L.A. Dreams: The Deck Builder’s Riddle

“Who cares if you’re running consecrated sphinx? You’re playing cawblade.”

“You’re trying to hard to bring cawblade back. You don’t have Jace or Mystic”

“You’re just playing the same cards over and over again. It’s SO boring.”

I have been told such things many times by people who consider themselves “Rogue” Deck Builders. I have no qualms with people building whole new decks and will even do so myself if the format warrants a kick in the face. This article is to hopefully show that there is a balance to running new cards and proven cards in our decks. Mr Miyagi teaming up with our Karate Kid.

People have forgotten that I used to run lots and lots of decks from out of left field. Why? Because I felt I had a better chance to win with those decks than if I played an established deck. When Jund and Mythic conscription were top dogs the field felt so luck based that I found the most consistent deck I could. That was Horse Feathers. I credit Cyrus Bales who currently writes for ManaLeak. He builds a lot of new decks and the biggest thing is he admits when he was wrong. Horse Feathers? That’s one he got right. Not the first go around, but he had an idea. He and I worked endlessly on the deck. Figuring out how many 2 drop accelerators to run. What sort of land destruction spells did we want? Was Goblin Ruinblaster what we wanted or did we want a Regress effect to just gain tempo off Bloodbraid elf. The kicker? I only found his list because I had come up with a similar list and found most of my list in his post on the Wizards forums.

How many times do “Rogue” builders check forums for decks? Never because you “Might as well be net decking”? Turns out that when millions of people play a game more than one person may find the same strategies. At Pro Tour Paris where Caw Blade broke out onto the scene, more than just the Americans had Caw Blade. Several groups had come up with the same idea. The big difference is that Team Fireball didn’t just play with pet cards but also gave cards a chance. Sylvok lifestaff found it’s way because while Pro’s play the best cards, they know that sometimes the obscure cards will do the job they need to get done. Small moves to perfection turned a fairly well known strategy into the perfect killing machine. Sometimes you need to look for other peoples input. Learn from their mistakes. If you blindly throw cards together that may end up with some fun moments for you, but don’t expect to take down pro tours.

What if you visit forums frequently? Then aren’t you just net decking to some extent as well? Why should someone be ashamed of take the Cawblade list from Paris and updating it to have more counters or more creatures when you take an idea from some forums and add a color? Magic has a limited amount of card combinations. At least a limited amount of good card combinations. If you are visiting forums you will often find that your ideas aren’t as original as you might think. The biggest difference isn’t in finding a whole new 75, but in finding the 15-40 cards that turns your version of the deck into a powerhouse.

Going back to when Jund ruled, people still came up with new builds. Lotus Cobra, Vengevine, Abyssal Persecutor, Sarkhan The Mad, and rampant growth were all small innovations.  Nobody wins by just net decking. The trick is taking what works and making it work better. Why try to make your own chair from a full grown tree when you can by 4×4’s at the hardware store and have the first half of the job done? If you’re playing for the joy of just building then enjoy that. If you’re playing to win then don’t blame the net deckers for why you can’t win.

I absolutely LOVE net deckers. They are wearing a bullseye on their heads. I get to know their deck and I don’t have to use a Gitaxian Probe to find it out. People who just played jund gave me a target on which to build the function of Horse Feathers. The issue with cawblade was that the best tool to fight it came in the shell of cawblade.

The difference in net decking caw blade and tuning caw blade to win the tournament is not something people understand when they’re wrapped up in going rogue. Conley Woods himself admitted that sometimes he will just have to play the best deck because he wants to win and can’t expect rogue to get there all the time. The Rogue Building guru laid the law down. Rogue building isn’t always going to win. There is a balance between drawing up new lists and perfecting old ones.

I love to hear about new decks. I come off as highly critical and sometimes it seems much harsher than it should be. I want to help. If you’re running White Knight instead of Mirran Crusader I will ask why. You know what will make you a better deck builder? Being able to fully justify the cards in your deck. “Because nobody expects it!” is not a viable reason.

Build new decks. Don’t build bad decks just to build a deck. Expect crap to come your way if you can’t test properly and make poor card choices.

I rank on Amanda week in and out about “bad cards”. One week I had mentioned how running Celestial purge was better in her board than something else in it. It turned out to be the right choice. This is only looking good on me because not only was Amanda a good enough deck builder to realize that Purge was the right choice for the deck, but that she also had a deck with enough power that all it took was some purges to tune the deck.

I am not LSV so I can’t say playing blue is always right as I haven’t proven it with Pro Tour wins. I am also not Paulo where I can joke about hating White Weenie and people understanding the jokes.

My skills are in tuning. I tweak builds and I help decks get better. I know I need people like Amanda and Sean to have crazy deck ideas. I just hope people like them understand that people like me are in a different section of the assembly line. The goal is often the same even if there is a communication break down. The idea I hope to get across to everyone is that building decks and making decks better aren’t conflicting ideas.


Posted on July 21, 2011, in Articles, L.A. Dreams. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Patrick Chapin’s “Information Cascades” article is one of his best (and one of the best out there period). One of the points that he brings up is that net-decking will help you more to win in the short-term but innovating will help you win more in the long-term. I think that’s a great way to think of the two: Going to a tournament and haven’t had time to test a lot of homebrews? Then copy a deck from the net. Have a good playtest group and plenty of time to practice? Then see if you can break the format. Both approaches have their merits and neither is really “right” or “wrong”, it just depends on the situation.

    • auranalchemist

      That was the article that gave me the will to try to tune a deck instead of always building brews. It’s important to know how to take both approaches. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

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