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Magic: The Gathering

Deckbuilding Compendium


This is a complete, start-to-finish guide on how to build a successful deck for Magic: The Gathering. The contents of this post come from information I've gained from years of playing and researching the game.

Before building

Before you even begin looking at cards, there are a few important steps you should complete.

Mission statement

First, come up with a mission statement. The mission statement of a deck is the goal of the deck; in other words, a statement of how the deck aims to win the game. A good mission statement contains information about the deck's identity, playstyle, and victory condition. For example:

"This is a mono-red aggressive deck that wants to attack and win quickly."

A weak mission statement invariably leads to a weak deck, so it is extremely important that you are comfortable with your mission statement before you move on.

Theme

Unlike the mission statement, a deck does not necessarily have to have a theme. A good theme will complement your mission statement. Themes are frequently a creature type (this is known as a tribal deck, i.e. "Goblins"), but they can just as easily be a mechanic (i.e. "tokens") or a strategy (i.e. "ramp").

Backup plan

Many decks also have a backup plan, in case the primary plan doesn't work out. Backup plans are constructed in the same way as mission statements, but special care must be taken to ensure that they never interfere with the primary mission statement.

Archetypes

If you've never built a Magic deck before, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the common archetypes. Archetypes provide a solid framework to build a deck around. The majority of decks end up conforming to one or more archetypes.

Composition

Draw chance

Although Magic decks can technically contain any number of cards at or above 60, it is always best to limit your deck to exactly 60 cards. The smaller your deck, the more likely you are to draw a card when you need it. Additionally, there are some good rules of thumb for how many copies of a card you should run in your deck:

Note that it can also be useful to run two or three copies of cards that are virtual copies of a card that you already have four copies of, in order to increase the likelihood of drawing it even more.

It can be useful to use a hypergeometric calculator for calculating draw chance.

The axiomatic approach

Rather than focusing on the exact distribution of individual cards, the axiomatic philosophy to deck building starts with a list of effects and how many cards of each effect you want. This is also a perfectly valid strategy.

Mana base

It is usually recommended that you start a deck with about 40% of the cards being lands, and modify that value from there. When building a multicolor deck, the ratio of land colors should be roughly proportional to the ratio of spell colors. If one color is used more often earlier in the game, skew the mix towards that color.

Disruption

Every deck should contain methods of disrupting its opponents' plans. This can include counter spells, removal spells, defensive keywords like hexproof, and more.

The mana curve

The mana curve is the idea that a deck has a "curve" of mana costs. It is referred to as a curve because, ideally, it should resemble a bell curve when graphed. It can be useful to use a normal distribution calculator for validating a mana curve. Below are the mathematically perfect mana curves for going first ("on the play") and second ("on the draw").

Mana CostPlayDraw
198
287
386
4115
509

After building

After building a deck, there are several things that a player should pay attention to when playtesting.

My decks

I keep an up-to-date copy of my collection and decks on my deckbox.