Bard’s New Mailbag!

Brad has a Pro Tour to prep for, so rather than release a bunch of team info, he’s decided to answer questions from his adoring fans! When it comes to answering Magic questions, Brad’s the best! No questions asked!

As the days inch closer to Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, I’ve found myself
cocooning up more and more as Team Genesis works towards figuring out
Standard, Modern, and Legacy. Mastering one format is already difficult
enough, but being asked to master three makes this task almost impossible!
But even though it’s difficult, we’ve been trying our hardest to figure it
all out. That’s why this week I decided to ask the internet for some of
their most interesting questions they had for me. I must thank everyone who
submitted questions as many of them were very interesting and caused me to
think harder than I thought I would have to. Even if you didn’t send in
questions yourself, there’s bound to be something you’ll learn in here
today. Let’s get started!

This is a great question, Jason. My answer is going to pertain to my
preparation for Grand Prix and events on the SCG Tour as that will
translate best for players wanting a deeper understanding for how I
approach events.

I’ve always believed my prowess in Standard to be misunderstood. Many
believe that I play more, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I do
prepare a decent amount, but I like to think I work smarter, not harder. I
spend about as much time thinking about things as I do testing them in
game. I always want to be learning from my experiences, so I value going
into most games with a specific motive. Most of the time that motive is not
to try to “break” the format. If you look closely at the decks I play, I
rarely play fringe decks anymore. That’s because I’ve found in recent years
that that strategy to have lower expected value in the long run. Sometimes
I might not have the best deck in the room, but rarely will I just fall on
my face. Even if my deck isn’t great, it’s often good enough for me to
pilot them to a great finish. My high density of good finishes in Standard
is something I pride myself in, and I attribute that to always playing a
deck I know well that plays great cards.

Early on I just want to know what every matchup feels like. This helps me
get a better grasp of how the matchups play out, but more importantly, what
other people are going to think as well. It’s so important to understand
what conclusions the masses will come to. It doesn’t take a ton of games to
get a grasp on things. Usually about 10-15 will give me a good feel of
things. As the metagame evolves as new decks are presented, I’ll take the
time to throw them through to gauntlet to again understand what others are
thinking about.

Then I just take whatever midrange deck is doing best and begin tuning it.
My affinity for midrange decks is not due to them fitting my playstyle, but
actually rooted deeply into my philosophy of competition. I consider myself
one of the best Standard players in the game. Since I believe this, I want
to limit my opponent’s ability to leverage the cards on the battlefield as
much as possible. In fact, I want to force my opponents to make as many
difficult decisions as possible. Not just in game, but also in how they
have to sideboard. I want to exploit their lesser playskill, their
deckbuilding mistakes, and their inability to deviate from premeditated
plans on the fly.

Sometimes the cards are just too good, or the metagame is just right that I
deviate from this strategy playing decks like aggro, combo, or control, but
they’re few and far between. That’s because I find it’s easier for a less
experienced player to beat me when I’m playing a deck like Mono-Red Aggro
or U/W Control as the plans necessary to do so are pretty straightforward.
I can play these decks at a high level, but the cards necessary to dispatch
them are known and my opponents are experienced in how to properly sequence
to do so. That’s not always the case when I’m playing something like B/U
Midrange, Temur Energy, or even Abzan Aggro.

Jason has a follow-up question that was so good that I had to let him
double up in this week’s mailbag!

You know, I’m not really sure. Modern has always been a format I’ve
struggled with, but I always chalk that up to inexperience. I don’t play
enough Modern tournaments to justify putting that much work into the event,
but lately doing this has frustrated me immensely. In the last two
Invitationals I’ve finished the Standard portions with a 7-1 and 6-1-1
record yet didn’t find myself in either top 8. My Modern results were 3-4-1
and 5-3 respectively, leaving me one win out of both top 8s. I was
extremely frustrated with myself and my inability to close in the format I
didn’t even have to lean on for success in these prestigious events.

I know for certain that my approach for long-term success in Modern would
be different than the one used for Standard, as the formats are wildly
different. Standard’s card pool is so small compared to Modern that the
basic approach is rarely shifting. My five set Standard approach is
different than when eight sets are legal. For example, I’ll usually play
defensive-leaning midrange decks with less legal sets and usually lean on
being more aggressive when more sets are legal. This is because the decks
become more streamlined as more sets are introduced. Modern, on the other
hand, is always flush with available cards that it’s very difficult to
adopt basic trends like the one I just described. Instead, there’s way more
things going on, making it difficult to create a gameplan in Modern and
continue with it for a year’s worth of time.

