You Will Be Upgraded

Posted in Reconstructed on June 16, 2015

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.

A huge part of Magic is deck construction. Hours upon hours spent in our Planeswalker's workshop, creating something marvelous out of nothing. Through deck building, we bring our ideas to life.

But what happens after than initial process?

After a deck is first built and taken from our Magical forge, there's still plenty that happens. We play it. We make tweaks. We think about it.

And, when new sets come out, we find new pieces. We add new cards. We upgrade.

Upgrading is compulsory if you want to stay on the cutting edge, and with Magic Origins just around the corner, today I wanted to take a look at the details of this upgrading process. How to tweak your decks with new cards is a question I'm asked a lot. And today, I want to go through it step-by-step.

While building decks from scratch around one thing is something I'll certainly be doing in the next few weeks as I preview cards, telling you how to upgrade your existing decks is something that can make every single one of your decks better. And make you ready to use the cards while others are still figuring them out. Whether you are slinging your own unique Magic decks or just playing a Standard decklist that showed up in the last Grand Prix, knowing how to upgrade your decks right at the beginning of a new format can give you a distinct advantage.

What exactly do I mean? Let me take you through the core three steps of this process. Read on!

Rampant Growth | Art by Steven Belledin

Step 1—Know your Deck

Before you can start to make changes to your deck, it's crucial to first understand how your deck works.

It may sound simple, but this is actually a very easy mistake to make. It's tempting to just assume you know everything about a deck, especially if it's a major Standard deck you've seen played.

The number of times I've seen someone copy a decklist from a recent tournament, immediately make changes before even playing the deck, and then—after playing the deck—claim the deck "wasn't any good" is too high to count. It's like trying to fix a sink before you understand what all the parts of a sink do: while you could theoretically fix it up, most likely you're just going to cause more leaks!

Even here on ReConstructed, and with a wealth of past experience, I'll try to play a few games with the deck I'm talking about on Magic Online before starting to work on it just to ensure I understand how it operates.

So, whether you are playing your own, unique creation or simply grabbing a decklist from a successful tournament, first make sure you've played the deck. That you understand its strengths and weaknesses and know why each card is there.

Why? Because to make upgrades with new cards, first you have to understand what you're upgrading. You need to know what each individual piece is accomplishing.

Once you know a deck, one of the most efficient ways to do this is to put each kind of card in the deck into a "bucket."

For an example, let's take a look Immanuel Gerschenson's Blue-Black Control deck that took down a Grand Prix in Standard with Fate Reforged, but before Dragons of Tarkir:

Immanuel Gerschenson's Blue-Black Control, First Place Grand Prix Seville

Download Arena Decklist

Now, you can begin to bucket cards in this decklist. Even if you haven't played it, the first several are easy. Dig Through Time and Jace's Ingenuity can go into a "card draw" bucket. Bile Blight and Hero's Downfall both fit into the "removal" bucket.

But where does, say, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver go? Is Ashiok a threat? A way to buy time? A specific card for control decks? You're hard pressed to know without playing the deck.

In this case, for example, it turns out Ashiok is mostly a threat that can buy time and cause some headaches for creature-based decks. (It's certainly fine against control too.)

Why is all of this bucketing relevant? Well, we'll get there. But first, it's time for step two!

Step 2—Identify New Additions

Perhaps it goes without saying, but you're going to be hard-pressed to add any new cards from a set into your deck without first knowing which cards you want to add. After all, you want to add cards with purpose and not just by selecting them from a list blindfolded.

The first thing to do with a deck I'm playing and want to upgrade is look over the entire new Card Image Gallery. Don't just look through your colors only: sometimes, you'll find a card worth changing colors for. For example, imagine if you primarily played blue-red control because you wanted Anger of the Gods as a cheap creature sweeper, and then Born of the Gods released and suddenly you had access to Drown in Sorrow. That could be worth changing colors for altogether!

What I recommend is writing down any potential new options as you see them. Then, by the time you've finished looking through the entire set, you'll have a list of cards worth considering.

Now, most of the time your list will exceed the number of cards you should actually add—and that's okay! The key is to identify as much as possible and then keep the best ones you find while getting rid of all the excess water, sort of like a pasta strainer that you're dumping delicious deck noodles of all sizes into.

