Magic the Gathering deck building is an important and very useful skill. Conventional wisdom in Magic is that if you want to win you should practice with and then play the best deck in the format. I’m not here to refute this statement. It makes sense. Playing the best deck well is a proven path to MTG success. There are some that refuse this path, even rebel against it. For them there is a different path.

Going Rogue

I never really dreamed of actually winning a Pro Tour. I just wanted to break the format.” – Travis Woo

I asked Travis Woo, a writer for Channel Fireball and known for his Magic the Gathering deck building if he would rather win a Pro Tour or design the deck that did. He chose the latter. Jesse Smith, a writer for Star City Games, founder of 60cards.com and vocal deck brewer agreed when asked the same question: “I’d love to build a PT winning list. I think being known as a great deck builder is my ultimate goal.”

I posed this same question to the MTG community on Twitter this week in an extremely unscientific survey:

42.5% of those responding preferred building the winning deck to actually winning at the highest level. This was higher than I expected. What is it about deck building that is so attractive to Magic players? Having fun is certainly an answer, but when it comes to competitive Magic why brew a deck instead of playing the best?

Brew to Win

Successful players find an edge. Sometimes that edge comes from being a superior player piloting a proven deck. Caw Blade was a clear demonstration of this. It can also come from going rogue. An unknown deck is able to gain an advantage by winning the preparation battle. Your opponent has never seen your deck. He doesn’t know how it wins, isn’t aware of the key cards, and doesn’t know the best ways to interact with it. He will be unsure how to sideboard, or what hands he should keep. Any preparation he has done for the tournament to face other decks will not help him against you.

Meanwhile, you built your deck with the expectation of facing his. You have practiced against it. You know how he wants to win and what cards he will leverage to do so. You know the best plays to make against him and when to make those plays. You know how to sideboard and when to mulligan. You know how to beat him. You are prepared. This doesn’t ensure victory of course, but it is an advantage with the right deck.

Brew to Innovate

Partnering Delver of Secrets with Snapcaster Mage and surrounding them with a suite of cheap, efficient spells started out as just an idea. Sword wielding Squadron Hawks started out as just an idea. These are ideas that evolved into dominant decks and defined formats.

Great ideas do not start out great. They start out unproven and often dismissed as dumb. Their architects are “doing it wrong”. This is not true. Different thoughts and ideas are good, whether or not they lead to successful decks. Deck builders provide inspiration and innovation and help Magic change and evolve over time.

Brew for Your Wallet

Buying Magic cards can be expensive. Top standard decks cost hundreds of dollars to assemble. Many players want to play the best decks and are willing to pay to do so. The price tags on the top cards in these decks go up with this demand.

Brewing your own deck allows you to control your costs. If you figure out how to exploit a card or group of cards that has yet to see much play, those cards will be considerably cheaper to buy.

Brew to Grow

Deck brewing can serve as a catalyst for personal growth. Analyzing your available cards and coming up with new ideas on how to use them requires creativity. Creative thinking is an important skill to build and nurture at any age. Creative people figure out new ways to solve problems. They are inventors and innovators, scientists and artists, entrepreneurs and teachers.

When you build a deck from your ideas you are also expressing your individuality within the game of Magic. You are saying, “I know there are already great decks out there, but this is the deck I want to play. These are the cards I think are good. This is how I want to play Magic.” When you express your individuality you are adding your own unique voice to those around you.

Championing your deck can help build self-confidence. When you take your idea and make it public you will have to debate its merits, discuss its drawbacks, make use of constructive feedback and deal with the poor grammar and ill-conceived thoughts of trolls. This is true in Magic, as it is true with any new idea in every field of pursuit.

Brew to Connect

When you are attached to a new deck the game becomes more fun, at least for me, because you stay more focused and it gives you a feeling of connection with the game.
– Jesse Smith

Building a new deck is a social thing. Whether you are a casual player talking about a deck with friends or a competitive one working with a team, collaboration is a key to success. The deck building process connects people with a common interest together with a common goal.

When I asked Travis Woo about his Green Summer deck he credited “dozens of readers and players who helped tell me which interactions were not pulling their weight and which interactions were insane.” Jesse Smith frequently fine tunes his deck ideas with the help of his Twitter followers and stream viewers. These are the types of interactions that don’t necessarily happen otherwise. They lead to relationships that would not have existed.

Survey Says…

Earlier this week I polled the Magic Community on this topic via Twitter. I asked three questions, the two I have not yet discussed provide some insight on how the respondents play Magic:

A further breakdown of the results:

  • 75% of Casual players consider themselves deck brewers (or rogues for life)
  • 40% of Semi-Competitive players are brewers, 26% start with a proven deck and give it a twist and 34% just make minor adjustments
  • 16% of Tournament Regulars brew their own decks, 32% do the twist, and 52% make minor adjustments

As players become more competitive they are less likely to brew their own decks. This makes sense as the greater the size of the meta-game you competing in, the more time and effort is required to build a new deck. There are still innovators at every level, those willing to put their ideas to the test. Who will have the next great idea?

Nick Vigabool (@MrVigabool)