The long intro doesn’t reveal this, so here’s the thesis: adapting successful tournament decks of yesteryear for multiplayer can be cheap, non-Spikey, and quite fun, both for holding a small piece of history and for doing something powerful that isn’t over the top. Got it? Now for the long intro.
Last Christmas, I was commissioned to make a deck. Alyssa, who already had paid me to build a green tokeny deck for her brother James, repeated the request for her sister Ashley, who borrowed James’s decks 2/3 of the time and mine the other 1/3. Building for James was relatively easy; I used the (very few) token makers he didn’t already play with and made them into a Beacon of Creation–Baru, Fist of Krosa–New Frontiers deck with all sorts of other oddities. This time? $30 and a blank canvas. I knew that Ashley on principle never played more than two colors, and she told me essentially that she preferred individual card power to finicky synergies. So where to go?
Since it was going to be her only deck, it needed to have high replay value along with power and fun. I also wanted to build something distinctive. But these were parameters about as good for focus as “Let’s stay within this country” is for picking a lunch spot. Eventually, I thought back to my first tournament: 2005 Alabama States. (Amazingly, TCGPlayer still has my decklist from that event. I lost every game with it.) Its top 8 featured a Tier 2 deck that I thought might fall in budget if ported. That deck was UR Magnivore, as you can view with the link.
A couple things should jump out at you if you’re familiar with the cards:
- It’s cheap. Magnivore is under a dollar and the bulk of the sorceries are common.
- It’s too tempo/land destruction to do more than win a duel, and it wouldn’t be fun casually to build it anyway.
But the principle – buy time and advantage with sorceries and kill with a huge Magnivore – has plenty of potential. I learned loads from this process, and you can do the same thing cheaply with successful deck shells if you’re so inclined. Here’s what I did. Starting with 4 Magnivore:
Switched the blue for green. Ramp can function in multiplayer the same way card draw does in blue, at least kind of. It fills your graveyard with sorceries while getting you to your endgame based on those sorceries. I nicked the idea from one of the first Pyromancer Ascension decks I saw, Brad Nelson’s 4-color list that involved loads of ramp to recur Time Warp and Naya Charm until you drew Comet Storm. A lot of ramp staples are commons, helping the budget too. In went:
Looked at red and green sorceries with the most options. If this deck wants to survive in multiplayer, it needs to handle all sorts of permanents. Besides, the more modes on each card, the better the replay value, as they can perform differently each time without being too random. Fortunately, there are plenty of fine options since Magnivore was a deck, particularly the Command brothers. Not only do they provide tons of flexibility, but the discard/draw part of Incendiary Command is synergistic with Magnivore. Incendiary Commands are also absurdly cheap. Primal Commands aren’t, but they’re so good that spending a quarter of the budget there is a fine choice. Taking the Wildfire effects out of the original and replacing them with more Pyroclasm-level sweepers would do fine in controlling a multiplayer game. In went:
Took the cue from my sorceries and deck style. If Primal Command’s going to be in here, I might as well make a creature toolbox, preferably one where each board state gives a reason to find a different creature. With only 12 rares so far – and 8 of those adding up to $6 – there was plenty of budget for this as well, letting me pick classic powerhouses that would be fun for opponents to die to. This didn’t need as much planning; it just needed awesomeness. The creature toolbox in ascending order of price:
Only Ryusei is easy to kill, and it’s the one you least want to kill. The others present all sorts of problems that relate largely to stomping things. Combined with huge hasty Magnivores, this isn’t a group you want to be staring down ever. Having options of shroud, protection, indestructible, and 8 power for 6 mana all have their upsides in different games, so Ashley could go for whichever one she wanted. If you want a toolbox, it’s hard to beat this one.
Add 23 basic lands and presto! There’s a deck. It cost about $28 including shipping, Ashley loved it, and it was feared thoroughly in the group. Even as it became a target, there was enough control to stop most assassins. It performed better than I had imagined, and I wouldn’t change a card. I already was jealous of the deck by the time I finished building it, but I got more jealous when I saw it perform. I’m intensely proud of it, and I would recommend it or something like it if you get tasked to build a deck for someone. It probably formed initial inspiration for how I shaped my Radha deck as well, as I saw how red and green spells had enough flexible power to let that function as card advantage.
This Magnivore build shows that you can build a cheap, powerful “tournament” deck without it feeling awful. The original build with bounce and Wildfire would feel awful, but this just feels like a good multiplayer deck doing more or less fair things. Not all successful tournament decks are good in multiplayer; not all successful tournament decks do insanely broken, annoying things; not all successful tournament decks are even that good outside their own environment. But you can own a piece of history and turn it into something fun. Having started in Onslaught, which is now half the game ago (that feels weird), I highly prize the connection with past greatness, even if it’s a multiplayer spin on it. Long-term perspective is valuable, and showing some of that off can be a great resource if you use it wisely.
