Guest Post: Your First Deck is Always Free – Starter Decks to Teach Magic

7th Edtion StarterEditor’s Note: This is a guest post written by Jay Bailey. He’s got a blog called Magic: the Blogging (mtgsalivanth.blogspot.com), and can be found on Twitter (twitter.com/mtgsalivanth. Remember kids, mine is twitter.com/mtgcolorpie). He asked me if he could do a guest post on my blog. My outward voice said, “Of course you may. Having other people want their stuff on my site is an honor.” But my inner voice said, “Awesome, the best kind of writing: when others do it for you.”

Anywho, Jay’s blog focuses more on the tourney aspect of Magic and working on deck lists and that sort of thing (I think this is the first time a decklist will be posted on this site). True Story: A guy came into the local shop (it’s in a mall with other board games/puzzles so half of the shop’s business is other games besides cards) and asked if Magic had any strategy to it. Why couldn’t someone buy all of the cards and put them into a deck? The next day I got this guest post. Enjoy!

It’s happened to all of us. You’re playing Magic, in a store, or in a public place, and someone comes up to you and asks ‘What’s this?’ You answer a well thought-out response, something like: “Magic is a game of strategy. The idea is to outthink your opponent and use your cards well to kill your opponent before he kills you.” They ask if they can play. You say sure…and then remember the only decks you brought today are that crazy combo deck or that tournament-winning deck that’s notoriously hard to play. You go ahead anyway but their eyes start glazing over, and within minutes, you’ve lost them.

So what do we do?

The key is to build a couple of decks that are designed for teaching new players. They don’t need to be expensive or powerful, but they should be tailored to gently introduce aspects of the game to people. Here are the decks I use:

Runeclaw
Still America's #1 Threat

R/G Aggro:

Lands:

2 Terramorphic Expanse
7 Forest
7 Mountain

Creatures:
4 Runeclaw Bears
4 Canyon Minotaur
3 Sparkmage Apprentice
3 Centaur Courser
2 Cudgel Troll

Spells:
4 Giant Growth
4 Seismic Strike

Mechanics:

Mana-fixing: The Terramorphic Expanses are there to teach them how to smooth their mana, and pick the color they need.

Sparkmage Apprentice: A big lesson in this deck is using your cards wisely. When a new player first holds back their Sparkmage Apprentice to hit the Merfolk Looter in the U/B deck they know is coming down, they feel like they “Get it” and feel smart for it.

Regenerate: Ignore this for a few games. This will teach players about keeping mana open and how hard it is to kill something that just will not die.

Removal: Seismic Strike is fairly easy to understand. You can use it on any creature in the U/B deck if you have enough mana, and it’s easy to count.

Giant Growth: This card has varying degrees of complexity. First they’ll use it at any opportunity. Then they’ll save it. Finally, they’ll learn to use it in response to your blocking, and they’ll have mastered this deck and it’s time to move on to the other deck.

Oh yeah, this guy...
Oh yeah, this guy...

U/B Control:

Lands:
2 Terramorphic Expanse
7 Island
7 Swamp

Creatures:
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Warpath Ghoul
2 Air Elemental

Spells:
4 Doom Blade
4 Essence Scatter
3 Assassinate
3 Cancel

Mechanics:

Mana-fixing: The Terramorphic Expanses are there to teach them how to smooth their mana, and pick the color they need.

Merfolk Looter: As you play against them with this deck, point out all the useless cards you’re throwing out and all the good cards you’re gaining. Merfolk Looter is a card that even to experienced players, doesn’t look good until you play with it. Give it a try in M10 draft! If you stick one for a few turns, you almost can’t lose. And who uses their removal on a 1/1?

Flying: This teaches them the value of a creature that can’t be blocked, and gives them a peek at some of blue’s power.

Removal: Doom Blade and Assassinate will first look similar, but over a few games, the player will learn to see their differences.

