Picking a Theme
Choosing a theme can be extremely difficult. The more you play the game, the easier it will become to explore different decks and different ways of playing. Here are a few tips on finding the right deck for you, and to help you find new and interesting decks to play.
Playing a deck that is based around a particular creature type is known as a ‘Tribal’ deck. These can be very powerful indeed, and they are great fun to play. They work by having cards that enhance all cards of that type. So if you wanted to play a Zombie deck, a card like Lord of the Undead would boost all of your zombie cards, these cards are known as ‘Lords’. There are non creature cards that also boost a whole creature type, sticking with zombies, the enchantment Graf Harvest boosts all zombies you control. Playing with only one type of creature limits the number of creatures you have to choose from, and it is from these bonuses that make having a limited card pool worth while.
A creature theme can encompass much more than just a creature type. If you want to play a deck with zombies in for example, it doesn’t have to be a tribal deck. Taking the tribal element out of the deck opens it up to many different opportunities and play styles. So instead of looking at a Zombie as a creature type, let us look at what a zombie is and represents. It’s undead, reanimation, and horror.
So right there you have a theme, a deck based around the undead, or unburial. It could be a deck filled with zombies, skeletons, ghosts, necromancers, and gravediggers. The deck would be based around the idea of death and undeath, and it can have a focus on sacrifice, or on the graveyard, or whatever you want it to. Or perhaps you want the focus to be on reanimation, so you could run fewer zombies, but you run ways to get creatures back from the graveyard, making your opponents face your creatures time and time again, or making them face creatures from their own graveyard. Or you could go for a horror theme, this could be everything horror; a deck filled with zombies, sacrifice, witches, and curses; or perhaps zombies being used by more powerful creatures, a deck of zombies and vampires; or you could even have a horror story within the deck itself, a deck of zombies but with humans and the idea of trying to survive in the same deck!
Another alternative is to simply base your deck around a card, or cards, that you love. Maybe you aren't that bothered by zombies, but you love the card Skaab Ruinator (who doesn't love a 5/6 flyer for three mana you can cast from the graveyard!). So he could be your focus, a deck made specially for him, for him to work, zombies or not. A deck based around getting as many creatures into the graveyard as you can, as fast as you can. Just from that starting point you'll manage to find many different decks that you love.
So if you see a card you like, and want more of that sort of feel within the deck, don’t feel limited just by the creature type. Have fun with it, think about what that creature could represent, and you’ll be surprised how many different types of deck are out there.
Instead of basing a deck around a creature type or theme, you may want to base it around a particular play style. There are many to choose from, but for now I’m just going to introduce you to a few.
Unfortunately, this deck isn’t based around a team of astronauts who pilot a giant super robot, but it does use that as inspiration. A Voltron deck is all about powering up a single creature. The deck only runs a few creatures, but it chooses creatures that are hard to deal with, such as having regeneration or hexproof. Commonly the creatures they run are cheap, which isn't always the case, but Voltron is, as a rule, an aggressive style of deck. The deck runs many aura’s that can be placed upon the creature of choice and quickly make him unstoppable and hit with unmatched ferocity. The weakness of the deck is if your opponents manage to kill your creature, you’re in big trouble as you very much put all of your eggs in that Voltron basket.
Discard is a style of control that focuses on forcing your opponents to discard cards from their hand. This can be incredibly effective as it controls the game by not allowing your opponent to do anything. The weakness of the deck is in the early game, it has less board control than that of regular control decks, but once it has got past that stage it is almost impossible for your opponent to get back into the game.
A graveyard deck is one where you take advantage of cards being in your graveyard. It could utilise a number of cards that become more powerful based on the graveyard, cards that can be cast from the graveyard, or a deck around reanimation. The strength of the deck is that it takes advantage of something that most decks can’t, the weakness is that if your opponent has cards in their sideboard that remove your graveyard from the game you can find yourself with a mountain to climb.
‘Milling’ is the act of putting cards from your opponents library directly into their graveyard. Once your opponent goes to draw a card, if there are none in their library, they lose the game. A Mill deck looks to win by putting all of your opponents library into their graveyard. A real advantage of a Mill deck is that they are not affected by life totals, your opponent could have 100 life and you wouldn’t care, as the only thing you care about is the cards left in their library. The flaw of a Mill deck is that it is a non-interactive way of winning. The reason this can be a problem is because when you mill your opponent, until they have no cards left, it has no effect on them. A control deck that wins by playing a large creature however, can beat your opponent down with it, but also use it to help control the board. On the plus side, a creature can be killed, whereas milling your opponent out can be inevitable.
