by John Penick, Game Designer, Wizards of the Coast
Building your own deck can be an intimidating task, especially for those who haven’t done so before. And for players that would rather avoid it, Magic Spellslingers tries to curate some reasonable options in the Deck Showcase. But for those that want to get busy in the deck builder and are unsure where to start, I wanted to give a basic breakdown of how you might approach building a new deck.
What's Your Story?
The first and arguably most important part of building a deck is making sure all your pieces are telling the same “story.” Ideally, your Spellslinger and cards should be working together toward a common goal or victory condition. Your opponent and the deck that they are bringing to the table will have its own story. Since your story and your opponent's story are mutually exclusive (you can’t both win the same game), those differences will be resolved by how your decks play out against each other to determine which story will win. You want to have a story that is not in conflict with itself because your opponents will be attempting to disrupt it as well. After all, it would be a bit jarring to get halfway through what you thought was a historical fiction book only to discover a plot twist that included fighting off space lizards bent on intergalactic conquest!
Let’s look at a deck that is close to having a consistent story, with a few exceptions:
Most of these cards are aggressive-minded and pushing in the same direction. There is also a bit of a self-damage package with Enraged Elemental, Scattershot Crossbow, and Pyroclasm. The problem is that those self-damage cards conflict with what the rest of the deck is trying to do.
Pyroclasm and Scattershot Crossbow tend to be most effective against decks with small creatures, and when played in a deck with relatively few creatures risk being destroyed by those cards. When you draw Pyroclasm alongside Raging Goblin and other small creatures that you’re trying to attack with, playing your cards can get awkward because these cards are trying to tell different stories.
Imagine a game where you get off to a good aggressive start with Raging Goblin and Pouncing Lemur, and then you draw a Pyroclasm on turn 3. The chance is relatively high that it sits in your hand for much of the game. Playing it would do more harm to your board than your opponent’s. If that Pyroclasm were instead another aggressive creature or a card that could be used to remove an enemy blocker, you would be able to use it to press your advantage on the board.
Alternatively, imagine drawing Pyroclasm in your opening hand. You might cleverly decide to slow-play your hand, not deploying your small creatures in the early turns in an attempt to get more value out of your Pyroclasm. But by slow-playing your hand to tilt the symmetry of Pyroclasm in your favor, you push yourself later into the game where cards like Raging Goblin and Fire Elemental (aggressive cards trying to end the game before more powerful high-cost cards can take over) become weaker relative to the higher-cost, higher-impact cards other strategies use.
By replacing the self-damage package with cards that are more aligned with what the rest of the deck is trying to accomplish (ending games quickly before your opponent can execute their own game plan), you end up with fewer awkward scenarios and conflicting stories in the cards that you draw.
With just a few changes, we can change this deck's conflicted story into a consistent one. The Enraged Elementals, Scattershot Crossbows, and Pyroclasms have been replaced with cards that help the story instead of hurt it: Mana Constrictor (another low-cost creature to attack with), Unsummon (a way to exchange a card for short-term advantage on the board), and Firemind Bolt (a way to clear blockers out of the way or help deal the final points of damage on a board you can’t attack past). All the additions further support the story the rest of the cards are trying to tell.
The End . . . ?
The great thing about telling the story of your deck is that even though there may be some practical guidelines and common practices, ultimately it is up to you how you want to express the idea that drove you to build the deck in the first place. Not everyone will share your style, goals, or preferences.
As our lovely homunculus emcee, Vin, says: “Pick your hero, win your way!”