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Stacking Your Deck - Benjamin Burnes (1/29/2008)

Fully distilled, Magic is still a game of chance. After shuffling your deck, you have little control over the top seven cards you peel off, or the order of the rest of your library. Being able to mulligan helps defer the unlucky draw, but that comes with its own setbacks. Sure, once the game gets rolling you have more options in ways to manipulate your next draw. But you have to draw into, or find those options to use them. This article should help those new to the game, or those who haven't thought much about this topic, build better, sleeker, more efficient decks. I can't say that I'm the most qualified to discuss this subject, or that my opinions are correct, but I feel that having a better understanding will help you build slimmer, faster decks.

In the game of Magic you are playing one of two roles. You are either on the offensive, or on the defensive. Generally speaking, if you are on the offensive, your opponent is usually on the defensive. This means most of your plays are proactive, causing your opponent to play spells reactively. Casting Giant Growth
Giant Growth
Giant GrowthSet: Revised Edition
Cost:
1
Color:
Green
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Artist:
Sandra Everingham
Text:
Target creature gains +3/+3 until end of turn.
to stymie a Shock
Shock
ShockSet: Classic Sixth Edition
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
206
Artist:
Randy Gallegos
Text:
Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
is a basic example of a reactive strategy. Giant Growth
Giant Growth
Giant GrowthSet: Revised Edition
Cost:
1
Color:
Green
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Artist:
Sandra Everingham
Text:
Target creature gains +3/+3 until end of turn.
can also be used proactively to force extra damage out of combat. The first thing you want to find for your deck are cards that can be used in multiple situations. Shock
Shock
ShockSet: Classic Sixth Edition
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
206
Artist:
Randy Gallegos
Text:
Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player.
is a great card because it can be used to force someone's hand into saving a creature, it can clear up the combat board, or it can get your opponent that much closer to losing, possibly causing a change in his or her overall strategy. You want to find as many cards that fit your specific deck that have many applications.

But we aren't talking about strategy, we're talking about forcing luck into your hand every time.

If you are playing offense or defense, sometimes you just need an answer to a threat. Sometimes that's a Terror
Terror
TerrorSet: Revised Edition
Cost:
2
Color:
Black
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Artist:
Ron Spencer
Text:
Buries target creature. Cannot target black creatures or artifact creatures.
or a fat blocker, sometimes it's more subtle, like an Overgrowth
Overgrowth
OvergrowthSet: Stronghold
Cost:
3
Color:
Green
Type:
Enchant Land
Rarity:
C
Number:
61
Artist:
Rob Alexander
Text:
Whenever enchanted land is tapped for mana, it produces an additional GG.
so you have enough mana to cast your bomb or fully break Garruk Wildspeaker
Garruk Wildspeaker
Garruk WildspeakerSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
4
Color:
Green
Type:
Planeswalker
Sub Type:
Garruk
Rarity:
R
Number:
213
Artist:
Aleksi Briclot
Text:
+1: Untap two target lands. -1: Put a 3/3 green Beast creature token into play. -4: Creatures you control get +3/+3 and gain trample until end of turn.
's first ability. There are only a limited total number of cards in your deck, so the most obvious way to get to the ones you need are to simply draw a bunch of them. Eventually you'll push probability and get the one you need but that could take many turns and completely out of your control. You can use spells that draw cards, or use card abilities like Cycling or Scry to thin out the cards you don't need. But those can still be slow methods to getting what you need right now. Luckily, there is hope.

First, look at the necessity of the card in your deck versus how many you put in there. You can have only a maximum of four of any one card in your deck (except basic lands and Relentless Rats
Relentless Rats
Relentless RatsSet: Fifth Dawn
Cost:
3
Color:
Black
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Rat
Rarity:
U
Number:
58
Artist:
Thomas M Baxa
Text:
Relentless Rats gets +1/+1 for each other creature named Relentless Rats in play. A deck can have any number of cards named Relentless Rats.
, of course). Which is good, otherwise people would run around with decks of 20 lands and 40 Rift Bolt
Rift Bolt
Rift BoltSet: Time Spiral
Cost:
3
Color:
Red
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
C
Number:
176
Artist:
Michael Sutfin
Text:
Rift Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Suspend 1-R (Rather than play this card from your hand, you may pay R and remove it from the game with a time counter on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When you remove the last, play it without paying its mana cost.)
s. This means that even if you put four in, you might not see a specific card you need until late in the game. I use this guide in decks that I build (I'll use my goblin deck as an example):

Do I need to see this early in the game?
4 cards. This gives you a 6.6% chance of drawing one at any given time, and a roughly 47% chance that one will be in your starting hand. Usually early drop creatures like Mogg Fanatic
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg FanaticSet: Tempest
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Goblin
Rarity:
C
Artist:
Brom
Power:
1
Toughness:
1
Text:
Sacrifice Mogg Fanatic: Mogg Fanatic deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
or simple spells like Boggart Birth Rite
Boggart Birth Rite
Boggart Birth RiteSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
1
Color:
Black
Type:
Tribal Sorcery
Sub Type:
Goblin
Rarity:
C
Number:
101
Artist:
Ralph Horsley
Text:
Return target Goblin card from your graveyard to your hand.
. Notice that both of these cards have vast utility late in the game too, either with an amazing chump blocker or returning my big gobliny threats back to my hand. Auntie's Hovel
Auntie's Hovel
Auntie's HovelSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
0
Type:
Land
Rarity:
R
Number:
267
Artist:
Wayne Reynolds
Text:
As Auntie's Hovel comes into play, you may reveal a Goblin card from your hand. If you don't, Auntie's Hovel comes into play tapped. T: Add B or R to your mana pool.
goes in this group too, as there would be absolutely no reason to not have four in a deck full of goblins.

