Standard Deckbuilding

Author - Tom Charles, New Players, Standard -

Standard Deckbuilding



Now that Amonkhet has been released and has had a little time to settle, you might be thinking about building your own deck. You might well have played some standard before, either with a pre-existing deck you found online or with a deck borrowed from a friend, but you’re itching to try it with something you’ve made yourself. You want to be a trendsetter – after all, those online lists were someone’s original creation once.

So where do you start? How exactly do you go about making your own deck? Well there’s a lot to it, but it’s a very rewarding process. So we’d like to give you a few tips about where to start when building your own deck.


Back to basics

Grizzly Bears

Before we go any further, we need to go over the very basic tenets of deckbuilding for a moment. Standard decks must consist of at least 60 cards – there’s no hard upper limit, but you have to be able to shuffle it without assistance (so maybe put that 300-card goodstuff deck on the backburner for now). It’s also advisable that you try to stick as close to 60 as you can; any higher and you risk affecting the probability of drawing the cards you want/need at any given time.

You can have up to four copies of any one given card in your deck, with the exception of basic lands (i.e. plains, island, swamp, mountain, forest). That’s only basic lands, mind you. The four-of rule applies to non-basic lands, like dual-colour lands.

As a very rough estimate, the deck should be about one third lands and two thirds spells, though this ratio can change depending on the type of deck you choose to build.

And of course, the most important thing to remember for standard deckbuilding is that the cards you use must be in standard. Sets come in to standard when they’re printed (with the exception of Masters sets and other special products) and rotate out around eighteen months later. The oldest two blocks rotate out with the Q4 Autumn Expansion each year. See


Do your homework

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

When you break into a new format, it’s always a good idea to do a little bit of research into it before you invest in a deck. Take a look at what people are playing at your local game store or meet-up, and look at what decks are popular more generally. Whatever you want to build, it’s always worth getting a grip on the popular archetypes going around so that you can build competitively. A little bit of research gives your deck that edge that will keep you afloat in more competitive environments.


Mind the gap

Another thing to look out for when doing your research into standard is the gap between it and limited formats. Something that can be a bit of a trip-up when players go from playing limited events to building a constructed deck is the gap in card quality between the two formats. Some cards are great in limited, but just don’t hold up in standard. Obviously there are some cards that are good enough to hold their own in both formats, but always be wary that a card that served you well at prerelease might fall flat when you put it in your standard deck. Just look it up – there are a number of factors that might make a good limited card unsuitable for standard – and don’t be afraid to ask people if you aren’t sure about a card.


What’s your style?

When you’re starting out building a deck, consider how you like to play magic. Do you like to be aggressive, pushing and attacking whenever able? Do you like to pump up big creatures and go over the opposition? Or do you like to stay back and control the board until you can make a calculated strike for the win? However you like to play, there is a deck for you. With this in mind, let’s take a quick look at the five colours in magic and what kind of playstyles they support.

  • White – White is about unity, order, justice, and strength in numbers. The kinds of mechanics you can expect to see in white are token creation, lifelink, vigilance, exile effects, and sweeping effects that bolster your creatures. White is for players that value solidarity and want to fill the board with little creatures, clearing the way for their bolstered team to win the day.

Glory-Bound InitiateOketra the True


  • Blue – Blue is the colour of knowledge, control, and deceit. Mechanics associated with blue blue include card draw, scry, as well as cards that “bounce” cards back to their owners’ hands, and cards that counter spells before they can enter the battlefield. Blue is for players that want to control the board and make sure that they’re the only one playing their game-changing cards.

CancelKefnet the Mindful


  • Black – Black is the colour of underhanded ambition and subterfuge. Mechanics associated with black are destruction, sacrifice, -1/-1, and cards that allow you to interact with your graveyard. Black is suited to players that want to disrupt their opponent’s plans and win through subterfuge.

