Brewing 101: Building Around a Specific Card

Alex Covers the basics of brewing with today's focus on brewing for a single card

When I play card games like Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon or Hearthstone – I don’t play meta decks often. As a result of this, I probably have a lower overall win percentage in my lifetime than I deserve. The reason why I do this however is because I love the “exploration” aspect of card games as much as I like playing them!

“Magic is not one game. It’s a series of games that share a rules system and component pieces.” – Mark Rosewater

To me this does not only apply to Magic, the game itself, but also to the deckbuilding process that affectionately call: brewing! I’ve had decks where I spend hours brewing, theory crafting and “goldfishing” – only to go to one or two FNMs before being done with it because I already had another cool deck I wanted to play! Sometimes I brew decks that I never even end up playing just because I had a cool idea and wanted to see where I could take it.

That does not, however, mean that I don’t care about winning! When I make a new brew, I understand that it often won’t be as good as just playing one of the meta decks. I won’t settle for a five percent win-rate “because I am brewing anyway” or “to do the thing once.” If your brew sucks, the actual game of Magic that comes after the brewing process can be boring.

In this article, I will take you through the five basic steps that I go through when brewing a deck around a card so that your future brews will hopefully be better and therefore more fun! This is not going to teach you how to break the meta for your next RCQ but, instead, is more aimed more towards having fun and functional brews to take to FNM. I will be using the card Magda, Brazen Outlaw in a Pioneer deck as the example for this article – but these steps can be used for any card in any format.

 1. “We got a reader!”

All brewers are familiar with the feeling you get when your opponent has to pick up your card and read it, especially when it’s followed up with that all too familiar “hmm…” as your opponent tries to figure out why that card would be in your deck. In order to make a good brew, however, we have to become that reader ourselves first!

When dissecting Magda, we end up with the following conclusions:

  • She encourages you to play Dwarves
  • She cares about dwarves getting tapped
  • She cares about treasures, which she can make herself
  • She cares about big dragons or artifacts

2. “Hold up, let him cook!”

The second step is to simply flip these previous points around and turn them into what we will be looking for when we start searching for actual cards. This gives us the following list of things we want to be searching for:

  • Dwarves
  • Cards that tap our Dwarves (for when attacking is not an option)
  • Dwarves that can be Tapped for Value
  • Cards that generate (lots of) treasures
  • (Big) dragons/artifacts

Before going any further, I want to point out that this is not a checklist of things that MUST be in the deck at the end of the road. For example, maybe you have thought of another way to utilize all these treasures and you don’t really need to have big dragons or artifacts in your brew. This list is just there to give us an overview of things that we should be looking for when brewing.

3. “To Scryfall!”

Now, it is time to get to the real meat and potatoes of brewing. With the list of requirements ready, we can feed these into a search engine like Scryfall. As someone who has at one point gone over every single legal card in Pioneer for a podcast episode, I can tell you that you NEED to start with specific searches like this because going over 9702 cards (even in batches) is just too much and you will miss out on good cards because everything turns to a blur.

For the sake of this article not taking two hours out of your day to read, I will not go over every noteworthy card that I find through these searches. I will instead give a quick overview of some of the more defining cards for my eventual first draft of the deck and why they are noteworthy.


There are only fifty-eight legal dwarves in Pioneer and many of them are pretty bad. With Staunch Shieldmate and Toolcraft Exemplar we do have some decent one-drops and with Magda and Depala, Pilot Exemplar we also have two-lords. If you want to play Dwarves (which I will be doing for this demonstration), you will probably want to be aggressive. This also works well with Magda because if you play cheap dwarves and play aggressively, you will naturally be generating a lot of treasures without needing to tap your Dwarves through other means. It is also worthy to note that literally every one of these Dwarves is in the Boros Colour pairing, so that will also steer your deck in that direction.

