Top-Down

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'Top-Down' refers to a deckbuilding philosophy that prioritizes a player's choice of commander, then subsequently fills out the rest of the deck with cards that complement and support it. This philosophy treats the commander as the top of the pyramid, then works its way down to the base.

This differs from Bottom-Up deckbuilding, which prioritizes the 'base' of the pyramid and the deck's overall theme, then subsequently finds a commander to put atop that theme. Top-Down deckbuilding is generally more common than Bottom-Up deckbuilding.

Concepts

Building a deck when using the Top-Down approach starts by first choosing a commander. Once chosen, a builder will then search for cards that directly synergize, enhance, or complement the abilities of that commander, and which will help facilitate the ideal gameplan the commander will thrive within. The majority of cards in the deck will be chosen this way, though there is potential that as the Top-Down builder selects their final cards, they may also search for combos and/or synergies between cards in the 99.

For example, 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, a Bottom-Up deckbuilder who would like to build a Merfolk tribe 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. Though both decks use the same commander, they have approached it from different angles and have therefore created very different decks.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Top-Down building gives a deck a specific direction that is guided by the leader, including an immediate restriction on the deck's overall color identity, which can help a player find and select cards for the deck more quickly.
  • Top-Down building also provides avenues for players to take advantage of commanders with multiple abilities and/or potential strategical directions by using the most powerful elements from each of those components.
  • Choosing a commander that the deck will always have access to in the command zone allows all the cards selected for the deck's 99 to synergize directly with that commander's abilities, increasing their utility and power within the game in ways that other commanders, even within the same theme, are not able to take advantage of.

Cons

  • Top-Down deckbuilding, which prioritizes a commander over a general theme, runs the risk of omitting powerful cards within that theme which lie outside the scope of that commander's colors.
  • Because Top-Down deckbuilding focuses more intently on an individual card's relationship to the commander, rather than that card's relationship to the deck overall, some card choices within the 99 may not mesh together as neatly, or may potentially even obstruct one another's abilities, and may flounder somewhat in gameplay scenarios where the commander in question has become inaccessible.
  • In the event that a player decides to take their deck apart and build a new deck entirely, Top-Down decks are much harder to transition from one commander to another, as many of the card choices have direct synergy with that commander but will be far less useful in another deck, forcing a player to start back at square one for the new deck.

References

Noble's Word, Top Down vs Bottom Up Design