Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #209 – PTQ Preparation

Read Peter Jahn... at StarCityGames.com!
The Extended PTQ season is beginning. A lot of people will be writing about the techie new decks, and what won which PTQ. I’ll chip in with a couple of other thoughts: on metagaming and netdecking, on slow play, and on Morningtide – which will be part of the Extended metagame starting February first.

The Extended PTQ season is beginning. A lot of people will be writing about the techie new decks, and what won which PTQ. I’ll chip in with a couple of other thoughts: on metagaming and netdecking, on slow play, and on Morningtide — which will be part of the Extended metagame starting February first.

The Top 8 results from various PTQs are starting to trickle out. The decks look good — and tempting. I will probably proxy up a few and start playtesting. I have played something like the Doran the Explorer decks on and off, and have an almost complete copy of Next Level Blue on MTGO. Even RDW 2.8 looks fun.

I’m not sure that I will be playing one at the PTQ on February 9th. It probably won’t be one of those decks. I am sure it will be something I have not practiced with enough — but it will be something I know well. Practice is the key to success.

A lot of people will be trying to pick up the latest tech deck at each PTQ, and latest — or, more accurately, late — is the operative term. In years past, it was possible to find the “best” deck in the format. That is less likely now that Wizards has stopped forcing mechanics and just printed a lot of strong cards. We used to have metagames with two or three Tier 1 decks, plus a handful of decks that preyed on the top 2.

That was then. This is now.

Today, we have a wide variety of Tier 1 — or at least very strong — decks. Look at the other strategy articles on this site: they list almost two dozen decks as decks to watch. Last week the big decks were Next Level Blue, Doran the Explorer, Dredge, RDW, Spire Golem Blue, a few last Chase Rare Control decks, and on and on. Someone even piloted an Intruder Alarm combo deck into the Top 8.

Next week things will shift again.

Some of this will be metagaming. Some of these decks will be adding sideboard cards targeted at different decks. Decks will run more Ancient Grudge, to shoot at Blue decks packing Vedalken Shackles, and this will take down the Affinity decks via splash damage. These sideboard additions might come at the expense of graveyard hosers, though, so Dredge may make a comeback (like it did last week), or Ancient Grudge may replace Engineered Plague, allowing Goblins to sneak into the Top 8.

Another effect that occurred last week was a rise in the success of RDW. That deck runs land destruction — mainly Molten Rain — and that can punish tight manabases. Look at the manabase from some of the decks listed in articles in recent weeks. Here are a few examples:

7 Snow-Covered Island
3 Breeding Pool
4 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Polluted Delta
1 Watery Grave
1 Academy Ruins


3 Forest
1 Plains
1 Swamp
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Polluted Delta
2 Temple Garden
4 Treetop Village
4 Windswept Heath
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1 Urborg, Tomb Of Yawgmoth
(Plus Birds of Paradise)


1 Great Furnace
1 Seat Of The Synod
1 Vault Of Whispers
2 Snow-covered Island
1 Snow-covered Mountain
1 Snow-covered Swamp
1 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
1 Riptide Laboratory
2 Steam Vents
3 Watery Grave
1 Academy Ruins

Some of these manabases have very few sources of non-dominant colors — plus fetchlands, of course. A well-timed land destruction spell can easily mana screw someone — and that can slow them down just long enough to steal a win or two.

If people follow the coverage, they will see the rise of RDW decks and bring in decks that prey on RDW and the like. That could be decks like GB Rock, which is far less vulnerable to mana screw and LD — or it could be other decks, like Dredge.

That’s the conventional explanation. It may even be true.

However, I have been tracking PTQ metagames for year, and I have some doubts about this. I think that metagaming, like this, has some effect. It definitely will have an effect on the deck choices of a lot of PTQ players. Netdecking is extremely common. However, netdecking and metagaming will not necessarily have an effect on whether those players make Top 8.

Let me explain.

I have had a chance to get all the decklists from a number of Constructed PTQs over the years. Generally, these decks fall into a number of categories.

