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How to Build an MTG Deck – Beginner’s Guide!

So, you want to build an MTG deck. Maybe you’ve bought one or two prebuilt decks in the past, and now you want to build one yourself. For new and experienced players alike, building a Magic: The Gathering deck from scratch can be a daunting task.

There are so many deck possibilities out there, the choice can be overwhelming. Good news, this article gives you a step-by-step approach to building a MTG deck that you’ll love playing!

Red mtg cards with shivan dragon in the center
Red MTG cards

How Many Cards in a MTG Deck?

Most game modes in Magic require a deck count of at least 60.

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For most formats, there is no maximum limit on the number of cards you can have in your deck. However, the more cards you have in your deck, the lower the chances of you drawing your best cards. Try to keep your deck count at 60 if possible.

Step 1: Choosing a Deck Type

Before you start putting cards in your deck, you need to know your deck type. Most decks fit into one of these four categories:

  • Aggro
  • Control
  • Midrange
  • Combo

Let’s take a look at each of these categories so you can find out which one is the best for you.

Aggro

Aggro decks are decks that want to win the game as quickly as possible. To accomplish this, they run lots of cards with low mana costs. Also, almost every card in an aggro deck will help you deal damage to your opponent.

If you like playing quick games of Magic and attacking with your creatures every turn, then aggro might be the deck type for you.

Control

Control decks are the opposite of aggro decks. Instead of trying to finish the game as quickly as possible, a control player will spend most of their time taking care of their opponent’s threats.

Over the course of the game, they’ll gain incremental advantages. Then, when the control player has full control over the opponent, they’ll start playing threats of their own and winning the game that way.

If you want to outsmart your opponent and win the game slowly but surely, you’ll want to consider playing a control deck.

Midrange

Midrange decks play a mix of high-impact creatures and efficient spells. Your big creatures will outclass your opponent’s small creatures, and you’ll always have a few spells at the ready just in case you need to get rid of one of your opponent’s creatures.

If you like having the best creatures at the table at all times, then you’ll love playing midrange decks.

Combo

Pestermite and SPlinter Twin MTG Cards. Copyright: Wizards of the Coast.
Pestermite and Splinter Twin MTG Cards. Copyright: Wizards of the Coast.

Combo decks are all about assembling two or three cards that work really well together. For example, Splinter Twin and Pestermite make a great combo. If you enchant your Pestermite with Splinter Twin, then you can tap Pestermite to create a copy of itself, and each copy will untap the original Pestermite, and then you can repeat the process as many times as you want.

Combo decks are usually pretty hard to play (and even harder to build), so we’re going to focus on the other three deck types for now.

 

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Step 2: Choosing Your Color(s)

mtg card conflux art
MTG Conflux card art. Image copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Karl Kopinski.

Now that you’ve chosen a deck type, it’s time to choose your deck colors. But before you do that, let’s consider how many colors you want to play.

One color

If you only run one color in your deck, you’ll only be able to play cards in that color. If you run too many colors, you’ll often have trouble finding the right lands to cast your spells. Most decks consist of one, two, or three colors.

What colors you choose to run is up to you, but some colors work better with some deck types than others.

Two colors

Aggro decks typically consist of one or two colors. The most popular colors for these types of decks are white, red, and green, since they have the best aggressive creatures. Blue and black aggro decks have existed in the past, but these are less common.

Three colors

Control decks usually have at least two colors, sometimes three. Blue is the most popular control color because all counterspells are blue. Control decks also need spells to remove the opponent’s creatures, so white, black, and red are all excellent colors to go alongside blue.

Midrange decks also usually have two to three colors. Green and black are great midrange colors since that’s where you’ll find some of the best creatures in the game. If you want to add a third color, consider red or white for some more spells and a wider selection of creatures.

Step 3: Choosing a Theme

Swarming Goblins card illustration. Image: Wizards of the Coast. Artisit: Andrew Mar.

In my experience, choosing a theme is the most fun aspect of building an MTG deck. This is where your creativity and imagination get a say in what cards enter your deck!

Creatures

Many players like building decks around creature types. Some of the more well-known creature types are elves, goblins, merfolk, and zombies. There are plenty of creatures types out there, so feel free to do lots of research before picking a creature type!

Creature type themes work best with aggro decks, since aggro decks almost always run lots of creatures. For this reason, it’s generally a good idea to mostly include creatures that cost one, two, or three mana, that way you can start attacking with them early on in the game.

An example of this would be a goblin deck. An ideal gameplan would consist of first playing a bunch of cheap goblins early on in the game. Then, once you have lots of goblins in play, you would play Goblin Chieftain to make them all bigger and attack for the win. 

Spells

For control decks, most of your cards will be spells. You might want to focus on removal spells (like Fateful Absence), counterspells (like Saw It Coming), and board clears (like Doomskar). Most control decks play a combination of all three! Then, you can have a handful of powerful threats like Emeria’s Call to finish off the game once you’re ahead.

Key cards

Last but not least, if you’re playing a midrange deck, focus on a few key cards like Goldspan and Wrenn and Seven. These key cards need to be powerful enough to make a high impact on the game.

Then, fill out the rest of your deck with some spells of your choice. Cheap cards that can destroy your opponent’s creatures are the best. Dragon’s Fire and Infernal Grasp are a couple of great examples.

