Single-Card Strategies

Posted in Card Preview on June 21, 2018

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

There are a few primary different ways you can build Magic decks.

One common way is to build around general deck archetypes or themes. For example, aggressive or controlling. In an aggressive deck, your goal is clear: deal as much damage as possible, as quickly as possible. There isn't a specific card you've built around as much as there is a strategy.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is building around cards. This is where your entire deck is built to maximize a specific card. These can be combo decks, or just decks set up to use a card really well that many decks aren't built to withstand.

These represent two different ways of deck building: themed strategies versus single-card strategies.

Today, we're going to talk about a little of both—and some cards that straddle the line in the middle. Oh, and did I mention that they're all Core Set 2019 preview cards? And they're all rares and mythic rares? Yeah, that's pretty sweet, too.

What are we waiting for? Let's get into it!

Have You Hoard?

When you're building a deck, sometimes you'll just have a theme and then begin to look for all cards that fit that theme. These are what we call linear strategies: your deck becomes stronger the more of a certain kind of thing you put in.

There have been many instances of this in Magic's history. Artifacts-matter. Burn. And, of course: tribal (meaning creature types matter).

Let's take a look at Dragon's Hoard!

Dragon's Hoard

On its own, you already have a Manalith—and while that's not dropping any jaws, it is still a mana-ramp card that historically, when given an extra ability (like Chromatic Lantern) can see play.

And this one certainly does—and is quite loud about the kind of deck you put it into. It's exactly what a tribal Dragons deck wants! Dragons needs to run mana acceleration so it can cast all its big beasties, but the problem with cards that ramp you often don't also benefit your Dragons. It also gives you dead draws late in the game.

With Dragon's Hoard, you can both accelerate and have an on-theme card that gives you additional gas as you start to run out of cards!

You don't need to be playing with a ton of Dragons to make Dragon's Hoard a good investment either. If it can pay you back with a single extra card draw, then you're already doing great: three mana to accelerate and draw a card is plenty strong!

This slots right into both heavy tribal Dragons and is a great consideration even for control decks with just a few Dragons.

But hey, if Dragons aren't your speed, M19 still has plenty for you. Here's another example of a reprint you can either build around deeply or just play as-is:

Windreader Sphinx

On its own, the Sphinx is all right. It's a big creature that deters the opponent from attacking with flying creatures and can draw you a card when it attacks. That's fine.

But where it really shines is when your deck is full of fliers! Similar to how you can strategically play a tribal strategy by putting a lot of them into your deck, Windreader Sphinx can be a great curve topper in a flying deck. Slam it down, attack with your fliers, and pick up a fresh grip of cards.

Flying is normally great because it helps you evade your opponent's creatures—and this reprint Sphinx lets you press that advantage and take it even further.

Going Apex

Dragon's Hoard shines in a linear Dragon deck. Windreader Sphinx is best in a deck with a good amount of fliers. Those are cards that tend to take that more straightforward, linear angle.

And then there are cards you can build around, setting up your deck to work with them. Take for example this oldie-but-goodie reprint you'll find in Core Set 2019 booster packs:

Djinn of Wishes

Showing up first in Magic 2010, this Djinn promises big things. In addition to being a fierce flier on its own, the meat of its ability is the opportunity to flip up the top card of your library and cast it for free.

Now, you could just cast the Djinn for value. You could just flop it down onto the table, activate its ability, and hope for the best—that's fine. In Limited, that's something you see the Djinn do quite often.

But if you're building a deck with Djinn of Wishes, what you're really angling to do is cheat big spells, and especially big permanents, onto the battlefield. You might use a card like Riverwise Augur to set up the top of your library and then activate the Djinn to give you just what you're looking for. That is how you can set up for the largest plays and value. In this sense, you're really building around the Djinn.

And speaking of flipping over cards from your library and casting them, Core Set 2019 has Nicol Bolas at the center of it. And there are a number of cards in the set that depict Bolas—both his rise and also his defeats. Now, let me introduce you to one that is Bolas, at his, well . . . the name says it all:

Apex of Power

Wow. You may have already seen Apex of Power at the start of the newest season of Spellslingers, but it's time to look at little closer.

Now, this is a card you wouldn't really want to cheat out with Djinn of Wishes. In fact, this is very much the kind of card you build your entire deck around. This is a build-around card!

You get ten mana back—making the spell essentially free—and flip over your top seven cards. It's like a draw seven and cast some of them all in one. Historically, this would be how some kind of combo deck would begin.

But what do you do with it?

It really depends on the deck. Maybe you're a ramp deck, and your entire goal is to use mana acceleration to hit ten mana, cast this, and deploy a litany of powerful threats. On the flip side, maybe this is what you want to use to close the game in a control deck: trade off cards one-for-one, draw a few extra cards, then slam this to put yourself far ahead, and even deploy a threat onto the board.

Or, perhaps, this is indeed going to be the start of some combo deck, where you chain together the right mix of spells. If you have multiple Apexes in your hand, each one can cast the other, giving you a ton of options to choose from!

How should you build around this card? That's for you to discover. No one way is right . . . and I can't wait to see what players do with it.

Dragon Pox

If you thought chickenpox was bad . . . 


Well, first, let's go back a step. In the early days of Magic, there were a few notable individual cards you would craft your entire game around. You would make sure your deck was set up to take advantage of them—and that often meant your opponent's deck wasn't. Balance is a great example: your opponent could walk right into a Balance and lose their hand, creatures, and even lands if they weren't careful.

Another one in this lineage is Pox.

Pox hits each of you. Allegedly, it's symmetrical. After all, you're both affected!

But in reality, it's not at all symmetrical.

If your deck contains Pox, not only can you pick the time to cast it and play to make it strong, but you get to choose what goes into your deck. So, for example, you probably won't flood the board with creatures so you don't get hurt as badly by the Pox when it hits.

There have been a number of riffs on Pox over the years. Some, like Death Cloud, have even become cornerstones of decks and formats.

Well, let me show you the newest card in this family.

Fraying Omnipotence

Another card in a three-card rare cycle, along with Apex of Power, that depicts Nicol Bolas's reign—except, unlike Apex of Power, this is the moment where Bolas's massive strength began to unravel.

Take a look at all three of these next to one another and the story they tell!

Apex of PowerFraying OmnipotencePatient Rebuilding

Poor guy.

And now, you can inflict this kind of pain onto your opponent . . . and, okay, yourself too. But surely, you'll have built around it and be ready! You'll be playing cards out of your hand, being careful not to play too many creatures (and you should definitely prefer having even numbers over odd numbers, since you round up), and focusing on the card types it doesn't hit.

For example, lands? Artifacts? Planeswalkers? All fine. Fraying Omnipotence doesn't look at those. So, building them up on your side can make this card sting all the more: you will be keeping permanents, and your opponent won't.

And Bolas wouldn't have it any other way.

Here Be Dragons

Prepare to flex your deck-building muscles with Core Set 2019!

The core set is back, and looking better than ever. There's plenty there to build with—whether you're interested in more linear strategies or building around single cards. I was really happy with just how much in this set feels fresh and new while still providing that great entrance for a new player.

If you're brand new, there's no better place to start—and if you're a veteran, there's plenty here for you, too. I hope you enjoy it!

Have any thoughts or feedback? I'd love to hear from you! Please feel free to send me a tweet, ask me a question on Tumblr, or email me at

Enjoy the rest of Core Set 2019 previews, and I'll talk with you soon!


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