SCG Daily – Styles Upon Styles Upon Styles

There’s an old boxing adage that says “Styles make fights,” but what about in Magic?

I’m gonna switch up my steez a little bit and get all philosophical for this installment of the Daily. I’ve been flippant all week, but now it’s time to get serious, damn it. I’m especially not in the mood to be flippant since Ted’s going to China for a while and he told me that I had to write not one, but two installments before he leaves tomorrow morning. The nerve of that guy… doesn’t he know that I adhere to a strict one article per month schedule?

In boxing, a common quip is that “styles make fights.” When two combatants enter the ring, each boxer brings his own unique style of fighting and along with it, high hopes of Opening a Can on the other guy. Boxing styles are developed over years – maybe our pugilist has had a bunch of different trainers, learned what mistakes he can never make again, what his most effective punch is, and so on. The most interesting fights tend to be the ones where two disparate styles collide – a puncher vs. a ring technician or a guy who likes to throw haymakers against a guy with an iron chin.

The same concept applies to Magic, not only in terms of the traditional aggro vs. control vs. combo paradigm that governs most deck matchups, but to the players themselves. Everyone has seen a player who is great when behind the wheel of a Goblin deck, but when handed a U/W Control deck, he plays it as if he can’t read the cards. I firmly believe that a Magic player is most at ease when playing a deck that fits his most natural style as a player, just as a power puncher is most comfortable when his opponent doesn’t have a lot of foot speed or stamina.

Using myself as an example, go back in the Star City archives (past the cobweb-ridden corner where Bleiweiss resides) and examine the decks that I have authored or played over the years. I am best when behind the wheels of an aggro-control or combo deck. I Top 4’d at States with an aggro-control deck (B/R/G Invasion era). I qualified for Nationals with an aggro-control deck (The Ralphie Treatment). I’ve won infinite matches and fattened my card collection with combo decks (DNA and various Goblin Charbelcher builds). Basically every bit of mild “success” I’ve had as a Magic player has fallen under the aegis of these strategies. My only 0-2 drop ever at a PTQ was when I played a U/W control deck during Onslaught Block. My worst ever finish at Regionals, a tournament that I have owned over the years, came when I switched up at the last second and ran Affinity instead. Though it’s universally acknowledged that switching decks right before the tournament is a poor idea, especially irksome was that though Affinity was clearly the best deck, it was surely not the best deck for me. I knew it and disregarded my own self-regulating mechanisms. I felt wrong and off-kilter playing Affinity against that field that day, despite knowing how to play the deck fairly well.

I am not saying that a player should always play the one type of deck that he is best at. If he did that, then that player would lack insight into how the other strategies function and how they might beat him. A good Magic player has played and has familiarized himself with how various archetypes function, what cards win or lose the match, what sideboard cards might best affect the outcome of an individual game, whether to play or draw, etc. The better player knows all of the above and moreover, knows which approach best fits his own natural style of play.

I believe that there are seven traits or defining characteristics that comprise one’s style as a Magic player. Why not eight? Because eight would make the man a little nervous! Some players fall squarely under one trait; some are combinations of two or three traits. What of those lofty pros with their names in lights – the ones winning multiple Pro Tours or the ones on the Hall of Fame ballot? They’ve got all of these traits in them to varying degrees. I am sure that not everyone will agree with my attempt at Jung typology for spell-slingers (I can hear the forum trolls crawling out from under the bridge now…), but nonetheless…

Oh, but you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for them! It’s all good; Thanksgiving is usually a pretty light day for content, and I have to give you something to look forward to reading in a tryptophan-induced haze, don’t I? Myself, I’ll be having mom’s lasagna as the fam makes their first holiday trek down to Virginia. Teddy will probably be chowing down on some fine airport-quality fricasseed Chinese – so just remember to give thanks and be mindful of those less fortunate whether you’re consuming bird or noodle.