Casual Magic: Nico’s Tolarian Academy Deck

This is a post about Magic the Gathering, some lingo and game-specific jargon to be expected. 

Nicolas, 10: Dad, this artifact deck you built me is unbeatable! You hardly ever win with all your other decks!

Chatty (eyeing all the unused artifact destroyers in his collection): That’s true son, but I’ll beat you someday!

A few years ago, at around the time I was teaching Nico to play magic, I went through my then humongous collection of Magic cards. I had purchased a colleague’s collection that included most cards from the Urza’s block (circa 1998). There were some ridiculously powerful cards in there, some that are banned or restricted to this day.

Nico and I aren’t really running a sanctioned tournament store in my kitchen so I thought “What’s the harm?”

I pulled a few cards from Urza (Tolarian Academy, Metalworker and Voltaic Key) and dove here and there in my stash to come up with an Artifact-driven deck that overwhelmed the opposition with big, evasion-based (i.e. hard to block) monsters.

Here it is:

Arcbound Academy


1X Darksteel Citadel

1X Tolarian Academy

1X Islands


2X Arcbound Crusher

2X Arcbound Fiend

2X Archbound Hybrid

1X Arcbound Overseer

1X Arcbounnd Ravager

3x Arcbound Stinger 

3X Bottle Gnomes

1X Frogmite

2X Metalworker

3X Myr Servitor

3X Spire Golem

3X Trinket Mage

1X Tezzeret the Seeker

2X Vedalken Archmage

Other Spells

1X Mind Spring

1X Power Conduit

1X SkullClamp

2X Spellbook

2X Voltaic Key

1X Wanderer’s Twig

As casual decks go, this more than holds its own in experienced hands around a table .  The deck builds up an early defense through its cheapest Arcbound creature which leave +1/+1 counter on other artifact creatures when chump blocking . The deck accelerates into inevitability by unleashing a horde of artifact  creatures, trading them for cards through sacrificing them to Skullclamp and ultimately attack with an evasion-powered creature pumped up beyond the opponent’s life total. The deck truly abuses the fact that Mana Burn no longer exists by allowing huge hands filled with artifacts to power Metalworker and Tolarian Academy. In fact, Nico has to be careful when playing this as he tends to be a conservative player and refrain from attacking until  he feels he won’t lose too many monsters. He decked himself a few times.

Of course, from a more serious point of view, that deck is a pile of crap supporting an interesting, time tested engine. Because of its lack of counterspells, it dies horribly to Shatterstorm though. I’m keeping that particular lesson to my son for later. It’s other main weaknesses at a casual table is its inconsistent start speed, it can crumble to fast, aggressively played weenie decks on a semi-regular basis. Any control decks will also give it a run for its money, my Mono-Black control deck packing a ton of sacrifice cards makes Nico grumble.

(Yeah Nico tends to forget the times I beat him, like Dave does when I wipe the floor in drafts and sealed decks at cons).

To make the deck more consistent, I’d drop the Bottle Gnomes and Arcbound hybrids and replace them with the best counterspells I could dredge from my collection. I’d also drop the 8 Mana Arcbound Overseer (an overwinner in my opinion) and add either a new Skullclamp or Mind Spring. Drawing cards is fundamental to this deck.

On my side, I’ll tweak my Green Trample-based fatties deck to include some artifact hate (not too much) and teach Nico to play more aggressively by pushing him hard. Next, I plan to walk him through tweaking his own decks. Maybe I’ll blog about that.

Are anyone of you playing Magic with kids? What kind of decks do they like playing? How tolerant are they to control decks?


  1. Phil, you are frikken awesome.

  2. You. Me. Gen Con draft. Bring it.

  3. @Micheal: Thanks! Anything awesome in particular or just a general w00t of appreciation? 🙂

    @Dave: Oh buddy, it’s ON! And none of that backstage “among friends” crap, I want this to be DCI’ed!


  4. Just the way you are teaching your kid magic. Awesome geek parents being awesome geek parents should always be acknowledged.

