Trigger Happy: Eight Paths To Innovative Decks

Virtually every deck I have ever played started from one of these paths. I want to share these with you in hopes that you can use them to make creative decks of your own.

IMPORTANT DEFINITION: in.no.va.tion (n): 1. The act of creating something new. 2. Something newly introduced.

I am fairly addicted to deckbuilding. More on that later.

Most people, even my friends and family, have no idea what I "do for a living." And I admit it’s pretty hard to explain. I do science, but not really… Because it’s social science. I run a research lab, but the subject matter tends to be things like "the workforce" and "organizational systems" and "human resources trends." I have never touched a petri dish.

It is hard to explain even to my mother, so I say: "I do science, ma. I run a research lab." Her son the scientist – she is very proud. But didn’t he get his doctorate in psychology and something having to do with business? It is all very confusing to her. My friends and family don’t talk with me about my job much.

People who do understand my job – the insiders, let’s call them – are jealous of me. They think I do Cool Things. Creative Things. Things That Matter. As an insider myself (but apparently I don’t know my job well enough to explain it), I think I do some neat stuff too.

Example (this will become a trend, but more on that later too): I recently started a "project" – known to my mother as "an experiment" – to bring innovation to my company. Literally, that was the assignment: "Jay, go bring innovation to our company… Make sure our workforce is innovative."

As a result, I have been thinking about innovation a lot lately. I have been thinking about where it comes from. I have attended conferences and lectures on innovation. When innovation happens, what triggers it? Right now I am getting paid to answer that question.

I am also fairly addicted to deckbuilding, as I mentioned. I build a lot of decks for Magic: the Gathering. Sometimes I think a good niche for me would be on a team of very good players with little creativity or time for new ideas. I could make the decks, they could play them. That would suit me just fine, since for me a deck starts to lose interest in about a week. Sometimes less.

Some people would say that because I am always playing decks of my own design, that I am an innovative deckbuilder. In fact, someone did. Last night. "You know," said the person, "you are really an innovative deckbuilder."

I may have choked on the Dr. Pepper I was drinking at the time.

My job and hobby had suddenly collided.

Okay, so let’s assume for a moment than I AM an innovative deckbuilder. That’s a big assumption, I agree. (Well, Jeez, Jay, you built thirty decks in thirty days as a preview for Invasion, so I’d say yeah, you count… — The Ferrett) But it helps me with the whole flow-thing of this article, so let me have the label just for a second.

Where do my ideas come from? How is it that I can look at an environment full of established decks and say, "You know, it would be fun to make a deck like…" and then not only make the deck, but win with it.

How do I do that?

As far as I can tell, I use eight different ways to trigger a new deck idea. Virtually every deck I have ever played started from one of these points (sometimes someone else will give me an unpolished decklist and I’ll run with it). I want to share these "triggers" (for lack of a better term) with you in hopes that you can use them to make creative – and innovative – decks of your own.

I’ll start by just describing the trigger, then go into an example by taking the trigger and making a brand spanking new deck with it. I will even make the decks for the upcoming Type II season with Planeshift to ensure I have your attention.

A warning about the decklists, though: What I am doing here is showing how to come up with a deck CONCEPT, not a polished decklist. I wouldn’t take any of these decks to your local tournament. Good decks come from taking an idea like these and playing them. And playing them. And then playing them some more. Playtesting makes GOOD decks; I just want you to start thinking of NEW decks.

Okay, roll up your sleeves and let’s start thinking about deck genesis…


Most decks for me are generally built around a single card. I see a card and think, "Wow, that’s a neat idea. I wonder what a deck built around that card would look like?" And then I start thinking of decklists. My guess is that most new decks start from focusing on a single card.

When I mean I start thinking of decklists, I mean I think of LOTS of decklists. Plural. Usually I will try to make the card work using a white mana base, then blue, then green, then red and finally black. I do this because I want to see what every color has to offer my card. Especially in today’s Type II, there is no reason to limit yourself to a mono-colored deck, so you might as well understand how the card works in every color. Also, forcing yourself to use colors that wouldn’t normally occur to you can bring lots of interesting insights.

