Double or Nothing: Tweaking

Tweaking isn’t as rewarding as doing really well with a fully rogue deck… But it can personalise decks, and give your opponents fits. Jim shows you the basics of this fundamental Magic concept.

Everyone knows that there are net decks and rogue decks out there ? and the two camps are each firmly entrenched in a bitter war against the ideals of the other.

“Rogue is good! Net decks are for mindless sheep.”

“Net decks win games and are well tested! Rogue decks are suboptimal.”

Isn?t it just possible that there is some overlap? Miracle Gro wasn?t a net deck until it was successful; it was rogue. Rock was a rogue deck; Tings was a rogue deck. At the end of the day, I believe that what many deck designers want, and the reason they continue to play rogue decks is the hope that their latest creation becomes the next Miracle Gro, the next super deck to be piloted by Kai into another PT win.

So yes, there is overlap. Good rogue decks become adopted by the denizens that haunt Star City, Brainburst, Sideboard and the other sites ? meanwhile, rogue deck designers are taking Net decks and playing with them. Changing a card here, adding a new colour there, swapping out cards that are bad in their area, for ones they know will help.

Tweaking is going on all across the country. Net deck players and rogue players alike are taking the published decks of the top Pros and ?tuning? them to their own particular likes and dislikes. Hang on, though ? these decks were built by Pros! How dare we, the unwashed masses, tinker with these fine creations? How do we know that taking out a Force Spike for maindecked Gainsays won?t ruin a carefully-crafted deck?

Well, here are a few tips:


The most changed and tweaked aspect of any net deck is the sideboard. Obviously, the sideboard is the most locally relative aspect of any deck, helping you to prepare for match ups you?re expecting at your local tourney.

When you look at any sideboard, you should try to work out why each card is there and what comes out of the main deck whenever you sideboard. That way, if you decide to cut a card, you can make a judgement whether you?ve weakened the deck against a particular match up.

Lets say you?re playing Ben Rubin?s Enforcer deck from the Masters Series in San Diego (in fact, all the decks in this article will come from the Masters). Ben played a mainly blue deck, with green and white for control and Enforcers. His sideboard was as follows:

2x Aura Mutation

4x Call of the Herd

4x Meddling Mage

3x Questing Phelddagrif

2x Wild Mongrel

Now, we know that other Enforcer decks, Psychatog, Tings and R/G Beats were all there ? so if Ben knew this, we can speculate that the Meddling Mages were in there to help him against Obliterate. If we knew that no one around our area had the cards for Tings, or that there would only be one or two, we could choose to drop them for something else in order to help against other matches.

If R/G was very prominent, we might add Diverts or Deflections for their Urza?s Rages, or Aether Bursts to give us more bounce against their token creatures. In each case, we have to look and see whether the main deck can support this. As the deck is mainly blue in this case, the answer is yes ? but you still need to work out what you?re going to take out of the main deck when you sideboard.

Main deck spells

After the sideboard, it?s often the main deck spells that are changed next. Not many, to be sure, but some will come out because they are too often dead cards in a well-known metagame, or just too bad against a field you expect to hate them. Some will often be put in because you know a lot of blue decks will be there, or that everyone at your store likes playing red.

Lets say you want to play Darwin Kastle?s R/G deck from the San Diego Masters. You know that most of the local players love the new Psychatog and Upheaval decks… And they?re all packed with Unsummon, Aether Bursts, Recoils and Repulses, just waiting for you to cast an Elephant or Beast token…

What can you do?

Looking at the deck, it?s very focused and works very well, but against decks with cheap bounce it will have a hard time. There could be several answers: Blurred Mongoose can?t be countered, and Yavimaya Barbarians have Protection from Blue. If we look at the curve for the deck, there aren?t many two casting-cost creatures to take out, and we probably don?t want to add all eight of these.

The Mongoose is easily controlled: They block it with Finkel or a Psychatog. The Barbarian is much trickier. If you get one into play, it?s almost impossible for many decks to get rid of, as targeted black removal is not popular at the moment.

So to add four Barbarians, we need to take out some cards. As we do so, we should carefully consider the following:

Am I changing the deck fundamentally?

