So you’re a casual player who’s thought about trying competitive Standard. What’s the best way to win?
(I can hear it now: “Winning isn’t everything!” Of course not, and it’s not
the only thing,
either, but if you’re competitive enough to seek out information on tournaments, you have at least a little Spike in you. You’ll enjoy your tournament more if you feel like you
have a chance in your matches, so indulge that part of your Magic personality, just this once.
When in Rome,
and all that.)
Many casual players will eventually feel the itch to try out competitive Magic for the first time; many others will return to it after a period away. Usually the process starts with Limited rather than Constructed. Limited offers two great ways to experiment with competitive Magic, the Prereleases and Launch Parties that come around with each new set. All the cards you need to play are given to you, the atmosphere is competitive yet still focused
on fun, and articles like Tim Willoughby
give the novice Limited player a good idea of what to expect.
Breaking into competitive Constructed, such as the Standard tournaments of Friday Night Magic or the local equivalent, is more complicated. While Friday Night Magic is still a “fun” event, it’s entirely possible you’ll end up facing a deck that costs more than your whole collection. That isn’t meant to intimidate you; it’s just a statement of fact.
In addition, there aren’t as many resources for the beginning Standard player. It’s more difficult to give general but lasting advice about Constructed than Limited; the Willoughby Prerelease Primers are fairly timeless, changing only slightly to adapt to the quirks of different sets, while the rotation policy of Standard Constructed means that any discussion of decklists will become invalid within a year, if not even sooner. Still, that doesn’t make a Constructed primer for the new (or returning) competitive player any less important for today.
I’ll be going over a variety of potential deck types for the novice Standard player, focusing on cost, power, deck difficulty, specific likes or dislikes that may influence a casual-to-competitive player, and potential budget modifications that can cut a lot of cost for just a little power. Put it all together and find the right deck for you—the best way to win during your Constructed experiment and have a good time doing it.
Oh, yes, and there are theme songs. Every deck needs a theme song…
Theme Song: Tommy Tutone,
I tease because I love. The first deck I ever played in a tournament was badly curved Burn… at an Odyssey Block Constructed PTQ. I made a lot of opponents with real decks very happy that day. Do as I say, not as I did, and try an FNM first.
Don’t want to commit a lot of money just yet? Take your recent commons and uncommons, seasoned judiciously with inexpensive rares, and get a taste of competitive Standard. The only rare in Zac Hill Mono-Green Infectious deck costs less than $6 for a playset of four…
Low. That’s pretty much the point. Most budget decks cost less than a night for two at the movies, and depending on the cards and one’s predilection for 3D and ridiculously priced popcorn, that can be a lot less.
Low to moderate-low. When single cards in Standard cost more than your entire deck (Jace, the Mind Sculptor, I’m looking at you), you’re giving up some power. That said, going budget doesn’t mean you can’t put up a good fight and have a fun time doing it. StarCityGames.com writers, Bennie Smith and Dave Meeson among them, have been cooking up great budget-casual decks for years, and the
Building on a Budget
column on the official Wizards of the Coast site is a great source of inspiration.
Low to moderate. Linear decks like Infect are fairly simple. Johnny decks are usually built around more complicated card interactions and can take more practice to get right, unless you’re a Johnny yourself, and you have the knack.
You prefer winning infrequently with style to winning often. You like the idea of humbling people who play expensive cards. You don’t think you’ll play competitive Standard often.
You don’t like the idea of losing often. You want to play a “real deck,” or at least one with high-level tournament success. You think you’ll get hooked on Standard and that a budget deck would just be a stepping stone to something more expensive.
Playing one of these decks is like a 75-card budget modification. Then again, it’s almost always possible to make a cheap deck even cheaper, but be careful; many budget decks are cut to the bone already, and the few rares present are likely pulling their weight.
White Weenie Quest
Theme Song: Aerosmith,
“Janie’s Got a Gun”
…but that’s the goal. Using Quest for the Holy Relic and free or cheap creatures, some of which bounce other creatures, get five quest counters and sacrifice the enchantment. Search up an Argentum Armor, put it on a creature that can attack, and start destroying your opponent’s permanents (especially their lands) while attacking for at least six points of damage at a time. With a perfect draw, this can happen as soon as the second turn.
