Brewing is one of the challenges in Magic: the Gathering that often goes overlooked. While many players are concerned with examining lines of play, calculating the odds on the fly, playing to their outs, and evaluating the metagame, the process of actually creating a deck list, and not simply choosing which one to play, is a dark art, usually practiced by a select few pros behind closed doors and out of the spotlight.

Although this article was inspired by my love for the brewing process, it’s also intended to inform, since there is very likely at least one more brewer out there like myself, who may benefit from using my method.

Brewing vs. Existing Lists

Before we get into the nitty gritty, I think it is important to identify the differences between brewing and using an existing list. My definition of brewing is to take a concept or idea that you have and begin building a deck from scratch. There is plenty of room in Magic: the Gathering for adjusting established lists, or even using a fully "net-decked" list, and there is nothing wrong with that; in fact, many successful magic players use those techniques for tournaments and do quite well for themselves… But there is something special about starting from a blank page, however, and building a deck that you can truly call your own, give it a name, and play. It’s your very own creation!

So, is that the only benefit of brewing a deck versus picking up or adjusting a list from the internet? Certainly not! Not only is it rewarding and fun to build your own deck, it can also give you certain advantages in a competitive scenario:

  • Your opponents may not know exactly what your deck is trying to do, which pieces are important, where they should aim their removal, etc.
  • They may have difficulty sideboarding, or may not have any relevant sideboard cards for your brew.
  • The opponent may not know how to play against your brew’s strategy in general.

I have experienced all three of these factors when I have played my brews in competitive situations. Anyone who tells you that a brew cannot be competitive has probably never tried it themselves. It’s true that a brew will need lots of testing and adjusting itself before I can recommend taking it into competition, but if you follow the process, I am sure you can have just as much success with your brew as I have had with some of mine.

The Scientific Method to Brewing

Generating a successful brew from scratch is a process. Any MTG brewer worth mentioning will tell you that they didn’t stumble upon a great idea on the first try. I think keeping my brewing process in mind will help when you approach brewing. It’s pretty second nature for me now when brewing these days, but for someone new or looking to change up how you brew, I recommend following a similar procedure as the scientific method:

  1. Observe - What this might mean for Magic is very different than a scientific experiment. Pay close attention to what decks you are seeing played at your LGS, or check out a website like MTGGoldfish and see which decks are seeing most play. Get a feel for the metagame you are brewing for, or your brew may be awesome in theory only.
  2. Hypothesize - This is the fun part, where you let new ideas flow and get to brainstorm. Maybe a new set just dropped? Go ahead, pore over all the new cards and see what older cards might match up with them in interesting and powerful combinations! Choose an "angle of attack" for your deck, and lay the groundwork for executing your plan.
  3. Experiment - Perhaps the most satisfying part of the process: playtesting. Your idea will mean very little to those around you if you aren’t willing to sleeve up and shut up. While that might seem a little harsh, it’s true! Other eager MTG players and brewers will likely want to see what your idea is capable of before going in deep themselves and buying into the crazy new synergy you came up with (it’s a little bit like this in the real scientific world too: you need a "deck theory" with quantifiable results). Player love seeing new brews and fun ideas, but they are very quick to dismiss the ones that don’t put up enough results in the "win" column.
  4. Refine - This is, perhaps, where most brews fall short. MTG has been growing and (hopefully) continues to grow in the digital space of communication. More and more websites devoted to delivering information about decks and deck results come into being each and every day. This is very helpful, as you on your own are not really enough to fully test a deck (especially if you intend for it to be competitive in a large meta). Play it as much as you can. After all, this is really why you brewed it in the first place, right? It is a little piece of Magic you can call your own, with the hope that it has your version of enjoyment and level of competitiveness.

So, we’ve broken down Magic brewing into four steps. For those of you who skimmed that and maybe just got the title to the four steps (I made that easy, they’re bold and underlined), that’s ok, I have an abbreviated version below.

The great part about this cycle is that it’s really more like a circle, if you can picture that, with "Refine" leading right back to "Observe". This is another beautiful thing about Magic being a moving and changing game - more cards and players come along. Your brews, as good as they are right now, may be getting worse or better by the second. Don’t despair, though… You just need to evolve your list! Start by observing, again, to see if changes can be made. A big mistake plenty of brewers (myself definitely included) will make is the "it’s my baby" syndrome.

What, exactly, I mean by this is that I never want to abandon a project. I do everything in my power to fix it, but sometimes it just won’t work. For example, it was with great reluctance that I had to give my official send off to something I have been working on and have cherished for quite a while. My "Robo-Pod" deck for Legacy. Sometimes, without proper support from other players to adopt the deck, and the correct meta to allow it thrive, decks need to take a back seat to newer ideas.

