Final Paper by Leah T.

(Here’s one from a beginning player. Definitely a different perspective than most of the students in the class, and if we get a chance to teach it again, we’ll definitely take her comments to heart to make sure that the lectures are relevant to everyone)

I have a confession to make. Before this class, I had never played Magic: The Gathering. In fact, I had never seen a card much less held a deck in my hands.  My only previous experience with the card game was in 2nd grade, when a boy in our class chose to explain the rules of Magic during a talent show.  With a typical 2nd grader’s ennui, I chitchatted with my friends during the demonstration and proceeded to tease the boy mercilessly after the show.  Little did I know that I would eventually join his ranks, casually tossing around terms like “mana” and “swing.”

As I said, I never played Magic before coming to Stanford, but I have had experience with trading card games in the past.  I was an avid Pokémon card player back in the day, and Magic and Pokémon have many similar elements.  Pokémon is like a more scaled down version of Magic, with an “energy” system akin to “mana” but with bigger, more aggressive creatures from the get-go.  Armed with this meager knowledge of trading card games, I prepared to enter the world of Magic.

On the first day of class, I was given a deck that looked something like this:

Initial Decklist (Approximate)

24 Islands


4 Sentinels of Glen Elendra

4 Faerie Soldiers

4 Merfolk

2 Changelings

1 Protection from Red Creature


2 Tribal Enchantments

3 Frozen Solid

Scry cards (look at the top two cards etc.)

It was a blue deck, full of merfolk, faeries, and changelings. I think it was meant to be a control deck, but given my limited knowledge of the game I floundered with the weak creatures and couldn’t wrap my mind around the trickier strategic elements.  It seemed like there was so much jargon that everyone understood but me.  That’s one of the main issues I had with the class. I felt like the learning curve was extremely steep and the basics were only covered in the first class.  Nearly all of my classmates were already well versed on how to play the game so we moved on to elements that are more sophisticated very quickly.  Fortunately, two of my classmates were also in my dorm (one of them a very dedicated player), and they helped me to understand the concepts like “flash” and “flying” or the difference between enchantments and instants.

As soon as I grasped the basic concepts of Magic, I quickly realized that my deck sucked.  It was full of weak 1/1 and 2/2 creatures.  The few creatures that were 2/3 or 3/2 had high mana costs.  I attempted to fix this in many different ways but I was essentially just throwing random cards together.  During one lecture, I saw that many pro-deck lists have a theme that helps combine the useful elements of different cards to their advantage.  With this in mind (and an annoyance with the weakness of mono blue decks), I decided to make a blue and white deck about halfway through the course.

My new “deck”, of course, was haphazardly plotted out during the lecture segments of the course.  The lectures were another place where I often felt hopelessly lost.  Many of the game theory concepts and AI seemed very interesting, and I’m sure they would have contributed to my grasp of Magic.  The problem was that most of the lectures seemed tailored to the advanced computer science types.  It felt like there was an unspoken prerequisite for the course, which wasn’t really that big of a deal seeing, as the emphasis was less on lecture material and more on the “lab” portion.  However, at the same time, I kind of “checked out” after the fifth lecture.  So in this environment, I cobbled the sullied remains of my blue deck with white cards from the card pool.  I ended up with something like this:

Previous (Approximate) Deck list

Lands (24)

12 Islands

12 Plains


4 Sentinels of Glen Elendra

2 Veteran Armorsmiths

2 Veteran Swordsmiths

2 Deftblade Elites

2 Silvercoat Lions


4 Holy Strength

4 Pacifism

1 Pay No Heed

2 Lifelink

My intent was to create a blue and white soldiers deck. Capitalizing on the fact that the Sentinels of Glen Elendra are faerie soldiers and have flash, I planned to get out some Veteran Sword/Armorsmiths in order to use their soldier buff effects on the other soldiers.  The problem was the relatively high mana cost prevented me from getting them out quick enough.  In order to remedy this, I added some 1/1, 2/2 creatures and planned to use Holy Strengths, Pacifisms, Lifelinks and life gain cards to make up for the weaknesses of my creatures. It was a very crappy, haphazard deck and didn’t get me any wins.  If I had to make this deck over again, I would keep the Pacifisms and Deftblade Elites, mainly because they are a low cost and the Deftblade Elites have some tricky moves like “provoke” and the ability to nullify combat damage.

About a week before the tournament, I gave up on my crappy deck and consulted a long-time Magic player in the dorm for assistance.  Deciding that an aggressive deck would be the best move, I researched some basic aggressive decks on the internet, and found a green and white one to my liking.  It needed a lot of tweaking in order to fit the card pool and my limited skill, with green and with Magic in general.  My final deck is by far the most cohesive and fun to play with.  It’s (nearly) all common so the mana curve fits the low number of basic lands.  Wildfield Borderposts helped to alleviate the low land count by offering a multicolor mana source at a low cost.  I found myself getting out big creatures as well as extremely useful smaller creatures (such as Steward of Valeron’s “vigilance,” the Qasali Pridemage’s “exalted” etc.) very quickly, which was always a problem in the past.  Sigil Blessings and Giant Growths helped buff these creatures even more.  I also had good removals, like Journey to Nowhere or Qasali Pridemage’s nifty “sacrifice to remove enchantment” ability.  This saved me many times against Zendikar “expedition” cards, which put out huge tokens if left unchecked.  I think part of my initial issue with Magic was a desire to play aggressively but starting with the groundwork of a blue, control/combo leaning deck.

Current Deck list

Lands (20)

9 Plains

10 Forests

1 Graypelt Refuge

Creatures (23)

3 Llanowar Elves

4 Naya Hushblade

4 Steward of Valeron

4 Qasali Pridemage

3 Centaur Courser

4 Wild Leotau

1 Serra Angel

Other Spells (17)

4 Giant Growth

4 Journey to Nowhere

4 Sigil Blessing

1 Pitfall Trap

4 Wildfield Borderpost

Sideboard (15)

1 Fog

1 Holy Day

2 Pacifism

2 Kor Skyfisher

2 Pitfall Trap

2 Narrow Escape

2 Kor Sanctifiers

1 Kor Hookmaster

2 Windstorm

I have always loved card games and despite my rough start, I truly enjoyed learning how to play Magic.  I discovered the world of Magic can be at once incredibly strategic, cutthroat, nerdy, and fun.

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