Eliminate the CompetitionBontu the Glorified


  • Red – Red is the colour of passion, instinct and impatience. Mechanics associated with red include Haste, double strike, and cards that deal damage directly to creatures and players. Red is suited to players that want to be attacking as much as possible and winning games quickly.

ShockHazoret the Fervent


  • Green – Green is the colour of nature, tradition, and sheer brute strength. Mechanics associated with green are trample, reach, and cards that “pump” up creatures and help you “ramp” mana and help you cast bigger creatures. Green is for players that want to make a big impact on the board and go over their opponents to win.

Larger than LifeRhonas the Indomitable


You can of course involve more than one colour in a deck – though for beginners it’s usually best to go for one or two colours to start with. If you do go for more than one colour, you’ll need to make adjustments to the lands in the deck to make sure you consistently draw the appropriate colours. Firstly, you’ll need to match the distribution of lands to the colour distribution in the deck – if your deck is 50% blue and 50% white, then the lands you use should be roughly half islands and half plains. Dual coloured lands can help to ensure you always have the mana you need to cast your spells. Though once you test your deck out enough you might find that you need to make a few adjustments. Testing is the best method to ensure you’ve got the balance just right.


What’s the plan?

Once you’ve thought about what kind of play-style might suit you, you should start thinking about how your deck is going to come together. You need a solid base to build on.

Wayward Servant

Some decks are themed around a mechanic, like +1/+1 counters, tokens, energy, or a particular creature type, like Zombies. If you do choose a theme or mechanic to build around, play cards that support that theme or mechanic. For example, if you’re playing Zombies, then cards like Lord of the Accursed and [[Wayward Servant] will help you get as much value out of your zombies as you can. If you’re playing tokens, then cards like Anointed Procession will boost your output.

Some decks are more generally based around an archetype, like control or aggro. Each archetype is multifaceted and can be built in different ways. For example, if you want to build control, your win condition is still flexible. You can use a mixture of counterspells, burn and draw spells to keep your opponent in check while looking to play important creatures like Torrential Gearhulk; a reasonably beefy creature in its own right that allows you to cast instants from your graveyard, or Thing in the Ice; a relatively nondescript creature that flips once you play enough instants/sorceries to become a monstrous 7/8 creature that clears the board. Or you can go a slightly more unusual route with a fun alternative win condition like approach of the second sun.

If you want to play something a little more aggressive, you can play lots of creatures that complement one another, to keep the pressure up on your opponent. Cheap creatures that can easily pack a punch under the right conditions are great for keeping the momentum going – take Toolcraft Exemplar, for example. On its own it’s a pretty tame 1/1 for one white mana, but throw one cheap artifact into the mix and it becomes a bit more threatening. Throw two more artifacts in and it becomes a big problem for your opponent, especially early on. It’s also a good idea to play a good amount of removal, to keep the tide from turning against you.

If you prefer to make a big splash, you can play something that centres on either “ramping” mana to be able to play bigger creatures or “pumping” smaller creatures so that they can make a bigger impact. Something like Electrostatic Pummeler can be coupled with a pump spell like Larger than Life in an energy-based deck to make game-changing swings for a ton of damage. Playing cards like Attune with Aether and Traverse the Ulvenwald can make sure you always have the land at hand to quickly build up to casting your bigger creatures. Creatures with trample are great for these sorts of decks. Alternatively, a popular strategy at the moment is using Aetherworks Marvel to put out bigger creatures well before you’d naturally be able to.

There are many, many ways you can build your deck, and it’s always fun to find a creative strategy to build around. Have a look around and see what cards catch your eye.


