Rogue Deckbuilder's Toolkit: From the Ground Up

Written by Weedmonkey on January 12, 2010

This article, as well as all other published articles and coverage can be found at Magic-League's coverage site. A direct link to the article can be found here .

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Rogue Deckbuilder's Toolkit. This pilot series of articles is aimed at exploring the potentials of building a rogue deck, from ideas to implementation. While the ideas contained in this series are by no means fact, the aim is to encourage you - the audience - to explore different concepts.

Last time, on Rogue Deckbuilder's Toolkit...

In the previous article, we explored two concepts: Analysing oneself as a player and finding an idea. The former allows a player to understand their strengths and limitations in relation to the game. The latter allows a person to take their strengths and limitations and begin to explore ideas that they can use as a base for a deck that suits them.

Previously, I was looking at the potential for Bloodchief Ascension. Having worked with it for a Random Format Trial and seeing the strengths of it, I was considering the potential for a possible port to Extended. Through conversation with other people, it became apparent that the wider card pool and established metagame neutered some of the raw power of the card.

And so, our story continues...

Finding the Base

Once you have a card or a concept you feel you can work around, take a step back and look at it from a different perspective. Although you have no doubt explored the strengths and limitations, it is worth looking at them a second time within the frame of the big picture.

Some questions worth asking include:

  • Is there enough support through other cards in the format to make this a viable inclusion in a deck?
  • Is this going to be able to make a significant enough impact on a game?
  • How vulnerable is this to disruption?
  • Is it going to mesh (synergise) well with other cards in a deck?
  • Are the strengths of it able to balance out the weaknesses it has?

Some people may be skeptical of asking these questions without actually beginning to build a deck first. However, in finding the answers to these questions you should be able to explore possible card combinations to work with in your deck. Also, without actually building a deck first you're looking at it in an entirely theoretical sense. Although it is entirely possible for an idea to be theoretically infeasible and work out in practice, more often than not it won't be.

The point to keep in mind is that your only limitation is your way of thinking.

When I considered Bloodchief Ascension, I was really concerned with whether it was stable enough to use in Extended. It's a versatile card - there is a lot of room for it to be used in a variety of decks. However, it does take time to bring online.

While I was content with using it to build a deck, I first looked to make sure there wasn't anything that could be used instead or in tandem with it. I kept in mind the most significant advantage - it could single-handedly shut down multiple archetypes.

I then came across this little number...

Leyline of the Void

It had the same strengths as the Ascension - it could single-handedly shut down multiple strategies. It could also slip under counters if need be (albeit not with the same range as Ascension has). The big pointer though was it didn't have the fragility of the Zendikar enchantment. Granted, it was more expensive to cast and multiples could clog up the hand, but that was by no means a deal-breaker.

There was a choice to be made. I went with the Leyline.

Under Construction

Before looking at other cards, let's first look at how the Leyline would position itself in a deck. At 2BB, you're looking at a fairly significant mana investment in order to bring it online (assuming of course that you don't pull it in an opening hand). Where Bloodchief Ascension gave you the possibility of playing it turns 1-X, with Leyline you have either turn 0, or after turn 4. Also, while Bloodchief Ascension can end the game by itself, Leyline is potentially deadweight against particular strategies.

There are two conclusions that we can draw from these points. The first is that Leyline of the Void will be a focal point for the deck. Bloodchief Ascension is quite flexible in terms of where it is positioned in a deck, and doesn't need to be built around. While Leyline doesn't need to be built around either, in order to make decent use of the Guildpact enchantment it would be wise to make take advantage of its ability to force cards into exile.

The second conclusion lies with the Leyline's limitations. Because it is so black and white in terms of usage, it is most suited to a deck with a significant control element in it. While you can make use of it in a more aggro-oriented deck, at that point it stops becoming anything more than a card - a single tool that achieves a single purpose.

With these in mind, we can begin to look at cards for a deck. In terms of methodology, I like to consider deckbuilding approaches as one of two overarching paradigms:

Metagme-respective deckbuilding takes into account the metagame for a given format. For example, a control-heavy format might look into using cards that work around counterspells (such as Blurred Mongoose), or a aggro-heavy format might focus on sweeper spells (such as Earthquake). This paradigm is generally the one used by rogue deckbuilders, as it is most effective in exploring options in a pre-existing metagame.

Metagame-irrespective deckbuilding focuses solely on the development of the deck itself - it doesn't take into account the metagame or other external factors. This is a popular approach with formats that aren't defined as there is no definite metagame to work with - only a perceived one.

The Approaches

There are a variety of methods that can be utilized when pulling together your pile of sixty. There is no one 'yellow brick road' of deckbuilding - feel free to mix and match approaches according to how you think and what you are trying to achieve. The important thing to keep in mind is what your goal is.

While I won't go into detail on every possible approach here, I will provide some of the

The filter approach encompasses looking through all potential cards in a pool one by one, and separating all cards that you believe could be useful in a pile. Once you've finished looking through the available pool, cull the cards you don't believe are suitable for the deck until you have a nice round 60.

Note that all potential cards doesn't necessarily mean the entire card pool for a format - if you were for example building a Red/White Wildfire deck you may only look at red and white noncreature spells.

This approach is one that attracts many players without a comprehensive knowledge of the card pool. It is also an approach that attracts people looking at a significantly progressive strategy. By looking at all possible options, you may be able to find cards that aren't used in the mainstream metagame that are suitable for you.

The 'jobseeker' approach (and yes, that's a term I've chosen to coin :P) is divided into two steps. The first is taking your deck concept and breaking down the deck's sixty slots into 'roles' and how many slots are needed for each role. The second is to then select cards to fill each deck slot.

Using the aforementioned R/W Wildfire deck as an example, you might dedicate broadly 12 slots to creatures, 32 slots to noncreature spells and 26 slots to land cards. You may choose to be extremely specific and dedicate 8 slots to creatures with toughness greater than 4, 4 slots to noncreature cards that can be used as a win condition, 16 slots to artifact mana sources, 10 creature removal spells, 4 slots to Wildfire and 2 slots to card draw spells. It all comes down to how you define what you need.

The shell approach looks at the concept of a shell and using it to build around your concept. While the idea of a shell can mean different things to different people, I define a shell as an overarching theme that you use to allow your concept or card combination to function effectively as a deck.

For example, the Legacy Solidarity archetype has been considered as a combo deck in a control shell. The win condition for the deck is using High Tide and Reset to generate an absurd amount of mana with which you can eventually funnel into a spell such as Stroke of Genius. While it contains the combo pieces and ways to pull them out, it uses a control suite of counterspells and non-combo-specific card draw spells to allow the deck to achieve its goal.

The curve approach is similar to the 'jobseeker' approach. The difference is instead of assigning each of the sixty slots a role, you assign them a converted mana cost. For example, an aggro deck (to which this approach is well-suited for building) might assign ten slots to cards with a converted mana cost of 1, twelve slots to 2 and 3, six slots to 4 and 22 for lands.

This is ideal for decks that rely heavily on a good mana curve, such as aggro decks. By divvying the slots by cost instead of role, you can focus on a card's suitability for the slot rather than suitability for the deck.

Putting It Into Practice

Before even beginning at looking at slotting Leyline of the Void into a deck, I considered the background information I had. Based on understanding who i am, i knew I wanted a deck where I can best make plays based on board position and/or grind an opponent out in terms of tempo. Based on my experience in preparing for the Random Format Trial, I had an idea of some of the cards I wanted in the deck (examples include Bloodghast and Tombstalker). Additionally, based on the card I chose to work with, I knew that I was looking at a slower deck and thus could rule out aggro as a strategy.

In terms of specific cards, I wanted to give Smallpox a whirl. At Grand Prix - Melbourne, LordLink brought up the idea of Smallpox as a sleeper in Extended. With Bloodghast, in my eyes it had the potential to be a massive tempo swing, especially if you still had your land drop for the turn to follow up with. With the metagame on Magic-League at the time leaning heavily towards combo, I also wanted to try Delirium Skeins. Three cards is a big blow to any combo deck, and with cards such as Bloodghast, it's possible to warp the symmetry of the card to a degree.

For the deck's colors, I was leaning towards pairing black with white. I felt that the deck's strategy would be vulnerable to a fast aggro or burn deck, and white seemed to offer the best support for the main strategy. While green was an option with Kitchen Finks and Tarmogoyf, White offered the game-ending Baneslayer Angel in addition to Path to Exile.

With that in mind, I opted for a shell approach to begin with. At its core, I was looking at attrition. I wanted to have a go with Smallpox and Delirium Skeins, which gave Leyline of the Void a little more versatility. Knowing that one of the things I didn't like with my Random Format Trial deck was the limitation of having four Bloodghast, I chose to use Akuta, Born of Ash as Bloodghasts five and six.

Happy with my core, I briefly went back to my prior knowledge. Knowing that Leyline didn't lend itself well to an aggro deck, I opted for safety at the opposite end of the spectrum and went with a control shell. Incorporating the 'jobseeker' approach, I determined I wanted no less than six removal spells and ten discard spells. Worried about how heavy my creature base was, I chose to cap it at 14-15. Finally, I knew I wanted at least 24 lands because of how quickly the deck could burn through them.

After finding the cards I wanted to use, I came up with this initial build:

4x Bloodghast
4x Tombstalker
2x Baneslayer Angel
2x Akuta, Born of Ash

4x Path to Exile
4x Smallpox
3x Leyline of the Void
3x Phyrexian Arena
3x Delirium Skeins
3x Thoughtseize
2x Crucible of Worlds
2x Doom Blade

4x Marsh Flats
4x Godless Shrine
2x Fetid Heath
2x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4x Plains
8x Swamp

Alpha Testing

I like to split my testing into two stages - Alpha and Beta. Alpha testing is in-house: I test the deck myself, and get a feel for it casually. Usually, it's with friends. In-house testing allows you to get a feel for the deck before even considering any changes. The key is to have an idea for what you're looking for in your alpha testing from the outset. You should be wanting to focus on points that make the deck viable before you can go on to the next stage.

