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Deck-Building, Vorthos-Style

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Like a Vorthos

Do you want to build a deck that oozes flavor from every draw? Do you want your opponents to lose in awe as you dispose of them in a thematic and interesting way? Do you want your decks to really let your Vorthosian colors fly? If so, you have come to the right place. In this article, I outline a few quick and easy steps that will have you well on your way to constructing decks that would make Vorthos proud. Following each step, I will provide an example, as I build a thematic deck along with you.

1. Feeling for a Theme

The first step in composing a Vorthosian deck is to settle on an overall flavorful feel or theme that you want your deck to capture. You could construct a deck that plays as though you were a pyromancer, a deck that looks like one that would be played by one of your favorite Planeswalkers, or a deck that makes you play the game like a backstabbing assassin. Deciding what you want your theme to be is an important first step, and it will guide your decisions in constructing your deck.

Example: For my deck, I am going to build a sixty-card Constructed deck. I want my deck to make it feel like I am an ice mage, master of frost and cold.

Theme: Cold. Ice. Brrrr . . . 

2. Searching for an Engine

Next, we need to pull up a Magic search engine. This tool will help us quickly look through the thousands of cards available to us in order to settle on those that best fit our theme. Luckily, the lovely people at Wizards of the Coast provide such a tool (Gatherer) on their main website!

3. Words are the Key

Finally, we need to write down a list of words that align with our theme. This list of words will be used in combination with our search engine to help us find cards that are in line with our deck’s theme.

Example: For a theme of cold, I came up with the following words:

  • Cold
  • Frost
  • Snow
  • Ice

Ice Cage
But why stop there when we can use a thesaurus? A few quick searches, and I came up with a more comprehensive list:

  • Cold
  • Frost
  • Snow
  • Ice
  • Rime
  • Glacial
  • Winter
  • Arctic
  • Freeze
  • Frozen
  • Hail
  • Chill
  • Cryo

4. List your Findings

4.1. Looking for a Name

Now that we have all the tools in place, we can start to compile a list of potential cards. Start by typing each word on your list into your card-search engine, and look for all existing cards that contain those words. This will help you to find spells that follow along with your thematic vision. Be sure to write down any cad that catches your eye as being interesting or fitting to your chosen theme. As your list of cards grows, look in each card’s name for other common words that may not have made your initial list, and perform a search on those words as well. Also, don't worry about what colors you are in or about narrowing your theme yet—just compile a list of all cards that catch your eye as interesting to you. Think of this step like it’s the early part of a Draft. If you go all-in on a very specific theme, you may miss out on some great cards. But if you leave yourself open to many ideas, you can find yourself with a deck you were not expecting at the onset.

Example: A search for cards with my thematic words in the name led me to the following cards:

Balduvian Frostwaker, Frost Raptor, Frost Titan, Wall of Frost, Heidar, Rimewind Master, Goblin Snowman, Snow Fortress, Chilling Shade, Chilling Apparition, Glacial Wall, Rimebound Dead, Rimescale Dragon, Ice Cage, Iceberg, Frost Breath, Flashfreeze, Winter's Chill, Cover of Winter, Winter Sky, Frozen Solid, Chill to the Bone, Glacial Plating, Glacial Ray, Snow Fortress, Chill, Crippling Chill, Cold Storage, Coldsteel Heart, Icequake, Rime Transfusion, Frost Marsh, Glacial Chasm, Glacial Fortress, Arctic Flats, Ice Floe, Thawing Glaciers, Glacial Crevasses, Rimewind Cryomancer, Snowblind, Snowfall, Winter's Night, Cryoclasm, Frost Giant, and the Snow-Covered basic lands

4.2. Searching for Your Type

Next, we can look over the list of cards we have so far and look for common types and subtypes that may exist between them. Searching type commonalities can help you find cards that may fit your theme, but are named in a way that would not have received a hit on your previous searches. It may also lead you to discover a smaller set of cards that help to better define the direction of your deck.

