Deck Building with Comparative Card Choice

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The letter N!ow for the real fun stuff—I am going to build a deck before your eyes while documenting my CCC logic. I hope this will provide a good example to you if you want to try to use CCC the next time you build a deck.

I am going to build a deck around a pretty cool card that I saw do well in PT–Hollywood. Like most of you, I will see someone else's deck or a particular card combination, and think about how cool of a deck that might make! The particular card in question here is Furystoke Giant, and the particular deck is the one that Stuart Wright created and Matt Hansen played to a 21st place finish in Hollywood. Here is his deck for reference:

Stuart Wright's Furystoke Giant

I am not going to copy his deck, but I like the general idea of his deck, so I will start with that and see where it takes me.

Furystoke Giant is in some ways a one-sided Wrath of God that is also sometimes a huge Fireball to the face. It seems really powerful as long as there are enough critters around to power it up.

The first thing I am going to do is define the strategy of my deck. This might get refined as I go along, but you have to start somewhere!

Furystoke Giant Deck Strategy

Survive the early game while building up a large number of creatures, then find and use Furystoke Giant to gain a huge advantage, hopefully winning the game. Having a sacrifice outlet can increase the power of Furystoke Giant as well.

Now that we've outlined the strategy, let's take a quick look at the expected metagame from PT–Hollywood, which should somewhat define Standard for a little while.

Decks to beat:

Faeries
Reveillark
Green-Black Elves
Doran Deck
Merfolk
Green-Red Mana Ramp
Mono-Red and other various fast decks

There are others, of course, but these seem to be the main contenders.

The next thing I want to do is look for things that can let me survive longer and get lots of creatures into play. Luckily, usually getting a lot of creatures into play is a good way to survive through blocking and trading. Ideally, I would have creatures that can block and trade, but also have creatures for later when I play my Furystoke Giant.

After looking for cards that might help me in this effort, here are some of the good ones I found. We are obviously playing red for Furystoke Giant, so let's get red and colorless cards out of the way first:

Furystoke Giant
Mogg War Marshal
Murderous Redcap
Greater Gargadon
Mogg Fanatic
Empty the Warrens
Simian Spirit Guide
Kher Keep
Mutavault
Zoetic Cavern

Red also offers Magus of the Moon, which is a great card to play in this metagame in general.

With some further searching I found that there seemed to be three distinct routes to get to the goal with secondary colors.

Route 1: Black-Red

This is pretty close to what Stuart's deck was going for, so naturally it seems like a strong choice. Here are the cards that directly tie into the strategy:

Bitterblossom
Marsh Flitter
Nantuko Husk
Boggart Mob
Sengir Autocrat
Weirding Shaman
Blightsoil Druid

Black doesn't offer many cards, but it does offer Bitterblossom, which is likely the best card overall in many decks. Black also offers Shadow Guildmage, which alongside red can help against Faeries.

Route 2: Green-Red

Green offered a whole bunch of stuff. The most interesting thing about green is that you get to play lots of mana accelerating creatures, which can speed up your strategy while giving you lots of random guys to tap to the Furystoke Giant. Of course the downside to this is that you might be tapping some of these to play the Giant in the first place.

Kitchen Finks
Safehold Elite
Imperious Perfect
Elvish Promenade
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Hunting Triad
Lys Alana Huntmaster
Wolf-Skull Shaman
Wren's Run Packmaster
Garruk Wildspeaker
Mosswort Bridge

I'm going to separate out a section for mana generators because there are so many.

Llanowar Elves
Heritage Druid
Birds of Paradise
Boreal Druid
Leaf Gilder
Gemhide Sliver
Magus of the Vineyard
Dryad Arbor
Elvish Harbinger
Wall of Roots
Magus of the Library
Radha, Heir to Keld

Route 3: White-Red

White had some interesting things to offer as well—it seems like there could be a Kithkin strategy using the Kinsbaile Borderguard and lots of Kithkin with Greater Gargadon to sacrifice it, generating many tokens on queue.

Kinsbaile Borderguard
Icatian Crier
Kitchen Finks
Safehold Elite

Of these three strategies, I think black probably offers you the best shot against Faeries, but green seems to offer the best strategic potential. White has some interesting ways it can go, but its cards don't seem extremely aligned with the strategy, and it doesn't have a high quantity of things to offer.

I suspect that fighting Faerie decks will be less of a concern in the aftermath of PT–Hollywood, and you already know what the black-red version looks like, so let's explore red-green.

