Mtg deck building strategies

Mtg deck building strategies DEFAULT

A Conflict of Interests

There are a lot of pieces of strategic advice you pick up over time. Some of these pieces are relatively simple: Counter your opponent's card-drawing spells in a control mirror. Play about seventeen lands in your Draft deck. And, of course: Bolt the turn-one Bird.

But there have been a couple revelations that have shaped my entire Magic thought process. They don't happen often, but when they do, they can crack open the Matrix and enable you to level up at Magic. Once I got beyond the basics and was actually looking to build competitive decks, there was one tip that improved my deck building the most, at all levels.

Today, I want to share it with you.

This could impact every deck you ever make—from your Draft deck, to your Standard Deck, to your Commander deck. It has certainly radically shaped how I think about deck building.

The piece of advice is simple: you're building a deck, not just a pile of cards.

What do you mean? you may ask. Of course I'm building a deck!

Well, yes, you're bringing 60 cards to the table for your deck, which will become your library. (Thanks, rule !) But is it a deck or a pile of cards?

It's an important, but subtle, distinction.

A deck has a strategy. A goal. A plan. It's directly employing overall tactics.

A pile of cards, on the other hand, can be incoherent. Synergies are an afterthought. You're stuck with cards pulling what you want to do in all kinds of different directions.

Curious? Read on.

Let me illustrate this first and foremost with an example.

Imagine you're playing against your friend Stromboli, who has what looks like an aggressive red-white beatdown deck. Stromboli leads off with an Elite Vanguard. Then they follow it up with a Veteran Motorist.

On turn two, you're facing down 5 power. Your back is up against the wall already! You don't have a good play until next turn. Yikes!

Stromboli untaps, plays a land, and adds to his pressure by slamming one of these down:

Wait . . . what?

There are far greater mysteries at play here than "Why did Stromboli play this instant during their main phase?" Namely: What are those cards doing in the same deck together?

Now, there are legitimate reasons that could be the case. Perhaps the white deck contains cards like Ajani's Pridemate and Angelic Accord, paving the way for a life gain theme. Is Ritual of Rejuvenation really the best card for that? Probably not, but I at least see the intent behind including it.

But most of the time when I see this happen, it is a "pile of cards" problem.

Stromboli's deck is clearly in conflict with itself.

An aggressive deck, strategically, is seeking to reduce its opponent down to 0 as quickly as possible. As a result, its plan is to attack quickly, apply pressure, and finish off the opponent before they get a chance to stabilize and recover.

Stromboli's first two plays clearly work within this framework. Aggressively statted creatures. Great!

But Stromboli's third play is totally going the other direction: it doesn't impact the board, and it ups their life total, which wasn't under pressure at all. They're the one planning to attack; they want to be dealing you extra damage with burn spells, not growing their own life total!

A reverse example is also true. If Stromboli is playing a slower control deck, and their strategy is to survive until the endgame, then Ritual of Rejuvenation makes more sense and it's the creatures they're playing that are poor fits for the strategy. (And once again: Is Ritual of Rejuvenation great? Not really, but at least it makes sense in that case.)

Stromboli's deck would probably have a lot better time if they swapped out those Ritual of Rejuvenations for Lightning Strikes and were dealing you 3 damage instead!

In Magic, there are enough forms of conflict to deal with: your opponent's hand, your opponent's creatures, and your own slowly growing inner turmoil as you try and figure out how to attack, to name a few. Don't let your deck also conflict with itself.

The first thing to do when building your deck, long before sleeving up, before even adding a bunch of cards, is determining what you want your deck to do.

Every deck should have a mission statement—some kind of game plan that guides your deck-building decisions. It can be simple, like "I am a red-white aggressive deck that wants to attack and win quickly." No problem.

You can also make it as complicated as "First I'm going to get Swans of Bryn Argoll onto the battlefield, then I'm going to play Seismic Assault and discard Dakmor Salvage, dredge it for one of the draws, draw my entire deck, discard a few lands to deal damage to you, move to my cleanup step, discard Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to hand size, which makes me go back to my end step, then after my graveyard shuffles back in I'm going to do it again, essentially taking unlimited new cleanup steps and discarding until I've finally brought your life total to 0."

