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Bruce Gray - October 14, 2015

Casual Encounters – The Ten Commandments of Casual Deck Construc...

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The Ten Commandments of Casual Deck Construction

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

Hi again everyone and welcome back to another Casual Encounter! With Battle for Zendikar being out and now legal in Standard, there has been an explosion of decks being built. Brewers of all stripes have sat down and put their thoughts together to make a pile of sweet new decks. I have been in the process of building some of my own new decks, but instead of eyeing playing tier 1 Standard decks I’m looking to build decks to play casually. I’ve always had some unspoken guidelines that I’ve kept in mind when building these decks, but I’ve never actually sat down and laid them all out in front of me. Today I have compiled my personal top ten commandments for building my casual decks and will share them with you. At the end, if you have any others that you feel should be added or things that don’t work for you, leave a message or send me a tweet and let me know!

Let’s clear up a few things before we get started. When I say “casual” I’m talking about any time you just sit down with a buddy or two on a Saturday night and just jam a few games. You are playing Magic, but not with an express interest in winning (although winning is fun). You are looking to enjoy the company of your friends and have games of Magic where something interesting, surprising, or intriguing happens. So, if your deck is too powerful, or too weak, your experience is just not going to be as good because you will either dominate or get run over and your games will run out of steam. Neither experience lends itself to fun game play. So, when trying to build a deck I try to follow as many of these rules as I can. Without further ado let’s check out The Ten Commandments of Casual Deck Construction.

10) Thou shalt build a deck that is good…but not too good. Playing the oppressive tournament winning deck is no fun for your friends. It’s ok to have this built and to play it once in a while, but if this is your go-to deck you will quickly find that your friends lose interest or don’t like to play against that deck. Pull it out and play a game or two with your scary good tournament deck, but then put it back in your deck box and grab something else.

9) Thou shalt look for synergy over raw power. Synergistic decks are always more fun and can be deceivingly powerful. Once you get the momentum going you are hard to derail and can be capable of some pretty explosive things. One such example of a synergistic deck that is perfect for Casual play are Simic decks featuring the Evolve mechanic and lots of +1/+1 counters. The Simic deck can be slow to get going, but once you get that Zegana or Master Biomancer up to speed your deck gets hard to handle. Decks featuring somewhat obscure or tricky combos like Sanguine Bond/Exquisite Blood are other great examples of where synergy can totally take over a game, but the deck doesn’t need to ruin the experience for everyone..

8) Thou shalt play those janky bulk rares. Those terrible, unplayable cards can give you much joy and give everyone a good laugh because no one thought they would see play…ever. I’m looking at you Felhide Spiritbinder and Blessed Reincarnation. These sorts of cards can do powerful things if you are prepared to actually play them…sometimes with unintended consequences…and that always makes for great stories. Don’t be gun shy, just run’em. You’ll see.

7) Thou shalt remember that commons and uncommons are your friends. Most Casual players have boxes of commons and uncommons that just sort of sit around and don’t do very much. However, these very playable cards can be leveraged into good value during a game if you are committed to running them. A couple of recent examples are the uncommons from Fate Reforged like Elite Scaleguard, Temur Sabretooth, and Mistfire Adept that can be very powerful but often get overlooked in constructed in favor of just more raw power. Kitchen Table Magic is the perfect place for these to flourish.

6) Thou shalt play an imperfect mana base and that is okay. Really, it’s O-K. No one expects you to have all the most current dual lands / fetch lands / creature lands / make rainbows & skittles fly out of their back side lands. Plus it is way cheaper. WAY cheaper !!!

5) Thou shalt play seven mana (or bigger) spells and not even blink twice. I think this is self explanatory.