A Draw-Go deck is a deck where you play no spells on your own turn. You draw a card, play a land, and pass the turn. This type of deck allows you to be completely reactive to whatever your opponent is doing, and to make the best play without having to guess what your opponent may do next. Draw-Go decks are often control decks, running a large amount of instant speed draw spells, removal, and counters to halt your opponent in their tracks. They do not have to be control though, and you can run a deck filled with creatures with flash, allowing you to react to your opponent, and to play all your creatures on their turn as well.
Lifegain decks are decks that gain you life. The life gain can pull you out of reach from aggro decks, but can also work well with certain creatures to allow you to play surprisingly aggressively, especially as you don’t have to worry about keep creatures back to block. You can also use lifegain as a victory condition, there are many cards that trigger when you gain life, or have a certain amount of life. They can make for fun and interesting ways to win. A weakness of Lifegain decks is when you play against decks that don’t really care about life totals, such as Mill, Combo, and Control decks. It is because there are decks that are unaffected by life totals that it is so important that a Lifegain deck has strong ways of winning, and doesn’t rely on just having more life that your opponent.
Decks based around Mechanics
Maybe it isn’t a creature type you like, or a theme, or a style, but an in game mechanic that has sparked your interest. There are many great mechanics within magic, and many great decks to be built from them. Here are a few examples for you.
Heroic is a mechanic that triggers when you cast a spell that targets a creature with heroic. A heroic deck is one filled with heroic creatures, and many different spells to target them with. Heroic themed decks can be incredibly quick, targeting your creatures with spells that boost them and hitting your opponent quickly. They can be control decks too though, using heroic creatures with control effects. Or they can be anything in between.
Infect creatures deal damage to your opponent through poison counters. Once your opponent has 10 poison counters, they lose the game. Infect can be incredibly hard to deal with as it is hard to stabilize against, and your opponent cannot heal poison damage. Infect decks can be incredibly fast, because you only need to deal 10 damage instead of 20, pump spells are in effect twice as powerful, and your opponent can lose the game before they even know what is happening. Infect can also be played slowly, using the fact that it cannot be healed to its advantage. Slow infect decks carry a sense of inevitability about them, and can be terrifying decks to face.
+1/+1 Counters - There are many cards that have effects based on, use, or require counters. A deck that is based around putting counters on your creatures is quite a force to play against, your creatures are big and powerful, and they constantly grow. These decks usually fall around the Mid-Range category as you need the creatures and a little set up to boost them, but they can also be played more aggressively.
Evolve is a mechanic from Return to Ravnica, and is based around playing a succession of more powerful creatures, all who make each other more powerful. Evolve decks are incredibly interdependent, and allow you to play cards that are much more powerful than what their mana cost is. The weakness is that if your creatures are killed, you have to start the process again, and evolve creatures are weaker when alone.
Metalcraft is a mechanic that triggers when you have three or more artifacts on the battlefield. Kaladesh has a similar mechanic, but the number or required artifacts varies between the cards. A metalcraft deck is one where you use the synergy of the artifacts along with the cards that can make the best use out of them. These decks can be incredibly fast, versatile, resilient, controlling, or whatever you want them to be. The weakness of them is that you require a certain number of artifacts, and if you don’t have them then the deck feels a lot weaker.
Flickering a card is to exile it then bring it straight back. Flickering a creature has two main effects, firstly, it can protect it. If your opponent uses a removal spell on a creature, you can flicker it so that the removal spell fails (as there is no longer a target), but you get your creature back. Another advantage is that any ‘enters the battlefield’ effect the creature has will trigger again. For example, when Arborback Stomper enters the battlefield you gain 5 life. If you flicker Arborback Stomper, when it re-enters, you gain another 5 life. The ability to flicker creatures can make very interesting decks, with creatures hard to kill and with fun and powerful abilities when they enter that can be used over and over again.
Choosing a deck can be daunting. The examples here only scratch the surface of what there is out there, but instead of finding it overwhelming, find it exciting! Follow your instincts, get the deck you feel is right, love it, and then try a different deck at a later date. Grow your collection of awesome decks, there are always new things to try!