A significant percentage — maybe 20-40% – of the decks being played are current Tier 1 netdecks. These are generally split between a number of archetypes.

Another 10-15% are netdecks that were Tier 1 a few weeks before, or that were big at the last PT or GP in the format.

Another 5-10% are homebrews or team creations actually targeting the current Tier 1 decks This is true metagaming, and it is rare. I have played these in rare occasions — and they are fun when they work.

About the same percentage of decks are metagaming decks that miss their targets. I have played these sorts of decks, and probably more often than I have actually hit the metagaming exactly.

The next 10% or so are the little kids with their homemade specials, mostly made from whatever cards they own. These decks can really be categorized — accurately — as “bad.” I will also lump the bad players who misplay netdecks into this area. Either way, they are almost all byes — although, once in a while, they steal wins. I remember one time a pro player was piloting turbo-fog, and playing it very well, only to get matched up against a kid playing a 74 card deck.

The last group, at least in Extended, is the classic archetypes that some player always play, whether or not the decks are nay good. These players always play Land Destruction, or UW Control, or Millstone.dec, whether or not the archetype is any good. At times, I have fallen into this category: I have played Rock even when Rock was marginal. Ditto Enchantress.

So what does this all mean?

Typically, a PTQ around here runs 100-200 players, meaning seven or eight rounds. That means that players have to play hard for at least the first five or six rounds, and most will have to play the sixth or seventh as well, before drawing into Top 8.

Here are the categories again, with arbitrarily chosen numbers instead of the ranges, and assuming 160 players:

Tier 1 decks: 40% or 64 decks
Dated Tier 1 decks: 15% or 24
On target metagame decks: 5% or 8
Off target metagame decks: 10% or 16
Bad decks: 20% or 24
Always play this: 10% or 16 decks

Let’s look at the Tier 1 decks. Let’s assume that they go 50/50 against other Tier 1 decks, go 60/40 against dated decks, go 50/50 against the metagame decks (losing hard to the one targeting them, winning generally against the ones targeting something else.) They beat the bad decks 95% of the time, and go 70-30 against the “always play this.”

In round 1, roughly 26 Tier 1 decks will play other Tier 1 decks. Ten will play against dated decks, another ten will play against metagame decks (hit and misses, combined) and so forth. Given the above numbers and percentages, 40 of the 64 decks will win round 1. More importantly, 24 Tier 1 decks will be playing against losers in round 2.

In round 2, 16 of our original Tier 1 decks in the 0-1 bracket will be playing against another Tier 1 deck, and eight of those will lose. That will make them 0-2, and they will likely drop. Presumably, these are good players playing Tier 1 decks, and those sort of players do tend to drop once they are out of Top 8 contention. A few Tier 1 players will also get their second loss playing against lesser decks — but even when the odds are 70/30, if ten matches happen at those odds, three favorites will fall. After round 2, 16 of our original 64 Tier 1 decks will be out of the event.

Doing the same sort of calculation, most of the on-target metagame decks will still be in the running round 3, and about half will be undefeated. The off-target decks will still be around — especially those that got to play bad decks and/or dated metagame decks that they were built to beat. Likewise, the bad players and “always play this” decks will still be in the event, because those players are playing for fun, not prizes, and they won’t drop until round 5 or so.

Doing all the math would require making lots of assumptions about percentages, and that gets increasingly artificial. However, what this process does show is that many Tier 1 decks will be knocked out, despite being good choices and having good pilots. More importantly, it is not unreasonable for a bad deck to be undefeated going into the later rounds, simply having played nothing but other lucky bad decks for several rounds, then getting a free win via mana screw or so. It happens. Even more likely, the “always play this” crowd is often very good with their deck of choice, and can still be in contention in the middle to late rounds.

In short — throughout at least the first five rounds of a PTQ, even winning decks have a reasonable chance of being matched up against a completely random deck — something completely off the strategy article’s radar. Prepare for that. I always tend to have a couple general-purpose removal spells (e.g. Krosan Grip) in my sideboard, because I never know what I might end up playing against.

