The Sukenik Special – Just Hit The Same, Boring Winner

Jonathan Sukenik speaks of tennis and Magic, of the virtue of hitting the same, boring winner (play the deck that wins, not the shiny, cool, new thing).

It all started when I was a junior in high school…

This took place around the middle of our tennis season. I spent the last eight months playing tennis for around 40-50 hours a week, just trying to be good enough to make the varsity team. Other than Magic, this was the largest time commitment I gave to an activity at the time. My best friend in high school, Tim Oppelt, was my training buddy throughout all of this. While I spent all of my training time on the court, Tim surrounded himself with tennis knowledge. He paid for the Tennis Channel and bought several tennis books by pros and coaches. Tim would always pick out a quote or two and read them out loud to me. I distinctly remember two of them:

“Keep the ball deep and in play, and you will be famous by Friday.”

In the context of tennis, this means that it doesn’t matter how or why, but if you just hit the ball to their back court (and don’t hit it out), you will be able to do really well in matches. This strategy is very simple but hard to do. There will be times where your opponent has you on the move, and you are just trying to hit a ball in. However, this can lead to you losing the point, since you are probably giving them a really easy ball to hit a winner with. Balls that you hit into backcourt just leave you in a better position and have a higher chance of preventing your opponent from straight up winning the point.

This statement can somewhat carry over the Magic as well. It is a cross between “eyes on the prize” and “stay focused.” You need to keep in mind what your deck is trying to accomplish. If you are an aggressive deck with a bit of reach (i.e. a red deck), you shouldn’t mind losing three creatures to bring your opponent down to three life from a somewhat higher life total. You need to be able to play the game your deck wants to.

If your deck wants to go to the late game, you might just have to Doom Blade their Snapcaster Mage or Doomed Traveler even though you are losing value. Now, more than ever, it is important to understand the point of your deck. Are you trying to actually grind them out with Moorland Haunt? Or do you want to just simply be able to win by protecting your one flipped Delver of Secrets? Sure Magic is “more complicated” than tennis, but we can learn certain lines of thinking from it (at least I have).

The second statement just happens to be the title of this article…go figure, right?

“Just Hit the Same, Boring Winner.”

A nice translation to this would be “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” Whenever I played a match of tennis, I would hardly ever try to do a repeat performance of the previous point. Whether I won the point or lost the previous point, I would try to change it up. Tim informed me that this strategy could lead to my opponent being able to predict my actions. It was then that he repeated this quote, and it really stuck with me.

The point of a game (besides having fun) is to win. With that goal in mind, if a strategy worked once, why would it not work again? A possible argument could be that they have knowledge that you are capable of having a really good kick serve or top-spin lob. However, what if they have the knowledge but still don’t know how to counter your particular move? This allows you to keep on getting free points and free wins. You are exploiting an opponent’s weakness. It is all in the game.

By now, you either skipped my introduction in search of a decklist, or you are wondering what this has to do with Magic. In reality, I think this quote has very much to do with Magic. While there is nothing wrong with brewing and coming up with something completely out of the ordinary, a pre-established deck might already be the best choice for a given metagame.

I have heard people say that a good player could win with bad or mediocre cards. This is definitely true, since there is usually a decent amount of opportunities to outplay your opponent. I have some friends who will just play the Red Deck at a tournament just because they want to “mise” the win. However, as long as they play perfectly, or just play tight, they will probably have a good finish. They may even have a similar finish to the guy who spent weeks in and weeks out studying the metagame and testing their brew. They both ended up at the same spot, but one person put a lot of time in during the tournament and at home, while the other guy just had to look at the metagame, construct the correct sideboard, and just burn people out of the game.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not trying to stifle creativity. I am simply trying to open people up to a few ideas.

First off, we can observe some of the best decks in Block Constructed, and it is very likely they’ll become relevant next year. Let’s take a journey through Magic history to prove my point.

In Lorwyn block, we had (in my opinion) three decks: Faeries, Kithkin, and Five-Color Control. When Lorwyn was the new set, Faeries was able to abuse Ancestral Vision from Time Spiral. However, Quick ‘N Toast was also able to make a splash featuring Careful Consideration. For those who don’t know, Quick ‘N Toast was the name of the original Five-Color Control decks, which evolved later on. At the time, it was fairly obvious that investing in either Faeries or Five-Color Control could be a good idea due to how unfair and powerful the decks were, while Kithkin was just your classic White Weenie deck, which could possibly get worse in a bigger format, like Standard. However, as long as Corey Mann is the man, I have to respect the little white men.

Next up was Shards of Alara block. This gave us none other than the Jund menace itself. While many tried to hate it out of Block Constructed, the Japanese were able to take down the second Pro Tour Honolulu with it. This alone should have been a warning that people would want to “just hit the same, boring winner.” Lo and behold, people sang very happy and joyous songs when Jund rotated. However, they could have just swallowed their pride and did what could give them the best chance of winning without needing to test that much. They would just have to play well.

Zendikar sure was an interesting one. There were a lot of decks that were good and got a lot better with a bigger card pool. Mono-Green and Green/White Eldrazi were able to gain Primeval Titan, while the Mono-Green Vengevine deck picked up Fauna Shaman. Everyone obviously knew how good Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic were once the card pool got big enough. What was the same, boring winner in this set? I’d have to say that goes to Boros. Any deck featuring one-mana 4/5s and two-mana 5/5s seems boring to me, but it was a good way to smash people attempting to do cute things.

Lastly, an aggro deck was the same, boring winner in Scars of Mirrodin as well. Nope, it wasn’t Puresteel Paladin. It was none other than Tempered Steel itself! With the printing of Innistrad and Dark Ascension, a spicy new brew must have won the StarCityGames.com event last weekend. Right? Wrong! Scars of Mirrodin’s same, boring winner strikes again, even in the face of brewers everywhere (maybe next time, Ali!). Check out the winning list:

What? Where are all of the new cards?!?! We wanted spice in the winning list! This isn’t meant to be a crack at Nils at all. I am just telling you guys that he just got you guys with the deck that everyone knew existed! This deck has been around for virtually a year, and even with new sets coming out, it doesn’t matter. In a format full of brewers, sometimes the safest bet is the deck that has proven itself already! The same… boring… winner… at least has the ability to win a tournament.

Don’t worry, guys! I heard a sweet brew won in Legacy!

Curses… foiled again!

The funny part is that when I saw these two lists, I laughed, but then gave them huge props in my head. These guys were the smart ones! As a college student with quite the work load, instead of spending all of my time brewing, perhaps I should just look for a consistent deck or just a deck that has proven itself already.

Don’t be afraid to play a deck if it is in your element. Burn, White Weenie variants, and Red Deck Wins will always be competitive in one form or another. People will have to respect that, and if you ever aren’t sure what to do, don’t be afraid… to hit the same, boring winner!

Thanks for reading,

Jonathan “Watchwolf92” Sukenik