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Going Rogue and Gaming Expected Behavior

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Two weeks ago I expressed my beliefs about why going rogue in Legacy doesn’t really pan out, but I feel like in that sense Legacy is sort of an anomaly. I still support everything that I wrote and have yet to encounter sufficiently convincing counterpoints, but I think that it’s important for me to express my thoughts on the value of rogue strategies in other formats.

Of course, I should preface this by stating that I am by no means advocating playing something different just for the sake of being different. The other day on MTGO I was grinding a Mono-Red Trading Post brew in the two-man queues and ended up playing a match against a GW Humans deck. During the match my opponent called me out for playing a deck that was just worse than Black Market, to which I posited that he was playing a worse version of literally any other GWx deck conceivable. He replied with the all-too-popular “at least I’m not playing Delver” and took his loss.

Just playing something that nobody else is playing doesn’t give you any real edge. While I had never played against his deck before, it was easy to discern that it was just a conglomeration of “good” humans. The removal that is good against the Pod decks is going to work just as well on Champion of the Parish as it is on Restoration Angel. Not to mention that his deck had no means of taking over a game like a Birthing Pod engine of its own…

If you’re going to go rogue and succeed, then you have to put a little more thought into the process than “I hate netdecks”. Successful rogue strategies stem from creativity and strategic planning, not disdain.

When attempting to build a new deck the most important rule that must be followed is this:

Don’t Build Something That Loses to the Same Hate That Already Exists in the Format at Large

This might have not been the only problem with the GW Humans deck discussed above, but it sure is a big one. Sure, playing a Champion of the Parish into Mayor of Avabruck // Howlpack Alpha might be something that brings you great joy, but don’t even act a little surprised with both of these mans are Gut Shoted and your Hero of Bladehold gets Vapor Snaged until you die.

This was something that was rather challenging when I was building Mono-Blue Trading Post, as there were already Delver Sideboards packing Stony Silence and Ancient Grudge for decks like Naya Pod.

The solution that I came up with was building a sideboard/maindeck that allowed me to board out all of my artifacts that were weak to these cards (Pristine Talisman and Trading Post) for spells that embarrassed them, such as Consecrated Sphinx. While employing a semi-transformational sideboard is hardly an original idea of mine, it’s a tool that I feel that much of the community at large isn’t taking as much advantage of as they could.

By taking advantage of assumptions that your opponent will likely make about your deck, you can steal a lot of games that you probably couldn’t win without gaming their expected behavior.

My favorite sideboard that I’ve ever played was that of the Grixis control deck with which I qualified for PT Nagoya. It may not look like much, but I’d like to believe that those four sideboard Mana Leaks are a thing of beauty.

Before I get into that, here’s a little backstory.

This sideboard stemmed from something that I discovered the year before when I lost on the bubble of a different Extended PTQ playing a UW Stoneforge Mystic deck (long before it was ever cool in Standard, mind you). I don’t remember the exact list I had, but these are the cards that I remember playing:

Yeah, my deck was sweet. It was largely a MonoWhite Martyr deck splashing blue for a backdoor combo, Celestial Colonnade beats and Vendilion Clique. Of course, having not seen my list, my opponents consistently assumed that the blue was much more relevant than this. Namely, they respected the Mana Leaks that weren’t in my 75.

When most players see a deck playing in a controlling manner and generating blue mana, they almost immediately assume that their opponent is playing some manner of counterspell. When the most popular counterspell available is conditional on them not paying more mana, they’ll often wait until they can pay for their spell to resolve, and if you never had that counter in the first place then you just earned yourself a free ticket to the late game where your deck is presumably stronger than theirs.

Having a lot of instant speed action really helped reinforce the Mana Leak bluff, and this is something that sort of carried over into my Grixis list. With a dozen maindeck instant removal spells, I would very often be leaving up Mana Leak mana. The combination of opponents playing around potential Leaks and the grip of removal coupled to make my Jaces very strong. And then game two, after I had presumably shown them a large portion of my deck, I was able to board in Mana Leaks that they had never seen in game one and sometimes stopped respecting for game two.

While the time for this exact bluff has probably passed, I think that the general idea is something that is very valuable and I already see potential for a similar sort of advantage being made available in the coming Modern season with the help of a new card.

Spoiler Alert

I don’t think that it’s any secret that Abrupt Decay is going to be seeing a lot of play across multiple formats, but I do think that there is a small edge that can be gained in the beginning of Modern season simply by virtue of playing this card.

Personally I think that this card is a straight replacement in Jund for Maelstrom Pulse. It hits most of the same things, it’s uncounterable, costs one fewer mana and it’s an instant. It’s a hell of a lot better against Deceiver Exarch, at the very least.

More importantly, most opponents are going to respect Maelstrom Pulse by not committing multiple copies of their permanents. If you’re not playing the card, then you gain some tempo and save yourself a mana in the deal. You technically gain five mana in situations where your opponent plays something that you destroy at the end of their turn and you have a follow up sorcery-speed play on your next turn.

Sure, this edge might be minor, and it probably goes away after a couple weeks of Modern season if this replacement is widely adopted. But it’s just another thought to get the wheels turning.

~

In other news, Mike Hawthorne and I started recording a podcast for this very site two weeks ago! It’s called “Good Luck, High Five!” and it has been a great deal of fun to work on thus far. We’re really looking for as much feedback at this early stage in the process as possible so check it out and let us know what you think!

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf

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