I’ve got a secret to share with you. It will get you qualified for Nationals at this year’s Regionals; it’ll get you in position to take the slot or the cash at your next PTQ. Yes, competitive Magic success can be yours for the taking, if you just listen to this one insight, this nugget of wisdom I’m willing to impart to you. Yes, it’s the Real Deal, the Magic Carpet ready to scoop you up and deposit you on the Gravy Train. If you want to Win And Win Big! then you better keep reading.
Ready for it? Are you really ready for it? Do you want the truth? Can you handle the truth?
Can I stall this out any longer?
I’m sure I can, but I won’t… so here it is:
*drumroll… then crash of cymbals!*
You need to practice!
*trumpets ring out”ta-daaaaa!”*
That’s the answer to Magic success. Thanks for reading! Don’t let the Back button hit you on the way out…
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of”Well, duh– No Sh**, Sherlock!” And also, if you’re anything like me, you’re damn sick and tired of clicking on Magic strategy links for new deck ideas and strategies, and the article boiling down to:”You need to practice. A lot. No, more than that. A lot.”
I find myself cursing, staring at the screen after wasting several precious minutes being told to do something I don’t have time to do. Well, yeah – if I had no life, no commitments, no obligations and could devote oodles and oodles of time playing the game over and over, I’m sure I really could improve my play.
I’ll link to a few examples, but you know what I’m talking about.
From [author name="Peter Jahn"]Peter Jahn’s[/author] The End of Days article:”I do have some advice to anyone playing Tooth and Nail decks – practice a lot.”
From [author name="Sean McKeown"]Sean McKeown’s[/author] Predator/Prey Article:”…for a month prior to Regionals I hit Neutral Ground four or five times a week to test, tune, and talk about the deck I’d chosen to make it work.”
From Kai’s Team Limited article on Brainburst:”The most important keyword here is”preparation.” The best way to go here is to stick to one team for the whole PTQ season and sit down before the first tourney to construct a few decks… In general I think that practice in team limited goes a longer way then in any other format.”
From Jarrod Bright’s most recent Cemetery article on Brainburst:”Playtest the deck for around twenty games each against Ravager Affinity, Goblin Bidding and Astral Slide. Then play with the deck for at least ten games per day between now and Regionals… Unless you’re one of those players who is able to play Black-Green Control like it’s second nature, it will probably take at least sixty games per week between now and Regionals to be able to play this deck flawlessly for that kind of period of time.”
Now, I’m not taking these articles and the legion of others like them to task in order to say they’re bad; in fact, the suggestions they offer are solid, practical advice that will often work if you can follow them. But therein lies the problem. It would take an inordinate amount of time to follow their advice.
When I’m looking for the Keys to the Kingdom, I’m not looking to take the time to gather an army, launch an assault, batter down the defenses and come striding into the throne room to snatch the crown and boldly announce to the world that I Am The Latest Pro Tour Playa, Hear Me Roar! I’m looking to work out the smartest, quickest plan to sneak in the back door and grab me a little slice of glory. Devoting forty hours a week to Magic is just not feasible to me, and I’m willing to bet it’s not feasible to many of you. I mean, I like Jarrod’s articles, and I’m impressed by the amount of time he’s obviously able to devote to Magic. I find his articles very educational. But when he gives me a decklist like Cemetery, a deck concept that is near and dear to my heart, something that I would loooooove to play at Regionals, and then tells me the only way I could possibly Q with it is to play sixty games a week for the next month… it makes me want to scream!
Playtest. Playtest. Playtest. It’s the recurring mantra that shows up in strategy articles over and over again, beating against my noggin like a kid’s plastic hammer. I know, I know, I know… but that just doesn’t help me, or the countless other players out there that can barely carve out an evening or two a week for our addiction.
So are we hopelessly doomed to the scrub tables for all of eternity? Or is there a more realistic approach out there for us Hobbyists?
Don’t look at me – I’m asking you!
I mean, I realize that nothing beats playtesting, and I know that you can’t expect to do reasonably well without dedicating some time to playing. What I can’t help but wonder though is if there are some good, efficient ways to cut down on the amount of time spent actually flopping the cards. I’ve got a couple ideas I’m going to throw out, but honestly I’d like this article to be more of a launching pad for a discussion on time saving tips and hints for those of us who want to do well at competitive events, but don’t have the time and other resources to follow the Playtest Lots! route.
1. Read as much as you can, especially analysis articles. Keeping up with the ever-shifting metagame is tough, but if you can manage it, I suspect you save a lot of time right there. No point in playing yesterday’s deck if you can play today’s deck.
2. Find a good think tank. I still wistfully think back to the days when I won Virginia States in 1999. Originally, I thought I was not going to be able to make States, but then found I could go just seven days prior. Yikes! What to play? At the time I was active on the old Magic strategy newsgroup on usenet, so I took the issue to guys there, started a thread, and within the week we’d cooked up a winner! I’ve tried unsuccessfully to recapture some of that magic in the years since, but I remain convinced that a core group of strategy-minded people can generate and tweak a deck via a newsgroup thread or email and get up to 85% of the way towards a solid contender. With the right critical mass of participants, you can find the holes, plug ’em up, and steer deck ideas as close to ideal before you even assemble the cards from your collection. This leaves only the fine-tuning and polish that you can finish with actual playtesting.
3. Don’t be afraid to netdeck. Sure, it’s satisfying to cook up your own deck and smash the opposition. But let’s face it – there are a lot of guys who have a lot more free time than you who actually can spend the time playtesting and aren’t afraid to post the decks. This has been the hardest thing for me to accept recently, since I get a lot of satisfaction designing my own creations. But, especially if you’re lacking a good think tank community, there’s nothing wrong with picking up the baton and running with someone else’s deck.
Speaking of netdecking, for Regionals right now I’m putting my trust in R&D’s deckbuilding capacity and running Ravager. It is by far the grossest deck I’ve played since Fires, and it seems particularly resilient to hate. What I really like about the deck is, while it’s got a skeleton in common with every other Ravager deck on the planet (assuming you can cobble together four Arcbound Ravagers and four Skullclamps, not an easy task), there’s room for customizing it. Aether Vial or no? Ornithopter or no? Shrapnel Blast or no? Thoughtcast or no? Oxidize or Naturalize? Filling out the basic skeleton with the right choices can make a big difference between going 7-3 and 8-1-1 on May 1st. Ironically, you can work some utility into the deck and sideboard, and this really appeals to me. Even if I’m playing the deck that asks the questions, I like to have some answers too.
So, back to the topic at hand, what are some other timesaving techniques that work for you? Maybe all of us with Lives That Intrude can help each other to do better at big events like Regionals.
By the way, I’ll be attending Grand Prix Washington this weekend, so if you want to track me down to say hi please do! I’ll be teaming with my local buds Jay Delazier and Chris Griffin. We haven’t settled on a name yet, but here’s the final list we’re trying to choose from. Got any preferences? If you know me or any of my mates, got any suggestions?
Since this article is quite lacking in actual strategic content, I’ll close with a little eyecandy, just for fun (and the hopes that Velvet Fist Ted won’t spike this submission):
An Open Letter
Dear Ms. Hathaway:
The Grownups Who Dig Ladies With Lovely Curves