CASUAL FRIDAYS #133: Baby Decks

In answering reader mail, Anthony sets out the steps for making sure your first few decks are competitive. Just goes to show you that if you suggest an article, we’ll find a way to write it!

Before getting started, I want to remind readers that Break this Card: Nomad Mythmaker ends tonight at midnight, CST. If you’ve got a last-second entry or two, send it on in!

Don’t panic if you already entered and haven’t heard from me yet. I’ve been storing all of the Break this Card emails, and will respond to them rapid-fire over the weekend.

Who’s”Cheap And Easy”?

A fellow by the curious Christian name of Angryhrmt66 took a moment to write into the site and ask:

Hello, I’m a new player to the great game of Magic: the Gathering. I have a ton of card but I really don’t know how to put them to use. I was wondering if one of you guys could do an article (on your website) on cheap and easy decks to make that can also win during casual play. Please reply back.

The Ferrett put this out to the site’s writers and I grabbed it, for one reason and one reason only:

Angryhrmt66, you should know”reply back” is redundant. Where else would I reply? And what else would I be doing back?

There – another grammatical lost sheep, brought back to the Queen’s English-lovin’ flock.

All right, I’ll answer the question, too.

I don’t know how many cards constitutes a”ton,” but for the sake of simplicity I’ll assume that you have access to all commons and uncommons available to you from Invasion forward, and no rares. You don’t have to follow my sample deck directly – and in fact, it would be best if you didn’t. Keep the individuals that you play with in mind, and build your decks to suit that situation.

Given who I am, I’ll focus on a multiplayer deck. It’ll work okay in duels, too, if that’s how you play casual Magic.

Step One: Decide How You Want To Win.

If you are relying on recent commons and uncommons, you are probably going to win with creatures, not burn or milling. So we’ll be doing twenty on the ground… For each opponent. That suggests a creature count of at least eighteen, probably twenty or more.

Step Two: Pick Your Favorite Colors.

Just so everyone knows that this is a theoretical example only, I’ll pretend my favorite colors are white, with red as a close second. I’ll suppress my gag reflex. (Honestly, the things I do for you people!)

After choosing the colors, we can guess at the sort of creatures (and other spells) we might choose to do the combat damage we need to do. White tends to be defensive, so we’ll need fairly extraordinary creatures from that color if they’re going to make the cut. We’ll probably prefer its protection and evasion spells, since it’s good at giving an attacking creature a way to slip by the defense or survive combat. Red will probably supply the bulk of the offense, and leave the”tricks” to white.

Step Three: Flip, Pull, And Sort

You know, Angryhrmt66 (and that just doesn’t shorten into a nickname, does it?), there’s no avoiding the actual work of putting together a deck. While you can use a database (mtgnews.com has a nice one in their”ultimate spoiler generator,” but I’m using it less since they haven’t updated with Torment or Judgment), often there’s little substitute for just rolling up your sleeves and flipping through your collection. You’ll get to know your cards better that way, and if you haven’t organized your”ton” of cards by color and creature/non-creature, now’s a good time. Often, while pulling cards for one deck, I’ll get an idea for another deck, and/or remember a deck that I meant to build six months ago. Plus, the cards feel more wanted when you actually touch them. Is that so much to ask out of a relationship?

As you pull the cards that might fit, start to organize them into a mana curve. (That is, put the one casting-cost spells in one pile, the two casting-cost spells in another, etc. For better analysis, split the creatures from the other spells.) You might end up with something a bit like this, though I’ve only included up to 3cc:


Bloodfire Dwarf

Benevolent Bodyguard


Goblin Legionnaire

Angelic Wall

Beloved Chaplain

(non creatures)

Scorching Lava



Kavu Aggressor

Benalish Lancer

(non creatures)



Step Four: Analyze, Decide, And Weed

Now that you have a deck with something like sixty cards laid out all over the floor (and we haven’t even added lands yet), you need to make some hard choices. Your first hard decision: Whether to go down to thirty-six cards or not.

