Beginner’s Deck Doctor #1

Dear MTGO fans,

Reading Magic beginner forums on a regular basis makes me aware of the fact that newbies often have a hard time with deckbuilding. Why? Because one of the most powerful features of Magic: The Gathering is also the most challenging for the beginner– the huge card pool. There are endless possibilities when it comes to building a deck, and, taking into account the various formats, your goals in deck construction, and your budget, it is very hard to offer general guidelines.

In this series we are going to take another approach; we will display a deck a beginner sent to us and then suggest improvements based on the budget of the player and his preferred format. We will also take into account if it is a casual deck or if the player is trying to battle in tournaments. Along with this approach, we are also going to offer a few tips on how to “pimp” the deck with a few more expensive choices and give general advice concerning how to play in accordance with the deck’s strategy. It is worth noting that we are not going to reinvent the wheel; if there are viable and proven cards and strategies that fit the budget and scope of the deck, we are going to use them! Note that this is not going to be a lengthy analysis of any format, nor will it be an exhaustive strategy series, but rather a short analysis of the given deck, a few ideas for card choice revisions, and some brief commentary on why we’ve made the decisions we have.

Our first submission is from NoxNoctis. He sent us a mono-black deck for the Pauper format that tries to apply early pressure with cheap creatures and removal and uses a few late-game cards such as Consume Spirit and Tendrils of Corruption for reach. There is no finished sideboard for the deck at the moment. Here is the original build:

The following was the commentary NoxNoctis submitted:

It’s pretty much supposed to be a basic suicide deck for me to build from. Trying to have a lot of powerful but cheap and expendable cards out early game with Vampire Bite (kicked), Tendrils of Corruption and Consume Spirit all helping out a bit later. I’d like it to be more versatile though, right now it completely destroys some decks but fails badly against others. I’m finding my main problems have been dealing with artifact heavy decks, and decks where my opponent is gaining a lot of life (vamp decks or white decks).

Also the occasional ramp deck is troublesome when they get lucky. Haven’t established a sideboard as of yet, I’ve been switching lots of cards in/out. At the moment I’m sticking with casual play though I’d like to get into tournaments at some point. I play pauper only. Budget is $30 tops at the moment.”

Taking this information and the restrictions into account, we will start by examining the existing deck and then slowly rebuild it to increase the power level without breaching the budget requirement.

The first thing to note is that black has a very hard time dealing with artifacts and enchantments. If you want to have more flexibility, you will have to add a second color to give you more options for the maindeck and sideboard. Secondly, it is generally preferable not to play cards such as Consume Spirit in very aggressive builds as they require a great deal of mana that your manabase will rarely be able to provide. Twenty lands is very few but can be justified with the extremely low mana cost of most of the cards your deck (ignoring the Tendrils and Consume Spirit).

My suggestion for your deck would be to make it slower but more flexible. This will involve adding another color, such as white. By adding white, which is able to handle artifacts and enchantments with ease, you will enable good maindeck and sideboard options. There are some great ideas that have been floating around that revolve around the card Nightsky Mimic. By playing with strong black-white cards, the Mimic will regularly become a 4/4 flyer, which is hard to handle in Pauper where most of the targeted red removal (Lightning Bolt) hits for 3 damage or less. To run Nightsky Mimic makes it important to include a good number of triggers. Based on this idea, my suggestion would be to play the following creature package:

4 Nightsky Mimic: This is the backbone of the deck. Each time you cast a black-white spell, this becomes a huge threat.
4 Nip Gwyllion: This triggers Nightsky Mimic and offers value against red burn decks because of lifelink.
2 Phyrexian Rager: Card draw that also provides a creature.
2 Blind Hunter: another trigger with evasion that is hard to block. Also provides reach and a safety net with its enters-the-battlefield and haunt triggers.
4 Mourning Thrull: Again, flying and lifelink while triggering the Mimic
4 Kor Skyfisher: A strong flyer for a low mana cost. Bouncing can advantageously reset a hybrid mana-cost trigger for a second use.

This creature package looks harmless but can do a lot of damage while helping you to keep your life total high. Of course, we need to support this with non-creature spells, which we will turn to now. While Tendrils and Consume Spirit are good additions to a slower mono-black build, we are looking for a something a little bit different since you intended your deck to be aggressive. Because we are playing white, we can now afford to play a powerful enchantment that not only handles creatures but can also get rid of annoying enchantments and artifacts as desired:

3 Oblivion Ring: O-ring is an amazing spell that provides a lot of flexibility and even removes Planeswalkers (not that that will be an issue in Pauper)!
4 Castigate: Not only does this show you what your opponent has available and removes the best card, but it triggers Mimic as well.
4 Sign in Blood: Card draw is important. The life loss will be gained back by the lifelink creatures we play.
4 Edge of the Divinity: Very strong aura. If you play this on the Nightsky Mimic, it becomes a 7/7 flyer until end of turn!
2 Serrated Arrows: A great anti-creature card. It works wonders against creatures with protection and can remove several small creatures in other matchups.

