Thran Utopia #12: My deckbuilding process (part 2 of 2)

Hi there and thanks for checking back here for the second article about the way I build my decks. Last week I went through the first few steps: getting an idea and nurturing it, searching for cards to support your idea, and finally forming your gameplan to have a better grasp what your deck is trying to accomplish. Armed with this knowledge, today I will try to make a list of 60 cards using the cards I showed you last week. Let’s have at it!

[Find the first part of this article here.]

Mine is something like ‘use lifegaining cards and a five-color mana base to play a lot of different Phi-mana cards that can make Rage Extractor do the killing’.

That was the gameplan for my upcoming Rage Extractor deck, like I stated it last week. The underlying idea of formulating a gameplan is the act of putting your thoughts into words helps you figure out what it is you want exactly. We all know that having a new deck idea oftentimes means that you drown in a sea of options. A sea of options is good, but after you have all those options, you need to drain the tub, so to speak. This is what I’m doing in the next few steps. Be warned: what comes up next is not for the faint of heart. You might say I’m a bit extreme in my deckbuilding, but I just do things the way I like ’em.

Step 3: Double check

Once you have a list of cards you would like to play, it’s time to go over the options again and see if there are any cards right out of the gate you woul like to sack. Here is the list I left you with last week (note that (LG) stands for ‘lifegain’ and (PH) stands for cards with Phyrexian mana in their mana cost):

Lifegain
Children of Korlis / Pulse of the Fields / Loxodon Warhammer / Dega Sanctuary / Tainted Sigil

Search and draw
Fabricate / Hoarding Dragon / Tezzeret’s Gambit (PH) / Preordain / Faerie Mechanist / Thirst for Knowledge

Mana
Sphere of the Suns / Artifact lands / Vivid lands / Shards tri-lands / Rupture Spire / Shimmering Grotto / Refuges (LG) / Academy Ruins / Terramorphic Expanse / Borderposts / Armillary Sphere

Recursion and protection
Remember the Fallen / Apostle’s Blessing (PH)

Removal
Dismember (PH) / Lightning Bolt / Fling / Act of Aggression (PH) / Lightning Helix (LG) / Terminate / Gut Shot (PH)

Winners
Rage Extractor (PH) / Moltensteel Dragon (PH) / Brion Stoutarm (LG)

Disruption
Inquisition of Kozilek / Duress / Despise / Tidehollow Sculler

Small critters
Vault Skirge (PH)(LG) / Porcelain Legionnaire (PH)

Whenever I have a lot of cards wanting to go into a deck, I make categories. This way I can grok the list a bit easier, and ofcourse you see where there are a lot of cards fighting for a position in the deck. I might have skipped those categories last week, so let me set it straight here.

Step 3: Double check Step 3: Categorize

There we go. So, categorizing. The problem I have when searching for cards is that I put them on one big list. Maybe you do this right the first time, but I find that by initially focusing too much on categories, I tend to miss stuff. That’s why my brainstorm is literally a brainstorm where I frantically write down anything and everything that would possibly work.

Making categories is pretty easy. I usually use general categories that aren’t affected by the gameplan of the deck. Take a look above: none of those categories, with the exception of lifegain, are specific to a Rage Extractor-deck. There is one important feat to a Rage Extractor deck, and that is ofcourse Phyrexian mana. At first I had these cards grouped together as well, but that makes no sense. In contrast to lifegain, Phi-mana cards have a diverse arsenal of functions, from winconditions to removal to carddraw. In fact, Phy-mana is of secundary importance. That is why it is easy to mark Phy-mana cards with ‘(PH)’. I retroactively did the same with the lifegaining cards. Those that did nothing but gain me life (Pulse of the Fields, Tainted Sigil) or that had lifegain as their primary function (Children of Korlis, which is also a small critter) got their own category, but cards like Lightning Helix moved into other categories with a mention of ‘(LG)’.

Each deck has a few of these deck-specific parameters. My Glissa-deck, for example, was curious about artifact creatures, so I put those in a seperate category. A card that runs, say, Dimir House Guard is above average interested in cards with a converted mana cost of four, so perhaps they get a ‘(MC4)’ in their list. Most of the time these parameters are of secundary importance, in which case you just need to highlight them. In other cases, they deserve a category entirely of their own.

