Building a good deck is as important as being able to play the deck. I'm sure most of you don't bother creating your own decks, instead just finding a deck that you like online and make that. You test it for a week, and you might make a couple of changes to the deck or sideboard, depending on what everyone else is playing. You go to the tournament knowing what to do against any other deck known, until you play against Rogue Roy and his Build of the Week. And you lose.
What just happened? You played a deck known to win tournaments and you get beaten by a deck that hasn't won a single tournament! The guy beat you because he knows how to make a good deck. There are a couple of advantages to making a good rogue deck:
1. It's rogue - No one has seen your deck before, so they don’t know how to beat it at first. Their sideboards are built towards other decks that are known in the format, not yours.
2. Cards are cheaper - Usually the cards are cheaper because no other decks will be built around them. Goblin Piledriver is only worth so much because a lot of people play Goblins in Extended. Whoever built Ichorid-Atog first probably didn't have to spend that much money because cards like Ichorid were cheap, since they weren't used in any tournament decks.
Now that we have explained why it can be to your advantage to go rogue, we will show you how to go about building a deck.
Step zero: Understand what makes a good deck.
Anyone can just build a deck, but to make a good deck you need to know a couple of things about what makes a deck a good deck. Things like Card Advantage, Tempo, and Consistency.
If you don’t already know them, the only advice I can give you is to read as many articles on Magic theory as you can find. You don’t need to know everything about Magic to understand this article, but the more you know, the better you can make your decks. Check out Fadeblue's "Magic Theory From the Ground Up" series, which can be found in Fadeblue's archive.
Step one: Find a good deck concept
You need to consider a couple of things while you are searching for a deck concept:
1. Your cardpool - I don’t mean your cardpool, because you can always buy or trade for cards. I am talking, rather, about the pool of available cards that applies to the deck you are trying to make. For instance, if you are talking about an Extended Barbarian deck, there probably aren't going to be many good cards to choose.
2. The metagame - What kind of deck would win in your metagame? Also, you want to consider what cards would hurt your deck.
3. What you like to play - Personally, I hate playing Draw-Go decks. You would never see me come up with a U/x control idea. In the same way, you need to pick a deck you will actually want to build. But this sort of thing should be obvious.
Once you have your deck, you go on to the next step. But for purposes of making the steps easier to understand, I will be going through the deck building steps along with you using a deck that I actually helped a friend build: Extended Wizards. He brought the idea up on MSN one day, and I thought it was just another of his crazy ideas. Anyway, the conversation went a bit like this:
DarkRitual: Yo, what’s happening?
Friend: Looking for a new deck concept in Extended.
DarkRitual: Why can’t you just play netdecks like everyone else?
Friend: I’m tired of netdecks, they’re not original.
DarkRitual: Well, what ideas did you have in mind?
Friend: I’m pretty much just trying to find a card in Extended that I can base a deck on.
DarkRitual: Well, good luck with that.
Friend: Oh, hey Proteus Staff! I could have fun with that, that’s like a 4th turn Akroma or something.
DarkRitual: You might as well play Reanimator if you aim to go that route.
Friend: Oh hey, Desolation Angel. Maybe I could throw that in a GBW deck and play big creatures, disruption and mana acceleration.
DarkRitual: Ya, but that’s basically the Rock with white added to it.
Friend: OMG, I got it! Patron Wizard!
DarkRitual: Are you serious?
Friend: Yeah, remember when Ben took that Wizard deck and just owned with it at FNM?
DarkRitual: That was T2 . . .
Friend: It should work in Extended. You can get a lockdown on the third turn if you play it right. This deck should turn out pretty good. I’m going to throw something together and try it out.
Although it might not seem like it, the three guidelines above were used when he thought of the right deck to try and build. The cardpool for a Wizard deck would be huge, considering we're talking about Extended and there are tons of Wizards in the format. He also considered the metagame (or he just got lucky and it worked out, but for this article lets assume he knew what he was doing), and the cards that would ruin a Wizard deck like Engineered Plague aren’t in anyone’s sideboard around here.
Now that the idea was in place, the next step would be to make a rough draft.
Step two: Make a rough draft
It's simple really: all you have to do is sketch out a rough draft as the initial deck. Some folks can just create a draft in their heads and work from there, but for me, it's just easier to write it down. Here is the Wizard.dec draft.
Don't feel bad if it looks bad; the idea is for you to make changes to the deck eventually, anyway. Also, don't bother with a sideboard at this point, since we dont even know what to sideboard against yet.
