New Orleans was, to put it kindly, completely broken. You know what we like to see when we’re covering an event? Seven out of the top eight decks having the same core of broken cards.
Actually, no, seriously – we’d love to see all of the formats have one deck that’s so powerful it wins. But it would have to be the same exact deck. Every Pro Tour and Grand Prix would have a Top 8 composed of this deck, a deck so astoundingly powerful that it would carry even the dumbest nine-year-old to a smashing triumph at the PTQs and Grand Prix Trials. That way, when we did coverage, we could have the Top decks prepared in advance, and all of our metagame articles could be pre-written (“That deck sucks. So does that deck. So does that deck. So does that deck.”), and we could simply Xerox our Feature Matches and insert names in, like this:
(NAME OF BIG-TIME PRO) (WON/LOST) the die roll and opened his hand with (BROKEN CARD). Two turns later, he (WON/LOST).
Seriously, though, the sad thing is that you may still have to face those cards. As I’ll explain in a bit, the sadly-monotonic Pro Tour: New Orleans metagame may actually hit the PTQ circuit, and this ridiculously-speedy format may leak down to the home viewer. And in case it does, I thought I’d better give you the common wisdom from the Pro Tour – the things everyone knew. So let’s get this party started….
You’re Not Getting Away From The Speed….
…at least, not probably. Though everyone admits that the format needs some major changes, the deadline is already past for the November bannings, leaving December 1st as the next opportunity to ban Tinker, Grim Monolith, and company. It’s unlikely that Wizards will drop a bunch of bannings into the hamper two weeks before a major event like Grand Prix: Anaheim, and days before the first round of PTQs.
Of course,”unlikely” is not”for sure.” They could raze the format in December, but it would negate a lot of the work that people have done in preparation for the tournament, and make a lot of people very unhappy. It’s far more likely that they’ll announce a banning in January, using December to issue some ominous warnings about Tinker being on the watch list, and so forth.
But this leads to an important issue: What metagame do you practice for? The one that got laid out this weekend, or the predicted post-metagame bannings?
This is going to be one hell of a season.
…But At Least The Format’s Not Going To Be As Fast
I’d like to say something to you, and I hope you won’t get offended:
You’re not nearly as good as Eugene Harvey.
You aren’t even close to being as good as Yann Hamon or Nicolas Labarre.
You are not as good as the pros are in any way, shape, or form; that’s why you’re grinding it out in the PTQs and they’re riding the twenty-point gravy train. Your skills are vague, dusty shadows of the monster talents that the Top 8 possess.
As such, there’s going to be a big difference between you picking up Rickard Osterberg’s deck and Rickard Osterberg picking up his deck.
The decisions involved in your opening hand are complex in this new Extended, and particularly with Tinker decks you have a variety of ways to go about things. The right choices will lead to a fairly consistent turn 3 kill, but the correct choices are often baroque and involve a tortuous path that’s not obvious.
Pros complained that there was little play skill in the format – but that was only partially true. A large part of Magic is outplaying your opponent, and a larger number of New Orleans matches might as well have had players retreat to separate rooms, play it out solitaire-style, then announce the winner based on who killed their imaginary opponent first.
But New Orleans was filled with a lot of”Magic: The Puzzling” style setups wherein you had to find the precise route to optimize your deck’s kill method.
You – yes, you – will not be able to squeeze the efficiency out of your deck that Rickard Osterberg was able to muster. Because you are not as good, you can probably expect a consistent turn 4 to turn 5 kill, with occasional bursts of turn 3s – which is fast, but not that fast.
When I’m writing match coverage, I’ll frequently look at a player’s hand and type ahead, based on what I think they’re going to do. I usually bat about 60% when I’m anticipating a pro’s moves; I do better when people are playing obvious decks like Goblins, and I do worse when I’m watching a master like Maher playing a control deck.
At New Orleans, I batted about 35%.
You can expect your opponent to suck about as much as I do. Therefore, the PTQs will be a lot slower than the PT.
Handy Hint #1: Mulligan. A Lot.
An Extended match is almost certainly over by turn 3 or 4, or sometimes 5 if both players are toting substandard draws. So do the math; what does that tell you?
The seven cards you get in your opening grip are about 63% of all the cards you are likely to see in the entire game.
In other words, if those seven cards can’t win you the game, there’s only a 37% chance that you’ll draw into an answer.*
Over and over again, the pros mulliganed down to sixes and fives, and routinely won despite that. Ken Krouner has mentioned that the difference between an inexperienced player and a good player is that a good player is far more likely to send them packing. You need to make sure that every hand is absolutely gas.
And yes, when you have to draw the perfect six or seven cards off the top, that does add a far more random element to the game. Why do you think Kai was bitching about it?
The Lesson From Type One: Disruption’s Too Slow
The standard Extended logic before Mirrodin was that every deck that could play black, must play black. Duress and Cabal Therapy were simply too necessary to disrupt the environment; other decks would win on turn 4 if you couldn’t knock the combo out of their hands.
