The Process

Posted in Building on a Budget on August 4, 2010

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome to Feedback week here on The new core set has a lot of people brewing, and I'd like to respond to a few email requests and build a deck in the process. I've always been happy to explore the furthest reaches of an archetype.

The most frequent topic of emails I receive, excluding requests for non-budget lists, is deck building. Newer players often want a quantifiable method to deck building. Unfortunately, deck building is not usually a process that can be broken down into a uniform order of actions.

Finding a unique card that seems powerful is usually a good place to start your building process. A lot of people play Magic these days. It's probably unreasonable to start with cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Gideon Jura, and Bloodbraid Elf because the decks that are built around those cards are likely near perfect in their tournament-winning forms. You can always add powerful and heavily played cards that turn out to fit your deck properly.

Now we need a powerful, yet overlooked, card to build around.

I've received a huge number of emails asking if it's possible to make a competitive deck that abuses Mitotic Slime. To start, yes, it is certainly possible to build a competitive deck that wants to play with Mitotic Slime. The card provides a total of 12 power if you get full value out of it. It also provides seven bodies. There are a number of routes we can take with a card like this. Mitotic Slime gives a Bloodthrone Vampire +14/+14 if you sacrifice the whole enchilada. Eldrazi Monument also seems like a very powerful way to abuse the Magic 2011 rare.

You want your deck to be a well-oiled machine.

Every card in your deck should help accomplish the same goal. When you're building an aggressive red deck your goal should be to reduce your opponent's life total from 20 to 0 as quickly as possible. A card like Platinum Angel is very good, but it doesn't belong in a deck that wants to end the game quickly.

So, what is the goal of the Mitotic Slime deck? Mitotic Slime is most powerful when used in tandem with cards that can abuse the token generation. Cards like Eldrazi Monument, Bloodthrone Vampire, and Vampire Aristocrat help us get maximum value out of our Mitotic Slime.

Eldrazi Monument
Vampire Aristocrat

The rest of our deck should help support this theme. The later additions may not have synergy with the Slime itself, but we can choose to play cards that work well with the token-generation abuse. Nest Invader seems like the most obvious inclusion; it helps us ramp into spells like Mitotic Slime and Eldrazi Monument, it provides an early board presence, and it provides multiple bodies for our Vampires and Monument.

Kozilek's Predator
Nest Invader

Kozilek's Predator fits the deck for the same reasons as Nest Invader. The Predator may not be as curve friendly, but it helps accomplish the same goals.


Bloodghast has a lot of potential in a deck like this. You can sacrifice Bloodghast to a Bloodthrone Vampire or Vampire Aristocrat, play a Terramorphic Expanse and activate the Bloodghast's trigger, sacrifice the Bloodghast again, pop the Expanse and activate the trigger, and sacrifice the Bloodghast again. That's a lot of damage.

Pawn of Ulamog is another card that works well with our Vampires and Monument. I've wanted to play with this one for a while now. Imagine how much damage you could produce with the Bloodghast play I just described if you had a Pawn of Ulamog in play.

Pawn of Ulamog
Doom Blade

I worry about very large creatures on the other side of the table. I want to make sure our deck can successfully trick an opponent into not having a board presence for our attack. I want to round the list out with some removal. Doom Blade seems like the most efficient answer available right now.

Here's what we have so far:

4 Eldrazi Monument
4 Bloodthrone Vampire
4 Vampire Aristocrat
4 Nest Invader
4 Pawn of Ulamog
4 Bloodghast
4 Mitotic Slime
4 Kozilek's Predator
4 Doom Blade

Now it's time to build a mana base. This seems to give a lot of people trouble. I receive a lot of emails that include deck lists without the lands. I also get a lot of emails asking how I put together a mana base for a new deck.

Lets take a look at the mana requirements of our deck. I like to assign different weights to the mana requirements of spells with different converted casting costs. A spell that costs has a much greater white requirement than a spell that costs . Chances are, you want to play your spell on turn two, not turn four. You want your deck's mana base to understand these complexities and be built accordingly.

Spells like Doom Blade or Path to Exile would not be weighted as first- and second-turn plays because the cards don't lose value as the game progresses. Playing a removal spell is fine in the later stages of the game whereas playing a card like Vampire Lacerator has become unimpressive.

Here's the math I use when designing a new deck.

Mana symbols on spells that are intended as first turn plays are given a value of 5.
Mana symbols on spells for the second turn are given a value of 4.
Mana symbols on spells for the third turn are given a value of 3.
Mana symbols on spells for the fourth turn are given a value of 2.
Mana symbols on spells for the fifth turn are given a value of 1.5.
Mana symbols on spells that you want to play after the fifth turn are given a value of 1.

I'll design this deck's mana base using this method. All of the spells are four-ofs, so I can treat each card as an individual. We're just simplifying here. Remember that this formula is a good place to start with a new deck, but the only way to truly understand the mana requirements of a deck is to sit down and play a lot of games.

One-mana spells: None

Two-mana spells: Bloodghast, Nest Invader, Bloodthrone Vampire
(3 x 4) + (1 x 4) = 12 + 4

Three-mana spells: Vampire Aristocrat, Pawn of Ulamog
(3 x 3) = 9

Four-mana spells: Kozilek's Predator
(1 x 2) = 2

Five-mana spells: Mitotic Slime
(1 x 1.5) = 1.5

First let's add up the black requirement.
12 + 9 = 21

Then let's add up the green requirement.
4 + 2 + 1.5 = 7.5

The deck has a very clear need for black mana. The green is light, but Nest Invader means we can't skimp too much. We don't have any one-mana spells, and we would like to abuse Bloodghast as much as possible, I'd like to play with Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds. I want to maximize my chances of playing a turn two Bloodghast when I want to without having to sacrifice my ability to play a turn two Nest Invader. A 21-7.5 split brings me to a 12-5 split in the actual deck list. 12-5 may not be perfect, but it seems a lot better than 13-4.

