The Casual Deck Builder’s Guide: Part Two — The Core Cards

Welcome again,

A quick review of what’s going on: Part One covered the basic deck construction tactics, core mechanic, format, and colors. Part Two (the part you are reading now) explains some online tools helpful for Casual players and picking the core mechanic cards. Part Three delves into choosing the support cards and land base. Part Four will cover refinement, play testing, and general deck revision strategies.

Let’s jump right in!

Online Tools

Magic Online has a very strong community. Players create many tools that will help you sort through the cards. After you nail down the core mechanic of the deck, you may have an idea of what cards you want. The task of merely choosing cards is overwhelming. However, using the right tools helps narrow the search. The tools I am showcasing here are by no means the only ones available. However, they cover most tasks you’ll perform outside the MTGO client.

The Gatherer

Magic card databases are more abundant than squirrel tokens in an exploding deck. My grandfather wakes early every morning to shovel the excess databases from our lawn. He often shakes his fist and yells, “Damn you kids and your Magic: The Gathering databases!” While personal preference plays a factor in choosing a database for the illustrious spot in your bookmarks, functionality plays a bigger factor.

My favorite is provided by the Wizards of the Coast themselves, The Gatherer. Not only will you have access to every card ever printed, the search tool is very powerful. The only drawback for MTGO players specifically is the lack of online availability. Until you know the online sets, the easiest way to tell if a card is online, check the deck editor in the MTGO client. Simply type the name of the card, click the “x” off “my cards,” and hit search. After a while, you’ll know whether a card is online simply by the set.

The Gatherer’s strongest feature is the advanced button on the front page. The advanced search enables you to narrow the search and reduce the results. For example, in the Doran, the Siege Tower deck, the core mechanic is kill ‘em with toughness and let your defenders attack. If I type defender into the first box under simple search, I discover 177 cards! Yikes! If I wanted a novel, I’d buy the fat pack. The search result had a lot of useless cards for my core mechanic. Take Blistering Barrier for example, the power is 5 and toughness 2! Doran will actually reduce the effectiveness of Blistering Barrier.

With the advanced feature, I can find cards more relevant to my deck. If I type defender under rules text and then select > = while typing 6 under toughness, I’ll find more relevant cards. Twenty-five cards is a more manageable number. I can narrow the search even further by removing Blue and Red from the search (In the advanced search under color make sure you use “or” Green, “or” White, etc. Using “and” means you want a card that is Green and White, not a Green or a White card). Now only 12 cards appear on the list! Narrowing down the options is the easiest way to find exactly the cards you need. Let’s say you are building a creature counter buffing deck (+1/+1 counters for example). The word “counter” results with 1,295 cards! Better start removing the Counter Magic and other uses of the word “counter.”

Formats, News, Message Boards

Wizards of the Coast has many resources for players. The three I used the most when I first transition from paper to Online Magic were Formats, News, and Message Boards. There are many formats to choose from in MTGO. The three most played are Standard, Extended, and Classic. There are plenty of others to choose from like Pauper, Singleton, Kaleidoscope, etc. The formats link explains the rules for creating a deck in a particular format (for example, Pauper is Constructed with Common cards). Each format has its own unique meta-game. The easiest way to learn a format is try a deck you found on the internet before you build one yourself.

The News page and Message Boards are a good way to keep in touch with MTGO happenings, like for example when WoTC bans a new card from a format or releases a new set. Even though I’m a fairly Casual player, I like to play in the occasional draft. Drafting is a nice way to learn the functionality of a new set. Receiving prizes and promos is also fun but optional in my case. The News page is a good way to stay in touch with official announcements. The Message Boards are another method to connect with other players.

Probably one of the best utility-based Magic Online websites on the net is You can upload your collection to the site (there is a hide collection button for those worried about making yourself a target for hackers). The benefit of uploading your collection to this website has several advantages. The advantage in relation to deck building (after all this is a deck building article) is your ability to compare a deck you created with your collection and save a wishlist file of cards you are missing. Mymtgo is also “vendor neutral” which means you can take that wishlist file to your favorite dealer (ahem wink, wink) and purchase the cards you need.

