As I put (metaphorical) pen to paper for this Deep Dive, I’m also steeped in practicing for the Neon Dynasty Set Championship. As part of my preparation, I’ve been testing out ideas and trying my utmost to brew new decks. Brewing (or home brew decks) refers to the process of thinking up a deck idea, building an initial draft and improving on it over time.
I’ve never exactly been a luminary when it comes to inventing wild new decks. Some players have an innate knack for it, and to them deckbuilding can be an art. For me, it’s a science, and I’ve honed my process through hundreds of rounds of trial and error across dozens and dozens of formats.
Building a competitive deck from scratch is one of the most difficult tasks a Magic player can undertake. A single player – or even a team of players – is at a massive disadvantage compared to the millions of games being played by the community at large. The “Hive Mind” churns out decks quickly and efficiently through the process of natural selection. What wins sticks, gets copied, and gets improved upon. What loses goes extinct.
Still, brewing a deck of your own is a worthwhile endeavor. For starters, coming up with something great can be rewarded by a unique edge in tournament play. Even coming up with something decent means keeping opponents on their toes, and enjoying the advantage that comes when you’ve practiced and prepared against your opponent’s strategy, but they’re seeing your deck for the first time.
More than anything, brewing accelerates your learning process. To understand Magic on a deep level, you need to see what’s happening behind the scenes. What does it take for the initial spark of an idea to result in a tournament trophy? Seeing every step from deckbuilding to sideboarding to gameplay, and learning why some ideas pan out and some don’t: this is what gives you the deepest insights into how Magic really works.
The first rule of homebrewing is that you should never expect to get anything right on the first try.
Speaking from experience, it typically takes half a dozen drafts (as in rough draft not booster draft) before an idea becomes a functioning deck. This means building a first draft, playing some games and losing badly, going back to the drawing board and repeating the process five or more times.
Speaking from experience, nine out of 10 of these fully fleshed out deck ideas will wind up in the garbage can.
All of this means that brewing a new deck isn’t the best way to be competitive in the short term. You’d do much better by copying a tournament-winning list.
Even the successful homebrews usually don’t wind up supplanting the established top strategies. Instead, they’ll usually land as reasonably competitive decks on the level of “Tier 2” or “Tier 3.” But they can take opponents by surprise, and can sometimes hit just right for a particular player’s skill set or a particular tournament’s metagame.
Let’s have these goals and expectations in mind as I present my advice for brewing new decks. We’ll want our finished products to win games in competitive settings, even if they’re not necessarily more powerful or well-rounded than the very best deck in a given format.