Cards that Tap your Dwarves (For when Attacking is Not an Option)

Vault Robber and Pillardrop Warden are the only Dwarves that tap themselves to an activated ability and they are both pretty bad so you will have to look elsewhere. Luckily for our shorter friends, there are two entire mechanics that care about tapping your own creatures without going to combat: Crew and Convoke.

Crew is fantastic because it is a very good way to tap your Dwarves as soon as they come into play and, because the Vehicles stick around, you only need one Vehicle to constantly be tapping your Dwarves. An interesting rules quirk with Crew is that you can turn your Vehicle into a clown car by “over-crewing” (Crewing multiple times the same Vehicle). If you want to tap fifteen Dwarves with a total power of 30 to crew a Heart of Kiran, you can!

Convoke does not have all these quirky interactions that Crew has, but like Crew, Convoke can be used with creatures affected by summoning sickness in order to get value out of them immediately. Cards with Convoke also gives us access to more diverse effects like burn and removal in Stoke the Flames and Conclave Tribunal.

Dwarves that can be Tapped for Value

I already established that Depala, Pilot Exemplar works as a lord for our aggressive strategy, but she also has a triggered ability that I can use when she becomes tapped. Cards that fulfil multiple roles within your deck are very important to make the strategy more cohesive. If you can make the machine work with fewer different cogs, your strategy will be more consistent and therefore more powerful!

Another double duty card is Throne of the God-Pharaoh. Although it is a cheap artifact so you don’t really cheat on mana with Magda if you tutor for it, it can be tutored up if all you need is some burn. If you don’t have Magda, this can just be a good follow-up to an aggressive start if you draw it and it basically gives all your creatures an ETB that makes your opponent lose one life as long as you have a vehicle in play to tap them the turn they enter.

Cards that Generate (lots of) Treasures

Atsushi, the Blazing Skyis the only noteworthy card here in my opinion. It is a Dragon to tutor up with Magda (though I doubt you’ll do it very often), it is cheap enough to be cast when drawn naturally and can either give you some more fuel or get you a 3/5th in the way to another Magda activation. Most cards that generate treasures give you one or two of them (on top of being pretty weak/boring cards themselves) and since Magda requires five Treasures to activate it’s often not really worth it. Reckoner Bankbuster is technically a Treasure generator, but that is more noteworthy for being a Vehicle than a Treasure-generator.

(Big) Dragons/Artifacts

This is definitely where the “one-of” or “fun” factor can come in when making decisions since there are a ton of cool, big, and powerful Artifacts and Dragons in Pioneer. I will name two noteworthy ones here and in the next segment I will go into why you have to be very careful in brewing when a card lures you into putting eight-mana or more cards into your deck.

Obelisk of Urd is the card that inspired me to brew the first version of this deck; it has Convoke, is a big artifact to tutor up with Magda and turns all of your Dwarves into big threats. With a Magda in play, you can convoke five Dwarves to cast one, then use the Treasures to tutor up another one to give your whole team +4/+4! It’s in many ways a perfect fit for the deck.

Embercleave (I’m sure you all missed this card) can also work well in this strategy since it’s a big Artifact to tutor up, fits into your aggro game-plan and is castable without Magda in play.

4. Consider the Fail State of your Deck

Now that we all had a moment to fantasize about cheating Drakuseth, Maw of Flames and Utvara Hellkites into play, it is time to get back to reality. As I said at the start: you are not here “to do the thing once”, you are here to play a functional Magic deck and win games consistently! This means that we have to realize that you will be playing plenty of games where you don’t draw Magda or she is killed on-sight.

This is a VERY important aspect of brewing: what happens when I don’t draw the card that I build the deck around? One way to solve this is to try and tutor for the card. If you play Enigmatic Fires you can just run a playset of Moonblessed Cleric and now you have doubled the chances of finding your namesake card. In the case of Magda, this is ill-advised since most tutors to find her are not good in this deck. Black gives us access to Diabolic Tutor but adding a colour for a slow tutor in an aggressive deck sounds like a great way to lose a game of Magic. Green gives us Eldritch Evolution and Chord of Calling but those colour requirements make the splash very difficult. Collected Company is easier to splash for but only going six cards deep with a four-mana card to find a two-mana card is not really worth it for me.

