Deckbuilding 101: Threats or protection?

Written by Ron Saikowski, January 28, 2018

After my lackluster performance in the 2018 93/94 Winter Derby, I decided to take stock of where I was, how I was playing and rebuild my deck. It took that tournament for me to realize I wasn't playing in a way that best suited me. I was holding onto old ideas and beliefs.

What kind of cards do you put in your deck?
As the title asks, does your deck include more threats or more protection? By that, I mean do you have cards that are going to do damage to your opponent or cards that are going to keep you from getting damaged? When I took a closer look at my deck, I realized I had very little of either one of those when it came down to it. And I suffered because of it.

That lack of focus in my deck contributed to my demise on more than one occasion. Against a focused deck full of threats, I couldn't deal with all of them. Against a deck loaded with protection, I couldn't overcome its defenses. Floating somewhere in the middle... my deck did nothing and it didn't even do that very well when it came down to it.

I'd come to a crossroads
I had a decision to make. Floating in the middle was no good. I needed to find my focus. Was it going to be threats or protection? Since I'm not a fan of protection... threats it was. That's when the hard work really started.

Knowing that a big change was in order, I decided to go all out here. Try something completely new for me. Push my comfort zone and try something I've never tried in Magic before.

One by one, I went through every single card in my deck outside of land and classified it. I asked myself... when I draw this card, is it going to threaten my opponent or is it going to protect me? If it wasn't an immediate threat or a card that allowed me to get a hold of a threat (Demonic Tutor for example), it went on the "pile." All the cards on the "pile" were subject to being removed and replaced with cards that were threats. This was much harder than I imagined it would be.

A good number of cards came out of my deck through this classification process. The deck I have now is not the same deck I started with, It's not even a variation of my previous deck. It really does play completely different now. It's a deck full of threats. There is no protection.

It's going to take me a while to learn how to play my new creation. I have no doubt there will be revisions as I learn what works and what doesn't, what I wish I had and what I realize I don't really need.

Asking others to weigh in
When I posed the question to the Old School Magic 4life Facebook Group asking readers what they thought were the most "iconic" threat and protection cards in the format, I didn't expect to get the response I did. My original plan was to get some ideas for the art for this post. In reality, as I looked through the responses, it dawned on me that a number of cards suggested served as both threats and protection.

That was an aspect I hadn't considered up to that point. The fact that a card could be classified in both categories. This opens up a whole new aspect when it comes to trying to figure out a card's purpose in my deck.

It's actually similar to how I play Space Hulk
In writing this, I realized that playing an Old School deck full of threats is similar to how I already play Space Hulk and equip my Terminator squad. There is no "protection" in the squad, it's all threats. The option exists to take protection (in the form of an Apothecary who can heal), but I don't run him in my force as it would mean a reduction in my threat capabilities.

In my mind, I can't afford to include protection in my squad at the loss of a threat. I only have five models and every one of them needs to count. I realize the same applies to Magic... I only have 60 cards (less when you factor in land) and every one of them needs to count.

In Space Hulk, it's always been plain as day for me.
I just didn't see it in Magic until now.

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IMAGE: Cards from WotC. Photo Illustration by me.
KEYWORDS: Old School Magic, deck building