I've played both kinds. (What gave it away?)

But you need to have something to latch onto. Simply "This deck wants to win the game," or "This is a red-white deck" isn't enough to help guide your decisions.

Are you aggressive? Defensive? Do you have a lot of synergies in your deck? How are you going to try and win the game? These are all questions you can ask to craft your answer.

Once you have that down, you can start considering every card in that light. "Does Elite Vanguard help me win quickly? Yes, it does, by attacking! Does Built to Smash help me win quickly? Yes, it does, by helping me attack! Does Exquisite Archangel help me win quickly? No, it doesn't—it costs seven mana." This simple heuristic can really help guide your deck-building decisions.

So this applies to Constructed decks, sure, but Booster Draft and Sealed not so much, right?

Actually, it absolutely applies to Limited formats . . . arguably even more so!

Not only do you have the deck-building part to consider—you have to keep it in mind while you draft your entire deck! Four picks into the draft, what is your deck shaping up to do?

If you took four cheap creatures, you're going to have a very different answer than if you took some removal and card-drawing spells. During the entire drafting process, with each pick you have to be thinking about what deck you're trying to build—and know when to pivot when necessary!

When I wind up building a subpar deck after a wreck of a draft, it's usually because I didn't determine what my deck was trying to accomplish. Because in Draft, so much of the deck building really occurs while you're grabbing your picks. You're not always going to have the ideal mix of cards—sometimes you'll have to go a bit off plan in search of playables or to play a powerful rare—but in general you should aim to stay the course when you can.

Whether your favorite format is Constructed or Limited, Commander or Cube Draft, keeping what your deck actually aims to do in mind—your mission statement—is paramount to success.

Another great example of this can be seen with Ixalan block.

In Magic, there are what we in R&D call "linear decks." These are decks that have a straightforward and often single-minded strategy. They put their eggs in one basket. Often, these decks need to hit a critical mass of one specific thing to make its result greater than the sum of its individual parts. (You can also read more about this in Reid Duke's great article here.)

And where does Ixalan fit in? Tribal decks (meaning "creature type matters") like those you find in Ixalan are a typical example of a linear strategy. The more creatures of a tribe you pair with cards that benefit those creatures, the better it is. Mist-Cloaked Herald on its own isn't great, but when you start flopping out a bunch of Merfolk Mistbinders it becomes a serious threat!

This can really impact your deck-building plans. It doesn't make much sense to play Merfolk Mistbinder and follow it up with a Sailor of Means in your Constructed deck. (In Limited? Not ideal, but hey, these things happen.)

And this doesn't just happen with tribal decks.

Another great example is a burn deck. If I just slot in four copies of Lava Spike into a random red deck, there's no guarantee it'll be a good fit. If I'm playing a creature-based aggressive deck, I might prefer more creatures or a more flexible removal spell like Lightning Strike; if I'm playing more midrange or controlling, spending a single card for 3 damage might not be ideal.

However, in conjunction with playing a bunch of other burn spells and piling on your opponent with fire and lightning, Lava Spike becomes dramatically more powerful. A burn deck is essentially a combo deck—except instead of assembling a combo in its hand or on the battlefield, it casts spells over several turns to bring its opponent to 0. But if you don't have a critical mass, you'll find yourself coming up short—which is why decks with player-only burn cards like Lava Spike tend to feature lots of other player-only burn cards. It's a linear plan.

If you're building a deck and your plan sounds like it might be linear, try and push it as much as possible. It is possible to go too far—you probably do ultimately want some nonland, non-Merfolk cards in your Merfolk deck—but you won't know how far is too far until you try.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum are what are commonly referred to by the wonderfully descriptive name "good stuff" decks. These are decks where you basically pour in a ton of the best cards in the environment until it becomes a bit of deck soup.

For example, in current Standard, what are Bristling Hydra and The Scarab God doing in the same black-green-blue (Sultai) midrange deck together?

Answer: they're both just very powerful cards!

You might ask, "What is this deck's mission statement? Maybe the deck has a bit of energy synergy, but how can playing these cards together really constitute a plan?"

