This is a question every Magic player has an answer to, regardless of what role Magic plays in your life. If you play Standard at FNM or at the highest professional level, you're constantly building a deck of some kind. If you play digital or tabletop, there is always some deck you are working on. If you play Legacy or Vintage or Modern or Commander or Old School, you're either building a new deck or refining an existing one. If you play Booster Draft, Sealed Deck, or Cube, you build a new deck every time you sit down to play. If you have a shoebox full of random cards in your closet and your friends are coming over to learn from you how to play Magic, the first thing you do is build some decks out of your cards to teach them. Everyone is building a deck.
One of the most appealing aspects of Magic to me when I first discovered the game was deckbuilding. Fewer than a dozen sets were in existence, but that was more than enough creative space to inspire my love of deck design. Seeing a Revised Edition Serra Angel in a penny sleeve with a fifty-cent price tag stamped on it would initiate a chain of thoughts in my 13-year-old head about what my deck would look like with the addition of this beautiful flyer that doesn't tap to attack (back then vigilance was not yet a keyword). And that Swords to Plowshares would be perfect for stopping my brother's Hypnotic Specter that he always beat me with when playing it on the first turn off Dark Ritual.
The first tournament I ever won was a local tournament with house rules that were essentially the equivalent of Modern today. Everyone played a deck of their own design and I won because I discovered a combo stronger than anything anyone else brought to the table. My combo was to play Fastbond in conjunction with the newly printed Storm Cauldron. This combo allowed me to convert life points into mana, which I would then use to cast a lethal Drain Life or Soul Burn on my opponent. Back then your life total could go negative and you wouldn't die until the end of the phase, which meant I would gain all the life loss back from Drain Life before life totals checked. I won an Unlimited Mox Pearl, which I eventually traded back into the store to build a Green-White Erhnam Djinn Armageddon deck.
Deck building isn't all about success and winning though. I remember feeling like I broke the format when I discovered the Mana Drain plus Carrion Ants combo. As it turned out, most things were a combo with Mana Drain, and Carrions Ants were pretty low on the list of best combos with the strongest Counterspell every printed. This fact didn't take anything away from my enjoyment every time I pulled off my combo and attacked with a giant Carrion Ants. Even if the opponent would simply block with their Drudge Skeletons and regenerate, I still felt a sense of accomplishment that I got my pet combo to work. I see this same beam of joy in the eyes of so many Commander players anytime I walk by a multiplayer game in progress.
Some decks take longer to build and refine than others. I remember during the Invasion Block Constructed PTQ season I drove with my friend Doug Tice to the very first PTQ of the season at Origins Game Expo in Columbus, Ohio. I played a Lightning Angel deck of my own design and Doug played a Blue/White control deck with Voice of All and a bunch of Counterspells. I scrubbed out of the event but Doug won the tournament. I then spent the rest of the season playing my same deck but refining it each tournament. I performed better and better with my deck with each passing tournament. Then in the final week of the season I brought my masterpiece to Grand Prix Minneapolis where I made my very first Grand Prix Top 8 finish. I felt a great sense of accomplishment having molded the deck as an ongoing Pet Project for months and finally earning a spot on the Pro Tour for my efforts.
Deckbuilding is not always a solo effort. I've been a part of several pro teams and also part of several local playtest groups throughout my career. We would often work together on a deck before deciding to all play it in the tournament. Ari Lax won Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir with an Abzan deck designed by Steve Rubin that our entire team helped refine during our beach house preparation. I won Pro Tour Dragon's Maze with a Selesnya deck designed by Alex West that everyone at Danny Batterman's practice house had a hand in. So many times throughout my career deckbuilding has played a major part in building community and celebrating together the success of what we all built together. Even at the local level, a member of our carpool group would win the PTQ with a deck we all helped put together or test in the days leading up to the tournament and it was a cause for celebration.
My love of deck building extends beyond building competitive decks for tournaments. Several years ago I began designing various themed Cubes. I made an Old School Cube before Old School became a format. I designed a Budget Peasant Cube, a White Border Cube, and several others. I also designed Innistrad Star Battle Decks and a few other decks for non-existent or long forgotten formats of my own imagination. I enjoy playing Magic in many different ways and coming up with new creative ways to play Magic. I also like showcasing to friends the product of my deck building efforts.
For Constructed formats it is no secret that my heart belongs to White Aggro, but I'm never content to just play a stock list, even if the stock deck is white aggro. As my former Pro Tour testing teammate Andrew Shrout (who knows me all too well) once pointed out on Twitter, "I am convinced that a team of 8 Craig Wescoes would play 8 different versions of White Aggro in the same tournament." I always want to innovate and explore all the deck building spaces available, even if within the confines of white aggro decks.
Part of this longing to innovate and explore has to do with my perspective that deckbuilding is a creative outlet and mode of self-expression. I enjoy creating new things and feel a strong urge to bring new things into the world. There is something alluring about the whole process of analyzing a format, scouring the available cardpool, putting together rough drafts of deck ideas, testing those ideas, and then refining and retooling the ones that show promise. The finished product is my contribution to the metagame and to the Magic world as a whole.
I even love to reveal all my secrets when I write an article or do a deck tech interview about the deck I poured out all my imaginative powers and testing hours into. Having been able to consistently keep white aggro playable in every format for the past decade through this process is one of my proudest accomplishments in Magic. I'd often be the only player succeeding with White Aggro in a metagame especially hostile to it, and I've likely given up quite a few win percentage points at times when White Aggro was particularly ill-positioned, but at least it cannot be said of me that I'm merely a fair weather white aggro mage.
I believe deck building is something every Magic player can relate to in some form or another largely because we are all building something (or more accurately, multiple things) in our lives outside of Magic. Stop reading for a moment and reflect on this question:
Are you building a relationship with an eye toward lifelong partnership? Have you already found that someone and you are building a family together? Are you building an education or a resume to secure the career of your dreams? Have you already secured it and you are building toward a retirement plan? Are you an entrepreneur and you are building clientele? Are you an architect and building bridges or buildings or highways? Are you the construction worker literally building these structures by carrying out the architect's plans and designs? Are you a religious person and you are building a relationship with God and building your knowledge of scripture? Are you involved in community service and building safe places for kids to learn and grow? Are you a teacher and building up a generation of students to change the world? Are you an artist building projects that change people's perspectives and introduce new forms of beauty to the world? These are just a few of the things you might be building out of your life.
Over the past decade I've been building a career in Magic, but I have also been building a ministry aimed at bringing love, joy, and peace into the world. I even named the ministry after my favorite Magic card ( Swords to Plowshares), a card that derived its name from a bible Prophecy central to the aim of my ministry (Isaiah 2:4). For various reasons, I've been feeling drawn to spend more time and energy working on that project, which means less time for Magic. So I've decided that after the Mythic Championship (Pro Tour) in Cleveland, I'm going to take some time away from Magic for a while and focus more exclusively on continuing to build the ministry. I still have plans for future Magic articles, so this isn't goodbye, but I will no longer be producing regular weekly content, nor will I be travelling to tournaments each weekend to make it into the Top 32 salaried pro players.
Nobody knows the specifics of what their future holds, but as of now I am no longer a full-time professional Magic player and content producer. Going forward I am now a part-time Magic content producer as I pursue ministry as my primary focus. I love Magic and am grateful for the opportunity to have lived out my Magic dream for the past decade, but all signs are pointing to it being time for me to pursue my passion outside of Magic. This mage has an important message to share with the world and only one life to do it in.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout my professional Magic career. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the uppermost corner of Magic's color pentad.