A Short Drink From The Metagame Fountain

Three hundred peeps in a room does not a format define.

The pros played decks in Los Angeles. Some are neat, some suck — but we all think we know something. We don’t, since we’re just as smart or stupid as all y’all. Nevertheless, we’ll take a group of three hundred-odd peeps, determine “viable” decks, make generalizations, assumptions, mix liberally with a few stabs in the dark, then conclude that this is what is likely to happen at your local PTQ.

Allow us to first toss in disclaimers like we work at the disclaimer-tossing factory:

Pros lean toward control, but most PTQ players suck, so anticipate more beatdown. Possibly.

The good PTQers will play control, but not very well. Probably.

Affinity may or may not suck, but prepare for it anyway. Most likely.

Heartbeat of Spring is amazing, but you have no clue how to play it. In theory.

But what we won’t say: the PTQ field is amazingly random. Therefore, our advice takes a hop, skip and jump over “general” and lands directly on “benign.”

On paper.

One guy says this, one says that, and a third tells them both to pound salt. That’s the metagame in an Art Shell: rock, paper, blahblahblah. Who on the face of the planet is able to predict with any degree of accuracy (read: 50%) what you’re likely to face at the next PTQ? Granted, they got balls for trying — especially in the Extended environment, which, memory serves, is as about as stable as a beaker of plutonium. Or uranium or whichever it is that blows up a lot.

Picking the best deck based on one event, or even the pinnacle of events, is analogous to evaluating the future of anything based on past performance. Sometimes it works, possibly even most times… But.

Three hundred peeps in a room does not a format define.

Sure, it’s a suitable starting point, which is pretty much the entire point of evaluating the event, pigeonholing the environment, and making educated guesses about where things are headed.

We can go on and on about this deck, that deck, and your mother’s deck, but what it comes down to is this: actually, I don’t know what it comes down to. And they don’t either. Mostly.

X percent will play this, Y will play that, and Z will just play red. That’s all fine and dandy, and indeed it can’t hurt to have an idea of how your deck performs against the most expected decks, but the key word is “expected.”

You can tune your deck to beat the ever-loving piss out of top five expected archetypes, lose the first two rounds against unexpected decks that everyone said sucked ass, then go draft. Meanwhile, unexpected decks that everyone said sucked ass have now become the latest members of the top five expected archetypes. The decks they knocked off sink to unexpected decks that everyone said sucked ass, then they win, and then return to roost. Ad infinitum until the end of the season. Toss Ravnica — the best-selling set ever, I’m told — into the fray and, well, it’s conflict management one-oh-one in a hurry.

Since I’m not entirely familiar with the last couple years of Extended rigmarole, grant me exonerated status if I still consider Affinity ridiculous at best, despite the conventional wisdom. Likewise, The Rock remains safely on the good side of Craftsman tools with the lifetime warranty, notwithstanding contrary opinions welcoming it to the loser’s bracket because it can’t handle the top five expected archetypes well enough to matter.

If you’re a die-hard Rock player, sentiments like this should give you a woody, because everyone writes you off for dead and buried. This allows you to go back to the lab and tweak under the cover of darkness, with the idea of eventually unveiling The New Rock that will phoenix to prominence and become a member of the top five expected strategies. See “Red Rock,” then speculate about “Anti-Red Rock” and “Anti-Red Red Rock” as potential examples.

They also say that even though Affinity might not have made day three, it’s still good. Well, kinda, I mean, er, yeah, it’s good, I wouldn’t play it, probably, but you, PTQer, expect to play against it, I think, I guess, I’m not sure.

Affinity players are on the bubble, according to Hoyles on the ‘net: it’s a good deck, most likely, but is it the right choice? Ah, just play ‘Tog or DredgeAtog or Madness ‘Tog to be safe. I think.

Some will listen and play ‘Tog, others will contort their decks to handle ‘Tog, and yet the third contingent will play sullied-up versions of Rock or Goblins or Something Random, and they will beat the piss out of both of them. You got two guys trying to hone in on the vulnerabilities of their enemy, while the third guy middles the spread and knocks them both off.

It’s Clint between the Rojos and Baxters. Be Clint. That’s the guy you want to be.

I’m not saying ‘Tog or Rock or Goblins or any other deck is the cat’s ass; I really don’t know enough about them, many of the cards they contain, or the history of the last couple years to comment intelligently. But when the talking heads say deck x, deck y and deck z are one, two, three on the depth chart, they’re basing this on past information — and if you put too much stock in their opinions, prepare for an extended trip (or, perhaps, an Extended trip) to loserpants land.

Think of it this way:

Alternate Histories, Rizzo-StyleWhat if Star Wars Kid made two trivial errors that cost him two matches that cost him the chance to play on Day Two? Would anyone be discussing Heartbeat as the top combo deck in the environment? Would it even be in anyone’s gauntlet? What if Madness with dredge scrubbed out horribly and went to draft? What if DredgeAtog went 3-4, thanks for coming? What if Osyp got God draws, his opponents didn’t, and he won the whole shebang with a deck that had zero spells?

But none of this happened — which is why ‘Tog, with or without dredge, is the deck to beat, Heartbeat is the combo deck to hate, and Goblins get to suck.

