MTG Deckbuilding Compendium
Before Archetypes Composition Mana Curve Legality Testing Links Terms

Magic: The Gathering - Deckbuilding Compendium

Before Building

When building a new Magic deck, before you even begin looking at cards, there are a few first steps you must complete.

First, come up with a mission statement (goal). This step is very important, since a weak mission statement invariably leads to a weak deck. A good example of a mission statement is,

"I am a mono-red aggressive deck that wants to attack and win quickly."

After your mission statement, I recommend coming up with a theme. A good theme will complement your mission statement. A theme can be a creature type or any other set of cards which complement each other. For example, Goblins would work incredibly well with a mono-red aggressive deck since they are cheap red creatures.

Many good decks have a backup plan in case the primary goal doesn't work out. Backup plans are similar to mission statements, but it's very important to make sure that they don't conflict with the mission statement in any way. To continue using the example above, a good backup plan could look like,

"If I don't manage to kill my opponent early with Goblins, I'll use burn spells to finish them off."

Archetypes

There are a few common deck archetypes which most decks conform to. The most common are listed below.

Composition

Even though Magic decks can technically contain any number of cards at or above 60, you should always limit your deck to exactly 60 cards. This increases your chances of getting the cards you need when you need them. Aside from this rule, things covered in this section are just basic guidelines and can vary depending on the deck.

To go with the 60 card limit, it is generally best to use as many copies of a card as possible in your deck. This maximizes the chance that you get a specific card when you need it. An excellent guide on how many copies of a card you should use in your deck can be found in the links section.

It is recommended that you start building your deck with 24 lands, and modify that number as the deck takes shape. In general, cheaper decks tend to use less land (rarely under 22), while expensive decks tend to use more (rarely over 26). Try to spread the types of lands in your deck roughly evenly between the colors that you're using. If one color is used more in the early game than the others, skew the land mix in the favor of that color a little bit.

Wizards of the Coast recommends including 24-25 lands, 17-22 creatures, and 13-18 other spells in an average deck. These are decent guidelines to follow for very generic decks, such as those that I would recommend a new player build.

Every successful deck includes ways to mess up its opponents' plans. Counter spells, discard spells, creature removal spells, and hexproof or indestructible permanents are good ways of doing this. Also remember that your opponents will be trying to mess with your plans. It is very important to keep in mind that your opponent also takes actions when building a deck, so a "perfect game" will never happen. This is a large part of why making a successful combo deck is so difficult. While building a deck, try to think about all of the different types of threats that an opponent could throw at you (i.e. lots of small creatures or a counter on one of your biggest spells), and take them into consideration while building your deck.

Do not use a bad card just because it fits your theme. All cards in your deck must be independently powerful, and should also synergize well with all of the other cards in your deck. None of your cards should ever feel like a waste of a draw to get.

Mana Curve

The following mana curves have been built using data from a variety of sources, including recommendations by professional players, algorithms, and computer simulations.

Regardless of how you build your curve, it should peak between 2 and 4 cost, and go down from there in both directions. Most spells in the deck should cost between 2 and 4 mana.

Spells should be plotted on the mana curve on the turn they will be played, not the turn where they can be played. A one-drop aura cannot go at 1 on the mana curve because auras must be applied to a creature, so they cannot be played on turn one.

Don't use a more expensive version of a card, or an expensive card that's worse than a cheaper one, just to fit your curve. If a cheaper card is just better, there's no reason not to use it.

Example mana curves
Cost Cheap Midrange Expensive Perfect (draw) Perfect (play)
1 8-12 0-4 0-4 8 9
2 8-12 8-12 6-10 7 8
3 4-6 6-8 4-6 6 8
4 2-4 4-6 4-6 5 11
5 0-3 4-6 3-5 9 0
6 3-5 0
7 0-2
8+ 0

Legality

In order for a deck to be legal to play, it must:

Testing

Every time you make a change to your deck, ensure that:

Additionally, think about each deck archetype and think about how well your deck matches up against it. If you don't like your chances, revise your deck.

Tools

The Gatherer (card database) MTGGoldfish Meta Tracker MTGGoldfish Format Staple Tracker ManaStack (online deck builder) Hypergeometric calculator

Articles

How many copies of a card should you put in your deck? How to make a mission statement. How to use a hypergeometric calculator.

Terms