Step 4: Double check

In this step, you take a look at all the cards you have written down at this point. Maybe you cut a few before stuffing them into categories, maybe you do so now. When I looked back at my list the next day, I saw a few things I wasn’t too happy with. One of the cool things my deck will be able to do in the end is kill with Moltensteel Dragon, then flinging it with Brion. What is important here? Information. For these, the discard spells come in handy, except I would like to have information freely. Pumping Moltensteel Dragon is powerful, but dangerous. Free information becomes very attractive.

So I removed all the targeted discard and added Gitaxian Probe to the list. This left the discard category empty, so I moved Tidehollow Sculler to the pack of small critters.

The second wisdom a night of sleep granted me (seriously, whenever I’m stuck I find that a night of sleep is much more enlightening than frantically trying to get it done in the wee hours) was that Dega Sanctuary was too much of a hassle for nothing. Dega Sanctuary wants Veinfire Borderpost, which demands basic land. In a four color deck, am I really even able to run basic lands? I think I am, but not a lot. Can Dega Sanctuary work without the Borderpost? Highly unlikely – I have very few red and black permanents. I removed it from the list, because my alternatives are all better. Children of Korlis is Rememberable, and Tainted Sigil too. Tainted Sigil is also an artifact, which is a huge boon, and Tainted Sigil is insane with Moltensteel Dragon, let alone when Brion is also in the picture. And finally, I think Pulse of the Fields is a bit like Dega Sanctuary, except you need no permanents for it but it does cost you mana each time.

Step 5: Visualisation

So you have a lot of cards. You sorted them into categories but it’s still not satisfying. This is where step 5 steps in: you need to visualize. Before I go any further, let me say that this step is very data-ish and that not everyone will like it. That’s okay – this is just the way I like to do it. These two articles weren’t about me giving the end-all be-all way to build decks, just to show you how I do things. I find it important to visualize my deck and this is how I do that. It might just be that you either do this differently, or that you don’t have the need to visualize.

Part 1: Sorting by converted mana cost
To gain a little more perspective, you need to sort your options by their converted mana cost. This is how my distribution looks after I changed the things discussed at ‘Double check’.

Ooh, look at those numbers! I put every card as one, not as a playset. What this graph tells me is that I have a lot of two’s and three’s, and that cuts need to happen there the most. But wait, there is a problem. With Phyrexian mana, the converted mana cost of a card like Moltensteel Dragon isn’t really six. Well, it is (not wanna confuse people), but for all intents and purposes, we should reconsider. Here’s the table again, but then with Phi-mana removed. Moltensteel Dragon becomes a four now, instead of a six.

That’s better, I suppose. The top of the curve is pretty low, which is good. I don’t know how the manabase is going to look, but I foresee a lot of lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Having a low curve (and the option Phy-mana gives me) means that is less a liability. From how this looks, the hardest hits are gonna happen at converted mana costs zero through three.

Stil, basically just looking at the curve is only a bit of the way. I wanted to show two graphs for what is really the same step (taking baby steps through the steps, so to speak). The other important thing to visualize is what card functions are where on the curve.

Part 2: sorting by converted mana cost and card function
This semi-step is taking the table above one step further: filling it up with card categories. Now we can see how much we have in each category, and where we could start cutting. Because right now, implying 24 lands and 4 of each card, I’m at 132 cards. Seems a bit steep.

And with all these graphs and colors and numbers, it is time for the next step. The reason you do this (or at least, I do) is to see colors that might be overrepresented in total, or in a part of the curve. All those things will come up below.

Step 6: First round of cuts

Let’s just visit each category and see if anything has changed in my perception of a card. Remember that some thoughts can just pop up regardless of whether you’re making graphs like me or not. Like I noted before, a good night of sleep is often a great adviser.

Another good way to do this would be to physically lay down the cards in front of you, sorted by mana cost and if possible by category too. For me, I still need a lot of cards, so this approach wasn’t an option here. Most of the times I am a fan of physical deck construction, but a little bit of graphs and descerning columns isn’t a bad thing either.

Lifegain
Children of Korlis / Pulse of the Fields / Loxodon WarhammerTainted Sigil
Four cards that gain me life is definitely too much, and a lot of these cards wouldn’t deserve more than two or three slots. Also note that there are other lifegaining cards in other categories, like Helix and Brion, making pure lifegain even less desirable.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, Dega Sanctuary is out. Of Tainted Sigil and Children of Korlis I need to pick one too, I feel. Here I take Tainted Sigil, because it functions as actual lifegain when I connect with a pumped Moltensteel Dragon. It has the potential to be recurred with Remember the Fallen, too, as an artifact. I don’t have a lot of those, so that’s a plus.

