Insert Column Name Here – Lessons From Hollywood, And The Intarwebz, And Every Other Big Event

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Monday, May 26th – I have never been to a Constructed Pro Tour. But as the Editor-in-Chief of StarCityGames.com over the past eight years, I’ve noticed a distinct trend in how the Internet as a whole approaches large, high-stakes Constructed events… Particularly when there’s a dominant deck that’s clearly head and shoulders above anything else. What can we learn from the past patterns of hype, crazy rogue decks, and deflation?

I have never been to a Constructed Pro Tour. In fact, I’m not particularly good at Constructed. But as the Editor-in-Chief of StarCityGames.com over the past eight years, I’ve noticed a distinct trend in how the Internet as a whole approaches large, high-stakes Constructed events… Particularly when there’s a dominant deck that’s clearly head and shoulders above anything else.

There’s often a lot of hype and misdirection that needs to be sorted out.

If you read the articles when there’s a Big Gun in the format that everyone’s out to beat, there’s a very clear pattern that’s established every time. And what you can learn from those patterns may be some pearls of wisdom — or, at the very minimum, a reality check — to keep in mind when you’re personally trying to break the format in half before some Big Event. (Or heck, even an FNM.)

The Unbeatable Deck Is Almost Never Going To Be 50% Of A Pro Tour Field.
This time around said deck was Faeries, but it could also be U/G Madness, or CounterRebels, or Affinity, or any number of other things. And when that happens, everyone wants to play The Good deck, and so it winds up being extremely dominant at smaller, competitive tournaments.

(Except for tiny tournaments like FNM, where there’s a subset of people who actively ignore the metagame because They Have One Deck, And They Are Playing It. FNM’s very player-dependent.)

What you see in the flurry of articles before any large event is a spiel of a) variants on the Unbeatable deck designed to trick it out, and b) decks that beat the unbeatable deck. And the danger, particularly at a large-scale event, is that you focus all of your hatred on the Unbeatable Deck and die to anything else.

You don’t want to focus exclusively on the Unbeatable Deck for a Pro Tour — because at a high-level event, few people want to play the Unbeatable Deck.

Why? Because they assume everyone will be gunning for it, and beating sixteen rounds of pure hatred is difficult. Plus, you fall prey to anyone’s surprise technology, which is only good by definition if it beats the Unbeatable Deck. It’s expected. They’d rather have their own deck that, like Mal Reynolds, “They’re not gonna see this comin’.”

So the pros don’t want to play the Unbeatable Deck unless it really is unbeatable. Which happens occasionally — Affinity was a real pain — but nine times out of ten, it’s really not that invulnerable.

So you don’t want to concentrate all of your hatred ‘pon the Unbeatable Deck. Toss out any deck that can’t at least go 50/50 with the Unbeatable Deck, naturally, but don’t choose a deck for a large-scale event only because it beats the Big Gun.

Which brings me to my next point….

Generally, There Are Answers To The Unbeatable Deck. You Just Haven’t Discovered Them.
In the weeks leading up to a large event, you’ll see a tons of articles, all talking about how The Unbeatable Deck is crazy hard. In fact, in the smaller competitive events before a Big Event, you’ll generally note that the Unbeatable Deck has turned up in massive numbers and clogged the Top 8.

This leads to a flurry of articles, all implying that the Unbeatable Deck is a juggernaut that cannot be toppled. It can. In retrospect, it’s kind of funny how many Unbeatable Decks turned out to be handled by a foil deck that was equally good. (And occasionally, the response deck becomes the Unbeatable Deck.)

There are times when a deck is really so crazy that it needs bannings to be set back to a reasonable power level… But that rarely happens. The last time was Affinity — and as Wizards noted at the time of the ban, it’s not that Affinity was unbeatable per se, it’s that nobody was having fun playing against it.

At smaller competitive events, the Unbeatable Deck is what everyone plays because they know it’s the best. And if you’re not a particularly good rogue deckbuilder — and most aren’t — then you play the best deck and hope your playskills carry you through.

So when 40% of the field shows up and smashes a field largely filled with non-Pro rogue deckbuilders, it gives the severe impression of inevitability. There are occasional surprises, natch, but the fact that Unbeatable Deck just demolished the latest $5k tourney isn’t proof of its indestructibility. It just means that common wisdom about the best deck combined with a splash of laziness ruled the day.

So despite the tides of articles you will see talking about the sheer inevitability of the Unbeatable Deck, nine times out of ten it is beatable. No, really. It’s not easily beatable, mind you, but it is possible.

Thing is, the pros are Pros with a capital “P” for a reason. They’re experts at homing in on the “hot spots” in a format — the handful of decks that stand sufficiently high above the power curve that they can assume that most of the other Pros have discovered them. And if one of those decks beats the Unbeatable Deck on any level, then chances are good they’re going to be playing it.

They are not, generally speaking, going to discuss them.

You Will Generally Not Hear About The Real Rogue Decks Beforehand.

It’s one of the downsides to SCG’s more polished content these days; back in the day when anyone could submit to the Dojo (or, yes, us), you’d see unpolished decks that were often the first harbingers of what was to come. And because you had so many people submitting and discussing, I’d often go back to the winning deck and go, “Wait! Dude J. Random wrote about this four weeks ago in an article that everyone ignored!”

(The downside being, naturally, that Dude K. Random, Dude L. Random, Dude M. Random, all the way through Dude Z. Random, had also submitted random decks that were every bit as as terrible as they looked. I support a greater editorial hand.)

