The Death of a Deck


“It is possible to commit no errors and still lose. That is not weakness…that is life.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

We have all seen it, the player at our local game store that constantly plays a wacky brew that gets stomped over and over as he pours money and effort faithfully into his feeble stack of cardboard. Sometimes a deck idea just doesn’t work. When it’s you, it can be a bitter ordeal.

I’ve experienced this issue multiple times in the last few weeks. I’ve faced it first hand as well as seen a friend go trough it this last week. We build a brew, test it against friends and things seem fine. Then you play it against the masses and your deck crumbles apart.

My efforts this week was an expensive loss. It started out as a set of cards that had gained a considerable amount of price over the years but I was missing some other, even more expensive cards to make a more mainstream competitive deck. So I did what any other cheap bastard would do…build a new brew with the expensive cards I have and purchased a few commons to add to it.

What resulted was an odd concoction but it seemed to come together well. It was slow but controlling. Initial tests proved my mate’s decks were no match for it and I took it to my local group. It did well and after a few tweaks it was dominant.

With my new found confidence and a stack of money, I purchased the deck on MTGO and took it straight to tournament practice.

I was rolled. Multiple games against the MTGO meta resulted in not only defeat but questions as to why I was playing such a horrible deck. I then took it to fun play with similar results. I was demoralized.

My friend’s situation is a bit different. Since Lorwyn block, he has been playing an obscure combo deck. He and I have been working on this deck for some time, bouncing ideas on how to make it better. In playtest it does well but like my deck this week, against the competitive metagame it falters.

This last week was the final straw. Multiple versions of this build saw many expensive changes and it was brought to the local play group. The deck was quickly dispatched and was sent flying in frustration. Eight years of work, effort and money down the drain.

How does this happen?

When we build a deck we all have certain expectations for it whether it be kitchen table king or something more. When these expectations aren’t met a certain amount of disappointment occurs and can come in many forms. Some of us may pass the deck off and leave it’s defeat at that or some of us may become more determined to make it work.

The latter is where things become difficult. How much are you willing to invest in something that won’t work in the current metagame? How much playtesting will it take? How much money?

Sometimes you just have to let your deck ideas go.

Believe it or not, working on a doomed deck follows the same stages of grief as death. These five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

When you first play your new doomed brew, you are often in denial that the deck won’t work. You often looks at it’s parts rather than the sum of the parts. Maybe a creature in the deck is quite strong or a certain combo looks unstoppable. Just because of these creatures and spells seem good or your combo is just so clever, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the next best thing. Playtesting reveals that.

Anger comes in the form of frustration. Mostly because of the time, effort and money you have spent. In this stage you may feel insulted that your deck could be dismantled so easily.

Bargaining comes in two forms. In the first example you may think that with just a few tweaks the deck may run better. You check your numbers, mana ratios, creatures to spells ratio and add and subtract crucial cards from the deck. The second example of this is something we have all seen, players blaming their dead in the water brew’s results to exceptionally bad luck or opponents cheating.

In this example, depression comes when the brewer begins to believe he just isn’t good enough. He may want to quit, sell his cards off and never play again.

Acceptance comes when the player realizes his deck just isn’t going to work. They often put the deck aside and build another deck or try something a little more mainstream. They also begin to except the fact the deck is just a few cards short from it’s full potential and look excitedly at the next set’s spoilers. This is a healthy step.

Letting go of your cardboard baby is not easy. The sooner you realize it’s just a game the easier you will move on from the deck’s failure. Play it at a casual level. Maybe one day, the card you need to go over the top will be printed in an upcoming set.

Swing Last,


Have a dead in the water deck story? You can contact Aiokii in the comments below, Twitter or Facebook. Aiokii can also be found on MTGO, hit him up for a game sometime. Also, take the time to check out Reddit Budgetdecks for cheap discussion and deck ideas.

2 responses to “The Death of a Deck

  1. Hi there,

    I don’t usually comment on articles I read but, as a part-time deck builder, I felt like I needed to do so here. I’ve been frustrated many many times in the past with building rogue decks. This still happens today.

    The closest thing I can compare magic net decks to is chess openings. Many chess players use chess openings. Do they understand the principles behind each move in a chess opening? I’d guess that most of them do not. Do they need to know how their chess openings work? Nope. Are chess openings useful to them? Absolutely.

    Rogue deck building is like that.

    It’s like trying to create your own chess opening while everyone else is using ones they’ve read out of books. It also requires accepting that you’ll meet such players at tournament and they won’t understand why you’re not using one.

    Deck building requires knowing the principles of all the other decks in the format work. It requires building a deck with its own principles and its own endgame. Along the way, it requires a continuous honest review after each win and loss as to what worked and what didn’t work. Most of all it requires determination and acknowledgement that any deck built is a long learning experience with an endgame that may, in fact be fruitless (either in the present or forever).

    With all of that said, I still do it.

    Deck building fills part of the creative void in my life. It can be awful at times. It can be very rewarding when it works. Just don’t expect it to work, most of the time.

    After all, how often do people create brand new chess openings?

    • This is a great analogy.

      To take it one step further this chess openings analogy illustrates why new players that purchase a net deck have a hard time making the deck work. They do not understand what makes the chess opening good or the benefits it offers against other openings.

      Honest evaluation is key while playtesting a deck. Not ever win you gain will be because of your masterful intelligence or supreme deckbuilding skill where losses can be blamed on bad luck or poor card draws or bad opening hands. Sometimes you have to face the music and admit your idea simply doesn’t work.

      Very insightful comment. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *