Since my personal preference is also Wednesday and no one else really had a preference I’ll be throwing up a new article every Wednesday starting next week. For this one I wanted to wait at least a week mostly just to give people time to read some of those articles. Some were in fact quite lengthy and I know everyone isn’t as crazy as I am and would read them all in one sitting, especially some of the ones that were slightly above your head (they were at least slightly above my head). I wanted to get that first post out of the way at the beginning because I felt as though it was the perfect place to start. It isn’t like I’ll ever be able to come up with any new ideas that totally redefine how people think about magic. I’d be lucky to come up with ideas that redefine my own thoughts about magic.
Today’s topic is going to be mostly type 3.5 specific but will apply to any constructed format. I’m sure everyone noticed I seemed to win the type 3 tournaments were having almost every other week. I probably ended up winning about 65% of them or so. Play skill of course always plays a big portion in how well you do but that isn’t what I’m going to look at today. Besides I believe Dustin is at the very least equal to me in pure play skill terms and in many cases better. I’m probably a bit better at playing control or at least the control mirror but he is either equal or better than me at playing pretty much every other archetype. I’d also like to mention the rest of the group is a lot better than they usually get credit for. BJ has been playing for long enough that I don’t need to lump him in this category. I think the only reason he hasn’t been doing as well lately is because he has been borrowing other people’s decks rather than playing his own. Kim is improving a lot and really the only thing holding her back is that her collection is more static than many of us because she is responsible enough not to spend all her money on magic cards. In fact it seems the largest reason for Kim to get new cards is because they have pretty art, not that that is a bad reason. Branden has been playing for less time than the rest of the group and I think started playing sometime during Mirrodin block. He has improved a large amount recently and I don’t expect this to stop anytime soon. He is not near as terrible as most people are during their first year or two of playing. His decks are better than he might give them credit for as well. While most of them could use a few tweaks here and there and possibly a more stable mana base they seem to all be built around strong concepts.
Getting back on topic the things I want to talk about today though all take place before the tournament starts.
The first step is of course deciding on and building a deck. If each of you were to be honest, how far in advance did you usually have your decks built? I remember many a time when Dustin would IM me on Friday afternoon declaring he had no idea what to play or would be putting the deck together as people arrived. I think I built more of Kim’s type 3 decks than she did and that was ususally 5 minutes before we started. I will admit some of my decks were built the night before the tournament but most were built at least a week in advance. In fact the ones that were built the day before also were the ones that didn’t do so well. Why is it important to build the decks in advance? So you can test them.
There are many ways you can test a deck without an extra person handy (though that would be the best method if possible). The first thing you should do after throwing a deck together is to shuffle it up and just draw a few hands and maybe play the first few turns of a game. This is mostly to make sure the mana base is decent. You want to pay attention to whether you draw enough land or even too much land early in the game. If there is a problem make some small adjustments like adding or removing a land or two. Some people have a knack for being able to just know the correct mana base for a deck just by looking at it but I’m not one of them. I’m usually close but a few tweaks are often necessary. Another way of going through a few goldfish games is to use a program like Apprentice or Magic Workstation. These programs let you build decks and goldfish them. I much prefer Magic Workstation as it will also let you test the deck in the mirror match, or if you pay for the program, against another deck you have built. Both will let you play against other people online but I don’t like trying to play actual games with these programs. These programs also don’t know magic rules so it is mostly just a digital playing mat that will shuffle your deck for you. That said I got so much use out of Magic Workstation that after debating it for a few months I eventually ended up paying for the full version so I could use it to test decks against other decks. After the mana base is stable the next step is to test the deck against actual disruption. There are multiple ways to do this. One is to build a different generic test deck to play against your deck. You just basically take turns swapping between decks and playing both sides. It looks really stupid and may make you feel like a loser (It is sort of like playing Monopoly by yourself.) but it will drastically help you get a feel for how your deck performs in an actual game. There are