Javasci's picture
By: Javasci, Robert Johnson
Apr 13 2007 4:39pm
Login or register to post comments

There are many things one must do to build a deck, and no first draft will accomplish them all.  Anyone who wishes his or her decks to be successful must be able to play the deck, find weaknesses, and patch them.  This is the process of tinkering, the last stage of deckbuilding.  In this process, depending on what your goal for the deck is, you must be prepared to change cards, strategy, and even theme of the deck.  For example, you may start with the theme of Moonlace.  When you are done, your theme may be Spreading Plague + Shifting Sky pseudo-lock.  In another example, you may start with the theme of Trinisphere and control.  When you are done, your strategy may have gone from counters and Exalted Angel through Psychatog, Braids, Cabal Minion, Army Ants, and end at Cephalid Constable.  All this happens in the tinkering phase.

The first step of tinkering is obviously to play the deck.  The second step is to note the deck's weaknesses.  The third step is to change the deck, which can take any of many different forms:

Type 1: Card Deletion

This is when one of your cards does not perform up to expectations and you cut it from the deck.  For example, just before I typed this, I realized that I had put Mystical Tutor in a deck with very few instants and sorceries worth searching for.  Therefore, I am about to take out my 4 copies of Mystical Tutor from that deck.  In the place of the card or cards you remove, you must add in some cards.

Example from RG Aggro.dec:

You are playing a Red/Green aggro deck.  You realize that Boreal Druid is not helping enough.  You then take it out.  In its place, you put in Mire Boa.

Boreal Druid


Mire Boa

Type 2: Card Insertion

This is when you find that a card not in your deck would help you remove a weakness.  For example, you may see that Braids, Cabal Minion would be a perfect fit for your Trinisphere deck.  Card Insertions are always accompanied by removal of the same number of cards as you insert, as one of the fundamental principles of deckbuilding is not to go over the minimum number of cards, barring Battle of Wits or some such.  Although they amount to the same thing, Card Deletions and Card Insertions are different, because the motive is different.  In a deletion, it is one card not being good enough and being taken out.  You then need to fill the hole.  In an insertion, it is one card being necessary for the deck, and needing to make space for that card.

Example from Moonlace.dec:

You are playing a deck centered around Shifting Sky, Spreading Plague, and Moonlaceing a creature you control to save it.  You realize that your deck is weak against artifacts and enchantments, so you insert Disenchant.  To make space, you take out Mystical Tutor.



Mystical Tutor

Type 3: Color Change

This is effectively a card insertion and a lot of card deletions.  It is when you decide that your current color scheme leaves out a card you need, and then you remove all cards from one of your colors to make room for another color.  (Depending on the circumstances, you may only insert, and not delete, colors.)  Color changes can also be merely color deletions, if you decide that none of the cards in a given color help the deck, and take the color out completely.  For example, if you have a White/Blue Isochron Scepter control deck, and you realize that Fire/Ice and Lightning Helix would help, you add red.  However, you probably do not take out white or blue.

Example from Magus of the Candelabra infinite combo:

You are playing a deck based on the combo of Magus of the Candelabra, Freed from the Real, and karoo lands like Simic Growth Chamber.  You realize that your Enlightened Tutors, your only white cards, would be better as Vampiric Tutors, even though you are not playing black.  Since the Enlightened Tutors are your only white cards, you switch them and your white lands for Vampiric Tutors and black lands.  You can also here switch your Braingeysers for Consume Spirits, and access the discard ability of your Dimir Guildmages.



