Brew Fearlessly

Is brewing a dying art? Mark Nestico makes a plea for deckbuilding innovation and provides practical advice for those who want to get into the habit.

Spring 2014 State Championships

As my wife settled into bed, succumbing to what I can only describe as a “pizza coma”…


I should probably explain.

I spent the last week in New York City seeing plays, visiting museums, drinking, and if you follow me on Facebook (which you should be), I ate at every
freaking pizzeria within 20 miles of my hotel. At one point I was so drunk on pizza (because yes, you can absolutely be drunk on pizza) that I slept for
about fifteen hours, creating what would further be known as the “pizza coma.”

My wife was in a pizza coma.

Bored and temporarily without a partner in crime, I started surfing Facebook around midnight while trying to figure out what I wanted to play in the next
Standard event I’ll be attending. When I think about the card I want to battle with most, at the moment Prophetic Flamespeaker is what comes to mind.

I don’t know what it is about this card right now, but I love it. It’s not my favorite card from the set, since that honor goes to Master of the Feasts,
who I tried to do a very convincing impression of this last week.

When I look at Prophetic Flamespeaker I see huge potential, so when I have an idea that isn’t entirely conventional I do what everyone should do:

I went to Anthony Lowry.

Ant is pretty much a breath of fresh air when it comes to bouncing ideas off someone. Like Johnny Number Five he loves input, so when I started going deep he was happy to oblige me.

You can view his article here if you want to see the final product of our
brainstorming session, but not included are the multiple ideas we had about G/R Monsters, Red Aggro, or the R/B Midrange deck we came up with that looks

What you see in his article is an R/B Aggro deck meant to take full advantage of Flamespeaker by dropping the curve like Seven Lions drop the bass and playing cards like Thoughtseize meant to ensure that Prophetic
Flamespeaker connects. To further this point, we wanted to make him the baddest kid on the playground by adding bestow cards such as Mogis’s Warhound,
Gnarled Scarhide, and Herald of Torment. This deck is meant to kill with as much gas in the tank as possible; if Prophetic Flamespeaker connects once, that
means two cards at your disposal. That means more removal, more creatures, and fewer resources expended from your hand.

However, I won’t be talking much more about this deck since Anthony did a great job explaining our card choices in his piece.

Today we’re going to talk about the art of brewing, why it’s becoming a lost art, and how easily we could fan those flames of creativity once again in
order to start churning out some truly awesome decks.

Step #1 – Don’t Be a Lemon. Be a Rosebud.

A friend of mine posted a U/W Aggro list and picture on Facebook a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a Master of Waves deck; it played a bunch of cheap creatures
along with Ephara, God of the Polis as a draw engine. Some of the card choices were unconventional, but overall the deck looked pretty solid and like
something that could catch people off guard. I liked the photo and commented “looks good” on it. I moved along and that was that.

Later in the day when I popped back on the internet I saw the notifications that other people had commented on the picture, so I figured I’d check out what
they had to say about it. Maybe the list had improved with suggestions, and I was interested. This is what I read.

“Can’t beat a Supreme Verdict.”

“Seems bad.”

“This deck can’t beat Mono-Black Devotion. Too much removal.”

“Slower than Mono-Red Aggro.”

For every good comment there were about three bad ones. Eventually the thread died down and that was that. I felt pretty bad since it seemed like the deck
had promise, but instead of nurturing it and hoping something good came of it, the deck was just shot down.

Intelligent discussion is great, but if your opinion is to bash on a deck before it has even seen the light of day, I would suggest just keeping it to

Magic is a game of creativity, not copy and paste.

While it may seem that a format is solved, there’s always room for innovation, so every idea should be taken into consideration. From the slightest tweak
of a deck all the way to insane changes to already established archetypes, nothing should be discounted just because you don’t agree with it or understand
right away why it was made.

Remember when Mono-Black Devotion had its coming-out party?

The general opinion was that the deck was good, but the real winner of that tournament was Mono-Blue Devotion. Nobody took a deck that played Pack Rat
seriously, and it wasn’t until Brian Braun-Duin, Todd Anderson, and Brad Nelson showcased that it was the best deck out there that people started changing
their tune about it.

My point? Addressing newer decks with fresh eyes and not being overtly opinionated about how bad you think it is will let you expand your horizons as a
player and allow you to inject creativity into the decks that you play.

Don’t be a lemon.

Be a rosebud.

Step #2 – Honing a Card You Like!

One of my favorite Magic memories is the Nightmare deck I played at Regionals some…oh geez…twelve or thirteen years ago. You lose track of the time when
you play this long.

I went 1-6 that tournament. It was the first bigger event I had ever played in, and I was so nervous. All I had was my deck and a die that one of the
senior players in my area gave me since I didn’t have one. My parents went to Disney. I was there all day but I couldn’t have been more excited.

