Friday, July 30, 2010
Friday, July 23, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I'll probably be rambling about it quite a bit and talking about various card designs, so I started a separate blog for it. More information can be found in the introduction, here.
The blog itself is here.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
Saturday, July 3, 2010
I probably played Magic for five years before I learned how to design a legitimately good deck. You know what took me twice as long? Learning how to build a fun deck.
Obviously, “fun” is a pretty subjective concept. The list of Magic decks that some people hate to play against includes, at last count, every deck ever made. But I can give you a list of rules that will help you build decks that you can enjoy at your kitchen table or local card shop for years to come.
I've never much liked the term “casual” - not everyone who takes Magic seriously plays in tournaments. Let's call these decks FFF – Fun For Friends to play against eachother. Pureblood spikes and hardcore grieffers should look elsewhere for deckbuilding advice.
Rule #1 – Fun Decks are Interactive
The decks that are the most fun to design are often the least fun to play. Why is this? Because the decks that are fun on paper tend to be built around a Really Cool Plan (TM) and will win or lose based on whether or not their plan happens to work out. Unsurprisingly, this isn't very fun in practice.
Say you design a combo deck out of otherwise useless cards that are unbeatable if you get your combo assembled. You take that deck against your friend's pile of Forests and Big Green Creatures (TM), and games will go one of two ways.
a) You get your unbeatable combo together in time and win.
b) You don't get your combo together in time and they beat you to death.
Making the deck better or worse can change which of these happens more often, but it's still going to get old pretty fast. I have a few of these decks lying around, but I generally only pull them out once every few months, and retire them again as soon as they've “gone off” once and demonstrated their coolness. Getting beat by an epic combo can be fun, but generally only once.
A good FFF deck can have a plan, but it should be one that involves your opponents. “Use creatures like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Fertilid to accelerate mana and hold the ground early until I can play some large hard-to-answer creatures like Kalonian Behemoth” is an interactive game plan that will lead to interesting games. “Get out Hive Mind and play Intervention Pact” is not – maybe the rest of the deck can include some interesting strategies, but the win condition itself is not going to endear you to anyone.
Rule #2 – Fun Decks are Resilient
If you build a combo deck, it shouldn't lose to a single well-placed Counterspell. If you build a control deck, a third-turn Great Sable Stag shouldn't ruin your day. If you build an aggro deck, Teferi's Moat shouldn't be enough to make you scoop up your cards.
Ironically, this is one area where a chance to win is more important to FFF decks. Tournament decks can often afford to ignore anything that's not a significant metagame presence. A competitive aggro deck doesn't want to slow itself down by drawing Naturalize, even if it means losing to the occasional oddball Moat effect. Among friends, it's no fun if your deck doesn't have a chance against certain opponents, even if it means slightly worse odds against other opponents. Short version: Possible wins are more important to having fun than likely wins, and guaranteed wins aren't very interesting for anyone.
Resilience largely comes down to two things: Making sure you have answers for really problematic permanents, and ensuring that your opponents answers don't wipe you out completely.
The first part is the easier of the two – when possible, devote a few deck slots to dealing with problematic artifacts, enchantments, and creatures. All the better if you can make them multipurpose spells like Vindicate and Indik Stomphowler that aren't dead cards if your opponent doesn't happen to have anything of the appropriate type. Throw two Elvish Scrapper and two Elvish Lyrist into your elf deck, or replace two copies of Wrath of God in your black/white control with Austere Command. Be prepared for anything your opponent's might throw at you.
Not getting blown out by your opponents spells is a little more complex, but still very important. Don't depend too much on single permanents or spells if you can avoid it. If your deck is built around vulnerable cards, protect them with things like Counterspell or Fountain Watch. Don't build decks that need to commit too many creatures to the field, or you'll get blown out by Wrath of God.
Rule #3 - Fun Decks are Varied
Consistency is something to strive for in competitive decks – ideally, they should play the same way every time. Not so for FFF decks – playing the exact same game over and over gets old fast if there aren't any prizes on the line. So mix things up! Play 2-ofs and 3-ofs to make room for more cards. Throw in one copy of that kooky spell you've been wanting to try. A little versatility goes a long way to making a deck more interesting in the long term.
This rule should be taken as a statement freedom rather than a harsh requirement. You don't need to fill your decks with subpar choices, but the next time you're trying to decide between Death Baron and Lord of the Undead for those final four slots in your zombie deck, consider two of each.
Of course, if you really want to challenge yourself with a varied deck, consider imposing some deckbuilding restrictions on yourself. “Highlander” formats restrict all players to single copies of any card, but the same rule can force diversity into a deck if you are a compulsive optimizer like me. Some of my best FFF decks are Highlander decks I've evolved over time.
Rule #4 – Fun Decks have a Theme
This rule is the most debatable, but I think it's important. A deck built around some sort of central concept isn't just more powerful and synergistic, it's more distinctive and memorable. A theme can be anything from a mechanic that defines the entire deck to an unusual win condition. “That monoblue control deck” isn't nearly as interesting as “The Unspeakable control deck.”
Themes often come pre-packaged if you're building around a tribe or some exciting new card, but it can be harder if you're just trying to lend your new green stompy deck some flavor. When dealing with less specialized decks, consider looking for common threads to tie the deck together, or obscure cards you think are underrated or otherwise interesting. Perhaps Forced Fruition is the wacky win condition your Blue/Black control needs to stand out, or maybe Heartwood Storyteller is enough to justify cutting noncreature spells out of your Green deck entirely. Give yourself a theme that will set your deck apart.
Rule #5 – Fun Decks are Fun for You!
This may seem trite and obvious, but figuring out what makes decks enjoyable for you personally is important. Do you like smashing face with huge creatures? Smirking confidently behind your grip of counters? Gaining so much life you need a graphing calculator to keep track? Beyond any rules or suggestions, the ultimate test of a fun deck is how enjoyable it is when you actually play it. Now go out there and take a new deck out for a spin!
I hope my advice helps everyone to put together some fun decks that will entertain them for many games to come! Feel free to e-mail me back or voice your feelings in the comment section.