In searching for the other cards in the deck, I pour over spoilers and highlight cards (sometimes literally, with a highlighter) that have good synergy with the feature card. Looking at spoilers with a very specific lens like that can produce some surprising things. I often end up using odd cards solely because they have synergy with the card I am building around. Eventually, a lot of these cards get dropped for better choices, but I think it is important at least initially to bend the deck towards the feature card to see what happens.

Most people choose cards to build decks around because they look powerful or because there is a possibility to "break" them. Rising Waters is a good example of a card like this, as is my Kastle-induced fascination with Death or Glory. But there are other reasons for picking feature cards. Sometimes the cards are just bizarre, like Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Zur’s Weirding, or Thieves’ Auction. Sometimes the card seems particularly dumb and you wonder why Wizards printed it, like Goblin Spy. Heck, sometimes you are just stuck with three copies of the thing in your trade binder.

Although you limit your chances of success for making a tournament-quality deck using these latter strategies, you often have a bigger payoff if it works. Succeed in building a good deck around Teferi’s Puzzle Box, and I guarantee no one will be prepared for it nor have a sideboard to combat you. Because of this, I often spend way too much time focusing on cards like Call of the Wild.

Example: I will save looking at Death or Glory because I am currently writing an article focusing on it. Instead I’ll turn to an older fascination: Complex Automaton. I wrote an article about the Automaton a long time ago, and I can’t quite seem to let it go.

Shouldn’t Complex Automaton be good? It is a 4/4 colorless fattie for four mana. Is the drawback of bouncing itself back into your hand really that prohibitive? Hmm. Sounds like I should start building decks around the fella and see.

As I said, the first step for me was to build five decklists, one in each color, featuring the Automaton. If I could imagine more than one way to make the deck in each color, then the total number of decks increased.

Here is an example of the red Automaton deck:


4x Flailing Soldier
4x Complex Automaton

4x Assault/Battery
4x Shock
4x Earthquake
4x Hull Breach
4x Stone Rain
4x Urza’s Rage
4x Pillage

4x Karplusan Forest
4x Sandstone Needle
2x Dust Bowl
4x Forest
10x Mountain

So here I have a deck the gets around the Automaton’s weakness by not using many permanents with a correspondingly low mana curve. The Needles die by the time the Automaton makes an appearance, and the Flailing Soldier probably has died by then, too. At the very least, it’s a start. And not something currently in the environment.

True, I didn’t quite stick to solely red cards. That’s because I am rarely making a deck in a vacuum – I know what decks are currently in vogue and the kinds of things I need to think about. Here, I know that enchantments, really scary enchantments, are all over the Type 2 environment these days. Thus any deck needs a way of dealing with enchantments. Black has discard. Red, thanks the Planeshift, has Hull Breach. Splashing green lets the deck have things like Simoon in the sideboard, too.

Will this deck be a force? As with the other decks I’ll list: Not in the current form, to be sure. But now I have a new idea to playtest with. Pile up enough of these good ideas, along with a solid understanding of how Complex Automaton works and doesn’t work in a deck, and I will undoubtedly hit on something workable into a tournament-quality deck.


Another popular way of making new decks is to find two or more cards that do amazingly good things in combination with one another. I am not necessarily thinking of "Combo" decks here, though those certainly fit into this category. It is enough to find cards with incredible synergy and start from there.

Of course, this is a slippery slope. If I decided to build a deck around Rising Waters and alternate-casting-cost spells, couldn’t you just as easily say I was building a deck around Rising Waters and finding cards to go with it?

The key here is the trigger that starts the new deck idea. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the deck started because of Rising Waters or the combination of Rising Waters and Thwart. That is all semantics. But if single cards aren’t producing any new ideas, it may be worth flipping open a recent Inquest Magazine to look for clever card combinations upon which to base a deck.

Unlike with single card ideas, I rarely try and build a deck in each color to house the feature combination. Usually the two (or more) cards are expensive, and so require mana acceleration, or fragile, and so require countermagic, or vital, and so require tutors. Or maybe all of the above. After all of the support cards are brought together, there really aren’t enough slots open to start messing with color bases.

That said, I still sift through spoilers looking for cards that have good synergy with my combo. And again, I make sacrifices to have relatively crappy cards in the deck if they support the combo nicely, since it is sometimes informative to see what a deck does when bent to support a single idea.