4) Thou shalt play expensive, but useful creature destruction. We all know how removal has changed over time. Long gone are Terror, Dark Banishing, Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile. Instead we get much more conditional removal that is either slower (at sorcery speed), more narrow (like Ultimate Price) or just plain expensive like Spiteful Blow Pinion Feast that tack on an extra effect. There is actually an incentive to play these less mana efficient cards outside of Limited when you head on to the Casual game. The extra ability (that usually makes the spell so expensive to cast) actually can help your deck do what it wants to do. I always use the example of Spiteful Blow in a deck with a fair amount of land destruction because now you get a 2 for 1 out of this spell that plays into the theme of your deck. Pinion Feast is fine removal in a deck looking to leverage lots of +1/+1 counters. Would I be clambering to play a full playset of these things? No. But there is a place for 1 or 2 of the more unusual spells. Besides to play a million copies of Hero’s Downfall is expensive and not fun.

3) Thou shalt play unusual artifacts. Hello Pixis of Pandemonium.

2) Thou shalt play answers to a little of everything. Since you really don’t get a chance to sideboard you need to play an answer to most sorts of things. Creature destruction obviously, but artifact and enchantment removal are key too. You can slide in some counter spells. No opponent wants to be locked out of the game on account of counter magic, but they do have their place. This takes up more card slots and increases your variance, but variance can make for fun game states with someone having the surprise answer in hand that can swing the whole game around.

1) Thou shalt remember that it is just a game and that you are paying for fun.

Notice I don’t say you can’t play this, that, or the other thing. Anything goes. Provided that your deck is mindful of things like your opponents and having a fun and interactive game, you can play that Ugin or Karn. You can go all aggro if you want, but maybe not quite as aggro as the winning deck at the last big tournament. You can do anything you like, but remember that you are playing for fun. Giving some consideration to the other players will help make your experience far more enjoyable for everyone.

Here’s an example of a deck I have built that fits many of these rules and would be an excellent example of a good casual deck:

B/W Counters

So, let’s look at the number of commandments I’ve hit on with this list. It’s not just rares (#10), relies mostly on synergy (#9), plays a couple of janky rares (Foul Renewal for sure)(#8), has lots of commons and uncommons (#7), the mana base is a long way from being flashy or perfect (#6), and answers to a range of things (#2). That’s quite the number of goals that I’ve met and I have no doubt that the deck would fare just fine in a match with some friends. I’ve been toying around with this in the play rooms on MTGO and have seen some reasonable success by giving as good as it gets. More importantly, no one is going to look at this deck and just balk. It’s respectable, has a chance to win every time, and is looking to interact and make the game fun for everyone. It’s not a fancy deck, but it showcases many of the ideas I have been trying to illustrate.

Have I missed anything? Is there anything on my list you don’t agree with? Let me know. There are loads of people out there who play casually and I would love to hear what other people do as they sit down to make up their decks. So, leave me a message or fire me a tweet and let know.

Thanks very much for stopping by for a read. Until next time have yourself a great MTG day and I’ll talk to you guys next time!

 

By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

@bgray8791 on Twitter

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Gerald Knight Gerald Knight - February 23, 2014

Knight’s Booty: The League, Day #2

Born-of-the-Gods-League-Slawomir-Maniak

Off to battle I went with my red white deck of unsurmountable speed.  I know, that’s a big word for me, but I figured why not try and make my deck sound better than I anticipated it would be.  To be honest, I didn’t really like my cardpool, not when I compare it to what I had at the pre-release.  But that is my first problem.  I’m comparing it to my previous sealed pool and I can’t do that. I have to look at this with fresh eyes, and so with a bit more analysis I went into my first match.

I had ten cards I could cast on turn one, six cards on turn two, one on turn three, and so forth.  Sounds like I have a good curve.  I have nine humans to abuse with the pegasus, I have five heroic creatures with XX spells (bestow and otherwise) to be able to trigger them, including some pretty cool combat tricks (coordinated assault is cute).  And I have a removal suite that can range from the little guys to gods.  Maybe I didn’t have such a bad pool afterall.  But there was only one way to find out.  And that was to take it into the field.