Let's get the most important cards to the strategy into the deck list first. I will do this by choosing the ones that seem like the most powerful cards based on the metagame, since we know that all these cards roughly work out pretty well for the deck's strategy.

Sacrifice Outlets

Furystoke Giant
Greater Gargadon

Cards to power Furystoke Giant

Kitchen Finks
Mogg War Marshal
Murderous Redcap
Safehold Elite
Imperious Perfect
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Hunting Triad
Wolf-Skull Shaman
Garruk Wildspeaker

Lands

Kher Keep
Mutavault
Zoetic Cavern

After looking at this a bit, it occurs to me that it is possible to meld an Elf strategy into this deck very nicely without hurting the prime directive much. The goal would be to have enough Elves to make Wolf-Skull Shaman worth playing, since he is totally sick when he activates a bunch. Let's explore what the deck might look like in this light:

Elf Version

36-40 spells possibly including:

Furystoke Giant
Greater Gargadon
Magus of the Moon
Safehold Elite
Imperious Perfect
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Hunting Triad
Wolf-Skull Shaman
Llanowar Elves
Heritage Druid
Boreal Druid
Leaf Gilder
Chameleon Colossus
Commune with Nature

20-24 lands, possibly including:

Kher Keep
Mutavault
Zoetic Cavern
Mosswort Bridge
Dryad Arbor
Mouth of Ronom
Desert
Quicksand
Pendelhaven

Note that if I were to play four of all the spells above, I would be playing too many cards. We can't fit them all, but they can give a pretty good idea of where the deck might go. Note that because I wanted to include a few extra cards against Faeries, I am using Chameleon Colossus and Magus of the Moon. The Colossus is even an Elf for the purpose of Wolf-Skull Shaman! I also included Commune with Nature to help me find a Furystoke Giant when I need it.

This list will likely provide me with a steady stream of creatures on turns one through four, hopefully ending with me casting Furystoke Giant on turn four. Let's look at what could be called a good first four turns of the game:

Turn one: Play a land and mana Elf
Turn two: Play a land and Gilt-Leaf Ambush, possibly using a token to block and kill something.
Turn three: Play a land and Hunting Triad
Turn four: Play a land and Furystoke Giant, having four or five untapped creatures to shoot enemy creatures or the opponent.

That's pretty good, and not even close to the best draw you can get with this deck. It seems like the deck does a pretty good job of fitting the original strategy, but it also happens to be a pretty strong Elf deck as well. Imagine drawing an Imperious Perfect instead of the Furystoke Giant and just attacking on turn four with five or six 2/2 creatures. That's not so bad! Also note that a Heritage Druid in the mix can make for a really explosive draw.

This deck does seem a bit vulnerable to Pyroclasm type cards, which are certainly in the expected metagame, so I will keep this as a good option, but explore what else I can do with green when I am not restricting myself to Elves.

Mixed Version

36-40 spells, possibly including:

Furystoke Giant
Greater Gargadon
Magus of the Moon
Chameleon Colossus
Commune with Nature
Birds of Paradise
Boreal Druid
Kitchen Finks
Safehold Elite
Garruk Wildspeaker
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Hunting Triad
Imperious Perfect
Mogg War Marshal
Murderous Redcap
Wall of Roots
Leaf Gilder
Magus of the Library
Magus of the Vineyard

20-24 lands, possibly including:

Kher Keep
Mutavault
Zoetic Cavern
Mosswort Bridge
Dryad Arbor
Mouth of Ronom
Desert
Quicksand
Pendelhaven

Well, there certainly is a lot more to cut from this version if all the cards in the main deck are four-ofs. Note that this deck might want some more actual removal spells, unlike the Elf version (which always wants Elves on top of the library, and thus doesn't like removal spells much).

It seems like this deck will be filled with more powerful cards in general, with its mana accelerators being things like Magus of the Library and Wall of Roots. It also has no qualms about playing high-quality cards like Garruk Wildspeaker and Kitchen Finks, unlike the Elf version.

Let's imagine a sample first four turns with this deck:

Turn one: Play a land and Birds of Paradise
Turn two: Play a land, Wall of Roots, and Mogg War Marshal. Block with the Marshal if needed.
Turn three: Don't pay echo. Play land and Kitchen Finks. On the opponent's turn you still have enough mana for Gilt-Leaf Ambush due to double use of Wall of Roots.
Turn four: Play Furystoke Giant with six or seven creatures ready to be tapped.