Example: If Mike Mason hadn’t created his "God" deck, I may have used Cursed Totem and Glittering Lion as my example here. Since he did, though, I’ll turn to something slightly less impressive.

Everyone who likes winning in grand fashion, who thinks the bigger the creature the more fun, has got to have loved the printing of Dralnu’s Pet. A lot of people have tried using the Pet with Draco, but that doesn’t interest me because Draco can’t reasonably be cast on its own. Besides, a Pet pumped with Draco food still needs two attacks to kill an opponent. Instead, I like the idea of using Avatar of Will, a huge card, to pump the Pet, since it can still come out to play by itself if only given a little discard support.

Given the card combination of Dralnu’s Pet and Avatar of Will, it’s worth exploring something like this:


4x Ravenous Rats
4x Dralnu’s Pet
3x Avatar of Will
2x Avatar of Woe
1x Volrath the Fallen

4x Dark Ritual
4x Probe
4x Stupor
4x Recoil
3x Fact or Fiction
2x Haunted Crossroads

4x Salt Marsh
4x Underground River
5x Island
12x Swamp

This is a good example of bending the cards towards the combo. I am not sure cards like Volrath, Stupor, and Haunted Crossroads would make it past a few rounds of playtesting, and the deck surely is lacking defense or creature control to survive in a tournament. But is it a start? Surely so.

And, again, the deck represents something distinctly different from the current environment, which for right now is the point.


Although I think the above two approaches are probably the most common for your average deckbuilding bear, I confess to being a particular sucker for themes. To base a deck on a theme means to pick some common feature among many cards and throw them together in a deck strictly because of that similarity.

Most often themes turn out being around creature types. Goblins, elves, Kavu, Saprolings… These all represent interesting themes that can be woven into a coherent deck. But to stop there is really unimaginative. A theme can be made around card mechanics like "fading" or "untargetability" or "haste." They can also be around an artist, letter of the alphabet or just a concept like… oh, I don’t know… "the Arctic."

When I lived in Michigan (speaking of the arctic… brrrr!) (TALK to me, pal – The Ferrett, currently under eighteen inches of snow in Anchorage, Alaska), I would have "theme parties" that usually involved either a small round-robin tournament or a big multiplayer game. The idea was to build a deck around a given theme. For example, one party had the theme "The End of the World" and each person had to bring a deck they considered to be themed around – you guessed it – the end of the world. You would be surprised (and more than a little frightened) at the differences in what people bring as theme decks even if built around the same theme.

Like when you build around a combo, it doesn’t make sense to build a bunch of different colors around a particular theme, because once you have the theme nailed down the deck rapidly fills up with cards on its own. Sometimes, if you pick a broad enough theme, there are enough cards for three or four decks, in which case it makes sense to try several versions to see which you like best. And it might be fun to think, "How do I make an Oz deck in each of the five colors?" Most of the time, though, a theme deck will produce a single decklist with which to playtest.

Example: Choosing a creature type would be too easy (although I still think there are enough Kavu in the environment to make a compelling Kavu deck). I need something that smacks of a little more newness. I can’t take credit for the following decklist, though. The idea instead comes from our own Chet Skolos, and here it is:


4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x Terminate
4x Crosis’ Charm
4x Fact or Fiction
4x Spite/Malice
4x Unmask
4x Cave-In
4x Misdirection

4x Crosis, the Purger

4x City of Brass
4x Crosis’ Catacombs
3x Salt Marsh
3x Urborg Volcano
2x Terminal Moraine
4x Island
1x Mountain
3x Swamp

To be fair, Chet’s deck was built for the pre-March Type II and was built around Dromar. After briefly discussing what he would do with it post-Planeshift, I have taken liberties to produce the above monstrosity. Blame me, not Chet.

But see the theme? Yup, it’s an alternate-casting-cost festival. The deck has managed to use darned near every good pitch spell available in Type 2 now and created a simply fascinating decklist. Crosis just feeds the pitch-spells until he’s able to come out and play. Cool stuff, to be sure. And supremely original.


And now for something completely different…

I admit that most people probably don’t do what I am about to describe. So I won’t spend too much time on it. But sometimes I see a card with such cool art I just HAVE to use it.