And yet, even here, they are part of a plan.

The idea of a "good stuff" deck is nearly the inverse of a linear strategy. These decks play a lot of cards that don't always synergize with each other, hoping that their raw card strength will be enough. If you can match your opponent card-for-card with generally stronger spells, eventually you are likely to come out ahead.

And therein lies the mission statement. For a deck like this, I would expect the mission statement to be along the lines of "Overwhelm your opponent with some of the most powerful individual cards in the format, so that as you trade cards back and forth over a longer game, you come out with the advantage." You can write it longer or shorter depending on your level of specificity, but that's really what the plan comes down to.

That tells me, for example, that I don't want to be playing the most efficient aggressive black creatures in the format, because I expect games to go longer and win by card quality. Instead, cards like Servant of the Conduit help me cast spells quicker, and Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger serve as powerful creatures that provide early drops and allow me to hit my land drops later on.

This may not be as tight as a linear deck, but it still has a perfectly reasonable mission statement that guides its deck-building decisions.

Almost every successful deck ever has had a plan behind its construction. And now hopefully you can apply this to your own deck building.

I should also note, your deck is not always going to perfectly follow its mission.

There are competing factors, of course. You may need to, for example, play some slightly weaker two-drop cards that are in your good stuff deck for the sake of casting spells before turn four.

But where you can, use your mission statement as your guiding light. Follow it, and victory should follow as well.

Hopefully this was a useful look at deck design you can now take back and use to improve your own decks. I know it has certainly helped me improve mine!

Have any thoughts or questions? I'd love to hear from you! Send me what's on your mind by firing off a tweet, asking me a question on Tumblr, or emailing me (in English, please) at [email protected]

Have fun, and may all your decks now have mission statements!

Talk with you again soon,



So, you’ve played a few games, got hooked and decided to build a Magic: The Gathering deck of your very own? You’ve made a great decision. There’s little else more rewarding than crafting your battle plan, picking the pieces, and finely tuning the nuances of your deck to bring swift defeat to all who challenge you on the tabletop.

We’ve written this guide mainly thinking of new players, just recently enamoured by the arcane power of Planeswalkers – but even for an experienced duelist who knows their enchantments and artifacts like the back of their hand, there’s never any harm in a quick deck-building refresher. In either case, read on and we’ll walk you through the basics.

Don’t be intimidated by the challenge in front of you, building a Magic deck can be boiled down to a straightforward and enjoyable process. Rather than a dry exercise of instruction-reading and rule-following, you can turn your deck-building into an opportunity for experimentation and discovery – finding what works for you and what doesn’t, while expanding your knowledge of the game along the way.

This guide collates some basic tips that any wannabe deck-builder should follow, and provides a firm grounding from which to make all the important card decisions. Once you’ve digested the fundamentals, have a go at putting a deck together yourself. The more practice you have at this process, the more adept you’ll become and – hopefully – the more wins you’ll be able to rack up!

Build a magic the gathering deck

The Basics: What’s in a MTG deck?

Let’s get the preliminaries out of the way. When building a Magic: The Gathering deck you’ll be dealing with two basic building blocks: Land cards, and everything else. Land cards are the energy source of your deck, generating the in-game ‘mana’ that powers everything you do. The ‘everything else,’ is, well, all other cards – Creatures, Instants, Sorceries, Enchantments, Artifacts and Planeswalkers – that require mana to play and, in a multitude of ways, help you deal enough damage to your enemy to win the game. Simple stuff.

Land cards are the energy source of your deck

Alongside what goes into your deck, you’ll also need to keep an eye on how many cards you’ve assembled. In competitive play, Magic: The Gathering deck ‘formats’ are used to regulate what can and cannot be included in a deck. ‘Constructed’ decks must contain at least 60 cards, while ‘Limited’ decks have a lower minimum of only There are multiple formats within these groups, but you only need to know the one that you and your friends are planning to play. If you’re not playing competitively but purely for fun with some mates, pick whatever format takes your fancy, or start off with ‘Standard’, recommended for beginners for its relatively low cost-barrier of entry.