  5. I disagree! One on one Winchester draft. Back room style. Whiskey and Russian mobsters. High stakes.

  6. You are a evil evil man, hooking your son in these kind of degenerate power. What is next? Memory Jar?

  7. How about some Clouds of Faeries or Palinchron? The Academy does enjoy being able to untap itself… Prosperity or other spells to force the opponent to discard/gain advantage from ditching your Servitors? Everflowing Chalice may also help you out for the multikicker costs/producing large sweet amounts of colorless mana in case of a problem with casting off Affinity. A nice little finisher in a mana dump to force draws or other effects was always the strength with Academy :).



  8. I do a bit of magic training (mainly with adults who are just getting in to magic)

    Couple points:
    I understand what you mean about forcing players to commit resources, some players really don’t like the concept of taking any damage or making plays unless it’s totally safe. Usually what I do is, if they tend to favor the defensive deck then I make a decent aggro deck that can beat them a bit more than half the time, then once I’ve established how play goes, I’ll switch out the deck so that they can play aggro and get a feel for it (they will probably lose at first but the power differential should help)
    Vigilance is also a great direction to take with these players, being able to commit to attacking without letting up on defense. – also just some sort of finisher type combo might work as well, – search for servitors, hold the line, construct the death machine, end the game

    What I don’t like here is the tutor/skull clamp combo – skullclamp is a really tough engine to beat, banned in pretty much every format, it lowers variance and increases predictability – in addition you hand over four tutors for it. I think if I were building this I would try for more of a toolbox situation so that you can adapt to different scenarios.

    Cards I dig from more recent sets
    Kuldotha Forgemaster – combo in a can, but it’s got a nice cost.. usually gets:
    Myr Battlesphere – nothing like a big end game monster to crush people with.
    Perilous Myr – more of a rattlesnake card (go attack someone else ) than bottle gnomes, and kills a lot of annoying stuff.

    For a subtle “forcing attack theme” – battlesphere is really good, since it gets a great ability when attacking – and kiln walker is another fave that I run. It doesn’t force you to attack, but it’s much better when it does.

  9. @Michael: Thanks! Much appreciated. I do love playing games with my kids and teaching them more elaborate plays and whatnot. Nico’s already an established gamer, we fear the day he beats us all, all the time.

    @Dave: I’m all for it. I’ll bring the scotch.

    @Balard: No worries, most of my collection was given away last year, what I have left for Nico to learn how to build decks isn’t as bad… and I don’t think he realized how broken the cards were… not having tasted the deck’s medecine all that much.

    @Lookook: Great advice, especially that about untapping academy. I like that a lot! Thanks!

    @Xavier: That is sound teaching advice about mastering Aggro vs Defense. I agree with the toolbox approach and will look into the cards you suggest at the card store today. Thanks!

  10. @Phil & Dave: Now I’m fully expecting to receive a severed head of one of you in the mail from GenCon, covered in whiskey with a note written in Russian.

  11. tiefighterace says:

    How about adding 1 Darksteel Forge? maybe that could help against Shatterstorm 😀
    By the way, i hope to be such an awesome dad as you are someday. 🙂

  12. You know what’s really cool? Nico’s been discussing his deck with other 10-12 y.o at school and came back asking if he should add a Darksteel Colossus to his deck. I’ll look up the forge… that would make him giddy if it does what I recall: Make all Artifacts indestructable.

  13. tiefighterace says:

    This card is incredible, but you wouldn’t believe how much time took me to get it in Prague, Czech Republic, it’s the prize of my collection and it really kicks buts in my artifact deck. To bad i can’t find anyone in Prague to play D&D. Because they don’t understand the rules (there’s no translation).

  14. Have you reached college age yet? You should find plenty Anglo-philes that play RPGs games at Universities there.

  15. tiefighterace says:

    I’m studiing Aircraft Maintenace Technologies and there’s enought people with decent english, but they don’t want to play. I even searched in the interned, but the best i could find was a GURPS group and let’s be honest, D&D is so much better than GURPS (I’m not talking ’bout 4e D&D, that’s just wrong).