Pulse of the Fields feels a bit like Tainted Sigil, but more mana-intensive and less combo-ish with Moltensteel Dragon. So I’m gonna cut those, as well as half of the Warhammers.

3 Tainted Sigil
2 Loxodon Warhammer

Search and draw
Fabricate / Hoarding Dragon / Tezzeret’s Gambit (PH) / Faerie Mechanist / Thirst for Knowledge / Gitaxian Probe
Ah, Fabricate. You end up in each of my decks that contain a healthy amount of artifacts, yet you get kicked out of every single one before I get much playtime. Here it is just the same. While I like Fabricate being able to find mana and Dragons and everything in between, it is just too slow. I’d love to play Trinket Mage, but him not being able to dig out the big guns is a strike against my favorite blue creature. I can’t deny the raw drawing power of TFK and Tezzeret’s Gambit. Of the two carddrawing creatures I like Hoarding Dragon more, so he makes the deck – if barely.

2 Hoarding Dragon
4 Tezzeret’s Gambit
2 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Gitaxian Probe

Mana
Sphere of the Suns / Armillary Sphere
It’s a bit hard to say anything definitive in this category if you take a look at all those lands I mentioned last week. So that’s something I will skip until later, when the deck is a bit more outlined. Of these here cards, I like Sphere of the Suns more than the other Sphere, because it accelerates, negating the ETBT-lands a bit. If the mana-base has a bunch of basics, Armillary Sphere might be back in.

4 Sphere of the Suns

Recursion and protection
Remember the Fallen / Apostle’s Blessing (PH)
Remember the Fallen is a great card with Armillary Sphere, but I doubt I would need it just for that. No, Remember the Fallen does much more, being a Morbid Plunder most of the times (a lot of my guys are both artifact and creature), occasionally picking up a Tainted Sigil or destroyed artifact.

3 Remember the Fallen
3 Apostle’s Blessing

Removal
Dismember (PH) / Lightning Bolt / Fling / Act of Aggression (PH) / Lightning Helix (LG) / Terminate
Again, a lot of options. I think my two Phy-mana options are great, even without Rage Extractor. I think I’m gonna start with a few of those.

Lightning Bolt is great too, but not as great as Helix in this deck. The three life is equivalent to 1½ mana, basically. The other two cards I haven’t yet talked about are Fling and Terminate. Fling is a nice card to have with Act of Aggression, but it just so happens I also have Brion. While Brion lacks a surprise factor, he makes up for that by being just all-round good. And with all those cards to remove creatures (not to mention Rage Extractor spitting Rage at creatures), I think I’m good in the sense that Terminate can go.

3 Dismember
4 Lightning Helix
3 Act of Aggression

Winners
Rage Extractor (PH) / Moltensteel Dragon (PH) / Brion Stoutarm (LG)
Hmm, this category feels like it doesn’t like a whole lot of cutting. Rage Extractor is my only no-brainer in the entire deck I guess, but other than that I have free reign. I’m gonna go with four Dragons and three Brions, just because I don’t have a fourth one.

4 Rage Extractor
4 Moltensteel Dragon
3 Brion Stoutarm

Small critters
Vault Skirge (PH)(LG) / Porcelain Legionnaire (PH) / Tidehollow Sculler
That leaves me with just the small critters. I don’t really like one-toughness guys, but I like Vault Skirge because it gains me half a mana each time it connects. Tidehollow Sculler, I feel, is unmissable. I want to have four and I’m gonna defend those four slots valiantly. Information is crucial, and this gives me information – and nabs a card.

4 Vault Skirge
4 Tidehollow Sculler

Step 7: Second round of cuts

I made the first round of cuts, so there’s bound to be a second. Here it is. The only goal of this one is to cut the deck down to 60. Which is about darn time! The first round of cuts left me at the following distribution, totalling 56 cards. Wow, I can already play 4 lands!

This second round of cuts is to get 60 cards into sleeves (or whatever the amount of cards you’re gonna play is). Mind you that it’s all numerical logic, which means it is based on theory rather than practice. What looks good or bad on paper isn’t true until you ‘prove’ it in the real world.

