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The Dragon's Den
Deck Building Basics
By DeQuan Watson - 3.10.05

Everyone always wants to be ahead of the curve when a new format arrives.  Everyone wants to have an edge.  Everyone always wants to know what cards they should be playing or chasing down.  The bottom line is that everyone wants a strong, competitive deck.
 
For some people deck building is a real issue.  For instance, right now in Standard (Type 2), it can be extremely difficult to build a deck.  It's hard to gauge the metagame.  Within a months time players are having to face three different versions of the format.  There was everything before Betrayers of Kamigawa.  There is the current environment that includes Betrayers of Kamigawa.  And then of course the version that is soon to arrive in ten days that includes Betrayers, but excludes the eight recently banned cards.  So, if you can't tell this is a deck builder's nightmare.  Well, now that I think about it; if you enjoy building decks, this might be the best time ever.
 
Often during the week, I exchange notes and ideas with one of Pojo's other feature writers, Paul Hagan.  Yeah, most of you know him as the deck garage guy.  He does a great job over on his part of the site.  Those of you that want to learn a few simple tricks about deck building should look over there and check it out.  Anyway, Paul and I both get several deck requests in a week.  And many times the decks aren't even close to being decent.  I'm not insulting anyone here.  After all, if you don't know...well, you simply don't know.  And part of why we are here is to educate you on a few things.  So I wanted to take a quick moment to give you some pointers to help you the next time you sit down in front of your collection to put together your next competitive juggernaut.
 
First of all, know what you are trying to build for.  If it's for a big tournament this week, you will need to be prepared to deal with Ravager Affinity and Tooth and Nail.  If it's a deck for next week, you will likely have to include a few sideboard cards for control based decks.  So knowing what you are playing against is important.  This helps you decide what cards are even needed or necessary before you do anything.  But there is even more to it than that.  What format are you building for?  "Format?" you ask.  Well, you may not be building for a format at all.  You might just be playing for fun in group games after school where everything is legal.  If that's the case, then go for it and build with that in mind.
 
Play multiple copies of cards.  Paul and I both get a huge number of decklists that include a bunch of cards that only appear once in the deck.  That just seems silly.  When you cruise around the internet and look at decks, how often to do you see more than three or four cards appear just one time on a decklist?  If you are playing a Troll Deck, then your deck should have four Troll Ascetic and four Albino Troll.  If a card is good, play the maximum copies allowed.  If there is a card that is really good, such as Lightning Bolt, it should be in your deck times four if you are playing the appropriate color.  It all comes down to math.  Yes, games use math.  So, hold on for a sec, let me show you something about that probability that you learned in school:
 
 
No. of Copies in Deck          Chances of Drawing Card
 
1                                              .017
 
2                                              .033
 
3                                              .05
 
4                                              .067
 
 
Look at the difference between one copy and four copies.  That's huge.  IF you want to have any type of consistency or be able to draw a particular card when you need it, you have to play more than one copy.  Granted this numbers get adjusted even higher once you go further into the game and also factor in your starting seven card hand, but that should be enough to give you an idea of what is going on.
 
And for some reason, everyone seems to believe that a ratio of one-third land in a deck is the perfect number.  Sometimes you need more or less mana in a deck than the 20 land cards.  If you are playing a weenie deck, you may only want somewhere between 16 and 18 lands in the deck.  If you are playing a control deck that plans to tap a lot of mana every turn, then you may want to play as many as 26 lands.  Then you need to factor in creatures such as Birds of Paradise and Sakura-Tribe Elder.  These guys can end up giving you too much mana.  There are also artifacts that produce mana.  These are likely to throw off your count as well.This can be a hard thing to figure out.  Many times, the good players just know from experience, the amount of land that they want in a deck.  Otherwise, if you don't have the experience required to figure it out, you need to play several games and get a feel for it yourself.
 
Stay focused in your theme for the deck.  I know that many times players want to build theme decks.  Well to many people, the words "theme deck" apparently translate into "include one of everyone of this creature type."  This is not a good idea.  Yeah, I completely understand that you want to play a bunch of angels in an angel deck, but why waste your time with the bad ones.  And on top of that, keep the deck close to a normal size.  The further away you get beyond 60 cards, the worse your percentages get on you drawing something.  Remember our math lesson from a second ago?  If you have a deck of more than 60 cards, you odds of drawing any particular card start getting progressively worse.  Simply put, don't play the bad cards just because they are there.  You still want you deck to have a realistic shot at winning.  Even if the deck is built around a four card combo, it still needs to have a shot at winning.  No one wants to show up to their local play group to play 20 games and only have their combo go off once.  Give yourself a fighting chance.
 
But that brings me to another point.  You need to include some things that AREN'T strictly theme pieces.  I know, I just said stay focused.  However, you can't just let your opponent's spells and creatures run from all over the play to wreck have on your and your well laid plans.  You need to interfere with what's happening on the other side of the table as well.  You need some spells such as Duress, Lightning Bolt, Counterspell, and Creeping Mold to disrupt your opponent.  If nothing else, it buys you time to do what you are supposed to be doing.  Many times, players submit decks that are so focused on their own agenda that they don't have a way to deal with their opponent's cards.  More often than not, this is one of the reasons that they are losing games.
 
And finally, I want to tell people to do some research.  If you see Paul putting a particular card in decks a lot in the Deck Garage, such as Magma Jet for instance, you should look into playing it in your deck if you are playing Red.  If you see a few cards that keep appearing on my decklists repeated, you might want to give them a shot yourself.  This sounds like a very simple piece of advice, but you would be surprised at how often something that simple can get overlooked.
 
I hope that wasn't too much information for most of you to absorb.  I know that many of our readers out there are always looking for information to help them build deck.  Many seem to think there is some super secret.  There are a few tricks of the trade I suppose, but there aren't any really true secrets.  In this new information age, people analyze information and spread facts so fast that a secret would only be considered so for about a week at most.  And a lot of it you simply learn as you go along.
 
Well, this weekend is that last weekend to play with your Ravager Affinity decks and Krark-Clan Ironworks decks.  Honestly, I'm a bit indifferent to the whole thing.  But many of you are going to be loving life or hating it in the next week or so.  However, I expect the only ones upset are the ones that were playing those particular decks.  If you are playing something else, you will likely be loving life a lot more.  My advice to you is simple this week.  You should just go out and have fun.  Experiment with new cards.  Even if you don't like Affinity and Ironworks, you should show up to your local tournaments this weekend and give it a go.  You'll only be doing it this one last time.
 
 
Until next time,
 
DeQuan Watson
a.k.a. PowrDragn
PowrDragn at Pojo dot com
 

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