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Kor Duelist
- 3 Kor Outfitter
- 4 Kor Skyfisher
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 3 Student of Warfare
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Glint Hawk
- 21 Plains
Low to moderate. Builds vary, but the only “must-have” rares are four Stoneforge Mystic, one Sword of Body and Mind, one Sword of Vengeance, and two Argentum Armor. StarCityGames.com is charging $7.99 for the first two and $1.49 for the others. The surprise expensive card is an uncommon, Memnite, which is a four-of and goes for two bucks a pop (okay, $1.99).
Moderate. It’s made appearances in the Top 16 of StarCityGames.com Opens. The deck is draw-dependent; land a first-turn Quest for the Holy Relic and your opponent is in for a world of hurt, but without a Quest, you’re basically a White Weenie deck without Honor of the Pure. You can still win, but you’ll have an uphill battle.
Low to moderate. Once you recognize the patterns of play—Quest first if you have it, remembering your Quest triggers, ordering your creatures (for example, Ornithopter, Glint Hawk returning Ornithopter, Ornithopter again for three counters)—you’ll have an easy time piloting White Weenie Quest.
You’re always pushing the edge in your casual group. You thrive on weenie decks. You want an affordable deck that’s still strong enough for higher-level tournaments, such as a StarCityGames.com Open.
You campaigned to have Stone Rain banned from your playgroup. You find creature decks boring. You prefer consistency to raw power.
Cards such as Marsh Flats, Basilisk Collar, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and Molten-Tail Masticore are nice but by no means necessary. Stoneforge Mystic is powerful, but it’s also the deck’s back-up option. If you’re on a tight budget, two Argentum Armors (so you don’t draw your only copy) and four Memnites are the only non-negotiable cards that will cost you more than a dollar.
Kuldotha Red (Goblins)
Theme Song: Blake Shelton,
I make no apologies for my love of country music.
This is a bit of a twist on the classic Goblins deck, centered around Kuldotha Rebirth. A cheap (preferably free) artifact such as Memnite and a Kuldotha Rebirth will give you three 1/1 Goblin tokens. Then you can give them a permanent power boost and haste with Goblin Chieftain or temporary boosts with Goblin Bushwhacker. What else goes well with the Bushwhacker? Devastating Summons. I’ve been on the receiving end of this deck, and it’s nasty.
Moderate. I chose Farrell’s list over that of the deck’s more famous pilot, Christopher Canon, because I find it both cheaper and more streamlined. No Molten-Tail Masticore or Mox Opal in here; each of those is an $18 card to pick up from StarCityGames.com, so even as singletons they crimp the budget. Chimeric Mass and Devastating Summons are both dollar rares. Goblin Chieftain is a dollar and a half. Spikeshot Elder is two bucks, the same as Memnite. Those one-dollar and two-dollar cards start to add up, and StarCityGames.com has Goblin Guides listed at $8 (but sold out as I write). Then again, those eight fetchlands aren’t strictly necessary…
Moderate to high. This deck has placed multiple pilots in StarCityGames.com Open Top 8s, including a finalist spot. The power level is draw-dependent, but not to the same level as White Weenie Quest.
Moderate. Additional costs, whether one artifact (Kuldotha Rebirth) or most of your lands (Devastating Summons) make going for the kill a high-risk but high-reward proposition. Other decisions, such as choosing an artifact to sacrifice to Kuldotha Rebirth—do you give up the Memnite or the Panic Spellbomb?—add to the complexity.
You already play a form of Goblins and like it. You enjoy go-for-the-throat gameplay. You like deciding games quickly.
You psych yourself out of making bold moves in games. You hate your friend’s Goblins deck. You break out into cold sweats at the thought of Kor Firewalker. (If so, sorry!)
Taking out the fetchlands is a good budget idea; there are no landfall cards in the deck to make them truly relevant. Removing other cards, such as Goblin Guide or Spikeshot Elder, amounts to being penny-wise and pound-foolish. You save a little money, but you give up so much power that you might as well play a different deck.
Theme Song: Creed,
The one song in this article I will not admit to having listened to at least twice.
This is a combo deck that revolves around Pyromancer Ascension. Play duplicates of spells that are in your graveyard, activate the Pyromancer Ascension, and start copying burn spells and draw spells. End in an explosion of burn pointed at the opponent. (Full disclosure: I loathe this deck. Why do you think I stuck it with a Creed song?)
Moderate-low to extremely high. Pyromancer Ascension is a $3 card, playset required. Jace Beleren is a two-of or three-of and an $8 card. Scalding Tarn is the costliest card in the typical maindeck at $13, and the more the better. Some builds use Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which increases the price astronomically (see above
Moderate to high. A StarCityGames.com Open Top 8 is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s a deck type that seems to place at least one person well each tournament where it’s run. But see Difficulty below.
