Tools of the Trade

Posted in Serious Fun on May 11, 2010

If you've just joined us here, welcome to Level Up Week! Level up is the mechanic that appears on the deceptively awesome leveler cards from Rise of the Eldrazi. With some time and investment you can get a lot out of just a little package. But there is more to leveling than creatures: consider how players and decks can change and grow over time. What my decks set out to do, and how I get my decks to do that, has subtly changed over the years. While I'm not out to "break" a format like Standard with the next greatest deck, being aware of the cards and different archetypes (varying overall approaches that decks can have) that exist within my collection of cards is an important consideration when setting off to create something new.

Starting with loose cards and ending up with a finished deck is certainly a level up unto itself.

    To Level Up

Magic is a lot of fun to play. Of course coming from me that's probably a redundant statement. Getting to the fun is always the goal, yet there are many more subtle things going on leading up to that. Magic requires three main components to be played:

  • Cards of sufficient types and variety (i.e. lands that produce the colors required on the cards you choose)
  • A deck utilizing those cards (though rules regarding specifics of the deck will vary with format, etc.)
  • Another player having met the first two criteria

It seems simple enough but consider this: how do you start? An Intro Pack provides a premade 40-card deck (soon to be 60 cards), which is big enough to play against Limited decks but smaller than a Standard deck. It also includes a handy booster pack, which usually has something new for your deck to use, but isn't enough to draft or build a deck of different colors with. You probably want to pick up two or three more Intro Packs of varying colors just to have a well-rounded base from which to work, not counting the common occurrence of inheriting a few cards from friends or family. Intro Packs take much of the process and variety out of pulling a deck together—it's already been made!

While I love to pick up a few Intro Packs for each new set, they aren't the most convenient way to jump start the core of a diverse collection. While booster packs certainly have diversity they don't carry consistency: you may not get the few copies of a choice common you really want or the building blocks of a deck you'd like to try. More powerful preconstructed decks, like the Premium Deck Series: Slivers and Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. The Coalition carry multiples of come commons but they aren't designed to open construction—these decks are designed ready-to-go right out of the box and are balanced to perform without any changes at all. While they carry more variety than your average Intro Pack they certainly aren't designed as the jumping point for crafting your own deck from scratch.

Coming May 21, there will be a much simpler way to get all your everyday deck building bases covered: The Deck Builder's Toolkit.

The Deck Builder's Toolkit, or the Toolkit from here on out, isn't just a smattering of random cards—though which cards you're getting is slightly randomized—but a box full of the essential ingredients to a variety of deck recipes.

What it is:

  • Lots of the five basic lands and core elements of a variety of different decks—definitely plural "decks." The box contains 125 semi-random cards, meaning that they tend to cluster around certain themes.
  • A "cheat sheet" of an iterative process for crafting a deck that suits your desires.
  • Four booster packs from recent sets (enough for a "Pick-Your-Packs" Draft or Group Game Draft—or to open yourself as the Toolkit suggests!).
  • A completely awesome box to hold several decks for transport.

What it isn't:

  • A From the Vault: Exiled-type limited printing of
  • particular and unique cards.
  • A Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs. The Coalition or Premium Deck Series: Slivers collection of reprints of classic favorites and surprising stunners.
  • Several Intro Pack style decks bundled together.
  • A giant booster pack of randomized "everything under the sun."

If you already have some cards but seem to be finding holes—effects or types of cards you want, but don't have—in your decks, the Toolkit provides everything you need to fill them in. If you have a little trouble walking up the stairs of building a deck the Toolkit comes with help for you, providing reflective direction and very brief samples of the potential that is available in the Toolkit.

And for those of you who are looking for something to get started with Magic, the Toolkit is a self-contained module. With all of the lands and a wide variety of cards, it's more than possible to make multiple decks with everything you'll have inside. As your collection grows—through gifts, purchases, and the altruism of other players—you'll find that the Toolkit always has something for the decks you create.

While you're free to do anything you want in Magic, the Toolkit provides some common examples of desirable deck-types. Asking yourself some questions can help steer what you want to do towards the things that can help you do just that:

  • Do you like to attack other players? With faster, smaller creatures or bigger, tougher creatures?
  • Do you like to wreak havoc upon other players? By dealing damage with spells and effects or by directly destroying their creatures before attacking with yours?
  • Do you like to manage some of what other players are doing? By having a stiff defense and evasive offense or by slowing how fast their creatures come online and sending away some of the spells they play?

The Toolkit comes with a very handy insert that features quotes from some of the most famous competitive Magic players—certainly a unique set of sharp players, who have a lot of interesting things to share—about what they want to do and why they like to do it. Whether the Toolkit is the first bit of Magic you have or the latest product you're trying out, every player has preferences for play and uses the tools available to achieve their goals.

    Starting at Level 0

The insert I refer to, however, comes with something that's delightfully refreshing (and mentioned previously): a process for building a deck. One of the requests consistently sent in to me has been "Can you show me how you build a deck for [insert your format of choice here]?" Building on a Budget and From the Lab are the usual weekly sources of deck building awesomeness, (and I encourage you to check out the amazing things they cook up week after week) but the idea of building a deck that does what you want can be an intimidating challenge. I confess that I'm not the most prolific of deck builders or even a local authority on my own favorite formats—I struggle from time to time in getting through the process of a new deck. Sure, I know what I want, but pulling everything together to get it can be a bit of a challenge.

However, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning: sorting your cards. Since my collection is (mostly) sorted it makes it easy to cruise to what I want. While I use the Gatherer, the online Magic card database, due to the abundance and variety in my collection one might find it easier just to manually sift through what one has acquired. Many of us start out playing Magic in a very similar way: seeing our friends throwing down, and wanting to get in on the action, we pick up a few booster packs. For our purposes here I started with six packs of Rise of the Eldrazi, the standard Sealed pool amount, in addition to having the Toolkit on hand. What did I have to start with?

Adam's Rise of the Eldrazi Sealed Pool

Download Arena Decklist

While Steve Sadin, of the Tuesday concurrent Limited Information, might have some words to share about how to approach building a Sealed deck from this start, I'm more focused on the generalities: finding the key cards I want to see in action. There are a quite a few directions that you could take here.

With the mana doubling capability of Nirkana Revenant alongside the slick removal—twice over—Consuming Vapors, it's safe to say that I'd get great use exercising as many copies of Swamp as I could muster.

Giving my favorite critter the ability to make a temporary copy of itself seems like a great way to start some shenanigans. While I'm not sure exactly what I'd pair with this—anything from Nest Invader and Jaddi Lifestrider to the aforementioned Nirkana Revenant would do well meeting multiplicity—I can get behind putting it out there for any deck running Mountains.

While I certainly keep no secret about loving big creatures, Terra Stomper-in-training, Stomper Cub, seems like a great friend to the "make every dude a fatty for the turn," Wildheart Invoker. I like reasonable creatures, and the only creatures that seem reasonable are the ones that hit home hard.

Of course, these are just the first things that triggered on my radar; you'll probably see some different ways to go and things you'd like to see. Exploring your options, that is, looking over what's available to get you where you'd like to go, is the next logical step and is taken by pulling aside things that seem to head in the same direction. While my booster packs from Rise of the Eldrazi certainly held a few interesting things I took a look at what I had acquired in my Toolkit. Between my Rise packs and the contents of my Toolkit, a few different deck-building "threads" stood out at me.

Black Thread

1 Nirkana Revenent
2 Looming Shade
2 Dread Drone
1 Cadaver Imp
1 Rise from the Grave
1 Consuming Vapors
2 Doom Blade
2 Hideous End

Red Thread

1 Dragonmaster Outcast
1 Goblin Artillery
1 Rakka Mar
2 Dragon Whelp
1 Splinter Twin
3 Heat Ray
3 Lightning Bolt
1 Staggershock
2 Brood Birthing

Green Thread

2 Wildheart Invoker
2 Stomper Cub
3 Llanowar Elves
1 Terra Stomper
2 Overrun
1 Rampant Growth

While I certainly felt that going for the awesomeness of a three-color special, I decided that narrowing it down to just two colors would be the most efficient—leaning heavily on green. Why green?

Colorless Thread

3 Ulamog's Crusher
1 Artisan of Kozilek
1 Kitesail
1 Ogre's Cleaver

I wanted big mana. I wanted to do big things with big mana. While the idea of Looming ShadeandNirkana Revenant playing together certainly crossed my mind, I didn't like the other creatures I had in black. With the abundance of both quick and early, (Lightning Bolt) and late game (Heat Ray) burn in red, I let my black slide away. Focusing my deck is always the hardest part for me as I never want to leave out some of my good stuff (and yet, I invariably do every time). With a heavy dose of green, and a spicy splash of red, I settled in to checking my mana requirements and found, unsurprisingly, that I needed to have green mana on the first turn. Why? Llanowar Elves and Joraga Treespeaker—both get my mana rolling in a hurry. Here's where I settled:

Forged by Toolkit

Download Arena Decklist

I was able to fill in the holes I could see when pulling everything together: I got some extra mana from Greenweaver Druid and Overgrown Battlement; a few more big creatures with Stampeding Rhino and Vastwood Gorger; some pump and protection with Might of the Masses and Savage Silhouette; and two copies of Terramorphic Expanse to help me find a Mountain, if I ran into trouble. Of course, it's obvious that even with hitting the mana ramping engine, on all cylinders, this deck was going to play out on the slower side. I was completely comfortable with this as it's first trial by fire was to play a five player multiplayer game against four other decks created the same way.

Did I forget to mention that there were four other players, all with their own ideas and decks? It turns out that four more starting pools and decks lists, plus the happenstance of events in the game that occured are enough to fill an entire additional article. For next week, be forewarned—some of the following may or may not have occured: three creatures dealt 20 total damage; one card dealt 21 damage at once; a deck with a combo engine was created; a small fry was conscripted by the Eldrazi; and it took three players and a total of seven cards to kill a Knight of Cliffhaven.

If you're keen on some of the other treasures and potential of the Toolkit, come back next week to see everything else that was cooked up!

    Bonus Casual Fun Time Extravaganza

Grand Prix DC, one of the many stops, if you've been following the globetrotting of Grand Prix events this year, will be just outside of—you guessed it—Washington, D.C. in just a little under two weeks. While top notch competitors, regional aspirants, and fresh-faced players hungry for a taste of competition will be making their way through many, many rounds of Standard, there is another side to this Grand Prix you may not be aware of: the casual side. Starting Saturday afternoon with some Elder Dragon Highlander, where I'll be playing emcee, and running through Sunday with both Peasant Standard and Group Game Drafts, a cornucopia of the lighter fare of friendly Magic fun will be featured. And those are just the tip of the iceberg for things happening outside of the main competition. You can find an exhaustive breakdown of everything happening all weekend at this handy reference page provided by the Tournament Organizer.

If you'll be near D.C. or are already planning to attend I hope you take a moment to see what else is happening. I guarantee you can find a flavor of fun all weekend long!

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