In truth, this is a highly specialized version of Trigger #1. But I pull it out as a separate path towards innovation because I rarely spend time with an art-inspired card systematically producing decklists of each color. Instead, I try to make a deck that is aesthetically pleasing and frames the card well. I’m not making this up. Sometimes a card has particular colors in the background so I use cards with similar colors. And is that Ertai in the picture? Better find a way to include him in the deck, too.

I am very affected by a card’s art. Sometimes I won’t use a good card because of its dumb picture. I was sooo excited about Lava Zombie from the spoiler until I saw the stupid art. The dragon Charms lost a lot of their appeal, too. For every card that disappoints me, art-wise, there are thankfully two that stand out as beauties. Cards like…

Example: Quirion Dryad. I may have wanted to make a deck around this card anyway because it is a fun mechanic, but the art blew me away. The whip-wielding chick is just faboo, and I don’t even wear a spiked collar on the weekends. I knew the second that I saw the Dryad that it would go into a deck, and soon.

I chose blue as a compliment color because I think blue-green decks are pretty. As I started pushing the cards together, I realized there was a neat opportunity to make a card-drawing, Dryad-pumping machine using blue and green.


4x Opt
4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x Counterspell
4x Repulse
4x Fact or Fiction
3x Confound
3x Dominate
2x Dismantling Blow

4x Quirion Dryad
4x Kavu Chameleon

4x Rishadan Port
4x Treva’s Ruins
2x Forsaken City
4x Forest
10x Island

I did things like throw the Chameleon in because it, too, is pretty and shifts colors in a way that I think is cool. Silly, silly me.

Of course, a deck like this needs a lot of playtesting before it hits the tournament scene. But I doubt I would have happened upon the fast card-drawing/Dryad idea if Quirion Dryad had sucky art. Innovation sometimes comes from some weird places.

All of the above triggers can happen in the absence of a metagame. That is, you don’t really need to know anything about the surrounding environment to use them for sparking ideas. This means that when a stagnant environment, like Type II, is about to change or a new environment, like IBC, is about to start they are particularly good triggers for new deck ideas.

But sometimes the currently vogue decks making up the elusive "metagame" mean that either a) any new idea is going to fail if it doesn’t account for particular cards/decks, or b) given unbalanced cards, very few decks are able to be competitive. For example, I would say in the current (about to change) Type II environment a deck will lose if it can’t stand up to things like Blastoderm, Saproling Burst, Lin Sivvi, quick blue fliers, Perish, Wash Out, and Parallax Wave. If you can’t build something to stand up to these cards either pre- or post-sideboard, then it is time for a new idea.

Thankfully, there are just as many triggers to produce innovation in a strong metagame environment as there are in new environments. Here are the four I use:


As you might imagine, I usually rely on the first four triggers, metagame be damned. But given prevailing popular decks, I am also prone to look for colors that are currently going unused.

Although Wizards of the Coast is constantly trying to create environments in which decks of all color-combinations can thrive, they are rarely completely successful. This means that at any one time an environment is going to be dominated by some colors and not others. To me, when one kind of basic land is being neglected, I start to smell a deckbuilding challenge. Not surprisingly, I am also inundated with new deck ideas.

For a long time green got the shaft in Constructed, and people like Jamie Wakefield made it a personal mission to build a viable green deck for both Type II and Extended. Right now black is going through similar neglect, though I don’t see any one particular person championing the Evil Spooky Magic. In fact, about the only mono-colored decks seeing any play at all are blue and white. Maybe red if you include Ponza… But probably not. There are opportunities for innovation there.

Sometimes, too, it is a combination of colors that virtually begs for a deck. Although MachineHead has gotten some play in tournaments, it’s fair to say that B/R is the allied color combination with a least good grip on an archetype. Then too there are the non-allied colors, which haven’t seen any play at all.

Hark. I smell an example.

Example: What might a non-allied color deck look like in Type II? Or what about tri-color decks? The new dragon Lairs make these kinds of questions compelling. And since there are currently no popular decks of the non-allied or three-color variety, I’ll just have to think of my own decklist. Well, shucks… okay.

