Raise Your Standards – Deck Piloting: An Unrecognized Skill


Hello and welcome to another episode of Raise Your Standards.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a deck that was played by a pro at a large event that also showed up later that week as a 5-0 deck in a MTGO League.  I indicated that the person playing the deck in the MTGO League piloted the deck to a 5-0 finish.  In the feedback I received from that article, one reader commented on the use of the term ‘piloting a deck’ which was the germ of inspiration needed for me to write this article.

Isn’t This Just Netdecking?

For me, creating a new deck from scratch is a very intimidating process.  Even in Standard which has a relatively small number of cards to choose from (when compared to Modern, Legacy, or Vintage), it takes a lot of effort and time to choose the cards that I think will work best in my deck.  And as a husband and father, time is a very precious commodity.  So, I tend to look for decks online that look interesting to me to play.

So, in a way, this is exactly netdecking.  However, the term netdecking usually implies that the person doing it is looking for the best possible deck, which in my case simply isn’t true.  Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times when I will play a deck that I found online that is considered ‘the best deck’, but there are far more times when the deck I choose to play simply has a card or two that don’t see much play, or that is a different archetype than I’ve been playing.

Over the past few months, I’ve played a variety of different decks.  I’ve played B/G Constrictor, Ramunap Red, Mono-White Crested Sunmare, Mardu Vehicles, and U/R Control.  I’ve also built the U/W Monument deck and the Fraying Sanity deck that I wrote about last week, with hopes of playing them before the upcoming rotation.  What do all of these decks have in common with each other?  Absolutely nothing.  Which is exactly the reason I’ve played each of them.

Consistency vs. Variety

A couple of weeks ago, Forrest W. wrote an article here at MTGDeckTechs titled “Know Yourself: Stick to Your Guns”.  In it he provided some reasons why it can be valuable to choose a deck to play and play it consistently.  While I don’t disagree with any of his points, I believe sticking with one deck simply allows you to see the strengths and weaknesses of a single deck.  By changing things up and piloting different types of decks, I’m able to formulate a more complete picture of the current environment and can see better which decks and strategies should be strong against others.

Another thing to note is that by piloting different decks, you can learn skills that enable you to become a better player.  Consider this; have you ever played your favorite midrange deck against a control deck?  If so, you know the trepidation you feel when playing a spell while your opponent has untapped lands.  The uncertainty you feel becomes less intensified when you’ve been on the other side of the table and have learned how to play a control deck.  You can see, firsthand, the number of times you’ve had to bluff that you’re holding a counterspell which allows you to better anticipate when the coast is clear when playing against a control deck and when it’s not.  That little bit of knowledge can be the difference between playing with confidence and playing in fear.


Also, if your goal is to become a pro player, you’ll likely need to learn to pilot different style of decks.  While many pro players are associated with a particular type of deck, they’ve become as good as they are by branching out from only playing one deck to being able to pilot any given deck.  For example, Craig Wescoe is known for having an affinity for playing white-based decks.  However, the decks he plays at each event can differ greatly from one event to the next based on whether he decides to include a secondary color and whether he chooses to play an aggro, midrange, or control deck.  If he had only stuck to playing aggressive white weenie decks, he wouldn’t have the range he currently has.

Another example that shows why it’s important to learn to pilot multiple types of decks is for tournament testing.  Whether it’s a house full of pro’s testing for the Pro Tour or just you and your buddies testing for an upcoming PPTQ, it’s important to test your deck out against a variety of opposing decks.  For the testing to be as beneficial as it can be, the person playing the opposing deck must be a skilled enough pilot to be able to play efficiently with a deck that they haven’t been playing with for weeks.  If they’re not, the testing won’t be as effective as possible and that could cause problems at the actual tournament (because you know your actual opponent will be skilled with their deck).

The final benefit of learning to pilot different decks is that it can provide variety for you when a format may be stale.  Often in the month prior to a new release, a format becomes more or less solved.  The majority of good decks are known and there’s much less innovation happening.  I like to use this time to practice my piloting skills by playing different decks than I’ve played in the past.  Sometimes the results are less than wonderful, but other times I do better than expected.  Once, just for fun, I piloted a deck I found on Gathering Magic.  It was a slightly modified Nissa Planeswalker deck, upgraded only with commons and uncommons, no additional rares or mythic rares.  I did much better at that FNM than expected, coming in a 3-1, and I learned a lot about card synergy that I could use at an upcoming draft.

Getting Your Pilot’s License

In summary, I highly recommend learning to pilot multiple decks.  It will help you learn different strategies, understand play patterns better, and help you figure out which deck is best in a given meta.  If your goal is to become a more-rounded player, piloting different decks certainly helps with that.  It’s also a great way to relieve boredom.

Let me know what you think about deck piloting.  You can leave me a comment below, contact me on Twitter (@mikelikesmtg), or email me directly at mikelikesmtg@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to join me next week when we take a look at some of the upcoming cards from Ixalan.  Also, as a reminder, my official review of Ixalan cards as they relate to Standard play will begin on Sunday, September 17th.  I’ll see you then!

Mike Likes


Mike Likes

Mike Likes

Mike started playing Magic back in 1994, but gave it up at the end of 1995. He came back to the game during the Lorwyn block and has been playing ever since. Around this time, he opened and ran his own comic & game store, while also raising his newborn daughter. After 8 years, he sold his business and moved to Wisconsin with his wife and daughter. With the debut of Kaladesh, his entire family became regular Magic players. He now has hopes of competing alongside his wife and daughter at a Grand Prix or similar event in the future. #MTGDad

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