Reinventing the Metagame – Tinkering Through The Hate

Mize well play Goblins, amiright?

This article is intended to give you an idea of the metagame you can expect at your Regionals. This article reminds me of an Urza’s block sealed PTQ I played in back in 1998 at the Ground (that’s Neutral Ground for all you newbie’s). I was undefeated going into round 4, when I found out I was paired against a young Bruce Cowley. Now all of you know Bruce Cowley of GP: Boston fame, but he was relatively unknown to me at the time. The only thing I really knew about him was that he bashed me and the Rabbit once in a two-on-two money draft with Mike Long. My deck was pretty good, it had a Memory Jar and Superman himself. I lost in two games, because I made a number of play errors. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

Metagaming is an important part of any Constructed tournament, because it can give you an extra two or three wins per tournament. You know something, that last sentence reminds me of an eight-man side draft I did once at an Edison PTQ. The format was IIA and I had opened a Necropotence, which at the time wasn’t really considered a bomb (how little we knew the skull would reign supreme for years to come). I was getting fed by PJ and feeding Becker. I was convinced that PJ wasn’t in Black because he kept shipping the nuts. Then in pack three my Black is getting savagely cut off, and as everyone remembers, if you couldn’t get the Black hook up in Alliances, you were in big trouble my friend, everyone remembers the Deadly Insect dilemma. Anyway, long story short, my deck ends up being sub par and I lose to a young Mike Sigirist (of a Boston PTQ fame) in the first round after making a number of play errors. So as you can see from that delightful trip down memory lane, even though you may think you know one thing about the metagame, you may actually get caught off guard in the last pack, i.e. the week before Regionals, and end up being off the mark and lose in the first round.

A metagame is a lot like a beautiful woman. She changes her mind a lot, she can be a real bitch at times, and very few Magic players actually know how to manipulate one. This instance reminds me of the Masques block season, in which I made four back-to-back PTQ Top 8’s. The metagame changed from Rebels, to Roshambo, to Skies, to Mono-White Control. Every week you’d end up with a different environment, and if you were off the mark, you would end up out of the tournament money drafting with Brook and McKenna. Luckily, Regionals is a different situation than a PTQ season, with only one day to make your stand, you don’t have any chance for mistakes to be made. If you don’t get it right then, you’re dead.

Everyone assumes that Affinity will be the best deck at this year’s Regionals, and even if they don’t think it’s the best deck, people still must believe it will be the most played. The format’s top two decks will be Affinity and Goblins, however I feel that Goblins will eventually qualify more people for Nationals than Affinity, simply because people are stupid. You see, Goblin Bidding is an aggropomorphic strategy, where Affinity is an aggrodominant strategy. Now everyone knows that in environment where natural strategy is dominant, an agrodominant deck will reign supreme. However I don’t think we have a case of natural strategy here.

This environment right now seems like reactive impulse strategy more so than natural strategy, which puts the advantage in the agropomorphic strategy’s court. With so many decks geared towards beating Affinity, Goblins simply has a greater advantage over the field. With its only bad matchup being Affinity, most Goblin players are more than willing to make that trade off for favorable matchups versus every other deck in the field. The trade off is what is called Reverse Circumstantiality Convergence. What RCC is all about is playing a deck that can beat 90% of the decks in the format, but loses to only 10% of the decks in the format. Now this obviously sounds like a great trade off, but the rub is that the 10% just happens to be the most played deck in the format, so not everyone is willing to take a chance on RCC. However I think this situation is unlike previous cases of RCC, I think what we have here is a case of positive reverse circumstatiality convergance.

Goblins does admittedly have a bad matchup against Affinity, but it’s not as bad as most people think. It can easily go from being a 40% matchup to a 50-55% matchup depending on your build. I think most Goblin players are realizing they need artifact removal main to deal with Damping Matrix and Affinity. This conclusion is so natural and obvious that I think you’ll see every Goblin deck running some form of artifact removal main at Regionals. This means that Affinity now has to alter its strategy to keep up with the new breed of Goblin decks. This is a difficult task however, because this would require most Affinity decks to give up some of their game against Control decks in order to keep pace with the Goblin decks. With Affinity and Goblins being the top decks, your main should be focused towards beating them, so this conclusion seems fairly obvious. However, most people are unwilling to do such a thing.

Most players aren’t willing to accept the Goblin matchup as being more difficult, and certainly aren’t willing to replace the main deck Shrapnel Blasts with Pyrite Spellbombs, even though it may be a necessary evil against the new breed of Goblin decks. This is where PRCC really shines, because people are stubborn and unwilling to change despite a metagame telling them to.

I remember one time I went out to lunch at Plataforma (the greatest steak eatery this side of the Mississippi) with the Shark, PJ, the Rabbit, McKenna, and the Meddling Mage himself. We had a huge meal, then went back to the Ground to draft with BDM and Zev. I ended up drafting a sick deck with multiple Wild Mongrels and Shelters. The teams were myself, PJ, Zev, and BDM. I ended up going 0-4 due to some bad plays on my part.

What does that story have to do with anything? Well the point is that despite all the Tomfidence you have in the world, the only way you’ll be successful at Regionals is if you can accurately predict what your metagame will be like.

For everyone who is unwilling to accept what I have just told them, let’s take yet another stroll down memory lane shall we. Back when I invented Napster, the same deck Johnny Magic used to win US Nationals that year, the format was dominated by Magpile, designed by Ken Meadows of KFC fame, Trinity designed by Peter Gibbons of Family Guy fame, and Replenish created by Don Lim of NG fame. I set out to design a deck that could beat both those decks and take the metagame by storm. This was fine for Regionals, but by the time Nationals came along, we had a new deck to contend with called Angry Hermit designed by Aaron Forsythe. The new deck seemed better suited against the environment than Trinity was, but when it came to its matchup against Napster, it was a classic case of Splash Damage. Despite its improvement over the old Trinity builds, Angry Hermit still resembled Trinity enough to maintain a weak matchup against Napster. Cards like Persecute and Perish were still good enough against the deck to make it an easy matchup.

So remember, if you don’t want to play Affinity, mize play Goblins, amiright?

Mike Flores