I’m feeling all precognitive today, so I’m going to predict the States experience for five of my fellow players. Aside from demonstrating my supernatural powers, this may demonstrate some valuable lessons. For those of you who hate short tourney reports, just skip down to the section entitled Sensei Of the Old Dojo Prepares Five Lesson Soup.
I’m really getting into this whole Magic does Japan thing.
Predictive Report #1: NAiLs4U playing Tooth & Nail with Boseiju
Round 1: PaleSquirt playing White Weenie
Luck is on his side. Game 1 PaleSquirt double mulligans and develops no pressure. Kiki-Jiki and hasted Darksteel Colossus clones smash. Game 2 stabilizes with Platinum Angel, then wins.
Round 2: TekdOwt playing Affinity
Game 1: NAiLs4U is chanting “Yay! Affinity!” 8 maindeck artifact kill slows, Colossus rolls. Game 2: NAiLs4U is like “What the %$# is Affinity doing playing Cranial Extraction!” Game 3: ditto.
Round 3: AlwzPlyPnza playing (what else) Ponza
NAiLs4U loses the die roll, then loses a non-basic land on turn 2, then loses the game. Game 2 NAiLs4U mulligans, then gets land flooded and gets run over by Hearth Kamis and Furnace Whelp.
He drops like burnt toast – landing butter-side down.
Predictive Report #2: RoboGuy playing Affinity
Round 1: SeeMyNewDCIcardKid playing Random Pile of Cards
SeeKid gets turn 1 Oxidize on the Aether Vial, turn 2 Sakura-Tribe Elder, turn 3 Tel-Jilad Chosen, Lightning Greaves – and a turn 4 Blinding Angel lock. Game two the kid brings in Deconstructs and white-bordered Naturalizes and has a turn 4 Molder Slug.
Round 2: PaleSquirt playing White Weenie
Game 1: RoboGuy reads Samurai of the Pale Curtain after trying to announce a Disciple of the Vault trigger. He reads it again after a modular trigger doesn’t trigger. Game 2: PaleSquirt has Imi Statues and Samurai of the Pale Curtain and Ghostly Prison – and the match.
RoboGuy drops like tech stocks – and, like tech stock investors, fails to learn from his experience.
Predictive Report #3: BURNUBAD! playing Big Red
Round 1: CntrlFreak playing U/W
Hearth Kami swings for a few, while other threats get countered. Eventually, Pulse of the Fields restores the life total. Wrath creates havoc, but U/W eventually has no finisher to match Kumano. Game 2 & 3: BURNUBAD cannot resolve an answer to CoP:Red, while losing to an Arc-Slogger that could not resist a bribe.
Round 2: MBCzBK with Rats
Game 1: Burn keeps the rats in check, but Cranial Extraction and Death Cloud eventually pull the answers – and Stabwhiskers the Odious finishes the day. Game 2: Flamebreak to the rescue. Game 3: Flamebreak kills the rats, but discard kills his hand and Kokoshu kills him.
“Mommy, where does the fire go when the wood’s all burned up?” In this case, back to the dorms.
Predictive Report #4: DunDisB4 playing Crystal Witness
Round 1: TekdOwt playing Affinity
Game 1: Yeah, Affinity does that. Can’t beat the God draw. Game 2: DunDisB4 is like “What the %$# is Affinity doing playing Cranial Extraction! I can’t win without Eternal Witness.”
Round 2: CntrlFreak playing U/W
Can you say “0-0-1 Draw?” I knew you could.
Round 3: GottaDanz playing KCI
Game 1: Shamans and Condescend and Witness action – and a brutal double Echoing Truth (Ironworks first, then tokens) win the game. Game 2: Ironworks has creature beatdown that sideboard Annuls cannot stop. Who would think that KCI would run a transformative sideboard? Game 3: More sideboarding – did KCI transform again? DunDisB4 guesses wrong – Annul goes out, and the combo goes off.
DunDisB4 drops – just like before.
Predictive Report #5: OurHero playing SeeMyLastArticle
Rd1: (I forgot the name ) playing T&N
Game 1: “Yeah, a quick discard Honden was pretty lucky. I couldn’t have handled the Colossus.” Game 2: “Of course I run Cranial Extract. I’ve got a five color mana base and it beats your deck.”
