Descent Into Madness: My Story About Best-Of-One

Brad Nelson has settled on a few good Standard decks to test ahead of the Mythic Invitational! But first, he had to get a lot of bad brews out of the way. What lessons can you learn from his mistakes?

The most kismet thing occurred to me right before focusing on writing this article. For days now I’ve been trying to get out of Platinum and onto Diamond on the best-of-one ladder on Magic Arena, but fate had different plans for me. Finally, after days of struggling, I found myself two wins away from Diamond, and boy did I want to shine bright. I told myself I’d make Diamond, and then write my article! Still, after 21 games I found myself moving up only one space. That’s right, after two-and-a-half hours I barely made any headway on a goal that’s eluded me for almost a week.

I give up. Okay, not really, but I do love me some melodrama!

You may ask yourself, “Why not just play Traditional Ranked if you’re struggling so much?” That’s a wonderful question! If my goal was to simply make Mythic, I would be playing Traditional Magic on Arena, but the actual goal is to win $250,000 at the end of the month at the Mythic Invitational at PAX East. The event only has 64 players in it, making this the highest-expected-value event Magic’s ever had! To put that into perspective, if I won this tournament, I would almost exactly double the money I’ve won playing at MagicFests for the last decade. This is serious business!

The problem right now is that the format of choice revolves around best-of-one Magic, which is something I’m having a tough time with. Most of my peers have already found themselves in Mythic, while I’m still stuck in Platinum. Now, some of that might have to do with my incessant need to try a million different brews, which all have failed, but it could also mean I need to put more work in as well.

Best-of-one Standard is a much different beast from the Magic I’m normally used to playing. I’ve already written about this previously, though, so we don’t really need to get into it (that article if you missed it). All that’s important now is learning as much about best-of-one as possible, and part of that is understanding I won’t be able to win as much as I’m used to.

That’s a tough pill to swallow and I know many out there think it’s one I shouldn’t even need to take. I disagree. Magic is all about the variance and trying to mitigate it. We’ve all gravitated towards this game because it isn’t chess. Obviously we don’t want a game that’s just flipping coins, but at the same time, metagames often lead us down that path. Formats get solved and the best of the best are all that’s left. In those scenarios, I would assume I’d win more in Traditional than in best-of-one, but the fact still remains that Magic would be worse off if the best player always won.

The system isn’t to blame for my frustrations right now. I’m the one who needs to change, at least for this event. Winning the same percentage of the time isn’t going to be found in best-of-one. I need to understand that what I’m trying to accomplish isn’t the same as it was six months ago. The Mythic Invitational has the possibility to change how the world sees Magic. More eyes will be on this tournament than any other event in the history of the game and the use of sideboards just doesn’t seem like it’s going to interest anyone new. Obviously I’d love if this event catered to my skill sets, but it’s just selfish of me to even think that. After all, I was invited to this event. The Mythic Invitational was designed to show the world Arena.

But enough talk about that – let’s actually discuss how to approach best-of-one! Clearly I’ve painted myself as a novice best-of-one player, but like I said earlier, I believe a lot of that has to do with my unwillingness to play the format’s “best decks.” I’ve slightly ignored them in my pursuit to find other strategies that might be able to compete with the best decks. What are the best decks, you might ask? Well, I consider these the best decks.

#3: Mono-White Aggro

#2: Mono-Red Aggro

I’m not sure which version of Mono-Red is best. In reality, I think both have their pros and cons. Experimental Frenzy is fantastic against the monocolored aggro decks, but Mortify out of Esper Control tends to keep the expensive enchantment at bay. Risk Factor is much better against Esper Control, which so happens to be my call for best deck in the format. I’ve found myself, depending on the metagame trends, switching back and forth between the two when I need to rank up some after trying all my heinous brews.

Don’t worry. We will get to them before the day has concluded!

#1: Esper Control

Ever since the banning of Nexus of Fate, Esper Control seems to have been doing the best of all the decks. I guess I cannot say for certain that Esper Control is the best, but all my results have led me to that belief. There are strategies out there that beat it, but the issue is those decks don’t usually beat either Mono-Red Aggro or Mono-White Aggro. That’s the big pinch in this format, as it’s very difficult to find something good against both Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Goblin Chainwhirler.

I’ve seriously had nightmares about this tag-team.

The ban on Nexus of Fate was interesting. Obviously that card is stupid and would have been a horrible idea to keep in the format for the Mythic Invitational: “Hey world, doesn’t this game look great!” It would have been a colossal mistake to keep it around, but at the same time it was kind of keeping Esper Control in check. Now that it’s gone, Esper Control can get away with playing many more removal spells. Before, it just couldn’t afford them, as it needed more ways to interact with Nexus of Fate. To me, this is the main reason why Esper Control is so good.

Well, that and the fact that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria can tuck itself! Seriously, I wish they just errata’ed that like they did Hostage Taker. I guess one could just ruin a game via the rules, but that doesn’t mean the other one still doesn’t ruin the human spirit! Hell, there isn’t even a really good threat to play in the mirror that Esper Control can’t easily answer. It’s insane to me that the deck is just that good at interacting with an opponent!