I have liked B/G as a color combination for a long time, though the decks that usually get made with these colors are annoyingly combo-riffic like Rec-Sur. But a B/G deck I liked that was particularly powerful in Masques Block was Snuff-o-Derm, and both "Snuff" and "Derm" are still legal. Thus, in making a good B/G deck for the new Type II, black removal and green fatties are as good a place to start as any. Something like…


4x Birds of Paradise
4x Chimeric Idol
4x Thunderscape Battlemage
4x Phyrexian Scuta
4x Blastoderm
4x Kavu Chameleon

4x Dark Ritual
4x Addle
4x Snuff Out

4x Darigaaz’s Caldera
9x Forest
9x Swamp
2x Mountain

In an environment sure to be filled to the brim with Wash Out and other punish-you-for-having-the-same-color-anything cards, something as peculiar as this might have half a chance. Besides, it just LOOKS fun to play, doesn’t it?

But you shouldn’t play it. Not now, anyway. You seem to keep forgetting that these are only deck CONCEPTS that will get crushed in any sensible tournament. Silly, silly you.


Sometimes an environment is so slanted that it is fairly easy to predict what kinds of cards will do well in a tournament. The result is a metagamed "anti-deck" that is designed as a foil to the most common decks around. These decks often look pretty kooky and use cards that would normally never make their way into a serious deck but are good in certain matchups. Sometimes too an anti-deck is a Tier 3 deck that can suddenly thrive given a prevailing metagame. During the Type II season that was heavily dominated by Tolarian Academy, Fish turned out to be surprisingly strong. Not just any aggro-control deck, but Fish in particular because of its Islandwalkers and Counterspells.

There are usually very few successful builds of an anti-deck that directly respond to popular decks. And they are only successful for a few weeks, sometimes less. That said, if you are able to find the cards that give you an advantage against 90% of who you face in a particular tournament, you have the opportunity to win a lot of games.

Let me be clear: Creating a good anti-deck is really difficult. It requires an excellent understanding of the current Netdecks ™ are and what beats them. Moreover, it requires very good timing so that you catch these decks with their pants down, so to speak, before the next good deck emerges. For these reasons, this is not a strategy I usually employ. And it also means my example will be fairly weak.

Example: Here are some observations: Fires and Blue Skies will likely show up post-March, as will Rebels. Control decks will gain some steam to be sure, but for right now I am most afraid of these three decks. They are also decks I understand.

For example, I understand that all three decks rely on one-toughness creatures early and are largely crippled without these creatures. I know too that Wash Out hurts all three. A lot. I know that if you don’t have something to block Blastoderm, you will likely take fifteen to twenty damage or lose your own creatures to chump blocking. I know all three decks use either Rishadan Port or Dust Bowl or both. Lastly, I know that very few people currently prepare for black removal because no good black decks have emerged in Type 2 recently.

Taking these things I know, I might take a stab at a deck like this:


4x Vodalian Zombie (blocks Blastoderm)
4x Chimeric Idol (isn’t affected by Wash Out)
4x Plague Spitter (kills weenies dead)

4x Dark Ritual (first-turn Spitter)
4x Tsabo’s Web (anti-Port, anti-Bowl)
4x Recoil
4x Fact or Fiction
4x Snuff Out (kills everything but Blastoderm)
4x Wash Out (ouch)

4x Salt Marsh
4x Underground River
6x Island
10x Swamp

Again, this is just a guess and I would argue that the environment isn’t nearly "tight" enough to warrant an anti-deck. But given the right set of circumstances, this sort of approach can produce some really marvelous and interesting decks.


An approach I have only recently realized works given most stagnant environments is what I call the "good stuff" approach. The idea here is to scan the current popular decks and pick and choose the spells that seem to be the most powerful and that have the biggest impact on a match. Then throw all of these cards into one deck and start the blender going.

I wouldn’t normally think something like this would be a good idea (er… but building a deck based on aesthetics IS a good idea? Ahem). After all, most cards in successful decks have a particular synergy with the cards around them and that is what makes the deck good. But I am constantly surprised at how new decks can come out of just mixing and matching the cards identified as "impact" cards.

