1. Identify the Problem
Tell me if this sounds familiar. For the last couple weeks or months, you have been playing a strong deck that you really like. This deck has definitely pulled its weight and won you some packs or store credit. You even took it to a bigger event and came close to winning big. It may be your own brew, your own version of a current deck, or just a straight net-decked list. Which category it falls into isn’t particularly important. Over the last few weeks, you found yourself slipping. Instead of winning FNM or a local cash event, your record looked more like 2-2 or 4-2 before dropping.
Being an experienced player, you try to analyze your mistakes from the event. You highlight a few plays you could have made differently but chalk the rest up to variance. After all, you have won a lot with this deck. Since you have so much experience with it by this point, you know exactly what changes you need to make in order to adapt to some new tech you saw other players using. Despite the work you put in, you are still not successful.
Pause a minute and think to yourself, is the deck I’m playing still good in the metagame? In the last few years Standard has shifted from week to week. If you don’t stay on top of the trends and new cards seeing play, you could find yourself in the situation above rather frequently. What should you do? Well, you have taken the first step and identified that there is a problem.
A lot of good players think that they don’t need to read a bunch of articles each week. Many also think that if they don’t play for a couple of weeks that they can jump right back in with no penalties. These assumptions are simply not true anymore. You can certainly keep your Standard deck from six months ago and start playing again anytime you want, but you shouldn’t expect to start winning events with it immediately.
The most important part of Magic these days is staying up to date with the leading decks. Is it part of your normal routine to check the coverage from the latest Star City, TCG Player, or PTQ top eight? Are you analyzing what decks have a pattern of doing well in these events? Do you follow pros on Twitter so you can stay up to date on the trends they let you in on? These are all things you can do to get better and be more successful at Magic.
Once you're up to date on the competitive metagame, you can start thinking about how your deck fits in. If you don't see any other players succeeding with your current deck choice, it doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad choice, but you should consider that possibility. Analyze your matchups with the most popular decks. If they aren’t some of your most favorable, there is a good chance you need to take action.
One thing you can do is change your deck up a bit so that it interacts better with the metagame. This can be things like changing the removal suite to deal with particular threats more efficiently or adding different types of threats to attack from different angles. Maybe you found a card no one has been playing that you think has a lot of potential. After all, someone has to start playing cards like Gyre Sage before the rest of us catch on. Many cards fall into this category. With recent sets it seems like more and more cards are playable so keep your eyes open for hidden gems.
If you've changed up your deck list and still aren’t faring any better, the time may have come to set it down and move on.
4. How Do You Move On?
I use a couple strategies when looking for a new deck. The first is to develop my own deck from scratch. Especially when there are only a few tier one decks, an angle of attack can be found to exploit a hole in those strategies. At the beginning of Gatecrash Standard, I did this with Naya Zoo. At that time, no one was playing Experiment One or any super-aggressive decks. They were still caught up in the previous slow and grindy metagame. I took advantage of that but was unable to turn it into a top eight due to some misplays which cost me matches. Now, Naya Blitz is a big part of the format and lots of players are taking the updated version to events.
If you’ve read my column at all, you know that I love rogue decks that are also good. It is not always correct to play a rogue deck though. Sometimes you need a different strategy.
The second option is to update an existing deck. Someone had to tune Naya Blitz and update it from versions like mine into the deck it is today. A big part of that was identifying the power of Burning-Tree Emissary. This concept happens a lot because players are constantly trying to improve their decks to beat other players using the same strategy and adapting their deck to other break-out decks. Since this is a hard concept to convey, I have a great example to show you.
Jund is a popular deck that has done well for quite some time. Various versions have existed and it is an adaptable strategy, so you can keep changing up cards to improve different matchups. Recently I have felt that it was well-positioned except against one deck, Reanimator. The Junk Reanimator deck is typically at an advantage because their end game is so much better than that of Jund.
A few Bant decks have adopted the use of Clone as an anti-Angel of Serenity plan. That same strategy can be used to great effect with an upgraded clone effect. Despite the fact that Evil Twin has been overshadowed by both Phyrexian Metamorph and Phantasmal Image, it is still a solid card. Not only can it kill some potent legendary threats like Geist of Saint Traft and Olvia Voldaren, but copying any other powerful creature is a valid line of play as well. Even if your opponent has no potent threats, you can always copy your own Thragtusks. By cutting a couple removal spells and tweaking the mana, Evil Twin was an easy addition. Keep your eyes open for possibilities like this.
The third option you have is to jump on the bandwagon of a new break-out deck. When a new deck takes the metagame by storm, it often takes some time for players to adapt. Many players apply similar ideas to those above in response to a new deck becoming known. Sometimes it isn't good enough to just make adjustments to old decks. Take a look at the latest addition to decks that fit this criteria.
The Aristocrats: Act 2
If you watched the coverage of the Star City events last week or if you like Brad Nelson, you probably know about this deck. I think it's still more under the radar than it should be. It already has a PTQ win and an SCG top eight, but I think that is just the beginning for this deck.
The list may seem innocent at first, but the ability to not only wipe the board but deal your opponent thirteen or more damage with one spell will end a lot of games. The only thing you really have to give up from the old version is the aggressive starts offered by Champion of the Parish. Not only does this deck have great matchups against every midrange deck, Junk Reanimator included, but it also has game against the aggressive decks. Game one against Esper Control can be tough, but after sideboarding you become a much better deck against them as well.
Whichever decision you come to, anything is better than struggling week after week because you are stuck on the same deck and didn't realize that was the problem. This process can work for anyone, so if you find yourself in this position, come back to this article and look it over again. Every time I prepare for a PTQ, Grand Prix, or independent cash tournament, I revisit this line of thinking. Even though we have been playing Standard for a while, you almost need to prepare for each event like it’s the start of a new format. Make sure you are the one on top of the trends and you will be more successful.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force of your tuned game!
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