Confessions of a Deck-Building Addict

Posted in Feature on November 8, 2010

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.

Hi. I'm Kelly, and I'm addicted to deck building.

I only really play two kinds of Magic, although since they're immensely variable ways of playing, I never get bored with them. The first is Limited—Sealed Deck, Draft, and two-player Winston Draft, which is hugely variable depending on which packs you open and what comes out of them. The other is the hundred-card singleton EDH format (which you can read more about here).

I play Limited all the time, because it's so easy and portable. My wife and I Winston draft multiple times a week over breakfast or dinner, and opportunities to draft or crack open a Sealed Deck are relatively plentiful after work (and, okay, sometimes during work) around the Wizards offices.

If you ask me when the last time I played EDH was, on the other hand, I would have to think about it for a moment. I did get in a few games a couple weeks ago, I guess, when some family was in town, and before that .... No idea. There's an office group that meets regularly, but my schedule doesn't leave me free to join them. I always bring EDH decks to events I travel to, and usually I'm able to get in a game or two after dinner. But there's always drafting going on too, and also this thing called sleeping that I like to do sometimes.

So if you just look at time spent playing, I'm barely an EDH enthusiast, much less the fanatic I would claim to be. But in Constructed Magic, playing is just the tip of the iceberg. If you ask me how many EDH decks I have right now ... well, again, I'd have to think about it for a moment, but this time it would be because I was counting in my head. Eventually I would hit a total of sixteen (I think?). And if you asked me how many of those decks I had actually played, like, in a game ... the answer would be ... maybe half of them?

See, here's the thing. Playing games is fun. That's kind of why we play them. The best games generate amazing stories and/or make me better at Magic, both of which are things I enjoy. But building decks isn't just fun—it's an artistic endeavor. There's no winner, no loser, just this vast matrix of possibilities and potentials, unspoiled by shuffling and drawing and winning and losing and actually determining where all those potentials lead.

That's not to say I don't want to play my decks, like that ruins them or something. Far from it—a deck that never actually gets played is a sad thing. But a deck that's built for the sheer joy of deck building, whittled down from a vast universe of possibilities to sixty or eighty or a hundred particular cards ... that's a beautiful thing.

Hi. I'm Kelly, and I'm addicted to deck building. Today I'm going to show you a few of the results of my compulsion, and how I got from beginning to end—from itch to scratch, as it were.

The Tokens of My Affection

I have loved Saprolings, and the Funguses that create them, literally as long as there have been Saprolings and Funguses to love. Over time, that love has blossomed into a general affection for tokens of all shapes and sizes, but Saprolings remain my favorite. It only made sense that eventually I would turn my eye toward making an EDH deck based around Saprolings and other tokens.

There were a couple of interesting choices for the deck's general. Verdeloth the Ancient is the general for a mono-green Saproling deck, but what I had in my head was more like a second incarnation of my ancient black-red-green token deck. Ultimately none of the Jund-colored generals seemed quite right to me—Kresh the Bloodbraided was closest, but ultimately he leads me toward a different sort of deck—so I shifted my attentions to red-white-green, and a Saproling deck focused more on beefing up my fungal friends than on sacrificing them for profit. I briefly considered classic token producer Hazezon Tamar—a card I don't currently own—but Rith, the Awakener had a huge edge. She makes Saprolings in particular, she's a 6/6 with flying, and I happened to have this foily-shiny From the Vault version of her languishing in a box. Rith it is!

After a couple of test draws and iterations—and some suggestions from a friend—I arrived at the following:

Rith the Awakener

Download Arena Decklist
99 Cards

There's a lot about this deck for me to love. The obligatory Doubling Season is at maximum power here, boosting both the counter production of cards like Beastmaster Ascension, Protean Hydra, and Sekki, Seasons' Guide and the token production of cards like Decree of Justice, Sekki, Seasons' Guide again, and Rith herself. Contagion Clasp is an experiment to shore up the counter-boosting side of things. Elspeth Tirel was an easy swap for Elspeth, Knight-Errant, joining Hour of Reckoning in sweeping the board of everything but my precious tokens.

