Metagaming Modifications

Brad wants to tell you the secret to his success: sculpting his deck specifically for how large an event is and how the metagame changes in the later rounds of two-day tournaments… or to face the challenges of single-day events where you can’t take more than one loss and win the event.

There are a huge number of decisions to be made each and every time you prepare for a Standard event. It is not only important to figure out which deck to play, but you also have to know exactly which cards you want to be equipped with as well. Some of the most crucial choices to make can also end up being the most inconspicuous at times. Today we will be going to go over exactly how I approach Standard on a week-to-week basis, what I consider important, and how I would position myself for the following tournament.

There is a momentous fallacy when it comes to understanding how to metagame in Magic. Information gained from last week’s events cannot be extrapolated in a vacuum. Too many times, players look at results from previous tournaments and assume the information will have a significant impact on future events. In reality, there are several possibilities for how the player base will react to this information.

1. They will play the deck that won last week.

A large number of players only get to play Magic a few times a month or even a few times a year. These players will often times gravitate towards their favorite writers and/or the most recent tournament results for directions. They don’t have enough time to extensively prepare for the event themselves, so they rely on outside information to guide them to a reliable decklist.

2. They will make extensive changes to their deck in an attempt to metagame against the decks that did well last weekend.

Many players that stay current in Standard will look at new information to gauge how they should adapt the deck they are most familiar with to correctly maneuver through the next tournament. These players will oftentimes make subtle changes to the deck they are most familiar with.

Sometimes the deck these players play is also the one that did well the prior week. What happens then is that these players will go one of two ways: they could possibly make changes to their deck to replicate the deck list from last week, or they will reconstruct their deck to perform better in the mirror matchup. Very rarely will this information motivate them to change to a different archetype, it is instead the validation they needed to continue playing the deck.

3. They switch to an archetype that has the best overall matchups against the decks that performed well the week before.

A small subset of players will simply move on to a deck they feel is well-positioned against a field that has recently forgotten of its existence. The most recent example of this is the resurgence of both Mono-Blue Devotion and Mono-Red Aggro. Both of these decks have had an uptick in play due to the format simply ignoring their existence. Both of these decks were once highly respected but fell off the radar.

Magic has a way of self-correcting, and nothing is more dangerous than an archetype being ignored.

4. They will stay the course and ignore the information.

That’s right! There are players that simply just take tournaments at face value. They see it as a group of people that played in an event and the only information that becomes public knowledge is who did best. The story of how those decks rose to the top is non-existent, but the fact of the matter is something caused them to play in the single-elimination rounds. It could have been talented pilots, good matchups, good draws, or even a combination of factors. What matters to these players is that this is just information that potentially will not have any impact on future events.

People will respond in all of these ways, but in combination it will not cause a significant ripple in the metagame. Mostly, things will stay the same. Only after many weeks of tournaments will you see permanent changes due to enough of these small changes accruing into more-significant ones.

Another fallacy in metagaming is how the player base often reacts to new strategies. Every once in a while, someone will bring a brand-spanking- new deck to a tournament and do well with it. These decks often times get a ton of hype due to their originality and uniqueness. They are simply an invigorating breath of fresh air in this ever-stagnant world of Standard.

Players will oftentimes react much differently to this than they do to more-generic tournament results. New decks will almost always have a direct impact on the following week’s tournaments, but not in the way most players expect them to.

You see, most players think that a new deck will budge its way into the metagame and a larger-than-normal percentage of the player base will be playing it. In reality, the thing that changes the most is the way players will metagame against it. You will generally see players frantically figuring out how their deck will handle the new archetype rather than playing it themselves. Most of the time the new archetypes will see sporadic play, yet almost everyone will change cards to increase their chances of beating them.

Too often, players “over-correct” this way when preparing for events. They make too many irrational changes to their deck due to mis-weighing the information they deem important. This constantly happens yet historically it is easy to see that the format never has drastic shifts.

There’s an easy answer to why things don’t drastically change from week to week.

I want you... I want you so baaaad...

You are the reason things don’t change. It is because of you that we never see Standard violently shifting from one week to another. It is also you that is making the correct decisions! There is no real reason to change decks every week unless you have ample time to properly test. Without enough preparation, you would be making too many mistakes to ever do well in an event. It is always important to be comfortable with the deck you decide to take to a tournament. No matter how badly you think “your” deck is positioned, it will never be worse than playing a deck you are not familiar with.

Even though a metagame doesn’t drastically evolve every week does not mean it won’t evolve within the tournaments themselves. This is where the real edges are to be had.