Another direction to take is to make the deck more functional without the namesake card. In the case of this deck you just become Boros Dwarves/Vehicles when you don’t have Magda, but the deck gets supercharged if you do find her! An Utvara Hellkite rots in your hand if you never draw and stick a Magda, but an Embercleave/Obelisk of Urd is castable on turn three or four if you just have a bunch of Dwarves in play! Just for the record here though, I would totally approve a one-of Utvara Hellkite because it’s cool, however it probably won’t end up in the best version of the deck.

5. Goldfishing and Playtesting

Now that you have made a first draft, it’s ALMOST time to go to your FNM. If you understand that the deck will have to find it’s footing in the real world (aka you will have some poor performances before you get to a build you are happy with), you can stop here. If you are like me and don’t mind spending a little more time outside of the game store to have better results inside the game store, you will have to do some testing.

For an aggressive deck like this, “goldfishing” (playing Solitaire with the deck by yourself at home) will not be a very good way to test your deck. You can do it a few times to see if the deck actually functions (good mix of lands, spells, mana values etc.) and get a bit of a feel for it. Other than that, just seeing how quickly you can get to twenty is not a very productive way to use your time. If you play a complicated combo deck, I’d say goldfishing is essential. In my previous article I talked about a Paradox Engine combo with Powerstones. I goldfished the deck a lot just so I could memorize some of the math. When you are home you are free to take ten-minutes per turn thinking through lines, but that is not the case in an LGS.

When you find someone to playtest with (or just go into the free lobbies on MTGO/test on Arena), consider playing some games where you don’t even run the namesake card. This can force you to evaluate your fail-state. If I don’t draw Magda, is the deck mediocre or downright unplayable?

 The Deck

Dwarf Tribal
Buy on TCGplayer $21.4
5 mythic
34 rare
9 uncommon
12 common
Artifacts (11)
Sky Skiff
Heart of Kiran
Obelisk of Urd
Lands (21)
Sacred Foundry
60 Cards

This is what I ended up with after my first draft and a few matches of testing. The deck is aggressive, uses vehicles to make it easy to tap all your Dwarves and only uses Dragons/Artifacts that can be cast without Magda in play. The deck is definitely a lot worse in games where you don’t draw Magda but is still functional as an aggro deck without her. Going for a more aggressive route also gives us a solid win percentage when people stumble, since aggressive decks are good at punishing other decks’ mishaps. When you do draw Magda, the deck feels pretty strong and most importantly very fun to play! For the sake of going to an FNM, this is a successful brew for me!

Wrapping Up

I hope this article has given you some solid pointers for when you want to brew a deck of your own. As a last bit of advice, I want to tell you that sometimes a brew will just be bad or not go anywhere and that’s just part of the process. If a deck didn’t work, just make sure to dive a little deeper and figure out why that is so your next brew will be better! Sometimes you might have built it wrong, sometimes it might be that there just isn’t enough support for the idea you had. Don’t be discouraged and just have fun with it! I always love seeing people’s brews, so if this article encouraged you to make a cool deck (or you already have one built and just want to show off your cool idea) please drop it in the comments or join our Patreon Discord so I can have a look at it!

Thank you for reading and hopefully see you next time!

  • Alex


    Alex has been playing the Pioneer format since its inception and his love for the format has only grown since. After pulling two copies of Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh at his second prerelease in 2017, Grixis Control has been his deck of choice in every format. It’s rare for Alex not to include at least one Bolas in his decks, though he also doesn’t shy away from a good tribal deck. Alex has been part of the Pioneer Perspective since the first episode back in August 2020.

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