Brewing 101

I play so many brews for my channel. Some of them are real winners. Some of them flop around and do nothing. I’ve learned a ton about deckbuilding from these experiences. Here are my top 5 tips for tuning and improving your brews.

#1 Solidify Your Idea

Often when I play the first draft of someone’s deck, things are still pretty rough around the edges. The deck is trying to do too many things or the deck lacks focus. I recommend writing out a brief statement (~1-3 sentences) that says what your deck is trying to do. The longer and more complicated this statement is, the more unlikely your deck is to be successful. Try to really narrow it down to the core components. This is the stage where you want to eliminate some of the “cute” elements that aren’t central to your deck idea. If you can’t simply describe what your deck is doing yet, you might still have too many moving parts or too many game plans. Here are some examples with established decks.

Affinity- This is an artifact synergy deck that wants to play an aggro role. It uses large creatures from Urza’s Saga or Nettlecyst to dominate combat, and the deck refuels with Thoughtcast or Thought-Monitor if the game goes long.

UR Delver- This is a tempo deck. It tries to get on board with an early threat, and then protect that threat with countermagic. Expressive Iteration serves as card advantage if the games go long.

What is the one thing you want to do every game? What is most critical to your deck design or your deck “going off?” How do you make your deck as consistent as possible at executing that game plan? Solidifying your idea is the first thing you should do.

#2 Build Your Manabase

I see so many people pour their heart and soul into brewing around a neat idea, and then I read their manabase and it says something like, “and 20 lands.” Your manabase is the key to your deck’s success. I’d imagine that in 90% of the donation decklists I’ve played where the league was a disaster, the primary reason was a poorly built manabase. Legacy is a format of impeccable mana. You get fetches, duals, and access to an absurd range of utility lands. Don’t save building your manabase for the last minute. You should be thinking about your manabase from the moment you have a good idea!

In terms of generic tips, the biggest one I have is making sure you’re in as few colors as possible. You cannot afford to stumble to a bad manabase in Legacy; you will die or be forced to mulligan. Even mono colored decks can have a bad manabase. If you get too greedy with utility lands like Wasteland or put too many sol lands in your deck, you might find that you can’t reliably cast your spells on curve. Conceptually, I view mono colored decks with many colorless lands (e.g. Moon Stompy, Death and Taxes) as being two color decks; these decks have surprisingly bad manabases for being mono colored decks. When you start getting into things like “3 color Ancient Tomb decks,” you’ve probably gone too far down the greed rabbit hole and need to rein things in a bit. If you are splashing for a single card, you also might want to think about other options that could allow you to eliminate that color.

Basic lands are really strong in Legacy. If you can fit some in your deck, you probably should. Wasteland is a pillar of the format, and cards like Blood Moon and Back to Basics are common. Having some ways to just ignore those cards results in some games being significantly easier.

In terms of building a manabase, the easiest way to do it is simply to steal an already established manabase from a similar deck and do some small tweaking to adjust for your specifics. If your brew is in Grixis colors, take a look at Grixis Delver and Grixis Control manabases as your starting point. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

#3 Interaction

When a brew fails spectacularly, it’s often because there is little or no interaction with what your opponent is doing. You can do some crazy powerful things in Magic very quickly, regardless of what format you are playing. You need *something* that can interact with your opponents in some way. Counterspells, discard, hatebears, removal spells… you need something that either allows you to force through your own gameplan or stop your opponent’s gameplan. Many of the most successful decks in Legacy are incredibly interactive (e.g. Delver). Your interaction can take on so many forms, but if your plan is “I’m just going to ignore what my opponent is doing,” you’re usually going to have a bad time. You don’t necessarily need to a plan to stop *everything,* but your deck needs plans to fight against “stuff” to at least a certain extent. The slower your deck is, the more interaction you are going to need to stay alive.

#4 Sideboarding

I get a ton of donation decklists with really questionable sideboards. I think most people start out building sideboards by thinking, “I have trouble with X, so I need answers to X in the sideboard.” This is a good starting point, but it really doesn’t do sideboarding justice. You play more sideboarded games than you do game 1s in Magic, so your sideboard should be just as fine tuned as the maindeck!

In terms of generic tips, if you really want to improve your brew’s sideboarding game, physically write out a sideboard guide. What do your in and out numbers look like for the most common Legacy matchups? Do you have enough cards to replace your dead cards in the maindeck (e.g. Swords to Plowshares usually needs to come out vs combo)? Do you have a plan vs various macro archetypes (e.g. chalice decks, aggro, control, combo, etc.)? A scenario that happens far too often when I play brews is that I have, say, 8 cards to bring in, but only 6 cards to board out. You don’t want your sideboard space to be wasted! Make every slot count!

I often see brews featuring a transformational sideboard option. My generic advice regarding this is: DON’T. It’s very rare that a large transformational sideboard package actually works. These packages often end up being clunky, or they come at the cost of cards that would actually address major problems with the game 1 deck. A nice sideboard juke (e.g. a couple of Monastery Mentors) is great and will often serve you well. Utilizing a full-on transformational sideboard though has usually been pretty bad in my experience.

#5 Intention

The final piece of advice I have for the brewers out there is to figure out what your intention is with brewing. Are you looking to “do the thing” a few times at FNM? Get your brew in the 5-0 decklist dump? Build something silly for Phil to try out on Youtube and have some laughs with? Make day 2 of a GP? Become the [your brew name here] person? All of these things require different levels of work and dedication. Many of these might require a testing team or at least collaboration with other people who want to work on the archetype. Figure out what you want to do and put in the appropriate amount of work. If your goal is to just show up to FNM with a crazy deck every week, you don’t necessarily need to go nuts with the tuning. If you want to build something new from scratch though and get real results with it, be prepared to do the necessary legwork! Be honest with yourself about what you’re trying to accomplish. You are going to lose a ton with brews, especially in the early stages of deck development. If you just want to win, grab the most recent Delver decklist and go ham. If you’re brewing though, you might have something else in mind. Set that goal, and good luck reaching it!

I hope the potential brewers out there found all of that helpful. As a reminder, I do donation decklist videos for Youtube 7 days a week. Just saying, if you have something sweet you want to show to the world, or if you need some help tuning, I’m around, as is my Discord community! Donation info is here and Discord info is here.