I recently went to see 2001: A Space Odyssey at an old theatre, and thought about how sophisticated technology is becoming. In case you are unfamiliar with the film, it is about how man needs to ultimately co-exist with technology. It shows the dangers of how technology can be harmful if we become too reliant. It also shows how it can be used to make progress as a species. Think back ten years and how different the game has become because of new communication devices. The internet has completely revolutionized the way we play this game. A tournament in Japan can drastically affect the metagame the following week at your local FNM.
Technology can be a blessing because it’s easier to be on top of the game. All that is necessary to learn what you will face at the next PTQ is to look at the recent Top 8 decklists and read the recent articles about the format of the season. This makes it easier for someone who is just getting back into the game to learn what is successful without getting smashed first. However, if you play a popular archetype, a large percentage of the room will know what your strategy is.
In this last decade, the average skill level of tournament players has increased dramatically. It is possible to read the thoughts of pros when you are bored at work. Draft strategy has evolved much quicker due to being able to read about the practice drafts from other players. Even the simple theories have been sent out to the masses to level the playing field.
There must still be ways out there to gain an edge in this electronic jungle. After all, we still see the same familiar faces dominate the game. There are still old school pros that tear up the competition in the Magic of today. It is easy to say that they did so well back in the day because people were not as good and the gap between Pros and Joes was much larger. We must learn to adapt, because everyone has the same general knowledge about the format and the game at the competitive level.
I am part of an online team called Unknown Stars that was created by fellow writer-Gavin Verhey. I am able to discuss strategy with people from all over the world because we are such a globalized society. An important lesson from this is to expand your network, because nothing is impossible with the technology that we have today.
We need to learn how to use this technology without being consumed by it. Many players at the PTQ level just take the deck that won the last major tournament without changing a single card. If it was good enough to win last week, there is no reason is it not good enough for me to achieve victory this week. That is a very popular mentality amongst that particular crowd. It is very important to build your own deck. Even if your strategy is Jund, you should still build the deck yourself. This makes sideboarding much easier because you came up with your own plan rather than play cards without the knowledge of how to use them. I have heard on multiple occasions about how people have a deck, but are unsure of how to sideboard or are not aware of why a certain card is in the deck. There has never been a deck that is so powerful that you can win without knowing how it works. Why should anyone give themselves such a disadvantage?
I frequently see this type of netdecking done in the Magic-League trials as well. The winning decklist after a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour is frequently the dominant deck in the next tournament. In most cases not even a single card is switched. It will not kill you to try something new. I am not against netdecking, but taking the exact same decklist is a disadvantage when you are unaware of why the deck is constructed a certain way.
Due to everyone in the world being a text message away, it can be tempting to just call up your buddy for a spicy 75. There have been many success stories about how you got your list the night before and won with it. You may have also done this in the past, and right about now you are thinking that I have no clue what I am talking about. I can assure you that this is a bad idea, because it only works some of the time. You will ultimately get out what you put in, but there is some variance involved too. Playing and writing about Magic has pretty much been my job this year, so I am biased because I have time to think about the game and playtest. I understand that not everyone has the time or resources to practice a lot before a tournament, but you must have some time if you dedicate an entire day to playing the event.
Everyone needs to make the choice of whether to be someone who creates the new trends in the metagame or just blindly follows. A majority of my sideboard decisions are geared toward the most popular sideboard plan that my opponent has for his strategy. Most people often take a sideboarding strategy from a big name writer and blindly follow it. The best example of this is when everyone had a “surprise” Baneslayer Angel switch in some control decks. It probably caught the people off-guard at the beginning, but it is so mediocre when everyone is ready for it. Rather than playing yesterday’s news, you can think for yourself and come up with something fresh and unexpected. An example of this is how LSV won a Grand Prix with the unpopular Mind’s Desire deck instead of the most popular combo deck at the time. When everyone focuses their attention one way, mix it up and go the other direction. LSV also won Pro Tour: Berlin with Elf Combo when it was unknown. His group is scattered throughout the world, but they still came up with an awesome deck. He is always one step ahead when it comes to deck selection, because that is just another way to gain an edge in this field.
