What's the Big Idea?

Posted in Serious Fun on July 29, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

I like to imagine that I'm an "Idea Guy." We all have that friend who always seems to have interesting ideas or inventions. She's the one who comes up with an interesting new way to do something or build something and you say to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Firemind's Foresight | Art by Dan Scott

I want to believe I'm that person, but I'm not. Everyone comes up with ideas occasionally, and some of them are even good ideas.1 However, the Idea People just always seem to have something new going on in their heads. That's not me. I rarely have anything going on in...my...head. I don't have constant ideas about something new and exciting. I'm the guy who takes the idea and tries to perfect it. I smooth the rough edges and try to make it a little better. While those are ideas, too, I am not a "start with nothing and produce amazing" kind of guy.

Magic is full of these thoughtful, insightful, players who see connections where most people don't. Hardly a surprise that a game where you build your own deck from thousands of available cards draws highly from a group of people that sees connections. These players come up with amazing synergistic decks or crazy theme decks that I just marvel at, but rarely ever discover or consider on my own. I'm jealous of their talent and their ability to make connections between things that I hadn't seen.

I've tried to make my weakness in this area a positive for Serious Fun. I regularly ask friends and readers for decks or deck ideas to get me jump started. It gives all of you a wider variety of decks than you would get otherwise. Deadeye Navigator is a fine card, but if you saw it in my decklist week after week, that would start to get dull. Creature-type theme decks are plenty of fun, but week after week of theme deck would wear thin.

I know I'm not the only one like this in the Magic community. There are plenty of us who feel completely useless when it comes to finding interesting decks or deck ideas. That's where this article comes in. We are going to talk about ideas and where to find them. We'll start with where to go and who to turn to when you are just drawing a blank. This is where you can turn when you need a jumpstart to get you going. Then we'll look at getting those ideas out of you. Each of us is creative and innovative in our own way. We'll look at ways to get you started down the path without being quite so reliant on others.

Before we get right into it, I want to be clear early on that I'm not talking about deck building. Building a deck is a completely different thing. Knowing the correct land ratios and number of lands for your deck is important to building a great deck. Understanding the odds of drawing the two cards you need to combo together is important when determining whether you need other cards in your deck to support that combo. Understanding the decks you'll be playing again is another important part of deck building.

Today, I'm not talking about any of that. Today, we are talking about the idea. For those of you into the psychographics, we are talking about Johnny. I want the ideas. I want the cards make up the card combination. Looking at a single card and developing an entire deck around the ideas produced by that one card. Realizing interesting themes and working up entire decklists to show off the theme. The practicality is for another day; today is the theoretical.

Winning Friends and Influencing People

So this lack of interesting ideas makes new decks a painful proposition. I stare and stare at cards and get nowhere. I find that I need a kick-start from others to engage my brain. Where do I get that kick-start?

Vorel of the Hull Clade | Art by Mike Bierek

The Internet has been a common tool for me. My Vorel Commander deck from a few weeks ago was almost completely Internet inspired. I regularly read Magic articles or search for decks with cards that interest me. With so many players posting interesting lists or even just card interactions, it would be hard to not take some of those ideas and make them your own.

Twitter has been a godsend for me as well. I know, it is technically part of the Internet, but I use it in a different way. I requested deck ideas or lists that I could use at GP Boston. It was just a wave of helpful people providing me with wonderful ideas and marvelous lists. Admittedly, finding 60-card lists tends to be a little more difficult (my Twitter crowd is decidedly Cube and Commander when looking at casual formats), but the ideas can definitely go all over. Jonathan Richmond, aka @Norbert88, provided me with an interesting Anax and Cymede Commander deck. While I didn't choose to run it in Boston, it is something I'll be looking to build in the near future.

Norbert88's Ajax and Cyanide

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Anax and Cymede
99 Cards

Jonathan is still looking at Magic 2015 cards to add to the deck. I like to look at what the deck is doing and determine if there are cards I'd change. I love what this deck is trying to do, and I'd likely only change a few of the cards that I don't have for ones that I do, assuming the changes don't completely destroy the deck overall. My thanks to Jonathan for the list.

Oftentimes, stepping away from your screen can be a great way to find ideas. Your friends and card-shop acquaintances will often be running something or have an idea they just don't have time to try out. These are the people who know your tendencies the best. Not only do they have great ideas, they know what your style of play is, probably better than you. They aren't going to suggest you run a serious control deck when your style is smashing with brutes. They are not only giving you ideas, but the ideas are catered to your tastes. My Master of Cruelties deck started out with me seeing an interaction between Master of Cruelties and Dwarven Warrior. Once my friends saw the deck, the improvements showed everywhere, including the initial interaction. Jesse, Josh, and John all played a part. After reading my preview for Generator Servant, Jesse commented that it should find a place in the deck—something I hadn't even considered.

Master of Cruelties

Download Arena Decklist

Even in a group that has an unwritten rule about using someone else's deck,2 ideas can fly everywhere.

Finding Your Muse

While leaning on others can be a short-term solution, what you really want to do is to develop your skills and come up with your own ideas. Apparently, trying to do something wacky is a good starting point for your brainstorming session.

You don't even need to focus on Magic when you start brainstorming. On my desk right now is Aspirin and a Game of Thrones coffee mug with the Targaryen three-headed dragon logo.3 Medication, altered states, dragons, parasites, and sheep have started me down a path to a deck that involves three dragons, three red legends, and altering the board state in some way. Skipping untap steps or adding combat steps both seem like a nice start. Where your theme goes from there is up to you. Welcome to a quick and dirty view of how my mind works. Yes, it scares me, too.

Perhaps you already have a card in mind that piques your interest. Search for related terms from that card, or something that ties it with something else. Don't structure your search too much early on. Let the ideas come and build the deck later.

When it comes right down to it, a big part of getting ideas is time. Divine Inspiration doesn't always hit you immediately, 4 it can take time. If you are willing to spend the time and work at it, your imagination will come through for you. If time is your limiter, as it is for me, we can continue to rely on others to get our creative juices flowing. If you have the time, keep working at it and your ideas will get better and more innovative. Time and effort will get you there.

Bruce Richard

1: I came up with the idea of storing my Magic collection in an old library card catalog. Many others had the same idea, but when I thought of it, I hadn't heard of about anyone else doing it yet. return

2: When someone builds a deck that uses a cool interaction, that is generally off-limits to the rest of us. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, multiple decks all using the same combination or trick can make for dull games. Besides, if it was their idea, let them bask in the glory of it... until you crush their cool idea with your new deck. return

3: The mug was a gift; I identify with House Stark and like House Martell. return

4: My college grades will attest to that. return

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