Delving For Secrets: How To Improve Your Results

Lauren Nolen recently won the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Cincinnati with U/W Delver. He gives insight into how he prepared for the tournament and what you can do to improve your own performance on the Open Series.

Hello, my name is Lauren Nolen, and I recently won the Standard portion of StarCityGames.com Open: Cincinnati. This article is not so much a round by round tournament report. Instead, I’m going to talk about some specifics from the event and how you can improve your overall tournament performance.

I’ve only been playing Magic: The Gathering for a little over two years now, but I have plenty of experience playing card games at a competitive/professional level. I started with Pokémon around age 10, played some Yu-Gi-Oh when that was new, and eventually played Versus System instead of having a job throughout high school. All of these games require the same fundamental skill set as Magic because they were all based off of Magic. But enough of that! On to the actual tournament.

I didn’t do a ton of preparation for this event. I went to all of the sealed PTQs within three hours of Dayton this season and as a result have not played a ton of Standard in the past five months. I knew that the Delver deck was doing very well, and I had a R/G Aggro deck very similar to Ryan Gerhart’s that I also thought was very solid. In the end I went with the Delver deck because there is a lot of play in it, a lot of decisions involved and plenty of opportunity to outplay opponents, instead of just hoping to kill them early with the R/G Aggro deck. Here’s the deck I ended up playing:

The main difference between my list and the stock Delver list is the inclusion of Dungeon Geists in the maindeck. Most Delver decks would instead have Porcelain Legionnaire or Phantasmal Image in this spot. Dungeon Geists was included because it’s very good in some matchups, like the mirror and Human decks, while still being better than Legionnaire against Tempered Steel or Wolf Run. I do like Phantasmal Image, and I would probably include one over Runechanter’s Pike in the future.

During my eight rounds of Swiss (I drew rounds 9 and 10), I played against seven different decks including two Humans, Heartless Summoning, Esper Delver, Tempered Steel, Spirits, U/B Control, and a traditional U/W Delver. In the Top 8 I played R/G Aggro, Wolf Run Ramp, and the mirror. The only deck I didn’t play against was the Mono-Green Aggro deck, and I honestly don’t know how good or bad that matchup is. Against the other decks, I never felt like any of them besides the U/B Control deck were favored to beat me. Tempered Steel is close, and the Wolf Run Ramp deck is likely closer than it appeared to be in the semifinals.

I think that Delver is still the best deck for a large open tournament moving forward; it has all the tools you need to beat an array of different decks and provides many opportunities to outplay your opponents that other decks sometimes do not. The Esper version of the deck that splashes black to play Lingering Souls looks solid and Drogskol Captain does things the deck normally doesn’t have access to, but that makes you weaker to sweepers so time will tell which version is the best moving forward. I’m going to leave you today with some tips for improving your performance at bigger events like the StarCityGames.com Open Series. These are not specifically for playing the Delver deck but more general tips for long tournaments.

#1: Deck Selection

Choosing a deck for a specific tournament involves more than you might think. The StarCityGames.com Open Series tournaments draw 500+ people and are usually ten rounds of Swiss, and you need to win 80% of your matches if you want to win some money. You need to play a deck that has a game plan against a wide variety of decks. I prefer decks that give me a chance to interact with my opponent and react to what they’re doing. For example, if you have a deck that wins 60% of all of its games, regardless of what your opponent is doing, then you are still unlikely to finish in the top 64.

#2 Reading Your Opponent

This is something that I don’t think a lot of people do, but it can swing some matches. When my opponent is on the play, I lay out my seven but don’t look at them until my opponent has decided to mulligan or not. I watch him for signs of weakness; for example he might look at his seven then let out a sigh or gulp. He won’t get anything from me because I have no idea what is in my hand. The most common way I read my opponents in Cincinnati was when they cast Ponder. Sometimes they won’t shuffle, draw their card, and then put that same card right into play! It might be a creature or land, but either way you know that they saw the top three cards of their deck, chose not to shuffle, and that one card was the one they wanted immediately. Also, if your opponent does not frequently shuffle the cards in his hand, Ponders, keeps three on top, draws, and then shuffles his hand up and plays a land, the land is frequently the card he drew.

#3 Sideboarding

I’m sure you can read more about this from people far more qualified than I am, but this really is a hurdle that you need to overcome in order to improve your results. Don’t let your friends write down a sideboard plan for you, or just copy one from an article. You’ll improve by thinking through what your opponents will be bringing in against you and what you can best do to counteract that. There are several levels to sideboarding well; cards that your opponent doesn’t expect you to bring in can sometimes be worth it just because it’s not something they expect. This is especially true when you’re playing a well-known deck or if they know your exact deck list.

Those are all the secrets I’ve delved up for you today. I hope you enjoyed this and good luck at your next big event!