Counterspells: At first the new player will counter anything that moves, but a big step of progressing into Magic strategy is learning to save them.

Generally, you start the player off on R/G Aggro, and once they learn how to use instants properly, progress to U/B Control. When they master the U/B Control deck, I suggest helping them make their first deck. Here’s a deck that doesn’t cost too much to make, and is fairly effective at FNM:

Think this Cascasde mechanic is any good?
Think this Cascasde mechanic is any good?

Budget R/G Aggro

Mana:
10 Forest
10 Mountain
4 Firewild Borderpost

Creatures:
4 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Jund Hackblade
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Bloodbraid Elf

Spells:
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lash Out
4 Giantbaiting

Sideboard:
4 Volcanic Fallout
3 Firespout
4 Chaotic Backlash
4 Vithian Renegades

This deck costs about 30-35 bucks to make: about as cheap as you’ll get. (If desperate, you can shave 10 bucks off the cost by eliminating the sideboard) The deck should stand up well to all but the top decks, and the new-ish player should be able to win a match or two at FNM with it.

To finish off, here’s a recap of two matches between the two learning decks.

My friend Rowland knows how to play the game, but he’s still learning strategy. I challenged him to a couple of games online with the decks, and he agreed to help me out. The objective of this was to see how balanced the decks were against each other.

DOOOOOOOOM!
DOOOOOOOOM!

Match 1: Rowland plays R/G Aggro

We both open with Terramorphic Expanses. Turn 2 I play a Merfolk Looter, and pass. He plays Runeclaw Bears. Turn 3 I activate Merfolk Looter, discarding a Swamp, and play Warpath Ghoul. He plays Seismic Strike on it, and swings for 2 with the Bears. On my turn I activate Merfolk Looter and pass. He plays Sparkmage Apprentice, and I Essence Scatter it, then Doom Blade his Runeclaw Bears in response to Giant Growth.

I use Merfolk Looter to draw an Air Elemental (but no fifth land) and pass. He plays Cudgel Troll, and I Doom Blade it before he gets the mana up. I play Air Elemental, and start swinging. Next turn another Air Elemental comes down, and that’s the game. I assure Rowland I got the nuts draw and he should win the next game.

Game 2 he plays, playing Runeclaw Bears. I reply on my turn with Merfolk Looter. He uses Sparkmage Apprentice to kill it and hits me to 18. I lay a land and pass. He plays another Runeclaw Bears and I Cancel it. He hits me to 15. I play Land 4 and pass. He hits me to 12. I play an Air Elemental. He plays a Runeclaw Bears and passes.

I swing for 4, knocking him to 16, and he swings for 5, knocking me to 7. I play an Assassainate and hit him to 12, then play Merfolk Looter. He plays a Sparkmage Apprentice to hit Air Elemental, then Seismic Strikes it for 3. He swings, and I block his first Sparkmage with Merfolk Looter, and go to 4. I pass, and he swings me to 2. I play an Air Elemental. He Seismic Strikes it for 4, and swings for the win.

Game 3 I play a Turn 2 Merfolk Looter. He plays a Sparkmage Apprentice to kill it. I play a second Merfolk Looter turn 3, and he plays Centaur Courser and swings for 1. I take it, and go to 19. I use Merfolk Looter, play a land, and pass. He hits me to 15, and passes. I Assassinate Centaur Courser and use Merfolk Looter. He plays Runeclaw Bears, and I use Essence Scatter. He casts Giant Growth on Sparkmage Apprentice and hits me to 11.

I use Merfolk Looter and play Warpath Ghoul. He plays Centaur Courser, and I use Cancel. He uses Seismic Assault on Warpath Ghoul and swings me down to 10. I use Merfolk Looter to draw Air Elemental, and play it. He plays Canyon Minotaur. I swing him to 16, and he plays another Canyon Minotaur. He attacks for 4. I Doom Blade the attacking Minotaur and fall to 9. He uses Seismic Assault on Merfolk Looter for 3. I Doom Blade another Canyon Minotaur. We race. I swing him to 8, he swings me to 7. I swing him to 4, he swings me to 5. The turn I win, he shows me Seismic Assault: another Mountain would have probably won him the game.

