Hello and welcome back to another week of brew and deck building lessons! This past weekend I was fortunate enough to spend time dancing in Las Vegas at EDC, but unfortunately that left me with little time to brew up something entirely new. Still, I think our list from last week has a few lessons left to teach us and can still be improved upon, so let's get to it!
Last week I took a look into a pretty sweet blue/green deck that abused clues as its primary resource. The specific list was a bit shaky overall, but a lot of fun to play and showed a lot of potential. This week, I wanted to use that list to illustrate a deck building strategy I often use when building very proactive, synergy-based, or engine driven decks.
When a deck builder goes to brew a list, the natural tendency and desire is to create the perfect list. Now, there is a high expectation of failure on doing this your first time with a list, but the goal was to land as close to perfect as possible. While this might seem like the best thing to do, it often isn't. Sure, if you are brewing just a day or two before a tournament, you should probably be trying to get it right, but with correct planning, getting it wrong can be a crucial step in getting it right.
Sometimes, your goal should be to verify that a specific thing is viable or worth doing before trying to incorporate it into a more complex shell. So for example, think of most combo decks that have existed. In most of those decks, there is some number of ways to interact with the opponent, whether that be countermagic, hand disruption, or anything else. While those pieces of disruption and protection are often essential to the final decklist, they can make testing early on very difficult.
Let's say that this is my rough starting shell.
4 Combo Piece A
4 Combo Piece B
4 Combo Piece C
8 Hand Disruption
This list has all three of my necessary combo pieces in it and a bunch of ways to protect the combo and yet the list probably doesn't work at all, as you have to naturally draw all three pieces of your combo. The consistency with which this happens is going to be so low that it might actively discourage your testing. What happens if you play 10 games and never see the combo go off? You may assume that the deck is simply not worth trying.
On the other hand, let's look at a very different approach to the same list.
4 Combo Piece A
4 Combo Piece B
4 Combo Piece C
4 Redundant Combo Piece A
4 Redundant Combo Piece B
8 Draw Spell
This list has no disruption in it and chances are pretty good that I would not want to show up to a tournament with this shell. What this shell is great for, however, is testing and learning what I have to work with. Now, in those same 10 games, maybe I combo off eight times, and sure, maybe my opponent stops me a few of those times because I have no way to interact, but I get to learn that.
I get to understand my boundaries. I get to learn just how clunky my combo is or with how much ease it comes together.I can learn how easily my deck is disrupted. With that knowledge I can be begin shaving pieces as necessary and making room to fight back.
Splinter Twin decks tended to have many more copies of Kiki Jiki early on until they realized that they often ended games with extra copies of that effect in their hand. Eventually most lists decided that five or six total copying effects was correct. In those slots more card selection and countermagic was added and the deck became better through iteration. Similarly, the deck rarely plays all eight possible copies of Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch. There is so much card selection that it was found to be oversaturated with threats and again, over time, became a much leaner and meaner version of itself.
We focus on the specific unique thing the deck wants to do in order to verify that it is worth it, to see it happen more consistently, and to learn its boundaries. In some ways, it is like we are focusing on the frame of our puzzle. It is not that those pieces in the middle don't matter, but simply that connecting the edge pieces first makes the entire rest of the process so much easier and more clear.
So with that in mind, let's quickly take a look back at the list I presented last week:
I managed to fit a few random Negates in this initial list because I felt that all of the core components were already at numbers that were appropriate. That said, I certainly did not go all in here because of those two Negate, which could easily be something that investigates. Beyond that though, basically every card in here is aimed at progressing our plan. Nearly every card has some synergy with the clue strategy or is essential in our "going off" game plan with even our one-of tutor targets being only the splashiest and coolest around.
The idea is to generate as many clues and possible and then find a way to utilize them. Erdal Illuminator and Tireless Tracker both do a good job of this but we perhaps placed too much emphasis on cards that were only good after you have a ton of clues out. After all, you only get to do fun stuff with clues if you are still alive when that time comes. This was fine for early testing, but now that we know better, we can do better.
So, in an effort to lower the early game clunkiness and instead rely on our powerful engines, which proved pretty consistent last week, I wanted to include more diverse tutor targets and a better means to get to the late game.
Looking over the list from last week, a few cards stuck out as not really living up to expectations. The first of these were the 3 Confront the Unknown that were clearly unnecessary. We only needed a single one to win the game and while they offer some utility before that, it isn't exactly the type of card that is good in every match up. Against decks with toughness based removal, it will often be nice to draw a second copy of the card, but in almost no case are you going to want three or four Confront the Unknown.
Additionally, while Magnifying Glass made a lot of sense with Erdal Illuminator and to get us to five mana on turn four, it didn't exactly make a lot of clues very often. On occasion we used it, but that seemed to usually be when we were already winning and had an immense amount of mana. There happens to be another clue making permanent that serves a very similar role though and I wanted to give it a shot. Weirding Wood was a card I thought would be constructed playable even outside the context of a clue-synergy strategy, so giving it a chance here only makes sense. It is also a card that conveniently turns one green mana into two, allowing us to play a few more double-green cards and still be comfortable with it.
In particular, I wanted to explore Season's Past in the list as it feels like a really powerful tutor target to round up. While it can sometimes just act as Day's Undoing, it also tends to be more consistent against hand-hate and is just a reasonable card to draw in a long game. Our deck has a pretty decent curve with some number of cards at all costs zero through six.
Here is what I am currently testing:
I added a single Graf Mole to the main deck as an emergency tutor target against any deck with reach. As we saw last week, you can occasionally reach very low life totals against aggro and while we are able to keep creatures from killing us, our protection against burn is just a few pieces of countermagic. Graf Mole lets us tutor it up and go off on life, making the rest of the game trivial. It also just serves as a decent early game speed bump against any aggressive deck.
We also smoothed out the sideboard a bit as any deck should do during iteration. We are hardly at a sideboard that I feel is final, but we have a few more tools like Root Out and Void Shatter with less clunky expensive stuff, essentially just expanding our updates from the main deck to the sideboard as well.
Obviously this strategy of deck building cannot be applied to everything. Your control decks don't tend to have a central engine or combo that they need to focus on, for example. However, even decks like aggro might want to start with the most possible threats and then shave off a few that prove to not be the strongest for disruption. If the deck starts with too much disruption, its power level could be lost just like that of a combo deck.
Getting to the final outline of a deck is not a race. You would rather have the best list than a mediocre list you arrived at faster than anyone else. Take some time and understand the tool that you have and how best to take advantage of it at any given tournament. Until next week, as always, thanks for reading!