Watch out for future guides in which we’ll zoom in further, with details on how to build great decks for each of Magic’s various formats.

With these basics cleared up, let’s take a gander at the strategic particulars of your new deck.

Build a magic the gathering deck

Consider yourself – Pick a playstyle for your MTG deck

How do you hope to use your deck? Be careful not to waft away this consideration as lofty nonsense. Establishing the purpose of your deck – what mechanics, rules, card types and combinations it will use to deliver victory – will focus your deck-building and influence how you play the game.

New beginnings: How to play Dungeons & Dragons’ starter set

Perhaps you’re chasing a defensive build that relies on reactive attacks and heavy resource-use to gain the edge? Maybe you’re keen to control the rhythm of play and obtain board presence faster than your opponent, to rush a victory? What kind of Creatures take your interest – hulking high-cost beasties to trample the late game, or an aggressive, fast-moving horde of small soldiers?

Build a magic the gathering deck fortress

If you’d rather nail opponents with pure magic, will you ensnare them with layered Enchantments or burn them down with fusillades of damage-dealing Instants and Sorceries? Could you make canny use of Planeswalkers – and if so, are you counting on them to distract your enemy, deal damage or merely provide support to your front-line Creatures?

Having an inkling of how your deck will win is essential

Whoa, that’s a lot of questions to answer! If your immediate reaction is one of befuddlement or pure terror, don’t worry. Knowing precise answers to these questions isn’t necessary right away – but having an inkling of your plan for winning the game is an essential prelude to assembling cards.

Consider your existing style of play, or that of your friends. What sort of playstyle do they use? Does it look like fun? Do you fancy having a crack? Build a deck which you both understand and enjoy playing – and don’t skimp on the latter, it’s the most important factor.

Build a magic the gathering deck

Consider a colour – Pick a mana colour for your MTG deck

Now you know what’s in a Magic: The Gathering deck and have some idea of what playstyle your deck is chasing, surely it’s time to start picking cards? Whoa there, hold your horses. First, choose a card colour, or colours, from which to build your deck.

There are five – white, blue, black, red, and green – each representing a different flavour of mana with its own associated library of cards attached – Lands, Creatures, Instants and the rest.

Build a profile: Check out our D&D classes guide

However, these colour options don’t merely provide an aesthetic variety – oh no. Colours are fundamental to the game’s operation: you can’t play a card unless you pay its cost in mana of the specified colour. Don’t have enough green-mana-producing Forest cards on the board? Then that nasty-looking giant spider that’s burning a hole in your hand ain’t comin’ out to play.

It’s not just about managing resources, either; each colour also maps onto a distinct, thematic playstyle that uses its own balance of mechanics and card types to build a directed fighting force.

Build a magic the gathering deck big snake

Red represents fiery magic, frenzied and raging, and suits aggressive playstyles that focus on quick damage-dealing through persistent, solid attacks. Green, meanwhile, is the magic of life and natural growth, supporting a slow, plodding playstyle that relies on the brute strength of a few powerful units to buckle opponents under their sheer weight.

If you already decided on a playstyle for your deck, picking a colour shouldn’t be too difficult. Find the mana colour that compliments, or directly aligns with, the style you’re pursuing.

It’s best to stick to cards of one colour for your first few decks

As a beginner, it’s simplest to only include cards of a single colour (known as being mono-colour) for your first few decks. Even competitive players tend to limit themselves to two or three. Keeping it simple will streamline the deck’s playstyle and improve your chances of always being able to play something on any given turn. You’d hate to have multiple lands on the table, but too few of any one colour to cast anything from your hand.

However, adding an additional colour or two to your deck broadens its scope, providing a wider range of cards to access. Don’t think too wildly, though. When combining colours, think how the different colour themes will complement, not scupper, one another.

Build a magic the gathering deck

Consider the cost – Pick land cards for your MTG deck

Lands are the building blocks of any deck. Their mana fuels your units and is relied upon to cast units to the table. But there’s a fine nuance to managing Land cards. Don’t go cramming them into your deck haphazardly, or your hand-draws will be overflowing with mana sources at the expense of other key cards – and what good will an additional land do you when the enemy is pounding your final defences and rapidly depleting your life?

