Playtesting Like A Pro: Can We Design A New Archetype The Way That Your Move Games Does?

Right now, YMG is focussed on Standard for the Masters and Draft for the Pro Tour – but I had an idea for an Extended deck, and considering my team is working on other formats, I thought I’d try out something new. I’d like to work with StarCityGames.com readers in the same way that I work with my team: I give you guys my concept and decklist, you all test it and show me where it’s weak. Are you up to the challenge?

Before I go into this week’s article, I have an aside: I went to see Equilibrium last week. That movie is Kung-fu-gun-tastic. They had this thing called the”gun-Kata,” a gunfighting martial art based on shooting accuracy and dodging the most likely arcs of enemy fire. This total line of BS was a great excuse to have bad-ass main characters who took cool martial arts poses while wreaking carnage with both pistols blazing. There may or may not have been a plot between gun and sword fights – I’m not really sure…

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, on to the article.

I love designing decks. Deck design was the element of Magic that interested me most when I first discovered the game. Building a new deck changes the game you play with your opponent. Sometimes the game changes in ways that makes it terribly unfair. To me, the search for a deck that makes the game lopsided in my favor is like a game before the game.

Initial deck design has long been my role on the Your Move Games team. My best work has been a result of coming up with a raw concept for a deck and handing a base design off to the rest of the team for testing and tweaking.

This is not to say everything I’ve worked on has been great. On the contrary, there have been plenty of duds. But the process is a lot of fun, and occasionally it yields gems like Benzo.

Right now, YMG is focussed on Standard for the Masters and Draft for the Pro Tour – but I had an idea for an Extended deck, and considering my team is working on other formats, I thought I’d try out something new.

I’d like to work with the www.starcitygames.com readers in the same way that I work with my team: I give you guys my concept and decklist, you all test it. Figure out if it has potential, or if it just sucks. Is the mana right? What matchups is it winning, and which is it losing? After you have figured all that out, use the feedback option at the top of the article to let me know what you have learned in StarCity’s forums. I will discuss all this in a future article.

The concept I had in mind was base red beat down with Phyrexian Negators and Tangle Wires.

Star City Beats

4 Bloodstained Mire

4 Sulfurous Spring

2 City of Brass

1 Swamp

6 Mountain

4 Rishadan Port

4 Goblin Lackey

4 Mogg Fanatic

4 Jackal Pup

4 Veteran Brawler

4 Mogg Flunkies

4 Goblin Piledriver

4 Phyrexian Negator

4 Tangle Wire

3 Terminate

2 Lava Dart

3 Reckless Charge


2 Threaten

1 Terminate

4 Cursed Scroll

2 Lava Dart

2 Disorder

1 Flaring Pain

2 Wasteland

1 Flash of Defiance

Every deck design should start with a general concept of how you want the games to go. In this case, the concept game plan is to play the biggest low casting cost creatures possible, then drop a Tangle Wire to tie the opponent up while these cheap beaters finish him off.

Once you have the general concept of how you want the game to go (often revolving around a key card or two), you need to pick cards for the deck that fit with the program. Make sure that you either make the deck so redundant that you can mulligan if your opening hand doesn’t have the cards that fit with your plan (like Angry Ghoul or Benzo), or flexible enough that it’s still a good deck even if your dream draw doesn’t materialize.

Card Selection

Jackal Pup

“2/1 for one” says it all. Power higher than casting cost is what this deck’s all about – drawbacks be damned!

Goblin Lackey

This guy doesn’t do much damage on his own, but his ability is great for getting out fast pressure. If you can get him going, a turn 3 Tangle Wire should be absolutely devastating.

Mogg Fanatic

Another tiny man, the Fanatic earns his place due to his amazing pinging power. This guy’s an absolute must. He’s great against other red decks. You need him to keep Angry Ghoul’s Hermit Druids under control. When matched up against The Rock, he kills Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise. Hopefully this, in combination with Ports can keep The Rock, from getting a Deed on the table until you can lock things up with a Tangle Wire. The fact that this Lava Dart on a stick is also a Goblin to go with the Piledriver doesn’t hurt either.

Veteran Brawler

A 4/4 for two with a serious drawback? This is just the type of card we want to try out with this deck.

I think he will work out well. He functions well as a 4/4 wall for two mana. This will help a lot versus other red decks, where our Negators and Tangle Wires might weaken us. Additionally, he often functions as a two-mana Stone Rain, since many players are afraid to tap out and let a red deck get in a free hit for four. This will slow their board development and make Tangle Wire more devastating. He can also be a nice surprise with Reckless Charge if your opponent taps out early.

Mogg Flunkies

Continuing the”bigger than my casting cost” theme, we have the 3/3 for two Flunkies. As our creature drawbacks go, his is not bad: With 28 creatures and three Reckless Charges in the deck, this boy should be able to swing most of the time. The Flunkies have been Goblin Lackey’s best buddy for a long time: If you can get him out for free on turn 2 and drop more pressure with your mana, things are looking pretty good.

