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Bruce Gray - October 14, 2015

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

Mountainside Crypt

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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Bruce Gray - April 14, 2014

Casual Encounters – Underappreciated cards of Magic sets past: G...

Master Biomancer

As I sit here writing we are slightly more than 6 months away from another rotation and seeing all those lovely cards from Return to Ravnica block disappearing from Standard.  In the world of Magic, six months is an eternity as there are countless events across the world.  The game will change week to week meaning that 6 months will take a very long time and there will be a near infinite combination of cards that can come together to redefine the game.  However, in real terms, 6 months isn’t very long at all.  In 6 months we’ll be finishing summer up and bracing for the return of cooler weather and another long bout of winter.  My work will be restarting the cycle of the school year for school aged children.  The new NHL or NFL season will just be starting.  6 months isn’t really that much time…and so it is the perfect time to be checking out those casual playable gems that may have been overlooked. Once again, today I will go through my pick for underappreciated card at each of the 4 card slots (common, uncommon, rare, mythic) in search of those hidden gems that a more casual player can make use of to help make their games fun and yet still keep an eye on their bottom line. Today’s set is Gatecrash.

While I was initially a little underwhelmed by Return to Ravnica (despite the high number of ultra powerful and valuable cards), Gatecrash was right in my wheel house and appealed to me straight away.  Boros and Gruul were immediately colour combinations that I could get behind.  The Simic colour combination was a little unusual, but the Evolve mechanic that they carried intrigued me and made me curious.  Extort and Orzhov quickly proved to be a powerhouse mechanic in a duel and absolutely devastating in a multiplayer game.  Dimir’s colour combination is always a force and some of the cards did not disappoint. All in all, it was a set full of terrific cards and some fantastic casual gems that a player like me can use to full advantage.

I also could fully get behind the set because this was the first time I had ventured into the realm of Limited play.  I experienced my first ever Draft with Gatecrash and immediately loved the experience.  Playing Limited is still my favorite way to play when I can find time to play at my local game shop.  I don’t claim to be an expert but I really enjoy the challenge of card evaluation and selection and then building a deck that is hopefully strong enough to get some wins.  Everyone is technically on the same even playing field and I have found that it makes for some great variety and fun games.

 

 Common:

My common is a little guy that got overlooked for the most part but has time and time again proved to be a valuable little addition to most decks.  Shambleshark is a 2 mana 2/1 creature with Flash and the Evolve mechanic.  He isn’t going to wow anybody with his stats, but he is very versatile and a nice addition to decks running Green and Blue.  Flash is his biggest attribute because it gives him the ability to sneak in at any time.  Need a surprise blocker to mix up the combat math?  Need an inexpensive trigger to boost another Evolve creature? He has a quasi-haste like ability if you drop him on your opponents end step.  He trades favorably with “Bears” and can be used in all sorts of situations.  Some will say that this guy saw Standard play and had his moment in the sun, and I fully agree.  However, he is not omnipresent like Voice of resurgence, Blood Baron, Loxodon Smiter or some of the other powerful creatures in Standard.  He had a role in one particular deck that made waves for about 2 weeks, or until everyone figured it out.  However, the Standard format quickly recovered and is very much still defined by the three way dance that Mono-Black, Mono-Blue and Blue/White control. However, this little guy can still be a useful little critter not to be overlooked.

 

 Uncommon:

While Gatecrash facilitated a super aggressive format, in no small part to the Gruul and Boros guilds being hyper aggressive, there are a few other cards that can allow for some interesting abilities.  One such card starts to push into a hand disruption angle which can be very debilitating to players as the game moves along.  Vizkopa Confessor is a pricey 5 mana (1 White, 1 Black, 3 colourless) for a 1/3 with Extort, that when it enters the battlefield you may pay life and your opponent will reveal cards in his hand equal to the life paid and then you get to select a card he will discard.  This is an expensive card to play both from the mana invested and then in turn from the standpoint of the life paid to force him to reveal cards.  However, if you have gone the route of playing an Orzhov deck you likely have multiple Extort triggers in effect, particularly by the time you hit 5 land to cast this bad boy in which case you could make up the life lost simply by casting spells.  Also, if this is a multi-player game, the Extort triggers return an enormous amount of life points, so using life points as a resource to crush the hands of your opponent is probably just fine. The crushing of the hand is only escalated if you can flicker the Vizkopa Confessor with Cloudshift, or recently one of my new favorite tricks from Theros, Triad of Fates.

The biggest problem with this guy is the 1/3 body you get for your 5 mana.  It isn’t very big, but you aren’t playing this guy to lay a beating on your opponent.  I was running him in an Esper deck that was premised on destroying the hand of my opponent and this guy fit right in.  However, while I really like the Vizkopa Confessor, I didn’t like the deck and took it apart.  That doesn’t mean I’ve given up on him. What it means is that I am looking for another deck to make use of this guy and once I do I will use the ability to target hands of my opponents and leave them crippled and dejected.

