It’s good to be back!
I’m no longer working for Wizards of the Coast, and if you want to hear more about that, check out the podcast I did with our own Cedric Phillips here. For now I’m focusing on getting back up to speed in the current formats, as my time in the future has left me a little out of touch with the present.
As you might know already, I typically take strong stances on most topics (to the point where people call me arrogant), but that only happens when I’m well informed and feel that I’m providing the best information without a shadow of a doubt. Right now that’s not something I can do, but I assure you that time will be soon.
So where does that leave us for today? Well, I’ve had a few topics on the backburner that I never got around to writing about but finally have a chance to! Over the course of my career, I’ve seen and heard some commonly made statements that I disagree with. It’s a little unfortunate that my return, which I certainly consider a positive thing, is going to be with a negative article, but alas.
"Is X really that great if they know you have it?"
Yes and no. To some extent your chances of blowing someone out with something, such as a Supreme Verdict in Limited, are lessened once they know it exists. Depending on what caliber of player we’re talking about, your opponent might be able to sniff it out regardless of if they know it’s there or not. In that situation, you not knowing that they know is an even bigger risk.
If you know they know, you can certainly use that to your advantage as well. If your draw is land heavy and they’re coming out of the gates quickly, it’s not unheard of to skip your fourth land drop and hope the opponent doesn’t commit more creatures to the board.
In the grand scheme of things, the opponent knowing and not knowing can both bite you. The power level of a card like Supreme Verdict in Limited is either four or ten. Crafting situations where it can be a ten and exploiting the fact that it’s in your deck are up to you though. Excluding a card because it’s not always a ten doesn’t exactly make sense, especially when you consider that the worst case scenario is probably a two-for-one, which isn’t bad.
"It’s in there in case I need it."
Well, your deck doesn’t have a tutor-fueled toolbox, so I guess I don’t follow. You might have a good reason for playing a one-of, such as it being great if you draw one and bad if you draw multiple (Primeval Bounty in B/G Devotion), it giving you inevitability (Elixir of Immortality in U/W Control), or you just wanting to play a fun-of (Worst Fears in anything).
Those are all acceptable reasons, but I don’t accept that in your attrition-based Mono-Black Devotion deck you want to play a Contaminated Ground to shut off their Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even if it were a reasonable answer for the deck you were playing, you’d need a better reason than just assuming you’ll have this perfect card exactly when you need it and you’ll never regret drawing it otherwise.
"Doing X with card Y feels great!"
Casting Magic cards tends to feel great regardless of their text box. Unfortunately, "feels great" doesn’t necessarily equate to "wins the game."
The above quote happened last year when someone suggested sideboarding Lifebane Zombie in Junk Reanimator for the G/R matchup, advocating it as a way to beat Ghor-Clan Rampager. The double black casting cost scared me, as did the fact that I didn’t expect much from the 3/1 body.
Ultimately, I ended up maindecking Loxodon Smiter and sideboarding Unflinching Courage against G/R. That plan proved quite solid and is a good example of finding a sideways strategy to beat someone. The normal go over the top plan of Angel of Serenity and Unburial Rites wasn’t very good against their aggression or Scavenging Ooze. Meanwhile, Thragtusk matched up poorly against Thundermaw Hellkite.
The only place left to go was somewhere in the middle. Sure, Lifebane Zombie might get you some value, but value is not how you were going to win that matchup.
"But it won me the game."
Did it? It might have been the card that dealt them the final damage, but that doesn’t mean it was integral to your success.
Where was the turning point in the game? If you were losing, at what point did you think you were winning and what happened to cause that change?
There are examples of people winning games that they literally couldn’t unless they drew a card that wasn’t in their deck, like in the case of Sam Black’s zero-outer in US Nationals against Paul Cheon. In that instance, the Sudden Spoiling that Sam accidentally sided in won him the game when no other card could have, but that doesn’t mean it was correct to sideboard in Sudden Spoiling.
Much like the "it’s in here in case I need it" scenario, the unwinnable games that you do win are not worth the times the card doesn’t do enough to help you.
"But it’s a blowout."
Sorry, but I just checked and you still don’t get four points for winning a match with overkill. Getting them to zero is the exact same as getting them to -100, at least as far as the rules are concerned. Sometimes you need a big swingy effect to win a matchup, but matchups are pretty close to 50/50 nowadays. What you actually need is a better understanding of what’s important in the matchup and how to exploit that.
