As I have posted little in the way of deck building theory, I wanted to take today to discuss building a strong deck for a format that you have never played before. I will keep this article as generic as possible, as there are several ways to "read" a format and get an idea about what a good deck would look like in a format before you have ever even played it.
Reading a format starts with finding exactly what the weaknesses are that the new rules impose when compared to a normal 60 card deck. Let's take Rainbow Stairwell as an example.
1. Cards cannot cost more than 6 mana so you will end up with tons of extra mana late in the game.
2. Your deck will have mana problems due to playing all 5 colors.
3. Some cards may be better than normal simply because they do something you need at a different CMC.
4. No gold cards!
After discerning the weaknesses a deck will have when compared with familiar decks, we come up with solutions.
1. Cards with Kicker, Buyback and other additional costs become MUCH stronger. Same with spells that have X in the mana cost.
2. Mana fix is very important; everyone will be playing it as well so tutor hosing is also a viable strategy if you can fix mana in a different way.
3. Do not shrug off a card simply because it is over-costed. Sometimes you need [card]Disenchant[card] to be your four-drop. Now is the time to call upon [card]Ray of Distortion[/card] or [card]Return to Dust[/card].
4. This simply limits the cards you can play and can mostly be ignored.
5. The format is highlander by default, so redundancy in effect is important, but it needs to be a different color or CMC.
From this information, we can build a deck just like we would an average casual deck and be on our way, confident that our deck will at least function well enough to win some games. The final step, is of course tweaking the deck after playing it a bit and getting the hang of the format. Here is a deck I made for Rainbow Stairwell that is supposed to be much like a [card]Living Death[/card] deck, but tweaked for Stairwell. I have yet to play the format, but by using the knowledge above I can assume it will hold its own in a Rainbow Stairwell FFA multiplayer game.
Planar Birth/Living Death Reanimator
(For non-land cards the # is the CMC not the number of cards in the deck. This deck also uses the old-school 2 of each dual land mana base, which can be replaced with any of the other mana base options in Rainbow Stairwell)
Let's Choose another format that I don't have a deck cooked up for. How about Midnight Magic, a format that I have never built a deck for, and in fact have a comment on how I disagree with one of the rules. (For this article's purposes I will be ignoring the optional additional rule, as it makes red far less powerful which red already is in multiplayer).
1. Only 2 copies of any card means redundancy will be important, but less so than say EDH or highlander.
2. The format is pauper, so finding splashy game winning effects will be hard. Decide on a finisher first because there will be very few choices.
3. Minimum of 3 colors. This one is less obvious, but if you follow the rules of no non-basic land and 7 of each basic land maximum, that means in order to have a reasonable amount of land in your deck you must have 24/7 colors which is a little over three, so a fourth color splash is likely to happen as well.
4. Number three brings us to another conclusion: Play a lot of land fetch, as all you will have are basics. Also you need to be sure the land fetch is in as many colors as possible, making landcycling super powerful, especially the landcyclers from Alara Reborn that cycle for two different basic land types.
Now I'll let you go from here and build a deck that is your own style within these constraints if you feel like giving Midnight Magic a whirl. To finish up today, I figured I would apply these rules to EDH so you can see how they apply to a variant format that most players are familiar with building decks for.
1. Highlander makes redundancy of effects more important. Tutors also become much better.
2. Constant access to the General/Commander means that there is at least one effect that you can likely (but not always) rely on having, so cards that have synergy with the general become much better than normal.
3. 40 life to start makes life payments much less relevant. Also the game will play out longer because of the life buffer.
4. Due to the increasing cost of the general and the length of games, more mana for larger spells becomes more important.
This system works. If you plan on trying out a new format, or entering a tournament that uses a variant format. Find out how the format changes the game play and use that to change your deck to compensate. You will play much better than you expect and be prepared
One of the biggest problems I have had as of late is trying to find a Magic format that can be enjoyed by everyone in my playgroup. We have a couple of players that do not enjoy the long games of EDH, don't want to have to build new decks, or just plain old don't want to have to learn a whole load of new rules. If your group is anything like mine, you may find some of your friends leaving game night early or becoming frustrated with a game that isn’t fun for them. There is no one "proper" format for any group to play. Some older players like me even bore easily when playing Magic in a normal duel setting. Here are some tips to select a format that everyone in your group enjoys.
1. Play to each of the players' favorite parts of the game.
When I found out one player in out one of the players in our group did not prefer EDH, my first reaction was surprise. How could a casual player NOT like EDH? Huge, over-costed bulk rares become powerful and the efficient weenies of standard are just horrible cards. My second reaction was to try and play to his favorite parts of this game we all love so much. "What if we let you use [card]Soul Warden[/card] as your general?" I asked him. Almost every deck he plays has a Soul Warden in it, and even though it is against the rules of EDH, if it would keep everyone in the group happy, coming up with new rules are totally worth the additional complexity. That is pretty much the mantra of the variant format.
To pick a variant format that everyone will enjoy, the new alternate rules have to promote the play-styles that everyone in the group enjoys. If they love big fat creatures, Godzilla, Uktabi Kong or Creaturefest may be the format for you. Love to combo off, try Dreams and Nightmares. Want quick games that are over in a flash so you can move on to the next one? Try any of the Blitz variants.
2. Know if your other players want to devote any time to deck building.
There are several different categories of variant formats here at WOOBERG, and each category takes different amounts of time commitments from one or more players both during the game and prior to it. Anything in the Constructed Variants section will take some amount of time before hand for each player to build a new deck, as it is likely that they do not already have a deck that is legal in those formats. The Rules Variants section will take little to no preparation on most player part, but the person coordinating the "event" will have to put some time into learning the new rules or possibly constructing a "side deck" as in Planechase, Chaos Magic, Archenemy and Priceless Treasures. The Other Variants section is the hardest to figure out as far as time constraints go. Most of the formats listed in that catagory are wildly different from normal Magic and tend to require both new deck constructions and the learning of new rules during game play.
3. Feel free to tweak formats.
Find a format that almost everyone loves in your playgroup? Is one simple rule or even a few complex ones preventing one or two players from having fun? Feel free to change a rule or two and keep on having fun with that format. Heck, throw half of the rules out the window and make your own format. In the end, a fun and interesting play experience is the goal. If you don't have fun, what's the point in playing?
Moderator of WOOBERG.net, the Encyclopedia of Magic Variant formats, Shoe has been playing MTG since mid to late 1994, He acquired the nickname ‘Shoe’ through a stupid joke made during a MTG game about the Chimpokomon episode of South Park. He loves MTG and gaming in general and hopes to work designing games one day. He plays mostly with his 6 year old daughter these days, but multi-player, and weird formats are his preference.