Deck Building Tips for New Players
Congratulations! You’ve joined the illustrious ranks of Magic: the Gathering players from around the world in celebrating and enjoying this beautiful game. Maybe you’ve already had some success on the Arena ladder or at your local game store using decks built by friends or by net-decking from recent tournaments, but now you’re looking to try your hand at building something unique and different. In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with net-decking, by the way, and I would highly recommend you not listen to others when they tell you it’s a problem, but that’s perhaps a topic for a different article.
For today, let’s dive into some of the fundamental questions you need to ask yourself when deck building and answer some of them at a high level. Each deck is different and should have its own synergies that may require you to bend, or outright break, any number of these suggestions, but my hope is that by the end of this article you’ll have a general idea of where to start.
How Many Lands Do I Include?
This is a fundamental question that will depend on how expensive your spells are. The MTG Arena ‘suggest lands’ feature automatically inputs 24 lands which, when in doubt, is a fine place to start. 24 lands is good if your average spell is around 3 mana and you don’t have any other land-based synergies. If you are building around a mechanic like Landfall, however, you are far more dependent on hitting your land drops later into the game and you should modify accordingly – potentially to 27-29 lands. The same holds true for decks that have a high average mana value. In many cases, these decks also contain spells designed to fetch lands out of the deck and place them onto the battlefield such as Rampant Growth. Because Rampant Growth was one of the first spells to do this, the effect and generally increasing your mana has become known as “ramping.”
The inverse is also true. If your deck has an average mana value of 1.5 or so, you may wish to run fewer lands. Generally, these decks are focused on an aggressive strategy that requires having a high number of creature cards in play early or a high number of burn spells firing off into your opponent’s life total. If your hand is full of lands, you won’t be able to execute on that plan. In general, I would recommend not going below 20 lands very often, though there are decks throughout the game’s history that can run on fewer or even no lands at all, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
What is a “Mana Curve?”
The mana curve is a way of visualizing the mana values of the spells throughout your deck. In general, you want this to look like a bell curve with there being fewer one-mana spells than two-mana spells, fewer two-mana spells than three-mana spells, and so on until you reach your ideal distribution. For most decks, the mana value with the highest density is the three- or four-mana slot with the number of cards decreasing after that.
For decks that focus on aggression and trying to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero as fast as possible, this mana curve should be fairly low with many one- and two-drop spells and very few at three or higher. For more controlling decks that are going to attempt to go into the late game and cast big spells to end their opponent, a higher mana curve, potentially centered around the four-drop slot may be more manageable.
When fleshing out your deck, the goal (in many cases) is to “curve-out.” Curving out is when you use all of your available mana each turn. This is often done by playing a one-cost spell on turn one, a two-cost spell on turn two, etc. Knowing that this is the goal, plan your ideal curve out when you are building your deck and select cards that will fit along that curve nicely and provide support for your overall strategy.
How Many Copies of a Card Should I Include?
This is a great question and one that we all have to balance with each of our decks. The question you’re really asking here is, “How often do I want to draw this card?”
If you want to draw the card in every single game and you wouldn’t mind drawing multiples, include four. Spells that are four-ofs in decks are often efficient spells that progress the gameplan (removal, card draw, ramp, etc.) or key pieces of a combo or synergy that the deck’s performance is built around. As of this writing, a common four-of in many decks in Standard is Fable of the Mirror Breaker. The reason for its popularity is because it provides value at each chapter of its cycle and the end-result is a creature that has the potential to take over the game. That said, the card is not legendary and susceptible to removal, so you can have more than one and replacements are always welcome.
If you want to draw the card in every game, but you don’t necessarily want to see multiples, three is probably the right number. Three-ofs are great for cards that provide good value for what you’re doing but aren’t necessary for your deck to be successful. This is also a fine number to aim for for legendary permanents that are important to your deck because you can only have one on the field at any given time and a second in your hand is often a dead card.
If you want to draw the card in most games, but you can execute your gameplan without it, you may want two. As I’ve matured in my deckbuilding, I’ve learned to appreciate the two-of, especially when I find myself debating between two cards for a specific spot on my curve. Not sure if you should include Brutal Cathar or Skyclave Apparition? Why not put in two of each and play a few games? If one performs significantly better than the other, you can go back and adjust, but the balance between the two might be exactly what you need.
As far as only including one, this is for when the card is situational in nature and you just don’t need it in most contexts. This is great for legendary permanents that are nice to have, but not critical and can be useful get out of jail free cards when drawn at the right time. Situational cards like Ray of Enfeeblement or Redcap Melee can be one-ofs in your main deck if you are likely to play against decks that they specifically interact with. Many cards that are one-ofs in the main will also see play in sideboards where they can be brought in during best-of-three matches for favorable matchups. Another example of this would be running board sweepers like Doomskar in a creature-based deck. In most games, you won’t want to wipe the board, but in some cases it could be a great panic button you can press to get out of a tight situation.
Okay, So Now What Kind of Deck Should I Build?
That’s the best part about Magic: the Gathering – you can build whatever you would like. Let your imagination take over and see what you come up with. Different archetypes will align better with different cards and finding those cards and play patterns that speak to you is part of the joy of being a Magic player. Experiment with different styles and see what you come up with.
I can’t wait to see your creations in the Arena.