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Each year, Wizards of the Coast gives us hundreds of new cards and these new cards are made legal for every format of tournament play. While I wouldn't plan on seeing a Noble Panther
Sub Type: Cat
Artist: Matt Cavotta
Text: 1: Noble Panther gains first strike until end of turn.
in play alongside a Mox Jet
Sub Type: Legend
Artist: Amy Weber
Text: W: Flying until end of turn. Target opponent gains 2 life.U: Return Phelddagrif to owner's hand. Target opponent may draw a card.G: Trample until end of turn. Put a Hippo token into play under target opponent's control. Treat this token as a 1/1 green creature.
in any serious tournament, it is always a challenge to see which new cards rise to the top in their own format...the Block format.
Type: Mono Artifact
Artist: Dan Frazier
Text: Add 1 black mana to your mana pool. Tapping this artifact can be played as an interrupt.
Loved by some and hated by others, the Block Constructed portion of the Pro Tour season never fails to be interesting. With such a small number of cards available, deck construction can become a puzzle to the best of us. What is it that makes one card environment-defining and another unplayable chaff? The answer sometimes lies in the most unlikely places...maybe in that ´´junk rare´´ at the bottom of your commons bin. That's what makes Block Constructed such a strange and wonderful format. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
So how do you go about exploring this brave new world?
Step 1: Build Decks
The first thing you need to do is just build some block-legal decks. I have to admit... this is the hardest part for me. I've always been good at refining other people's ideas, but starting from scratch? It's like staring at a blank Notepad window and wondering what to put on it. There's just so many possibilities and the task is so huge that it's daunting. And your first decks will NEVER ever be CLOSE to what you know you can do. But just like Billy Pilgrim's dad did to him (for the uninitiated, that was a thinly-veiled Vonnegut reference), you need to just throw yourself into the pool, sink or swim. Only by making decks and throwing them at each other can you get to the next step.
Step 2: Rate Each Card for Format Play
This is a step most people will either ignore, thinking it a futile task, or not even think of. While for many tournament formats the time it takes may be better spent on playtesting (I don't think I've ever even attempted this for Extended), in Block Constructed formats it can be an invaluable tool.
Print out a spoiler list containing all cards legal in a format. One of the best places for obtaining such a list is MTGNews or you could always find the official spoiler lists at Wizards' Official Site. Figure out a scale by which to rate the cards. The scale I use is as follows:
Environment-Defining Cards - These are the cards that can radically change the outcome or pace of the game. When one of these cards is played, your deck must have an answer or it will lose miserably. Answers to some of these cards can be as simple as a solid clock (Fact or Fiction
), they may require you to play differently (Obliterate
|Fact or Fiction|
Artist: Terese Nielsen
Text: Reveal the top five cards of your library. An opponent separates those cards into two face-up piles. Put one pile into your hand and the other into your graveyard.
), they may present a threat that needs to be dealt with immediately (Doomsday Specter
Artist: Kev Walker
Text: Obliterate can't be countered.Destroy all artifacts, creatures, and lands. They can't be regenerated.
), or they may even affect the way you must build your deck (Lobotomy
Sub Type: Specter
Artist: Donato Giancola
Text: Flying. When Doomsday Specter comes into play, return a blue or black creature you control to its owner's hand. Whenever Doomsday Specter deals combat damage to a player, look at that player's hand and choose a card from it. The player discards that card.
). While these cards are not always the most powerful cards in the environment, they must be considered as it's biggest concerns to deckbuilding. This will always be the smallest category.
Artist: Thomas M. Baxa
Text: Look at target player's hand and choose any of those cards other than a basic land. Search that player's graveyard, hand, and library for all copies of the chosen card and remove them from the game. That player shuffles his or her library afterwards.
Staple Cards - These are cards that will appear in most decks that run the appropriate colors. You will see these cards many times over the course of a tournament. While these cards may not win the game all by themselves, they are the ´´Meat and Potatoes´´ of any tournament-quality deck.
Solid Cards - This category consists of all the cards that you need to fill out your deck . They're not as amazing as the cards in categories 1 and 2, but they plug a hole that your deck would have otherwise. Obvious sideboard cards and cards that may be ´´pre-sideboarded´´ also can find their way into this category.
´´Everything Else´´ - This is kind of a catch-all category. Cards in this category will be sub-par for one reason or another. For most expansions, this tends to be the biggest category and because of that it also holds lots of ´´tech´´ cards that people have forgotten about.
Chaff - While I hesitate to label almost any card as ´´unplayable´´ in such a small format, these are the cards you can pretty much ignore. There's either something better in the format or the card downright sucks.
My sure-to-be-controversial list for IBC can be found at http://www.iserv.net/~jdweldy/shelteredvalley/ibccardlist.htm
Step 3: Figure Out the Metagame
One of my friends always likes to make fun of me because I subscribe to the Wakefield School of Metagame Importance. For a player, the Metagame is crap. 80% of the field could be playing R/G Beatdown but if you play the 7 guys that are playing U/W Control, it doesn't mean squat. A Magic tournament isn't about beating 100 guys, it's about beating 8 guys. If you can beat 7 of those 8 guys in the right order, you will win.
Now please go back up and read the second line in the last paragraph again. I didn't say, ´´The Metagame is crap.´´ I said, ´´For a player, the Metagame is crap.´´ That's a big difference. As a player, you are at the mercy of luck and matchups. As a deckbuilder, you can control your fate. Or at least manipulate it enough to give yourself a fighting chance. BR
Play some more games. Find some friends with some decks or just do what I do a lot and mock up some games in Apprentice. While playing against yourself won't help you with any of the finer points of the game, it will let you know what cards work well together and what cards don't. Once you've played several games with several decks, you'll start to get a rough feel of what decks work in the environment and what decks don't.
Step 4: Repeat Steps 1-3 as Needed
There's just no substitute for hard work. Running through this list once will get you a semi-playable deck that you might be able to fumble through a few rounds of swiss with...given a healthy dose of luck. But with each pass, your deck (and, more importantly, your understanding of the environment) will get better and better. Green decks seem to be better than what you originally thought? A few Slay
s should help. Red removal getting you down? Try some creatures with Protection from Red.
Artist: Ben Thompson
Text: Destroy target green creature. It can't be regenerated. Draw a card.
Each time you go through the list, your decks will get a little better. You also may find that a few cards you originally thought were utter junk are actually the key to beating the dominant deck of the format.
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