Step 4: Picking Your Lands

Blue and white MTG land cards for deck building
Blue and white MTG land cards

Many players set lands as an afterthought when building their decks, but having a good set of lands will help you win games.

First, let’s figure out how many lands you want to play:

  • If you’re playing an aggro deck, most of your cards will have low mana costs, so you’ll want to run fewer lands than usual. Having anywhere between 22 and 24 lands is a solid choice.
  • Midrange decks will usually have a mix of cheap and expensive cards. Aim to build a deck with 24 to 26 lands.
  • Finally, control decks will play more lands than most other decks. Since most of their spells are on the more expensive side, expect to 26 to 28 lands in a control deck.

Now, onto the lands themselves. We’ll want to factor in your deck type and the number of colors you’re playing into our decisions. As a general rule, the more colors you play, the trickier it will be to choose your lands.

One color decks

One-color decks often like to use only basic lands of that color, and that’s perfectly okay. However, don’t be afraid to run some non-basic lands with other abilities. Creature lands like Lair of the Hydra can tap for mana in the early game, then they can become creatures to attack and block during later turns.

Bonus Tip: If you’re playing an aggro deck, try to prioritize lands that enter the battlefield untapped over ones that enter tapped. Remember, aggro decks want to win the game as quickly as possible, so it’s best if your lands can be used for mana right away.

Two color decks

For two-color decks, running a mix of basic lands is okay, but lands that tap for two colors will go a long way in improving consistency. Imagine you’re playing a blue-red deck and you have all red creatures in your hand, but you only draw blue lands! Having lots of lands that can produce two or more colors will help avoid these types of scenarios.

Three or more color decks

Lastly, we have decks with three or more colors. Consistently drawing lands of all three colors can be difficult, so most lands in a three-color deck will want to produce at least two colors. As a result, three-color decks will run very few basic lands, sometimes none!

Step 5: Picking a Ratio of Creatures and Spells

Omnispell Adept MTG card art. Copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Jason Rainville.
Omnispell Adept MTG card art. Copyright: Wizards of the Coast. Artist: Jason Rainville.

How many creatures you decide to play will partly be dependent on your deck type.

Aggro decks

Since aggro decks like to attack a lot, they will have mostly creatures. Consider playing at least 30 creatures in your aggro deck, then filling out the rest of your deck with ways to boost the power and toughness of your creatures in combat. Maul of the Skyclaves and Snakeskin Veil are great examples of spells to put in an aggro deck.

Midrange decks

As mentioned previously, midrange decks like to run a lot of cheap removal spells. Finding the perfect balance between creatures and spells in a midrange deck can be tricky. In general, most midrange decks run about 20 to 25 creatures and 10 to 15 spells.

Control Decks

And if you’re planning on building a control deck, you might want to know that most control deck only run a handful of creatures. Think somewhere between the 4 and 8 range. That’s because most cards in a control deck are spells that either destroy creatures or counter them before they can even enter the battlefield.

Some players love putting planeswalkers in their decks. I think the best places for a planeswalker are in midrange and control decks, since their main strength lies in gaining incremental advantages over the course of a game.

Bonus Tip: When you’re building a deck for a Constructed format like Standard or Modern, as well as the 60 main deck cards, you can have an additional 15 cards in your sideboard (if you use one). You can have a maximum of 4 copies of a specific card across your main deck and your sideboard.

Step 6: Tuning Your Mana Curve

When your deck has too many high-cost cards, you’ll find yourself not playing anything during the first few turns of the game. In the case of having too many low-cost cards, you’ll quickly run out of cards to play. Choosing the appropriate mana curve is the best way to ensure that you’ll have meaningful cards to play every turn.

The mana curve of a deck is the distribution of mana costs of each card in your deck. For example, the mana curve of a midrange deck might look like this:

Source: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/level-one/basics-mana-2015-07-06
Mana Cost graph. Image credit: Wizards of the Coast.

There are no strict rules to building a mana curve, and every deck has a different one. However, almost every deck follows the pattern of having mostly 2- and 3-cost cards and very few cards that cost 6 mana or more.

As you may have already guessed, aggro decks will typically have the lowest mana curves, control decks will have the highest, and midrange decks will usually fall somewhere in the middle.

Here’s what I like to do when tuning my mana curve: 

  • First, I set all the lands aside so that all the cards left are creatures and spells. 
  • Next, I lay them out into piles according to their mana costs. If I see that one pile is a lot higher or lower than usual (maybe I have tons or 2-mana cards but very few 3-mana cards), that’s when I start making changes to my deck.
  • Finally, I’ll put the lands back in my deck, shuffle the whole thing together then play a few games to see if this new mana curve made my deck any better.

This may seem difficult, but as you build more and more MTG decks over time, you’ll develop an intuition for what mana curves work best for which decks.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it right on your first try. In fact, there is no right answer when it comes to building MTG decks! Part of the fun in deckbuilding is experimenting and trying things that have never been done before.

Conclusion – Building an MTG deck

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the core principles behind building an MTG deck and inspired you to create a deck you’ll enjoy playing!

Remember, how you build your MTG deck is completely up to you. These tips on deckbuilding are guidelines, not set-in-stone rules. If you have your own deck ideas that you’d like to pursue, go for it!

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Emily
Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

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