Dull Fires


I've never really built a deck before so starting one now was a bit of a challenge. I'd say I've got medium knowledge of the deep rules and synergies but whenever I read up on cards I seem to learn something new. Or a new combo trick I hadn't considered. Yeah, I'm probably more a novice than a medior in that regard. But I wanted to try anyways.

This is about building a deck for Magic the Gathering. If you're not into that sort of thing, turn back now :)

I started building a deck for a FNM Standard tournament. I didn't have a whole lot of time to prepare for this so I started from scratch with the cards I had and built the deck in about two evenings.

My pool of cards consisted mostly of two-and-a-half box of Kaladesh (two boxes and the boosters from fatpacks and duel decks), a box of Shadows over Innistrad, and a box of Eldritch Moon. I initially also used some cards from Origins before discovering those weren't legal anymore. Oh.

I wanted at least a planeswalker, which kind of limited my options because I only got two planeswalkers from the Kaladesh set; Chandra and Dovin. Initially I only had one Chandra, but the second box unraveled two other ones (one from a foil slot). Which was nice since I was already building a deck around Chandra at that point. Lucky coincidence. Chandra has four abilities (over the three on most walkers). One +1 allows you to play the top of the library or otherwise deal two damage to a player. The second one, +1, gives you 2 red mana. The third, -3, deals 4 damage to target creature. The ultimate, -7, gives an emblem that deals 5 damage to any target for any spell you cast. She starts at 4.

Another card I used as a central pillar was Panharmonicon. This doubles the "when enters the battlefield" trigger on any card, so both in play and being played. I figured that would be a nice effect to synergy around but I only have two Panharmonicons so I'm still wondering whether that was a good choice. Regardless, for this deck that was my choice.

This put my choice on red and artifact. I probably could have gone for a second color, I have the required lands and four Aether Hubs so I could go a long way with that. But I chose not to because I figured red would be a nice challenge for me. I usually prefer black or black and something. However, I always liked artifacts so Kaladesh is a very nice set for me in that regard.

For this experiment I used three sites; one is mtgcollectionbuilder.com. This is a free site where you can maintain your collection. Using a collection builder makes it a lot easier to see what cards you can pick from. The second site is a deck builder site: deckstats.net which is also a free site where you can just start to compose a deck (no login required) and analyze it. You add the cards, press analyze, and you'll get a nice overview of the price distribution, mana distribution, etc. You can generate example starting hands to see whether your card mana distribution holds and whether starting hands actually make sense. You can even draw through after the first hand to see whether you can maintain a good game. This feature is really handy because it's one thing to just create a deck, it's another thing to see it work.

The third is "of course" Gatherer (gatherer.wizards.com). This is an official resource from Wizards of the Coast that contains all the cards and their official rules. When in doubt, this is the place to go. The advanced search allows you to filter quite extensively and quickly pick your choice. Like if you want to know what the options are for cards that cost one mana, are red or colorless, and come from one of the three sets I currently looked for, this is the result.

What I was really missing when starting out is a resource that has certain semantic stats per set. Like which cards have the same subsets (themes), how many cards can give you mana, how many cards can ping (deal damage without attacking). Yes you can use gatherer for this to some degree but you'll get a lot of noise and possibly miss out on some weird ways that would still apply to what you're looking for. I would have expexted somebody to analyze the whole set and publish resources about this but it seems that's not the case.

Sure there is Channel Fireball which reviews cards and what not. Like this review on some of the red cards was interesting. But it's not what I was looking for when just starting to build a deck from scratch. I dunno, maybe there's not much to describe beyond common subtypes and mechanisms, but it's not like that's so much work to begin with. Who knows, I may go for that. But I shouldn't.

Anyways. Next I simply sorted the cards in my collection by price and checked the most expensive cards that I had. Some were viable others were not. I put a deck together and started drawing some hands. Utter. Shit. Okay, reboot.

One obvious thing was that there was no way I would take four turns before playing any card. That's madness. So I needed to add some one and two mana cards and have a better look at the three mana cards "crowding the plate". I finally ended up the Inventors Apprentice. This (r) 1/2 card would be a 2/3 card once I played any artifacts. Since this is an artifact deck that's pretty common so I figured it was a good match. Additionally I threw in an Animation Module, because I liked the card and only had one of them, and a Thraben Gargoyle because I wanted one more 1 mana card and at least the Gargoyle could be useful in the end game as well.

For two mana I initially went with two Smuggler's Copter to combine with the Inventors Apprentice. But after looking at some hands I really wondered whether I wanted those cards to take the two mana spots. It's a (1) 3/1 vehicle with flying that has crew(1). So the apprentice could crew the copter no problem. However it could still only attack in turn three. On top of that, once you play the copter the apprentice turns to a 2/3 which means the buff is only 1 attack making it a heck less interesting. Sure it has flying, but still. Later I rediscovered Vessel of Volatility (which is a (1r)) and realized that it's actually not a crappy tit-for-tat. It meant being able to play Chandra in turn three, whoa. Unfortunately I only have three of those but I still went with it. (Unfortunately it's also Shadows over Innistrad meaning it stops being legal in Standard next month... well it was nice anyways).

Ultimately I put the copters in a sideboard and went with four Speedway Fanatics ((1r) 2/1 haste and crewed vehicles get haste too). I would combine that with Cultivator's Caravan ((3) 5/5 vehicle, crew 3, tap for any color 1 mana). I didn't realize my mistake until after actually playing the deck; you can't crew a crew(3) vehicle with a 2/1 Speed Fanatic. D'oh. How did I not realize that. That was a stupid mistake.