Goblin Piledriver

While sometimes the Piledriver’s power is actually lower then his casting cost (cringe), the times he swings with his Goblin friends for three, five, or even more makes up for this otherwise-unforgivable trait. His synergy with Lackey is impressive, and may take the Flunkies’ spot and the little Goblin’s favorite big brother.

Phyrexian Negator

Negator is the King of”big for cheap.” With Tangle Wire and Terminate clearing a path, this 5/5 trampler will make short work of your opponents.

Tangle Wire

Tangle Wire is the cornerstone of this deck concept. Use it to tie up your opponent’s resources while you get lethal damage through.


A big advantage to playing a Black/Red deck is the access to the best spot removal of all time: Terminate. It’s great for clearing a path for your guys so you can keep the beats coming. This card makes the normally nightmarish Reanimator matchups very winnable. Given that you have to keep dropping guys with this deck to win, it gives you an out against the Oath player when they get the early Oath of Druids.

Lava Dart

The Dart seems great right now with the quantity of Goblin and Rock players out there. I’d love to squeeze more of these in to the main deck, but I couldn’t find the room.

Reckless Charge

Charge is a great card for getting the damage through. It’s wonderful on a freshly cast Goblin when you have a Piledriver on the table. As I mentioned before, you give your opponent a nice seven-damage surprise with the Brawlers, and Charging a Negator is down right scary.

Rishadan Port

Porting your opponent can work out very well in the games where you get the turn 1 Lackey. The Port’s main job, however, is to combo with Brawler or Tangle Wire. A Port on the table makes it very hard for your opponent to do anything without the Brawlers coming to visit. With Tangle Wire, you can Port your opponent after they put the Wire on the stack, forcing them to tap something besides the Ported land to satisfy the Wire’s effect. This can give the Wire the extra oomph needed to get the job done.

Sideboard Card Selection


I mainly envision this card being used against Reanimator, but it might be useful in other matchups as well.


This card is going to be coming in against everybody. Red decks will be bringing in big guys such as Fledgling Dragon or Savage Firecat. It’s great against Oath for killing Treetop Villages and whatever they Oath up. Most other decks have good targets for it. I almost ran four main, but the card I would take out for it is Lava Dart. I want to start with at least two Darts in the main so you draw them enough to determine whether the fourth Terminate or the second Dart is the better main deck card.

Cursed Scroll

When playing against fast opponents, the Wires come out and the Scrolls come in.

Lava Dart

I couldn’t fit ’em in the main deck and I wanted access to 4 Darts against Goblin and Rock, so 2 ended up here in the board. I prefer my sideboard cards to have a bit more power. Any Ideas for better candidates?


This card just seems so exciting against the new decks running lots of white two-drops. I have a feeling it would be utterly devastating in those matchups. That kind of gameswinging power will get me to put a card in my sideboard that may not see much action. Try it out versus Fiends. If it’s not game-breaking there, it has no business in the board.

Flaring Pain

It seems likely that with the recent dominance of red decks, people may be packing damage protection or protection from red. The Pain is a great way around both.


Generally useful against players with lots of non-basics, the Wasteland will also come in when you bring in the Scrolls. The extra lands will help insure your hand doesn’t get clogged up and you can continue to play the activation cost.

Flash of Defiance

Another card I want to try out. Is it a good tool against The Rock – or do they have too much removal after sideboarding? How about versus Fiends? Any good in that matchup, or do their tappers and Parallax Waves make it lame?

Now you have the deck and sideboard, and the reasons why I chose the cards I did. The next step is for you guys to build it and test it out.

I’m particularly interested in how the weird cards, like Veteran Brawler, work out in this build. If a card like that is doing poorly in your testing, try replacing it with other cards. See if you can get a version that works out better: Then post the changes you made and why.

I’ll also need to know if the mana is right. Are you losing an abnormal number of games to mana screw, mana flood, or color problems? Give me details so we can fix the mana ratios.

As far as the sideboard goes, there are several experimental cards in there. With cards like that, you may want to try bringing in more than the number listed in the sideboard. The idea there being you need to draw the card in your test games to see if it’s any good. Once you know if the card is good or bad, you can go down to the actual number and see if it’s enough.

Another key question for this (or any) new deck is: does it do better then the stuff that’s already out there? The last Grand Prix saw a lot of very good beat down decks. If the new deck doesn’t do a better job than the established deck, it’s bound for the scrap heap.

If you found the deck to be bad, tell me why. What matchups was it losing, and why? Do you have any suggestions to make it better, or do you think it’s time to can it and try something else?

I look forward to reading your feedback. I’ll discuss it in an upcoming article, along with an updated decklist, assuming the deck has any merit at all.

Remember: This deck is in the concept stage. It hasn’t even played one game yet. I’m not advising anyone to put it together and run it at a PTQ.