The first round was super hilarious because I was paired against a Cunning Wake deck, and my Mono-Black Nightmare deck crushed him. I Duressed his cards
away and was able to land multiple Mesmeric Fiends to further shred his hand. This guy was turning red, and little 14-year-old Mark didn’t understand what
was pissing this person off so much. Eventually I took the match by chaining lethal back-to-back Corrupts to his dome after I stripped away his Renewed
Faiths and Counterspells. I was elated! I won my first match!

He stood up and threw his deck off the wall and walked away after signing the slip angrily. A minute later he came back and picked it up, but it was still
a sight to behold. I then promptly got smashed the next six rounds, but that win will always be my favorite of all time.

Just a short while ago my favorite creature in Standard was Phantasmal Image, and my favorite deck was Solar Flare. When I almost won a bunch of PTQs with
Solar Flare playing four main decked Phantasmal Images people started to notice, and from that point on until the deck rotated almost every list that did
well from that point on played the full boat of them. Being innovative can yield some pretty awesome results.

A few nights ago I couldn’t get Prophetic Flamespeaker out of my head, so I started scribbling down some decklists, and I think we came to a great
conclusion and an excellent vehicle for one of the most powerful cards to come out of Journey into Nyx.

You need to figure out a card that you like and start building around it.

One of the stories about how BUG Delver in Legacy became a mainstay was because one of the designers for the deck simply wanted to play four copies of
Abrupt Decay and tried to figure out the best shell for doing that.

The rest is history and one of the best decks in Legacy right now.

That leads us to our next step!

Step #3 – Working on Your Brew

Not all brews are initially created equal, but that doesn’t mean your deck is bad. You have to realize that before you go forward.

Once you’ve figured out that the theme you’re working for is indeed something worth pursuing, you can start to build around it.

Let’s look at the Prophetic Flamespeaker deck again from Anthony’s article as a point of reference.

We knew that the deck was going to have to have a strong red influence and a low curve in order to maximize the potential of Flamespeaker connecting.
Dreadbore and Thoughtseize were easy inclusions once we got the ball rolling.

While we knew that he was the centerpiece of our deck, we also understood that there has to be a reliable Plan B. Cheap creatures like Tormented Hero and
Rakdos Cackler felt like natural cards to add, especially Tormented Hero, who works very well with the bestow theme we have.

One of the concerns about a three-mana creature without haste is that the deck is susceptible to removal and tempo loss, but when you’re bestowing a
creature onto it, if they decide to kill the Flamespeaker, you’re still committing a threat to the board. That’s very relevant and a great reason to
include the package that we wanted to have.

When we figured out the first sixty cards, the sideboarding plan was designed to fill in the weaknesses that we perceived the main might have, so Master of
the Feast and Lifebane Zombie were meant to fill in the gaps after boarding, along with a host of other cards like Rakdos’s Return.

I’m sure there are tons of other cards we didn’t even consider, but that’s the beauty of this process in that we can try out as many zany cards as we want.
We have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose.

Is this deck a contender? We don’t know yet.

We just brewed it.

This leads us into the final and most important step.

Step #4 – Battle of the Brews

After you’re set on the deck that you want to start trying out, it’s important to begin refining it.

How do we do that?

Gauntlet, yo.

The only way you’re going to see if your brew has what it takes is to put it up against the top dogs in the format.

Mono-Black Devotion

Jund/GR Monsters

U/W/x Control

B/x Midrange

Naya variants

Any success should be noted and any failure should be noted why. Why were you losing? What changes can you make that might affect that matchup? This is
where you have to put your personal feelings for the deck aside and judge it from a pragmatic standpoint. What cards just aren’t working out or

Recently during Standard PTQ season, my good buddy Brennan gave me his B/W Midrange list featuring three Brimaz, King of Oreskos in the main. I couldn’t
handle that kind of spice, so I audibled into Lifebane Zombie instead in that spot. I went on to X-3 the tournament whereas Brennan won a large PTQ the
same weekend.

He said Brimaz was the best creature in his deck.

I saw that there were multiple situations where Brimaz would have dominated the board instead of Lifebane Zombie.

I had it in my head that something spontaneous and different would fail me over something tried and true, but his testing concluded that his interesting
change was the best thing for the deck at the time.

Brennan made it a point to test both cards as much as possible, and saw that Lifebane was underperforming and Brimaz was exceptional. Testing your theories
is always the best course of action.

This week I’d love to see some of your brews, so make sure to show them off to me!

I’d also really like it if we could be as constructive as possible in judging them, offering as much positive criticisms as we can, and try to make some
new decks real contenders. I anxiously await your results.

It’s time to shift my focus a bit to Limited, as I’ll be attending Grand Prix Atlanta in less than two weeks. Sealed hasn’t been kind to me recently, so
I’m hoping the Magic gods take it easy on me and have me get passed a god pack or something. Any Limited tips are also welcome.

May all your brews be Tier 1, and all your pizza delicious.

Spring 2014 State Championships