Do I absolutely need one to seal the game?
3 cards. This gives you a 5% chance of drawing one and a 35% chance of starting with one. I have Wort, Boggart Auntie
Wort, Boggart Auntie
Wort, Boggart AuntieSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
4
Color:
Multicolor
Type:
Legendary Creature
Sub Type:
Goblin Shaman
Rarity:
R
Number:
252
Artist:
Larry MacDougall
Power:
3
Toughness:
3
Text:
Fear At the beginning of your upkeep, you may return target Goblin card from your graveyard to your hand.
in this group. I don't need her right away to clog up my hand, but I do need her late in the game to pull my goblins back from Goblin Heaven. I also have Boggart Shenanigans
Boggart Shenanigans
Boggart ShenanigansSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
3
Color:
Red
Type:
Tribal Enchantment
Sub Type:
Goblin
Rarity:
U
Number:
155
Artist:
Warren Mahy
Text:
Whenever another Goblin you control is put into a graveyard from play, you may have Boggart Shenanigans deal 1 damage to target player.
at three. This card I don't need to clinch the game, but it certainly puts the pressure on when it's out. Having four in my deck was excessive as I really never want to see two in my hand when I start the game.

Would this card give me a huge advantage, but it's unreliable or very expensive?
2 cards. You have a 3.3% chance of drawing one and 23% chance of starting with one. I put in Empty the Warrens
Empty the Warrens
Empty the WarrensSet: Time Spiral
Cost:
4
Color:
Red
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
C
Number:
152
Artist:
Mark Brill
Text:
Put two 1/1 red Goblin creature tokens into play. Storm (When you play this spell, copy it for each spell played before it this turn.)
in case I have a surplus of cheap cards late in the game. It's not very useful if your hand is dry. I also put in Final Revels
Final Revels
Final RevelsSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
5
Color:
Black
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
U
Number:
113
Artist:
Omar Rayyan
Text:
Choose one - All creatures get +2/+0 until end of turn; or all creatures get -0/-2 until end of turn.
in case I have Boggart Shenanigans
Boggart Shenanigans
Boggart ShenanigansSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
3
Color:
Red
Type:
Tribal Enchantment
Sub Type:
Goblin
Rarity:
U
Number:
155
Artist:
Warren Mahy
Text:
Whenever another Goblin you control is put into a graveyard from play, you may have Boggart Shenanigans deal 1 damage to target player.
and a bunch of goblin tokens in play because of Empty the Warrens
Empty the Warrens
Empty the WarrensSet: Time Spiral
Cost:
4
Color:
Red
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
C
Number:
152
Artist:
Mark Brill
Text:
Put two 1/1 red Goblin creature tokens into play. Storm (When you play this spell, copy it for each spell played before it this turn.)
or Boggart Mob
Boggart Mob
Boggart MobSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
4
Color:
Black
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Goblin Warrior
Rarity:
R
Number:
104
Artist:
Thomas Denmark
Power:
5
Toughness:
5
Text:
Champion a Goblin (When this comes into play, sacrifice it unless you remove another Goblin you control from the game. When this leaves play, that card returns to play.) Whenever a Goblin you control deals combat damage to a player, you may put a 1/1 black Goblin Rogue creature token into play.
.

Am I able to get this card by some other means or recur it if it gets destroyed?
1 card. You have a 1.6% chance of drawing one and a 12% chance of starting with one. Not good odds. I put Boggart Mob
Boggart Mob
Boggart MobSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
4
Color:
Black
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Goblin Warrior
Rarity:
R
Number:
104
Artist:
Thomas Denmark
Power:
5
Toughness:
5
Text:
Champion a Goblin (When this comes into play, sacrifice it unless you remove another Goblin you control from the game. When this leaves play, that card returns to play.) Whenever a Goblin you control deals combat damage to a player, you may put a 1/1 black Goblin Rogue creature token into play.
in this section. It's a nice body and his ability is amazing. But he doesn't win the game for me. I'm able to bring him back with a bunch of spells if he gets tanked, and I can also search for him with Boggart Harbinger
Boggart Harbinger
Boggart HarbingerSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
3
Color:
Black
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Goblin Shaman
Rarity:
U
Number:
102
Artist:
Steve Prescott
Power:
2
Toughness:
1
Text:
When Boggart Harbinger comes into play, you may search your library for a Goblin card, reveal it, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
. Which brings me to my next topic.