some problems such as the fact that you know what in both players hands (since both are you) which makes things like Cabal Therapy hard to play. You basically have to try and figure out what you’d name if you didn’t know what your opponent was holding. Other problems include thinks like knowing when mass removal is coming so you don’t overextend or knowing when to not counter a spell because a worse one is coming up but these problems don’t actually affect too much. After all it isn’t like you are trying to make the pro tour or anything, just play in a 4-6 person casual tournament. You generally want to test your deck against a couple different deck types. Maybe a few aggressive decks, some with removal and some without. Then against a few more controlling decks of different types. This can help you find a deck’s weakness which will help you try and fix it. This testing always provides good results and always results in me changing parts of my deck. The decks I bring to the tournaments (or even just have in the box) are never the same decks I first put together. Ever. I absolutely can’t just sit down and throw together an optimal decklist, even of an archetype I play often. When I skipped this testing I often discovered major problems with the deck during the tournament where it is much too late to fix. During the first tournament I had all my removal in the sideboard and lost to decks playing with cheap creatures. I had planned on fetching it with Cunning Wish but it ended up way too slow. I remember getting beat down by things like Merfolk Looter before I had the mana to cast the Wish and the fetched removal spell. A deck that can’t handle a 1/1 for 1U has some major problems. I wound up tying for last place even though the deck had more powerful cards than anyone else’s. Even multiple copies of Force of Will and Fact or Fiction and plenty more broken cards didn’t stop me from getting trampled by crappy creatures. I would have been able to notice this if I had played even a single game with the deck before the tournament.
The other thing I want to talk about is Metagaming. This to put it as simply as possible is just what you expect there to be at the tournament. While you can certainly build a metagame deck this usually has to do with the contents of your sideboard. Remember that you play between 50% and 67% of your games after sideboarding. This makes them very important. The main reason I want to talk about metagaming is that in our group (at least in type 3) it seems to be nearly impossible to do. I think the main reason for this is the fact that all of us seemed to have the unwritten rule of never playing the same deck twice. This means that the metagame is completely different every week. There are however certain patterns you can detect. As I’m sure everyone noticed I am quite fond of control decks. Not just draw go but control of every type and color. I didn’t play control every week but it was more than 50%. I also tend to avoid combo. I really just don’t like combo decks very much unless they are very fast and consistent and those tend to be broken and thus contain cards I can’t afford. I actually think I would even like a good combo deck. In other words I probably wont be playing combo (though I wouldn’t say never). I’m also quite fond of mass removal so never overextend. Discard and land destruction is useful but take it easy on the land destruction. No one likes it in casual. Armageddon is fine unless it is multiplayer (where each time it is cast it seems to add an hour to the game and no one wants to play one game until 3:00 AM). I’ve noticed Branden has a tendency to have either black or red (or both) in his decks and they tend to be on the aggressive side. This means pack color hosers like Chill or Light of Day and/or mass removal like Pyroclasm and Wrath of God. BJ tends to lean towards either aggressive green decks with things like Overrun or defensive white decks with life gain and damage prevention. Mass removal is excellent against the former and the latter is only a problem if you are playing a super aggressive deck (especially an aggressive red deck). Cards like Sulfuric Vortex and Flaring Pain can certainly help in those cases. The rest of the group is much more random but Kim’s best decks seem to be B/W aggro control or decks with lots of bounce. The bounce is likely more fun to
play annoy people with but the B/W ones are much more powerful. Then again Desolation Angels tend to be like that. Bounce isn’t as effective against creatures that cost less than the bounce spells and you’ll probably want to either counter that Desolation Angel or keep her from getting 7 mana. Dustin is very hard to peg down as there really isn’t anything he doesn’t play. He does tend to gravitate toward certain colors for periods of time though (I think he is at the U/G stage right now). He does tend to lean slightly to the control side though so things like discard is helpful. Disenchants are always useful. He never builds decks without targets. He also runs more non-basic lands than the rest of us so cards like Sowing Salt and Dwarven Blastminer can be useful against him. These of course all just tendencies and everyone breaks them often. However knowing the tendedcies of the players in your group can really help you not have any useless cards in your sideboard.