Hello everyone and welcome to the first part of what hopefully becomes a long-term series on MTGO Academy. My name is Benjamin, and I’ve been playing Magic on a casual level for a long time now. I have no experience in Pro Tours, I’ve never won a GP, and I don’t even participate in Daily Events that much. So why the heck would you want to read this article?
Because you just want to have fun at Magic. This article is aimed at the casual crowd who want to play an exciting round of constructed Magic on a very low budget. What I will do here is take one of the premade Intro Packs offered by Wizards, play with it, and then gradually improve it. I will offer my thought process on the choices I make while deckbuilding, in order to help new players constructing their own decks. While doing so I will follow some strict rules:
- I will choose one of the Intro Packs and then have four rounds of improvement before choosing the next one. (Four rounds should give me enough time to improve the deck while not getting to boring or stale!)
- I will play three matches with a deck before making any changes. After changes are made, I will play another three matches. (Ensuring that I must play several matches first means that I’ll have a chance to actually experiment with the cards and give me a sense of their performance.)
- I will only alter a maximum of 5 cards per round of change. (Only altering five cards at a time will allow me to see whether the particular changes I made really resolved the problems I observed during my play rounds.)
- In the interest of maintaining affordability, the total price tag of the deck may never exceed $20.00 (US).
The available card pool consists of all Standard-Legal cards. The goal is not that these decks win a tournament of any kind. But they should be fun to play in the Just For Fun or Getting Serious rooms of MTGO and with your friends at the kitchen table.
Flames of the Dragon
This week I will start with the Flames of the Dragon Intro Pack of the freshly released M15 Core Set. It is a Blue-Red deck, which happens to be my favourite color combination ever since Ravnica was released. It features a foil Siege Dragon which was one of the promo cards during the M15 Prerelease. Here’s the decklist:
Flames of the Dragon by Wizards
Nothing pleases a dragon more than terrifying the local populace and curling up on an enormous pile of loot. Flaunt your own hoard of artifacts as a warning to those who would challenge you.
On MTGO this deck goes for $15.00 (US) at the Wizards Store. But I advise you to pick up the cards for about $2.00 at the Academy_Sellbots. Even with the 2 boosters that come with the Wizards pack, it is still better to just buy the singles individually. If you buy the ‘paper’ Magic version of this product in a brick and mortar store, you get an inlay with a picture of Garruk, some tips for your deck, and a rule card. It’s up to you whether that is worth the additional bucks.
Okay, let´s analyze this deck. The first thing you want to do when you create a deck or analyze an existing one is to look for themes. Every good deck has at least one major theme that it is built around. This could be burn, mill, or fatties, for example. It could also be a certain card like Natural Order or a certain combo. If you cannot identify the theme of a deck, chances are that it is just a random pile of cards, meaning it’s likely less competitive (and less fun – depending on your tastes) than it could be. So what are the themes of Flames of the Dragon?
The first major theme is straightforward artifact synergy. The deck contains a ton of “artifacts matter” creatures and other spells like Aeronaut Tinkerer and spells like Shrapnel Blast that allow you to profit from having artifacts around. While you likely won’t be able to pilot such a deck in M15 limited, it looks really cool for constructed. I am already sold on this deck.
The second major theme is evasion. Nearly every creature in the deck can fly or has trample or intimidate. This will make it much harder for your opponent to stop you from chewing at his life total. It also means that this deck wants to be aggressive. You want to hit your opponent with pumped up creatures that he cannot block so that his life total drops to zero before you run out of steam.
The first minor theme is direct damage. With three copies of Lava Axe and one Shrapnel Blast you have 15 damage that goes directly into your opponent’s face. With the correct draws, you only need one or two successful attacks before you end the game on Turn 6. Five damage is quite a bit for one card to deal! (These burn spells synergize well with the aggressive evasion strategy I mention above. If you can push through enough damage in the air early, then you’re likely to be able to win with top-decked Lava Axe later.)
Another minor theme is dragons. That shouldn’t come as a surprise in a deck called Flame of the Dragon. While there aren’t any cards that synergize with dragons specifically, having two meaty dragons in a deck makes the little Timmy in all of us rejoice.
The last minor theme is defense and life gain. The deck features two copies of Wall of Frost and blue and red life gain staffs.
So what are my first impressions? Well, I really like it. Playing artifacts and then creatures that get bigger when you have artifacts and spells that need you to blow up your own artifacts is cool. I liked pumping my Megatog to gigantic sizes in Mirrodin Block. I like it here, too. With the focus of the deck on creatures, you don’t need to draw specific cards for a combo. Instead you can just play away your hand and watch your creatures become stronger each turn.
I also like the fact that most of your creatures can get around enemy defenses. In casual constructed matches this really helps. Especially players on lower levels like to protect their life total at all costs by leaving up blockers. With this deck, you can get around this and even surprise your opponent by giving your creatures flying or trample when he or she doesn’t expect it.
