How to Build a Magic The Gathering Deck in 2021

There's no better time to learn how to play Magic The Gathering with how easy MTG Arena makes learning the game. However, once you have a grasp on how the game works, how exactly do you build a Magic The Gathering deck that can compete at the highest level of the game?

How to Build a Magic The Gathering Deck in 2021 Cover

So, you’ve finally given in to curiosity and want to check out Magic The Gathering? Brilliant, there’s no better time to pick up the near 30-year-old trading card game and start your journey to becoming a legendary planeswalker. The first step is to learn how to build your own Magic The Gathering deck. MTG Arena will offer you starter decks, and you could always purchase planeswalker decks for the paper version, but nothing beats the feeling of taking something you built and dominating the competition with it.

In this guide, I’ll teach you the basics of what makes up your Magic The Gathering deck. I’ll also go over how you can tailor your deck to suit your personal play style. I’ll also only be referencing mono or dual mana options because it’s best to learn the basics first. That being said, a well constructed basic deck will always win out vs a poorly constructed multi-mana deck anyway.

The five base mana icons for Magic The Gathering

The five base mana icons for Magic The Gathering

What Is A Magic The Gathering Deck?

Simply put, your Magic The Gathering deck comprises of 60 cards. Typically this is split between 23-25 land cards, and 35-37 creature, spell, enchantment and artifact cards. Each deck you build will consider two factors, your mana choice and your win condition. I’ll only be talking about mono or dual mana decks, so your basic mana options here are as follows;

  • Red – Aggressive and creature focused
  • White – Mix of small creatures, angels, enchantments and use of lifelink.
  • Black – Balance of creatures and spells often using creatures with mill or deathtouch.
  • Blue – Heavily spell and enchantment focused.
  • Green – Big strong creatures and enchantments

Mono decks are a great place to start learning how each colour works so that when you come up against them you have an understanding of how to counter and control your opponent. If you’re after a more complex experience, you can try out one of the dual mana combos known as guilds instead. Guild decks mix mana colours up to create more interesting synergies for you to play with; 

  • Blue/Black – Dimir 
  • Red/White – Boros 
  • Red/Blue – Izzet 
  • White/Blue – Azorius
  • Black/Red – Rakdos 
  • Green/Red – Gruul 
  • White/Black – Orzhov 
  • Black/Green – Golgari 
  • Blue/Green – Simic
  • Green/White – Selesnya
The more you practise, the better you'll get at building decks.

The more you practise, the better you’ll get at building decks.

When thinking about win conditions, this may influence your choice of mana. If you’re looking to bombard your opponent with spells, then blue is for you. If you’re looking to flood the battlefield with creatures, then red is perfect. Considering how you plan to play and how you want to win will influence your decision. Reducing your opponents’ life total to zero isn’t the only way to win though. You can also win by milling your opponents’ deck so they are unable to draw a card on their turn, which is a goal for Dimir, or you can hit a certain life total that triggers victory due to a card ability—like Angel of Destiny, which is featured in white decks. 

The Mana Curve For Your Magic The Gathering Deck

The next thing to consider when building your deck is how many cards you’ll be able to play during each stage of the match. Your Magic The Gathering deck should not just be full of 5+ mana costs cards as you’ll struggle to defend yourself in the opening turns and never really be able to play multiple cards per turn. That is unless you miraculously make it to turn 10+ and have drawn your mana well.

The mana curve refers to the cost of the cards in your deck, and how many you have of each. Mana isn’t always relative to the power of a card, but typically you want to ensure you have a good chance at playing cards in each of the first five turns. As a game goes on, you have access to more mana and want to cast multiple spells or creatures per turn, so the mana curve advises that you have more 2 and 3 mana cost cards than any other kind. Again this is dependent on the colour or guild you choose to play, but the standard mana curve is a great guideline for getting started.

Note the mana curve in the top right corner, this shows how effective the deck may be.

Note the mana curve in the top right corner, this shows how effective the deck may be.

Picking The Cards For Your Magic The Gathering Deck

It can be quite tempting to just stuff your deck full of the prettiest or most powerful cards, but that would leave you with no strategy or synergy within your Magic The Gathering deck. Instead, you want to identify cards that have abilities that work well together. This will help you work towards your main win condition. Some of the best MTG decks actually have very little variety in their cards. Usually, you want to take the maximum of four copies of any single card to ensure that you are not at risk of being tactically reset if the one copy you have doesn’t resolve. 

As an example, I’m going to use my Dimir Rogues deck which contains only three single copies of a card. The important cards are at four copies; Drown In The Loch, Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, Ruin Crab, Soaring Thought-Thief. The synergy of these cards in Dimir Rogues is essential, so having access to multiple copies is key. If playing against me, you would also then be on the lookout for how many copies of a card I have. To change your tactical approach to the match as you determine what my biggest threats are and how I may deal with your best cards. 

Note the mana curve in the top right corner, this shows how effective the deck may be.

Note the mana curve in the top right corner, this shows how effective the deck may be.

Magic The Gathering is all about strategy and synergy but is just as much about how lucky you are. You can reduce the amount of luck you need by ensuring your deck is evenly built; this is why multiple copies of focus cards are essential. The last thing you want to be doing in a match is praying for that one card in your deck to be the next one drawn. Speculative play isn’t impossible to win with, but it’s not fun. Winning is a lot harder than it needs to be when playing for luck, and your enjoyment of the game will suffer the more frustrated you become. 

Test, Test and Test Again!

Once you have your deck ready, the best course of action is to take it out for a spin and see how it fares. You’ll learn more from your losses than your wins, but you have to understand where improvements need to be made. Even the best Magic The Gathering decks can be outplayed and countered. You want to be as watertight as possible and to have an answer for whatever is played by your opponent. 

There’s no number you can put on testing, but I personally test a deck 40+ times before locking it in. You don’t have to win every game, but you’re looking for weaknesses and then fixing any issues that arise. Once you have enough games played, you can make some adjustments before taking the deck out again. From there you’re ensuring the changes you’ve made are positive and not actually breaking your deck further. In this respect, Magic The Gathering deck building is quite like programming. Sometimes you go in to fix one problem and come out with five problems instead!

Mtg Deck Building Guide For Beginners

(Video uploaded by TheSkarTV.)

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