To answer your question, I don’t believe the metagame is constantly
shifting. It’s just the decks doing well can sometimes make it seem like
that’s the case. Usually certain decks will just perform better due to
random events and things breaking differently toward the end of an event.
Of course, there are times when decks exist purely due to metagames. The
best example is how both Mardu Pyromancer and Jeskai Control popped up in
high numbers as a response to Humans. From there, things will shift around,
but for the most part all three decks are still viable and still perform

The secret to Modern, in my limited experience, is to pick a deck that’s
powerful and play it into the dirt mastering it against everything. Power,
resiliency, and consistency all seem to exist in the best performing decks
throughout the format’s existence. I may not be able to continuously
metagame to find success in the format, but I would have a deeper
understanding of all the most popular decks allowing me to pick and choose
on a whim instead of being pigeonholed into playing the same decks I always
end up always choosing.

For a better understanding on the “template midrange deck” Renji is
referring to, please check out my previous article
Trying To Solve Standard While Stationary

The most egregious trend I’ve noticed in Wizard of the Coast’s design for
Standard has got to be the lack of restraint when it comes to printing
powerful red cards. For the longest time, we’ve seen mono-red strategies
becoming absolutely bonkers the closer Standard inches towards having eight
sets. In fact, a powered-up red deck has won a Pro Tour almost once year
for the past four years. And it might have been five years running if Team
Revolution knew how to draft at Pro Tour Magic 2015!

The density of good red cards in eight-set Standard is just too high. I
won’t assume that I could do a better job than the great people at Wizards
of the Coast, but if I could propose something, it would be to
purposely not give red two great cards at each slot on the curve. Red cards
are efficient at one thing and one thing only: dealing damage. Incidental
damage or direct, the points add up causing so many cards on the top of the
deck leading to wins. Other decks aren’t designed in the same way, as their
redundancy is much lower causing them to have vastly lower numbers of cards
that can come to their aid when a game has reached these pivotal moments.
When red decks begin to have options and immense redundancy, we begin to
see problems like mono-red winning more Pro Tours than any other color.

I answered parts of this earlier, but Felipe’s question will let me expand
on something I believe to be extremely important: I do many things when I
prepare for tournaments, but grinding is not one of them. I don’t believe
in grinding as the term implies I perform tedious tasks seemingly without
end; I believe I do the exact opposite. I need to have a reason for taking
actions when I’m preparing for events. To get to this stage, I scour the
internet for information. Reading articles helps get a grasp on what others
are thinking, but my main source of information comes from decklists. SCG
has been a great tool because we post decklists from every Invitational,
Open, Classic, and Invitational Qualifier we run. I also scour
MagicTheGathering.com for their decklists they post from Magic Online, but
I would like to point out you can’t use this information for metagaming
purposes as they will only post one decklist for each archetype a format
supports. This is something I dislike personally, but understand why they
do things this way.

I use this information to just get to blood flowing and begin thinking
about how I should prioritize my time. Like I said earlier, I usually will
play a little with each deck to get a feel, but sometimes I don’t have
enough time to do this. When I’m cut short on preparation time, I’ll make
the most educated guess as to what I should play for the weekend and queue
that up on Magic Online or play games with close friends like Brian

If I’m on Magic Online, I’ll never join a league with the same 75 I just
played. Sometimes I’ll know what I want to change, but other times I’ll
have to step away for a moment to think about my next move. Often, I’ll
spend some time creating a sideboard guide for inspiration on what I need
to change about a deck. I do not subscribe to the idea that playing games
does not have diminishing returns. In reality, I believe it’s important to
weave theory and practice to maximize your time preparing for events. Not
everything you do will yield growth, but at the same time, you can’t
internalize correct behaviors and strategies without stopping to think
about them.

I also don’t let my spreadsheets dictate my actions. They’re a great tool
to use as an external memory, but leaning on them is foolish as older
results lose value quickly. The act of changing even a few cards can make
previous results useless.

This is a great question, John. Team tournaments are very tricky.
Personally, I feel bad about costing my teammates games/matches/events, but
I don’t let that feeling linger too long. Team tournaments are different as
your teammates are effectively extensions of you. I would never be upset at
a teammate for costing me equity in an event because I made the decision to
play with them in the first place. At the same time, Magic has a lot of
difficult decisions compounded by a high level of variance. I cannot judge
my teammate for making mistakes or losing games that I didn’t witness. Even
when I’m part of the decision, sometimes they’re complex and a teammate
performs a wrong move that you didn’t want made. It’s easy to be frustrated
in this situation, as you were correct, but it’s not like you’ve never made
a mistake before.

If you tried your hardest yet still failed, you can’t put additional stress
on yourself or feel you’ve let your team down. Giving it your best effort
is all your teammates can expect out of you, and if that’s not enough for
them, don’t let that poison inside them affect you. In all honesty, if that
ever happens, you probably should be looking for other people to play team
events with.