Doubling Season
Sekki, Seasons' Guide

The deck includes a huge number of ways to pump up my token army for huge swings, from Márton Stromgald and Juniper Order Ranger to Titanic Ultimatum and Beastmaster Ascension. It's got other ways to take advantage of having lots of creatures, too, like Nomads' Assembly and Goblin Bombardment. This deck should totally have Ashnod's Altar, come to think of it.

Titanic Ultimatum
Goblin Bombardment

In the first version of this deck, I went a little overboard on the theme. I had such fond memories of the original Thallids—such as Thallid—that I crammed a bunch of them in, with Sporesower Thallid and Sporoloth Ancient to back them up.

Sporesower Thallid
Sporoloth Ancient

The problem is that they're, um, bad. While I'm sitting there painstakingly adding pennies to my Thallid Devourers and Thallid Shell-Dwellers, all the other players are doing something that actually matters. A Timmy I may be, but it turns out that doing weak things is not actually fun.

I took out the worst offenders and kept the ones that do something interesting with all the Saprolings I'll pile up from other sources: gain life (Elvish Farmer and Mycologist), make mana (Utopia Mycon), draw cards (Psychotrope Thallid), and pump my team (Pallid Mycoderm). If I ever get an actual Saproling off of them, bonus. In place of the weakest ones, I threw in, among other things, the three on-color Hondens, because a friend pointed out that Honden of Life's Web combos with Sekki, Seasons' Guide.

There are still some cards in the deck that are not exactly at the top of the power curve, and I'll be keeping an eye on them to make sure they're pulling their weight. There are also at least a few non-bos to make Johnny cringe, like Sigil Captain and any of the ongoing pump effects (Gaea's Anthem, Thelonite Hermit, etc.). Sigil Captain is awesome enough with 1/1 tokens, especially with Doubling Season out, that I'm willing to accept it, but the weaker pump effects (like Leyline of Vitality) might come out if that interaction annoys me too much.

Modern Artifacts

I'm no stranger to artifact-themed decks—Sharuum the Hegemon was my second ever EDH general—but the release of Scars of Mirrodin has lit a whole new fire under me for building decks based on artifacts. Since then, I've built no fewer than five artifact-based EDH decks, plus another one based on proliferate.

The first one was a mono-black Phyrexian-themed artifact deck with Geth, Lord of the Vault as general, which currently isn't quite there yet—a few too many Phyrexian Debaser types for flavor, and not quite enough Wurmcoil Engine types for function.

Next was a mono-white Equipment deck that's currently helmed by Raksha Golden Cub, although Kemba, Kha Regent is (appropriately enough) making a bid for power. Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile is the dark horse, just because putting Basilisk Collar or Gorgon Flail on her is so absurdly hilarious.

After that came a Thada Adel, Acquisitor deck aimed at stealing other people's artifacts, but right now that one relies a little too much on getting its fragile little general through for damage so I can steal Sol Ring and the like for acceleration. There's also a five-color sunburst deck, which has Reaper King as general despite not having many Scarecrows, because he's a (okay, the) five-color artifact legend. The mana base on that one is a nightmare, as my dual lands are mostly busy elsewhere, but I'm working on it.

The one that I'm currently most excited about is this mono-red deck:

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer

Download Arena Decklist

I built this deck partly because I just really like artifacts. But with this deck in particular, those artifacts aren't just sitting around getting boosts from things that say "artifact" on them—they're frequently jumping into (and occasionally out of) the graveyard for fun and profit, and for some reason I just love that.

Krark-Clan Ironworks
Mycosynth Golem

Slobad himself protects my important pieces, acceleration like Krark-Clan Ironworks and Mycosynth Golem powers out my big stuff, and all-stars like Steel Overseer and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker do surprisingly dumb things. Steel Overseer loves to hang around with Triskelion and all the Darksteel Arcbound creatures. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker also loves Triskelion and the Arcbound creatures, as well as Steel Overseer itself, and occasionally gets to do absurd things with Duplicant or Hoarding Dragon.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Steel Overseer

(In fact, if I weren't so set on this being a theme deck, I would probably go with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as general, because the list of crazy things he enables is not short. That may happen yet.)

