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Insider: Playstyle and Card Evaulations

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Recently I started talking with my local community about what cards they think are over- and undervalued and began to notice a trend. One local player is obsessed with blue aggro-control tempo decks. He chooses to play them in every format and when we discuss card strengths that's the mindset he brings to the table. There's nothing wrong with this, in fact we all do it, but knowing you have this tendency can help you avoid missing out on potential speculation targets. Acknowledge your own bias and try to overcome it by discussing card power with people of different mindsets.

A great example is Deathrite Shaman. I have played a good amount of Maverick in Legacy and I love that deck. When this card was spoiled I immediately told all my friends to make sure they had a playset because I had dreams of Green Sun Zenithing for him (my own bias even had me ignoring his third ability as mere "icing on the cake" rather than a potential tool). He was an amazing answer to RUG Delver; he ramps you, shrinks their graveyard and he can block a non-thresholded Nimble Mongoose and live.

From my point of view, this was an obvious 10-15+ dollar card. However, many of my friends didn't pick up playsets. Instead, one bought two playsets of Abrupt Decays at $10 per card and used Abrupt's spike to $20 pre-release as justification not to buy Deathrite, since Abrupt Decay can kill it and it's uncounterable. Well guess what, he tends to play combo/control decks and in his world Deathrite was fine, but not spectacular; Abrupt decay was an answer to much of the hate he had to deal with. Our biases were reflected in both our decisions.

If you're having a difficult time categorizing your playstyle I've listed some common ones below as well as possible biases (read like a horroscope).

Aggro -- You always enter the redzone. You value low-cost, high-density threats. You prefer games in which you can get food in between every round because you don't like playing past turn 4 or 5. You play as few lands and as many threats as possible, understanding this relationship demands mainly one- and two-drop creatures that deal a lot of damage quickly. You like forcing your opponent to keep checking his life, smiling as the worry on his face causes beads of sweat to trickle down his forehead, all the while knowing that all you have is gas and one misstep on his part spells certain doom.

You prefer the colors red/green. Your concern is for mana cost (1 or 2) and creature power/threat density. Instants and sorceries exist to let your creatures continue their onslaught unhindered. You will often over-evaluate creatures and under-evaluate spells.

Aggro/Control (Tempo) -- You enjoy the redzone too, but you sacrifice speed for consistency. You play a lower threat density and prefer your threats to be more self-sufficient. You still want to maintain some control over the game, so you back up your threats with counterspells, but again run fewer lands, so your spells must remain in the 1-to-2-drop range. You too enjoy watching your opponent's concern over his dwindling life total, but you don't concern yourself with his "answers" because they'll never resolve. You like keeping your opponent off of his lands, as your counterspells tend to be taxing rather then permanent.

You also like red/green but you need blue to crush your opponents' attempts at hindering your success. You will focus on creatures who are not only powerful but have a bit of evasion or self-protection. Your spells will either help you find these threats, or prevent your opponent from interacting with them. You focus on low-cost spells (creatures or counters) and may under-evaluate spells whose CMC is greater than four due to them being "unlikely to ever resolve" from your mana denial strategies coupled with numerous efficient counterspells.

Control -- You dislike the redzone, you feel it's "beneath you", similar to using the restroom. It's necessary but not something you want to focus on. You prefer to play your games slowly, watching your opponent squirm as you answer his threats over and over, all while building inevitability towards his eventual downfall. You love to see your opponent's hands bare, waiting on you to make your decisions while they pray the top of their deck is merciful; all the while knowing it won't matter.

You like card advantage spells, as you always need answers to threats, and an unanswered threat spells doom for you, so you often look towards broader threat answers, to cover your bases. You prefer blue and white, perhaps with a bit of black. Your focus is on card quality, occasionally without regard to cost. You may over-evaluate cards which have a higher CMC (4+) due to their power level, without factoring the probability of those same spells actually resolving. You often under-evaluate creatures that don't fit into your color scheme.

Control/Combo -- You love the look on an opponent's face as you combo out, as they dejectedly realize their one play mistake gave you the small window you needed to turn defeat into victory. You like winning in one shot, building up your board and hand to the point of eminent victory. You dislike those aggro players who don't want you to play your way. Similar to the pure control players, you know you need answers, but you have the added knowledge that you can play only a few game-ending threats. So you stack your deck with answers of all shapes and sizes. You're more willing to play efficient, narrow answers because you have your ace in the hole.

Your focus is on efficient protection spells, combination pieces, or ways to find combination pieces. You'll often under-evaluate creatures because they don't play into your strategy and you may over-evaluate combination pieces, believing they are more powerful because you see the games in which all the pieces fit into place, but not the ones in which you die with one half of your combination in hand.