So what’s the process? It’s two main parts that are superficially obvious but worth explaining:
Look for decklists. You could Google random tournaments, putting in “Pro Tour” [year of your choice] or going through the Mike Flores archive at wizards.com if you have no idea where to start. If you vaguely remember a list that intrigued you, go to deckcheck.de and use the search at the top to put in a card you remember from it; the search will return all decks with that card.
Deckcheck.de also will give you archetypes if you choose a format, e.g. Mirrodin-8th-Kamigawa Standard (which is about the start of their database currently), at which point you can get decklists from that archetype and see what you like. I recommend choosing a low-popularity format, as the cards are likely to be cheaper, fairer, and less familiar to a typical group. Magnivore came primarily out of Kamigawa block and 9th Edition; both are unpopular as far as it goes. Anything involving Masques block will be similar if you can dig up old decks from it, and the non-Jund aspects of Shards of Alara might work that way too eventually.
See how much of the deck is necessary in exact cards, and make the rest in principle. Like the Commands, new cards may make the deck better than the initial list; this is especially true if you pick a Standard list. Many a successful deck has been built off a two- or three-card engine, with the rest as solid support; if the engine is cheap, you might already have fine support cards for it. There’s not much play in the joints with, say, Faeries; you’re looking at about 20 cards that can’t be replaced if you want the deck to resemble its Standard iteration. But Seismic Swans of the same era really just asks you to play with Seismic Assault, Swans of Bryn Argoll, and lands; the rest can work with your existing collection. My best friend has a Seismic Swans deck that gets good mileage out of Raka Sanctuary; you can’t argue that it’s not hilarious to have a use for Raka Sanctuary finally. Cards both older and newer can flesh out a deck shell to mimic the original, and that flexibility is key to making a deck fun and yours rather than a simple netdeck.
Note that part of this is understanding the deck principles in the first place. Magnivore was more open-ended than its UR list implied, but understanding the similarities between bounce/card draw and ramp, as well as between Wildfire and unsolvable creatures in locking up a game, was key to its making the jump from nasty duel deck to fun multiplayer deck.
Here are some of my favorite tournament-caliber interactions that have led to fun decks. I’m not giving my decklists since that’s not the point (though I’m linking to the pro decks to save time); the point is what you can do with similar thoughts.
Owling Mine – A Kamigawa-era Standard deck that used Howling Mine, Ebony Owl Netsuke, and Sudden Impact to punish opponents for the full hands you were giving them. The Runeflare Trap-Twincast deck of M10-Zendikar days was similar. This deck has enough classic concepts that you can fill it with just about anything and it will work, though for multiplayer I highly recommend Meishin, the Mind Cage.
Pickles – The Brine Elemental/Vesuvan Shapeshifter lock works for each opponent, and as a morph lover, I love this combo. It’s on the oppressive side, but my group has understood it as being in flavor of my all-morph deck (apart from singletons of Ixidor, Reality Sculptor and Dream Chisel).
MartyrProc – Basically, all it did was try to get the two namesakes, Martyr of Sands and Proclamation of Rebirth, into massive lifegain every turn. Forecasting the Proclamation dodged counterspells, while graveyard hate was the only solution to the Martyr. The rest was generic control. It’s irrelevant for multiplayer what control you use to surround this $6 combo as long as you’re protecting it adequately. (For extra credit, note the 2-of artifact in the decklist.)
Kavu Predator-Fiery Justice – This was a RGW aggressive list that in its ideal state would stick a Predator to make Fiery Justice (and its land counterpart Grove of the Burnwillows) all upside. With the right mana setup you could play a turn 2 Predator, then play a turn 3 Justice to clear the way for your 8/8 Predator (Grove+Justice). Grove of the Burnwillows is pricey, but the main combo isn’t, and you can give the deck reach from beyond its Standard days with Punishing Fire. If Johnny aggro ever existed, this was it.
Many of these decks were simply exploiting available synergies to make aggro or control work in their format, which is why you can build around them with whatever you have. You even could take a struggling deck in the appropriate colors and shoehorn in a fun combo to give historical oomph; I’m not inclined to try it, but it’s a way to do it.
In any event, don’t ignore the decks of yesteryear as an inspiration for good wholesome fun. You don’t have to go build Faeries or Affinity or Jund to get power from the past; there are plenty of other options deep in the Top 8s that time and price have forgotten and provide enough options for you to build it your way. At worst, it’s either a trip down memory lane or a chance to learn some new ideas; at best, you’ll have a ton of fun with powerful decks for cheap. Everyone’s a winner…or something.