Life isn’t always fair. People get born into different life situations. Some people are born rich while others are born poor. The same is true in Magic. Blue has flying, while Green has Trample. White has damage prevention, while Red has direct damage. Magic’s color wheel defines the tensions between and within the colors. As players, we don’t have to succumb to the color wheel. We need to work with it, give every color a chance, until we find out how to win with White, Green, Red, Black and Blue.
The first deck I had success with was a White-Green deck. I played Preacher, Cockatrice, Witch Hunter, Serra Angel, Balance, Swords to Plowshares, and Birds of Paradise. This was back when I first learned how to play Magic, but I still came in second at my very first tournament. The tournament had a little under ninety people playing and for my second place finish I won a half-box of Fallen Empires.
I continued playing this newbie deck, but all of a sudden it stopped winning as much. I felt the deck was lacking something. I wasn’t ready to give up on my deck yet, so I went out on a limb and added Red to the deck. I knew the deck needed a little splash of direct damage, so I removed some of the weaker cards, and added Fireball.
At Grand Prix: Toronto I returned to my roots and played a Green/White deck with River Boa, Tithe, Mistmoon Griffin, Giant Mantis, Wall of Roots, and Scalebane’s Elite. I made Top 8 with this crazy concoction of a deck, losing to Brian Kibler in the quarterfinals. At Pro Tour: Chicago, I came in 27th with a White/Red deck, in Pro Tour: LA I made the second day with a mono-Green Sliver deck.
Notice something? I rarely played Black or Blue. Even in environments where Necropotence was the strongest card with Dark Ritual and Hymn to Tourach close behind, these were not the cards I decided to battle with. I used Whirling Dervish, Stone Rain, or Phyrexian War Beast to duel my opponents.
I liked the challenge of taking the weaker colors and making them stronger. I like the challenge of taking weaker players and making them stronger. Occasionally, I will receive the complaint that my articles are too simple. I know that I have a gift for playing Magic. I have been blessed with the instincts and intuitions necessary to win at Magic. I have been very grateful for this, but I still have needed to work extremely hard at Magic.
Blue and Black were my weakest colors. I have never played permission decks well. For a long period, I would always just avoid playing Blue and Black in Constructed. I would often shy away from them at Limited as well. However, I knew that in order to be a true master of the game, I would need to be able to play all five colors. Learning to play Black and Blue was not an easy process for me… even today I still am less confident playing those two colors.
So how did I go about learning to play Blue and Black? I watched and I listened. Now, I know people will complain that I have had better players to watch and to listen. I started out at the local card shops playing with my friends before eventually moving onto CMU. I had already qualified the Pro Tour before I ever set foot onto CMU campus. I have benefited from being surrounded by other excellent players, but I started down the path towards success long before I reached CMU. Talk to the person who just won the tournament or the person you always see winning. They will most likely have some time to discuss their winning strategies, as long as you are willing to listen.
Here is what I would suggest doing. Like I said in my previous article, practicing more would greatly benefit your game. Try and figure out what went wrong after any losing game and fix the problem for the next game. For instance, this past weekend in Grand Prix: Washington D.C. I lost a game that, had I played less aggressively, I might I have won. I was using Vulshok Gauntlets too aggressively when I should I been more concerned about a counterstrike. My creature ends up getting Awe Striked, and I no longer have the necessary defense to prevent him from overwhelming me.
After every match, I stayed to watch my teammates play. I was trying to figure out what had happened during their builds and sealed deck play. I teamed in the Pittsburgh PTQ with Eric Taylor and Nate Heiss. We built Eric deck without any artifacts, but with plenty of artifact kill. The problem he relayed to us with this decision is that the strategy did not prove to be worthwhile. Playing without Artifacts in his deck did not accomplish enough to make up for the loss of power his Green/Red deck suffered. The tons of artifact removal his deck possessed did not give him a significant enough advantage to overcome the weaknesses of playing without any artifacts.
This weekend in D.C. I took this lesson to heart when helping to construct our pool of cards. When Eugene went to build his Red/Green deck we tried to make sure that the deck kept a good balance of creatures, artifacts, and artifact kill. We worked on each deck’s weaknesses until the best possible construction of decks was reached. My learning experience from the Team PTQ helped at the G.P.
To learn how to play Black and Blue, I followed the leads of Erik Lauer and Randy Buehler. They each brought their own style to Blue decks especially. Watching them play decks like Academy or CounterPhoenix gave me insight into what I needed to do to win with that style of deck. I adapted their successful styles into my own repertoire. I may not have been the best CounterPhoenix player in the world, but when I started playing a deck like Squirrel Opposition, my experience with Blue decks in the past proved valuable.
When you watch people play in a tournament, take notice of what they are doing differently than you do. Make it a point to figure out why someone made the attack that they did, or cast the spell that they did. I am always shocked how few American’s watch the finals of events. In Japan, the finals of events always have a full crowd – they know that they are watching supreme competitors who they can learn from.
I was preparing for the Masters event in Barcelona where the format was Invasion-Planeshift Constructed. The format was identical to the previous Pro Tour held in Japan where Zvi Mowshowitz won. In his Sideboard Online article, he described the metagame as he perceived it and then described how the metagame would shift. When I was preparing for the Master’s format, I didn’t have a lot of playtest partners, so I had only limited resources. I listened to Zvi’s article and constructed my deck to beat the metagame he was describing. It turned out to be a very successful decision. I won $6,500 in Barcelona before losing to Jay Elarar’s Red/Green deck. Had I not read and listened to Zvi’s article, I probably would have lost in the first round.
In that particular event, I played a Dromar deck that was Blue, Black, and White. With my two weakest colors, I still managed to beat some tough competition. I am still not as comfortable playing Blue or Black as I am playing the other three colors, and I am still fascinated when a control deck is being played. Watching people who are better than I am play is a great experience. I have seen Kai Budde and Jon Finkel pull off amazing wins, and by watching them create miracles, I have learned how to do the same.
When you receive advice, make sure and listen to the advice. Most people don’t speak just for the sake of speaking. Beware, however, when your opponent gives you advice, especially during a match. One thing I have found to hold true is that you should never believe your opponent. After a match this doesn’t hold true, but during a match, make sure to take your opponent’s words with a grain of salt. They have their own best interests in mind, not yours. If you have any doubt about a ruling, make sure to call a judge. Even though calling a judge often can be difficult when you aren’t sure about a rule, it is the best route to take. Just because your opponent seems like a nice guy doesn’t mean that he is being honest with you. Listen with caution.
I hope my last two articles have inspired you to become better Magic players. I realize that you may read them and decide that I haven’t said very much that you didn’t know already. I can’t help you if you don’t want help. Sometimes life hands us situations in which we are helpless. We can only sit and hope for the best. Luckily, Magic offers us many opportunities to become better. The resources for winning are out there; it is our job to harness the power within those resources.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening,