Magic the Gathering: How to Build a Good Deck

Updated April 17, 2017

Magic the Gathering is a card game that is played traditionally with trading cards and online with “virtual” cards. The basic types of cards include mana (land), creatures, enchantments, instants and artefacts. Creating your own decks is part of the fun and challenge of the game and there are thousands of combinations of cards, making deck building as complex or simple an endeavour as you wish.

Choose the colour of deck you are going to build. There are five “colours” in Magic the Gathering. There are no rules regarding how many colours you can use in a single deck. However, the more colours used in a deck, the more complicated the deck becomes. A single colour deck can be successful, but is easily defended against and defeated with “Protection From…” cards.

Ted Knutson, author for Magic the Gathering’s online magazine recommends a two colour deck.

Choose the theme or type of deck you are going to construct by using the available cards in your collection to create card combinations that work together. Add the cards to your deck that correspond to your theme. Common themes include a “burn deck” or a “permission deck”. Decks can be built around creature types such as Elves, Dragons or Slivers. Use cards that work well together such as “Dragonstorm” in a deck with several big dragon creatures.

Add mana to your deck. The amount of mana required by your deck is based on the types of cards in your deck and the mana cost those cards cost to put into play. A multi-coloured deck will require multiple colours of mana. Count the number of mana symbols for each colour card in the deck to determine a ratio of colours. Add mana equal to the proportion of mana symbols counted. In basic deck building, a minimum of 30 per cent and as high as 40 per cent of the deck should be mana. For a 60-card deck, this is 20-24 land cards.

The “mana curve” concept enables players to analyse a deck by graphing out the mana curve based on how expensive the spells in the deck are. This curve can be important in deck building. If all of your spells are too expensive, you may have to wait several turns of playing mana before you can play a spell, giving your opponent the advantage. On the other hand, if your spells cost too little, you may not have powerful enough cards to support yourself later in the game.

Play with the deck several times. Make changes as you feel necessary. If the combination you were trying to achieve is not working, consider eliminating it or adding cards that will assist in helping the combination happen. After every match you will learn something different about the deck. Magic the Gathering decks are always being tweaked by their owners, trying to make them better.


Unless you are participating in a sealed or draft tournament, the minimum deck size is 60 cards. There is no maximum number of cards you can have in a deck however, the closer the deck is to 60 cards, the more consistent it will be as the deck is played over time. Analysing a deck using Magic the Gathering Online’s (MTGO) statistical analysis tool will show the deck’s mana curve through the first 10 turns, enabling you to adjust your deck accordingly before play.

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About the Author

Eric Duncan is a military veteran and a professional in the safety, travel and aviation industries. Duncan has been writing since 2002 for magazines, newspapers, local business literature and on such websites as He has earned his Bachelor of Science in professional aeronautics and his Master of Business Administration.