Rise Of Aintrazi – Weakness

How do you find the cracks in a deck or in yourself as a player? As a person? Ali Aintrazi addresses how you can patch up the holes in your deck or find and exploit those in your opponents’ decks.

No new crazy decks today—no talk of the sweet new cards from Innistrad; instead we are going to talk about something that isn’t often mentioned in Magic. Something people don’t really focus on. Nobody enjoys feeling vulnerable or exposed, but it’s necessary to know about weakness. Today we will venture into what weakness is and how to find it and overcome it. First we need to ask ourselves

What exactly is Weakness?

Let’s have a peek at the dictionary definition: “A quality or feature regarded as a disadvantage or fault.” This is most likely what you or our society believes is a fault. We all have weaknesses within ourselves that we need to overcome and so do decks. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Nobody’s perfect, and likewise no deck is ever truly complete or perfect. Never improving or adjusting your deck is a mistake. Even if you win your local FNM, SCG Open, or even a Pro Tour—it doesn’t mean your deck doesn’t have a weakness or flaw. You need to keep up with everyone else. One way of doing this is knowing your deck’s vulnerabilities.

What good comes from finding a weakness?

Finding a deck’s weakness will allow you to attack a deck from a certain angle, or if it’s your own deck, you can become aware of the deck’s Achilles’ heel and remove or guard it as best you can. You can stop your opponents from beating your deck’s weakness by knowing it and having answers for it in your sideboard.

For example let’s look at a past deck that many people struggled to beat.

Ha, Jund, nobody misses you, but you did have a weakness! It took us much trial and error to find it, but we did. Many people thought counterspells or wrath effects would be really good against Jund. But they proved to be flaky at best. Wrathing away a Putrid Leech or Sprouting Thrinax, and then getting hit with a Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning for six wasn’t a good feeling.

Many people claimed their deck “beat” Jund—they were in for a rude awakening when Jund still trounced them after all their efforts. You couldn’t one-for-one Jund, since it was a deck that was all two-for-ones or more. Jund players believed they had no weakness; this was where they erred.

Eventually someone found out that to beat Jund you had to prevent them from casting spells. How do you do this without them just mulliganing to four, you ask? Attacking their greedy mana base with Goblin Ruinblasters, Spreading Seas, Ajani Vengeant, or even Convincing Mirage. By doing this, the Jund player struggles to cast their spells, since most of their spells are dual or triple colored.

Someone eventually stumbled onto this.

This deck would lock Jund out extremely fast with the help of Spreading Seas/Convincing Mirage and eight cascade spells that would always hit a Spreading Seas effect. Jund would sit around twiddling their thumbs as any random creature, such as Bloodbraid Elf, killed them. As if that wasn’t enough, the deck also had Ajani Vengeant to further tie up their mana and Sphinx of Jwar Isle to finish them off. Jund’s only hope was to get a turn-two Putrid Leech and pray it got there. The deck had even more hate in the board, giving them no way out.

Eventually some Jund players realized their weakness and started playing things like Rampant Growth, Explore, and Trace of Abundance to overcome Spread ’em, and in doing this, it allowed them to be well positioned against the mirror match. I believe Saitou played a Jund list with Rampant Growth before Spread ’em was a deck. He knew the deck’s weakness and did this to combat the mirror match. Saitou knew one of the few ways to lose with Jund was missing land drops, and he wanted to be able to cast Goblin Ruinblaster and bigger spells before his opponent could, giving his deck a distinctive advantage.  

Quick Recap

Here we had a case where weakness was used to exploit a deck and to fortify the same deck. If you can recognize the weakness of your deck, you can protect it from others trying to expose it. At large events, it’s a good idea to know what your deck is weak to and have some kind of sideboard plan to buffer it. You always want to be on top of the metagame.

Sometimes to beat a deck, it’s not as easy as just adding some cards that take advantage of the deck’s weakness. Sometimes you have to build an entire deck that preys on a certain deck’s weakness. Let’s look at case like this.