CMC 0, 1 – 14 (56)
4 Gitaxian Probe / 3 Apostle’s Blessing / 3 Dismember / 4 Vault Skirge
Ugh, this is hard. How can I ever ditch any of these cards? I suppose I could try to ditch Apostle’s Blessing now, and maybe the Skirges later if I still need the space.
11 (53)

CMC 2 – 12 (53)
4 Tidehollow Sculler / 4 Lightning Helix / 4 Sphere of the Suns
Wow, this is really hard! I mean, really. I don’t want to ever cut any of these, but I suppose the Sphere is in the hotseat here should deckspace become a real problem, but that would mean I have my manabase in order.
12 (53)

CMC 3 – 17 (53)
4 Tezzeret’s Gambit / 2 Thirst for Knowledge / 2 Loxodon Warhammer / 3 Tainted Sigil / 3 Remember the Fallen / 3 Act of Aggression
Seventeen is definitely too much, and the result is a few cuts. For example, drawing cards should not be a problem without those lousy two TFK’s, so that’s one (or two, I guess). Next up is Tainted Sigil. It could have been so perfect, but in the end, I feel Loxodon Warhammer is less risky. Still, this is another venue in which I’m keeping my eyes extra open.
12 (48)

CMC 4 – 11 (48)
4 Rage Extractor / 3 Brion Stoutarm / 4 Moltensteel Dragon
Man, I am not making things easy for myself with all this awesomeness I am trying to cram in a mere sixty cards (well actually, thirty-six if you exclude the lands). What cards can I possibly ditch here? I think my big burly Giant has to grab himself by the neck and throw him outta here (which his cardboard state can’t, just to be clear – don’t make the mistakes I made!).
8 (45)

CMC 5 – 2 (45)
2 Hoarding Dragon
Who am I kidding? Hoarding Dragon is out. It’s kind of like a Browbeat: you never get what you want until you apply some serious pressure along with it. Then there’s also the risk of running this out against a deck with either bounce of exiling cards, where you just two-for-one yourself. I’m sorry, Dragon subtheme, but you’re out.
0 (43)

43 cards – still a lot of work to be done, but we’re getting somewhere. I noticed how my list was short on creatures, so I started by cutting the Remember the Fallen. Which is a shame, ’cause I love me some 2-for-1’s. Anyway, this also gave me an excuse to remove the Vault Skirges, another one I’m sad to see go.

Woohoow, 36 cards makes 60! There was one last change, though. Sphere of the Suns enters the battlefield tapped and is limited in the number of times you can use it. Even proliferate (Tezzeret’s Gambit) will only delay the inevitable. This is when Prophetic Prism came to mind, since it also draws me a card.

Step 8: Mana

To fill out the deck, we need lands. Here is what my mana breakdown looks like (bare in mind that I count mana symbols here, not cards; also, Phy-mana is counted as half a mana):

For how to use this, I used to count two mana symbols for one land. This method, however, foregoes the importance of the colors at various stages of the game. For example, white is the third color here behind black and red. You do want to cast that Tidehollow Sculler as soon as possible, though, so white mana becomes a bit more important.

This is where Jacob van Lunen comes in. In his article ‘The Process‘ he describes how he handles this problem, and I’ve been doing it this way ever since. To quote the man himself:

“Mana symbols on spells that are intended as first turn plays are given a value of 5.
Mana symbols on spells for the second turn are given a value of 4.
Mana symbols on spells for the third turn are given a value of 3.
Mana symbols on spells for the fourth turn are given a value of 2.
Mana symbols on spells for the fifth turn are given a value of 1.5.
Mana symbols on spells that you want to play after the fifth turn are given a value of 1.”

Using these metrics, I come to the following numbers, again halving the number of each Phy-mana symbol.

To my surprise, white is the biggest number here. I must say that Lightning Helix isn’t a must-cast-on-turn-two kinda card (such cards are difficult to place), so I will devalue that number. Let’s put red at 32, white at 28, black at 30, and blue at 14.

I’ll start at 4 Terramorphic Expanse and 1 Academy Ruins. A land that makes only colorless mana in a 4-color-deck is dangerous, but one slot isn’t very bad. Four Terramorphics are possible, because the deck turned out less multi-mana-symboly than I expected.

1 Academy Ruins
4 Terramorphic Expanse

In front of me I have three other contenders for land slots, besides the obvious basic lands, ofcourse. Those are Refuges, Shards tri-lands and Vivid lands from Lorwyn Block. Since Terramorphic provides mana the turn after, I want 8 other ETBT-lands max. I managed to make it 7.