Combo -- You value a quick victory, similar to aggro players, but in your mind you'd rather guarantee a win than pray your opponent can't answer your threats. You want to one-shot them, ideally from out of nowhere. You like watching your opponents face as they realize they can do nothing but watch you "go off," dejectedly staring down at a hand that might as well not be there. You prefer to win fast; who needs counterspells when your opponent has no chance to interrupt you? If they do play counterspells you play discard effects to rip their hand apart, and it's a lot easier to win with perfect knowledge anyways. Instead of playing a bunch of card filtering effects, you'll often simply play tutors to find your combo pieces, so you can just win instead of durdling about.

Because your focus is on speed you'll often have to play various ritual effects (or other forms of mana acceleration), which allow you to play spells that shouldn't be cast early in the game before your opponent has a chance to get his defenses up. You prefer the colors black and red, as they have the most tutors and acceleration. You have three considerations for cards; 1) Does this card combo with another card, 2) Does this card speed up my existing combo, and 3) Does this card efficiently hinder my combo. If the answer isn't yes to at least one of those, you tend to pass it right over.

Hopefully, you can determine which category you fall into (or perhaps you fit several). Use these ideas to help overcome self-inflicted biases when evaluating your cards and enjoy reading over the spoilers with some new insights.

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Added More Examples;

Supreme Verdict- This is a card that the control and combo/control players probably valued very highly, as a Wrath of God that pitches to FOW and can't be countered it provides them a virtually guaranteed solution to help them reach the mid/late game. The aggro players most likely viewed it with indifference, as they have no outs to Wrath of God effects anyways, so being uncounterable was inconsequential. The combo players would pass it by, as they tend to have very good match ups versus creature oriented decks. The Aggro/Control players would most likely have realized the real potential for this card, as it provides them a good way to help control the aggro decks, but more importantly as a concern for them when facing the Control or Combo/Control players because their main solution (countering) the creature kill cards would have no effect.

Boros Charm- This card is very much an aggro players card. The ability to make all your permanents indestructible is one of the best ways to "counter" a wrath affect, especially since Supreme Verdict was already spoiled. The colors associated with this card are also aggro colors. The fact that you can send 4 to your opponents dome also allow the aggro decks more "reach" to kill past a strong attack step defense (ensnaring bridge, ghostly prison, propaganda, etc). To the control players, the fact that this card does effectively counter all wrath effects (except tuck/sacrifice) for less mana than the wrath effect cost would be a concern. It's restrictive mana cost would mean that only a few existing deck archetypes would play it though (Zoo, Boros Aggro). Combo players would view it as a counter to an affect they don't concern themselves with; however if the appropriate archetypes became popular, the 4 damage to the player would be an issue for any combo that drains the players life dramatically (ANT, Tin Fins).

Knight of the Reliquary- This is another aggro player card. It's ability to grow quickly means it provides a strong threat at an efficient price. The ability to fetch lands that act as spells was icing on the cake. The aggro/control players would view it as a creature they should counter as it will become dangerous very quickly and will be difficult to deal with. Control, Combo/Control, Combo players would view it as another creature with a cool ability, but ultimately not one that greatly affects them (this is heavily due to the fact that KoTR was printed BEFORE Cavern of Souls, which makes it more of an issue for any player planning on countering other threats).

Ad Nauseum- This card helped convert an existing archetype (TES) into (ANT), thus it was highly valued by combo players, as almost any card that allows you to draw a great number of cards in a single shot does. This would help accelerated wins and increase deck consistency as well as reduce reliance on tutors for combo decks (especially storm based ones). Any deck whose goal was to win via creatures would most likely look past this card as it has no place in an aggro deck, however, it is a way for an opponent to do part of your job for you (i.e. reducing their life total). Control decks, typically do not look for this sort of affect and against the decks that would play it, they simply save their counterspells.

Inquisition of Kozilek- This is one of many of the "duress" style cards given to black. However, the restriction of mana cost less than 3 is very versatile and certainly on par with the "non-creature" from duress. It could be used as a way to remove an opponents creature threat before it hits the table as well as a way to remove most counter magic a control player would use. It's versatility makes it ideal for any style of control player, however, it's color requirement doesn't pair as well with Aggro/Control decks, so their would be less chance for them to use the card. It serves as another way for combo players to remove counter magic from an opponent, thus allowing their combo to go off, however it does NOT hit Force of Will, which tends to be the combo players biggest concern.