Finally we need to increase our land count a bit to add consistency to the deck and to include enough white sources so we can play our spells early enough. My suggestion would be:

4 Terramorphic Expanse: Fetches Swamps or Plains depending on your need.
4 Orzhov Basilica: Again, color fixing. Also, a Basilica and another land make 3 mana between the two of them.
11 Swamp
4 Plains

With the maindeck fixed, we can now examine options for the sideboard. Generally you will want to play cards in the board that increase your chances against your toughest matchups. Due to our two-color combination, we have many more options to handle these matchups then before:

1 Serrated Arrows: Boarding this in against small annoying creatures that have protection from black or white.
1 Echoing Decay: If your opponent is playing with a lot of tokens that have the same name, this wipes them all.
4 Duress: Helps to fight control decks that have plenty of counterspells
1 Death Denied: Playing against a slow deck that has a lot of removal? This card can win the late game by refilling your hand.
2 Dust to Dust: Against very artifact-heavy decks.
2 Relic of Progenitus: If the opponent is making heavy use of the graveyard.
2 Prismatic Strands: Helps against all kinds of direct damage spells.
2 Dawn Charm: Flexible protection spell.

So the complete deck and sideboard now look like this:

The cost for the complete deck should be less then $10 since we have deliberately left out a few options that would have cost a few tickets each without sacrificing much power. One nice addition to the sideboard would have been Crypt Rats, which are around 4 Tix apiece, though.

I hope that NoxNoctis gives it a try and lets us know in the comments how the deck performed after these changes. If you, dear reader, have any additional ideas for improvement or comments on the archetype, leave a comment.

Are you a beginner and not sure why your deck is not doing well, or do you have a deck that is performing acceptably, but you are not sure what you can do to improve it? Send an email with your MTGO name to and include your decklist, your budget, the format you are playing, and a few general comments about the deck, and you very well might find your deck shown in our next installment of “Beginner’s Deck Doctor”!

Until then, good luck in the queues,

  1. You don’t improve this decklist, you replace it with another one. Only swamp and Duress is shared. It’s another fine idea: beginners send you a decklist, and then you say “why don’t you use this one instead?” And give them another decklist. Really, the only connection between the original and the new decklist is that the new one plays black too.

    The idea of NoxNoctis is a monoblack deck which starts as as a suicide deck but is capable to survive long games since it gains back the life. It is probably weaker than a strict suicide black deck, as it has less chance to kill the opponent fast, and weaker than a strict monoblack control, as it contains plenty of cards which are awful in the late game. You should either try to balance these better, to give the best deck based on his ideas (which probably would still be weak), or at least move to one of the two extremities, with either more cheap creatures, or more Consume of Spirits.

  2. I was also thinking while reading “This is a nice way to say the deck isn’t playable”. Plejades, I feel you were a bit over-enthousiastic on this one; I’m sure you will take this into account next time.

  3. I realize the issue. It is kind of hard to balance the fine line between changing an existing deck and making it much better and tweaking it but being left with the sour taste that it is not the best it could be for the budget provided. I appreciate the feedback and would really like to hear how NoxNoctis feels about it. Is it very important to stay as close as possible to the initial idea even if it is not optimal or is it ok to make radical changes and take the original idea and the budget into account but ignore the rest?

    My team mentioned similar concerns regarding the decklist and I think I just wanted to hear a few opinions from beginners on how they would feel about it.

    I would like to add that I did keep his initial idea in mind even though that wasn’t reflected in keeping his original cards. He mentioned:”.. capable to survive long games since it gains back the life” which is accomplished with lifelink instead of the sorceries. His concern regarding artifacts is also solved with the addition of white and the sideboard.

    Another possibility would be to change the approach by simply saying:”Let me know how you would like your deck to work and what your budget is” instead of asking for decklists which is often a first attempt of the beginner and goes in a direction that is less optimal.

    Having said all that I understand and appreciate the voiced concern and will adjust my approach if the feedback guides me in that direction. Thanks for your comments!

  4. I like the original list better …. it has 6 less 1/1′s. I realize the point is to enchant them, but you can’t really afford to run creatures that are only good if you draw one specific card.