If you don't know what you're looking for, something to keep your eye out for in particular are cards similar to ones the deck already plays and fits into existing buckets. For example, blue-black control doesn't really have a "cheap creature" bucket, so a card like Blood-Chin Fanatic doesn't fit in very well.

Let's say I'm doing this with the aforementioned blue-black control deck. As an example, while going through, I'd certainly note Silumgar's Scorn: the deck already has counterspells, so I know that's an effect I want. The same is true for Foul-Tongue Invocation and Ultimate Price, which are both removal spells. It also follows that I'd write down some of the big Dragons, like Dragonlord Silumgar. And, because I'm keeping my eyes open to other colors, I'd also put down Narset Transcendent and Dragonlord Ojutai as some cards if I wanted to branch out to white.

Figure out what bucket each of those cards goes into. And while they may not all fit existing buckets, most of them should.

Once you've identified cards you might want to play, it's time for what is likely the hardest part: actually modifying your deck!

Step 3—Make the Changes

By now, you've bucketed what your deck does and made a list of cards to consider adding. Great! Now you're left with the task of actually figuring out what should go into your deck and what can be left out.

And this is where those buckets really come in handy.

Let's presume that the deck you're playing is tuned to a place you're happy with it. After all, if you're making upgrades to a deck, chances are it is either a deck that has already been played to success at a large tournament, in which case it has been proven to some degree; or it's a deck you've played a lot and that you know works, in which case you know you have the mix of cards about right.

This means you don't really want to change the general numbers of any of the buckets by more than one or two, or you could end up destabilizing the entire framework. And while there are some times where that could be the right place to end up, to start you certainly don't want to make any gigantic swaths of changes.

So, compare the cards in the buckets that exist in the deck to the cards in the same bucket you want to add.

For example, let's take Ultimate Price and Foul-Tongue Invocation . Those are both removal spells, so they're going to have to be compared against the existing cards: Bile Blight, Hero's Downfall, and Silence the Believers . The deck currently has nine removal spells, so you're not going to want to go up or down more than two in either direction.

At this point, it's a matter of comparison. Which card seems to be stronger in this deck? Which fits better on the mana curve? What does a new card address that a previous card didn't? It's going to be a judgment call based on the card, but at least when you're comparing removal spells to removal spells you can better make that call, as opposed to when you're comparing removal spells to ramp spells.

This is also where your knowledge of what the more unique buckets are will come in very handy.

Remember the Ashiok example from earlier? I said Ashiok is, "mostly a threat that can buy time and cause some headaches for creature-based decks."

Well, knowing this, it actually makes adding in some Dragons to support your Silumgar's Commands and Foul-Tongue Invocations a lot easier. Why? Some of them fit the same role!

What I said about Ashiok is very similar to something I would say about Icefall Regent: it can both be a threat, and also buy you tons of time against creature decks.

After looking across all of the changes you could make, what you might end up with is something like this, all updated for Dragons of Tarkir:

Shota Yasooka's U/B Control, Top 8 Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir

Download Arena Decklist

Shota's decklist maps pretty cleanly to this process. Even though it has added in a bunch of Dragons, a lot of them fill similar roles to previous cards. (And some are needed to support cards you added in.)

Of course, it's never cut and dry. You can always go down different paths. As we've see happen in Standard, you could just as easily decide white is the way to go, add that Ojutai we pegged as an addition earlier, and end up in Esper Dragons.

However, by using these tactics to make small changes, it will immediately get your deck into fighting shape to try out the new set. And, after all, that's what your goal should be: have a deck that has made reasonable updates using the new cards.

Only playtesting will tell you if the changes were right and what direction to go in, but this is a tool that will take you most of the way there.

Field Testing

Let's not forget: part of why I brought this up is because Origins is right around the corner! As preview season happens, keep an eye on all of the cards as they're shown off. Identify which ones might make your deck. And then, by the time the Prerelease hits, you'll have an idea of what to try!

Speaking of Magic Origins, my first Origins preview card is just a week away! It's a wild one, and certainly a card I'm sure will generate some chatter—I'm still surprised we printed it. You'll definitely want to come check it out!

Because the next two weeks are preview weeks, there's no deck building challenge for this week. However, if you have any comments or thoughts, you're welcome to send me a tweet or ask a question on my Tumblr and I'll be sure to take a look! I'd love to know if this article was helpful to you, and if this gave you some useful insight into the process.

I'll be back next week when I start diving into Origins. Talk with you then!




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