Evaluate your choices

A deck is a work in progress and can always be tweaked and changed when appropriate. The best test for any deck is to play with it, but there are considerations you can make while building that can limit the changes you have to make once you test it. First of all, make sure you take a good look at the cards available to you. There might well be a card you’ve not come across yet that’s a better fit for you than one you’ve used. Once you’ve decided to put a card in to your deck, decide how many copies of it you’re going to use. The more copies you put in, the more likely it is that you’ll draw it. Put in 4 copies of a card you want to see a lot of, and fewer copies of cards you need to see less often, or can easily search for. You might also want to consider how many copies of any given legendary card or planeswalker you put in the deck; they might well be important but since you can only have one copy of each on the battlefield at any one time, too many copies might mean your hand fills up with cards that you can’t use. Once again, testing your deck is a great way to check if you’ve got the balance right. You can always put a few more copies in if you’re having trouble finding a key card, or vice versa.

Again, don’t be afraid to ask people if you’re not sure. A more experienced player may be able to make some valuable suggestions, and you’ll always be able to find someone willing to help you out.


Strengths and weaknesses

Every deck has its strengths and weaknesses. Some matchups will be tougher than others, and so in order to give your deck a little flexibility, you are allowed a sideboard of up to 15 cards. When you play in a standard event rounds are usually best of three, and after your first game you are allowed to take a minute to adjust your deck using your sideboard cards to make your deck more competitive in the second game. For example, if your opponent overwhelmed you with creatures, you may want to sideboard in some more creature destruction. If they managed to easily destroy a key card in your deck, you may want to put in more copies, and/or cards to protect it. Try to consider what kinds of decks are popular where you play, and try to make the sideboard reactive, but still supportive of your overall strategy. After all, you can’t cover every eventuality; you just want to make sure that you can deal with what’s thrown at you.


Name your creation

Last but not least, name what you’ve made! You’ve toiled and worked to put this deck together, now it’s your chance to give it a name so it can make a proud, impactful entrance into your local meta. You can either choose a pragmatic and descriptive name centred on a key theme in your deck, or it can be a fun play on words. My first EDH deck, for example, was called Sun, Sea, and Suspicious Sphinxes. Have a bit of fun with it!

If you’re after a little inspiration, here’s a fun Red/Blue list, featuring cards from Battle for Zendikar right up to Amonkhet – the whole standard range.

Land (23)

1x Geier Reach Sanitarium
1x Highland Lake
4x Island
9x Mountain
4x Spirebluff Canal
4x Wandering Fumarole

Creature (10)

2x Bedlam Reveler
4x Enigma Drake
4x Soul-Scar Mage

Enchantment (2)

2x Drake Haven

Instant (15)

4x Censor
4x Fiery Temper
2x Hieroglyphic Illumination
3x Lightning Axe
2x Magma Spray

Sorcery (10)

4x Cathartic Reunion
1x Collective Defiance
3x Sweltering Suns
2x Tormenting Voice

Sideboard (15)

1x Bedlam Reveler
2x Dispel
4x Fevered Visions
1x Harsh Mentor
2x Negate
1x Release the Gremlins
1x Sweltering Suns
3x Thing in the Ice

This deck makes great use of instants and sorceries – a healthy selection of counters, direct damage and draw spells help empower creatures like Enigma Drake and reduce the cost of cards like Bedlam Reveler, which in turn triggers Drake Haven and allows you to churn out flying creatures for one mana apiece. This deck doesn’t waste any space – all the cards have their place, and continue to be useful even after you’ve cast them. Plus, the sideboard allows you the space to push the deck into more controlling territory. It’s a tightly efficient deck, but with the flexibility to adapt to a lot of situations. It’s fun to play and most importantly, it can hold its own.

So have a look around, check out what’s being played and what interests you – if a card or deck list catches your eye, have a think and come up with your own list. Once you’ve decided on what you’re going to play, grab the cards you need and test it out with your friends.

So what will you build? Are you building an aggressive deck or a more controlling list? Will you be going for a tribal theme, or building around a mechanic? Have a look around our wonderful selection and let us know where it leads you.


 About the Author

Thomas CharlesTom Charles is an EDH and Modern player who loves oncology, cycling and drawing. He is, as far as he knows, one of the only Welsh members of the Azorius Senate.


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