Now go read Stephen Menendian excellent article about Long.dec, a deck that broke Vintage. Look closely at this section:
“This deck’s biggest weakness isn’t to Force of Will (which is illegal in Extended) or Duress, but to specific hosers… The reason this deck performs so well versus control – and the reason it is relatively immune to hate – is because it can blitz past both hate and control answers, winning before the blue mage gets UU up. Playing Long is unlike anything before. In the ADD format that characterizes Vintage, like the events in Dragonball Z, you play a massively decompressed game where so much happens in the space of one turn. For Long, turn 3 is not only a long game, it is the late game.”
Realizing that the fundamental turn of the format is now turn 3 instead of turn 4, good decks have abandoned disruption for speed. Why spend my first turn trying to stop my opponent, goes the logic, when I can spend that turn to set myself up to win before he can stop me?
It’s all about power. It’s all about the broken turn. As such, Duress – a reactive card – may be worse than an aggressive card that speeds you into victory. (Also, if you’re not careful, you can Duress the wrong card, as Tomohiro Yokosuka did in the quarterfinals.)
Learn To Handle Mindslaver
Osyp Lebedowicz, that lady-lovin’, Latin dancin’ machine, said it best:
“I just randomly kill people with Slaver, because they just don’t play around the card enough. What Mindslaver means is that you have to go off all in one turn or you just risk losing.”
If you’re playing against a Tinker deck, Mindslaver’s your #1 threat – and you should spend some time really getting to know this card. Learning how to set your hand up defensively for an opponent’s Mindslaver turn is critical, as is playing with Mindslaver; playing your opponent’s deck in the worst possible way is almost as tricky as finding the best possible play.
The Slaver is a broken card when mana’s not a problem – and mana’s not a problem for Tinker decks. So get used to it.
The Days Of Old Tinker Are Gone
Crumbling Sanctuary and Phyrexian Processor can’t hold a candle to Myr Incubator and Mindslaver. There are better artifacts out there – in particular, Phyrexian Processor is a Very Bad Thing to be holding when your opponent Mindslavers you (“Why yes! I will pay all your life, thanks for asking!”) – so look to the new builds, not the old ones.
Not Everyone Gets The Pro Tour Memos
There are a lot of people who will just play the cards they have, not wanting to spend another $250 at StarCityGames to update their decks. As such, your average PTQ is still going to have Goblins (good in any format now), Aluren, and Oath of Druids decks out the wazoo.
Time and time again I’ve seen people playtest their matchups for the PTQs as if they were attending a Pro Tour metagame. Then they get surprised when some whacko white weenie deck bites ’em in the butt.
PTQs are not filled with top-of-the-line players. PTQs are a lot scrubbier, and a lot more random, and the metagame is lot more heavily-weighted towards beatdown. A large number of people will play the best deck, of course – but if you get knocked out of the running by Joe Draco Explosion, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The good news is that it may be possible to play a beatdown deck to a win at a PTQ because of that. PTQs aren’t as serious as Pro Tours, but they can be a lot more fun.
The Metagame Is Your Friend
The format seems dominated by Tinker… And it is. Let’s not lie. But there are still many options available to you that really can pay off if you’re willing to hunt down an anti-Tinker deck that doesn’t automatically lose to Goblins. Damping Matrix still shuts down a lot of combo decks, and there’s still a lot of artifact hate to be had. Tinker’s not the be-all and end-all of New Orleans, and there are options for the rogue deckbuilder.
Me? I’d take a real close look at Dan Cato’s Red Deck Wins, which missed the top 8 on tiebreakers alone. It’s not the best deck, but Tinker does so much damage to itself with Ancient Tomb and painlands that a single Blistering Firecat can often take the game.
Also, if Tinker or Monolith get banned and Wizards is silly enough to leave Goblin Recruiter in the format, Gobvantage is the obvious candidate to take the throne. It, too, has some ridiculous turns, and it packs both aggro and serious enchantment/artifact hate.
If you want the dark horse of the format, the Japanese Mind’s Desire deck is also kind of nifty, and I suspect it’s the real deal. And Gabriel Nassif said that if he was looking to break the format, he’d start looking at Land Destruction or The Rock.
But remember… I’ve made some bad calls on Extended before. But who knew?
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy
P.S. – The number one complaint I hear at Pro Tours and Grand Prixs is,”You know, you look nothing like your photo.” Which is true, mainly because I’ve gotten older, fatter, and balder since then, and I didn’t particularly feel like inflicting you all with Joe Ugly at the front of the page – especially since I’m only posting these days whenever something’s gone wrong with the editing, or the site, or both. It’s painful enough that StarCityGames is encountering difficulty, but do you have to look at a face that looks like a pudgier Marty Feldman with a receding hairline?**
But driven by the complaints of thousands, I’ve changed my photo to something that looks vaguely like me. Be warned that people tend to be struck blind by my actual visage, their optical nerves shutting down in defense since they would burn out like twenty-amp fuses carrying a lightning bolt if they were to process the globular five-o’clock-shadowed thing that hung before them.
But considering those of you who follow my private writings on a regular basis have just seen photos that are a hell of a lot more damning than my actual face, I figured what the hell. There I am. I find that blinking a lot reduces the pain.
* – Okay, that’s not quite true. But I’m too tired to do the math.
** – There was one author who fought with me to get a less-flattering picture of him up on the site. I couldn’t understand it. If you have a good picture from five years ago, why would you want to post an image that showcased the ravages of time and one too many Krispy Kremes? Â