Enlightened Tutor
Vampiric Tutor
Consume Spirit

Type 4: Theme/Strategy Change

This is a major change to the deck, even more so than a color change.  This changes the deck's focus, its path to victory.  This is, in effect, saying, "This deck as it is won't fulfill my goal for it.  I need to try something different."  Learning when to give up on a deck is a necessary skill for all competitive deckbuilders, as well as some casual ones.  The difference between a weakness and a fatal weakness, the latter which would make you give up on a deck, is that a weakness is a matter of one strategy beating your deck, while a fatal weakness is a matter of your deck's strategy simply not being good enough.  A theme or strategy change can be any level of major change, from changing some of the less important deck pieces (i. e., in Trinisphere + Dark Ritual + Stoneshaker Shaman, removing the shaman and replacing it with Cephalid Constable), to changing one of the more important deck pieces (in the example above, replacing Dark Ritual with Chrome Mox), to scrapping the whole deck idea and not making anything similar (in the example above, giving up on Trinisphere decks altogether).  To be any good at competitive deckbuilding at any level of competition, you must be able to do all three of those, and everywhere in between.  Just because an idea looks good on paper doesn't mean it'll be good in a game of Magic.

Example from Trinisphere.dec:

You are playing a deck based on Trinisphere.  You are currently supporting it with Braids, Cabal Minion.  However, Braids, Cabal Minion is never in play when you need her there.  Thus, you remove Braids.

You now need a new support card.  You decide to add in Cephalid Constable and Temporal Adept, which in addition to being a Strategy Change is a Color Change.

Braids, Cabal Minion


Cephalid Constable

However, even that doesn't work, and you are out of ideas for Trinisphere.  In that case, you give up on the deck and make a new one on a completely different theme.

These four types of changes are all essential for a tinkerer's arsenal, for they will all be used by anyone who does any decent amount of tinkering at a competitive level.  (Only the less severe ones will be used by someone who builds decks merely for casual and values the concept of the deck over its win-loss record.)  Anyone who would build competitive decks must learn these methods of the last and possibly most important stage of deckbuilding.


by Lythand at Sun, 04/15/2007 - 05:01
Lythand's picture

Just a side note. I was half asleep when I wrote that comment below so...I appoligize if sentences make no sence.

by AJ_Impy at Sun, 04/15/2007 - 03:34
AJ_Impy's picture

A good article for people at the stage in their magic playing life where they just keep on adding cards to their pile of stuff they like, but who want to learn how to build more consistent decks. Bit of a narrow focus, bit of a short article, but good for pointing out what most people would assume to be obvious, but isn't for some. My advice would be perhaps to broaden your appeal: You give examples from several different decks, but the people who would most benefit from the article wouldn't necessarily know what went into a good example of the archetypes. The topic is a useful one, but you need to think about which audience you're writing for. There is promise here, and I know full well what you're capable of in terms of the creative side, but you need to raise your game a little in your next article.

A little helpful by Lythand at Sun, 04/15/2007 - 04:59
Lythand's picture

I think the article has some merrits. As thejitte pointed out is common sence what to take out and what not to add. For me though its being able to identify which cards are the week links. That one or two cards that seems to work sometimes, but consistantly falls behind on par. Here is an article I would also like to see touched on. The mana curve. Mysticlancer wrote a deck on what cards to choose based on how good they are in a draft. Well after you have your card pool ( and this goes for draft or constructed), how do you determine that you have a decent mana curve. I never really understood how to determin that. I have an idea what it represents but now how to get to that stage. So thats an article I would like to see and I will post this in the forums as well.

I will tell you if it wasnt for net decks, I would probably never play competition level magic.

So.. How did everyone like this one? by mtgotraders at Sat, 04/14/2007 - 13:06
mtgotraders's picture

Any feedback for Java?

by MysticLancer at Sat, 04/14/2007 - 13:58
MysticLancer's picture

Its a nice article, although kind of short. It definitely hit on the main topics of deck editing. A suggestion for another type of article like this would be to start with a deck as an example and go through the whole process with that deck. Hope that helps.

by thejitte at Sat, 04/14/2007 - 15:58
thejitte's picture

99% of this is common sense. Take out bad cards for good ones.

"Card Insertions are always accompanied by removal of the same number of cards as you insert" - Really?