 

 Rare:

My rare card of choice appears on the outset to be a hyper aggressive card, however with a little adjusting it can far more than just be an aggressive beater.  Rubblebelt Raiders is a 4 mana (3 hybrid red/green, and 1 colourless) for a 3/3 creature that gets a +1/+1 counter whenever it attacks for each creature you control that is attacking.  Ok, in a straight Red/Green deck this card is monstrous.  This card rewards R/G for casting dudes and attacking and in the process grows Rubblebelt Raiders into a gigantic monster.  However, if left unchecked Raiders become an instant target for a removal spell and then all that hard works goes for nothing.  So, how do you get more value for your Rubblebelt Raider?  Here’s how.

Instead of looking at Rubblebelt Raiders as a R/G spell, look at the hybrid casting cost as being all Green and then slide Raiders into a Simic build.  This will give you access to Zameck Guildmage and the very handy ability to transform +1/+1 counters into cards.  So, swing in with your Raiders and friends (I like Elusive Krasis as a starting point, but the more the merrier) and have Raiders power up a bunch of counters.  Eventually your opponent will play a removal spell to deal with the ridiculously large monster you have stomping around but this is when you start tapping your lands to turn those counters into cards. Also, you can protect your Raiders with a Simic Charm or Mizzium Skin to grant it hexproof and save your card draw engine.   You may or may not lose the raiders, but you can absolutely pickup 2,3 or maybe even 4 extra cards in the process by using your Zameck Guildmage.  Give//Take would afford you a similar ability if you lack a Guildmage.  Or more enjoyable yet still, Bioshift those counters onto your Elusive Krasis and have your Krasis bring the pain.  All those counters create so many possibilities and represent loads of resources that a Simic deck would love to rock. These quirky little relationships allow you to approach your casual game from a slightly different angle and presents you with more options, and potentially more ways to frustrate you opponents.

 

Mythic:

Once again, mythics are usually very strong and so it hard to identify one that is “underappreciated”, but in this set there is one that is ultimately quite playable, but never really fit anywhere.  Borborygmous Enraged was very straight forward and difficult to cast at a massive 8 mana.  Deathpact Angel wasn’t much different at 7 mana.  However, Master Biomancer was a very reasonable 4 mana and provided for a very interesting ability.

Master Biomancer is a 2/4 creature for 4 (1 blue, 1 green, 2 colourless) that grants each creature entering the battlefield a number of +1/+1 counters equal to Master Biomancer’s power.  So, at a minimum, your creatures enter the battlefield with +2/+2, but with the right deck this can result in creatures of a ridiculous size.  Slam Master Biomancer in a BUG deck and scavenge an early creature or two on to Master Biomancer and watch your little 1 drops turn into massive bombs.  Or, use the counters from Rubblebelt raiders and bioshift the counters onto Master Biomancer for a humungous boost.  It takes time, but often in a multiplayer game you can find yourself with an extra turn or two to put this combination together and have it come off looking pretty amazing.  Here would be a pretty fun example of how this might play out in a RUG deck rocking mostly Simic creatures:

Turn 1- forest, tap the forest, play experiment one.

Turn 2- island, tap forest and island, gyre sage, evolve experiment one (1 counter). Attack with experiment one

Turn 3- forest– tap your lands, Elusive Krasis (or Drakewing Krasis) evolve experiment 1 and Gyre sage. (2 counters this turn,  3 in total). Attack with Experiment one

Turn 4- forest, tap your lands, Rubblebelt Raiders, evolve Gyre Sage and Elusive Krasis (2 counters this turn, 5 total). Attack with Elusive Krasis and Experiment One.

Turn 5- Island– Attack with Raiders, Experiment one, and KrasisRaiders get three counters.  Second main phase drop master biomancer and bioshift counters off of the Raiders, and now Master Biomancer has 3 counters on it.  With one remaining mana cast another experiment one.  It comes into play with +5/+5 and is a 6/6 creature ready to lay down the beats…and the counter shenanigans start from there.

For some reason Master Biomancer was largely overlooked despite the obvious benefits it can provide.  It takes a little work in order to get Master Biomancer where it can be suitably explosive, but once he comes online he is well worth the investment.  You can trade the counters generated for cards, shift them around to make combat math a nightmare, or even use them in conjunction with Simic Manipulator to take control of creatures.  This is the perfect casual card for someone who likes to play around with counters and can be very entertaining. Don’t overlook this guy in your trade binder.  Instead, sleeve him up and take him out for a spin to see what he can do for you!

There we go…I have gone through my choices for common, uncommon, rare and mythic for Gatecrash that you should go and dig out of that box or that trade binder.  Give them a second look.  Maybe they can liven things a little the next time you sit down with some pals on a Saturday night.  Maybe you can go one better and build them into a funny combination that can make life difficult for an opponent.  Whatever you choose to do with them, I’m all ears…I love to hear about how those gems got used, or if you have some of your own that I’ve neglected.  The beauty with playing Magic is that everyone has an opinion and every opinion has merit.  So, drop me a line and let me know what you like, don’t like, or anything else that is on your mind.  Once again, thanks very much and may your next Casual Encounter be loads of fun.

 

Bruce Gray

@bgray8791

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