Example: A quick look over my card list had me searching for all cards that had a supertype of snow. This additional search led me to find the following cards:

Blizzard Specter, Boreal Shelf, Dark Depths, Highland Weald, Karplusan Wolverine, Mouth of Ronom, Scrying Sheets, Squall Drifter, Stalking Yeti, and Wall of Shards

Looking at the names of the cards found in this search, I have found four more words that I want to search card names for: blizzard, boreal, Karplusan, and Yeti. Performing the name search again led me to the following cards:

Blizzard, Blizzard Elemental, Unearthly Blizzard, Karplusan Giant, Karplusan Forest, Karplusan Yeti, Ohran Yeti, and Mountain Yeti

4.3. Check the Rules

The next step is to look at your list and see if any of the cards you have found have common rules text. Often in Magic, cards that function similarly mechanically are concepted similarly as well. The easiest example of this are cards that deal damage directly to a creature. The most frequent conceptualization of this effect is fire and lightning. If your theme was a pyromancer-style deck, a great search would be cards that have rules text containing, “Deal damage to target.” Chances are you will see a ton of interesting fire spells in that search. So check out your list, and look for the mechanics behind your theme. Search for cards that have similar rules text, and see if they would fit your theme as well.

Example: A lot of the cards in my list seem to represent freezing a creature with a tap effect. A good search for me would be to look at rules text that says, “Tap target creature.” Another common mechanic in my list are cards that interact with snow permanents.

Simply doing a search for cards that have rules text containing the word snow leads me to even more potential cards:

Drift of the Dead, Gelid Shackles, Skred, and Whiteout

5. Finding your Theme

Now that you have a solid list of cards, it’s time to narrow your theme and begin making cuts. Look over your list, and find which cards really speak out to you, really inspire you, and really make you feel as though casting them will fall in line with the vision of your deck. See if there are other cards on your list that would work well mechanically with those cards, and begin crafting your deck. Pick and choose from the list you created to construct a work of Vorthosian deck art.

Example: Looking over my card list, I can see a multitude of different deck paths that I could take. Ultimately, I decided to construct a deck that would play and feel as though I were a powerful cryomancer, commanding the elements of ice, frost, and snow to freeze my opponents to death. From my list, I narrowed down my choices to:

Wall of Frost, Snow Fortress, Frostling, Glacial Wall, Blizzard Elemental, Ice Cage, Iceberg, Frost Breath, Winter's Chill, Skred, Frozen Solid, Glacial Ray, Glacial Crevasses, Snow-Covered Island, Snow-Covered Mountain, Mouth of Ronom, Glacial Chasm, Ice Floe, Thawing Glaciers and Goblin Snowman

With this list, I enjoyed thinking about a master cryomancer who barricades himself behind massive glacial walls of frost, pouring his mana into a gigantic iceberg to feed his snow fortress. When threatened, he freezes his attackers in their places or unleashes the offensive power of ice and snow to destroy them, clearing the way for his summoned spirits and elementals of frost and cold. What does he do in his free time? Building snowmen with local goblins would be my guess . . . 

Another possibility was that I could have made a deck representing an evil ice lich, chilling all that oppose him to their bones, destroying enemies with dark creations of icy undeath . . . 

Or I could have made a deck of ice monsters living in harsh lands of constant blizzards and glacial crevasses. Only those creatures tough enough to make it in the cold survive in this brutal climate . . . 

Honestly, the possibilities are endless. There are thousands upon thousands of Magic cards out there. The trick is finding the ones that best represent your creative vision.

6. The Extra Mile

When picking the cards for your deck, see if there are any alternate art or alternate printings of the card. Pick the one the look and feel of which best matches your theme. For my Ice Monsters RAWR! deck above, which version of Karplusan Forest below do you think fits the theme of unforgiving snow, ice, and cold the best?

Karplusan Forest (Tenth Edition, Classic Sixth Edition, & Ice Age)

Want to really impress Vorthos with your deck? Have your cards altered to better fit your theme! Have an artist alter your Gaze of Pain to look like Vraska using her stone sight for your Gorgon-themed deck. Alter your Frost Giants to look like the Jotunn from the Thor comics to better fit your ice and snow deck. Paint a small handprint symbol next to the type line of each Assassin creature in your Dark Brotherhood–themed deck. When you alter your cards, the potential is limitless, and you can create decks that are true works of art.

Frost Giant Alter Art taken from geektyrant.com

Have you made a deck that Vorthos would be proud to call his own? I want to hear about it! Send me your list at ANThroplasm909 at gmail dot com, and I may feature it in my next article.


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