Wow, Wall of Roots seems really strong in this deck.

Now normally I would just make both decks and figure out which one is better, but for the sake of the length of this article, I will use CCC to not just choose which cards I should cut / keep for these decks, but to actually choose which of these decks I should actually finish for this article.

1. Relevance to Strategy

Elf version: This deck does a great job of putting lots of Elf tokens into play, but trades off some of the pure survival power. Also, when comparing the first four turns, it came off overall weaker looking in my opinion.

Mixed version: This deck uses the best cards available to fit the strategy in the colors. It's very survivable and feeds the Giant well. Access to Wall of Roots seems phenomenal.

2. Power Level in the Expected Metagame

Of the two decks, the mixed version is better able to react to the metagame. I put some metagame cards in the Elf version, but because they weren't all Elf cards (Magus of the Moon), it detracted from the secondary strategy.

Well, after using CCC on the decks, it seems like we are going to move ahead with the mixed version, which I will now dub "Root Stoker," since Wall of Roots is so awesome with Furystoke Giant.

Now for the hard part: it's time to cut cards using the CCC method!

I am going to section out the various cards from the above list. Some things will fill multiple roles and appear on these lists twice. Those cards are usually very good for the deck.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that we really want four of each of these cards. I will call them our core to our strategy:

4 Furystoke Giant
4 Greater Gargadon
4 Commune with Nature
4 Mosswort Bridge

Commune with Nature is core here because it really helps find either of these cards rather effectively. Mosswort Bridge can also help find the Furystoke at little cost.

Defensive Slots

The next thing we need is the best stuff that can protect us.

Wall of Roots
Kitchen Finks
Safehold Elite
Murderous Redcap
Mogg War Marshal
Garruk Wildspeaker

Of these cards, we want to play them on turns two, three and maybe four, so we are going to probably want 12–16 of them * in the deck to increase the likelihood that we draw two. Let's try to cut it down to 12 so that we can leave room for other stuff—we can always add more later. Time to use CCC!

1. Relevance to Strategy

In this case, all the cards are pretty relevant to our strategy (for instance, they all work very well with Furystoke Giant), but since we are looking at things that protect us, how are they relevant to protecting us?

Turn two:

Wall of Roots – This is an awesome blocker, it will stop most things.
Safehold Elite – This is a decent, straightforward blocker.

Turn two or three:

Kitchen Finks – Might be the best defensive three-drop in Standard Because it gains life.
Mogg War Marshal – You get one free block without paying echo. This might not trade with anything, but it certainly lets you block a lot if low on life.

Turn three or four:

Murderous Redcap – Possibly kills a potential threat and a decent blocker. A bit expensive as a defensive card, yet powerful.
Garruk Wildspeaker – Powerful card that can make a Beast as a blocker every turn and can help with mana, but ultimately a bit slow for early defense.

2. Power Level in the Expected Metagame

For reference again, the decks to beat are:

Faeries
Reveillark
Green-black Elves
Doran
Merfolk
Red-Green Mana Ramp
Mono-Red and other various fast decks

Note that against Faeries, the best ones are Kitchen Finks, Murderous Redcap, and Wall of Roots, since they can either stall death for a bit or possibly speed you on the way to playing Furystoke Giant or something else.

Mogg War Marshal is very good against the quick aggressive decks because it can actually trade with many of their creatures.

Against Merfolk and the Doran decks, all of these options seem reasonable, with Kitchen Finks and Wall of Roots probably being the best (the Wall is hilarious versus Doran).

If I only had to pick 12 cards here, I would go with:

4 Wall of Roots
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Mogg War Marshal

These just do the best job of keeping us alive against the metagame while furthering the strategy of the deck. My runner-up would be Murderous Redcap if I have room later.

Creature Generator Slots

Now we need something that can generate more creatures.

Mogg War Marshal
Gilt-Leaf Ambush
Imperious Perfect
Hunting Triad
Garruk Wildspeaker

Kher Keep
Dryad Arbor
Mutavault
Zoetic Cavern

We will want to be playing at least one of these cards in the first four turns of the game, so we need at least 8. Well, we already have Mogg War Marshal on its defensive merits, so that's convenient. We could get away with 4, but since the War Marshal has other duties, let's still pick 8 others from this list. Also, let's not pick from the lands, since they can just be included easily later.