On the other hand, I do not like the subthemes of defense and life gain in this deck. I just don’t see where this fits in, in this otherwise very aggressive deck. When you construct a deck, you want to decide whether it should primarily be aggressive or defensive. When you try to achieve both inconsistently, you will more often fail at whichever goal you need to realize at any given time. This deck aims to beat your opponent down before he can play anything to stop you. If you draw a Wall of Frost or a Staff of the Mind Magus, it is a missed opportunity that could have been an aggressive card like Scrapyard Mongrel!
After we have identified the themes of the deck, let’s have a look at what I think are the best and the worst cards in this Intro Pack.
Hoarding Dragon: A 4/4 flyer for 5 mana is nice to have. But the ability of this guy has the potential to really shine in this deck. Basically you can use him to tutor for a scary artifact creature. Now your opponent is in a perilous situation. Let a 4-power flyer attack unharmed or kill it and give you the chance to play another deadly creature. The only problem is that he is very susceptible to effects like Path to Exile, Pacifism, and Unsummon, each of which nullifies his ‘hoard.’
Ensoul Artifact: This card is great. It allows you to make a 5/5 creature as soon as on Turn 2. (And if the artifact was in play the turn before you Ensoul it, it’s almost like it has haste!) Ensoul Artifact allows you to run a ton of mediocre artifacts because each and every one of them could become a lethal threat. If you play it on your Darksteel Citadel in the early stages of the game your opponent will have a tough time. The problem most aura cards have is that it will go to the graveyard when the enchanted creature dies. That means your opponent’s kill spells have the potential to kill 2 of your cards for 1 card of or her own. Ensoul Artifact is no exception to this, but I still think it is a great card for this kind of deck.
Ornithopter: Marshall Sutcliffe from Limited Resources (check out his awesome draft videos if you haven’t before!) will probably kill me for this pick. But while he is generally correct that Ornithopter doesn’t do much and is not free since it will waste a card slot, I think it is great in this deck. Not only does it enable your Tinkerers and Mongrels to become threats. It can also be equipped or become a 5/5 flyer with Ensoul Artifact. Ornithopter even has its uses in the late game by being a cheap piece of shrapnel for Shrapnel Blasts.
So these are the cards I think are the best in Flames of the Dragon.
Let’s see which cards I think won’t likely see play beyond the first round of changes.
Wall of Frost: While being an awesome defender, Wall of Frost really doesn’t fit into this deck. Like I stated above, this deck wants to be aggressive. If your opponent attacks you, it means he or she doesn’t have blockers. That’s great for you since you can get more damage in. You don’t want to discourage this and you certainly don’t want to waste a draw or a turn to cast this wall when you could cast something that can actually attack instead.
Staff of the Mind Magus: Together with its red equivalent, this card will probably go first. As a rule of thumb, cards that only give you life are junk in 99 out of 100 cases. I often see newer players falling into this trap. Their thought process goes like this: I lose when I am on 0 life. So if I get enough life I never lose! That’s technically correct, but you are not playing Magic to not lose. You are playing to win. Therefore, you need cards that can actually kill your opponent or give you card advantage. Countermagic is great for defensive purposes since it removes your opponent’s threats. Cards like Wall of Frost are also good for this purpose since they can shut down enemy creatures. Life gain doesn’t provide you card advantage, doesn’t apply pressure, and is probably nullified on your opponent’s next attack step. So stay away from life gain cards.
Brawler’s Plate: Generally equipment is more useful than enchantments. Even if the equipped creature dies, the equipment stays in the game. But Brawler’s Plate seems just too clumsy. You need one turn to get it into play and then another turn to attach it to a creature. And then the effect is quite miniscule, giving the creature +2/+2. The trample effect is negligible since the creatures in this deck already have evasive abilities. It is an artifact which makes it playable in this deck, but a very trashy one.
So overall the deck makes a really good impression. It has some cards that shouldn’t be in there and need to be swapped out. I am also a little bit concerned about the mana curve. With the two Glacial Crashers and the Siege Dragon we have three high-mana creatures without any mana ramp in the deck. There are also several cards that cost 2 colored mana which may be hard to cast sometimes. The optimal start for this deck is obviously Ornithopter or Darksteel Citadel into Ensoul Artifact on Turn 2. A bad start would be one where we don’t find any castable creatures but only equipment or expensive spells. If this deck can’t establish dominance early in the game, I fear it won’t come back.
That’s it for the deck analysis. I hope you enjoyed the first article of this series and join me next time when we play our first games and make (hopefully) educated changes that will make this deck a winner.
If you have any questions or opinions, please feel free to use the comment sections. You can also contact me at MTGO under the screen name Gurkengelee.