Not only can you use Mymtgo to find which cards you are missing for your decks but you can also use the set completion feature to generate a wishlist of a complete set if you are a collector. There is a compare my collection with other user decks as well. Usually when I’m bored with my decks but I don’t want to spend any money or take the time to create a deck, I’ll use the compare my collection feature. Trying other people’s decks is fun and sometimes educational.

The utility of Mymtgo doesn’t stop with the collection. There is a draft simulator if you want to “open” a few packs and pick a few cards, a Momir simulator if you want to spin the random creature wheel, and the website even acts a social networking site. Although I rarely check my Facebook account, it’s a much less purely Magic based social network. I know I’m an old man when I say, “If you want me at a party, please call and invite me. Don’t get hurt if I don’t check a website that tells me about what my friends are eating for breakfast all the time.”

There are plenty of other tools for Magic Online but with The Gatherer and, you’ll have the basics to build a deck.

Choosing the Core Cards

“Over two thousand cards with the word damage in the text! I’ll add twelve hundred lands and I should eventually cause enough damage to win.” Said Meathook. Please note the keyword being eventually. Unfortunately, most opponents do damage in the now, if not sooner. Decks play better when they have the cards they need to function. Extra cards will slow the deck down. How do you take over two thousand choices down to roughly sixty cards? Choose the cards you need and leave the rest behind.

During my days of paper Magic, my roommates and I would leave our cards on the kitchen table. After discovering the joys of card lots on Ebay, we decided to create one thousand card decks (needless to say all search and reshuffle abilities were Banned!). Mine was Red, White, and Green. My roommate’s was Black, Blue, and White. We would play, exile the graveyard at the end of the game, and play another game. The thousand card decks lasted through many games and were an endless source of amusement for us (these were the decks that we wanted to use “going pro”). Now I’m married, and my wife likes to use the kitchen table for eating (maybe one day I’ll have a basement with some thousand card decks ready for play).

While the MTGO client can support a one thousand card deck, using one thousand cards will limit your play to luck. A large deck can beat the most refined deck with a lucky draw, but the refined deck has a better chance of the right draw. Most decks have a strategy and core mechanic. With extremely large decks, you don’t know what you’ll draw next and will have to play based on the random draw. When my opponent was also playing a one thousand card deck, the random draw was fine. We both won as much as we lost. In a game where you have three hundred cards and your opponent has sixty, you have an about 1 in 300 chance of pulling the right card whereas your opponent has about 1 in 60. For deck building, you’ll need to learn to cut cards.

With the right online tools, and a few simple tips, cutting cards is easy. Before you can remove the cards, you’ll first need to choose them. You can make your first round of cuts during the choosing process. Let’s review the Doran deck.

The core mechanic is “kill ‘em with toughness” and leave kindness out the window. When I first started this series of articles this deck was Extended legal. Because of changes to the rules, the deck is now in Classic rather than Extended. Classic is the hardest format to build a deck. While each format has a unique set of challenges in deck building, Classic pretty much has all the challenges, mainly because of meta-gaming. If you make a deck in Classic you can encounter all sorts of different meta-games. I want to give this deck a try, so I’ll try Classic. However, Doran is the most important card in the deck, so I could switch back to Extended. Commander also looks like a promising format, so I’ll keep that option open as well.

The first step in choosing cards is search for the core mechanic cards and save them for later. I usually open a text file window and use “copy and paste.” Let’s revisit the toughness greater than six, Black, White, Green, and defender creature search result on The Gatherer. I added Colorless to the search too. Here are the results: Jungle Barrier, Junktroller, Living Wall, Mobile Fort, Sanctum Plowbeast, Shield Sphere, Sunweb, Walking Wall, Wall of Denial, Wall of Ice, Wall of Junk, Wall of Nets, Wall of Reverence, Wall of Shards, and Woolly Razorback.