1. Relevance to Strategy

Gilt-Leaf Ambush – this card makes two creatures and can be played cheaply with Wall of Roots during an opponents turn. It also provides some extra defensive capabilities if you win the clash. The act of clashing can also help you find your Furystoke Giant a little better.
Imperious Perfect – This card can make a 2/2 Elf Warrior every turn for one mana, and works well with either Gilt-Leaf Ambush or Hunting Triad. However, it's a bit slow to get two creatures that are ready to be tapped for by Furystoke Giant.
Hunting Triad – This card makes three creatures with one card and has reinforce 3, which might come up once in a blue moon.
Garruk Wildspeaker – This card does many things, including make a Beast every turn. Pretty powerful but, like the Imperious Perfect, a bit slow.

2. Power Level in the Expected Metagame

The only card that actually stands out to me as exceptional against the metagame is Gilt-Leaf Ambush, for its ability to sometimes take down giant monsters like Chameleon Colossus and Cloudthresher. Then again, these cards are mostly warranted in this deck for strategy purposes, not because they are superstars in the metagame.

If I had to pick 8 cards from these, I think I would go with:

4 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
4 Hunting Triad

These cards give the most immediate access to many creatures, and thus simply are the best cards for the job (besides Mogg War Marshal, who is already included). My runner-up would probably be Garruk, just because of his staying power against anything except Faeries.

Mana Acceleration

The next thing we should look at is things that can help accelerate our game plan. Here are the cards that seem relevant to that:

Birds of Paradise
Llanowar Elves
Boreal Druid
Wall of Roots
Leaf Gilder
Magus of the Library
Magus of the Vineyard

Note that like before, one of these cards has already been chosen. Wall of Roots is already in the deck for now, so let's exclude it from the comparison. We are going to want to play one or two of these cards on turn one or two, so let's look for 10, keeping in mind that Wall of Roots will boost this number to 14.

1. Relevance to Strategy

Turn one or two:

Birds of Paradise – Power mana accelerator and color fixer. May randomly be reinforced by Hunting Triad to fly in for a surprise win!
Llanowar Elves – Powerful mana accelerator that may be able to block and trade with something like Tattermunge Maniac.
Boreal Druid – Much like Llanowar Elves, but good with Skred and bad with color requirements.
Magus of the VineyardAccelerates by two mana, which is extremely powerful. It can also block like Llanowar Elves. However, the mana acceleration works for both players (although it may randomly cause them to burn from not being able to use green mana).

Turn two:

Leaf Gilder – Much like Llanowar Elves, but slower
Magus of the Library – Powerful because this can have a secondary purpose of an awesome card drawer versus slower decks, but the likelihood of getting seven cards in your hand to use this seems slim.

2. Power Level in the Expected Metagame

Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and Boreal Druid all seem highly powerful in the metagame and are all similar in power level for this deck. Magus of the Vineyard might be more powerful than any of them, but it is difficult to determine without testing. I would definitely want to try it out, but simply for comparison purposes. It seems like at least half of the decks will greatly benefit at least as much as we will when it comes into play. Remember that they get to use the mana first! They might just kill him with Skred and play a Wall of Roots... that would be a pretty sad turn for us.

Of the two drops, I think Magus of the Library will be more useful in the long run due to its secondary ability. Just having a couple of these can help greatly against control decks, whereas the Leaf Gilder just gives us slightly more defense in categories that we are already taking heavy precautions against (creatures swinging at our face). Even so, the Green ManaGreen Mana mana cost of Magus of the Library might be rough for this deck.

Thus I would choose:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Boreal Druid

I do this with the caveat that if I end up playing something like Skred, I would probably switch the quantity of Llanowar Elves and Boreal Druids. I would have really liked to include Magus of the Library, and so I will still be keeping him in mind while playtesting or while building the sideboard, neither of which I am going to go into in this article.

Metagame Choices

The last thing category is cards that will help us in the expected metagame. Normally this would include more removal, but our main strategy helps remove creatures from play, so we don't need as much here. I will include Skred because it's rather awesome.