So my first opponent for the week was Robert who was playing a Blue/Green deck.  His seeded pack was Green and so he had the Nessian Wilds Ravager in his pool and he was boasting a bunch of fliers.  And he also had the Legendary Kraken.  I had a feeling that my little army was in for a big fight.

Nessian Wilds Ravager

Match one started with me on the play, dropping a Priest of Iroas, into his island.  Then I swung for one damage before dropping a Priest of Iroas.  He presented a second land, played  an Kiora’s Follower – Game Day Promo passed.  I swung in with both my guys and he blocked the priest.  Unfortunately for him they planned a Coordinated Assault and the follower fell.  He played a third land and passed, to which I responded by hitting him again uncontested and then played out an Akroan Phalanx.  His next turn saw another land and another pass.  I swung in again and he flashed a Horizon Chimera in, which would explain his lack of tapping, but unfortunately for him I held my mana open and had a Lightning Strike to answer that threat.  He sucked up the damage before I played a Cavalry Pegasus and he scooped.  Game one down.

Game two started with him having to mulligan down to six on the play and starting with an island.  I played a plains and put down a Nyxborn Shieldmate, by far one of my favourite commons of this set.  He played down a forest and like deja-vu he played down Kiora’s Follower again.  My second turn met with a mountain and a bestowed Nyxborn Rollicker to make my shieldmate ⅔ and swung past the Follower unblocked.  His next turn played down an Ordeal of Thassa on his Follower and swung in for three.  This is when I almost started to panic, until I drew into a Lightning Strike.  I swung simply and did my damage, leaving all my mana open.  He took the bait and declared attackers, which forced the Lightning Strike out of my hand to a combat trick I wasn’t expecting.  He played Retraction Helix on his own creature and responded by bouncing it back to his hand, ending combat and playing it back out.  But at least the bounty was gone.  By my next turn I was ready to swing again but this time he blocked.  Then I played another Akroan Phalanx to end my turn.  He played a land and passed.  I drew, played a land, attacked and the Phalanx met a Voyages End, only to be played out again.  This same thing happened the next turn, except after I played the Phalanx again I played a Pegasus that was met with an Annul, all the while whittling down his life.  Unfortunately this was where things started to look bad.  He finally had enough mana out to throw down his Nessian Wilds Ravager.  I knew I couldn’t let him destroy one of my guys so I let him have the counters and stared down a 12/12 hydra.  Not the most pleasant thing in the world to say the least.  I went to my turn, and played an Akroan Crusader and passed, knowing that nothing I would be able to do would get past the Nessian.  I needed him to attack with it and I could crack back to hopefully finish him off.  Which is how it played out with a little bit of a twist.  After he attacked with the hydra and dropped my life total down he played a Thassa’s Emmisary, nearly foiling my plans until I drew into one of my two Revoke Existence’s.  I cleared the way and swung in to bring him to within an inch of his life before playing down a Favored Hoplite just to make sure that I had more than one chump blocker back in case he had any tricks.  He drew up but couldn’t find an answer and said “good game”.

Revoke Existence

First match of the league in the books and I felt good.  Not entirely confident in the deck just yet.  Always found I had more mana than I needed and I am thinking about dropping one mana for another combat trick.  But I can still be happy being off to a good start.

I also took the time to look over Roberts pool and noticed that he went the wrong way.  Even with all of his blue control he had more in black with Hero’s Downfall and Asphyxiate, along with Pain Seer, and a Reaper of the Wilds.  I convinced him to maybe try out Green/Black for next week, might be a better challenge.

~ Gerald Knight

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Gerald Knight Gerald Knight - February 17, 2014

Knight’s Booty – The League, Day #1

Born-of-the-Gods-League-Slawomir-Maniak

So a few months ago a new brick and mortar gaming shop opened up in the heart of my beloved city’s downtown core.  I was there the day it opened and couldn’t thank the owner enough for doing something that was so risky.  See, shops in our city’s downtown region don’t usually last long unless they serve coffee or cigarettes, so this guy was taking a huge risk.  But it was a necessary one because if you wanted to game and you lived downtown there was nowhere to do so without hopping on a bus for a 20 minute ride or so.