Rd2: (I forgot the name) playing Random Pile of Cards
Game 1: Blinding Angel with Lightning Greaves is good, but I gain six life per turn…. Game 2: I have more Hondens (Hondi? Hondenses? Hondas?) than you have Naturalizes, and I have Wrath.
Rd3: (I forgot the name) playing Ponza
All enchantments all the time – and I have more land fetchers than you have LD.
Rd4: (I forgot the name) playing KCI Ironworks.
Game 1: Yup – I don’t have enough maindeck answers, Games 2&3: Ghostly Prison, Cranial Extraction, artifact kill and Ivory Mask. I don’t have enough maindeck answers, but we’ve sideboarded now.
Rd5: (I forgot the name) playing MBC 2k4
Game 1: Hondens off the top, baby. Game 2: My Karma ran over your dogma.
Rd6: (I forgot the name) playing Affinity
Just so long as I dodge Affinity all day, I’m good.
Rd7: (I forgot the name) playing White Weenie
“What makes this deck good is that no one plays Tranquility. What? What do you mean you read about it online? Well, if you read that Yawgmoth’s Whimsy crap, you deserve to lose! Okay, Cleanfall resolves.” Game 2: “Okay, it resolves again.”
Enough of that. I had fun, but it’s time to reiterate the lessons.
Sensei Of the Old Dojo Prepares Five Lesson Soup.
2 lbs Imperfect Metagame articles
1 cup Random decklists, finely shredded
1 pinch Random stuff that makes it into the late rounds
Affinity to taste – then a lot more
Sift the metagame articles to extract nuggets of wisdom. Add multiple decklists. Playtest heavily. Fold in Affinity. Playtest more thoroughly. Add random matchups and luck, mix. Serves top 8.
Lesson 1: Sift the metagame articles to extract nuggets of wisdom.
The nuggets will be there, but they may be mixed in with a lot of stones. Metagame articles are always hit or miss. Many of the best players – the real pros – won’t even be playing at States, so they really don’t invest that much effort. Others do, but don’t reveal all their tech. A very few *cough* like me *cough* like writing better than winning, so they spill what they know. Or think they know.
The second problem is that metagames evolve. In a single event format like States, that evolution takes place during playtesting. Everyone playtests against a gauntlet composed of the good decks from a prior format. Those decks also need to evolve – otherwise you are playtesting against bad decks. However, no one can evolve all the decks – you need to concentrate on something. What’s worse, if you keep evolving your decks to beat each other, eventually that evolution leads to antlers, peacock tails, and strange mating dances. In Magic terms, that means maindecking “tech” because it beats the “tech” no one but your friends will have. It’s like running Underworld Dreams and Tel-Jilad Stylus to beat the Howling Mine / Mesmeric Orb / Rule of Law deck. It’s an evolutionary dead end.
On a more serious note, my gauntlet Affinity deck had Somber Hoverguards instead of Atog, and skipped Aether Vial – mainly because I feared maindeck Relic Barrier and Imi Statue. That may be inbreeding in action – most people writing about playtesting with Affinity are still using the Vial version. What shows up at States, however, remains to be seen.
The fact that decks are evolving behind the scenes is another reason to distrust the articles that try to rank decks. Good builds of Affinity are still probably Tier One (although I did see one build that ran Hoverguards, Atogs and Moriok Riggers – and City of Brass and Glimmervoids – so it was almost immune to Imi Statue and Relic Barrier. However, it was playing four mana for Myr Enforcers. Not an optimal build.) After Affinity, however, I would seriously question anyone that tries to rank decks. Maybe R/G Freshmaker is indeed Tier 1.386 at the moment, but I doubt that’s accurate.
Lesson 2: People play everything at States.
More so than any other large tournament, more people play States for fun than strictly to win. That means they may play tier 1.5 decks, simply because those decks are more fun than Affinity. Old-time players also come out of the woodwork this time of year. People will play land destruction or milling decks not because they test well, but because those people have always played LD or Millstone.
Just last week, [name deleted for his own protection] told me “Goblins is still good. Raging Goblin and Goblin King are still legal – and Mountains.” What more could you want?
A lot of serious players may also attend, but have not practiced the new format. They will play whatever they were most comfortable with in the last format they played. That means people will be playing Crystal Witness with Mana Leaks and Big Red and Tooth and Nail. And Affinity. However, the decks may not be that well adjusted to the new environment – for example, I have seen several U/G decklists with Acquire in the sideboard instead of Bribery. Sure, Acquire gets Mindslaver, but Bribery gets all the win conditions this side of Rude Awakening.