Your second step is to remove the cards that don’t function in the deck, perform a function that doesn’t help the deck, or plain not a good choice. This is the easiest step. Jungle Barrier, Sanctum Plowbeast, and Wall of Denial are all gone! They are Blue and Blue is not in my deck. Junktroller, Mobile Fort, and Walking Wall don’t have a helpful ability. Let’s take a look at three others:

Wall of Shards could get dangerous really quick, especially if Wakestone or Doran leaves play. Woolly Razorback sounds like a win, but look closer. As long as Woolly has an ice counter, prevent damage it would deal. Woolly is not an effective attacker so Woolly is out. Wall of Reverence is probably one of my favorite defenders ever made. I’ve used this card in many decks. When I win with this wall, I end the game with fifty or so life. However, in the Doran deck, the ability doesn’t do much. Most high toughness won’t have a high power in our deck. If the power is high as well, you probably won’t want the creature anyway. A high power, high toughness creature costs a lot of mana. Doran’s ability allows you to get high power and toughness without the same mana cost. While Doran is in play Wall of Junk is a two converted mana cost 7/7 creature! Pretty powerful for two mana. Most 7/7′s cost more than five unless they have serious drawbacks. However Doran’s ability doesn’t actually change the power of the creature, so Wall of Junk will still only give zero life via Wall of Reverence. Flying may be enough; I only see one other flyer so I’ll keep Wall of Reverence for now.

My last round of cuts are Living Wall and Wall of Ice because they aren’t online. I am left with Shield Sphere, Wall of Junk, Wall of Nets, Sunweb, and Wall of Reverence. After you make the easy cuts, copy the names of the cards to a text file and move forward. Save the harder cuts for later, after you’ve picked all the cards for the deck. Wall of Reverence is better than Sunweb for my deck. They both are the same mana cost and same toughness (remember, power isn’t really a consideration for this deck). However Sunweb has a drawback, and Wall of Reverence will at least give me one life! But I do not want to eliminate Sunweb just yet because what if I need another flyer? Let’s see what other cards I can put into the deck.

Here is the point where we look for cards to lose defender so we can attack with our 2 converted mana cost 7/7. However, I have nagging suspicion that defender cards aren’t the only high toughness creatures out there. Doran is a treefolk, and I haven’t seen any treefolk defenders. Obviously his ability was made for cards with high toughness and I haven’t seen a single one from Doran’s same set. An important rule of deck building involves thinking beyond your original scope. In Doran’s case, my original scope was defenders that have high toughness and to attack with those defenders. However, I don’t see any Lorwyn cards that are powerful defenders. I think I found a clue to think beyond my scope. Doran is a Lorwyn card so there must be other cards that are designed to work with Doran.

Let’s see what happens if I eliminate defender from our keyword search-243 cards… Not a problem, narrow the search by eliminating high power creatures, less than three- fourteen cards, I can handle looking at fourteen cards. Alright, a lot of the creatures are more than four converted mana cost (CMC), remember the Wall of Junk? The cheaper a card costs, the faster you’ll have the card in play. When choosing your cards, try to use the cheapest cost with the most effective card. While Arachnoid might block flyers like your Wall of Reverence, a four CMC will hit play sooner than a six CMC. However, in order for Wall of Reverence to be useful in aggression, three cards need to hit play- Doran, the wall, and a card to lose defender. In my search, two cards catch my eye.

