Sometimes you see a deck that completely bowls you over with originality, and you have to wonder how that player thought up that deck. As our team’s primary Roguedeckbuilder, I’ve identified four main methods of discovering new deck ideas that have been highly successful in the past.
The first method is to look at interesting and powerful cards. Single cards can have a strong deck built around them so long as they are versatile and inexpensive. Cards like Braids, Cabal Minion, Oversold Cemetery, Citadel of Pain, or even Exhume would be examples of this. Tinker, Form of the Dragon, Humility, Survival of the Fittest and Oath of Druids are examples of such cards that are so powerful and abusable that decks using them seem to build themselves. Often the best bet with these kinds of decks is that they are built as control decks, or even a control-combo hybrid deck, in order to get the maximum benefit from them.
In looking at popular decks, notice if there is some kind of continuous theme going on with them. Exploiting this theme proves to be one of the strongest methods of winning PTQ and Grand Prix Trials. At Regionals in 2002, we noticed that almost every deck was based on beatdown, even the control decks. Flametongue Kavu was in almost every deck in the format, and Psychatog’s one big massive attack was looking pretty strong. We beat all those strategies by playing a White/Green creatureless deck that millstoned the opponent to death. The secret was in deadening a lot of those other decks’ win conditions by using Moment’s Peace, Orim’s Chant, Tangle, and Wrath of God. Howling Mine ensured that we’d draw enough, while some Lifebursts ensured we’d live long enough to get the combo in place. It sure sounds ridiculous, but when Psychatogs came in for the big damage, we’d use our fog effects after they pumped their creature up, or Tangled all the Arrogant worms and Roar of the Worm tokens so they couldn’t hurt us. This put every deck in the format in a bind, and of the three players with that deck that day, we managed a combined record of 21-4-5, losing out on Top 8 spots only because of our excessive draws. Finding decks like this is rare, but this is where the biggest payoffs are, because most players aren’t creative or knowledgeable enough to play against them.
Another source for deck ideas is other local players. Often they’ll have a good idea, but it’ll be hidden underneath a pile of nonsense deck that isn’t up to snuff with the competition. Analyze why they use unusual cards in their decks, and see if there’s anyway you can improve upon them. We liked the way that Ceta Sanctuary was used in Fires of Yavimaya decks, and decided to use it in a less aggressive deck that combined it with Meteor Storm. Once we gained control with a few small creatures and walls, we were able to abuse Meteor Storm late in the game and win. This deck was really good at beating a lot of the control decks that had taken over the format at the time.
The final source is to look at colors that are overpowered. A good example of this could be seen in Standard Type II format a few years back. There were two main decks, a card advantage generating Green and blue beatdown deck, and an overpowered mono-black deck that often lacked a good way to get card advantage because it almost had to be mono-colored (many of the cards were more powerful based on the number of swamps in play). The solution our team came up with was to play the mono-black deck, splashing for a playset of Call of the Herds, which gave us not only some more card advantage, but also an excellent win condition. We often used some of the already present search effects to find our two forests. This also gave us a stronger sideboard because we could add some green spot removal. This deck won a local tournament guaranteeing free tournament entries for a year, cashed at a number of FNMs, and also Top 8’ed a local invitational. By making a small change, using cards that were already proven to be powerful, we were able to create a new deck that had fewer disadvantages.
Of course, there are also those random stoke of genius moments which come along from time to time that will give you the perfect deck. Following these plans, however, you’re sure to think up some good ideas that might land you with a great deck.