High. This is a deck that rewards practice, practice, practice. Know this deck inside and out, or you’re going to make a miscalculation and leave yourself just shy of finishing the opponent. If you master Pyromancer Ascension, though, you have an incredibly potent weapon in your hands.
You prefer creature decks. You dislike combo. You don’t want to spend weeks mastering this deck.
Take out Jace, the Mind Sculptor. That is the single biggest money-saver you could possibly make. Everything else is as close to non-negotiable as it gets, even the Scalding Tarns, which give the mana base a much-needed dose of stability.
Theme Song: Linkin Park,
“Leave Out All the Rest”
It was the best song on the
soundtrack. Hey, at least I didn’t inflict Vampire Weekend on you…
You may have heard about Vampires decks from when Zendikar was the new set in town. Those were slow decks that topped out with Malakir Bloodwitch and Mind Sludge. Today’s Vampires decks are lower on the curve, aiming to bleed away the opponent’s life from the earliest turns of the game. Victories often end with Bloodthrone Vampire or Kalastria Highborn shenanigans. A mono-black version made the Top 8 of the StarCityGames.com Open in Massachusetts, but black-red lists are more popular among Magic Online players.
- 4 Bloodghast
- 3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 4 Kalastria Highborn
- 4 Pulse Tracker
- 4 Bloodthrone Vampire
- 4 Pawn of Ulamog
- 4 Viscera Seer
Moderate to high. The deck consists of mostly commons and uncommons, but the few rares hurt. Blade of the Bloodchief is a two-dollar card, while Kalastria Highborn runs $10 for a playset. Then the deck really starts sucking your bank account dry: Bloodghast costs $6 a copy, and the fetchlands are $10 each for Marsh Flats and $12 a pop for Verdant Catacombs. Unlike with Goblins, the fetchlands are essential to the deck’s function, letting players get double duty out of sacrificial Bloodghasts.
Moderate to high. There is still some perception that Vampires is a faddish or gimmicky deck, but the deck’s speed is plenty respectable, and when you think you’ve stabilized at six or eight life, Kalastria Highborn comes down and drains you for your last.
jokes aside, these Vampires are serious.
High. This deck revolves around sacrifice interactions, and the decisions are often ambiguous. How many Bloodghasts do you sacrifice to Bloodthrone Vampire? Do you try to kill this turn or wait for the Kalastria Highborn and risk the opponent’s board-sweeper?
You like linear tribal decks, such as Elves or Goblins. You’re comfortable with complicated board states and decisions. You like the “cool factor” of Vampires and maybe even own some of the rares.
You have a semi-irrational fear of Day of Judgment. You feel your eyes glaze over when you try to do complex combat math. You associate vampires with
and not in a good way.
Next to impossible without wrecking your win possibilities. Giving up fetchlands makes Bloodghast mediocre. If he’s not at his best, the deck’s sacrifice engine isn’t running well. If you can’t make that engine hum, it’s best to choose a different deck.
Boros (Aggro, Bushwhacker, Deck Wins)
Theme song: Northern Kings,
“We Don’t Need Another Hero”
Because when four manly men of Finnish metal music get together, the first thing they should do is cover a Tina Turner song.
Fast creatures, preferably with landfall, keep pounding you until you lose. Just when you think you have enough blockers to survive, Journey to Nowhere or a burn spell leaves you one short.
High. In the Top 8 of the Kentucky Open, seven of the decks revolved around Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The only exception? The Boros deck above. Other decks can try to control Boros by killing off its creatures, but success is far from guaranteed.
Low to moderate. Most of your difficult decisions will involve what Equipment to search up with Stoneforge Mystic or what to shoot with Spikeshot Elder. Choosing which permanent to bounce with Kor Skyfisher can also be a tough decision.
You own or can borrow the necessary fetchlands. You’re at home with quick and cheap creatures. You love announcing “Lightning Bolt off the top!”
You don’t own playsets of all the fetchlands. You fear Pyroclasm. You can’t wrap your head around having six land in play with an aggro deck and finding yourself begging for a land off the top.
Don’t bother. It’s much the same situation as with Vampires, but worse. Without the fetchlands, this deck type isn’t powerful enough, and even if you have playsets of both Evolving Wilds and Terramorphic Expanse, that would make the deck too slow.
Theme Song: John Anderson,
Elves, nature, environmental anthem. Elves even splashes black sometimes. When was the last time Everglades was legal in Standard?