So you can imagine my excitement when this shop opened up, and how excited I was to hear that they were going to be starting a Born of the Gods league if they got enough DCI numbers before the release.  Well they managed to accomplish this and I’m now entered into this league.

But what is a league you ask?  Well this league is a WotC sanctioned series of events.  You start with a seeded sealed pool.  Meaning that they are using Born of the Gods pre-release overstock packs to start our limited decks off.  So, I chose white again seeing as I had such great luck with it last time, but I will get to that in a bit.  From this sealed pool of three Born of the Gods boosters and three Theros boosters you make your deck of 40 cards (minimum) and then you play at least 3 matches against others in the league within a weeks time.

After the first week you get to choose either a Born of the Gods booster or Theros booster and add those cards to your pool, and keep going.  This goes on for 5-6 weeks and then prizes are handed out depending upon how you did.  The store keeps the decks in their shop to ensure that nobody cheats by modifying the contents in between matches, but after the first week you can opt out of the league and take home everything you pulled.  Though I don’t know why someone would do this.

So, like I said I picked the white seeded sealed pack and went to town opening up my product to see what I could manage to pull off.

First I will get to my rares:

Plea for Guidance

Plea for Guidance – This was in my seeded pack, and I couldn’t have groaned any louder upon pulling it.  I am not a fan of this card, though it might not be that bad if I could pull something else to compliment it, such as a god, but overall at sorcery speed I can’t be happy with this.

Mindreaver

Mindreaver – I didn’t really look twice at this card.  It’s not that bad as a mill engine with it’s heroic ability, but it’s second ability holds almost no relevance to the limited format because you don’t generally see multiples of cards in within your top 23.

Chained to the Rocks

Chained to the Rocks – This card I was happy to see.  One of the best white removal spells in the format.  Though it is not as good with Born of the Gods bringing in Revoke Existence, but it is straight up cheap removal.

Xenagos the Reveler

Xenagos, the Reveler – The planeswalker, not the god.  I was quick happy to see him show up in my pool.  If things went my way I could easily pull off an awesome deck if I got cards to compliment him.  Either way I had found my money card.

Arbor Colossus

Arbor Colossus – Another great card, cheap beats with a monstrous ability that can take out every pre-release promo except green.  Awesome!

Fellhide Spiritbinder

Felhide Spiritbinder – This guy is a beast for abusing enter the battlefield abilities.  Not to mention a ¾ body for four mana isn’t bad at all.

Overall I wasn’t too pleased with my pulls, I mean I certainly wasn’t pulling off the Blue/White heroic deck like I did at the pre-release, but from the rares I pulled it looked like I might have been able to pull off a monster Red/Green deck.  So let’s take a look at what I did pull that didn’t make it into the deck.

White

Red

Blue

Green

Black

Multi-coloured/Land

And then I had the deck.  I resorted to playing Red/White with the use of Chain to the Rocks and the Felhide as the champion rares.  The deck looked to be as fast as I could possibly make it with a quarter of the deck being only a single converted mana cost, the next stage up had another six, after that there was one three CMC card with only a handful beyond.

Creatures (17)

Spells (6)

Land (17)

Come back for Day 2 and beyond as I take the deck through the league.  If you have any suggestions or see something I missed please leave a comment and I will look into it.  Thanks.

~ Gerald Knight

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Gerald Knight Gerald Knight - February 11, 2014

Knight’s Booty: That’s Bull!

Fanatic of Mogis

So by now everybody has gotten their hooks or teeth into the Born of the Gods expansion and have probably started to brew up a hundred new decks or just stuck to minor modifications to current decks in the format.  Well, I’m not exception.  But I’m not going to look at Standard today, I want to look at Theros Block Constructed.