Occasionally you could get accidental snippets of rogue decks on the aether, as people accidentally synchronized with the Godhead of the pros and found out. Now? It’s often more noise than signal in any given set of forums, and while it’s useful to see what other people are thinking, you’ll rarely have the time to look through a zillion posts to possibly find the one guy who stumbled upon the Truth.

And the pros? They’re not talking. Anyone with a connection is keeping their mouth shut. So what you see in articles is generally not tech. You’ll have to generate your own — thus hath it always been.

(Though even now, there are flashes — note Bennie Smith discussion of combos with Juniper Order Ranger and persist well before Project 420.5n.)

That said, sometimes you’ll find an article talking about a deck that beats the Unbeatable Deck. Use the following rules:

1) If the author claims a greater than 70% win percentage, he is most likely deluded. 70% is a lot.

2) Unless the author is very, very well respected (and yes, Flores and Chapin count in this aspect!), the actual win percentages are probably very deflated.

The problem is that the ability to build a good rogue deck and the ability to play well are two separate skills, and very rarely come in the same person. So working in isolation, the kind of person who designs a deck that should beat The Unbeatable Deck on paper….

…well, he may not know how to test it. For one thing, if you stick Joey Z. Noobsauce as the pilot of The Unbeatable Deck, your results are going to look great because Joey is awful. Joey may be throwing away games due to his inability to play The Unbeatable Deck properly, thus inflating the new deck’s win potential.

And many rogue decks collapse like an old casino in Vegas once the Unbeatable Deck player discovers the trick. The Unbeatable Deck often can alter its play style a little bit to account for this new stratagem — your deck throws them off-balance for a bit, but they’ll discover a way to work around your win condition/interference. And once they do that, then it’s game over for the crazy rogue deck.

Sure, you can steal a match or two if they totally didn’t see Crazy Rogue Deck coming. But by the time you struggle to the beginning of Day Two (or the Top Eight), everyone knows about your deck because it’s the big news, and they’ve probably thought about how to beat it.

So when someone talks about their new rogue deck, take it with a grain of salt. It’s probably good, but until you’ve tested it, don’t believe what they say. And when you test it? Put your best player behind the Unbeatable Deck. If your rogue deck is really that good, it’ll still have a chance.

Yet unless you have a direct connection to a group of pros? Assume you’re going to have to invent the wheel using your own stonecutting tools.

Look To The Lists, My Friends. The Lists.
As I said, articles are often not good sources for rogue decks. (They’re extremely good for giving you tips on how to play the various matchups, and excellent at keeping you in touch with what people see as the latest tech, but the genuine rogue’s hidden as Jimmy Hoffa.)

So where can you find them? In the Top 8s of other tournaments.

Generally, they’re not in good shape, and need some tuning. The showing of Evan Erwin Red Deck Wins should have been a signal to Faeries that aggressive beatdown was a way to go. The seventh-place showing of Merfolk was a hint that Merfolk were also competitive. And the G/B Elves were also there.

Any time you can find another tournament, look at what was close to beating the Unbeatable Deck. The fact that it lost didn’t mean that the deck was bad, just that some manascrew or unforeseen bad matchup knocked it out. And take a good look to see whether maybe it’s better than it looks according to the results.

You Forgot About Dre, Didn’t You?
In an established format that’s been played for awhile, someone almost always writes off an old deck because it doesn’t have the greatest percentage against the Unbeatable Deck. But you know what? If it does okay against the Unbeatable Deck and then romps over the rest of the field, maybe it’s time to dust off that old tech to see whether it’s better than you’d think. (Also see: Reveillark.)

In particular, think about whether it’s sheer hatred that forced a deck to the bottom of the pile, and ask whether that hatred is still about. (Also see: Affinity.)

There Will Be At Least One Genuinely Good Deck That Doesn’t Make The Top 8 Thanks To Lousy Luck, So No One Will Notice It
This happens a lot at Pro Tours especially, where everyone’s so focused on What Won that they often forget that for all of the skill, a lot of luck does play into any victory. One mulligan too much, and the deck that could have been the poster child for wins everywhere gets relegated to a Flores footnote.

Take a look at the oddball decks – the almost-made-its. Many times, you can take that deck out to a PTQ and do quite well with it, because nobody saw it coming.

There Will Be One Deck That Looks Really Cool And Doesn’t Make The Top 8, But People Will Want To Play It Anyway
Everyone likes a flashy deck that goes crazy with infinite tokens or WHEE is just a fun beatdown deck that appeals to the inner Timmy. This is not a good deck, but by God folks form an attachment to the chrome and then lose a lot with it at PTQs.

Unfortunately, discerning the distinction between this deck and the deck referenced in the last bullet point is the downfall of many a player.

There Will Be One Deck That Wins For He, But Not For Thee
It’s a complicated deck with tons of choices that propelled Really Good Player X up to the top of the standings. You, however, will pick the deck up without really thinking about it, lacking Really Good Player X’s innate skills, and without practice this deck will be as substandard as all git-out for you.

If it’s really complicated, avoid it unless you’re really good or prepared to practice a lot.

The Most Important Thing About Any New Deck Is The Name
Is the Juniper Order Ranger Combo any good? Who cares? We have to assign a name! And quick! It has to be flashy!

Remember. What’s important is coolness. You need a good deck name. And if your rogue deck is not named cool enough, someone else will name it for you and then where will you be? Hmm?

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Here Site Guy