Magus of the Moon
Chameleon Colossus
Cloudthresher
Skred

Mouth of Ronom
Desert
Quicksand

I will not include the land from this list, again, since they are not fighting for deck slots just yet. I would really like to include as many of these as possible since they are good against the metagame. Let's see how many slots we have already committed:

4 Furystoke Giant
4 Greater Gargadon
4 Commune with Nature
4 Wall of Roots
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
4 Hunting Triad
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Boreal Druid

42 spells

Equilibrium Whoah, it looks like anything we put into the deck from this list is going to bump something out! In fact, we already have about 6 more spells than we want. One solution here is to simply try to cut out the 6 spells, and put the other metagame-relevant cards in the sideboard. Another thing that can be done is to only try to fit the ones in that seem most relevant to the next play session or tournament you plan on being in. Either way, first let's see if we can cut this deck down any further.

We have two places in the deck where cards are overlapping in strategy and focus, so those areas seem like the easiest place to cut back—those are where Wall of Roots and Mogg War Marshal are doing double duty. This puts the following cards up against each other:

4 Llanowar Elves
2 Boreal Druid
4 Gilt-Leaf Ambush
4 Hunting Triad
4 Kitchen Finks

In order to use CCC for this mixed-strategy group of cards, we have to also consider the number of slots we are dedicating to each strategy and use CCC on that too. With the list above I can count:

14 mana acceleration slots
12 defensive slots (maybe 16 if you include Gilt-Leaf Ambush, which I am not here)
12 creature generator slots

We are dedicating a lot to mana acceleration, but it's not a core strategy of the deck. We also have 12 slots for making more creatures, and earlier we said we only really needed 8. We have 12 defensive slots, which seems like the right number, but you might want to add Gilt-Leaf Ambush into that on some level, since about half the time your tokens will have deathtouch and be able to make some nice trades. Since it only works half the time, let's only give it half its total in defensive slots and increase the real number of defensive slots to 14.

This means we can cut a bunch of mana accelerators, two defensive slots, and up to four creature generator slots. Looking at the list above and using CCC, here is what I propose we cut, assuming we are trying to cut 6 cards:

4 mana acceleration slots: -2 Boreal Druid, -2 Llanowar Elves
2 creature generator slots: -2 Hunting Triad

I cut 4 mana accelerators because 6 one-cost accelerators is enough that you will get one on turn one a lot of the time, and when you add Wall of Roots in for turn two, the odds go way up for having one then. The most important thing for this cut is that I didn't want to cut the Wall of Roots because it is pulling double duty as a defensive card, and the other 10 one-drop accelerators are all pretty similar in terms of this deck.

I cut Hunting Triad over Gilt-Leaf Ambush because the Ambush is now pulling double duty by helping contribute to the defensive cards list and the creature generator list.

If you wanted to make further cuts to add metagame cards, I would continue the cuts as follows:

2 defensive slots: -2 Kitchen Finks
2 creature generator slots: -2 Hunting Triad

The logic for this is much as the same as before: other cards are busy pulling double duty, thus fitting the strategy of the deck better. A card would have to have a huge amount of power in the expected metagame to warrant being played over a card that is doing double duty for strategy.

These cuts would allow me to add 4 of the metagame cards, of which I really think Magus of the Moon is the most powerful right now, but Chameleon Colossus and Cloudthresher are both extremely good as well.

One cut that I think should be made is this:

-1 Greater Gargadon

Now on the surface, you might scream, "But this is part of the essential core of the strategy of the deck!" and you would be right. However, you don't ever need more than one of these, and you don't need it until later in the game, like turn five. Because of this, you probably only want three so you will draw one by turn five a lot of the time. Also note that the core strategy of this deck says that having a sacrifice outlet can increase the power of the deck, but isn't necessary for the deck to function. Thus, we go to 3 Gargadons (although Commune with Nature can find them too).

Deciding that against my expected metagame, Magus of the Moon and Chameleon Colossus are the best choices (which may change depending on what happens tournament by tournament), here is my final deck list. I am shortcutting to the end to make the mana work out the best I can in theory without playtesting, but then again, doing your mana right could be a whole different article.

Keep in mind that this deck has had zero playtesting. That's right. Zero. Why am I putting this untested deck in front of you? Well, because it just got built, right in front of your eyes. It is a newborn deckling, so to speak. It will grow stronger and smarter through proper playtesting and tweaking. However, that's a story for another day.

I hope that you have enjoyed your journey of exploring comparative card choice with me, and that the next time you are making a deck you will make your choices with more confidence than ever before.

Nate Heiss


* Calculating the needed quantities of these types of cards on particular terms can be done with hypergeometric distribution, which can be found and easily used in Microsoft Excel. These numbers may not be exact, but then again, determining these sorts of things could fill another whole gazillion word article. Maybe another time, eh?

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