Today I’m going to get meta. Like, real meta. Today I’m going to write an article about writing about playing magic. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into the wonderful world of primers!

What is a deck primer?

Simply put, a primer serves as an introduction and guide to a deck. A primer is intended to give the reader a feel for strengths, weaknesses, lines, and what the author is trying to accomplish.

Why are primers important?

Beyond the obvious benefit of providing high-quality content to the EDH community as a whole, primers accomplish a few incredibly positive things for the author:

  1. It forces you to think about your deck in a critical way. I absolutely love this, and if you’ve read any of my previous articles you should know why. Thinking about your goals, strategies, and the tools you’ve selected to accomplish your goals is perhaps one of the most important things you can do to get better as a deck builder.
  2. It forces you to discuss your choices with your peers. Primers, in my experience, tend to generate some of the most valuable discussion I’ve ever seen. It’s not uncommon to see a well-written primer garner at least a few dozen comments and questions.
  3. It opens your eyes to things you may not have considered. Let’s be real here – we can’t all know everything about everything, and the collective power of all the magic players on the internet is a pretty great resource. I’ve written about it before, but I took a lot of inspiration for the current version of my Nin, the Pain Artist list from some discussions I had with an Oona player who was running the same combos. In this situation, my own card assessment was way off and he made some very compelling arguments that improved my deck immensely.

Where do I even start?

Writing a primer can be a really big undertaking. My initial draft of my primer took me approximately two weeks to put together. Like any big project, it’s generally a good idea to try to break it into smaller pieces and take on one piece at a time. After a bit of experimentation, I’ve settled on the following 9 sections, with an optional 10th:

Change Log

A change log is a description of cuts you’ve made to the deck previously, and the cards you’ve added to replace them. I like to display this in a date-stamped chart to make it really easy for people to see how the deck has evolved over time.

Date Cuts Adds Rationale
4-Mar-2017 Phyrexian Metamorph
Grafdigger’s Cage
Phyrexian Metamorph and Daze have been on the chopping block for awhile. Metamorph was basically just acting as a mana rock, and I’m not super comfortable running it as a 3 mana rock. Daze has been getting a little worse in my meta lately due to the resurgence of a 5C Boonweaver deck that generally wins without casting a spell on the turn that it happens, either via Academy Rector or Sneak Attack or otherwise. I recently retooled my disruption package to include more spells that hit permanents, so Daze can come out.

Got my hands on a cheap Grafdigger’s Cage, so it goes straight in the deck as part of the Tezzeret package. This will help out against the Yisan and 5C Boonweaver decks in my meta. Overburden goes in as well, and will be used in similar applications.

The most important thing about this section is to include a description of each change you make to the deck. This should include your rationale for doing so. This is especially important for flex slots and meta choices, because it’s very important for the reader of your primer to understand that some of your card selections may not impact their meta as much as they impact yours.

It’s easy to start with a change log because it’s probably going to be empty when you start writing your primer. I only started tracking changes after the first revision to my primer.


The introduction is important, but I would recommend that you keep this brief. Most people aren’t super interested in your entire life story. The introduction’s purpose is to serve as a hook – it should explain to people why they should want to play your deck. It should also include a broad-strokes description of the deck’s strategy or archetype. The introduction is also a good place to credit any other deckbuilders who have inspired or collaborated with you on the list. Even though you’ll likely touch on it in one of the later sections, this is also a good place to talk about your choice of commander and colour identity. If you have enough to say about this, you could reasonably split it off into its own section, but I like including it in the intro.

How does the deck win?

This is the first section where we start to get into the nuts and bolts of how the deck runs. This is a question that every single deckbuilder on the planet should be able to answer in 2 sentences or less. In this section, try to avoid getting into the details of your enablers. Rather, it’s important to focus on what the game looks like when you win.

If your deck wins by creature combat, talk about the creatures and spells that allow you to connect with enough damage to actually kill people.

If your deck wins by combo, list the cards required for the combo and a step-by-step explanation of how the combo actually works. Include any relevant Comprehensive Rules, oracle text, and card rulings that may be necessary to explain things that might be unintuitive.

This section is especially important because if the reader doesn’t know what your deck is trying to do, they won’t be able to determine if the cards you’ve selected will help you actually do it. If the platform you’re using has card fetcher capabilities, this is a great time to use them. If it doesn’t, feel free to use actual pictures of the cards because it will help people better understand what you’re doing without having to copy and paste a wall of oracle text.

Quite often when putting together packages of win conditions, you end up with sets of cards that can interact with each other, or minor variations on your combo that work as well. I find it easiest to put them in a grid for readability’s sake, like so:

Infinite Mana Combo #1 – Metalworker
Piece 1 Piece 2 Piece 3 Conditions
Metalworker Staff of Domination 3 artifact cards in hand, or 2 artifact cards in hand if Staff of Domination is enchanted with Power Artifact.
 Infinite Mana Combo #2 – Monoliths
Piece 1 Piece 2 Piece 3 Conditions
Grim Monolith Power Artifact
Basalt Monolith Power Artifact
Rings of Brighthearth

In Infinite Mana Combo #2, I used the Merge Cells function in Excel to help visually demonstrate that Basalt Monolith produces infinite mana with either Power Artifact or Rings of Brighthearth while reducing repetition and maintaining readability. Note that not every platform is going to allow you to do this, and you may need to fiddle with it a bit if you’re on a platform that uses HTML, markdown, or CSS.

