One of my favorite parts of magic is brewing, I always love to find new decks that click and have them perform knowing that I made it. Each article in this series will have a different idea; some will be competitive, others will be mistakes made I want to share, others different still. The series will be somewhat focused on the deck itself, but the main focus will be on how the deck was made. I will be using a process everyone can learn from, competitive or not, called “Interactive Design .” Let’s first look at this flow chart from the Interaction Design Foundation:
The process might look a bit odd in that it keeps looping back on itself until you’re ready for deployment, but this is the best part of the process. You continue to make changes until you are comfortable with the deck’s current state, until you prove it’s not good, or until the next set where you might want to revamp something.
This is the start of it all, the idea behind the brew, the insane brainstorm or light-bulb phase. This part is one of the most challenging in that it can make or break the success of the brew. Sometimes you will have a very narrow idea that almost builds itself, other times you’ll go too broad or you’ll wish for something that is unachievable. Ideas could be building around a card or combination of cards, updating an out of date list in the format, trying to make an idea from a deck from another format, fleshing out a style of deck, and many more. You might have some ideas already and not know how to execute them, but this is where the rest of this process comes in.
Planning (First Time)
The first time you come here is still kind of part of the initial planning step. Depending on the idea, you will do research that could consist of Scryfall searches and/or looking at similar decklists in the format or other formats. You are trying to set future phases up for success and give yourself all the proper tools to build the deck. Some of the best cards might be the most used in similar lists, you have to choose ones that are realistically on curve, and they also have to do things that the deck wants to be doing.
Sometimes ideas aren’t worth going forward with, I always tend to joke about mono seven drop tribal, but there are obviously successful ideas that can happen such as just putting Fatal Push into decks that can support it. If it is fuzzy, it is often good to at least go through some phases or a cycle with it.
Requirements (First Time)
Here you need to set a bar for where you want the deck to be. These bars usually are set for speed and consistency, but other archetypes might have different bars. Aggro of course really cares about speed and the consistency of hitting those turn to kill. Combo can be about speed and consistency, but resilience is also a factor. Midrange might be asking how often it can take the advantage back from aggro, keep the advantage from control, and interact with the combos. Tempo is always wanting to dictate the speed of the game. Control is wondering how interactive it is and how quickly it can stabilize. Prison is trying to see how fast it can lock the opponent out of the game. Does my theme deck convey the message I want it to? There are decks that mix these, but all decks just need a bar to measure how viable it is.
Analysis and Design (First Time)
This is where you are going to be piecing the deck together for the first draft. You are analyzing all of your data, research, and card pools to choose things you want in the deck (A distinction from planning is that in planning you try to find everything you might want in the deck, while here you put together the deck from your previous findings). You have to weigh pieces against each other to fit the requirements you made, figure out how many slots can be allocated to certain types of cards, figure out manabases, and other deck building constraints. A lot goes on here. There are tools that can help you with this; for example, I personally like building all my stuff on tappedout.net for ease, but there is also mtggoldfish.com, Untap/Cockatrice deck editor, Frank Karsten’s Manabase Articles for the color distribution of your lands, and still other tools.
In this phase, you get the deck in a form that can be used and then choosing whether it is finished for deployment or going into testing. To get it to an implemental state, you could put it into the Untap editor, downloading a .txt file for Cockatrice, proxy the deck out, or have all the paper or MTGO pieces.
Before discussing testing, I feel like this needs to be addressed. By the time deployment comes around you may not have been finished with the deck, you may have ran out of time and needed to run the deck for the next tournament. Most decks almost never get here, especially because magic is constantly changing. With new cards being released and metagame shifts happening, your decks are in an almost perpetual state of the iterative cycle.
You want to see if your idea worked, you need to feel the deck out for improvements. It is usually helpful to take notes here. You could jam a deck in a large tournament just for a test or run it against some testing buddies; the point is that this is where you get experience with your deck in the implemented state. Sufficient testing should put the deck to the test against all the different decks that you expect to face. A good idea is to put it up against a gauntlet of known good decks. Overall, just get reps in with the deck to see how it performs.
What did you learn from your testing? What cards over or underperformed? Does the deck need to be faster? Was anything clunky? Did the deck meet requirements? Did it do what I wanted to do? This is what evaluation really is about, asking and answering questions. Sometimes the hardest question to ask yourself is: Should I kill the deck? This part is about asking and answering questions above all.
Planning (Second Onward)
Here, you take the answers to your questions and use them to improve your deck. Maybe you want to do a little more research as there was a direction you didn’t realize you could take before. Sometimes, you have exhausted nearly all you can currently do and the the only option is to wait on new pieces. Trying different pieces from your original planning is always a good idea, you can always shift things back later if they didn’t work.
Requirements (Second Onward)
You are taking the answers to the questions and turning them into goals you have to meet for the next implementation; such as being faster, more efficient, or more resilient. You might have found some bad match-ups and are trying to find sideboard cards for them. The mana could feel clunky and needed to be cleaned up. Answer the deck's problems.
Analysis and Design (Second Onward)
You are now changing the deck to take out things that underperformed or figure out ways to make those perform better. You’re trying to capitalize on what overperformed. You may try to fulfill your initial idea a different way. Nothing may change. This section is dependent on what you did in the evaluation, planning, and requirements steps before it.
Rinse and Repeat
From here on out, you’re basically repeating the process until you get what you wanted or can’t figure out how to achieve what you wanted. In the end, the idea is going to make it to deployment or be dropped after exhausting all the possibilities. You could end up repeating the process one or fifty times to get it refined, but every time will make it better.
To finish, this is how I brew and I wanted to share it with you because it’s a great and proven method. The process can not only be applied to brewing, but you can also use it to tune a netdeck for a meta, for projects in real life, and even to become a better person. This article is even being iterated on and will be referenced upcoming articles. The series will hopefully be every other week and mainly feature frontier, a format that is still open to all kinds of brews. Join me next time where I use this process in updating Bant Starfield.
A final parting quote that is one of my favorites and sums this whole article up quite well, it is from professor Sycamore from Pokemon X&Y after you have completed the game as a reflection back:
"To the person reading this: What are you like now? Did you become who you wanted to be? For starters, what was the person you wanted to become even like? I don't know, but it would be wonderful if you can boast that you're living each day to the fullest. To future Sycamore. From the Sycamore dreaming of the future."