If you thought Jund was suppressive, you’ve never played against this deck. There was a reason everyone called this the Fae Menace. It was extremely difficult to beat even when Wizards printed cards to help you overcome it like Cloudthresher, Raking Canopy, and the one that finally worked, Volcanic Fallout. Before Fallout came out though, to beat Fae, you had to make a deck that could exploit its weakness. Since Fae played everything at the end of your turn, it was hard to find an angle of attack. We knew Fae sacrificed a lot of life with Bitterblossom, Thoughtseize, and Underground River. They also had very few basic lands, so things like Fulminator Mage and Magus of the Moon were good against them. The above Fae list knew its weakness and kept Thoughtseizes in the board even though it was good in the mirror match.

The most logical deck to play against them was a burn deck that had many haste creatures and a lot of burn. Even if they had an early Bitterblossom, it didn’t scare you, since you were trying to get them to zero as fast as possible. If Fae tried to Mana Short you on your upkeep, you could throw a Flame Javelin in their face or level up your Figure of Destiny. If they tried to counter all your spells, Demigod would do them in. We didn’t have Grim Lavamancer, but we had something similar in Magus of the Scroll.

Saitou figured this out back in ’08 at GP Copenhagen.

I’m not a fan of red, but this definitely was the right answer for the best deck. It exploited Fae’s weakness so well! It even had a positive matchup against the other big deck, 5-Color Control. If you wanted a good matchup against the U/B Faeries, this was your deck.

Deck choices

I absolutely love control, combo, and big-mana decks. Aggressive decks, I have a natural distaste for, and I’m not really sure why. It’s probably because I love to draw cards, cast expensive sorcery spells, take extra turns, and cast planeswalkers. Aggressive strategies don’t usually do any of that. So generally, I won’t even give an aggressive deck the light of day. I’d rather play a control deck any day—and that’s where my weakness lies.

I need to know how an aggressive deck works, if nothing else than to be better prepared for it. If I know a deck’s weakness, I can exploit it when playing against it. For example, when playing an aggressive deck, players usually won’t put all their eggs in one basket unless they’re new to this type of strategy or they’re really desperate and don’t think they can afford to give you any more time. You’ll be able to pick up reads like this because you’ve played the deck before. These are some extremely basic examples.

I learned that if a Fae player hesitates at all at the end of your turn on turn 2 (when playing 5CC), they have a Spellstutter Sprite. I also learned that the first person to cast a spell in the 5CC mirror match usually lost, since that allowed the other player to have free reign on their turn. Small bits of information like this can go a long way in winning a match.

I recently find myself drafting aggressive strategies in cube so I can better understand them. I probably would never play an aggressive deck at a competitive tournament, but I know I need to learn the ins and outs of them in order to better beat them. I encourage you to try something you don’t usually like doing just to get the feel for it; hell, you might actually enjoy it!

Weakness in life

This is a little more personal, but it still applies.

If you have a personal weakness you want to overcome, the first thing you need to do is recognize what it is. Afterwards, write down ways you can improve and overcome it. Strength isn’t the absence of weakness but the knowledge of what’s flawed and overcoming it.

I used to have a vice of keeping how I felt to myself. If any of you have had this same problem, then you know how it can eat away at you from the inside. To overcome my weakness, I slowly started to open up to people that were close to me. I would speak whatever was on my mind knowing that the person I was talking to was a best friend or family member, and they would always be by my side. Gradually I did the same thing with acquaintances. I’m still working on being open with people I’ve just met, but where I am now from where I used to be is astonishing. I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain, and when I look around me, I have a wondrous view.

To this day I sometimes still struggle playing a rogue deck or playing an unknown deck in a new metagame. The latter especially I feel like I need to overcome, and with time I’m sure I will.

Thanks for reading!

May you recognize all weaknesses and overcome them,
Ali the Greathearted