Sixty-card decks are the most efficient and consistent. You will draw the cards you put in, and you can expect the deck to perform a certain way just about every time. I prefer them, vastly, to larger decks. I can get wacky with the best of them, and I do indulge in formats that use way more cards than I care to admit for the time being. But my workhorses – my most beloved decks – are the ones that I’ve put enough thought and sweat into to bring down to sixty. That means (usually) 24 lands, which means 36 cards.

So get cracking. Weigh the chances of each card helping you both deal twenty damage and warding off multiple attackers. I like to look through the cards I’ve laid out and identify four”linchpin” cards – usually two creatures and two other spells – that will set the tone for the deck. I’ve chosen the following”double-duty” cards this time around:

Goblin Legionnaire. Offense. Defense. Direct damage. Creature removal. Damage prevention. All on turn 2. (Well, okay, let’s get technical: Turn 3, when you have the mana to activate some of this.) This feels like a signature card; every other card in the deck is just trying to be the Goblin Legionnaire.

Flametongue Kavu. …Well, every card except the Flametongue Kavu, who has a pretty good self-image and doesn’t feel the need to be a goblin, or a soldier. You play goblin, someone lays down a blocker. You attack the opponent without blockers on turn 3, then they lay down a creature. Oh, whatever shall we do on turn 4 to keep swinging with the goblin?

Embolden. The beauty of this card is its double life – it spends the first shot surprising someone, and then the second shot daring everybody else to take a swing. A perfectly titled card, this is a surprisingly good card in a deck that likes to attack. The fact that you can use it in a pinch to save yourself from eight damage is gravy.

Order/Chaos. The best split cards are those that fit nearly opposite situations. Order is emergency defense, Chaos is your finishing move. Since our signature creatures are both pretty fragile (two toughness), both elements will be important.

These are”4x” cards, in my mind – you will almost never regret drawing any single one of them.

Hey, that reminds me – that’s a good question to ask as you look at each card:”When will I regret drawing this?” Even excellent cards like the Kavu will be useless on rare occasions – like against a creature with protection from red – but the more you play, the more you’ll recognize a card that never seems to be dead in your hand.

Every other card I pick, beyond the sixteen above (yes, we’re almost halfway to our target!), needs to be in there for a reason. I’m going to be more generous than I usually am, and allow for more cards running at less than four copies. Once you know what your group likes to play, consider consolidating your own deck to the point where you can reliably stop the most common problems.

Angelic Wall: Not very aggressive, and very nearly cut altogether… But the Wall preaches to the school of players who like to sit back and watch the action for a while. Maybe you’re one of those, so I do want to point out that the thing can stop just about every creature that shows up by turn 2 short of a Shivan Zombie.

Beloved Chaplain: See Angelic Wall, but it gives up flying defense for the chance to stop larger (non-trampling) creatures, and even ping.

Mystic Zealot and Coalition Honor Guard: This is one of those places where I found two four-casting cost white creatures that I honestly like…but I only really have room for one. Does your group play with lots of flyers, or the kind of global removal that will fill your graveyard? Go with the Zealot. Does your group prefer targeted (especially red) effects, or creature enchantments like Armadillo Cloak? Go with the Honor Guard.

Voice of All: This is very nearly a”linchpin” card, and is the first place where I’d go to four copies if I had them. It will serve both as a path to victory and a solid defense if plan A goes horribly wrong. In multiplayer, the Voice both gains and loses something – it feels good to play a creature that can adapt to the most prevalent color; but of course, the more players there are, the more chances that a Hurricane will sweep away a pro-red, or a Shock will target a pro-black.

Aven Archer: This is my least favorite creature in the deck; but I’m putting her in because she may fill an excellent role against decks like…well, like our own, that have lots of two-toughness creatures. In most cases, as you adjust your deck, this five casting-cost utility bird will be the first to go. But try the Archer at least once – it can be pretty effective.

Shelter: Not as good as Embolden for what we want to do – but very, very good. Embolden will surprise once, then sit laughing in our graveyard while players try to figure out how to deal enough damage to get around it. Shelter will be an additional surprise – especially for the black or blue mage, who thinks our deck isn’t ready for them. And it replaces itself – how sweet of it to do that! The first non-creature spell you will crank to four copies, if you can.