Acceleration and consistency

Even if you’re not racing towards a combo finish, much of a deck’s strategy involves amassing the right amount of the right type of resources to win the game. This could be available mana, permanents on board, cards in hand, or even countermagic backup. In the Acceleration and Consistency section, we look at the pieces of the deck that propel you towards your end goal. I like to divide this section into packages of similar cards, and talk about how they advance me towards my goal. This is the section that allows me to talk about my choices for ramp, card draw and selection, and tutors because those are the most common ways that people use to get to where they’re going.

Roadblocks for opponents

As it turns out, throwing up road blocks for your opponent to screw up their acceleration and consistency is pretty good. If your deck has pieces built in to stop people from doing what they’re trying to do, talk about it in this section to your heart’s content. Don’t just list the cards off, though. Talk about them as though they’re answers to problems you’re having. As an example:

As a two-colour deck with a heavy blue skew, Back to Basics is as close to an autoinclude as you can get. This gets stronger in metas that run a lot of 3+ colour decks as it punishes greedy mana bases. This can be played early in the game as a means to slow the game down, or it can be played after someone taps out as a way to bait out countermagic or clear the way for the combo turn.

Flex slots and meta choices

If you’re a good deckbuilder, this section should be tied pretty closely to the next section. If you think of your deck as a “core” of cards surrounded by supporting pieces that protect it, the supporting pieces are sometimes interchangeable. Swapping them out for contextually appropriate alternatives can help you increase how your deck runs against the decks and strategies you’re most likely to play against. If you’re making decisions about including some cards to combat specific things in your meta, spell it out here. If someone is wondering while you’re running seemingly-narrow responses or way too much of a specific type of hate.

Strengths, weaknesses, and match-ups

Talk about your meta! Did you build your deck to fill a specific role or make it more difficult for your opponents to interact with you? Did you finally get sick of your graveyard being exiled and build a deck that’s not graveyard-centric? Tell your reader about it! Does your deck break symmetry, play under stax, or effectively hose some of the more common commanders out there? You’re never going to get a better place to brag about what your deck does well.

On the flip side, your reader is also going to want to know about your deck’s kryptonite. Are there fairly innocuous things that pose a disproportionately large threat to your strategy? Don’t pretend there isn’t. Tell the reader all about it, as well as the things you’ve done to mitigate or eliminate those risks.

Things I could be running, and why I don’t run them

Many people will tell you that the toughest part about building an EDH deck is the final few cuts. These are cards that you hate to cut, but have to cut. This is a really great place to talk about those things! Be sure to include details about what function they would serve in your deck and what would have to change in your meta for them to make your final list.

Beyond that, you can also talk here about other common strategies that are associated with your commander or archetype. As an example, just about every Nekusar list runs Megrim. If you’re not, this is the time to tell the world why. Be cautioned, though – if you’re wrong, people are going to call you out on it, so be prepared for all types of criticism. If you’ve made strange choice, be absolutely clear about why. House rules, adherence to flavour or lore, pet cards, and even deliberate “power-down” choices all belong in this section.


Every time I revise my primer, I like to include details about the cards that I’ve tested in my deck. These are cards that I think fit into my strategy, but I’m not sure if they’re good enough to supplant existing cards. I like to talk about why I’m considering them for the deck, and what I might consider cutting.

I usually split this section into Testing Results, Currently Testing, and Future Testing sections so people can see my thoughts on what I’ve done in the past and how they’ve resulted in the Change Log decisions up above.

(Optional) Budget considerations

One of my favourite trends I’ve been seeing on the CompetitiveEDH subreddit is people including decklists at several budget price points. This is a ton of extra work, but it serves two extremely important functions:

  1. It allows people to discuss the merits of the budgetless strategy and card choices. This is what I was getting at in my previous article (Aspirational Deckbuilding). This is very important if you’re looking to fine tune your deck and create a roadmap for acquiring cards to improve it.
  2. It answers the question “What do I do if I can’t afford X?” that inevitably pops up on every primer discussion. It gives you another opportunity to talk about how the pieces of the deck fit together, and it allows you to guide the discussion about lower-budget ways to accomplish the same goal with different cards.

If you’re interested in this sort of content, Reddit user DJMoneghan of the Lab Maniacs has been killing it lately with his Budget Deck Series. If you read nothing else today you should take a look at these lists. They are outstanding, and a great addition to your primer.


I’m done writing – what now?

Talk about it! Head out and post your primer on MTGSalvation, Reddit, TappedOut, and anywhere that will allow you to. The Magic players who have the most relevant feedback for you are generally the ones who love to read thoughtful EDH content. If you’ve put some effort into your primer as I’ve outlined above, you’re very likely to attract people who are passionate about your strategy, passionate about your commander, or passionate about deckbuilding in general. They’re going to ask you questions, make recommendations, and even criticize card choices. Try not to take any of this personally – they’re generally saying these things because they’re trying to help! Stay receptive to feedback and thank people for putting in the effort to read through your primer, think about it, and make recommendations.

As the discussion and recommendations roll in, feel free to make changes. This primer should be a living document, and if you’re going to put in all the effort of creating it you should also put in the effort of keeping it updated. Get into the habit of updating your list every time you make a physical change to your paper list, and updating the relevant sections so people can see the history of your deck’s evolution. At the moment, I update my primer once per block, but in the new block/set structure I’m probably just going to update it every other set, unless there are massive changes brought about by new cards or unbannings.

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