Instead of looking at a metagame as one big moving piece, it is important to understand how it will evolve within the rounds of a tournament itself. Because of this, each tournament structure should be viewed differently. Learning how to individualize your deckbuilding decisions to different tournament structures takes a bit of getting used to, but it the sole reason why you see my name at the top tables of most Standard tournaments. It is not because I am a Standard guru or that I just understand the format better than others. It is because I have figured out a great formula to understanding how metagames will shift within the tournaments and equip myself with the best tools to go deep within them.

So today, I am going to go over how I approach each tournament structure and give examples of how my deck would look in each of them. The deck we will be using for today’s exercise is Jund Monsters. It has proven itself time and time again as an extremely powerful and resilient strategy in this Standard environment. I have found myself constantly trying to test other strategies only to find myself having issues Jund Monsters just doesn’t have. It’s not a perfect deck by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one I am comfortable piloting… which happens to be the most important rule when selecting a deck.

Let’s start with last weekend’s Star City Games Invitational since the list I played was very different than the other “stock” lists of Jund Monsters.


8 Rounds of Standard

8 Rounds of Legacy

Average record needed to Top 8: 12(X)-3-1

One of the largest factors when preparing for an event is figuring out how many losses you can take before you are no longer able to Top 8. This can drastically change the importance of deck positioning. Since the Invitational is sixteen rounds, you are able to lose to a bad matchup a couple of times and still end up making it to the single elimination rounds. I almost always take this opportunity to “sacrifice” a matchup. This is the most important factor behind why the decks I play look the way they look.

The reason I do this is so that I will have more tools to fight what I deem are the decks that will “rise to the top” or will be piloted by the best players in the room. Since this tournament structure has so many rounds, the later rounds will almost always showcase the stronger players. Magic is a skill game, after all.

Since I am electing not to play cards that are specifically good in a certain matchup, I now have more room to have stronger cards in the matchups I predict will be more popular and threatening. What matchup do you think I ignored last weekend?

If your answer was Tom “the Boss” Ross, then you are correct! I didn’t want anything to do with red-based aggression in this event. Not because I wasn’t scared of it; in fact, quite the opposite. Jund Monster’s matchup against red-based aggressive decks is pretty bad. Instead of trying to fit an abundance of cards in the deck to help mitigate the risk, I simply chose to ignore it and rely on winning all of my other matchups to make up for the times I get paired against these decks.

In actuality, I almost always ignore red-based aggressive decks in larger tournaments. Not because I think I can simply outplay red opponents but because there are usually fewer of them as the tournament progresses. I usually lose to red players in tournaments when I do end up facing them… I just very rarely end up playing against them.

The reason I do this is because I view decks like this to be slightly popular on Day One and sporadic at best on Day Two. Not because the archetype is weak, but because of how the average tournament breaks. Like I said earlier, the better players will most likely be doing well, and most of the best players will not play red-based aggressive decks.

Pro players don’t end up playing this style of deck because they want to have a sense of control over their situation. Just because red decks have a ton of decision points does not mean playing them makes players feel like they are in control. The games play out much differently with red aggro than it does with Esper, Mono-Black Devotion, Jund Monsters, and Mono-Blue Devotion, making it a much more difficult deck to pull the trigger on. Since the average pro players doesn’t play decks like this, only a small percentage of red decks make Day Two.

This exact reasoning is where I try to get my edges. I build my decks to be well-positioned on Day Two and hope to not face too many bad matchups on Day One. It is not like this always works, but I will never go into a tournament wanting to take 37th. By taking this risky line in every event I play, I am giving myself a stronger chance to spike these events. Whenever I make it to the Top 8, I tend to have more tools in my deck for the matchups still in contention to win. This is a huge advantage in my eyes.

Let’s take a look at a tournament structure that is two days that you don’t have to qualify for.

Grand Prix

15 round of Standard

Average Record needed to Top 8: 13(X)-2

Some of the same principles with preparing for an Invitational apply for Grand Prix as well. The Pro Players in the event will often be playing the decks that give them the strongest sense of control, but there will be far fewer of them in the field. What this means is that you will want to position the deck you play to be advantaged against them… but you will need to survive countless rounds against diverse opponents before you deep enough in the tournament to even face them.

If you take a longer look at the deck I played in the Invitational, there are two key card choices that I would not make for a Grand Prix. I would not play four Xenagos, the Reveler in the maindeck, and I wouldn’t have played the Dark Betrayal. Both of these slots were chosen because of how much the Pro players in the room loved Mono-Black Devotion and Esper Control. Xenagos, the Reveler is one of the weakest cards in the deck against any other matchup, but it absolutely shines against both of these decks. I decided to sacrifice a little equity in every other matchup because I thought I would play against those two decks in over 50% of my rounds.