I don’t want to suggest you take EVERY card from the current good decks and make a deck around them. If you did, you would like end up with a four-color monstrosity with no hope of casting the spells in it (Hmmm… but now that I mention it, that sounds like kind of a fun challenge). Instead, the key is to find cards in different decks that don’t clash with one another but for some reason have not found a home together in the same deck. Perhaps an illustration will help me make my point…

Example: Again, let’s assume (I have long ago made an "ass out of me," so don’t even go there) that Fires, Skies and Rebels are the three Decks to Fear right now. Heck, let’s throw in U/W, too. What cards make these decks a force? What are their biggest impact cards? What makes them win the game?

Fires –Chimeric Idol, Fires of Yavimaya, Blastoderm, Saproling Burst, Two-Headed Dragon
Blue Skies – Chimeric Idol, Rishadan Airship, Wash Out, Troublesome Spirit
Rebels (various versions) – Counterspell, Crusade, Lin Sivvi, Parallax Wave
U/W – Counterspell, Dismantling Blow, Wrath of God, Air Elemental, Blinding Angel

Could you argue my choices? Sure you could. In any really good deck, you can argue that EVERY card makes them win the game. You could also go the route of, "Birds of Paradise is the most important card for Fires, which is why Simoon hurts so bad." And you’d be right. Now shut up and let me talk.

That’s four colors… But red only has two cards, so let’s get rid of that color. That leaves green, blue, and white.

My next step was to build four decks, one each for each two-color combination and a fourth deck that utilized all three colors. For me, the most interesting–though admittedly highly unpolished – idea to come from this kind of brainstorming is this deck:


4x Chimeric Idol
4x Rishadan Airship
4x Troublesome Spirit
3x Blinding Angel

4x Brainstorm
4x Rushing River
4x Wash Out
3x Parallax Wave
3x Dismantling Blow
3x Foil

4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Coastal Tower
11x Island
5x Plains

Now, this deck is waaaay too mana hungry to be playable right now. But by taking good cards from a few very different decks, I have created a U/W aggro-control deck that does some neat things. I can imagine taking some of the control out, adding Diamonds and Armageddon, and really making an interesting mid-game deck. So too can I imagine lowering the mana curve to include things like Meddling Mage to make a more typical aggro-control deck. It wouldn’t surprise me if Counter-Rebel started like this, combining the strengths of a mono-blue control decks with the rebel engine.

The bottom line is that some cards are just good, and they make almost any deck good. Identify the generally-good cards in an environment, put them together in various combinations, and you almost automatically have a lot of skeletons for new decks.


There can be little doubt that new cards produce new decktypes. Sneak Attack made a deck all its own that was unlike anything before it. So did Oath of Druids. But even despite the many new – previously unseen – decks that can be created, sometimes an original approach is to try and revitalize an old archetype for a new environment.

White Weenie is probably the most common deck that resurfaces time and again. Mono-Blue Control. Fish. 5cGreen. The ever bandied-about (but often misnamed) Sligh. These are decks with fairly basic foundations upon which a vast number of cards can be used. Even amidst a Rebel-heavy environment, I remember Sean McKeown creating a really interesting deck, sans rebels, for States that was first and foremost a White Weenie deck.

Usually if I try and return an old archetype to prominence it is because I have succeeded with it before and have a soft spot for it in my heart. Before Fires came along, I was one of the many people who tried to make R/G speed work, because back in Mirage block it was just an incredibly fun deck to play. Sometimes these old ideas can be refreshing in an environment that has temporarily forgotten about them.

Example: There are lots of older archetypes that are fun to consider in the upcoming Type II environment. Control Green is probably my favorite, and I think cards like Creeping Mold, Desert Twister, Tangle Wire and Kavu Chameleon make the core of what sounds like a fairly classic Control Green deck. And I bet a deck like that would be insanely satisfying to playtest.

But I have been pondering the possible re-emergence of Suicide Black. If you hadn’t noticed, mercenaries are a horrible failure compared to rebels. Believe me, I have tried to put together a competitive Merc deck and it is just a bad, bad mechanic. Interestingly, I think Planeshift does some compelling things to the possibility of speed black. Observe:


4x Duskwalker
4x Maggot Carrier
4x Spineless Thug
4x Hidden Horror
4x Phyrexian Scuta

4x Dark Ritual
4x Vendetta
4x Addle
4x Sinister Strength
4x Tangle Wire

4x Rishadan Port
16x Swamp

Bang! Bang! Straight to the head, baby!

Actually, it still needs a little work. The suicide FEEL is there, and given a Turn 1-Swamp-Ritual-Carrier-Strength you are DEFINITELY off to the races. Follow that up with a Turn 2 Port and then a Turn 3 Tangle Wire and you have essentially won. The potential for fast beats is definitely there.

What this deck really lacks is an undercosted one-drop. I can’t see Wizards slipping up with something like that again, but then again maybe the environment is slow enough to not need it. The point is that the deck concept is very old, but looks and feels brand spanking new in today’s Type II, doesn’t it?

A couple of notes. Call them caveats, if you will.

First, I want to emphasize for the bazillionth time that playtesting your deck is the way to make it better. If you aren’t willing to put in the time to playtest, then you might as well copy decks off the ‘Net. The alternative is to lose a lot and get laughed at. If losing and feeling shame is your thing, then I guess maybe playtesting isn’t all that important. But if you like to win a few games and have people crowd around your table cooing kudos and calling you a friggin’ genius, then spend a lot of time playtesting.

Second, a note on what Zvi calls "deck drift." Many good, new deck ideas – after lots of playtesting – start to resemble a currently popular deck. It happens to the best and most innovative ideas. For a recent example, look at how my Squirrel Wrangler deck became G/W ‘Geddon. Deck drift happens, usually, because the popular decks are popular for a reason: They use good cards and win. By tuning your deck, adding good cards and increasing your winning percentage, there is a very real possibility your deck will drift towards an existing archetype.

I get a little discouraged when my decks drift. But every experiment doesn’t produce something that will rock the Magic world. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t be three or four popular decks at any one time; there would be thousands. You might try dozens of decks before you hit on something unique enough to win without drifting. When you’ve done it, you’ll know. And you will have one hell of a cool deck in your hands.

Third, keep in mind that not all ideas are good ideas. "Breaking" Goblin Spy just might be a bad way to spend your time. As my grandfather used to say, "Sometimes you have to dig through pig crap to find pig food, especially if you’re a pig."

Heh. Actually, he never said anything even remotely close to that, but I felt a quotation would really strengthen my point. I am losing that point, so let me get back to it.

The point is that you will have many, many bad deck ideas. Ideas that should never, ever be made into a tournament deck. It is both true that not every new idea is deckworthy and that bad ideas serve a purpose. I am betting, by way of illustration, that Michael Jordan missed a lot of shots during his Chicago Bulls’ practices. By constantly testing yourself to create new and interesting decks, you will make it increasingly easy to discard bad ideas quickly. Even with bad deck ideas, you are essentially training your brain.

Finally, and I hate to say this, sometimes you are best served by taking a NetDeck ™ to a tournament. Although I am addicted to deckbuilding and love to insert chaos into any Type II environment, I am not suggesting everyone be like me. Especially new players sometimes need to use a polished deck, created by someone else, to focus their play skills. Heck, even experienced players sometimes would rather worry HOW to play a particular deck and leave the innovating to their teammates.

Not choosing innovation is fine. Not choosing innovation as a rule is a bit more problematic. I would hope that every Magic player who plays Constructed tournaments routinely taps his or her finger against their lip wondering if a particular idea might work. In fact, I wish people put their energy into new decks a lot more than they do now. But bringing something new and unseen to every tournament in your life is more than a little unrealistic.

Throughout this article I have not really explained the process of innovation. But that’s okay, because the deadline for my job isn’t for a couple of months yet.

What I HAVE done is given eight concrete ways in which new deck ideas "come" to me. Examined a little more closely, it’s pretty clear that those ideas aren’t just spontaneously and randomly popping in there at all. Instead, my little ole’ brain follows some pretty predictable patterns when looking for something new to play.

Your bigger brain probably follows some similarly predictable patterns. Or maybe your triggers are slightly different. Maybe one of the things you like to do as a deck-building exercise is to pull three cards randomly from your collection and make a deck around them. Hey wait a minute. Damn… that’s a cool idea.


Anyway, the point is that we all have our ways of forcing creativity into our games and now you have seen mine. If yours are better, fine. Stick with them. Do whatever it is that you need to do in order to generate new decks for the current environment. It makes the game more fun for all involved, I guarantee it.

Challenge yourself. Have fun. Try something new.

Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar
"doctorjay" on IRC