Altering what’s important in the matchup is a good way to gain an edge, as is plugging the holes that you have in the matchup. If the matchup isn’t in your favor, you need a high-risk high-reward card to give you a shot, and that card gives you a fighting chance often, then it might be worth it. What you really don’t want is a card that is a blowout 5 percent of the time and does nothing the other 95 percent.
"It dies to X."
In a world of Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall, that’s not a valid argument. Hell, even before those cards existed, it wasn’t rational. Everything dies to something, so unless you’re talking about sideboarding in a two-toughness creature against a deck with twenty Shocks, you’re not going to convince me.
You have to weigh the effectiveness of the card when they don’t have it versus how bad it is for you when they do. Chances are that the games you win because of your powerful card against their deck with answers is going to be larger than the amount of times it dies and you lose exactly because of that. Plus there’s always the chance that you can bait out their removal or protect it.
"How do I sideboard?"
The short version is a list detailing what goes in and what goes out, but that’s not terribly helpful. Magic is a crazy game where the value of certain cards changes depending on specific cards in your opponent’s deck, how they sideboard, whether you’re on the play or the draw, and so on.
I consider giving you a sideboarding guide to be a disservice. If you’re just a casual gamer trying to not embarrass yourself and want a quick relatively correct sideboarding guide, I’m more than happy to do that. I understand your motives, and they make sense to me.
However, if you want to improve as a player, you need to practice and figure out which cards are not important or impactful enough in each matchup and build your own sideboard around that knowledge. I could tell you how I sideboard with my deck, but that probably won’t help you if you change some cards or play against something I haven’t played against before.
Magic is not a game where you can copy a decklist on little to no practice, follow a sideboarding guide to a tee, and expect to do well. So why do we keep doing it?
"My last opponent was so terrible."
So are you. So am I. Given the sheer amount of difficult decisions we face on a daily basis, we are going to make mistakes. Maybe your opponent isn’t actually good at Magic, but does that matter? If the best player always won, Magic would be incredibly boring.
Regardless of how poorly they played, there’s always something you could have done differently. It might be easier to chalk it up to luck, lest you risk lowering your self-worth, but your self-worth shouldn’t be tied to a card game in the first place. Magic is where we go to relax, hang out, have fun, and not be judged. You’re ruining it for everybody.
"I got so unlucky last round."
Ironically, in an article where I’m (perhaps) overly negative about how people act, I’m going to be negative about people being negative.
This isn’t just about venting to your friends. This is about being an overall drain on any group you’re involved with. Needing to vent is understandable, but there’s no need to bring your friends down with you.
I don’t believe in karma, but I do believe that if you’re putting positive energy out there and are surrounding yourself with positive people, eventually some of that will come back to you. When you focus on building others up instead of bringing others down, there will be nothing left but positivity. Conversely, if you complain all the time, you can fully expect to have that come back to bite you.
When I’ve prepared as much as possible, focused on making good informed choices, and game 3 of an important match comes down to a topdeck war that I end up losing, do you know how angry I feel?
There is a certain freedom in not blaming luck. There’s always another tournament and another chance to do better. As long as I’m confident that I made the best choices I could have regardless of if they ended up being right or wrong, I’m happy. If I made a choice that didn’t pan out despite my logic being sound or even if I made a good choice that ended poorly, I can take solace in that.
So curb the excuses and figure out what you could have done differently. No one wants to hear it.
Do you know what they want to hear but don’t know it? "What’s your record? 5-1? Nice man, keep doing what you’re doing!" Even some general encouragement for those who are currently down in the dumps goes a long way. You have no idea how much good a random act of kindness can do for a person that needs it.
I don’t have time for negative people. They are a constant drain on my mental state. The sooner they realize that, the better off everyone will be. There are literally billions of people in the world, so I know I’ll be able to find better friends.
If you ever look back on your past actions and feel regret or shame, that’s an important first step. It shows that you want to change and that you can change. We’re all capable of change, and changing for the better should be what we strive for. However, there is a difference between reflecting on your past actions and wishing you didn’t do them because of the consequences or just being embarrassed by the actions themselves.
Maybe we got into Magic because it challenged us, forced us to think differently, or liked the pretty art. Regardless, most of stay with Magic or get brought back to Magic because of the people, and we owe it to them to better ourselves. That goes for both you and me.
In the last ten years, I’ve changed so much that it’s a crazy and scary thing to think about. I was once a person with different thoughts, impulses, and feelings, and now I’m me. Ten years from now, what part of my reality is going to change or reveal itself to have never been reality at all?
Next week: decklists!