It Is OK to Just Play the Best Deck
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Brewer’s Circle. Here it is my goal to help you level up your deck building game, one article at a time. Each week I will gather information on a specific topic related to deck building, add in my experience, and present it here, in column form. In addition to the column, each week I will begin a discussion in the MTG Pro Tutor facebook group where we can talk about topics covered here, and work on brews together as a community. The vast majority of the information presented here will be for the standard format since deck building in modern, legacy, and so forth is all very different. That said, I will try and keep the information I present as general as possible so that it can apply in any standard format. In future articles I will get more into the nitty gritty of deck building, but today, I will introduce myself a little bit and make a couple of general observations before we dive in.
I have been playing Magic: The Gathering since original Mirrodin was released. My very first Magic product was a ‘Bait and Bludgeon’ theme deck, which I played and tuned restlessly from the first day I ripped open the packaging. I loved playing a bunch of cheap artifacts and then windmilling a Broodstar to finish the job through the air. I was always finding new spells and cheaper, better artifacts to cram into the deck, making it my own. Even though I played against a few others who had started with the same deck, mine was unique because I was not satisfied with playing a deck that somebody at Wizards saw fit to slam together and shove into a box to sell. My deck was my own creation, it was a piece of me.
From my first experience with Magic I fell in love with the deck building process. Despite taking an extended hiatus between Kamigawa and about the end of Origins, once I came back into the game I dove head first once again into deck building. Some of the early creations turned out to not be so great, but after a couple months of shaking off the rust and learning the game better I was able to brew decks that won FNM, as well as performing consistently at other store tournaments, including game day, where I have made top 4 of the last several Game Days I have played, losing in the finals twice
While I have learned a great many things while playing Magic, the most important takeaway is that it is completely ok to just play the best deck in the format. When brewing, the general idea is that you are looking to attack the meta from an angle that does not currently exist. Sometimes, that means a spells deck in a creature filled format. Sometimes, it means finding a powerful rare that matches up well and building around it. Regardless of what the brew looks like when it is done, the motivation for brewing should be to find something that consistently can win while having as few bad matchups as possible. If there are four decks that you are expecting to see frequently, you should ideally have a favorable matchup against two of them and an even matchup against two. It is ok to have a bad matchup, but if you are expecting to see that bad matchup with any frequency you may want to reconsider your deck choice.
There is usually a reason that three or four decks rise to the top of the meta and stay there for a while once the volatile first couple weeks of a new format pass. Those decks are really good. They post good results. They win. In some formats the top decks have clear weaknesses that can be exploited, but in others you get a deck that just wins and lacks an easy way to attack it. In cases where the latter is true, it is often right to just play the best deck. If your goal is to win a PPTQ or make a deep run in day 2 of a Grand Prix, you should be playing the deck that gives you the best chance of success.
In Oath of the Gatewatch standard I was playing a really fun Abzan aristocrats deck I had built that leveraged weak creatures with powerful enters the battlefield abilities, and sacrificed them for value. The deck was super consistent and I rarely lost, so I felt very confident going into Game Day. I played well, and did not lose a match until drawing into first and second place in the swiss portion. For those who are familiar with this standard environment, you know that this is the same time that the four color Rally the Ancestors decks were a major force to be reckoned with, and sure enough, in the finals I met with one. I lost. It was not even close. After taking two blowout losses my opponent looked at my deck with me and said, “I like the deck, but you realize you are just playing a rally deck without the rally the ancestors right?” After looking at his deck, I realized that I really was running almost the same deck as him minus just a few cards. We both were attacking the metagame the same way, but the established deck was far more effective once it came down to playing the mirror.
The second observation is that in order to build a deck that will beat the top decks, you need to play the top decks. If you have a playgroup that you can test with, my advise is to proxy the top few decks you will see at the tournament you are going to and play a few games with each deck. By the time you have played a couple matches both with and against a deck you can really get a feel for how it advances its game plan and which cards are key in executing its plan. This familiarity is key to knowing how to attack and disrupt your opponent when you are considering how to construct or tune your deck.
Professional sports teams use this principle when they prepare to face an opponent. Up to half of a team’s preparation is film study. The first thing a team does, win or lose, is review film from the previous game and evaluate any errors that they may have made so they can solidify their technique. They then look at film from the next opponent to identify key weaknesses to exploit and make a specific game plan for beating their opponent. In the same way, learning how to interact with the key cards in your opponent’s strategy by playing with and against the deck will give you the best chance at devising a unique strategy that will counter theirs and allow you to claim victory. If I had done my due diligence and played the top decks in preparation for Game Day, I would have come to the realization that aristocrats was just an inferior deck to the clear best deck in the format.
Next, you need to know the reason you are brewing. Are you planning on making day 2 of a Grand Prix? Looking to make the top 4 of your local FNM? Do you just want to play a fun and off the wall deck for your kitchen table? Each scenario is going to lead you to build and play a completely different deck. A top tier deck is going to be no fun in a casual setting, and a casual deck is going to get blown out if you build it for a competitive setting. It is totally fine to play a zombie deck because you love zombies, just know the deck’s limitations and have realistic expectations.
Finally, just have fun. I will be focusing primarily on semi competitive deck building and topics, but at the end of the day remember that Magic is a game and is meant to be enjoyed. If you love doing wacky home brews, then play those. The advice I give in this and future articles is in no way meant to say that anyone is enjoying the game we all love wrong, but rather, to help those that want to build competitive decks gain an edge.
That does it for this week. I look forward to continuing to bring you weekly content and of course welcome any and all feedback. The beautiful thing about magic is that for every set of eyes that views the game, there is an equally unique way of interpreting how it can be played. Thank you for letting me spend a few minutes of your day with you and I am excited to keep taking you into the Brewer’s Circle.