If you decide to take Obliterate out of Tings, you?d be changing it fundamentally. A fundamental change is often when you remove a key spell, or reduce the number from four to perhaps one. A fundamental change will often make a new deck that plays very differently from the original.

Am I changing the mana curve substantially?

If you take Kavu Titans out of Darwin?s deck and add four maindecked Kavu Chameleons, you?re messing with its mana curve. The Titans can be cast on turn two ? as a bonus they are bigger later on, but you?re making your deck slower by making it more top-heavy.

Am I changing the colour of the deck substantially?

An obvious question, but you can more subtly change a deck?s colour by reducing the number of spells of a certain colour. Imagine that you took all of the Wild Mongrels and Call of the Herds out for red cards. Suddenly the deck is much ?redder? than it was, and the land may have to be changed to accommodate it.

So – back to our Barbarians. With a mass of control decks, and many of them laughing at Flametongue, we could drop one, lessening the number of dead cards we have against our supposed opponents. Beast Attack is relatively expensive, although the Elves and Birds help out a lot… And we?ve already mentioned that we have too many token creatures. With two less high casting-cost creatures, we can probably drop one of the mana creatures to go down to seven, and a Kavu Titan can easily come out. That gives us our four slots.

The deck will play largely as it did before, but with four maindecked cards that will really hurt blue players relying on bounce and blue blockers. We haven?t made a fundamental change; the deck still revolves around an aggressive ground attack. The creatures also fit into the curve quite well and don?t require us to change the land at all; even though we?ve upped the number of red spells by three, it should make little difference.

Main deck land

The last thing that is often changed is maindeck land. Changing the spells in a deck often means no changes are needed to the lands at all, but it is something you should look at for every deck you tweak.

One deck I?ve been looking at in detail is the Psychatog deck that Patrick Mello and Kai both played, and I?ve been playing it against R/G and Tings a lot. Let’s say that I?ve come to the conclusion that I want to add two spells to it: Wrath of God main deck and Sacred Ground in the sideboard. Maybe I also want to have a Dismantling Blow or two to help me against some of the odder decks that always seem to crop up where I play.

Adding Wrath of God means a major change to the mana of the deck, as you need WW to cast it. The only way I can see of doing it is reducing the black component of the deck, swapping the Undermines for Absorbs. I?m hoping that, given that the rest of the black spells only need one black mana, I?ll get away with the changes.

So. Maindeck spells change like this:

-4 Undermine

-1 Recoil

+2 Wrath of God

+3 Absorb

Five less black spells should let me get away with a few changes, and my land will end up as follows:

1 Cephalid Coliseum

1 City of Brass

6 Island

4 Adarkar Wastes

3 Coastal Tower

3 Salt Marsh

4 Underground River

This keeps our land count the same. Although twenty-three lands might be a better bet, with so much card drawing we should be okay as long as we can still get blue mana. The increased number of pain lands should be okay as long as we see an Absorb or two throughout the game.

The Wrath of God helps us kill Yavimaya Barbarians, Spiritmongers, and Mongeese when we don?t have a Psychatog. Sacred Ground helps to beat Tings, and it?s becoming very popular in my area. I?m not saying I would play this deck ? it needs a lot more testing that the two days I?ve given it, especially against the more aggressive decks out there that will really take advantage of all the painlands.

It is, however, a good example of a tweak. The deck still plays in a similar fashion, but can deal with more, different types of threat and has more sideboard options. We?ve changed only a few spells but the land has changed dramatically.

Tweaking isn?t as rewarding as doing really well with a fully rogue deck… But it can personalise decks, and give your opponents fits when they see a card that?s not in the latest net version of a deck they?ve seen. It can also come up with new decks, as Super Gro?s designer did when he tweaked Miracle Gro.

This weekend I?m judging a Torment Prerelease and, hopefully, playing in a different one. Once the cat is out of the bag, we?ll have to suffer a month?s anticipation, as people are desperate to build new decks with new cards… But tournaments go on the same for a while. Hopefully we?ll see a few new decks in a month. Fingers Crossed.

Cheers, Jim.

Team PhatBeats