Orim’s Thunder: There are guys in our playgroup who like to depend on players like me to take care of problem enchantments and artifacts. They operate off the theory that by letting go of permanent control, they have more slots to gear toward their deck’s primary mission. It’s a good theory, and one you should explore for yourself. In the meantime, run this card. You will have a great deal of fun blowing up $10 rare enchantments and artifacts, and occasionally lighting up a fat creature as well. This spell is white burn – it gets around protection from red, which could be a problem for you.

Captain’s Maneuver and Shower of Coals: Either one of these cards is capable of turning around a game when it looks darkest. It’s a matter of style, and I offer one copy of each just to get you thinking. Recognize cards like this for what they are: Flashy, excellent… And almost never the core of a deck, because they cost too much mana. That doesn’t mean you never run four; it just means you run four for a very clear reason.

Step Five: Add Lands And Build

Barbarian Ring: I’m not sure how often this deck will hit threshold. It doesn’t feel like a consistent threshold deck, so I’m just suggesting two of these. But the main reason I put this in here is to remind you that lands (and artifacts, which I skipped for this deck) often provide utility beyond the colors you run. In this case, the Ring gives us a non-red source of damage, and also acts like a Seal of Fire on the board. It fits the”rattlesnake” feel of the deck really nicely – stay away, or I’ll smash you.

When it comes to basic lands, like most casual players I eyeball the number of white cards, number of red cards, and how many double-cost (WW, RR) spells I see. This deck brings out white earlier than it brings out red… But the Goblin Legionnaires demand enough red for a turn 2 play. I gave a slight edge to white (thirteen sources, compared to eleven total for red), subtracted the Rings from red’s count, and ended up with thirteen plains and nine mountains.

Here’s the final decklist. For a”baby steps” deck, it has an excellent shot of running a table…


20 creatures

4x Goblin Legionnaire

2x Angelic Wall

2x Beloved Chaplain

4x Flametongue Kavu

2x Mystic Zealot

2x Coalition Honor Guard

2x Voice of All

2x Aven Archer

14 other spells

4x Embolden

4x Order/Chaos

2x Shelter

2x Orim’s Thunder

1x Captain’s Maneuver

1x Shower of Coals

24 lands

2x Barbarian Ring

13x Plains

9x Mountain

If this deck was only going to see duels, and no multiplayer, then the Archers, Walls, Maneuver, and Shower would give way to more Chaplains, Zealots, and Voices. If you are in an artifact/enchantment-heavy environment, crank the Thunders to four copies and let the Archers go.

Just about any deck running two colors needs twenty-four lands; but if you find yourself pulling too many lands over and over again, replace two non-creature cards of your choice (even Embolden would be okay) with Hypochondria. That will give you some use out of the”dead” cards.

Step 6: Run A Brief Checklist, And Adjust As You Play And Learn

As you flip though your precious new deck, you might want to ask yourself some questions. After all, you’re new and you’re not playing with rares…But other players may be. I don’t want to give you a deck that falls flat in a rigorous field, and then give you no answers for adjustment. So all these questions are tough, and they all start with,”What do I do against…”

Pernicious Deed (or similar effects)? This deck has no way of stopping a reset button. That’s fine; it doesn’t need to stop the reset, just cope with it. Twenty creatures are enough to give you a supply after the worst happens; but your main solution to Deed is to avoid committing tons of creatures to the board to begin with. Short of an emergency, just hold one or two creatures back, and you should be fine. Don’t let the Deed sit on the board unless you’re certain you are benefiting from it somehow. Pressure the controller to blow it. Of course, you also have Orim’s Thunder to force the issue.

Armageddon (or similar effects)? Mana denial is always annoying; but this deck can deal better than most. It has nothing that costs more than five, so once you hit five or six lands (always make sure you have enough to activate Legionnaires and play an instant like Embolden), you can just hold the rest in your hands. A new player should learn that this is good strategy, anyway, since it gives the illusion that you’re holding more good cards than anyone else.