Include too few lands, however, and your mana base will be too weak, leaving you paralysed, unable to cast any spells as your opponent builds a lead that you’ll struggle to recoup.

A stable supply of lands will build your mana pool

Choosing how many land cards to include is a fine science, often navigated through a healthy dollop of guesswork. A tried and tested benchmark is to have lands make up around 40% of your deck – about 25 cards for a card deck, and around 18 for a card. This helps ensure a stable supply of lands throughout a game to build your mana pool, while avoiding any fallow fields in the early game or an unwelcome glut of surplus Swamps, Mountains or Islands later on.

When building a Magic deck, you may be tempted to cut down on Land cards. After all, they just sit there, soaking up table space while providing an immaterial magical life force. The real action lies with the deadly Creatures or devious spell cards you’re just dying to show off in combat.

But be wary of sacrificing too much Land for other things. Undercutting your mana base will wreak havoc on the effectiveness of your deck, and it won’t matter how impressive that snazzy Legendary Creature is if it never leaves your hand.

Build a magic the gathering deck big cat

Consider the balance – Pick the main cards for your MTG deck

As with land cards, spend some time thinking about what Creatures, Instants, Sorceries, Enchantments and Artifacts to include in your deck. If you’ve already selected a mana colour, have a playstyle in mind, and settled on a rough number of land cards, this shouldn’t be too taxing.

Choose cards with complementary abilities that aid the direction of your deck. If you’re looking to play aggressive, prioritise Creatures with low mana costs. If you’re keen to dominate the playing field with a control strategy, be sure to include lots of removal cards to cleanse the board of enemy Creatures, and dispels to stymie their magic.

A touch of class: Read our Pathfinder classes guide

In almost all game formats, players are allowed no more than four copies of any one card (barring Lands) in their deck. Does this mean you need four of each card? Nope. Consider the importance of each card. If you’re reliant on it, then stick three or four copies in to get a good strong chance of drawing one early. But if you know you can win without seeing it in play, fewer copies are needed.

Pay additional attention to the mana cost of your cards. Concentrating solely on high-cost cards will have you waiting all game to acquire enough lands before you can deploy that one big, devastating play, running the risk that a speedier, more aggressive opponent could kill you off before you can pull the trigger.

Build a magic the gathering deck

By the same token, including only low-cost cards can allow you unquestioned board control early on, but if you fail to end your enemy while you have the chance, you may end up pinned down and under-powered, unable to break your opponent’s pumped-up late-game defences.

Such ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ decks can both still be viable – but more often you’ll see something of a balance between the two. This is known as managing your ‘mana curve’ – the distribution of mana costs among cards in your deck. Settle on a distribution that supports your playstyle and allows you to play increasingly high-cost creatures and spells as the game progresses.

Choose a mana curve that supports your playstyle

As a good rule of thumb, most decks chase a fairly even mana curve, covering the full range of card costs, but with a concentration of three- or four-cost cards. You’ll want to play a card every turn, and this distribution helps prevent a glut of high- or low-cost cards coming to you at an inopportune time.

Of course, this rule isn’t set in stone. Get creative, test new ideas, and see which mana curve works for you. As with most things in Magic: The Gathering, when building a deck, the best thing to do is to put your efforts through an acid test on the tabletop.

Build a magic the gathering deck

Get creative and have fun

So now you’ve built a fully functioning deck. You’ve decided on a playstyle, picked a mana colour, collected your Land cards, and assembled the key cards that’ll do your dirty work on the battlefield. Go forth and conquer! But the journey doesn’t end here. Tweak your deck if you find it’s not quite working.

A bit gloomy: Read our beginner’s guide to Gloomhaven

Maybe you need to plug in a few more Land cards to increase the available mana pool? Perhaps your mana curve was miscalculated? Substitute new cards and try new tactics – they might surprise you.

Regardless, the most important thing to keep in mind when building a Magic: The Gathering deck is your enjoyment of the game. Make sure you’re having fun building it, and you’ll probably have fun playing it.

