My Passion for Deckbuilding


You probably won’t be surprised if I tell you my absolute favorite thing about Magic is the friends I made travelling the world and playing the game.

But my second favorite must be deckbuilding.

I still remember the first time I read about the Pro Tour. It was in a French magazine called Lotus Noir, the same magazine I got my first “real” deck list from (a mono-blue control deck of course). The event was Pro Tour Dallas ‘96 and it was dominated by Necropotence and won by Paul McCabe. The Top 8 featured some of the stars of the early years of the Pro Tour, names such as Jason Zila, Chris Pikula, Olle Rade or Brian Hacker (all of whom I would later meet and sometimes compete against and become friends with). Even though it was far from true, it was clear to me at the time the only reason these guys made it to the Top 8 was thanks to their superior deck lists and nothing else.

Necropotence

The Puzzle called Deckbuilding

As I got into the game more and more seriously, I would spend a disproportionate amount of time just thinking about my lists, whether it was on a corner table at my local game store in Paris or on the floor of my bedroom, my cards carefully laid out, sorted by mana cost. I would spend hours, especially at home since I had no one to play against, just staring at the deck I was building, thinking about how it would play out against every other deck I might face and trying to figure out potential weaknesses and how I could make up for them with my precious 15 sideboard cards. I would make sure I had just the right number of cards to bring in in each matchup and if the numbers didn’t line up perfectly, it was time to go, for the hundredth time, through the pile of potential candidates I had laying next to me. I guess I have always just really enjoyed the puzzle that is deckbuilding.

Of course, there were the hours spent in the back of the classroom of my least favorite subjects scribbling deck lists, filling up entire notebooks, rewriting them over and over until they looked just right, accompanied of course by their sideboard guide.

There were also the late nights brewing sessions with my friends, the day before a big local tournament. The card pool was sometimes limited, which usually meant we couldn’t all play the same deck. Why would we anyway? How boring.

Hopefully, we would be able to borrow the missing key cards and figure out what our sideboard should look like after a quick round of scouting, walking around the room the morning of the tournament.

Off to Unknown Shores

Before the internet days, deckbuilding was an absolute key skill if you wanted to do well in big tournaments. The Pro Tours usually took place a couple weeks after a new set was released and they were always the first major event in a new format. While it’s easy today to get your hand on a tuned list for a tournament without even having played a game, it was not uncommon back then for players to show up with truly terrible decks. You were in the dark and had to figure out with your friends or the few people qualified in your region what was good, and you had little time to do so.

I still remember the anxiousness and the nerves sitting down for round one of a Pro Tour, wondering if the strategy I chose and the 60 cards I was shuffling up were not about to be totally outclassed by my opponents.

Living in a major European city or on an American college campus with other Magic players was a huge advantage and having grown up and living my entire life in Paris is something I attribute a large part of my success to.

I of course have fond memories of the brews I played to some of my top finishes. My first big win at my LGS with Counter Slivers, earning myself an Unlimited Black Lotus which I promptly traded in for store credit. The Enchantress deck I used to Top 8 my first French Nationals, the Blue-White Control Mercadian Masques Block deck I won my first PTQ with and the Blue Skies brew I played to a top 64 finish in my first Pro Tour are some of my favorites.

Then there’s the broken Extended Tinker/Charbelcher combo deck I came in second with at PT New Orleans 2003 and the crazy Tooth and Nail brew (originally designed by my Belgian friends) I used to get back-to-back second place in Kobe that same year.

TinkerGoblin Charbelcher Tooth and Nail

Even more so, there’s Martyr Tron in Worlds in Paris in 2006, Dragonstorm the following year in New York and the epic mirror match against Patrick Chapin in the semifinals. If we’re talking about deck lists, of course Cruel Control is one of my most memorable, which led me to my first individual Pro Tour win in Kyoto in 2009.

Gab Nassif holding the Pro Tour Kyoto Pokal
Pro Tour Kyoto 2009 Champion Gab Nassif, Photo © Wizards of the Coast LLC

Funny enough, a deck reminiscent of Blue Skies that got me my first good finish in years when I came in second in Grand Prix Lille a little over two years ago with an archetype affectionately nicknamed mono-blue shitters.

While I might not be the greatest technical and in-game player, the edge I was and am sometimes still able to get from deckbuilding might be the top reason I have done so well in competitive Magic.

And while it’s harder to get that edge today, I still really enjoy trying. I still spend way too much time building decks, only to decide they’re not worth even playing a single match with. I’ll still spend way too much time trying to figure out the perfect mana base and I still stay up way too late trying to figure out how I’m going to make room for that last main deck card

Author: Gabriel Nassif

Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, Member of Team CFBUltimateGuard

While Gab has one of the most storied and prolific careers in Magic, he came from humble beginnings, learning Magic in middle school around when Ice Age came out. While Gab is known for being a Constructed specialist and considered one of the best deckbuilders of all time, he has a deep love for Limited in all forms. Learn more about Gab.