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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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Bruce Gray - September 30, 2015

Casual Encounters – Top 10 Casual Cards from Battle for Zendikar

 

Gideon and Nissa

Top 10 Casual Cards from Battle for Zendikar

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

The anticipation is mounting! In just a few short days we will be getting our first chance to play Battle for Zendikar and I’m pretty excited.  There are some amazing new cards in this set, and some terrific reprints that got some slick new art.  It looks like there are going to be some bonkers new additions to just about every format, including Casual Kitchen Table Magic.  Today I’m going to go through my Top Ten cards to bring to your next Casual Kitchen Table Magic game night and spice things up.  Let’s get down to business.

Sandstone Bridge

10. Common Land Cycle ( Sandstone Bridge, Skyline Cascade, Mortuary Mire, Looming Spires, Fertile Thicket ).  This common land cycle doesn’t look super spicy, but let’s be real, any time you can play a land card and have an effect that is normally created by a spell you have something that is deceptively powerful. There will be loads of decks looking to pick these up to replace just a regular basic land card, and the extra ability is always a solid trick. Now, let’s talk about how to abuse these (i.e. get more than one activation).  In a Kitchen Table world you are constrained only by your card pool and the rules you and your friends have established, so finding fun ways to take advantage of these should be easy.  Let’s start with the “Karoo” lands or “Bounce” lands from Ravnica.  These were reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 making them pretty readily available and an easy way to get more than one activation of these.  Emancipation Angel or Kor Skyfisher, or even Pearl Lake Ancient are also some of my favorites and could easily get you additional activations.  Going a little more in the the history of Magic, Soramaro, First to Dream would be hilarious.

As if just getting the value off these lands wasn’t enough, don’t forget this set is packing Landfall meaning that you are very likely to net all sorts of value off of just playing these lands. That makes these things even more appealing.  The nice part is that you will usually be pleased to see these guys, regardless of what stage of the game you’re in.  Keep your eyes peeled for these small, but significant, additions.

Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper

9. Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper: What isn’t to like about this guy?  He’s a 4/4 for 5 mana which is a pretty reasonable rate to start and you will not feel ashamed to run him out.  His size also makes him surprisingly robust and able to tussle if the need arises.  However, what is truly gross is his ability.  You get free +1/+1 counters on your lands every time you cast an instant or sorcery…and in Blue and White isn’t that what you want to do anyways?  I can well imagine EDH decks premised on this guy or just jammed in there for value.  However, what I think might be truly busted is playing Jeskai and slamming this guy and Zada.  Cast your instant on Zada, copy the spell a bunch of times, make a pile of Elementals, attack for the win…or something like that.  Yes, that is magical Christmas land, but it’s fun to dream.  I’m kind of excited to see this guy and try him out.

Omnath, Locus of Rage

8. Omnath, Locus of Rage:  I don’t know what to do with this guy…but I like the fact that Omnath is getting a reprinting, and this time he’s pissed. I haven’t got a clue how good he will be, or any deck built around him using elementals as a centerpiece, but this guy sure looks unhappy and ready to kick some butt.  All he really asks of you is to play your land and benefit from an army of 5/5 tokens, but that feels a little too simple.  Omnath makes the list because of his unbridled anger…and big scary tokens. For those of you out there with RTR block cards still kicking around, time to dust off those Populate enablers..

Catacomb Sifter

7. Catacomb Sifter:  This guy is among my favorite cards in the set and the art is insane.  That is spectacular art!  The colours and contrast really stand out and makes this thing look super frightening.  But enough about the art.  This 3 mana creature packs 3/4 worth of power and toughness across 2 bodies which is a very good rate.  I know I play casually, but I also really like efficient creatures…they help me get to the much less efficient but fun part of my deck!  This is exactly the sort of thing I want to do. However, there is still more.  This packs the Scry 1 ability that Reaper of the Wilds packs just because…umm…value?  This is a very strong card and I can’t wait to get my hands on some of these guys and ride the Value Train.

Halimar Tidecaller

6. Halimar Tidecaller:  How is this NOT a rare?  Can you just imagine pairing this with Noyan Dar and making FLYING land creatures?  Wow. And you even get to bring another relevant spell out of your graveyard to replay and get yet ANOTHER land creature.  Sure, it is a bit of a build around, but if you can successfully build around it this looks amazing!  For a paltry 3 mana this feels as if it has been pushed to try and push an elemental theme…and I’m taking the bait!  I can almost taste the Elemental Deck…Brews to come!

Defiant Bloodlord

5. Defiant Bloodlord: Ok folks, this makes the list because you now have Sanguine Bond attached to a 4/5  flying body. This gives those janky “life gain” decks you  see around the Kitchen table yet another win condition and NOW it gets to attack too!  I’m just dreaming of casting this and Feed the Clan to maximum effect.  The interaction between this and Gray Merchant of Asphodel seems like it could be potent too. All in all, there will be lots of ways to abuse this around the Kitchen Table so you had better buckle down.

Felidar Sovereign

4. Felidar Sovereign:  Felidar Sovereign is yet another example of the power of alternate win conditions.  This guy is a reprint from the original Zendikar block and became a staple in EDH decks all over the place as an alternative win condition.  The issue WAS that Felidar was a $10-12 card that essentially exclusively saw play in Casual formats.  By getting a reprint players will be getting a shot to grab this guy at a much more affordable $2 price point.  Enjoy the savings Casual players, this one is for you.

Kiora, Master of the Depths

3. Kiora, Master of Depths:  Kiora made this list because her ultimate is nutty. Three 8/8 octopus tokens PLUS they get to fight your opponent’s creatures?  Whatever…you win the game if you get this Emblem online.  If you can look me in the eye and honestly tell me that you aren’t interested in doing that then you’re lying to yourself.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

2. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger: If the Eldrazi somehow didn’t make this list then I wouldn’t be doing my job.  What’s NOT to like?  It’s big, splashy, hard to kill, wrecks the game instantly, can be played in virtually every deck and looks to be about the best thing you can do with 10 mana. Also, because this version of Ulamog doesn’t come with the “feel bad” Annihilator mechanic your buddies around the kitchen table are more apt to agree to let you play it.  Yeah, Ulamog is a thing and makes our list.

Zada, Hedron Grinder

1. Zada, Hedron Grinder:  Zada is getting lots of buzz and with good cause because her ability is just outright insane.  Any time you can copy spells you have a strong effect.  Zada will let you copy them multiple times for FREE! Magic players love the word FREE and so Johnnies around the world are setting up to break this.  I’ve heard lots of players talk about casting Titan’s Strength or Become Immense on Zada and then pumping your team to significant effect, but I was going somewhere completely different.  I was going to aim for Feat of Resistance and essentially allow your team to get protection from…oh…everything…and crash in for the win.  But things at the Kitchen table can get better!  Ranger’s Guile protects ALL your stuff.  Rootborn Defenses fights off Board wipes.  Retraction Helix allows you to turn all your creatures into Unsummon spells! Really, the possibilities are endless and this is why so many people are excited about Zada.  There really isn’t much doubt, Zada is the real winner for the Casual Magic crowd.

Well, there we have our top ten cards for Casual Magic.  I’m sure there are a few spicy things that I left off the list, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  If you have something you think should be added to the list, send me a tweet and let me know.  I’d love to hear what has got other people excited!

Thanks for taking the time to stop in and have a visit and have yourself a great MTG day!

 

By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

@bgray8791 on Twitter

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