Staying Ahead Of The Curve

If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for, it can be easy to dismiss results as pedestrian. But Mark Nestico knows that the devil is in the details. Read about how he uses a critical eye to metagame! Follow his advice in your quest to conquer #SCGDEN!

Some months ago I wrote about a phenomenon called the Antiquated Effect
. Feel free to check it out of you’re not familiar with the concept, but what it boils down to is that many players find themselves in precarious positions
when they attend tournaments with decklists that are old or essentially known quantities. Better players or more savvy battlers scarcely have this problem
because they examine their surroundings for weaknesses and exploit them. That means shifting powerful lists around, trying out different cards, and
basically taking advantage of what they predict most of the room will be doing.

This isn’t some innate and incredible intuition you see professionals having that makes them better than you.

Absolutely not.

It takes time to cultivate, yes, but this is actually a totally teachable skill that we’re going to talk about today. Everyone should have the best tools
needed to compete, and that’s exactly what we’re going to shoot for. I want a companion piece to understanding why playing last week’s deck can be more
harmful than helpful and how choosing what you play with can be a huge advantage.

I mean…it’s not “Why Your Decks Sucks,” but if I did that every week it would get boring, wouldn’t it? Maybe at the end we’ll do a “Why This Article
Sucked” and we can laugh and laugh and laugh.

Perfecting Prediction

Or as close to perfection as we can get. Like 70%. Probably less. We’re still going to try.

We are going to start at the ground level. FNM, SCG Game Nights, IQs…these are going to be the training grounds where you begin honing your prediction
skills. This isn’t like some parapsychological phenomenon; I don’t expect you to actually be able to accurately predict your opponent’s exact 75,
but what you hopefully will be able to do is understand the direction of a given metagame and the best angles to attack it.

If you look on SCG’s main page and scroll to the Standard section, you’ll find that Standard hasn’t been exceedingly busy over the last two weeks. The
events of #GPKobe as well as the week before at #GPBrussels were most recent.

First – Lucas Blohon and his winning Esper Dragons list:

Over the last three weeks, we’ve seen this deck pop up with far greater frequency. It has a multitude of tools that strong players like to take advantage
of, so whenever this deck achieves some level of tournament success it’s almost as if a “coast is clear” signal is shined and many pilots pick it up again,
grateful to be playing control.

A week later in Kobe, we saw two copies of Esper Dragons in the Top 8.

You’ll immediately notice that they both have evolved into more powerful decks in the mirror especially, Shuhei adopting Ob Nixilis Reignited and Painful
Truths, while Akio went up to two Painful Truths, which are both extremely well-positioned in games that systemically revolve around card advantage. Both
versions play the complete set of Jaces, eschewing Lucas’s three copies.

This is one level of prediction.

A week after a deck wins a Grand Prix, it is almost certain that it will be played more. If a deck is already an established and popular archetype, making
a return becomes almost two-fold. Akio and Shuhei opted for the first level of prediction:

1. If you want to play a “best deck candidate” and you expect a great deal of it, be prepared to play against it often as well as defeat it as much as
possible. Your mirror matches should be defined by your innovations and high-level understanding of the deck rather than copy/pasting a cookie-cutter
version that your opponent is already wise to.

Shuhei, who is one of the greatest players in Magic history, as well as an extremely renowned deck builder, identified multiple avenues to allow him
supremacy over other Esper Dragon builds. Aside from the few cards we already talked about (Ob Nixilis and Painful Truths) he added in the powerful
Monastery Mentor to his sideboard. The mirror isn’t so much defined by sweepers, meaning an uncontested Mentor is going to be absurdly strong and very
difficult to contest. I can only imagine how many players saw him cast it against them and immediately went into panic mode.

Akio went with more countermagic and a more focused gameplan. This allowed him to continuously pressure his opponent with Scatter to the Winds-powered
creature-lands as well as Dragons. A brilliant strategy to say the least given that it allows the deck to “curve” after casting a turn 5 Dragonlord Ojutai.

Neither of these decks were ultimately successful in the top 8, however. The event was eventually won by Takuma Morofuji and his Atarka Red deck.

Atarka Red consistently puts up good results, but it has to have a sort of edge in a metagame either due to lack of respect or preparation in order to take
the crown.

In this scenario, Takuma partook in the second level of prediction, which can be very hit-or-miss.

2. If you expect a great deal of a “popular,” recent winning, or “decks to beat,” play the deck that you believe will give you the best chance to beat
them. Your opponents should theoretically be more prepared for mirror matches or other high-performing decks than they will be for you.

While it did place one copy in the Top 8 of #GPBrussels, Atarka Red was eclipsed by multiple Rally the Ancestors, Esper Dragons, and Abzan Aggro decks.
This meant the stage was basically set for Takuma’s victory playing Atarka Red.

A- It has a very, very good game 1 against Esper Dragons, especially if it is on the play. It is then able to sideboard in cards to invalidate Arashin
Cleric. Most Esper Dragons lists at that point don’t have the saturation to remove all of your threats while keeping their life total high. Foul-Tongue
Invocation becomes worse against a bevy of tokens and the fact that most sideboard out Silumgar, possibly negating their lifegain from it since they play
less Dragons.

B- Four-Color Rally decks may naturally be preyed upon by Atarka Red with targeted removal for Zulaport Cutthroat, tokens to go wide, and a very difficult
combo for them to interact with in Temur Battle Rage + Become Immense game 1.

C- Abzan Aggro can be difficult, and the deck will heavily rely on the combo game 1 as well as them whiffing on Wingmate Roc and running Siege Rhinos.
After sideboarding, the deck gains Roast, Act of Treason, and Rending Volley.

Two winning decks from the previous weekend feel favorable, while the third slightly less. Then again, the deck that won the previous week, Esper Dragons,
is a very winnable matchup.

This logic even carries into the next week.

Bringing almost the exact same list with a few–in my opinion, better–sideboard changes, Mark Evaldi was able to apply prediction to Somerset where he
took down a Premier IQ with Atarka Red.

His victims?

Three Esper Dragons decks in the Top 8, including one that he defeated in the finals to claim the title.

Mark’s switch to Boiling Earth in the sideboard was almost certainly in response to two different flavored token decks in the Top 8 of #GPKobe as well as a
B/W Warriors deck that is slightly vulnerable to the mini-sweeper when it comes to their important one-drops. Players still living off of the high of
#GPBrussels used Esper Dragons to obtain a Top 8, but were eventually beaten by a better deck choice.

3. If you believe that you not only have a deck that is well-positioned and well-suited for whatever tournament you plan on playing it in, begin
tuning it to be as potent as possible against the variables you cannot control.

With a format as diverse as Standard, decks that are well-positioned as well as able to punish non-expected strategies is like a match made in heaven. For
the last two weeks we have had evidence that Atarka Red has been able to navigate a field of incredible diversity while being a great choice at taking down
some of the most popular tournament choices out there. The pilots who pick it up may be doing it because it is their favorite deck, but more than likely
some of them are playing it because they were able to identify complex trends in the metagame and figured that it would be the best chance for them to win
a tournament if their predictions were correct.

Going into next week and especially the #SCGINVI coming up, it’s going to be very important to pay close attention to the results of #SCGDEN, as it will
dictate what trends you should be paying attention to going into Las Vegas, as well as a baseline for predicting what decks to expect during the Standard

I predict these skills will help you in your tournament success.

Then again, I’m not always right.