#theweeklywars #6 — Deckbuilding Lessons

#32 — There tends to be a reason successful decks are successful.

We all know that suboptimal or even downright bad decks can win tournaments every now and then. There is variance in Magic and sometimes you end up beating the odds. Sometimes you’re just lucky.

I know that I have used this as an excuse to write off decks before. “Oh, the deck is terrible, the player obviously must have gotten lucky.” “Look at that metagame, everybody’s playing this deck’s only favourable matchup.” Often, these arguments are actually true. But every now and then, they’re excuses in disguise.

When you see a player or deck performing well repeatedly, there tends to be a reason. The first time your whacky combo deck wins a tournament? Well you might have just gotten lucky. The second time? Maybe still. But when the deck has Top 8’ed five consecutive tournaments, it should be taken seriously.

I’m not saying every deck that wins is good, but whenever a deck wins repeatedly, don’t write it off as good fortune. Try to pinpoint the reason it’s winning. Maybe it really is a deck that thrives in certain metagames. Maybe it’s a deck that’s easy to beat if players have experience playing against it, but they’re not quite there yet. Maybe it’s highly interactive and the player is just that much better than the opposition.

Maybe it’s the most represented deck in the tournament and keeps winning on the back of sheer numbers. Or, just maybe, the deck is the real deal.

Still, every now and then players gravitate to inferior versions of decks (early Legacy RUG Delver lists come to mind). What they have might be suboptimal, but if superior versions have not caught on, it doesn’t make a difference.

#33 — Most decklists do make sense.

The same is true for individual deck lists. Often players look at tournament results, see a deck they like and start taking it to the test — but not after “improving” it. When a person spends weeks or even months playing a deck and they take it to a tournament, there tend to be reasons.

If there is an odd split of removal spells or an unusual card in the sideboard, don’t start by fixing it. Rather, try to figure out why things are the way they are. Sometimes you might not get a satisfying answer easily, sometimes you might not even get one at all. But missing out on a crucial piece of technology simply due to ignorance is terrible.

#34 — There are no sacred cows.

This one goes quite far back, but it’s one of the coolest things I have witnessed in a Magic tournament. GP Amsterdam 2011 (Legacy) was littered with Canadian Threshold decks, thanks to the recent printing of Delver of Secrets. We all know that Delver is a great card and can do ugly things. One of my friends also played Canadian, although with a twist. His list was “good in the mirror”. What that meant? Well, of course, he didn’t play Delver of Secrets! And it actually worked out for him, he went 5-1 in the mirror on day one (!).

The takeaway is that nothing is irreplaceable. Every card in a deck plays a certain role, and if that role is not relevant to the games you expect to play, cut that card from your deck. It doesn’t matter if everyone else plays four copies of that card. Don’t be afraid to board out cards that are usually integral to your deck, or even cut them altogether. I hear there even was a guy once who didn’t run any maindeck copies of Infernal Tutor in his Storm deck…

#35 — There are no “sideboard cards”.

There really aren’t. The only difference between cards is how flexible they are. By now, players have become used to this, but a few years back, I would often hear things like “What’s that land doing in your sideboard, you’re wasting slots here!”. I also vividly remember “How can you play maindeck Flusterstorm, that’s a sideboard card!”.

The truth is some cards are very broad. Think vanilla creatures or combo pieces. Other cards, like Ruric Thar, The Unbowed or Boseiju, Who Shelters All are rather narrow. The real question, however, is not how narrow a card is, but how often you expect to want to draw it in preboard games. A great example is Pyroblast, a card that barely has text when you play against non-blue decks. But all the maindeck copies we saw during the Delve era? That made perfect sense.

Because really, whether you run maindeck Swords to Plowshares or Pyroblast in your Miracles deck doesn’t make a difference. Both cards are only useful against certain strategies. Which one you want to run depends on what you expect to need.

#36 — Build 75, not 60 + 15.

This actually encompasses two things.

The first is merely a matter of deck space. If you build your maindeck and sideboard separately, you might come to the conclusion that you want to have six sideboard cards for a certain matchup, while in fact your deck is set up in a way that it doesn’t function properly anymore if you board out more than four cards.

The second is that you should take into account how matches play out. My deck might be favoured against Dredge after sideboarding, but what about the preboard game? If I always lose game one, what use is it to be a slight favourite in games two and three? You still only need to win one of them to undo all my hard work.

This constantly comes up with Storm. Storm has very good game ones against most other Legacy decks. Then your opponents board something ridiculous like 8-10 cards, which makes them favourites in the postboard games. But they’re not favoured enough to consistently take matches from you because lose game one so frequently.

Don’t waste valuable slots like that. Focus on the matches you can reasonably expect to win and build focused 75 card decks.

#37 — If you board out a card all the time that doesn’t mean you should cut it altogether.

Just one more thing on sideboarding. Sometimes you build the most consistent deck by putting a very flexible card in your maindeck that you replace with more specific cards in every postboard game. An example would be running a maindeck Izzet Charm that you always board out in favour of Spell Pierce or Forked Bolt, depending on matchups.

Or you have a generic proactive card in your maindeck that you replace with other proactive cards depending on the interactive spells your opponents have. Tarmogoyf might be the leanest threat overall, but depending on your matchup, you may rather want Young Pyromancer or True-Name Nemesis.

The same is true the other way round. Just because a card is always boarded in doesn’t mean it belongs in your maindeck. Maybe you want that extra creature in your sideboard because everyone is going to board in additional removal against you. But before sideboarding, you can get away with fewer creatures and some powerful interactive cards instead.

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