Creative and Destructive Elements in Deckbuilding

Last week I asked Why Do You Build Decks and found that the responders mostly divide into two camps:

The deckbuilders derive value from the deckbuilding process itself. For the deckbuilder, the deckbuilding process is both the journey and the reward. A deck isn’t necessarily built for opponents—it is built for the creation of art.

The deckplayers draw value from winning/defeating opponents in a duel. For the deckplayer, the deckbuilding process is a means for developing a tool. A deck is built for opponents—to beat them.

Many players build decks for both reasons, but the majority seem to be motivated by one over the other.

You can imagine how these groups would have drastically different deckbuilding styles—the deckbuilders want to create a grand board state in creative fruition, while the deckplayers may need to disrupt and destroy the opponent’s plan in order to achieve victory.

The deckbuilders are interested in creation—adding cards and abilities to the game state. The deckplayer finds it necessary to destroy and remove cards from the game state.

In a game of Magic we can create or destroy. We can add or take away. Two styles.


Creative Elements

A creative element in Magic is anything that adds something to the game. Anything that expands the game state.


Drawing more cards is a way to add more resources to the game.


Permanents in play expand the game.

Life Gain

Gaining life adds life to the game.


Buffs add abilities or make permanents grander and more powerful.


When cards grow better in company—Steel Overseer + an army of Memnites—you build something greater than the sum of the parts.


When two cards used together create something awesome: Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin.

Creative deckbuilding is focused on creating something grand and spectacular. To build toward their plan the creative deckbuilders include synergistic, proactive cards—cards that combo and build off each other that may not specifically affect or reference the opponent’s cards.

Destructive Elements

A destructive element in Magic is anything that takes something from the game. Anything that shrinks the game state.


Using cards to make the opponent discard takes cards out of the game.


Using cards to destroy the opponent’s permanents shrinks the game state.

Direct Damage

Burning the opponent’s life total subtracts life from the game.


Attacking the opponent takes life and permanents from the game.


Counterspells prevent the opponent from adding something to the game.


Going after the opponent’s source of cards takes away future draws.


Locking the opponent out stalls the growth of the board.

Destructive deckbuilding is focused on beating an opponent in a duel. To defeat the opponent the destructive deckbuilder would include a multitude of disruptive spells—discard, counterspells, creature removal, permanent removal, and so on.

Creative and Destructive Elements in Deckbuilding

Almost every Magic deck will have creative and destructive elements. There’s no other way in a duel. In order for someone to win, someone has to lose.

The majority of creative decks may win by attacking, or use select disruptive spells to force their plan through.

The majority of destructive decks still need to expand their side of the board in various ways in order to win.

To illustrate, let’s look at a few examples:


Living End is a deck that has many creative and destructive elements.

For creative elements that add to the board, the deck is full of cycling for draw, permanents to put into play, combos with cyclers and Living End, and synergy in the way it grows an army of Spiders.

For destructive elements that subtract from the board, it has targeted removal in Fulminator Mage and Beast Within, board wipes in Living End, and finishes the opponent by attacking.

The best tournament decks are frequently a good mix of both: they have a coherent creative plan backed by disruptive, destructive elements.


All Spells is about as close as we can get to a strictly creative deck, but my build still has destructive elements.

Pact of Negation to force the combo through and free removal spells to stay alive can be considered destructive elements.

But the deck is almost all permanents and combos. Some would consider it an uninteractive deck… but it is a deck that seeks to create without destroying.

Even Laboratory Maniac does not make the opponent lose. It declares us the winner! This is truly a creative win condition.

Creative or Destructive Deckbuilding Style?

Now that we have differentiated between creative elements that expand the game and destructive elements that shrink the game, I invite you to consider how you use these elements in building your decks.

Are you a deckbuilder that prefers a majority-creative playstyle to build something grand and spectacular?

Are you a deckplayer that prefers a majority-destructive playstyle to steer the course of the game?

Do you enjoy elements of creation for a proactive strategy backed by choice destructive disruption to slow the opponent?

Do you deckbuild to create in a game of Magic, or deckbuild to destroy in a game of Magic?


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