Superior Numbers - Breaking Brewing Block

Writer's Block, Meet Brewer's Block

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using a little bit of math.

Except in the case of this particular article, where I'm going to be doing none of those things. This instead will be entirely abstract; specifically, addressing the concept of brewing block. There's no data that I can really cite here that's going to help you blast past brewing block. Instead, I'm going to attempt to talk it out.

I had brewer's block in 2019, though I really didn't recognize it as such until the end of the year when I realized that I had only kept one deck I built over the previous 365 days, and it was one that I built in January. That means that the other 11 months added nothing to my library.

It wasn't just that though; sometimes you're going to have a streak where brews just don't work, or don't captivate you, etc. The problem wasn't that I was building decks and not keeping them. No, what I realized after looking back was that I wasn't building decks in 2019 at all, or at least not getting far enough in the process to try them out at a table. Aside from the Kresh the Bloodbraided Fling deck that I kept, the only two decks I really tried in 2019 were Arvad the Cursed and Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts. Anything else that I built never made it past the virtual sandbox stage.

We're now halfway through the nightmare year that is 2020 and I have two finished decks added to the arsenal: a Tymaret the Murder King Infect build, and an Athreos, Shroud-Veiled Pestilence deck. So what's the difference between 2019 and 2020, other than we're clearly living in the Darkest Timeline? Well, in looking back, I can see a couple of things that were issues....

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good

My decks rarely show up fully formed. Maybe yours do, but mine don't. Goldfishing only goes so far for me. A deck requires reps to actually smooth off the rough edges. Take my Vela the Night-Clad deck. It started with nothing more than the notion that a commander who grants intimidate would render a field of colorless creatures unblockable. That was the entire plan. So I slapped it together, initially using Eldrazi, then artifact creatures, and played some games. Over the course of playing them, I found out quite a few things:

  • Since Vela deals damage when a creature leaves my battlefield, things that made artifact creature tokens were useful, so I added cards like Myr Battlesphere and Hangarback Walker.
  • At that point, since I was making artifact creature tokens, I would, by definition, have a lot of artifact creatures in play. There are multiple 'walkers, like Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, who deal damage based on the number of artifacts I have in play, so why not run some of those?
  • What if I turn my other artifacts, like my rocks, into creatures? They'll also get unblockable, and I can sacrifice them afterward and Vela will generate even more damage.

The important part here is that I found those things over the course of playing the deck. Would I have found them out had I abandoned the deck in the goldfishing phase, or even after 2-3 games like I did Teysa and Arvad? No. And who knows what other synergies I would have found that would have made Teysa or Arvad if I didn't give up so early? But I let the perfect be the enemy of the good; I let two decks that played fine go because they didn't play as well as a deck that had significantly evolved over the course of multiple years and a significant number of reps.

Don't Get Hung Up on Your Hangups


I'm someone who doesn't like to build popular commanders for a multitude of reasons, almost all of which can in some way be traced back to ego. Yet I have a Talrand, Sky Summoner deck, the second-most-popular mono-blue commander by a margin of 400+ decks. How is that?

Well, I built the deck in 2014 before EDHREC was really a thing, so what was popular or not wasn't really a known quantity beyond what I saw pop up at my local tables. It's a deck I really enjoy, too. It's interactive, making tokens for all the mediocre one- and two-mana cantrips that I cast before winning with a Gravitational Shift- or Coat of Arms-enabled alpha strike. I like playing it a lot. And you know what? If Talrand was released today and raced to the top of the popularity charts, I'd never have built the deck. I'd have let my own hangup get in the way of brewing up something I really enjoy.

Going into this year, Dr. Joseph Schultz, Jr. III, my podcast co-host and editor, challenged me to build a deck with a popular commander. I had been debating building a deck around the Exalted mechanic, and freed from my own weird hipster tendencies I picked Kenrith, the Returned King. Kenrith as a commander is fairly strong, but, in a deck with all Exalted bodies, it makes for a playable deck against decks operating at just above the precon level.

Look for Ideas by Looking for Ideas

After having not built a deck for well over a year, I started getting restless. I knew that I didn't want a combat damage deck, but I also detest combo as a win condition. Nothing immediately caught my attention as an idea, so I went back to the beginning and just started going through cards from Alpha. Two cards jumped out at me as something that one could build a deck around while not reliant on the combat phase: Karma and Pestilence. I couldn't really find anything else that felt like it would work well enough to make a Karma deck in doing a search for similar effects, but I knew Withering Wisps existed as a card, and a search quickly found me Crypt Rats, Pestilence Demon, and Thrashing Wumpus. That seemed like enough redundant effects to build a deck around.

On top of all of that, a deck filled with effects to prevent damage to me on my turns and from my sources like Pestilence works pretty well with Karma, too.

The lesson here is that inspiration doesn't always come to you. Sometimes you need to come to inspiration. That may take the form of just reading through cards on old sets, or it may entail looking through decks on your favorite deckbuilding site, or watching gameplay videos or streams. Whatever method you choose, sometimes you just need to go looking for the lightning instead of waiting for the strike.

Fitter, Happier, More Productive, Comfortable

Hopefully all of this is at least a little helpful if you're currently going through a brewing block. I'd love to hear from readers about what things worked for you when it comes to fighting threw the doldrums of deckbuilding. Sound off below with any tips or techniques.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, may your numbers be superior.

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled: Down with the Sickness

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Commander (1)
Creatures (5)
Enchantments (23)
Sorceries (14)
Instants (10)
Artifacts (9)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (37)

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Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.