That’s my first piece of advice: don’t think the metagame is narrow. Even in the years where the metagame actually did consist of just thee Tier 1 decks, the odds of facing those decks in the early rounds was rarely much more than 50/50, and did not climb all that much in the later rounds. In a metagame like this, with a ton of viable decks, the odds of hitting something random are much higher.

Krosan Grip kills Intruder Alarm, even in mid combo….

Netdecking and Slow Play

I have another piece of advice for all you netdeckers out there: practice your deck of choice before the event. If you wish to play a combo deck, actually practice going off. (On the flip side, if your opponent is playing a combo deck, make them demonstrate the combo. Remember the match at GP: Columbus where a certain pro fumbled the Hulk / Flash combo? Don’t be like that.) [Well, he did go on to win the event, so be a bit like that… – Craig, amused.]

Second, if your opponent is playing a combo deck, and spending a lot of time thinking about his/her plays, call a judge and ask the judge to watch for slow play. If the opponent is not playing fast enough to let you finish the match in the time allotted, that is slow play. Nothing in the rules regarding slow play provide an exception for “really complex decks.” If your opponent chooses a very complex deck, and cannot play it well / fast enough, that is their problem, not yours. I know I can design and play certain combo decks quite well, but not quickly enough for competitive play — but that is my problem. If I were to take those decks to a PTQ, I would, and should, lose games and matches to slow play penalties.


Another point: as of February first, Morningtide is legal for Extended PTQs. That means that the PTQs on February 2nd may feature Morningtide cards. Be ready.

So far I have only seen a handful or preview cards, and have not read the spoiler, but already I see a couple of interesting deck ideas.

Let’s start with something simple. Here’s a card off the Wizards website.

Is it any good? Probably not — but it would be really annoying in an Opposition deck. What’s more important is that it is a common, meaning that someone could easily get a playset in time for a February 2nd PTQ. Now I’m not sure that the deck is actually any good. The question would be what to do with the card if you don’t have Opposition. Test number two of combo parts is whether they are any good on their own.

Maybe the Schoolmaster would be good with Drowner of Secrets and Intruder Alarm.

Oh, did I mention that Krosan Grip kills Opposition and Intruder Alarm in mid combo? Think of your sideboard as a utility belt — and put some utility in it.

Here’s a more famous preview card:

Here’s one of those game changing cards that people can build decks around. It is cheap, and it allows you to get the rest of the combo. The only question is what the rest of that combo might be.

This plus burn could be punishing. You will be drawing a burn spell every turn, once this hits play. They opponent will be hitting themselves with a Lightning Bolt just to draw cards. That could be solid — provided they don’t draw Solitary Confinement.

You probably also want to play some small, fast smashy creatures: things to smash your opponent’s face. Stuff like 2/1s for two mana or so. Dark Confidant springs to mind. Dark Confidant also says “reveal” and “put that card in hand.” It isn’t a draw, so it happens. Of course, running both Bob and Maralen is painful, but Umezawa’s pointy stick can help with that.

Or you could just play this with Aven Mindcensor. Mindcensor beats for two — and the searches will be short and, generally, suboptimal.

If you want to combo this in another way, note that Maralen’s tutor ability is triggered ability. Triggered abilities can be Stifled. An Isochron Scepter can let you use Stifle every turn.

Maralen does some weird things. With Maralen out, Wheel of Fate means everyone discards their hands, and draw nothing. Mulldrifter is an overpriced Wind Drake. Fact or Fiction, on the other hand, works just fine.

There is another problem with Maralen. She is the sort of card that opponents will misunderstand, forget about, and end up misplaying. Maralen says players cannot draw cards. That means that a lot of opponents are going to hear their opponents say “go,” then draw their card and judges will be called. I’m not looking forward to that.

Which does not mean that I will not be going to the prerelease, of course. The rest of Morningtide looks pretty interesting.