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Brewer's Minute: Failure

Hey, everyone! It's time for another Brewer's Minute. This week, we're going to take a few minutes to talk about one of the most important parts of being a good brewer: failure. One question I get often is, "Why do Budget Magic decks tend to have a good record?" The answer is actually pretty simple: you don't see most of the decks I build. Even now, after years of building decks, most of the decks I build fail for one reason or another, and you never end up seeing them. My Magic Online account is literally overflowing with half-built decks and even fully built decks that I played for a few games and then stuck back on the shelf because they simply were not working. So today we're going to talk about the value of failure and how failing, over and over again, is one of the best ways to become a good deck builder!

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I've talked before about my background in music, and these experiences had a major impact on how I view failures. In the music world, at least the part of the music world I was involved in, failure is not only accepted but embraced. You get an idea—a melody, a chord progression—and you try it out. Maybe it clicks and turns into a song; maybe it fades away, and you never play it again—you never really know until you try it. More often than not, the idea ends up being a failure (in the sense that it goes nowhere). The important thing is to learn that both outcomes are a positive. Of course, it feels great when an idea becomes a song, but the dead ends are just as valuable if you love playing music, learn, and improve during the process. 

The same is true of building Magic decks. You have an idea—a synergy, a tribe, or a card you want to build around—so you build a deck and start playing games with it. Most of the time, this deck isn't going to be good enough, and you'll start the entire process over again with something else. If you want to know that you're going to be playing a good deck every time you sit down for a game of Magic, brewing is not the way to go—you'd be much better off picking a list from the top of the metagame that's already been tested in millions of games by thousands of players. However, if your goal is to brew your own decks, the single most important thing you can do is learn to not only accept but embrace failure. 

If you really love brewing decks, it isn't really about the end result—it's about the process: the discovery of new cards and synergies, the tweaking and tuning, the endless games of testing. This process is fun and valuable in and of itself, even if the deck itself ends up being a failure. My rule, which I've mentioned in the past, is to learn at least one thing from any deck I build, no matter how good or bad it ends up being. I've had decks that end up going 0-5 or even 0-10, but I still consider the process worthwhile if I can learn one thing from the process of building and playing that deck.

In a very real sense, all of these bad decks eventually lead to good decks. The process of failure—the process of building bad decks—is the foundation upon which good decks are built. If you learn one thing from each deck you build and you build a lot of decks, eventually you have a massive stockpile of knowledge to draw from, and this stockpile leads to better and better decks, which in turns leads to better finishes and more results. 

So, here are my recommendations.

  1. If you are going to be a brewer, you need to learn to embrace failure. It's going to happen. Most of your decks are going to be bad, and if this gets you down or keeps you from building the next deck, it's going to be very hard to ever grow and develop as a brewer.
  2. For me, at least, the easiest way to embrace failure is to learn to love the process. If you're too focused on results, especially early on in your brewing career, it will be easy to give up when the inevitable bad decks and finishes start piling up. However, if you can learn to think of the very act of building a deck as valuable and worthwhile, no matter if you go 5-0 or 0-5, things become much easier. 
  3. From a more practical standpoint, save everything. Keep every deck you build—good or bad—in your Magic Online account. Upload them to MTGGoldfish. Write them down in a notebook. The great thing about Magic is that the game itself is constantly changing, and just because a deck is a failure now doesn't mean it will still be a failure in the future. If you save all of your lists, you can look back over them periodically as new sets release and the metagame evolves and potentially find something sweet in the ashes. 
  4. The other benefit of saving all of your lists is that it lets you take notes. Remember my goal of learning one thing from each deck I build, even if the deck is a failure? Saving your deck lists lets you keep track of these revelations as well. 

The bottom line is this: if you choose to be a brewer, you're choosing failure, so you need to learn to embrace failure to be a successful brewer. The good news is that by embracing failure, learning to love the process (no matter the result), keeping track of your old lists (good or of bad), and learning something from each deck you build, eventually you'll find yourself failing less and less. While I still build a ton of bad decks today, my "hit rate" is meaningfully higher than it was a couple years ago and much higher than when I first started building decks, and if you learn to accept failure in deck building, you'll find this will happen to you as well!


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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