Bottom-Up

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'Bottom-Up' refers to a deckbuilding philosophy that prioritizes a deck's overall theme, tribe, combo, or general strategy, filling out a list of cards that complement each other, then subsequently choosing a commander that will lead the deck. This philosophy treats the core 99 cards within the deck as the base of a pyramid, eventually working its way up to top off the deck.

This differs from Top-Down deckbuilding, which prioritizes the 'top' of the pyramid (the commander) and subsequently fills out the 99 afterwards directly based upon the choice of commander. Bottom-Up deckbuilding is generally less common than Top-Down deckbuilding.

Concepts

Building a deck when using the Bottom-Up approach starts with a player's desire to build around a particular theme, such as Lifegain or Infect, or even a particular tribe, such as Elves tribe. It may also stem from a player's desire to run a particular 'package' or 'suite' of cards within a deck, to take advantage of the unique interactions and synergies those cards have with one another. Once this core set of cards is assembled, Bottom-Up builders will search for a commander whose color identity allows them to play the cards in their list, preferably one that has potential applications within the scope of that strategy. They may then round out the rest of the 99 by selecting a few cards that directly synergize with both the deck's theme and with the chosen commander.

For example, a Bottom-Up deckbuilder who would like to build a Merfolk tribe tribal deck that contains Merfolk tribe cards in blue, green, and white might assemble a list of Merfolk tribe in these colors, then eventually choose Tuvasa the Sunlit as the commander due to her status as a Merfolk tribe creature. By contrast, a Top-Down builder who chooses the commander Tuvasa the Sunlit will likely begin by searching for cards that directly synergize with her abilities, primarily enchantment spells. By contrast, Though both decks use the same commander, they have approached it from different angles and have therefore created very different decks.

Pros and Cons of Bottom-Up Deckbuilding

Pros

  • Some strategies do not have commanders. A player who desires the ability to play with energy counters, for example, does not have a specific legendary creature that directly utilizes energy. Many creature types also do not have a suitable commander that will directly assist them in a tribal deck. Strategies such as these cannot be approached from a Top-Down perspective, and must be built Bottom-Up.
  • Bottom-Up deckbuilding is very free-form, as there is no commander that restricts the strategy's color identity. Players are able to choose cards that directly tie into their chosen theme from across the entire breadth of Magic without being hamstrung by any restrictions.
  • Bottom-Up deckbuilers are able to take full advantage of synergies and even combos within the 99, and their primary gameplan will be largely unaffected if their commander is removed from the field. They may even elect not to cast their commander at all, preferring instead to focus wholly on the interactions between cards in the 99.

Cons

  • By choosing a theme or tribe before choosing a commander, Bottom-Up decks run the risk of overlooking powerful interactions their commander may have offered to their deck. As a result, commanders with multiple compelling abilities that lead Bottom-Up decks will rarely be able to take full advantage of those abilities, and may have less of an impact on the game than their potential would imply.
  • Bottom-Up decks do not rely upon their commander to facilitate their strategy, but also may not play their commander at all, removing their own access to one of the format's core tenets, and removing the utility of a card in the command zone that they will always be able to fall back upon.
  • Though Bottom-Up decks prioritize thematic cohesion without restriction, the free-form nature of this philosophy may occasionally make the deckbuilding process more difficult or time-consuming. For instance, a Top-Down player who chooses a Simic commander with a +1/+1 counters theme strategy will not be able to make use of cards in red, black, or white that also assist this strategy. This restriction is not shared by the Bottom-Up approach. However, a player who does use the Bottom-Up approach and who decides to use cards from any (or all) colors for a +1/+1 counters theme strategy may find it difficult to fit all of those cards into a single deck, in addition to other essential components that the deck requires to function properly. Access to each additional color opens the doors to even more cards, which can make finalizing the deck that much harder as a brewer must take extra time to decide which cards will actually make the cut.


References:

Noble's Word, Top Down vs Bottom Up Design