When I alpha tested this deck, I was looking for two things in particular. The first is whether or not the deck could withstand an early aggro rush. While Smallpox does put a dint in many decks' early plans, a double Wild Nacatl or something similar wouldn't be the easiest to deal with. The second was whether it could with stand long, drawn-out matches. While the deck seemed good at controlling tempo, the longer a game goes the more chance your opponent has of stabliizing and wrenching control of the game away from you.

The results weren't what I'd hoped. While the deck was doing what it needed to do, it was stabilizing at a point where the life total was insufficient. This was due to a poor clock and not enough board presence.

Going back to the drawing board, I chose to dump the control shell. I wanted to increase the creature count to allow for superior board presence, but I had to make sure the creatures had longevity in order to compensate for their overall lack of power. In order to make room, I chose to cut the Doom Blade and Phyrexian Arena. I chose to cut the latter as it was more suited to a control deck, and the latter because I felt it was the least important of the cards to cut.

It's All in the Name

A minor detour here, as some people choose to name their deck once they have built it. Naming your own deck tends to give some people a feeling of ownership, while other people see it as their potential stamp on the metagame. That being said, there are right ways and wrong ways to name a deck:

According to general consensus, acceptable ways of naming a deck include on the basis of its archetype (UW Control, White Weenie), core cards (UW Lark, Beacon Green, Eldrazi Green), breakfast cereals (Trix, Cocoa Pebbles) or origin (Dralnu du Louvre, Boat Brew, Aussie Assault).

Alternatively, unacceptable ways of naming a deck include poor wordplay (Aethermage's Blink, Teferi's Teachings), significantly overused puns and/or memes (Hammer Time!) and names without any relevance to the deck (anything your 14 year old sister would come up with).

For this deck, I've chosen to name it after the town of its origin.

After going back and alpha testing again (an important thing to do to make sure your changes are suitable), we come to this:


Bathurst Project
Main Deck Sideboard
4 Marsh Flats
3 Fetid Heath
3 Plains
4 Swamp
4 Godless Shrine
2 Ghost Quarter
3 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Tombstalker
4 Bloodghast
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Akuta, Born of Ash
2 Baneslayer Angel
3 Epochrasite
3 Delirium Skeins
3 Leyline of the Void
4 Path to Exile
4 Smallpox
3 Thoughtseize
2 Crucible of Worlds
1 Leyline of the Void
4 Candles' Glow
3 Duress
4 Deathmark
2 Wrath of God
1 Damnation


From testing, the flow was much better. Kitchen Finks and Epochrasite both helped in stabilizing, while also providing board presence and synergy with Smallpox. Although the removal spell count was on the low side, it wasn't detrimental to the deck.


And now we come to the end of this (quite long) article. Extensive yes, but it's difficult to separate this kind of focal point into multiple smaller articles. Next article we'll be looking at Beta Testing before wrapping up the series with a deck primer.

Until next time, take the road less travelled.


Back to Magic: the Gathering Articles

by Ffancrzy on 2010-01-12 09:07 CET

Needs moar flagstones of trokair.

by magicrichi on 2010-01-12 13:01 CET

i played that deck(similar in 95%) and i think is ood but i dont like 3 Delirium Skeins iu think is better duress or thgz

by bburks on 2010-01-12 16:54 CET

Was this a joke?

by Sleeyp on 2010-01-12 17:14 CET

Rule #1 of rogue deckbuilding: Check if someone has made a deck with a similar strategy and see if it's better.

In this case, the answer is yes and yes.

by Shooter on 2010-01-12 19:42 CET

After finding the cards I wanted to use, I came up with this initial build:

this makes bad decks

by Ashmatan on 2010-01-12 21:43 CET

This was obv a class. Why are all you guys acting like he's going to take it to a Q or something??
Give the guy a break. All he's trying to do is kick some knowledge to you ignorant fools.

Weed, I understand what you're trying to do with this article. Good job and keep up the good work.

by Femt on 2010-01-13 01:41 CET

Ashamatan, you said exactly what I thought. Roo, keep the good work, don´t listen to these jerks. And stfu shooter, god damn br

by cmc on 2010-01-13 09:44 CET

Alternatively, unacceptable ways of naming a deck include significantly overused puns and/or memes

ghastlord u

by darkgoyfidnt on 2010-01-13 16:26 CET

1st rule of deckbuilding: take longer building the deck than you take to name it.

by Ffancrzy on 2010-01-13 18:45 CET

1st rule of commenting: actually read the whole article, not just the decklist.

by six on 2010-01-14 22:27 CET

ghastlord u became a meme after it fucking crushed merfolk's tiny piscene skull in and raced baneslayers to victory. suck it, LRW/ALA/M10 T2.

by Sebas_ on 2010-01-19 01:50 CET


by Fridolin on 2010-01-23 02:02 CET

Flagstones ftw!

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