For those who don’t know what Block Constructed is, it is where you create a deck based off of cards from only a block.  Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  If you haven’t gotten it yet I will give you an example.  The previous block involved Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, and Dragon’s Maze, and if you constructed a deck out of only those cards then you would have a Block Constructed deck.  So that means, if we move to the present block, that we are going to only use Theros and Born of the Gods for this exercise.

If you are asking why we would do something like this, and potentially ‘gimp’ ourselves in design space, you need to read my previous article about Pauper and how restricting your card selection forces you to look at things differently, challenges you more, and makes you see cards that you wouldn’t have normally looked at.  Not to mention an exercise like this can prepare you for when the eventual standard format rotates.

I am going to use a focus card for this article, and one that caused a little bit of a stir when it wa previewed, Ragemonger.

I don’t know how many creatures or cards in the past have been able to reduce coloured cost of creature spells being cast, but there aren’t that many.  Colourless cards have been printed throughout the ages starting from the days of Urza’s Incubator all the way through the Scourge with the Warchiefs, and beyond.  But coloured cost is something special.  It makes playing creatures much easier, most of them turning into colourless casing only, leaving you free to keep up whatever mana you need for your combat tricks and removal in your hand.

So, how can we abuse this?  Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent Minotaurs that showed their heads in the last two sets.

Fanatic of Mogis, a devotion based Flametongue Kavu that hits your opponent’s life total instead of a creature.  While sometimes that creature removal is preferred, it can’t be denied how much damage he can cause, especially if you remove the coloured mana costs.  Can you imagine being able to spend three generic mana to get what he can do?

Felhide Spiritbinder, a creature with the new mechanic Inspired.  When he becomes untapped, presumably during your untap step after having attacked with him the turn before, you can pay two mana to make a token copy of a creature you control and give it haste until the end of your turn.  When you combine this with other minotaurs that have Enter the Battlefield abilities, such as the above mentioned Fanatic of Mogis, it can quickly get out of hand.

Kragma Warcaller is one of the biggest creatures that can be affected by Ragemonger, reducing his casting cost from five converted mana cost down to three.  Would you like to play a turn four Warcaller for only three mana? Can you imagine how much damage that would punch your opponent for?  Imagine if you copied it with Spellbinder?! Such potential.

Oracle of Bones, a new creature from Born of the Gods using the Tribute mechanic.which will either pump him up to a decent 5/3 or keep him at 3/1 and grant you a “free” instant or sorcery from your hand. (Side note: Going standard this can make split cards from Dragon’s Maze with fuse free, see Toil // Trouble)

And lastly the new Minotaur Lord, Rageblood Shaman.  The last key piece to making a deck like this work is certainly a guy who will pump up your little cow army up and even give them the ability to trample over your opponent.

Now if we include a playset of each of these we have twenty-four of our sixty cards already spoken for.  So what Black and/or Red (leaning more towards the Red) can we arm ourselves with?

Well, if we go expensive we can grab Hero’s Downfall for spot removal, Fall of the Hammer and Lightning Strike are cheaper ways to remove more roadblocks, Magma Jet to deal some damage and to dig for the key pieces.  A playset of each of these and we have forty cards with which to bullrush our opponent.  Trim that deck down a bit and we might be able to find something like this:

What do you think?  It’s not Slivers, and it’s not Humans, it’s a tribal all of it’s own, and it ain’t no bull!

~ Gerald Knight

Extra Booty: Some things to consider if you want to take this into Standard, Boros Reckoner works amazingly well with Fanatic of Mogis and becomes cheaper with the Ragemonger.  Any Black and/or Red Fuse cards from Dragon’s Maze become viable with the Oracle of BonesDoom Blade is a cheap alternative to Hero’s Downfall and is also less mana restrictive.  If you want to go really big you can include Mogis, God of Slaughter himself to keep the pressure on your opponent.

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