Positive EV – Lessons From 2009

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Wednesday, December 30th – For his final article of 2009, Manuel Bucher reflects on the highs and lows of the Magical year, including the M10 Rules Changes, his tips for testing, and the lessons he’s learned about the game along the way.

It’s the end of the year, and this is a perfect time to think about the stories from the previous 365.24 days, and what we learned in that time. Today I am going to talk about what I learned this past year in Magic, and the events that affected the game from my point of view.

Magic M10 Rules Change

As with many other players, I expected the Rules Change to have a huge impact on the game. Until a few weeks ago, I thought I was wrong, as it didn’t have a lot of impact on the games I played. Exodus was released on Magic Online, and as I needed a break from Zendikar, I found my alternative in the Exodus EEE draft format. In the first draft I picked cards like Thalakos Scout, Transmogrifying Licid, and Wayward Soul really high. It took me until the second round until I realised that the Scout and the Soul abilities were both not that hot without putting damage on the stack. Erratic Portal and the Spikes were still pretty good, but not as hot as I remembered and expected them to be. When I then started drafting Mirrodin, I was aware of the situation and didn’t draft cards that were really good before, but the rules change seemed to affect a lot of things, such as Goblin Replica and Nim Replica. When my opponent tried to two-for-one me with Goblin Replica, it ended up in an awkward situation in which he did realize that damage doesn’t go on the stack anymore. So now I know that the Rules change would have a ton of impact… if they decided to build more cards that capitalized on this. But in today’s Magic, things plays out in very common ways, and the changes have the biggest impacts on Putrid Leeches and some random fetchland/Harrow based combat tricks.

In addition, the simultaneous mulligans did affect my games for several days afterwards. Still, I think the changes are good for tournament Magic. This is something I am still not sure about… It does give the better players an advantage, as it is easy to keep a hand if your opponent is down to three cards (under the old system), but knowing when to mulligan if your opponent is down one or possibly more cards is far more difficult.

Results Do Not Matter!

I started this Magical year either being upset or pleased with my performance, depending on the previous round they’d played. This affected the round I played next more then once. It took a friend’s advice to make me realize that the result of the round I’d played would not matter at all. All that matters are the factors on which we have an impact, such as playing the round to the best of our ability, or submitting the right deck for the tournament. If you end up playing every single game of Magic perfectly (which I don’t think is possible), it is only a matter of time until you end up at the top of the standings. But even if you play perfectly, or as close as possible to it, you might not be able to win anything for a whole year. If you now base your emotion on something on which you do not have any impact, it might have an effect on the games you play in the near future, and this leads to things having effect for the result of the tournament. I am now upset when I do misplay my round, and I am happy if I don’t — without caring if I end up being a winner or not. I knew that when I misplayed that this could easily cost me the match I just played, while if I play my best all the time, I would sooner or later end up doing well. Everybody can win a tournament, but not everybody is able to do well on a constant basis. There is a ton of luck in the game, and if you want to succeed at tournament Magic, you have to live with that fact.

Here is also where one of my Goals For Next Year can be found… everybody has a ton of bad beat stories, but there is nobody that wants to hear them. Next year, I’ll try not to keep on telling bad beat stories, no matter the situation. I’ll talk about entertaining stuff, or chat over topics that lead to deeper conversations.

Play Your Best, All The Time

This might sound pretty simple. It’s also is very hard to play your best all the time. Let us assume that you’d rather have done something different than attend the tournament, but you are there anyway… I don’t think you are able to play your best simply there, simply because you’d rather be somewhere different. You’re spending precious minutes on motorways; think about what could’ve been. As hard as it sounds, if you are not playing your best game, you might as well not show up for the tournament. There are so many plays you can only execute when you are entirely focussed on victory, plays you won’t even see if you don’t really care. On the same topic, I have to say that you should also get yourself into the best shape possible in order to win games. This is very important, especially pre-tournament.

I’d rather cast Careful Consideration, Ancestral Vision, or even Divination than Baneslayer Angels. But sometimes, it just is not possible to do what you like. This year’s metagame was such that control was no more valid an option for me in the second half of the year as it was in the early stages. That’s why I ended up playing an almost Mono-Creature deck at Worlds. I know that the Austrian team did manage to build a good control deck, but as we did not, I decided I’d rather playing a deck with which I was winning than a deck which was more fun during playing. After all, the most fun for me only occurs when I am winning!


There are a fair amount of players that do well on a very consistent basis without testing a lot. This is due to the fact that they play a deck that’s been tested well enough before the tournament by others, and likely a deck they are able to handle to a high level of proficiency anyway. But if you are unable to test for a tournament, for whatever reasons, you should pay greater attention to the other players in your team, rather than yourself. In Honolulu, I made the mistake of picking up my deck without a lot of testing beforehand, simply because I thought that what I was doing was correct. At that point, I did not realise that I should have tested with my deck more often, or I should have played a deck from somebody that had tested his deck enough. I think testing is usually worth it, but if you are not able to, you should know what you are doing. Testing correctly is difficult; testing incorrectly has its own pitfalls too.

Listen To Other People… And Respect Their Opinions

I know that everybody thinks that their own opinion is the best. This makes sense, because that’s why we hold such opinions. But you should bear in mind that other people are testing as well, and there reasons why they have the opinion they are representing. You are able to learn from every single player’s opinion. In the Zendikar Sealed format, I was not winning much, especially at the beginning of its appearance on Magic Online. I thought that what I did was right, and I was pretty sure in the strategy… I even picked up a little help from Antoine from time to time. It took some hints from Raphael Levy, who explained me what a winning deck needs, and that sometimes BR beatdown is not good enough and you have to think outside the box to create a winning deck. Even though the deck that Raphael built for me from a poor Sealed pool for me looked crappy at best, I gave it a shot, and I was surprised how good it turned out to be. Additionally, if you don’t respect other peoples’ opinions, it could easily affect a friendship in a negative way. Even though you can gain a great number of friends through Magic, it is not a good idea to lose them in the same way you found them.

As a final point, I’m going to follow in Patrick Chapin footsteps… I’ll compare the old Jace with the new version. I am not going to argue which of the copies is better, simply because I am not very good at rating cards before I’ve actually played them. In addition, I think both of the cards will see play, but for different reasons. One of old Jace’s main abilities is to provide a Howling Mine effect in decks that try to win the game as soon as possible, while new Jace seems to provide decks with a long term advantage. As Patrick said…

“Old Jace’s ability, on the other hand, is probably not worth a half a card, unless you are playing a Jacerator style deck. Giving your opponent a card is often the last thing you want to be doing. Head to head, I think New Jace comes out the winner here.”

Most of the decks in which “Old Jace” is seeing play are Jacerator style decks. It is either used as Howling Mine 5-8, and a win condition in several different Jacerator style decks like Fog or Time Sieve; or as an alternative card as a sideboard option against control decks, if there is ever such a thing in the future.

That’s it for this week year. Thanks for reading!

Manu B