For three mana I went with the two caravans and four Chief of the Foundry ((3) 2/3, other arti creatures get +1/+1) and two Pia Nalaar ((2r) 2/2, summon a Thopter on play, able to pump arti creatures +1/0 and prevent creatures from blocking (by sacrificing one of your own). I'm still not certain whether Pia is worth the trouble. It feels like she's more attractive for being a legendary creature than the actual card. But okay, I went with it. Also because of the Panharmonicons by the way, and the Chief of Foundry would boost those Thopters to a 2/2 or higher, with flying that's not bad.

Of course that idea kinda falls by the wayside if you don't actually have four of them. Which is another problem I'll return to later. Pia helped out in my first match though the Thopters were mostly fodder for Metalwork Colossuses ((11) 10/10) and unfortunately couldn't save the day due to an early turn-wasting mistake by myself.

After that you get the four mana cards; of course 3x Chandra, Torch of Defiance ((2rr) planeswalker) and 2x Panharmonicon ((4), trigger "enter-the-battlefield triggers" twice). I added 3x Iron League Steed ((4) 2/2, haste, fabricate 1) to synergise with the pans. 2x Ovalchase Dragster ((4) 6/1 vehicle, crew 1, haste, trample) which is obviously a simple way to either deal a lot damage or wipe out one or two low creatures and all it needs is crew 1.

In hindsight I'm not sure whether the steed was worth it. In fact, the whole pan idea was not as effective as I was hoping for. In part, obviously, because I only had two so it was less likely to get it.

After that build up I had some room for more powerful cards. Herein lied my other mistake; I thought I needed some heavy hitters to finish the job. In hindsight that was a bit silly but I'm not too sad about that oversight seeing how this was my first deck. I wasn't sure what cards to add for this. I had one Metalwork Colossus ((11) 10/10, costs (1) less for each non-creature arti mana you have) so that one felt obvious because I had plenty of artifacts. Vehicles count too for that ability. But then ... I had some options.

Ultimately I went with 4x Self-Assembler ((5) 4/4, on play search for another one and put it in your hand). The ability would proc twice with a pan, but that's kind of useless because it's too expensive. The last heavier choice was 2x Accomplished Automaton ((7) 5/7, fabricate 1). I figured that by that time the fabricate would proc twice or thrice and I'd have enough mana for it.

I played two matches with this deck and lost both. What went wrong? Well.. in my first game on turn four I failed to cast Chandra because I forgot to realize I could use the Cultivator's Caravan to generate a red mana to pay for it with the rest of my mana. That was a huge disappointment because missing that turn ended up quite crucial, giving my opponent just enough time to put up his offense before putting up my defense. That meant having to take one turn of damage which put me down to 10 or 5 quickly. In hindsight it could have been worse because if that attack targeted the Chandra it was inevitably a loss anyways.

In that game the Panharmonicon did its work though. Getting double Thopters and Servos really helped as cannon fodder against the ever growing set of Metalwork Colossus my opponent was fishing up. I was actually able to proc Chandra's ultimate, I guess mostly because my opponent didn't bother to ping her down. I did take down a colossus and in hindsight I would probably have won if I had just targeted my opponent and sacrificed some more creatures. That was a choice and a learning moment. Obviously my defensese wouldn't hold the ever growing set of 10/10s that attacked. Even some fantom ones by Saheeli Rai, a planeswalker that can copy any card on the battlefield with haste for one turn. Sure it puts her down -2 but she starts with 3 so you can cast it, use the ability, and instacopy a colossus and attack with it. That's super cheap and hurts really badly.

The second match started pretty good. Or at least, I was luckly that my opponent wasn't hitting his cards. So I got him down to 4 lives! But then the colossuses were back and I couldn't get through the defense. I didn't get a Chandra, only had about four mana, and simply starved myself for being able to cast anything. That was a bummer and proves what they say; "the first 19 lives are meaningless".

There were a few conclusions; One obviously was that the whole Smuggler's Copter idea would have been a stupid mistake. The other one was thinking I needed heavy hitter cards. Heck no! I don't generate enough mana for that and I actually don't want to. I'll want to build around Chandra and her ultimate. That deals 5 direct damage for any spell I cast. So once that emblem is in place, would I rather cast a 4/4 for 5 mana or would I rather cast 4 1/1's for 4 mana AND deal 20 direct damage? Yikes.

The self assemblers are not a bad idea, but this set doesn't contain enough of them. In fact, according to Gatherer there are only two cards with that sub type at all right now. And the other one certainly isn't legal in Standard. As a 5 mana 4/4 it's just too expensive to be worth it. Combined with the realization that I need to cast more spells, not less, it's an easy choice to get rid of. The Accomplished Automaton are out for similar reasons. I think I'll even ditch the Metalwork Colossus.

This opens room for some instants or sorceries, which I was missing in the first place. Maybe some cheap control spells or just some pingers. When you look at red the latter is more likely ;)

One other thing I noticed is that huge bummer not really being able to play test the decks easily. But that's just a personal situation related to geographical location, social life, and just not having enough time to put into this. It's still a huge bummer because I've got plenty of ideas to improve on this deck. I mean, I knew it was going to have a hard time to sustain. But now it's gonna take ages, if ever, to update and playtest a new version of it.

Anyways. If you want to take a look, here's the deck in full: https://deckstats.net/deck-11786919-b554f9360e1f09ba43803f8f1a6e0446.html

Meanwhile I'm gonna think about a next version, which can not contain the Innistrad cards anyways.