3 Vivid Crag
2 Vivid Marsh
2 Vivid Meadow

That’s twelve lands, eleven of which fix my mana. I was looking a while for cards that fix mana while not entering the battlefield tapped and I remembered Shimmering Grotto from a Peasant deck I have. I can afford three, I reckon.

3 Shimmering Grotto

Just the basic lands to go. I filled these remaining nine slots like so:

4 Mountain
2 Swamp
2 Plains
1 Island

And this gives me the following decklist, ready for the final step.

Extracting Phycho v1.0
Lands (24)
1 Academy Ruins
1 Island
4 Mountain
2 Plains
3 Shimmering Grotto
2 Swamp
4 Terramorphic Expanse
3 Vivid Crag
2 Vivid Marsh
2 Vivid Meadow

Creatures (8)
4 Moltensteel Dragon
4 Tidehollow Sculler

Other spells (28)
3 Act of Aggression
3 Dismember
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lightning Helix
2 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Prophetic Prism
4 Rage Extractor
4 Tezzeret’s Gambit

(Note: I am linking the lands as well, because I’m a sucker for flavor and I’m using all-NPH basics to show that this is a deck in New Phyrexia, not just anywhere. Rage Extractor is the embodiment of evil, so I want to show as much of this flavor as possible.)

Step 9: Real life

The final step is one that can start this whole process over again. You need to sleeve up and play some games, solitaire or in real matches. I usually start with goldfishing, adjust a few cards, then test against an opponent.

Goldfishing in my deckbuilding process is to get a feel for the deck. How do cards interact with eachother? Is there some interaction I’ve missed during all my theoretical number-crunching? Because remember: never exclude either theory or practice from your deckbuilding. You need ’em both and can’t do without either one.

Unfortunately, I’m a little busy with real life-stuff, so my testing process for this deck is something I’ll have to take a raincheck on. I hope this pretty wordy ride was worth it for you, and hopefully you’ll find one or more aspects of deckbuilding a bit easier after you have read this here article. I’m very curious, too, how you do things, and if you have methods to improve my deckbuilding ways. What is a man when he can’t take criticism? Anyway, I’d like to close the actual content of this lengthy article with my revised gameplan. Like I said, a gameplan is essential. If there’s only one thing to take away from these last two weeks, let it be your gameplan. Seriously.

Use Rage Extractor to deal with opposing creatures and opponents. Filter through the deck to keep your hand full and use peeking effects to know when to go for it and when to wait. Your life total is your primary resource here – preserve it the best you can with your creature removal suite. If you make the lategame, you can start 2-for-1’ing with Rage Extractor and win that way.

Summary

Step 1: Idea
Find an idea, or look for ways to discover one. Know where to look, and what to do to keep and nurture an idea. Formulate your gameplan so that you know what your deck-to-be wants to do.

Step 2: Search
Supplement your idea(s) with targeted search queries put together to maximize synergy of your card. Write everything down.

Step 3:Categorize
Think of categories your cards fit in, then sort them that way. Place footnotes if you feel one card has important secundary functions. Try to keep your categories broad with the occasional specific category if your deck demands it.

Step 4: Double check
Take a quick filtering look at your cardlist and see if there are cards that don’t fit your idea of fun and/or your gameplan. Remove those.

Step 5: Visualization
Visualize your deck to see if a visual representation tells you something a wall of text doesn’t. This can be either graphs or laying the cards out in front of you.

Step 6: First round of cuts
Try to look at the cards in each category to see if you can remove a few of them. The important part of this step is that you don’t need to be looking to get your deck immediately ready.

Step 7: Second round of cuts
This step is for going down to <60>. Keep the curve in mind and try to avoid overrepresentations of certain categories. Again, your gameplan is essential here. Don’t make the perfect deck – make the perfect deck for your theme or build-around card.

Step 8: Mana
Find the best mana base for your deck. Keep in mind the curve and especially what cards you want to be playing at what time. Use lands that fit your gameplan best.

Step 9: Real life
Test your deck. Use goldfishing to get familiar with the intricate synergies within the deck, then use real life opponents for the penultimate test: did the theory behind the deck prove correct?

Step 10: Rinse and repeat
After step 9, you can restart the process at any step, based on how good your deck functions. The better your deck, the higher you can generally start in the chain. But remember that no deck is ever complete, and every set has potential to take you back to the drawing board.

Enjoy your weekend, take care and bye bye!

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Posted on June 17, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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