We swap decks, and prepare to play again.

Match 2: Rowland plays U/B Control

Horray I'm Helping!
Horray, I'm helping!

I play a Runeclaw Bears, and he uses Doom Blade on it. I play another Runeclaw Bears, and he plays Merfolk Looter. I play Sparkmage Apprentice to kill it and pass. He passes. I swing, and he uses Doom Blade on my Runeclaw Bears. I play a Canyon Minotaur, which gets Essence Scattered. He passes. I swing for 1, and play a Centaur Courser. He Cancels it. He plays Warpath Ghoul on his turn. I Seismic Strike it next turn, and swing. He Assassinates Sparkmage Apprentice next turn.

I play another one to hit him to 14. He plays Merfolk Looter, and I play another Sparkmage Apprentice and swing to 13. I play a Canyon Minotaur and swing him to 11. I swing for 5, and he goes to 6. I play another Canyon Minotaur, which he Cancels. Next turn he Assassinates my Canyon Minotaur and one of my Sparkmages. I play Canyon Minotaur and swing him to 5. He plays Merfolk Looter. I swing with the Canyon Minotaur, he takes it, and I Giant Growth for the win.

Game 2 we both crack 2 Expanses. I play Centaur Courser, and he plays Merfolk Looter. I play Sparkmage Apprentice to kill it, and swing. He uses Doom Blade. On his turn he plays Warpath Ghoul. I play Runeclaw Bears and swing. He blocks, and I use Giant Growth. He Doom Blades it in response.

He plays Warpath Ghoul and swings with the first one. I block with Runeclaw Bears. I play a Canyon Minotaur. He swings, and we trade again. I play another Canyon Minotaur, and he passes. I swing, and he uses Doom Blade. I pass, and he plays Warpath Ghoul. I Seismic Strike it at end of turn, and he Cancels. I untap, and play another Seismic Strike.  He passes. I play Runeclaw Bears, and he plays Merfolk Looter. I play Sparkmage Apprentice, and he Essence Scatters it. I play Runeclaw Bears and swing. He uses Merfolk Looter to draw into Warpath Ghoul and plays it. I swing him to 13. He plays Air Elemental, I play Cudgel Troll. He uses Merfolk Looter to get another Air Elemental, and I drop my second topdecked Cudgel Troll. We start swinging at each other, but I win on a perilous 8 life.

These matches show that the decks a) Are fairly evenly matched, and b) Have room for the new player to improve their game, and c) Are fairly consistent to avoid confusing new players.

It’s happened to all of us. You’re playing Magic, in a store, or in a public place, and someone comes up to you and asks ‘What’s this?’ You answer a well thought-out response, something like: “Magic is a game of strategy. The idea is to outthink your opponent and use your cards well to kill your opponent before he kills you.” They ask if they can play. You say sure…and pull out a couple of decks. You say “Luckily enough, I have the perfect decks! Magic is a game of spells and creatures. Your objective is to use them to reduce my life total to zero…”

This has been a guest post written by Jay Bailey. Visit his much more serious blog called Magic: the Blogging (mtgsalivanth.blogspot.com), and he can be found on Twitter (twitter.com/mtgsalivanth).

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3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Your First Deck is Always Free – Starter Decks to Teach Magic”

  1. Superb article! I’m trying to build two deck of the sort myself, but it proves quite difficult, as I don’t own any M10 products (I have some difficulties to find cards lately) and most of my cards are in english while I’m currently living in Germany. I was just wondering, is there any other cards to consider? other simple combinaison of colors/simple archetypes?

  2. I keep a couple m10 starter decks in my box for such an occasion. Works great because they match well against each other and are easy to play.

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