Sleater-Kinney – Combat Rock
This riff is amazing.
I’ve elected to take SCG Daily this week to further my plans of literary domination, and to continue revealing how much of an awful player I am. As you can see from the title of the article, I’ve gotten some of the best lessons I’ve learned in this game from horrible tournament failures, and I can’t think of any better way to be a helpful writer than to tell you what not to do. So listen up, kids, and don’t be like Ben.
This first tale takes place a long time ago, in a venue far far away. This story begins the eve of my very first PTQ, the format of which was Odyssey Block Constructed. Magic, at that point, was little more than a hobby for me and I never expected to be very good, though I greatly enjoyed playing and hoped that I would be (eventually) successful. My Constructed rating after a 2-1 performance at FNM the night before (August 23rd, 2002) was 1683, and afterwards I went to sleep over at my friend Dan’s house.
Now, if you’ll remember from the early OBC format, the big decks were UG threshold, UG madness, UG flashback, UB infestation, MBC, GW aggro, and UW quiet screech. Wake hadn’t made its debut yet and the format was still largely unexplored, with Worlds being the only major event played so far with Judgment in the format. I had a UG flashback build that I found with Grizzly Fates and Milikins and Catalyst Stones and all that good stuff. I tested it for a few weeks, and I was ready to go and fight and prove that I wasn’t just an FNM scrub. There’s one thing that’s important to remember here, though.
I was terrible. (I still am, but it was more obvious then.)
So after FNM, we were all back at Dan’s and the four of us present engaged in the ancient practice of last-minute playtesting. I played my good old threshold deck against my friends… who happened to be much, much better than me. And you know what happens when you play against people who are way better than you – you lose. A lot. That’s what happened to me, and after losing to all the decks that we had together, I found myself getting increasingly nervous and worried that I’d made the wrong choice. Luckily, it was the night before and I could choose a different deck to play. At the insistence of one of my compatriots, I was handed a UB infestation deck that had demolished me multiple times that night. It seemed simple enough, though we had changed some cards that evening and we changed a few more the following day at the event site. Either way, with this newfound weapon of mass destruction, I was prepared to win the PTQ.
Oops, 3-4. That’s not what I expected.
What’s the lesson here today? I’ll give you a minute to read over what’s written and take a guess.
Pencils down, class. The answer is…
Don’t audible at the last minute.
I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had bad nights in playtesting. Being manascrewed. Manaflooded, and manascrewed, constantly getting nutdrawn, or having your deck just collapse on you. Sometimes this is indicative of a problem with the deck, but if you have a deck that you’ve been testing for a long time, don’t throw it out the window because of a frustrating session. Switching decks at the last minute is extremely destructive. You’re not familiar with the typical sequence of plays, you don’t know the sideboarding philosophies well enough, and you just aren’t prepared for everything that you could face.
Now, to be fair, if your deck has multiple bad nights of playtesting in a row right from the beginning, most likely this means that your deck is not very good – but if you have found a deck that performs the way you want it to and the playtesting has supported that argument, don’t second-guess yourself to the point of rash decisions.
I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes the last-minute switch does work, and the chances of it working are better if you’re good. Bob Maher is famous for picking up decks the night before the tournament and winning the following day, Mike Turian has been quoted as calling day 1 of a PT “playtesting”, and Tiago Chan has claimed on this very site that he had almost no experience with the Owl deck he played to a PT top 4 slot. If this strategy works for you, go for it, but I will say this – you are not Bob Maher, Mike Turian, or Tiago Chan. Almost everyone who wants to qualify through a Constructed event will need to playtest lots of decks and get plenty of experience with the one they eventually choose. Knowing how to play a deck is as important as the strength of the deck itself, and practicing repeatedly (with a few friends watching for mistakes) can make up for any deficiencies in one’s general play.
I can pinpoint many misplays in the matches I played oh so long ago, and I can’t really say that I would’ve necessarily done any better with the deck I was more familiar with. I do think, though, that with enough practice and repeated mentoring from my vastly more skilled friends, some of the misplays I made would’ve disappeared through the simple power of routine. Constructed is about maneuvering through the same situations over and over again 100% correctly. If you don’t test enough you won’t know the solutions to those situations, and if you don’t have familiarity with your deck at all, you won’t know what the situations are to begin with. Practice, practice, practice.
I’ll be back over the next four days with further tales of tournament failure. Let me know your thoughts in the forums – I’ll be looming over them as always.
RidiculousHat just about everywhere