  5. While I can see you have essentially said “play this deck instead” – I think it’s a great and useful article to read… and I’d be chuffed with the advice if I were NoxNoctis.

    The emphasis on this series, is “beginner”. It’s quite realistic that a beginner won’t be aware of a lot of these cards, while the spirit and idea of the submitted deck is consistent and at the same time dealing with the main issues NoxNoctis has been experiencing.

    I’d be curious to know if you were actually able to test out the decks to compare? I’ve often had a great idea for a deck, put the cards together and in all theory it should work great but somehow it just doesn’t gel or falls flat.

    Thanks – I look forward to more in this series, and may even consider submitting my own decks too :)

  6. Just bought this deck for just under 2 tix using my existing library.. nice so far and fun to play. needs a little more power it seems.. though i don’t yet have crypt rats

  7. @Ron: This deck is very close to one of the top performing Pauper decks in the past and the power level is much higher then it looks. You have to play it for a while to see the full potential.

    @Phroggie: As indicated in the intro I am not necessarily trying to be creative but rather use the submitted requirement and budget to find and tune existing deck ideas or even established concepts the beginner often isn’t even aware of. In this case the decklist is close to well tested Pauper tournament decks that performed very well in the past. While the metagame is constantly changing and archetypes are gaining and losing popularity I am trying to get power and flexibility into the build.

    @Manhandle: I agree that the deck is fun to play due to the nice interaction between the singles and the possibility to handle nearly all threats. Crypt Rats are a nice sideboard card but if you are handling a smaller budget not really a must have.

    Thanks for the comments!

  8. I’m still playing around with the deck so give me a bit more time to form an opinion.

    I changed my original deck though (the one I emailed in) to this which works better but still has issues. I’d say I win about 9/10 games in the “casual play” area.

    I’m definitely going to be looking more into mixing in another color though and I like some of these others cards suggested especially nightsky mimic.

    Anyways the revised version of my original deck is this, thoughts?:

    4x Carnophage
    4x Vampire Lacerator
    4x Guul Draz Vampire
    4x Skittering Skirge
    4x Blind Creeper

    4x Sign in Blood
    2x Soul Reap
    4x Dark Ritual
    4x Geth’s Verdict
    2x Vampire Link

    4x Piranha Marsh
    14x Swamp


    4x Augur of Skulls
    3x Dash Hopes
    2x Distress
    2x Doom Blade
    4x Talara’s Bane

    (A lot of those sideboard cards are supposed to be anti-storm deck which was causing me grief but the sideboard is still pretty terrible…)

    Anyways basically I put in geth’s verdict and piranha marsh to help with getting my guul draz vampires the 3/2+evade even faster and vampire link to deal with nasty big green or artifact creatures… or if I need to plunk it on one of my own (usually skittering skirge) to get a bit of extra life back. So I like that card because it can be both offense/defense.

    I realize I have even fewer lands now but honestly in practice it hasn’t been an issue. I’m almost never “mana screwed” because 3/5 of my creature cards only require one mana and the rest only 2, and I got rid of the more expensive sorceries.

    Anyways I’m going to be trying to meld the white elements in with the above deck and see what happens. Suggestions welcome on the above deck though!


  9. I’ve put this deck together and taken it for a run in casual. Only single games so far, but have gone 2-2 with my first attempts. As a beginner myself I really appreciated the simplicity of play, it’s pretty straightforward what to do with what’s in hand, although I think I could have won one of my games by making my opponent sign in blood rather than myself.

    The losses were to a red/blue control/burn deck and to a very aggressive aggro red deck with lots of burn. The biggest problem with the mimic is it’s extremely vulnerable to burn before it becomes a 4/4. However my opponent spent several burn spells to take it out in 7/7 form on more than one occasion which was a very good sign.

    There was a close win in there which was brilliant, dropped a hag, hit with the mimic (with edge) taking the opponent down to 8, then next turn played blind hunter, swung with the mimic for game. He’d just played an 8/8 with annihilator so it was very fortuitous as I didn’t have that much life to lose!

    Do you have a link to that top performing pauper deck?

  10. Hello Kheltar,

    thanks for giving the deck a try. It is certainly a deck that performs better over time as the pilot gets used to the various possibilities the deck offers during the games. It is certainly not the most straightforward deck to play but I believe it is much more interesting then a simple burn to the face deck. If you are interested in Pauper I highly recommend
    Good luck in the queues!

    @NoxNoctis: I like your second decklist – it is much more focused and even more aggressive then your first one. How are you doing in the queues with it? Generally discard is good against storm as sometimes one missing card can ruin the game plan.