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Brewer's Minute: Revisions


Hey, everyone. It's time for another Brewer's Minute. One thing I get more questions about than pretty much anything else is my deck-building process, so today, we are going to take a few minutes to talk about one really important aspect of this process: revisions. While you might think that a Magic deck comes from some great flash of inspiration and is perfect after the first draft, in reality, much like writing a story, building a great Magic deck is actually about starting with a small idea and then putting in the work to revise and update, revise and update, until it reaches a point where it's playable, and then you revise some more! Let's look at a real-life example with the help of this week's Marvelous Paradox Budget Magic deck.

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Discussion

I get a lot of questions about my deck-building process, so today's video is going to focus on one part of it. My background is in the arts—before I was building Magic decks, I was a creative writing major for a while and spent a lot of time writing short stories, songs, and research papers. One thing I learned from playing with various musicians and from my English professors is that a story or song is never complete. Sure, sooner or later, you'll hand in the paper or sing the song on stage, but this doesn't mean the journey of creation is over. Magic decks are the same way. While you'll eventually play your brew at an FNM or a Grand Prix, this doesn't mean the deck is finished. Furthermore, the very act of building a deck is extremely similar to writing—you don't just sit down and end up with an awesome, fully functional deck. Instead, you start with a spark of inspiration and then put in the hard work of developing the idea, writing a first draft, and then revising, testing a bit more, revising again, and eventually (hopefully) ending up with a functional deck. 

In building a deck, much like writing a story, every revision is a fork in the road. If you can find the right words (or cards), you continue editing, changing, and updating, but sometimes you simply can't find the right thing to say—sometimes, the card you need just doesn't exist. In these cases, there's nothing wrong with shelving an idea for a while, keeping it on the back burner, and then (perhaps) coming back to it in the future when a new set is released or the format evolves. To look at a real-life example of this process, let's use the Marvelous Paradox deck we played on Budget Magic this week.

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As I mentioned in the Budget Magic article, the original spark of inspiration for Marvelous Paradox came from playing limited, when someone passed me an Aetherworks Marvel and I started thinking about how it would be sweet to activate it a bunch of times in the same turn by untapping it. I immediately thought of Paradox Engine, and the synergy seemed powerful enough that it was—at the very least—worth exploring. This is very similar to a writing prompt. At this point, we really don't know what will happen. It could be that the synergy develops into a sweet deck, or it's possible that, as we start writing, we realize this isn't the right story to tell at the moment and move on to something else. 

The next step in Marvelous Paradox was seeing if there were enough energy enablers (the "free spin" cards) to make the deck function. Thankfully, between Aethertide Whale, Aetherwind Basker, and Peema Aether-Seer, there were. If there had only been one of these cards in the format, the story would have been over before it even started. At this point, I simply threw the well-known energy support cards like Woodweaver's Puzzleknot, Rogue Refiner, and Servant of the Conduit into the deck, along with Chasm Guide to give all of our creatures haste, and took the deck out for a test drive. This was essentially the first draft of the deck.

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After playing the deck a bit, a few things became clear. First, the foundation idea of using Aetherworks Marvel and Paradox Engine worked—there was definitely something to build on. Better yet, our "free spin" cards did what they were supposed to be doing. Basically, the underlying concept of the deck could work. However, there were problems. The first problem was fairly small—Chasm Guide wasn't doing its job because we'd occasionally hit it early in our combo, which meant our Aethertide Whales and Aetherwind Baskers that came after weren't getting haste. The second problem was bigger—we were fizzling too much while we were comboing. Because our Aethertide Whales, Aetherwind Baskers, and Peema Aether-Seers were only breaking even on energy (we'd spend six to activate Aetherworks Marvel and get six energy back when one of those creatures entered the battlefield), we literally had to "hit" on every Aetherworks Marvel activation, and this simply wasn't practical. To be the story we wanted to tell, we'd have to revise these parts and fix these problems.

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Changing Chasm Guide to Spontaneous Artist was easy, and the change was so small that I'm not even sure it counts as a proper revision. If Spontaneous Artist wasn't in the format, I would have just continued on with Chasm Guide and still played the deck. While it would be slightly worse, it would still function. Fixing the fizzling problem, however, took a lot more work.

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My first attempt was to just roll with the inconsistency and add a second infinite combo with Whirler Virtuoso, Gonti's Aether Heart, and Panharmonicon, figuring that, even if we fizzled, we might be able to use Whir of Invention and Aetherworks Marvel to find our pieces and go infinite with Thopter tokens, but this actually made the deck worse. Sometimes, we'd draw our pieces and wouldn't be able to cast them, while their inclusion in the deck weakened our Aetherworks Marvel activations because none of the pieces did much on their own. So, I removed these cards from the deck and actually came pretty close to shelving the deck altogether. While the foundational idea was good, it just wasn't quite there. I pored over all of the energy-producing cards in Standard for a third and fourth time but couldn't find anything to improve the consistency. I started to wonder if it was time to move on to another deck and see if maybe, in a week or a month (or when Amonkhet released), we'd have the pieces to make Marvelous Paradox work. 

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Then, out of the blue, I realized that having some sort of Clone might be the solution, and as soon as I searched for "copy" effects in Standard, I realized that Saheeli's Artistry was the card we had been missing, since copying two Aethertide Whales essentially made it into an energy ritual, which would make up for the occasional "miss" from Aetherworks Marvel. I slotted the card into the deck (making this something like the third or fourth draft), jumped into a match, and hit record, and the first match of this week's Budget Magic (where we comboed off on Turn 5) was the very first game I played with the final version of the deck.

Conclusion

The point of all this is that deck building is, just like writing, about revisions. It is incredibly rare that a person sits down and writes the great American novel right off the bat, and the same is true of building a great deck. While there is some amount of creativity and inspiration that's needed, when it comes right down to it, the process is actually about putting in the work, learning from trial and error, and realizing that your deck (or story) is never done. 

It's also about knowing when to move a deck (or story) to the back burner and put it on hold for another time. I can't even begin to count how many "great ideas" I've had and how many first drafts I've written, only to realize that perhaps the idea wasn't as great as I thought. Maybe some essential pieces are missing or things just didn't flow as smoothly as I'd like. When this happens, it's super important to know when to move on to something else, rather than sticking on one struggling idea for too long. Moving an idea to the back burner and setting it aside for a while isn't admitting defeat. Actually, it's the opposite. Sometimes, simply setting aside your project and coming back to it later with a fresh mind and set of eyes makes all the difference.

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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