Step three: Analyze the deck and make changes
This is where your knowledge of Magic theory comes in. Playtest a couple of games with your new deck and see how it plays. After playing with the deck, it should be obvious what changes you should make. If you don’t know much theory, find someone who does and talk to him or her about it.
We found out a couple of things after playtesting the deck:
1. The mana curve was bad -- We needed more 1-drops and 2-drops, and fewer 3-drops.
2. No good card advantage -- for a Blue deck, it certainly was bad about keeping cards in your hand.
3. No instant answers -- if an opponent dropped Psychatog on us and Temporal Adept wasn't in play, he knew he was going to get a couple of turns to attack.
So, we conversed again.
DarkRitual: So, what changes should we make?
Friend: I think we need some kind of card like Boomerang in there, so that if they get something past the lock, we can still deal with it.
DarkRitual: And then?
Friend: . . . and then, we need to add more 1-drops, so that once Patron comes into play we will actually have Wizards to counter stuff. It also gives us more Wizards to sack to Voidmage.
DarkRitual: And then?
Friend: . . . and then, we should add in some card advantage. The only card advantage we have is Azami, and she costs , so we need something a lot cheaper.
DarkRitual: And then?
Friend: Can you stop it with the, “and then?” Its getting annoying, and it's not even original. You stole it from Dude, Where’s My Car?
DarkRitual: Well, I thought it was a good movie.
Friend: But the jokes get old really quick.
DarkRitual: That’s your opinion.
Friend: It happens to be . . . look, can we just get back to the deck? What are we going to do about the card advantage problem? I can’t find any Wizards that are good enough to use.
DarkRitual: Lets ask Jhonka, he should know.
His real name is Chris, but for the purposes of this conversation, we are calling him Jhonka.
Jhonka: What's up?
Friend: We're having issues with the Wizard deck.
Jhonka: You're actually making the deck? I thought you were joking about it.
Friend: Hey, the deck works, but we need to tweak it. Can you think of any good card advantage for the deck? Preferably Wizards so that the deck doesn’t lose consistency.
Jhonka: What the hell? Play Bob and Finkel.
Friend: We don’t want to add another color; that would make it harder to play Patron Wizard.
Jhonka: This is Extended, there are tons of dual lands. You have the Shocklands, Painlands, and Fetchlands, so it shouldn’t be that hard to make the deck consistent.
Friend: . . . Oh. Well, I guess problem solved, then.
After that interesting conversation, we made the changes. Here was the new and improved deck:
With that, we go to the next step.
Step four: Test and refine your deck
You might be thinking, "Wait, didn't we just do that?" The testing you may have done in the third step would have been just a couple of matches so you can see the obvious flaws in your deck. The testing in this step will take a lot more time, ensuring you know how to play the deck better. If you have a friend and a program like Apprentice or Magic Workstation, you can probably get the testing done in a day, depending on how much the deck needs work.
While testing, you'll want to keep a tally of how many games you win or lose so that you can formulate a sideboard and use it to test entire matches against a specific deck. After making the sideboard, you will want to play the matchups you had problems with to see how effective the sideboard is.
Going back to our example, we tested the Wizard deck and quickly found out that it had problems with Boros, Mono Black Control, and Slide. We took out Temporal Adepts and one Meddling Mage from the deck to add Sword of Fire and Ice, making Boros and Slide a better matchup in game one. We also made a sideboard:
4 Echoing Decay
3 Patriarch's Bidding
4 Delusions of Mediocrity
4 Tempest of Light
Echoing Decay can also be brought in to combat Decree of Justice tokens or Zombie tokens from Zombie Infestation. Bidding is just against any deck that tries to win by destroying the Wizards. Delusions of Mediocrity was originally Silver Knight, but then we found out that they could just race us with Silver Knight on the table, so that got taken out. Tempest of Light would be an anti-Slide or anti-CAL card.
The Wizard deck turned out to be pretty good. It still got beaten by Boros most of the time, but no deck can beat everything, right? It was about even with Tog and Scepter-Chant. The best matchups it had were The Rock and Heartbeat Desire. Which, coincidentally, were the two top decks in our field.
Keep in mind that, during any point in the deckbuilding process, you might figure out that your deck just can't compete in a tournament environment. In that case, you would have to start over and think of another concept. It sucks, I know. Sometimes, there just isn't enough of a cardpool for your deck to be good enough. If it weren't for the Black splash of Wizards, we wouldn't have been able to make the Wizard deck work, because any card advantage we would use would make the deck less consistent. We almost got lucky that the cards we needed happened to be Wizards.
So, that does it for my "How To" article on building your own deck. Show off your deckbuilding skills by bringing your next rogue deck to a tournament.
Editing: Dr. Tom