The same will not be the case when playing in a Grand Prix. It takes almost ten rounds in a Grand Prix to see the internal metagame begin to shift. Once you get to round eleven, you will then be able to see a more structured metagame at the top tables. My prediction for the round eleven internal metagame for the upcoming Grand Prix is:

25% Mono-Blue Devotion

15% Mono-Black Devotion/Variants

15% Esper Control

10% Monsters

5% R/w Burn

30% Everything else (including margin of error).

My prediction going into Grand Prix Chicago is that Mono-Blue Devotion will be the “breakout” deck of the weekend. The archetype has been well-positioned for some time now, but there hasn’t been a large amount of people jumping over to the deck.

Do you remember when I said that people don’t drastically change decks from week to week, but instead it takes close to a month before you see any actual change in how the metagame looks? Well, two weeks ago Ross Merriam put Mono-Blue Devotion back on the map, and two weeks is exactly the amount of time it takes for people to take notice and change decks right before a Grand Prix.

Mono-Blue Devotion will be the deck that is best-positioned for this event and also will have the amount of people running it that it takes for it to show a big impact on Day Two. Being prepared for this matchup is step one.

Now you can’t just jam anti-Blue Devotion cards into a deck and call it a day. The real trick is to find small edges against the deck so that the matchup gets better, but to do so in a way that your deck doesn’t have to straight-up use slots for it. After all, we don’t have enough room to do that in every matchup, so never do that against enemy number one.

The easiest thing to change in a Jund Monsters deck to help it in certain matchups is the removal suite. Dreadbore was a card the deck played back in the day to help against opposing Planeswalkers, but the metagame has been shifting away from them as of late. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but they are not currently on my radar. One of the easiest shifts to be made is to have removal that can kill Master of Waves.

A subtle hedge against Planeswalkers and Mono-Blue Devotion is Ghor-Clan Rampager. This card allows Jund Monsters to attack through a board to kill a Planeswalker… but, at the same time, it also helps the deck race Mono-Blue Devotion. Since the matchup almost always comes down to who can deal twenty damage first, Ghor-Clan Rampager and Scavenging Ooze are extremely important cards in the matchup. So, playing the 4th Ghor-Clan Rampager here is exactly what you are looking for.

Now, keep in mind that this is just a prediction for an exercise. I have not done enough research myself to deem this decklist worthy of playing in an event, but it does showcase exactly what I am trying to teach here. It is always important to be looking ahead to know if the deck you are playing is capable of winning in the later rounds of an event.

Let’s take a look at the smaller events.

Local Game Store IQ

5 to 7 rounds

Record needed to top 8: X-1-(0/1)

Tournaments held at your Local Game Store should be the easiest to metagame for. You know the players in your backyard, and you know what they generally play. This makes it much easier to figure out exactly what you will be playing against.

This all changes if you are traveling for an Invitational Qualifier. Then, you won’t have a good idea of what the locals play. In these situations, you have to look at exactly what it will take to win the tournament to get a good idea of how to properly prepare for the event.

Most IQ’s are roughly between five and seven rounds with a cut to Top 8. This means that you will have to win almost every round in the swiss as well as three more in the Top 8.

Local tournaments don’t have enough rounds or people to easily see a shift in metagame over the course of the event like at a Grand Prix. This means you will want to rely on power to get yourself through the event, and can’t try to do too many cute things with your decklist since you won’t play against the same three decks over and over again in the later rounds. You also don’t have as many losses to give up. This is when I choose to respect the red mages, when my back is up against the wall.

This is the decklist I would play if I was going to an Invitational Qualifier this weekend:

The biggest change to this list compared to the others is the addition of Nylea’s Disciple in the sideboard. Having access to this card is going to be important if I ever end up facing more than one red deck, since I will have to actually beat one of them in order to win the tournament. There is enough risk in that to deem them worthy of playing.

The real eyebrow-raiser in this decklist is the maindeck Golgari Charm. This is not because I think the metagame has shifted in a crazy way, rather it is the most-respectable maindeck card for my sixteen-card sideboard. Since I am now forced to spend precious slots on copies of Nylea’s Disciple, I am finding it difficult to have access to everything else I want.

Golgari Charm in the maindeck will oftentimes be mediocre, but sometimes it will be the blowout I need. It could even win me multiple Game Ones since no one will play around it. It is flexible enough to justify playing it in the maindeck, and it allows me to still have all the tools I need when sideboarding.

Metagaming Q&A

I hope you enjoyed today’s article, but I will be needing you guys to help with the next one!

Metagaming is by far the most complex side of Magic, and it is one I cannot cover in just one article. I hope this article is a nice start, but I would like to follow up with this topic next week as well after I get some feedback from you guys.

Please ask any and all questions you may about the art of Metagaming in the forums below. I believe that a Q&A on the subject might just be the best way for me to know exactly what you guys want to know.