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:
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