Deckbuilding: Card Efficiency and Resource Management

When choosing cards for a deck, the player needs to decide which cards will do the best job. That is to say, if I want to use white creature removal, which card is most effective for this purpose? Which countermagic cards will fit into my deck the best without a mana problem? Which creatures will work best in my deck? These questions relate to the idea of card efficiency. Getting the best possible card for the lowest possible cost means the highest efficiency.

In current Magic, many cards that are very efficient are no longer printed because they were so powerful. Swords to Plowshares, which I mentioned earlier, is one of these cards. For one white mana, this card can remove any creature from the game. The life gain simply does not balance out this card. Chances are, you may be playing a control deck and you don't care how many life points your opponent has. This card will simply keep you alive and that is all that matters. Combined with cards like Timetwister(1), this card is even more powerful because you get back your Swords and your opponent's creatures are hopelessly gone for the game. Timetwister was another card which ceased being printing, albeit a lot sooner than the Swords.

When choosing which creatures to use for a deck, if any, the best ones are obviously ones with a higher power and toughness to casting cost ratio. For a completely aggressive deck, only sheer power is of importance. The almighty Ball Lightning(2) boasts a power of six with a casting cost of three. For fast red decks, this has always been a popular card. If the defending player cannot deal with it he will take six damage, which is about one third of his beginning life points!

Combined with direct damage spells like Lightning Bolt which deals three damage for one mana, and Fireblast which can deal four damage for no mana (at the slight cost of losing your own land), fast red decks were popular while those cards were in-print. Winning the game is usually the result of the resource sacrifice from Fireblast. The popularity of the deck was because of the supreme card efficiency of cards like these. Of course, after these cards were taken out of print and replaced by newer sets, this deck was no longer viable.

Usually creatures with a casting cost of one will have a power of one. Sometimes they will have a power of two, but at a cost. It may not always be able to be used to attack, or it may deal damage to its controller. The purest breed of aggressive decks will take blazing speed at any cost. Such are fast black, red, and green decks. Blue and white do not have any extremely efficient creatures, but they do have creatures with good utility. That makes blue and white creature-based decks better as a defensive strategy. Aggressive decks utilize low-cost creatures and damage spells. Defensive decks utilize high-efficiency threat management removal spells. Disenchant(3) is another prime example of a popular removal spell. Just as Swords to Plowshares is to creatures, Disenchant is for artifacts and enchantments. However, creatures are usually a bigger threat in Magic, so Disenchant is a more balanced card. That is why it has been in the current tournament environment since the beginning of the game.

Being able to maximize what resources you have available is what makes your strategy more effective. By being able to remove more than one opposing card with only one of yours, you gain card advantage. Card advantage is not the only kind of advantage, though. By using cards which keep the opponent's resources unavailable (such as Winter Orb(4)), you gain time advantage. This means that since your opponent cannot play his cards as usual, he is delayed and you gain more time to do whatever you have to within your strategy. This also means that the opponent will often need more time to react to your other threats.

Yet another kind of time advantage lies in taking multiple turns. If you can take more turns than the opponent can, you have more time to maximize your strategy's effectiveness. This is a major resource advantage because it allows you to bring more resources into play. By taking another turn you get to attack again, play another land, and draw another card. This is why the card Time Walk(5) was banned from tournament play. For two mana it let the caster take another turn. However, a more balanced version was later printed, called Time Warp(6). For five mana this had the same effect. By delaying when the player can use it, it balanced out its advantage with a high cost.

Resource advantage can be gained either through drawing more cards, removing multiple cards with only one, or by denying the opponent resources. Taking extra turns is another form of denying the opponent resources, in addition to land destruction, hand destruction, and creature destruction. In order to maintain control of the proverbial game board, cards that are able to make the opponent discard, lose land, and lose creatures are a valuable resource in Magic when used effectively. Many decks are based around one or more of these concepts. When well tuned and well played, these decks often lead to great success. Nonetheless, there are many other viable strategies, such as the aggressive one: overwhelming the opponent with many threats. While there may not be a best strategy in Magic, there are several to choose from. How the player uses the strategy is what will lead to his varying degree of success.


Footnotes:

  1. Timetwister: Sorcery, 2U. Each player shuffles his hand, deck, and discard pile together, and draws seven cards. Put Timetwister into your new discard pile.
  2. Ball Lightning: Creature, RRR. Can attack the turn it is brought into play. 6/1, Trample (any damage over the total toughness of the creatures blocking it is dealt to the defending player).
  3. Disenchant: Instant, 1W. Destroy any artifact or enchantment.
  4. Winter Orb: Artifact, 2. Players only get to untap one land each untap phase.
  5. Time Walk: Sorcery, 1U. Take another turn after this one.
  6. Time Warp: Sorcery, 3UU. Take another turn after this one.

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