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  3. 1950s style door knobs
  4. Motorcycle tattoo ideas
  5. Our generation golden retriever

back to Building on a Budget! I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend. Everyone was busy submitting decks for me to play deck doctor with, that's for sure! I've received a ton of decklists, but instead of delving straight into doctoring one particular deck, I'm going to take a look at the Building end of this column.

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for sending in their decks. There were a ton of great ideas out there, and I'll be doctoring several individual decks in the weeks to come. Today's column deals with the five pitfalls that people fall into when deckbuilding. If I use your deck in today's column, please please please do not be offended. This does not mean your deck is bad – it simply means that it is a good example of a particular problem I want to discuss.

“But Ben,” I bet several of you are going to e-mail me, “why didn't you just get straight to the decks?” The reason is twofold. First, I've never really laid down any deckbuilding rules outside of the “on a Budget” part of this column. Before I tinkered with other people's decks, I thought it would be nice to show some of the rules I use when building my own decks. Second, there were several fundamental problems that reared their ugly heads repeatedly across multiple decks. By explaining these problems en mass, I can help the greatest number of people tune their decks.

Anyhow, on to the rules!

RULE #1: Fix Your Mana Base

The mana base in your deck serves a very important purpose – it enables you to cast your spells for the game. Without a good mana base, your deck will not perform Let's look at three separate decks that were submitted in the forums.

Goodship01 G/W Angels

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DecklistStatsSample Hand

Priest of Titania
First up is Goodship01's G/W Angels deck. This deck runs only 21 lands, with eight alternate mana producers (4 Llanowar Elves, 2 Priest of Titania, and 2 Quirion Elves) and one mana reducer (Urza's Incubator). Meanwhile, the business spells in this deck start at five, and curve all the way up to nine! With eight elves in the deck, Goodship01 can expect to see one Elf per opening hand (eight in sixty cards), and a land about one in every three cards (twenty-one out of sixty). It will be a rare game when Akroma, Reya, or a kicked Thicket Elementalwill be cast.

Make sure you deck has enough lands and mana sources to support the spells you want to cast. There is a huge temptation to try to cut lands to get more spells into your deck, but this makes the deck prone to getting mana screwed. Imagine running a deck with sixty good spells and no lands – you'd lose every game! Sure, your draw would look amazing each game – but without the ability to cast any cards in your hand, it'd be over for you. In the case of this deck, I'd cut a couple of the support cards (Humble, Ancestral Mask, Serra's Embrace) for more Elves (to capitalize on Priest of Titania) and for more lands. Adding three Elfhame Palaces and four Elves to this deck would do wonders to stabilize its mana base.

The flip side of not enough mana sources is too many mana sources.

ChedderCommando: Rakdos

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DecklistStatsSample Hand

This deck ends curving at three mana – and the average cost of the spells in this deck is only two mana. Twenty-Eight lands in this deck are way too many – that's about 50% land! This deck can expect to draw a land every other turn during the game, meaning that ChedderCommando would only see seven to eight spells and seven to eight lands by turn 7 of the game. Those excess lands would be useless, because none of the cards need to get past three mana.

Too much mana will limit your options in the deck, and will subject you to mana glutting later in the game. There's a real temptation to stuff your deck with too much mana, especially if you're paranoid about not being able to cast your spells each game. However, just like in the deck with too little mana, having too much mana will seriously impact your chances to win the game. If you're going to run twenty-eight lands in a sixty-ish card deck, have a good reason for it – such as running a Genju deck and expect the lands to die, or playing a control deck where you can reasonably expect to win if you hit your land drop each and every turn. If you're running an aggressive deck with a low curve and no use for excess lands, cut down the lands in your deck until you reach a more comfortable number – usually In this deck's case, I'd add in more creatures and/or burn spells in place of the extra lands.

The last example involves having too few colored lands in your deck.

I goldfished all three of the above decks a dozen times, and Zammm's gave me the most troubles of the three. I drew enough lands each game, but they were often of the wrong colors. Unholy Grotto, Guardian Idol, and Darksteel Citadel all produce colorless mana. This leaves only eight sources of Black mana for fifteen black spells (not including the double-Black activation on Cranial Plating, or the single-Black activation cost on Unholy Grotto) and only four sources of Blue mana for four Blue cards (not counting Roofstalker Wight's activation cost).