Terramorphic Expanse
Evolving Wilds

Here's the list once we've built a mana base.

Mitotic Feedback

Download Arena Decklist

I played a few games with the deck to see how it fared. The deck will probably do well in creature mirrors, but I imagine it has trouble with decks that play Day of Judgment, Condemn, and Path to Exile.

I win the roll and keep Terramorphic Expanse, Swamp, Swamp, Nest Invader, Vampire Aristocrat, Mitotic Slime, Pawn of Ulamog. I play the Terrmorphic Expanse and pass. My opponent plays a Scalding Tarn, pops it for an Island, and casts Ponder. I crack the Expanse, get a Forest, and start my turn. I draw another Swamp, play a Swamp, cast Nest Invader, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Preordain, plays a Mountain, and passes the turn. I draw a Doom Blade, attack for 2, cast Pawn of Ulamog, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Lightning Bolt targeting the Pawn on my end step and I get another Eldrazi Spawn token. My opponent casts a See Beyond, plays another Mountain, and passes the turn. I attack for 2 again, cast Vampire Aristocrat, play my land, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Pyromancer Ascension, casts Ponder and puts a counter on the Ascension, then passes with a red open.

I draw a Swamp, play it, cast Mitotic Slime, and attack with Nest Invader and Vampire Aristocrat. I sacrifice the Slime to the Aristocrat and my opponent lets it resolve. I sacrifice both Spawns to the Vampire Aristocrat, and sacrifice each Slime token one by one. Vampire Aristocrat gets in for 20 damage all by itself and I win the game.

I win the roll again and keep Forest, Swamp, Swamp, Evolving Wilds, Bloodthrone Vampire, Bloodghast, Bloodghast. I play a Swamp and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Celestial Colonnade and passes the turn back. I draw another Bloodthrone Vampire, play another Swamp, cast Bloodthrone Vampire, and pass the turn. My opponent plays another Celestial Colonnade and passes the turn. I draw another Swamp, cast Bloodghast, sacrifice it to my Bloodthrone Vampire, play Evolving Wilds, return the Bloodghast, sacrifice it again to my Bloodthrone Vampire, and attack for 5 before passing. My opponent plays a third land and casts Jace Beleren, he draws himself a card and passes the turn. I draw a Mitotic Slime, cast Bloodghast, sacrifice it to my Vampire, play my Forest, return both Bloodghasts, sacrifice both Bloodghasts to my Vampire. I pop my Evolving Wilds, getting a Swamp, return both Bloodghasts, sacrifice both Bloodghasts again, and attack my opponent for 11. My opponent untaps, uses Jace to draw himself another card, casts Day of Judgment, and passes the turn. I draw a Terramorphic Expanse, play my Swamp, return both Bloodghasts, attack for 4, cast Mitotic Slime, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a fifth land, casts Wall of Omens, uses Jace to draw another card, casts another Wall of Omens, and passes the turn.

I draw a Vampire Aristocrat, cast it, and attack with my team. My opponent has a Condemn, but I cast the Vampire Artistocrat before combat so I could sacrifice something if I needed to. My opponent targets the Slime, and I sacrifice it and make a pair of 2/2s. My opponent blocks both Bloodghasts, and it becomes his turn again. He untaps and casts a Gideon Jura, he uses the +2 ability and passes the turn. I draw an Eldrazi Monument and cast it. I attack with my team. Gideon goes in the bin and I pass the turn back to my opponent. My opponent has an Oblivion Ring for my Monument, but with only 1 life point remaining he concedes to my lethal attack the next turn.

I lose the roll and keep Forest, Swamp, Swamp, Bloodthrone Vampire, Mitotic Slime, Vampire Aristocrat, Kozilek's Predator. My opponent plays a Goblin Guide and attacks for 2—I reveal another Mitotic Slime. I draw the Slime, play a Swamp, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Hellspark Elemental and attacks me for 5. I reveal an Evolving Wilds and it goes to my hand. I draw a Doom Blade, play a Swamp, cast Bloodthrone Vampire, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Teetering Peaks to pump the Goblin Guide, casts a Searing Blaze on my Bloodthrone Vampire, and attacks me for 4. I go to 6. I draw the Eldrazi Monument I revealed last turn, play my Forest, and pass the turn. My opponent unearths Hellspark Elemental, casts another Hellspark Elemental, and attacks me for lethal I'm forced to use Doom Blade on a Hellspark Elemental and I go to 1. I revealed another Kozilek's Predator. I draw the Predator, cast it, and pass the turn. My opponent shows me a Burst Lightning and the game is over.

This deck has the ability to get some really absurd draws. I don't think it has the consistency to be played at a very competitive level, but I think it definitely has what it takes to do well at your local FNM. Hopefully your deck-building skills have improved.

Happy Feedback Week!

P.S. I draft at Reality's Edge in North Arlington, New Jersey every Thursday night. Jim, the owner of the store, has decided to give four Jace, the Mind Sculptors to the winner of this Saturday's Standard tournament. Jim has been running a great gaming spot for a few years now and this tournament is a testament to how much he wants to give back to the community. I strongly recommend making the trip out to Reality's Edge this weekend if you have the chance.

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