My spirits weren’t broken last week, though. No, I had my eye on the $250,000 prize and I was poised to break the format wide open! There were so many things to explore, and that’s exactly what I did. I tried so many decks that failed that I got stuck in Platinum until about ten minutes ago. Oh that’s right, I’m Diamond now! And yes, I have been taking breaks from this article to play more best-of-one. It’s kind of addicting, to tell you the truth…

The Descent into Madness

Up until this point, this article really didn’t express the despair that the title suggested. Clearly you must have thought it was just clickbait tactics to get you in here, but no, the title was in fact reality. I went down a very dark hole in best-of-one strategy finding, and we’re about to look at just how I got there. The story began with Golgari, obviously.

The theory behind Golgari was sound. The deck has the explore package to fight against aggressive decks and can maybe grind out Esper Control with Carnage Tyrant, Memorial to Folly, and Find // Finality. In reality, the deck is capable of doing both of these things, but not as frequently as one would like them to happen. Mono-Red can simply win the die roll, which gives them an above 50% chance to win, and Esper Control can sometimes use Cry of the Carnarium to cause you to stumble on mana. Llanowar Elves just isn’t in a great place in a format run by Esper Control and Goblin Chainwhirler!

I put a lot of time into Golgari Midrange but gave up on it once I realized that the only Tier 1 matchup that was actually good was Mono-White Aggro.

Another deck that I thought had a chance but fell very short of expectations. The issue with Selesnya Tokens is the deck’s best matchups are Mono-White Aggro and Golgari Midrange. The deck struggles with Mono-Red Aggro and Esper Control, the two most popular decks. Sure, the deck can beat these strategies, but everything has to fall in line for that to happen. I wanted this deck to be good, but I just wasn’t able to win much at all with it.

This was another deck that I put a ton of time into and thought was good, but just wasn’t getting enough wins to be happy with. Mono-Blue Aggro is great against Esper Control but struggles against both Mono-White Aggro and Mono-Red variants. That said, I still consider it to be the fourth-best deck in the format, but that might only be due to the fact that it’s a powerful monocolored strategy.

Seriously, there’s something to being one color in this format when you’re trying to be proactive. Golgari/Sultai Midrange gets away with it thank to the explore package, but decks like Gruul and Selesnya suffer because of the inconsistencies that come with two colors. The three monocolored decks get to abuse the hand smoothing algorithm much more thanks to their lands all being the same.

Heinous Esper is a deck that Brian Braun-Duin created for fun, but it’s actually not one of the worst decks to play in this format. Well, to me it’s the actual worst thing ever to play, as the main goal of the deck is to naturally deck your opponent by casting Clear the Mind on yourself. How could someone do that when there’s no copy of Clear the Mind in the maindeck, you ask? Well, the answer is simple – Mastermind’s Acquisition allows you to search your sideboard for a card.

You guessed it: the format called best-of-one still lets you build sideboards! The existence of this deck means every strategy that plays Expansion should also build a sideboard solely for this matchup. I know it sounds weird, but it’s a possibility! Plus, it’s super-fun to think about! Anyway, a strength of this deck is having access to so many unique cards. Being able to play all these unique “fun-ofs” allows the deck to get out of a lot more situations than just regular control decks. Sadly, though, this deck does have a bad Esper Control matchup.

Here’s another deck that Ali Antrazi built that I gave a shot. I believe I went 2-3 with it before throwing in the towel. Again, I struggled with Esper Control and Mono-Red! Seriously, the “if you can’t beat them, join them” lesson was starting to kick in real bad at about this point, but I wasn’t listening.

I loved me some Boros Angels from last season, so I had to give this brew a shot. Sadly, this deck was too weak against Esper Control, but it was decent against the other strategies. I did really like splashing Find, as it was a nice way to sweep the battlefield against Mono-White, yet also allowed for you to return precious Angels to your hand. This is a fun one if you wanna beat aggro decks and also be advantaged against other midrange decks. You will lose to Esper Control, though!

At this point I realized I needed to stop and just play real decks. I mean, seriously, look at this deck. I was seriously hoping that Priest of Forgotten Gods would work. Of course it wouldn’t work! Every creature in this deck dies to an early Cry of the Carnarium. You know, the card that the best deck plays!

You know what? I was young and dumb last week! Now I’m much more well-rounded in this format. I’m playing monocolored aggressive strategies and a control deck called Esper. The wins are starting to pour in (51% win percentage), and I’m very confident I will take home a large sum of money at the Mythic Invitational ($7,500). I hope that best-of-one is not used at the Arena Mythic Championships, but I’m totally in to make the Mythic Invitational one of the most exciting tournaments of the year. That’s why I’ve even been streaming my testing! I wish I broke it, but I think we’re closer to solved than not. I hope some cool stuff shows up to the event, but I don’t have high hopes on that.

It’s not a big deal, though. The tournament structure looks a lot like Day 2 of the Players’ Championship, which was all high-octane and exciting. I expect the same feel to come from this event, but this time around we have sweet animations!