Scientific Brewing in Action

So, let's see this "Scientific Brewing" process at work! I will use a recent example from my stream and show you where I applied the four different steps.

The Modern metagame has seen some interesting shifts recently. There are a lot more aggressive strategies, and these decks also have large creatures. I am not only talking about Eldrazi, as we are also seeing a lot more things like Zoo (Zooicide specifically) that are trying to go big. We also have a lot of Affinity, Infect and Burn flourishing. Obviously, the metagame is not a kind place to some of the slower decks of the format.

With that observation, I thought it might be a good idea to build a deck that could do two things: A) Fight large creatures efficiently and B) Punish the greedy manabases (yes, even Burn right now is a three color deck).

Now, before I show you the decklist of the result of the process, I should tell you that I went through a lot of ideas. I looked into everything from Blue Moon to Possibility Storm but eventually I found myself working with this decklist. Keep in mind this is the tuned and refined v.1.9 of the deck and not the prototype. It took a LONG time for the deck to become what it is today. It has been through weeks and weeks of testing, and after 7 separate modern league runs and an overall record of 24-11, it is ready to face discussion and the world-at-large. You will notice some similarities to decks like Blue Moon and even Merfolk. This is on purpose, as both of those decks have a good track record when it comes to Eldrazi, but are missing a critical "something." The deck, as a result, has several "engines" at work that keep the whole thing together.

Merfolk is one of the better, proactive strategies to fighting Eldrazi, but can fall short if it loses too many lords. Blue Moon can takes a different angle of attack against Eldrazi when they Blood Moon them, but will ultimately lose if they fail to find or keep a Blood Moon on the table. Both strategies and decks were lacking. So, by incorporating the best items from the two decks and adding a theme and glue of my own, I proudly present Dumbledore's Army v.1.9:

What makes the deck tick is not its reliance on Blood Moon or Ensnaring Bridge. The two engines of the deck are actually the Æther Vial and the Vedalken Æthermage. These engines allow the deck to do two things very efficiently. Apply the threats at the right time, in response to a spell, to "flash" in a Harbinger of the Tides and bounce a Reality Smasher, or to tutor up a Magus of the Moon and instant speed Blood Moon an opponent during a phase of their turn they weren’t prepared for.

Perhaps because I enjoy tutors so much is why I am fond of this deck. Æthermage was under everyone’s radar. I would certainly not have though to test the card had I not wanted to build the deck around an underplayed but seemingly powerful card: Voidmage Prodigy. Prodigy is a fine engine to build around. He has the ability to UU counter a spell… any spell, at the measly cost of sacrificing a Wizard (which, due to our creature count, we have plenty). The deck also has the ability to "lock" your opponent out of casting spells. There is nothing wrong with brewing just to be different, but the example I am giving you here is brewing with the intent to attack a specific metagame.

Brew for your Budget

Dumbledore’s Army is a great example for you to use for your own deckbuilding. Currently, it is in stage 4 of the stage of the scientific process: Refine. This will take months, and maybe even years before this is complete. The reason being is that you need a lot of players testing and modifying the deck before it "evolves". I’m happy to present the deck to you, my reader, as my hope is that you will pick up the deck and make it your own. You may be sitting there thinking, "There’s no way I can afford this, it has 3 Blood Moons and 2 Ensnaring Bridge". That is where you are wrong, however. I have prepared a 100 ticket version of the deck for you to play. It is missing the Blood Moons, but I incorporated a budget alternative to attacking your opponent’s mana and some creatures to help in combat a little more, since there is no Ensnaring Bridge. I present to you "MonoU Dumbledore’s Army 1.0"

What is great about this version is that you get your foot in the door and purchase most of the inexpensive parts (but ones that are certainly important to the deck). You will have access to the similar Master of Waves finisher that the deck has access to, but you can also apply the Counterspell lock of Sage of Fables + Glen Elendra Archmage, which essentially gives you "infinite" U Negate. You will also have access to the same toolbox of Wizards (except for Izzet Staticaster, but you could run some Spellskite to help the infect matchup instead). Perhaps the most exciting thing about the deck is that your manabase is inexpensive. I do recommend that you "upgrade" to the red version or maybe even a white version (after Eldrazi leaves) but I hope this a good starting point for you, fellow brewer!

I hope this has been both informative and a fun read for you. The best thing I can tell you is that there is hope for your brews. There really is. Even if you want the brew to be competitive, just take the time to observe the metagame, hypothesize what might defeat it, test the deck repeatedly, and steadily make adjustments.