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:
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
Well, I hope everyone’s had a blast at their prerelease events over the weekend. I have to admit, it was kind of weird format because we all opened so many Fate Reforged packs and very few Khans packs. That was a weird choice by Wizards, but it seemed to work ok. At one point I turned to someone else and said “hey…could you imagine doing this with 4 packs of Dragon’s Maze…that would have been unplayable.” By comparison, Fate Reforged prerelease worked, but there wasn’t the sort of variance that I would truly expect from the sealed format starting next weekend…but it was fun. It wasn’t as grinding as Khans was and that increased explosiveness meant winners and losers were easier to pick…and you could tell if you were on the right path or not.
I played the Two-Headed Giant event on the Sunday evening with my brother. The last time we played at the Khans prerelease we got thoroughly embarrassed and were pretty unimpressed with our results. However, this time we held our own and were in the running until the very last match. I’ll get to how that one got away on us in a bit, but we finished 3-2 and were relatively pleased with our results.
I opted to play Temur for this event and my brother decided he would play Mardu meaning we could bank on having some pretty solid creatures and a pair of aggressive decks…or so we thought. I opened up my pool and I was legitimately shocked. My Temur pool hardly had ANY playable 2 drops…and a very limited number of Morphs. The three drops I had weren’t even in my Clan! What gives? It wasn’t until I hit 4 on my curve that I started getting creatures that felt and played Temur-esque and that was a bad sign. So, my curve was…how do you say…TERRIBLE with very few plays in the opening turns. I was not impressed. The only good news was that my brother had a much more aggressive build and could put some early pressure down to help bridge us to turn 5+ when my deck could roar to life. It wasn’t a great game plan, but it was the best we had with the pools we opened.
In our first game we started off ok and I was holding up my end of the deal with some pretty reasonable removal to try and stave off the threats from our opponents. I Burn Away Dromoka, cast Bathe in Dragonfire on another dragon and felt pretty good about things. But then I drew three straight lands and completely flooded out and our opponents cast Shifting Loyalties on our Brutal Hordechief…which they then followed up with one of their own. You can imagine things took a decidedly downward turn and we were dead shortly after. We felt a little bummed.
Game 2 our opponents had us on the ropes and pretty much dead on board until they misplayed. They had a Daghatar the Adamant on the board with his 4 counters and they cast Hunt the Weak on it to fight something of mine. Then they cast a second Hunt the Weak on Daghatar, but forgot that Daghatar had already been dealt some damage and this second round was going to be lethal. Oops! With Daghatar dead because they goofed we went to town and my trio of Dragons (two Mindscour and one Destructor) went to work. They shortly conceded and we evened our record at 1 and 1.
The next game we came out much more quickly out of the gates, but the game turned when I had 7 mana and Temur Sabretooth on the board. The Sabretooth just stymied our opponents who just could not sequence a profitable attack by the potentially indestructible kitty. To make matters worse, my ultra greedy deck was PACKED with value creatures to abuse with the Sabretooth. When you are bouncing Aven Surveyor in order to give the Sabretooth indestructibility, eating their attacker, and then recasting the Surveyor to out tempo them, the opponents get sad…fast. Oh, the Surveyor isn’t your style? How about Bear’s Companion? Hell yeah! It was undoubtedly our best game and the one where I was able to hold off and to play conservatively and eke out advantage with the cards in play and not rush to dump my hand on the table. Suddenly we were 2-1 and feeling pretty good about ourselves.
Then we had a bye because a team dropped leaving a weird number of teams and we just had a turn to sit. Ok…3-1 it is…and in striking distance of a prize.
The last game we were moving along ok…until we got caught with Tasigur’s Cruelty and it forced us to pitch two cards apiece. Normally, this sort of card would be unplayable, but in Multiplayer it was devastating. I also opted to discard a land and to hold on to some pricey spells. Figures. Next thing I know I’m stranded on 4 mana, can’t hit Burn Away, Aven Surveyor, or ANYTHING…and we die to some pumped up creatures. Grrrr. Oh well. We had a shot and we blew it.
Here’s my decklist
Some of the cards that shone in our matches were not the ones I was expecting.
Pilgrim of the Fires: The 7 mana golem was about our best friend all day. Sure, he’s 7 mana and you don’t run him out there any too quickly, but the truth is, he likely wins just about any combat he ends up in. And by 7 mana, your opponents have already fired off just about all their best removal that can handle this guy…so the NEED to rely on combat. Well, with this guy being just a house we made short work of a number of opponents and were very impressed with him.
Temur Sabretooth: This kitty can do some work. The ability to be indestructible is very potent and can make combat a real nightmare. What’s more, it is super fun to bounce value creatures and then reap the rewards all over again. This one looks like the real deal and likely a real player in Limited.
Wild Slash: Premium Red removal…yeah…it’s good. It did work all day long.
Aven Surveyor: I know the guys on LR were pretty stoked for this card, and I like it too because it did do work…but I’m not convinced it is as super as people think it is. 5 mana is a big investment for a bounce effect, particularly when there are lots of powerful things to do at 5 mana. It was a big tool in my deck as I was packing loads of bounce effects, but users must be wary because he’s expensive.
Bathe in Dragonfire: Relatively inexpensive and useful removal to take out those nagging creatures. This likely over performed a little for me because it took out all sorts of things including a number of Dragons of varying sizes and descriptions as well as pesky Morphs. A good utility card.
Jesaki Infiltrator: This guy was a bust. A 2/1 unblockable creature SOUNDED good, but then he immediately Manifests a buddy…and loses the Unblockability. That’s kind of junk. Tested this guy out once and was immediately underwhelmed. Out he came and in went more burn.
Enhanced Awareness: What I would have given for a Weave Fate…or Treasure Cruise…or just about ANYTHING. This one is 5 mana…and it is an awkward one to jam. I got it off once, but wasn’t hugely impressed. Most of the time it was a 5 mana brick in my hand. It feels far more situational than Jace’s Ingenuity or even Opportunity and in a format where there are likely to be lots of other things to do with your mana that isn’t good news. As much as this COULD be good, it wasn’t. We’ll have to see if that trend continues.
Dragons: The 6 mana 4/4 dragons are playable, but hardly scary. I found the Mindscour Dragon cute because the Mill effect was handy. The only catch is having to watch that you don’t mill someone with Delve cards because you’re fueling their Treasure Cruise. I ran three of these just to see what they can do and while they are kind of neat, I wouldn’t hold my breath for them.
Runemarks: These are as awful as I feared they would be. Most of them seemed totally unplayable and not at all what I was interested in doing…so they all got left behind in favour of actual cards that did stuff.
Well, guys…I feel like we’re coming to an end of my Fate Reforged prerelease experience. I’d love to hear about what you experienced and how you fared. Let me know by leaving a comment or finding me on Twitter.
Thanks for reading…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791 on Twitter