“If you’re not on the inside, you’re on the outside.”
This is a quote by Gordon Gecko from the film Wall Street. These are truly wise words that we can relate to our Magic careers.
In one of my early articles, I discussed the importance of acquiring connections and building networks. It is a great way to pick up knowledge about multiple aspects of the format without spending a forty-hour workweek doing so. More brainpower means more ideas for tournaments and more practice to get ready.
You are probably wondering why I am taking more time and column space to discuss networking and building connections.
The first time I delved into the subject, I merely scratched the surface of what the benefits of being in a team can be. It’s now time for me to discuss how to actually accomplish this goal.
Before I go on, I should explain that while this is another article about Magic, it can also be applied to any part of your life. I try to write timeless articles, as often as I can since there is already so much information on popular decks. There are many important life lessons that can be used to help your Magic career.
When you approach a big name pro for the first time, the most important piece of advice I can give to you is to be yourself. It’s tempting, when you meet the people you have only read about in coverage, to get star-struck. It can be even easier to approach them and tell them how much you respect them as a player, and ask if you can get their autograph. This is not a good way to start off if you plan to be friends with them in the future.
Magic pros are like everyone else in the world, except they are good at Magic.
Since this is the case, treat them like you would anyone else. The most annoying trait is when a person only asks you about decks. This is not a good way to make a friend or colleague. What you are doing is creating this one-dimensional character of yourself that is impossible to get to know. Friendship is mutual, and all you are doing in these cases is crafting a parasitic relationship in order to gain some information. This is only “successful” in the short term, if at all, because nobody wants to talk to someone like that. The only way to really get on the inside is to make actual friends, and put the work in too.
I do all my testing with DJ Kastner, and we seem to come up with the same decks that other pros create. The “thinking like a pro” strategy is pretty important here. Put in the time to test, and you will often come to the same conclusions as everyone else. Asking a big name what they think about the format should only be a checkpoint to see if you are on track with your own testing. If you simply quiz big names about the format and you don’t test, it is like cheating on a test. You will never actually know why the answer is what it is.
“You can’t respect someone who kisses your ass.” This is a quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and it is so true. It is beneficial to be friends with Magic pros since they are at many of the same places as you, and they will become familiar faces. You do not want to be known as the guy who sucks up to them. Even if you are friends with a pro and you are not very good at Magic, you can learn many things from them in the process of forging a friendship them. They are also human beings, and most pros that I know are awesome people to know in general.
I mentioned that this can be applied to real life situations, and I am sure you do use these tools. A professional Magic player is like a beautiful woman. She knows she is beautiful, but she’ll likely get annoyed whenever an unknown guy wanders up and tells her how beautiful she is. Do you honestly expect to get a date with such a girl if you approach her out of the blue and tell her that you admire her beauty? I am sure there are some suave people out there who could pull it off, but for most of us the answer would be “no.” She will probably not even remember your name. Humans are strange creatures. We crave attention, but we rarely give respect to people who endlessly compliment us.
We certainly don’t forget to use this tactic when it comes to asking someone out on a date, but it can sometimes slip when we talk to a big name pro. I think this is the case because there is so much information out there about how to approach women with confidence, but not much when it comes to approaching a celebrity in your chosen field.
Part of friendship is having a mutual respect for each other, and kissing their ass is not a good start.
I know this may come off as a very egotistical article, but I can assure you the truth is not always pleasant. I am here to inform you, and to help you get better at this game. It may be hard to hear at first, but this will help you build more connections in the future.
Confidence is the most important tool in building a good network. The cool thing about confidence is that you know that is all it really takes. Having that little piece of information should be enough to make you be confident. And as I’ve said before, this fact is for Magic as well as any other part of your life. People are naturally drawn to confidence.
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”
Let’s talk about Standard. There are still some PTQs approaching, as well as multiple National Championships. We had three different National Championships this past weekend, so there are plenty of cool decks to be seen.
Let’s begin with the new Blue/White Control that features Sun Titan, which took French Nationals by storm…
This is the list that was piloted by the winner, Julien Parez. Let’s take a look at the more controlling version that was piloted by Wafo-Tapa.
This does not even feel like the same deck. It has a Cancel and two Essence Scatters in the maindeck, as well as the two Deprives and four Mana Leaks. This deck takes us back to the time before we considered the Tap Out style as an option, and has jammed as many counters as possible.
I also considered removing Mind Spring for Jace’s Ingenuity in my recent list, because I had a plan of adding eight extra counters to fight the Valakut Ramp decks. Tapping out for a Mind Spring does not sound as appealing with that game plan. The important thing to remember is that neither of those cards is better than the other, but one will have more synergy in your deck.
There are fewer big mana spells in this deck, so the Jund matchup will be worse, as well as any deck that features Bloodbraid Elf. This is the only reason I am wary of playing such a deck. I can see this deck being awesome when the rotation happens in October. It was good for the metagame of French Nationals, since there were many Titan decks that had a high curve and lacked cascade spells. Having an Essence Scatter for their Primeval Titan is definitely something that would interest me.
You may be wondering what kind of Blue/White Control deck I would play if I had a tournament tomorrow.
Jund is still a deck at the FNM and PTQ level, so do not forget that it exists. Flashfreeze is almost good enough to maindeck right now, but Blue/White Control is still very popular, so I don’t do it. I have four in the sideboard for Jund, Titan Ramp, and Burn.
I still choose not to play Baneslayer Angel in the maindeck, because it is embarrassing to play it when you know your opponent has an answer in hand. I think it is a good sideboard option because they will have fewer answers to it, or maybe none at all. I am well aware that there are Fauna Shaman decks that have a difficult time killing it, but it is not a big enough part of the metagame to warrant maindeck slots.
This deck was testing well against Jund, Fauna Shaman (Bant and Naya), as well as Titan Ramp. I was pleased with the results, so I am seriously considering it for U.S. Nationals.
Another archetype I thought was interesting was from Australian Nationals.
This deck was piloted to the finals by PT: San Juan Top 8 competitor, Jeremy Neeman. This guy has been on quite the tear lately. There was a similar deck from the PTQ Top 4 in Pennsylvania played by Tim Berg, but this one has Knight of the Reliquary. These decks seem like they are here to stay. Destructive Force is one of the most powerful spells in Standard. This deck has the tools to deal with control decks as well as aggro decks. If you are playing in a PTQ or National Championship, make sure you are familiar with this deck.
Right now, there are many different Primeval Titan decks, as well as Destructive Force decks. In the next couple of weeks, it will become clear which ones are the most powerful. Then we will see the weaker ones fade into obscurity.
The important thing to do is to find the most popular versions of these archetypes, simply to familiarize yourself with their overall strategy. It can be quite the time consuming task to test against all of the possible variations. The same goes for the Fauna Shaman decks, since we are still learning which decks are really the best.
Make sure to go over all of the Top 8 lists from the National Championships. I can only talk about so many things in each article, and there are plenty more interesting decks that have been released last weekend.
I will be in Columbus this weekend for the Grand Prix, feel free to say hi. The GP will be an excellent place to put my tips to good use. Good luck in the Grand Prix or PTQs this weekend.
Thanks for reading.