Veil of Secrecy
This is just as problematic as the above two problems, because often this deck will be caught unable to cast spells in hand due to the lack of a colored mana source. With only eight available, you do not have acceptable odds of drawing a black mana source in your opening hand with this deck. Without a Swamp, this deck has a very hard time winning.

The Veil of Secrecy/Seat of the Synod issue is even more problematic, as there are only four Blue sources (one out of every fifteen cards in the deck) for four Blue cards (one out of every fifteen cards in the deck). This means it's a complete crapshoot as to whether or not this deck can draw both a Seat of the Synod and a Veil in the same game.

Make sure that the colored mana in your deck can support the spells you have in your deck. This can be helped through mana-fixing, as well as diversifying your mana base. For instance, this deck's mana base could be helped in any number of ways. Zammm could drop the Veils completely, and replace them with Whispersilk Cloak, adding another artifact to the deck, and taking away the problem with Blue cards/not enough Blue mana. Other solutions include running mana-fixing artifacts (Chromatic Sphere leaps to mind), dual lands (Salt Marsh could replace the Unholy Grottos, which would bring the Black mana count to twelve and the Blue mana count to eight), or mana-producing artifacts (Talisman of Dominance).

RULE #2: Keep Close to 60 Cards

It's tempting to try to cram as many cards as possible into your deck. However, the further you go past sixty cards, the less chance you have of drawing any one particular card in your deck. You can only have four of any given non-basic land card in your deck (please, no talk of Relentless Rats), and the further you get from sixty cards, the less chance you have of seeing these cards.

Let's say you're running four Shocks in a deck.
In a sixty-card deck, Shock will be one out of every fifteen cards.
In an eighty-card deck, Shock will be one out of every twenty cards.
In a one-hundred-card deck, Shock will be one out of every twenty-five cards.

In a sixty-card deck, you have pretty decent odds of seeing Shock before the game is over. It's not guaranteed that you'll see a Shock, but your odds are much better than if you're packing one-hundred cards.


How to build a Magic: The Gathering deck for beginners

Learning how to build a Magic: The Gathering deck is probably one of the most satisfying parts of the trading card game. While learning how to play Magic: The Gathering is important, it’s so much more gratifying to win when you’ve put the deck together from scratch.

While you’re sure to learn a lot about the fine art of building a deck the more you practice, there are a few fundamental tips that can really help you start from the best possible place. That’s why we’ve put together this incredibly useful guide on how to build a Magic: The Gathering deck as a beginner. Follow these, and you’ll be ready to become a proper brewer.

How many cards are in a Magic: The Gathering deck?

The first thing you need to decide is which format you’re building a deck for. Of course, you’ll be familiar with the most popular Magic: The Gathering formats from our useful guide here. This will determine which sets you can use as well as the minimum size of the deck too.

If you’re building a Limited deck, then you need to have at least 40 cards. If you’re building a deck for the Constructed format, then you’ll need to have at least 60 cards, plus you’ll want a sideboard of 15 cards too. Finally, if you’re building one for Commander or Brawl, then you’ll need one commander card plus either 99 cards for Commander and 59 for Brawl.

Magic: The Gathering trading card game cards

What should be in your MTG deck?

Next, you need to work out what you want your deck to do, based on the different Magic: The Gathering deck types out there. Are you planning on building an Aggro deck or a Control deck? Do you want it to be creature-based or more heavily focused on planeswalkers or enchantments? What exactly do you want your win condition to be? Do you want to be on the attack and linear, or do you want to be reactive and more flexible? You need to have a rough idea of all of these things if you're going to get started on a new brew (not a cup of tea, but brewing a deck idea). Once you know how you want to win the game, you can get started on which cards actually go into it.

How to choose your deck mana colours

Next, you’ll want to decide on which of MTG’s five mana colours you’ll be using. It helps to have a rough idea of what the different Magic: The Gathering mana colours mean, of course.