If you still can’t shake your own insecurities when it comes to team
events, you should evaluate if you’re investing self-worth into your
results. This practice can have a very negative effect on not only your
performance, but also your life in general. Magic is already a competition
that creates more losers than winners. It’s not a great place to invest
self-worth, but is a wonderful environment to work on improving yourself
not only as a player but also a person.

Great question, David, but the answer is “I have no idea how to help you.”
When you’re watching you don’t have to make the micro judgement calls that
others have to make. You get to sit back evaluating the broader strokes of
the game. By eliminating the stress of performing the tactical executions,
you can invest more mental energy on the strategic ones. It makes it much
easier to play the game from the outside looking in. [Twitch chat > Finkel. – DWest]

If you’re noticing that you’re just making mistakes in-game that you
wouldn’t otherwise, then I suggest you focus more on finding out why that
is. Sometimes it could be that you just need to take a little longer on key
decisions, a little less time on those decisions, or figure out what’s
blocking you mentally in the game. It could be a slew of things that could
cause mistakes, making it very difficult for me to advise you properly.

I can say that second guessing yourself most likely comes from a fear of
losing, something I’ve struggled with from time to time. For whatever the
reason, I’ll just try to play around everything even though it would be
highly unlikely for my opponent to have that specific combination of cards.
It’s so easy to lose games when you play around everything. In sticky
situations like this, I suggest trusting your gut more than your on-the-fly
math, and when really in doubt, just be aggressive. I’ve lost a few very
important matches when I convinced myself out of simply casting the most
powerful card in my hand; those moments still haunt me to this day.

This is a rather interesting question, Kimberds of Paradise, but I’m
guessing you won’t like my answer. As the years have progressed, I find
myself playing in local events less and less. I believe in the last year
the only events I’ve played at my local game store have been Prereleases
where my fiance’ and I thoroughly enjoy playing Two-Headed Giant together.
I used to play Invitational Qualifiers in my area, but it’s been a while
since I’ve even done that. Playing local events just doesn’t do it for me
anymore, but that isn’t because the local game stores are doing something
wrong. Being a professional player means I spend many weekends playing in
tournaments, but also spending weeks on end preparing for upcoming Pro
Tours. Weekends I do get at home aren’t the times I want to be playing even
more Magic (at least not events I must leave the house for). I’d rather
take it easy, and by that I mean binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale, You’re the Worst, and movies I’ve
missed due to traveling.

There’s a few ways local game stores could entice professional players to
come play in their events, but I would assume that would be a poor use of
their resources. In fact, I wouldn’t even want my local game store to
prioritize my needs over other patrons as I believe a card store should
cater to more casual players. Not only are there more casual players than
competitive ones, but a competitive environment is not as inviting as a
casual one.

It really depends. Investing so much time into an event only to end up
underperforming can always be frustrating, infuriating, or even
demoralizing, especially if you’ve gone a long time without any finishes
that make it feel worth it. What gets me through it isn’t the cliche’
answers I’ve heard others use. Yes, Magic is fun, but losing isn’t. I play
Magic on my kitchen table with my fiance’ when I want to have fun simply
playing Magic. I register in events when I want to win, and I give myself
the best chance of winning by practicing far more than the prize deserves.
When I don’t accomplish that, I’m not going to shrug it off with some
defense mechanism.

Tournaments are designed to create losers, as only one person wins while
hundreds or thousands register. In the end, only one person has no regrets.
Only one person holds the trophy. Only one person goes to sleep a champion.

You can’t play tournaments expecting to do well. You must give yourself the
best chance and always be looking to improve. You can’t rely on luck to
eventually get you to the next level. You must have constant and
neverending self-improvement. Sometimes you won’t learn much or feel like
you’re not getting better at a speed you want to, but you can’t let bad
results get you down. Soak them in, really feeling the disappointment at
first, but then let that naturally leave the same way it came. Learn what
you need to from the event and move on. If you don’t, you won’t grow, which
is always essential as a Magic player.

So to answer your question, I keep trucking on!

Yeah, this isn’t a question, but I surely wouldn’t leave it out! Sadly, we
will not be doing this. Instead we’re going as the band Presidents of the
United States of America, as we’re moving to the country and gonna eat a
lot of peaches.

Well it’s time to get back to testing which equates to stopping all these
fools from playing all these bad decks they’ve picked up since I left the
room. I’ll be back next week to talk about our testing process, how the
tournament itself went, and what I think about all three formats moving
forward. Make sure to check it out because there were some very
interesting decks we decided weren’t good enough for play but sure would be
great for Friday Night Magic. Who knows, I may even play one of them in an
event soon.

You know, if I win all the points this weekend.