Both cost the same as the Wall of Reverence and need nothing more than Doran to be effective. If I’m worried about flyers being my weak spot Silklash Spider fits the deck perfectly. I think I better abandon the Wakestone Gargoyle. My core mechanic remains the same. However I need only two cards to start attacking, Doran and one of my high toughness creatures. An important question to ask while you build a deck: “can my core mechanic come into play faster?” The method to make the deck play faster is pick the lowest CMC cards that function like you’ll need during a game. Eliminate cards that are an extra unnecessary step. In the event the removed extra step will force you to use a higher CMC card, the step is always better to eliminate (unless, of course, the CMC is really high). Mana can be “fixed” while steps to winning the game can be thwarted. Mana “fixing” is either using enough multi-color lands to ensure you have the right mana, or putting enough mana ramp and acceleration to cast higher CMC cards.

Every color has removal. You’ll lose a card or more during the course of every game due to damage, destruction, exile, etc. The more steps your deck needs to succeed, the higher chance you’ll be thwarted. In order for Wall of Junk to attack, you’ll need Doran and Animate Wall. Should Animate Wall or Doran leave play, Wall of Junk will be useless as an offense. Maybe you can add cards to protect those cards but that is another step in the chain. Whereas with only Doran and Kami of Old Stone, you’ll have two steps thus you can concentrate on protecting Doran rather than Doran and Animate Wall.

We have our core mechanic cards, Doran, the Siege Tower, Kami of Old Stone, Indomitable Ancients, Silklash Spider, and Autochthon Wurm. Now let’s choose the support.

Wait! What about the budget deck! We were going to make Red and Green deck based on Eldrazi Spawn tokens! Here is your chance to practice. Keep the deck under ten Tickets. You can try the deck out and not spend a lot of money. Use The Gatherer to find the right cards by search for Eldrazi Spawn within the colors of Red and Green (remember, use “or” not “and”). You’ll get a result like this: Awakening Zone, Brood Birthing, Broodwarden, Emrakul’s Hatcher, Growth Spasm, Hand of Emrakul, Kozilek’s Predator, Nest Invader, Rapacious One, Skittering Invasion, Spawning Breath, and Spawnsire of Ulamog.

Remember the guideline of keeping the CMC low? Here is a chance to practice. While the Eldrazi Colorless cards seem pretty cool, you either need to wait a long time to cast them or use up all your Eldrazi Spawn putting them into play. Your core mechanic: use Eldrazi Spawn mana to defeat your opponent, not put a sweet creature into play. The sweet creature may end up defeating your opponent, but remember the guideline about eliminating extra steps? Why wait to attack when you can do direct damage? Especially by the time you can cast the big spell, you should have been attacking already. In effort to decrease extra steps and lower CMC, I’m picking these cards: Awakening Zone, Brood Birthing, Broodwarden, Emrakul’s Hatcher, Growth Spasm[card], [card]Kozilek’s Predator, Nest Invader, Spawning Breath, and Rapacious One.

Phew! Finally time for support in Part Three!


There are plenty of tools for the MTGO player. Not only does the Academy provide informative articles but WoTC has plenty information on their website too. MYMTGO is a great tool for collectors but also a quick way to generate your wishlist based on the cards in your collection. The Gatherer is very helpful searching for cards, especially when you want a card by the function but don’t know the name. Finally, remember the two most important tips choosing the core cards. Eliminate steps and choose the lowest possible CMC. For those that are ahead of the article wondering, why is Autochthon Wurm still in the deck, what about Heat Ray from Part One, and why not some other cards? The answer to those questions will come in later parts when we add the support cards and really start narrowing down to a sixty-card deck. Thank you for reading. Happy deck building!


  1. Before I got busy, I liked to browse a lot of MTG websites, and I have never heard of…interesting!

  2. Really good article. I love casual themed stuff. One suggestion though. I definitely would have liked to see some decklists this time even incomplete ones. Possibly refresher lists from the first article and then lists of what you have built so far even if it’s only 20 cards in the list. A visual aid would make it easier in my opinion. But otherwise very informative.

  3. Never heard of before. Sounds pretty interesting. I’ll have to check them out. I normally post on which is mainly paper players but, works just as well. I’ll post a deck on there and ask for suggestion based off the theme.