Rest in Peace- This is a difficult card for all groups to analyze. The ability is nothing new (see Planar Void), however, white doesn't typically get this ability. The ability to remove graveyards is usually either black or an artifact. Thought it's important to note that the ability to both remove all graveyards AND a static ability to remove any card added to the graveyard after the fact is new. This style of card has a few known combos (most notably Helm of Obedience and Energy Field), so the question was would it be useful in a new color combination. It does serve as an active graveyard nuke, thus is a major problem for any combo decks that rely on the graveyard (Dredge) that can't go off before it's active (like All Spells). It also serves as good hate against creatures that rely on the graveyard for power/toughness (Tarmogoyf, Nimbo Mongoose, Knight of the Reliquary). In the end, most aggro players would find it a nuisance (specifically neutering the a for mentioned cards), but it doesn't greatly affect their game plan. Some of the combo players would be concerned (mainly Dredge or Past in Flames decks), but others can ignore it. Aggro/Control is concerned as they tend to play the creatures whose cost is low because their power/toughness is dictated by the graveyard, however it can be countered by numerous cards and it's ETB ability can be stifled. Pure Control players might use it as a sideboard card, but again they have always had plenty of options. It was highly prized by the combo/control players who wanted to have maindeck hate that affected a lot of other decks that happened to be part of their combo.

Emarkul, the Aeon's Torn- His mana cost alone eliminated him from the Aggro, Aggro/Control, Control players repertoire of spells. However, his abilities are so powerful that if you were able to get him into play without paying his actual mana cost he would be an unstoppable win condition. Combo players jumped all over him and cards like Sneak Attack and Show and Tell went from $5-10 to $50-70. He renewed the Sneak/Show archetype as a giant fatty that could NOT come in from the graveyard via most re-animation spells (though obviously as Tin-Fins has shown there are some that can still return him), thus giving Sneak/Show an edge over existing Re-animator style decks as they had the best fatty printed.

 

Card Name Aggro Aggro/Control Control Combo/Control Combo
Supreme Verdict  Low  Medium High High Low
Boros Charm High Medium Medium Medium Low
Knight of the Reliquary High Medium Low Low Low
Ad Nauseum Low Low Low Medium High
Inquisition of Kozilek Low Medium High High Medium
Rest in Peace Low Medium Low High Low/High
Emarkul, the Aeon's Torn Low Low Low High High

David Schumann

David started playing Magic in the days of Fifth Edition, with a hiatus between Judgment to Shards. He's been playing Commander since 2009 and Legacy since 2010.

View More By David Schumann

Posted in Finance, Free Insider, Legacy, Modern

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10 thoughts on “Insider: Playstyle and Card Evaulations

    1. I agree, Jason’s article this week was really good and the fact that it’s on the free side shows how much the qs staff wants members (offering free items they could easily charge for). If you have suggestions for my article I’m happy to hear them.

      1. Your article feels like it is missing a 3rd or even 4th act, where you give some more concrete examples of card evaluations that were affected by the psychographs/playstyles. Then there could be something that explains more clearly how to actually apply this, instead of just saying that you can.

        As a concept I can see how it might effect card evaluations and therefore viability of cards, but you don’t go much into counteracting those. It is hard to notice something that you are not aware of in the first place, and more description can most likely only help people understand where they have been going wrong.

  1. I liked the idea- Thragtusk was a 5 dollar card when spoiled and for a week or two. Aggro / Combo / Control said meh. Midrange players looked at Tusk and said wow. I bought extra. Of course there were cards I liked that didn’t out perform either i.e. Sigarda. Some of it is metagame / context dependent. If there wasn’t thragtusk -Sigarda may have been a good spec.

    1. Exactly..My main goal was to let people know that this bias existed, however I didn’t provide enough examples to verify my statment. I definitely should have given more examples…perhaps in a table at the bottom.

      1. Yeah, I enjoyed the concept your were presenting here, and it seems like an idea that has not been explored on this site before, but I felt like there wasn’t much follow-through on it. More examples would’ve served us better than a lot of details about the psychographs.

        1. Thanks for the input. I have appended some more examples to the bottom of the article. Hopefully this provides more useful data and encourages everyone to really delve into the bias they may have with their card evaluations.

          1. They add a lot to the article and I appreciate their inclusion. The table is a nice way to make a visual comparison, though it could be improved upon with an explanation of what low, medium, and high mean (it becomes evident in context and after thinking for a moment, but instant clarity is ideal). Altogether an improvement, however.

            A conclusion to wrap it up and how to apply this mindset in a bit more concrete of a manner when looking at new cards would further benefit the article, but is not completely necessary and I in no way want to diminish the addition you already made.

            I just want to make it clear that I am giving you suggestions because you asked, not because I bear any ill will against you or the article.

            1. Thanks. I am always up for constructive criticism and you are right a wrap might be another good addition. I don’t take criticism personally. You guys pay for the ability to read the articles (not the only thing you get…but you get my meaning) and it would be a poor decision as a writer and someone who wants to improve to not consider all criticisms.

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