Generally speaking, if you’re building an Aggro deck, then you’ll probably want to have Red involved in some way. Likewise, if you’re going to make a Control deck, then you’ll probably want to use Blue. You never want to choose more than three colours (at least, most of the time) and if you want to be safe then having two is probably the best way.

One colour will mean all of your lands will let you cast the spells you have, but adding a second colour dramatically increases the pool of cards you can choose from. This, in turn, makes it far easier to find more cards that fit your gameplan. The specific colours for each strategy vary depending on the format. Also, there are always ways to build decks in colours that don’t make sense, there are a few Blue Aggro decks, but it isn’t a common thing, and you shouldn’t be trying to break the mould with your first deck.

How many land cards does a Magic: The Gathering deck need?

It’s time to decide on the number of lands in your deck. Land cards are what allow you to cast spells each turn by providing mana, but you can typically only put one down each turn. At the same time, if you reach the late-game, drawing a land could be the end of you. You can end up with no land all game, or far too much land, so knowing how much is the right amount is essential to building a Magic: The Gathering deck from scratch.

Aggro decks tend to be made up of lower-cost cards; this means you can afford to have fewer lands as a result. Midrange and Control decks both tend to have a higher concentration of costly cards, which means you’ll need more lands. You’ll generally always want between 20 and 26 lands in a 60 card deck, so it’s all about understanding your plan and figuring it out from there.

Magic: The Gathering trading card game land cards

The MTG mana curve explained - and how to control it

You need to understand your mana curve. More importantly, you need to control it. ‘Mana curve’ is the term used to describe the mana cost of your cards. If you’ve got a lot of cards that cost six and seven mana, then you’ve got a high mana curve. If your deck is entirely made up of two drops (cards that cost two mana), then you’ve got a low mana curve. You’ll generally want your mana curve to be a bell curve of sorts, with a few one- and two-mana spells, a higher concentration of three- to four-drops, and then a few cards that cost five or more.

Obviously, this is dependent on what kind of Magic: The Gathering deck you’re building as a beginner, but it’s imperative to keep in mind. You want to be able to cast a spell or two every turn, and having too many expensive cards will stop you doing that. On top of that, you want your cards to be impactful if you’re planning on playing the long game, so you’ll need some high-cost, high-impact cards to close the game out when you’re ready.

How many creatures should be in a Magic: The Gathering deck?

Now you’ll need to decide on how many of each card to put in. You can have up to four of any card, such as creatures and spells, in your deck. It’s important to note the ‘up to’ part of that rule because you won’t always want four copies of a card in your deck. The easiest way to think of it is this: if you know you always want to see at least one copy of a particular creature or spell (or anything else) each game, then you want four of it. If not, then you’ll want fewer copies.

Three copies is a good place for cards that have flexibility but aren’t integral to the core part of your game. Two copies is excellent for powerhouse cards, the creatures and spells that cost a lot and have a significant effect on the game, but aren’t necessary for you to win if your primary plan of attack works. One copy is the kind of card that can end the game if your draw it, but it might only work in certain situations.

Magic: The Gathering trading card game Encampment Keeper creature card

Is the MTG Core Set - Deck Builder’s Toolkit worth it?

The above are all of the general rules for building a Magic: The Gathering deck; this is more a bit of financial advice. There are heaps of different kinds of bundles, collections, pre-made decks and then the Core Set - Deck Builder’s Toolkit. They all have their own merits, but it’s important to consider what you’re hoping to get from them. The Deck Builder’s Toolkit is an excellent way of getting some basic lands and a bunch of cards from a specific set. It’s a good starting point to any collection but isn’t always that helpful if you’re trying to build a deck that isn’t for the Standard format.

The Commander decks that come out each year are an excellent purchase if you’re looking to build a Commander deck, and the same is true of the more recent Brawl decks introduced alongside the Throne of Eldraine set. If you’re looking to play Magic: The Gathering’s non-rotating formats (Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Vintage) then you’ll be better off trading for, or simply buying, the exact card you want. Older cards are much harder to get in normal packs because most places only have the more recent sets of MTG in stock. It’s a bit naff, but it’s just the way of things.


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