The one thing I see in the deck right now that I would call just plain wrong is the missing Shield of Kaldra. Assembling the Kaldra artifacts is supposed to be this crazy thing that happens sometimes, and that is, obviously, pretty difficult when one of them is missing. Unfortunately, the white Equipment deck—which can actually, like, search them out—got first shot, and I haven't gotten around to picking up another Shield. It's a work in progress, you know?

I'm also not quite sure there's enough acceleration here to support the big stuff, but that's the kind of thing I only really get a feel for by playing the deck. I'm also debating Kuldotha Forgemaster. It's pretty awesome, but I don't like to put a lot of shuffle effects in my EDH decks, especially not repeatable ones, for the simple reason that the decks are very large and take a long time to shuffle. This is why none of my EDH decks have fetch lands, despite my plentiful supply of them. Ultimately the Forgemaster will probably make it in on sheer bustedness, though.

Oh, and I need to pick up a Furnace Dragon, because that card has to go somewhere (right?), and a mono-red deck with lots of artifacts and sacrifice outlets seems like the natural choice.

One-Hit Wonders

I like to build around my generals, but that impulse sometimes gets me into trouble. One of my early EDH forays was a monster of a Uril, the Miststalker deck (featured in an early incarnation here). The deck basically had one plan: Get Uril out. Attach stupid tons of Auras to him. Swing. Repeat.

Most generals aren't sturdy enough to be that much of a central focus, but Uril is serious business. He can't get Condemned or Path to Exiled. With an Indestructibility or Shield of the Oversoul, he doesn't die to Akroma's Vengeance or Day of Judgment either. And he's generally way too large for the likes of Mutilate to ruffle his feathers (or fur, or whatever he has).

Shield of the Oversoul

I played that deck a number of times, and soon found that people could only occasionally deal with Uril. Most of the time, I would cast him on turn four, suit up and straight-up murder someone on turn five, and go around the table until everybody was dead or somebody took me out on a counter-swing.

That's what happened ... basically every game. And you know, even when I won, it got old pretty fast. I realized pretty quickly that I wasn't actually enjoying any of this, because every game was the same—or, at best, a yes or no question. The deck wallowed on a shelf for months before I finally took it apart.

In its place, I built another deck focused on powering out its general and winning with it. But this time, it was one I actually enjoyed:

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (2)
1 Sarkhan Vol 1 Sarkhan the Mad
99 Cards

I really didn't have to make this a Dragon deck per se. Karrthus grants your Dragons a bonus, sure, but his job description is stealing other people's Dragons and smashing for 7. But it felt right, so I did it.

Ashnod's Altar
Sprouting Thrinax

I took some inspiration from Dragonstorm decks and included more one-shot mana acceleration than I usually put in an EDH deck. That lets me power out Dragons surprisingly quickly, and the deck has already coughed up a Dragonstorm with three copies on turn four, thanks to the hilarious combo of Ashnod's Altar and Sprouting Thrinax. (At the time my Dragon selection was actually a bit lackluster, but it's better now.)

This deck is power gaming at its best, with big monsters, huge plays, and no back-up plan. Sure, my plan is to cast Karrthus every single game. But that's because Karrthus is awesome, and the rest of the deck has plenty going on even if the big guy never shows.

And I Don't Stop, And I Just Keep Building

That's just a brief romp through the deck-building I'm doing right now. If you like what you see, I highly recommend you fire up Gatherer, sift through your collection, and get building. It doesn't have to be EDH, either—whatever format you love, whatever gets your gears turning, that's great.

The sheer joy of just building decks, even if you're not sure when you're going to get to play them, is a huge part of why Magic is awesome.

And I can stop any time I want. Really.

Latest Feature Articles


June 24, 2022

Double Masters 2022 Release Notes by, Jess Dunks

Compiled by Jess Dunks Document last modified April 4, 2022 PDF Download Links:English | 中国话,汉语;中文 | Français | Deutsch | 日本語 The Release Notes include information concerning the relea...

Learn More


June 17, 2022

Social Play Opportunities in D&D and Magic: The Gathering by, Wizards of the Coast

We're back, following our third and final Office Hours for the Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate set. We recently welcomed our final set of guests, Game Designer Ellie Rice, Sen...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All