This deck is jam-packed with small but quick Elves, and these creatures really like to pump each other. Start with Elvish Archdruid. Add Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Now mix in Joraga Warcaller, Eldrazi Monument, and maybe Nissa Revane, and you have yourself an Elf deck. Fear the ears!
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 3 Nissa's Chosen
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Joraga Warcaller
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 2 Sylvan Ranger
- 3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Joraga Warcaller
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Sylvan Ranger
- 4 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 4 Copperhorn Scout
High. This deck gets you one way or another. Jacob Baugh list runs four copies of Vengevine; you’ll get introduced to Vengevine’s price tag later. Fauna Shaman is $8 and a four-of. Eldrazi Monument? That’s an $18 mythic rare, and you’ll need three or four. Nissa Revane? If you play her, that’s $10 each. Then there are the Verdant Catacombs and Molten-Tail Masticores in the Sean McKeown list…you get the picture.
High. Multiple StarCityGames.com Open Top 8 appearances, including a win. Elves may be tree-huggers, but they aren’t pacifists. Ignore them at your peril.
Moderate. Mana development is a large part of the challenge; what pattern of Llanowar Elves / Joraga Treespeaker / Arbor Elf do you follow when you’re dealing with multiples? Plus, with so many pump effects, choosing the right order to deploy them can be tricky.
You love casual Elf decks and have practice with them (perhaps involving Priest of Titania). You have fond memories of playing Overrun. You thought Fauna Shaman looked cool and grabbed it while it was relatively cheap.
You don’t like rush or mana-ramping decks. You read the flavor text on the 7th Edition version of Persecute with a fist-pump and a “Heck yeah!” You checked the price of Vengevine and winced.
Some. I’ll defer to Dave Meeson, who
covered Elves in Monday’s Tribal Thriftiness column,
and Sean McKeown excellent forum response.
The Budget-Busters: Primeval Titan, Vengevine, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor decks
Theme song: TLC,
These decks I’ve lumped together are a large part of the metagame. They also demand a playset of Primeval Titan ($40 each on StarCityGames.com), Vengevine (also $40 a pop), Jace, the Mind Sculptor (a wallet-sculpting $90 apiece)… or *gulp* more than one of the above. These cards just as demanding as the ladies of TLC; if you don’t flash the cash they want to see, they call you a scrub and freeze you out.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Clone
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 3 Nest Invader
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 4 Frost Titan
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 2 Wurmcoil Engine
Extremely high. Start at $160 for a playset of Vengevine or Primeval Titan, or $360 for four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Full sets of Lotus Cobra ($20 each) or similarly expensive cards in the same deck are just gravy. They can be worth it for a dedicated Standard competitor who will get plenty of use out of them, but these aren’t the right cards for someone just testing the waters.
Extremely high, especially for Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Just look at the
Kentucky Open results:
28 copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor out of a possible 32 in the Top 8. You may never play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but you have to respect the power.
Moderate-low to extremely high. Valakut Ramp is fairly simple; play lands, play ramping spells, fetch Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Mountains with Primeval Titan, done. Eldrazi Ramp has more complicated fetching decisions with its Primeval Titans: Eldrazi Temple to ramp mana, Eye of Ugin for a tutor, Khalni Garden for a blocker, Mystifying Maze to nullify one attacker a turn, and so on. Jace, the Mind Sculptor as part of a control deck or even a ramp deck gets you involved in decisions that are far more complex than an inexperienced Standard player should be expected to handle, and that’s before you get to the (probable) counterspells and creature control.
You have a trust fund. No, bigger.
You don’t have $160, much less $360, to spend on a playset of cards you might not even enjoy.
None. The decks revolve around the big-money cards, and there are no proper substitutes.
There are a few other deck types out there that I’ve left out for space; I recommend you go through SCG’s
Standard deck database
and see what other choices are out there. Whatever deck you choose, whatever best suits your budget and play style, I wish you the best of luck and great fun for your try at competitive Standard. Should
we meet at some north Texas FNM, to borrow the one repeatable line from the infamous
“How about you and your friends versus me…and Primeval Titan.”
There might even be pancakes afterward at IHOP.
Forum Response of the Week:
Not as much to choose from this time, but I loved hearing from SCG’s own Gavin Verhey, who said, “I’ve thought about writing this article several times but haven’t for one reason for another. I’m glad somebody finally did.”
Getting that response, having someone like Gavin tell me I wrote an article that deserved to be written… that’s a great reward for a writer. If I gave you an article like that today, I’d like your vote in return. Thanks for reading!