Lesson 3: How did THAT make it this far?
Anyway, the point is that States has a more diverse field than practically anything else – except maybe random non-sanctioned tourneys at GenCon. You can expect to face practically anything. Combo decks will be played. Beatdown decks will be played. Control decks will be played. Ponza and White Weenie will be played. At least one friend is talking about playing the Honden deck. Anything and everything is going to be played.
Some of those decks – no matter how dreadful or strange – are going to be matched up against worse decks, or have opponents who don’t see the combo, or get mana screwed, or just get unlucky. As a result, you are far more likely to face something very strange at even the top tables at States than anywhere else.
As a mainly casual player, I am quite used to random stuff hitting me from out of the blue. I already value flexibility over speed and cost effectiveness. Creeping Mold – or even Desert Twister – are more useful in casual than Oxidize or even Naturalize, because sometimes it is a land or creature that annoys you most. In highly evolved metagames (e.g. halfway through a Constructed PTQ season), efficiency is more important than flexibility. At States, however, Naturalize might just be better than Oxidize. Your chance of facing a Kiki-Jiki / Intruder Alarm deck, or the fearful five Hondens deck, is far greater than it would be any other tourney.
Lesson 4: Affinity warps the format – and playtesting
After everything I said about flexibility and Naturalize over Oxidize – don’t forget that Affinity is still out there. It is still the most broken deck around, and abuses the two most powerful mechanics. It could be that some people have decks with Samurai of the Pale Curtain, or Kiki-Jiki / Viridian Shaman, or Zo-Zu / Seismic Assault, that crush Affinity, but those decks aren’t being discussed. That means that the Affinity crushers will be few and far between, while Affinity will be common. After all, a lot of people have the cards for Affinity, have some experience with the deck and are smart enough to play the best deck in the format. Affinity fought through all the hate of MD5 Constructed – and it doesn’t lose much of anything.
It’s still here. And it’s coming to a States near you.
I haven’t seen much of anything written on Affinity recently – but don’t interpret that to mean that people are not playtesting it or that it isn’t good. It’s just that Affinity has been analyzed to death. There isn’t much new to be said. You have to play it, and playtest against it. It will still smash you if you are not prepared. However, be careful not to spend so much time testing against Affinity that you lose to other decks. For example, here’s a question for all you mono-Red players – what do you do against a White Weenie deck that plays Auriok Champion and Worship? Are you sideboarding Flamebreak or Oblivion Stone? What if they have Damping Matrix for the Oblivion Stone?
Lesson 5: PLAYTEST!
If you want to do well at States – or even if you just want to have fun without spending the whole day kicking yourself, you need to playtest. You need to have some ideas about how to play against the expected decks, and how to sideboard. You want to play your deck a lot – against a lot of other decks. Playing those other decks is a good idea, too. You need to know the enemy. Know how they win, how the work, and what things are tough for them to accomplish. If you play the Tooth and Nail deck with Urzatron and Red splash for a while, you will learn that double Green mana can be a problem in some builds. If you playtest Ponza, you may recognize the signs that Ponza’s stalling. If you play U/W Control, you learn about the problems it has against decks that play two cards per turn. And so forth.
However, when playtesting, make sure you playtest against people that can play! It doesn’t mean much if your deck beats Affinity 85%, if you are playing against your hamster. If I had a nickel for every misplay I saw with people playtesting Affinity…. Remember, playtesting is valid when the play is tight – so if your opponent makes an obvious mistake, stop and correct it. You don’t want to win the playtest games – you want to win States.
Hopefully, you have your deck chosen already. If you have – or when you do – ask yourself how you deal with the following problems:
1) Kiki-Jiki / Intruder Alarm and Thought Courier
2) LD splashing White for Ghostly Prison and Ivory Mask
3) Death Pits of Rath (or Horobi) and Honden of Infinite Rage
4) Myr Servitor / Grave Pact / Blasting Station
5) Darksteel Reactor / Worship / Mycosynth Lattice
Okay, the last should never, ever happen. The others, however, are just possible. You may face some in the Swiss rounds – and later than you might imagine. If you have the ability to beat these decks, then you get to answer the following question.
1) You have made the top eight. It’s you against seven Affinity decks. How good is your deck against Affinity?
Good luck at States.