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Five Steps That Will Improve Your Deckbuilding Skills!

Nate Heiss

Here are five things that you can do to improve your deckbuilding skills! They will help you end up with better results for your deckbuilding effort and give you a greater understanding of the things that will help you when deckbuilding. Keep in mind that these are only meant as guidelines to compliment your existing skills. Experience is the best teacher.

1) Know thy wants!

Knowing what you want is the simplest way to improve your decks. Many people simply go through their cards, throw some cool looking ones in a pile, and call it a deck. What you put into it is exactly what you will get out of it, namely a pile. In order to create an effective deck, you must have focus! Before you start building, ask yourself if you are building a deck for casual play, for testing purposes, to play in a tournament, or for the sheer joy of deckbuilding. After you decide on your purpose, you will have to adhere to that purpose through the deckbuilding process. That way every part of your deck will reflect the reason you built it in the first place. A seemingly unchanging deck like Fires can end up looking very different depending on the purpose for which it is built.

The underlying focus of your deck will guide you in times of decision. If you are building your Type 1 deck to play with a casual group, you might not want to load it up with Moxes and a first turn multiplayer kill. By the same token, you don't want to put Siphon Soul into your tournament deck unless you have a very, very good reason.

2) Be creative!

Hey, it could work!
Good decks do not come from copying the same deck until your brain hurts. Decks can improve if you take a risk and change them. Don't be afraid; if Pro's did not change deck designs, they would never get an edge on the field. Being creative is easy enough to do, but being positively creative is a little more difficult. Anyone can throw an Okk into a Fires deck and call it creative, but it does not necessarily have a positive effect on the deck. In order to be positively creative, think carefully about a card you are going to insert into the deck while considering what is the best card for it to replace. This is where the 'pile' method of rummaging through cards can give you some great ideas.

Creativity does not always mean creating a totally unheard of deck type. In fact, that is rarely the case. Most creativity comes from looking carefully at other decks and reflecting on the most powerful aspects of them and distilling the powerful essences of those decks onto a new pallet, where you can cultivate it in a new light. This is what causes deck evolution. Creativity is the factor that turned old-school Sligh into Deadguy Red. From there it turned into Pup Sligh, then to Sped Red, and currently Sligh is represented in King Red. While the power levels and viability of the Sligh archetype have changed over time, the basic principle strategy of tempo has always been a constant. The creativity comes in the format of development.

3) Mana, Mana, Mana!

I would go as far to say that at least eighty percent of the deckbuilders out there do not put enough mana in their decks! That is a truly astounding number considering the amount of documentation that has been released on the subject. I know that everybody and his brother want to cheat on mana sources in order to fit that last spell in the deck, but it will hurt your deck in the long run. If you cannot bring yourself to add any more land to your deck, then take a look at alternative mana sources. Elves and Diamonds can bring up your mana count while smoothing your mana curve, depending on the average casting cost of your deck. If those won't work use deck thinners and card drawers like Opt, Accumulated Knowledge, and any sort of cantrips (Tsabo's Web, Urza's Bauble, etc). In the average deck, you will want anywhere from twenty-three to twenty-eight mana sources/deck thinners.

Another way to improve your mana is to use non-basic lands. In Extended, the powerful dual lands can be utilized. In Standard, the pain lands are available. Cards like Rampant Growth and Harrow can also help if your mana curve permits them. You will want to keep your mana base in perspective with your deck. If you run a deck full of six-casting cost spells, then a thirty to thirty-five mana base may be appropriate. If you are running twenty-four one-drops, then eighteen lands might work.

4) Keep it simple!

One of the most common mistakes made by the most creative deckbuilders is tripping over their own ideas. Creativity is great, but sometimes the ideas need to be separated and filtered from each other in order to assess their assets individually. Many decks get bogged down from too many conflicting strategies being incorporated into the meat of the deck. An efficient deck of sixty cards can only do one or two things consistently without heavy use of pinpoint search cards. Making the deck strategically focused yields the same advantage as the first tip of 'know thy wants'; you will produce a higher quality strategy by following your own guidelines throughout. If you start taking your deck on too many tangents, you will end up with a four-color beatdown/control deck that wins with poison counters. Scary, huh?

Generally, keeping it simple can imply choosing one goal that is apparent throughout the deck. Sligh is a simple deck because the entire deck is based on the strategy of tempo. Fires is effective because of the single strategy of casting undercosted powerhouses. Blue-white is effective because its entire purpose is to say, "no, you can't do that." Some of these decks have backup or support strategies, but the relative amount of the sixty-card deck they take up is a small one.

5) Be consistent!

The first sign of strength in a deck is its consistency. If your deck can repeat itself over and over, then you are getting somewhere (assuming the repeated accomplishment is not a loss on your score pad). In general, a deck with a simplistic design and a solid mana base will be more consistent than one without, so following the other tips will lead you to this goal of consistency.

The primary way to increase the consistency of a strategy is by using more of the cards that give you the effect you want. For instance, if you want to use burn in order to kill your opponents' early plays, you can increase the consistency of this strategy by playing 4 Shocks, 4 Seal of Fires, and 4 Scorching Lavas. You may find that by making your sub-strategy overly consistent, your main strategy will be diluted by it. Keeping the balance of consistency between your strategies is one of the more difficult parts of deckbuilding. Usually a good playtesting session can help straighten consistency dilemmas out. Other ways to increase your consistency include reducing the number of colors in your deck and smoothing out your mana curve. Both of these methods will make your opening hands much easier to cast and prevent your hand from clogging up with top-heavy spells.

These tips are a good place to start when you are trying to figure out why your new deck will not work. If anyone has any questions about how they should go about building their decks, email me at nateheiss@yahoo.com. This does not mean that I will tell you how to build your deck if your send a list to me, but I will make suggestions on where you may be lacking in focus or consistency. Quick fix-it emails will not help the next time around. It is just like the old saying goes: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for life."

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