It seems that technology has hindered our concentration as a whole when it comes to playing Magic Online, and in life too. I know I am guilty of watching TV, chatting online, and listening to music when I am playing a match. We are too comfortable with all of our gadgets that do everything, and we forget to focus on one thing. Our current generation has virtually no attention span because we are in a fast-paced world. We need to turn off the television and play some Magic when it is tournament time. I make so many mistakes when I am doing other things, and I guarantee you that your mind works the same way.
One way to gain an edge in the Magic Online world is to just focus on your match. I guarantee you that your opponent is sidetracked by numerous things so you will have the upper hand. People sometimes even play two tournaments at the same time! How is it that people get annoyed when they are bothered in real life play, but can have such a small attention span when playing online?
Technology is able to accelerate the metagame in such a way that has not been seen before. The metagame can even change multiple times in one week. One important thing to keep in mind is that not everyone may be up to date, so it is sometimes good to keep in mind that everyone may not be operating on the same level of tech. My biggest mistake when I was involved in the Magic Online culture is that it moves at a much faster rate because there are so many tournaments. I would bring a deck to beat a metagame that would not have come into existence for several weeks.
Technology can be very useful tool to help you get better, but it can sometimes be a double-edged sword. You can use the internet and other tools to find the latest decks and practice online. On the other hand, there is so much information that we read each week, it can be difficult to decide what is worth using. Your Magic career will flourish once you find the balance between using technology for good and not being too reliant on it.
We also have many new cards that have been spoiled from M11 that I am happy about. The card I am most excited for is Mana Leak, because I am always a control player if it can be done. The cycle of Titans are also interesting. I feel like they can all be good, but the white one seems very powerful and will find a home. Primeval Titan is able to get manlands when it enters the battlefield, and can get a Sejiri Steppe when it attacks. Time Reversal seems like an interesting card and will definitely find a deck. It may not be in a deck immediately, but it will be expensive when it does.
I want to play Faeries in PT: Amsterdam, and the addition of Mana Leak makes my decisions in deckbuilding a lot easier. I am unsure of how good it will be in Standard before Bloodbraid Elf rotates since Blue/White Tap Out does not even play any counters.
I was not happy with the way M11 was shaping up last week, but thanks to the addition of Mana Leak, my opinion is beginning to change. We also get cycle of playable monsters that have never been printed before, which also helps this feeling.
We are only about 145 cards in as I write this, so I am sure there are plenty more awesome cards to be spoiled in the coming days.
I want to spend a little bit of time talking about legacy as well, since GP: Columbus is the next event on my calendar. I have been a fan of the New Horizons deck that Kyle Boddy used to win the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Seattle. I tried a different approach to the deck, but used the same shell. This deck was designed by DJ Kastner and I have been impressed with it so far.
The big monsters were the key to victory against many of the decks like Goblins and Merfolk, so the core of the deck remained the same. The Counterbalance strategy can beat Zoo as well as any combo deck, so they replaced Stifle land denial package. I just would feel more comfortable playing Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance in a tournament instead of Stifle. The comfort factor is always something I take into account. I do not want to go into a tournament playing something I don’t enjoy.
I like the set of Wastelands still because it keeps the Dazes from being bad in the late game. It is still insane with Knight of the Reliquary and Terravore as well. These types of decks wanted to play more lands the entire time, so I wanted to play lands that did something besides add mana since you are cutting spells for them.
I tried a new Reanimator deck, but it was just so random without Mystical Tutor. The deck became so much less consistent without it, and sometimes you would just not find Exhume or Careful Study and die. I replaced the tutors with 1 Ponder and 3 Sensei’s Divining Top. You also lose the ability to fight hate cards like Tormod’s Crypt by finding Show and Tell or Wipe Away.
I have not tried a new version of ANT, but it has to be better than the fixed version of Reanimator. The hate will not be out in full force at the Grand Prix even though I keep warning you all about how a Tendrils of Agony deck is going to dominate the event.
Legacy still needs to be explored more, since I have still not seen a good deck with Grim Monolith, and that card is insane. There will be plenty of tournaments before the Grand Prix without Mystical Tutor that we can learn from.
I hope you enjoyed the article this week. If not, tell me what you think I can work on in the forums. I may be at the PTQ in Chicago this weekend; feel free to say hi if I decide to attend. Good luck in your tournaments, and bring home a blue envelope.
Thanks for reading.