4 or more mana in my opening hand along with 2 or 3 lands depending on the average mana cost of my deck and whether or not I am playing two colors and or have a lot of cards that require two of the same type of mana symbols to be played. So in the Core group above I had 12 one casting cost spells, 20 two casting spells and 4 three casting cost spells. So add 5 lands for a single color deck and 6 lands for a dual colored deck. Try your miniature 15 or 16 card deck against another deck to play test it. What worked well, what didn't work well, or did you discover any surprises? Make some notes. In the above miny deck I noticed that I didn't consistently get enough artifact spells in my opening hand so a ratio of 2/9 isn't high enough. So 4 more artifacts may be needed. A weenie creature deck has less land and therefore less of the 3, 4, or higher casting cards than a deck with more land. The Kor Soldier deck, for example, has no 4 casting cost spells.

10) Card advantage, efficiency, and time (as it applies to a card game - not time for alloted match). Time proceeds in turns in Magic the Gathering. Efficiency involves how many turns it takes to play your cards on average based on your deck design and card advantage means that as play progresses you obtain more cards than your opponent. Do you understand your deck from this frame of reference? Lets consider some tradeoffs.
If black plays a tap land on turn 1. On turn 2 plays a basic land then plays Sign in Blood - draw two cards to replace one. On turn 3 plays a land and plays blightning doing three damage to an opponent and causing the opponent to discard two cards for one card played. That is a net card advantage of two cards in three turns. But was it efficient? White's Kor deck plays a Trusty Machete (Artifact equipment) turn 1. Turn 2 plays a Kor Outfitter and equips with machete. Turn 3 attacks for 4 points of damage. Then plays Armament Master and leaves one mana unused and holds a Brave the Elements Instant. So if white played first 9 cards were drawn, 6 permanents are in play after 3 turns, two are discarded, and 1 remains in hand. Black playing second has drawn 12 cards, has 3 lands in play and has seven cards in hand. Black has 14 life versus 17 life for white. How would you evaluate this? Can black's card advantage neutralize the real threats that are in play? Equipment in some respects acts like multiple cards because besides permanently boosting the creature's capabilities it is attached over and over again like it is a new card. So if it requires two spells to destroy a creature wearing equipment then white soon gains the card advantage. White's efficiency is on par with black's card advantage in this scenario!

These tips should give you a framework for building your deck - if you believe a Goblinguide - although i cannot remember if I've forgotten more than I've learned about MtG.

In current Standard (Eldrazi, M10, etc) the "fetch" lands that fetch a land "untapped" are expensive - $10 a pop since it requires quite a few pack purchases to acquire them. But to reduce the chance of being mana screwed because of a certain color, and dual mana symbols in the casting cost of a spell, decks that want to run more than one color and be consistently competitive require them. In a Pro-Tour qualifier, for example, which has more than 5 rounds followed by a play-off (top eight, etc.) decks will eliminate themselves from contention simply by getting bad land draws in one of the rounds. So to play dual or tri colors in order to play multiple Plainswalkers, Spreading Seas, and Day of Judgement, etc. consistent mana draws are key.
For a mere one life a fetch land can even get a land during your opponent's turn. Hint- do not use its ability until you need the mana - so if someone attempts to destroy it (non-basic land) or attach a Spreading Seas to it then use its ability which will cause their spell or effect to fizzle which means they have also squandered valuable resources!
Of course MtG wants to sell lots of packs so rares are important to compete, but I support local store owners who throw in "rareless" Standard tournaments to give everyone an opportunity to compete on equal ground since most of the common and uncommon cards are easy to obtain. So deck design, how you play, and the meta game will come into play but everyone can build something competitive.
But if fetch lands are breaking your bank (they do mine) try one color weenie decks. But even when two weenie decks built the same except for lands (fetch lands) the deck that can get land out of its deck without it coming into play tapped stands a better statistical chance over a number of matches of drawing that card/spell/equipment that leads to an advantage which otherwise may not be drawn. So if fetch lands remove 2 of 22 lands from my deck when I want to draw a creature, spell, or artifact (equipment perhaps) I have better odds of doing that in a randomized deck.
After 2 turns a deck that used 2 fetch lands has this deck ratio: 18 lands/50 (all cards) versus a deck without fetch lands (or not played on first 2 turns) 20/52 is 38 % versus 38 1/2 %. That 1/2 % of being more likely to draw a land impacts play significantly and is generally worth the 2 life paid for the cards drawing advantage. And as more Fetch lands are drawn and played in lieu of basic lands that 1/2% difference jumps to a full 1 % or more advantage.
So cards that have dual mana symbols of the same land type pose a statisitical risk. The tradeoff had better be an advantage of another type if utilizing these cards in a dual or tri color deck. For example, a creature protected from the color of deck you are facing may offset the disadvantage of key card draws (top decking), especially if it drawn in your opening hand.

Some new ones are "totem armor" for enchantments or "levelers" in Rise of Aldrazi. Allies was a new introduction, which seems an improvement over "tribal" cards. Repeated mechanics or re-introduced mechanics include "deathtouch" and spells/abilites that "tap".

There are two way to evaluate them generally. First is to determine which sets and colors have the mechanic and how many cards of a color have the mechanic. Compare the quantity, casting cost, and utility of the cards. Which color seems to benefit the most from a mechanic. Black mages seem to benefit from the "cycling" mechanic, because not only did it help you draw deeper into the deck to reach a key card, but it helped you get key cards in the graveyard which is one of a black mages's methods of disrupting the universl rules. Generally, one or two of the five colors (six if colorless is added) has an advantage over the others for certain mechanics.

Second is to compare mechanics to other mechanics. Do you prefer totem armor over levelers? In draft, such preferences can be very important to help you draft efficiently. Drafting cards that enhance the mechanic that your drafted cards may focus around, i.e. leveling
can be advantageous. Venerated Teacher, although not a leveler, adds synergy by rising all your levlers two levels when it comes into play. This can save mana and time normally required to increase a creatures level such that its power/toughness/ability may impact the game construct. On the other hand Aura Finesse complements Auras and Totem Armor. It also allows an extra card draw.

I'm evaluating a deck built around the mechanic of tapping, for example, and a key card "sleep" which is only uncommon. It doesn't target the creatures just a player and only impacts "all" your targeted opponent's creatures.
My list has sleep, Paralysing Grasp, Twitch, Wall of Frost, Alluring Siren (creatures forced to attack have to tap unless they have vigilence) Tempest Owl, and Surrakar Banaisher (which returns tapped creatures to a player's hands & complements the mechanic). Can you add others to the list?
What static ability(s) or mechanics are a hindrance to the tap mechanic? Vigilance is a minor one (takes Siren out of the equation) Another one is shroud - fortunately Sleep gets around it since it doesn't target as I mentioned above - like Day of judgement "all" is the key operative word. Be cautious of cards that use the word "all" as they can definately be game changing or altering.