In this edition of know yourself, instead of an event or a compilation of decklists, this article will aim to be a bit more player focused instead of deck or event focused. It will point to you, the reader, should you be interested.
In a game as wildly diverse and powerful as Magic the gathering, deck selection is everything. Sometimes a deck might be so strongly positioned and powerful against the established best deck that it comes out of the blue and carves a tournament to pieces, nary dropping a match and making deckbuilders rethink what is true about a certain format.
Other times, a deck might be so niche no one knows the correct lines of play against it (think of a deck like mono-blue turns in modern). Walking into a tournament and choosing a deck that is powerful and good against what is expected to be there is everything. And sometimes a player can analyze a metagame and see a weak point in deck construction, and force the games to come down to a single card in the mainboard that causes the swing in match percentage in that player’s favor. (See Brad Nelson’s GP Denver winning deck, playing maindeck Skysovereign, Consul Flagship)
All of these strategies are winning strategies for a certain weekend, a certain tournament, a certain magic climate. But, these are strategies adopted by the best of the best and requires immense amounts of time and experience to see to fruition, not to mention time and effort. The average magic player doesn’t have that kind of time or energy to commit that kind of effort into study and testing. But let’s say that you aren’t looking to spike a grand prix or an SCG event. You just want to increase your win percentages overall and have more consistent results, and make yourself a more concurrent part of the players in your local meta. For that, you need to learn to stick to your guns.
Let’s be clear: Sticking to your guns is hard. Sometimes, you want to try new color combinations after a new set release, there’s a sweet new rare that you can’t wait to brew up a deck around, and you’re tiring of your standard deck. You’ve ran the bells and whistles of that deck so much that you’re tired and you just want a change. And that is a perfectly acceptable feeling. You brew up that sweet deck with that new rare and you take it down to the local fnm, say even the week after prerelease.
Odds are? You’re going to get butchered. You’re going to go back to the drawing board and write up the deck again, looking for flaws. You’re going to go back again next week, against the same G/B roc deck, the same R/W burn deck, and get totally trounced all over by your local players. You get frustrated, swear off the deck, and go back to the drawing board. So what really went wrong?
The problem is that your deck might not be bad, it even might be great. It’s just that your deck knowledge is terrible. You may have no idea what cards are most important where, and while the deck could be chock full of removal, that doesn’t matter if you cannot capitalize and remove the threats that matter. A wise magic player once told me “never register a decklist if you can’t tell me the 75 without looking.” While this is a bit of an extreme rule, I believe it has some truth to it and can help make doubly sure you know what you’re doing, especially with a newer deck. If you can’t tell me what your best removal spell is or how many land you’re maindecking, it will be extremely difficult to do well.
And this is where sticking to your guns is going to help you immensely. If you consistently play the same deck week after week, you will slowly improve. You’ll know what you have to do in certain matchups. You can tweak and edit the main and sideboard to your heart’s content and really get to know how the deck lines up to the rest of the store.
You can add and cut lands as you find the sweet spots in the number crunch for your deck. You get to know how your deck flows through the course of the game, and how your curve plays out. Playing the same deck consistently is the same principle as playing the same character in a fighting game: the more you play, the more you learn over time, and the better your results will be.
This is how players earn titles around stores. Tom “the boss” Ross isn’t synonymous with infect for no good reason. It’s because he played the archetype near religiously for years, and became notorious for killing people with Glistener elf on turn 3 in modern and legacy. Patrick Sullivan isn’t known for playing burn because he spiked a tournament. He’s known for burn because he plays burn in legacy pretty much exclusively. I don’t think there is another human being I link closer to lightning bolt than Patrick. What you need to do is find that deck for yourself.
However, do not go blindly into the night. If your deck is being invalidated or simply isn’t good enough to compete, it is okay to change decks if you feel you are being hated out or don’t have strong enough cards to make the deck work the way you want it to.
So next time you sit down for a format, really look at yourself. What deck do you like to play? Do you favor aggressive strategies? Perhaps you want to try your hand at executing a combo deck, killing your opponent in one turn? Maybe you prefer counterspells and planeswalkers? Whatever you decide, regardless of the format, make sure that you really, really think about what you want to play, and stick with it. I can say with utmost confidence that your results will improve the more you play your deck consistently.
See you next week!