Verdant Force (or similarly terrifying fattie?) Chaos will remove the most frightening attackers from the board… But be aware that not every creature has to attack to kill you. The Force is a very specific case, since it can send swarms of Saprolings. But the damn thing’s in every group I hear about, because it’s just that famous. If your group loves the Force, consider bringing in two or four Bloodfire Dwarves. They’re common, they don’t kill a thing in your deck, and they’ll force the Force’s controller to use the Force itself to attack you… And then ta da! Order (or even Maneuver) saves the day.

Other big fatties that should concern you – Multani, Maro-Sorcerer and Palinchron. This is where you learn about how to reconstruct your deck – you need to recognize the cards you do have that already work, like Voice of All. Crank the angels to four.

Urza’s Rage (and attending direct damage)? If you run up against a serious direct damage player, you can expect a Rage in the deck. You can prevent the damage if the Rage is cast without kicker; but otherwise, you’re racing against the clock. Hey, what do you know? You have a deck that can go pretty fast. Slam him. You have all the tools you need to blow away a red mage who can’t force through damage. (Embolden, Shelter, Legionnaire, Captain’s Maneuver… Your answers go on and on.)

Millstone (and other milling strategies)? Aha. An interesting one! Good mill decks can rip through your library pretty fast, now. They tend to be based on artifacts. I would not just look at more Orim’s Thunder…I would also stretch back to Urza’s Legacy, and a nifty uncommon creature called Viashino Heretic.

…annoying combos? Combos that take some time to develop are not a problem for you – just go to four Orim’s Thunders and blow up the offending artifact or enchantment. (Spend time learning which permanent is the critical one. If your playgroup is friendly, ask after the game is over.)

Combos that go off by turn three mean that you’re playing with show-offs. These opponents are not casual players, whatever they may say. Most groups grow beyond this, and yours will too. Meantime, you need to decide if that’s the kind of Magic you want to play.


Step 7: Now Go Get Some Rares (From StarCity, of course – The Ferrett)

Once you have a deck or two that you feel works well, you can actually pursue a smarter path to collecting rarer cards. You target your purchases and trades toward cards that you’ll actually use. This is far more cost-efficient than chasing random rares because they”sound hot,” or you think you might use them in a deck. Build a deck that works first; then enhance it with rares, if you have the time, resources, and inclination.

Believe me – this deck as it stands is fine. You’ll do quite well with it, even against seasoned players, simply because it’s efficient in providing both problems and answers. But if you want to put a bit of extra torque into it, consider one copy of one or more of the following four cards:

Devoted Caretaker. A tremendous one-drop that will give your opponents more reasons to target someone else. Replace the Archers, and crank up the Chaplains or Honor Guards, if you use one.

Seize the Day. Even without flashback, this card can show up a serious gap in your opponents’ math. Your path is combat damage: this turn, you double (or triple) it.

Tahngarth, Talruum Hero: If you bring this in, you’ll need to consider finding room for four Shelters, because the black mage is going to gun for her. (Start yanking the high-end spells first.) Tahngarth can own the board fairly easily. With Embolden, he’s a freak.

Lieutenant Kirtar: You don’t have much in the deck that fills the”three” slot. Kirtar fits the bill nicely, and works like a high-powered Goblin Legionnaire.

Of course, there are more obvious rares – Urza’s Rage and Rout come to mind – but often, the stronger signal comes from the card you wouldn’t expect. You don’t mind creatures or players staying in the game – you just want them fighting each other, not you!

Step 8: The Next Deck

There’s a whole week of articles that just finished over at magicthegathering.com that focuses on commons. Check it out. (Yes, I write over there, too; but I’d send you there anyway, given the topic.) Look at your own collection, and find”linchpin sets” of cards that you want to play with. Each set should clearly announce your deck’s theme. Wild Dog, Basking Rootwalla, Unearth, and Rancor? Withdraw, Seal of Removal, Man o’ War, and Raven Familiar? Bottle Gnomes, Spike Feeder, Teroh’s Faithful, and Angel of Mercy? The possibilities go on and on.

Good luck, and email me as you finish your decks and gain experience with them. I’m interested to hear how it works out for you, and anyone else who cares to share.

In two weeks, I’ll announce the winners of the Break this Card: Nomad Mythmaker. Good luck to all!


Anthony Alongi

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