Stacking your deck, legally, is one of the best ways to play the game. The Harbinger cycle in Lorwyn is an amazing way of doing this. Not only does it give you a body to attack and block with, but it sets up your next draw to be exactly what you need. Since their abilities trigger when they come into play, you should be able to pull tricks to use it over and over. Momentary Blink
Momentary Blink
Momentary BlinkSet: Time Spiral
Cost:
2
Color:
White
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
C
Number:
29
Artist:
Anthony S. Waters
Text:
Remove target creature you control from the game, then return it to play under its owner's control. Flashback 3U (You may play this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then remove it from the game.)
comes to mind, obviously, but using the champion mechanic works just as well. These tutors (cards that allow searching for other cards) work with the same principle when building a deck: treat it like it's every card in your deck. A Boggart Harbinger
Boggart Harbinger
Boggart HarbingerSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
3
Color:
Black
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Goblin Shaman
Rarity:
U
Number:
102
Artist:
Steve Prescott
Power:
2
Toughness:
1
Text:
When Boggart Harbinger comes into play, you may search your library for a Goblin card, reveal it, then shuffle your library and put that card on top of it.
is, essentially, every Goblin card you have in your library. Meaning that if you needed a specific answer to a problem, like a Boggart Birth Rite
Boggart Birth Rite
Boggart Birth RiteSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
1
Color:
Black
Type:
Tribal Sorcery
Sub Type:
Goblin
Rarity:
C
Number:
101
Artist:
Ralph Horsley
Text:
Return target Goblin card from your graveyard to your hand.
to retrieve your lost Wort, or a Tarfire
Tarfire
TarfireSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
1
Color:
Red
Type:
Tribal Instant
Sub Type:
Goblin
Rarity:
C
Number:
194
Artist:
Omar Rayyan
Text:
Tarfire deals 2 damage to target creature or player. 0
to smash for the win, it is all right at your fingertips. It's entirely possible to run a deck with multiple tutors and a few one-card answers because you'll be able to retrieve that specific card from your library when the issue arises. Why would you do this? Well, instead of running four of all your answers (like four Damnation
Damnation
DamnationSet: Planar Chaos
Color:
Black
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
r
Number:
85
Artist:
Kev Walker
Text:
Destroy all creatures. They can't be regenerated.
s along with four Cryptic Command
Cryptic Command
Cryptic CommandSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
4
Color:
Blue
Type:
Instant
Rarity:
R
Number:
56
Artist:
Wayne England
Text:
Choose two - Counter target spell; or return target permanent to its owner's hand; or tap all creatures your opponents control; or draw a card.
s), you'll only need one or two. This means you'll have more space in your deck for other options.

Scry is also another fantastic mechanic for this. I love Mystic Speculation
Mystic Speculation
Mystic SpeculationSet: Future Sight
Cost:
1
Color:
Blue
Type:
Sorcery
Rarity:
U
Number:
41
Artist:
Trevor Hairsine
Text:
Buyback 2(You may pay an additional 2 as you play this spell. If you do, put this card into your hand as it resolves.)
Scry 3 (Look at the top three cards of your library, then put any number of them on the bottom of your library and the rest on top in any order.)
. It's efficient, reusable, and very easy to find the answer you're looking for while setting up your next few turns. As a sorcery, though, it limits your mana options for your opponent's turn since you have to pay 2U to buy it back.

Lastly, I want to talk about chance with your cards. When Lorwyn came out, the Clash mechanic got a lot of negative attention in my opinion. I feel that it was an excellent way to sometimes get a little more oomph out of a spell. That ´´sometimes´´ was what brought people to a screeching halt: it wasn't consistent. Unless you were using spells to specifically put a high mana cost card on top, you didn't know if you were going to win the clash or not. I've lost several games that hinged on me winning a clash for Springjack Knight
Springjack Knight
Springjack KnightSet: Lorwyn
Cost:
3
Color:
White
Type:
Creature
Sub Type:
Kithkin Knight
Rarity:
C
Number:
41
Artist:
Steven Belledin
Power:
2
Toughness:
1
Text:
Whenever Springjack Knight attacks, clash with an opponent. If you win, target creature gains double strike until end of turn. (Each clashing player reveals the top card of his or her library, then puts that card on the top or bottom. A player wins if his or her card had a higher converted mana cost.)
. It's not a great feeling. Cards that provide results that are out of your control should be played only if the payoff is much better than the price unless you are able to control its outcome. There are a bunch of articles written on that though.

Magic is a game of chance. I sometimes feel like it's playing a game of chess with rounds of poker in between turns. There are a lot of variables involved in a single turn, not to mention an entire game. Being in control of as much as possible on the field, in your hand, and in your library is key to winning the game. I know this article has been pretty dry in the humor department, but I feel that there is a lot of information that is necessary to build a solid, consistent deck. If you have questions or feel like I said something in error, I'd love to discuss it on the forums. Thanks for reading!


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