Everyone’s a genius after the fact, but said fact only happened once, while we get to jump into an environment that will be light-years ahead or behind LA, and will invariably change the second anyone thinks they’ve nailed it.

Metagame that.

Metagame what, exactly?

That’s not “metagame,” as defined by “evaluating what happened and making sweepingly vague predictions based on analysis,” but rather “making a decision based on what I deem to be the most reliable information available for me, at this moment, today, right the freak now.”

The first definition may be practical on the face of it, but ixnae the rimapae aciefae when you take into account human nature or other intangibles. This is where the second comes into play.

Those who can use the sell-my-kidney-to-buy-a-set-of-the!!TWENNYBUX!! lands have a propensity to take a few points of self-inflicted love. Add the one-lifers, and you have circumstances that may be attractive to those who seek to dome you into the loser’s bracket. Many players will do a half-dozen points of love unto themselves, which makes your job unto them a little easier, particularly if you can tap for red mana.

This seems so obvious it doesn’t need to be said, much like the old-time sportscasters’ “rule of two negros,” which basically states never say two black athletes look alike, unless they look so much alike that it strains your credibility if people think you haven’t noticed. That’s the Magic analysts telling you much of what you already know — but if we don’t, you may think we didn’t notice. So, naturally I tell you that in a format rife with painlands, playing red might not be the worst mistake you’ve made since breakfast.

Dr. Seuss meets Dr. Friggin' RizzoThus, due to the sheer and obvious redundancy, I surmise that red will be more widespread than Ted said, rhymed. Hell, I’d play it if I had the cards, red-mana-skill, or the desire to cast legions of creatures that tremble at the mere mention of anything in their way. It’s easier to play than Heartbeat and ‘Tog, more dependable at what it does, and will get a reasonable number of wins merely because it’s Red. With White, too!

Then there are those who own islands and cards that disavow that clatter. These forlorn bastards are the types who consider “Counter that, yawn… And that too” and “Orim’s Chant you forever” prerequisites for an entertaining afternoon. Since they can’t get laid in real life, they’ll get all Marquis de Sade on their opponents:

Masochist: Beat me now!

Sadist: No.

These are the types that played High Tide, Academy, Replenish, Bargain, Necro-Pebbles, Donate, and then the central combo deck that followed. You know who these people are — and if there is a combo deck within a whiff of a Top Eight anywhere in humanity, they’ll sniff it out and inadvertently-on-purpose make your time at the table a little less enjoyable.

Heartbeat is a combo deck The Rock does indeed smell, and even though it’s an apparent decision-making nightmare, and even if everyone is primed for it, they’ll cart it along and try to Stroke of Genius you into the sucka’duck’s bracket. Because it’s a combo deck.

What does it all mean? What do you want it to mean?

Breaking News!

Copenhagen: Affinity is the best deck!
Kitakyuushuu: Scepter-Chant is the best deck!
Melbourne: ‘Tog is the best deck!

Boros, Boros, Boros, arriba, arriba!

Take what we “know” from LA, add a weekend that hosts three Grand Prixes, and the whole enchilada is thrown out the window with the bathwater, babies need not apply.

We know what won — but what will win tomorrow, let alone a week from now, is a matter best left to the proper authorities.

And they would be…?

They would be the job of Johnny PTQ Player. He must to discover what makes each deck tick, playtest until he’s blue in the ass, calculate how many of each type of player will be in attendance, anticipate what deck type each is likely to play, then show up, armed for bear.

And hope that any of it matters one bit.

Of course, testing the “current” decks is a logistical impossibility, since they morph into Something Different before the Wizards employee can even upload them to the event coverage. “This” is what they were last week, or yesterday, or an hour ago, what they will become next week, or tomorrow, or an hour from now, could be “this,” “that,” or “none of the above.”

Trying to make sense of the information-overload-metagame, especially when the information does not stand still even for a freakin’ day, is a task even Stephen Hawking cannot satisfactorily complete…Though I’d like to see him try.

Much more random information can be gleaned on your own. Some of it will come from insightful articles offering points of view and opinions that you may not have considered, and the rest (good fortune) comes from not playing against those who exist on this plane merely to hurl monkeys at wrenches and be that elusive “15% – unknown/rogue.”

“Unknown/rogue” in a metagame of downright anarchy is like Billy curing himself with Mac’s ‘ho, only to meet regression courtesy of Nurse Ratched’s God-like manipulation: everything makes sense until someone tells you it doesn’t.

Read the articles, test the decks, and then do whatever the hell you want. We can point you in a direction, and that’s theoretically better than flying blind, but at the end of the day it comes down to “this is our guess, but in reality, we have no freakin’ idea what the future holds, nor any real idea of what the hell just happened” vs. “this is my guess, and me neither.”

Never the twain shall meet, or maybe they shall or something in the middle. After taking a short drink from the metagame fountain, you can say with absolute self-assurance that the pros played some very neat decks and some very sucky decks in LA, switched up for the GPs where the sucky ruled and the neat sucked, and you get to figure it all out by yourself.

We all think we know something, and maybe we do, but it’s up to you to separate the facts from the fictions and hope the bad guy picks the wrong pile. But if there is one incontrovertible nugget of truth that can be mined from this metagame, it’s that there isn’t a wrong pile.

Not any more.

Game on, fruitcakes!

John Friggin’ Rizzo