вторник, 18 апреля 2017 г.

MtG. Simple and Complex Deckbuilding Lessons in Magic. Part 1. The Causes

Hello, folks...

This time I would like to go through some important themes and topics that mainly have to do with deckbuilding.

Some of these lessons might be obvious, some on the contrary. There will be no drastic tie to current or upcoming Standard, but particular examples from certain formats and certain decks will be included. I would also making very general parallels with other card games for comparison and stressing some points.

30 vs 60 cards deck (other TCGs). 45 vs 60 vs 75.

First of all this topic is obviously about frequency of seeing certain cards from your deck. Most of the time, if your deck is enough to finish your game, you should play with the industry aka format standard amount of cards in it. It is silly not to, if you are allowed. Since by doing so, you maximize the chance of drawing your best cards.

On the side not, to explain the numbers in the subtitle a bit more, different card games have different standards for deck size. And yes, in some game your Constructed deck is usually 75 cards. And in another game in both Limited and Constructed the number is 30, not less, not more.

I think Magic got it right, if you include anything that resembles lands. Without them, yes, 30 is ok.
And I think the split between 45 and 60 is rather useful. In Limited games are not that long and more aggressive and, to be honest, a bit less interactive. So in Limited drawing your best cards quicker is more important. In Constructed you do want enough versatility, diversity and so on. Proper deck there would be a smooth mix of a few things. Not just lands and non-lands. And not just creatures and non-creatures (although there have been some successful very creature-heavy or spell-heavy archtypes). In general at least. Exceptions do happen. Your typical generic deck will feature various roles for non-creatures: removal, burn, buff, draw, counter spell, etc. 75 for maindeck is just too much. You will probably never ever deck out, but 60 just runs better for odds of drawing what you need in a game. And in Magic in 60 card formats sometimes it is about getting that certain busted card, but there are so many strategies and ways to interact, so that we need 60 and not 45 or 30, especially with lands. And land cards is not a thing I am a fan in Magic even after these years, but that is another story.

Despite having good rounded numbers we are not limited by them. We can play 42 in a draft with a control deck, play 62 in Standard due to tutors and toolboxes, and we also can alter land counts within the deck to fit its plan.     

Transformational sideboard. Their main vs post-side configurations.

When you ask or somebody asks a strange question like why not this and that moved to maindeck from sideboard or vice versa, well…, you will have to explain to them, that not only your deck, but others too do have a specific main and post-side deck configuration.  

It is defined by the regime or mode or role your deck in Game 1, and then in Game 2 and 3, and sometimes 2 and 3 may change. Few factors kick in. What they take in or out, what plan works best in the meta most of the time, hence that maindeck form, can that deck beat your special differentiated post-side plan, etc. Plus all the poker style mindgames and reading your opponent.

In Standard, for example, if a person just got into the game, say, this year, and haven’t changed the deck for months, because he or she doesn’t play that often and not that seriously, then in mirror match of mardu Vehicles I would side-in Fumigates, aka mass removal spells. I expect the opponent to staying aggro post-side and not become midrange.

Another good example of transformation is the classical take out removal vs control or combo deck. And then you get punished because they actually brought in creatures. But you only get punished if you take out all versatile unconditional removal as well, like a few of those in black that kill planeswalkers or creatures. And then there are cases, when I would take out all removal in favor of extra threats and pressure, even if I know how they side and it means creatures maindeck and sideboard. Those are cases when their clock is slow and doesn’t mean contending or controlling the board too well. And there will probably be some protection spells in the mix as well.   

Context of the whole deck in evaluating cards.

Separately Puresteel Paladin or Devoted Druid do not raise an eyebrow, but in the context of the deck together with their respective packages they provoke the “oh I see” kind of effect. When you stumble upon a weird card in a decklist, it actually means a lot in the context of the format's metagame and format interactions, as well with specific cards in the deck that basically break it.

That spare Magma Spray or Lightning Bolt may seem like an underwhelming twick at first, but than later in testing you would see that it was just right in order to smoothen your deck and your draws in first few turns. Nearly everything boils down to numbers eventually and the curve, but just nearly. Because otherwise Magic will be super boring if that would be all it takes. And I am not talking about screws or floods. For example I often think of the task of the cards and rely on intuition in sideboarding, even if I know all format decklists.

Study metagame decklists and solve your deck.

Not just the range of archtype, but what is in their decks, in all versions, in all maindecks, and in all sideboards. Playing around things, when you are far ahead is very justifiable, if you know all their possible outs.

At the same time, playing something outside of the netdecking hemisphere can be hugely rewarded, for similar reasons, as your opponents will not see them coming. But do not justify simply bad cards by this surprise factor.

In eternal formats most of the time we answer certain decks with specific cards. In Standard it is more about answering certain cards with your cards. One can brew a complete new archtype, which will look like a swiss army knife with tools for all situations, just by knowing well what is currently played (control decks by Shoota Yasooka).  

Flexibility of the deck

Unlike in some other card games, you bring only one deck for tournaments. Yes, there is a sideboard, which is a luxury many games don’t have. But one deck means you cannot use certain decks to counter certain matchup. You can generally afford to lose one game in a match, but there are so many factors affecting your game outcome. There is no “poker style” mulligan, you mulligan the whole hand. There is mana screw and mana flood, and just bad draws.

There is a reason that, outside crazy draws from aggro decks, overall blue decks have been the strongest. Availability of cantrips, or any means to control your hand and topdecks, gave a huge advantage, since even when a format meta consists of 3-5 decks, often times those decks do have different game plans and strategies. Without cards allowing you to sculpt your hand and draws, you will fall down with the typical “I drew the wrong half of the deck”.

Toolbox, tutoring, topdeck manipulation

Sometimes non-blue decks can rise up just on the back of flexible cards with above average power level (various Abzans is Modern and Standard in the past few years). But that is a dangerous path and it often leads to a power creep, to Birthing Pods and Stoneforge Mystics.

Tutors is another thing that can be great for the game in some incarnations and terrible if not done right. We do not get more new busted 1-mana tutors, and that is great. But that type of card is, in opinion, something that should appear every now and then, in, say, every second set in some shape or form. Glittering Wish and Mystical Teachings were amazing at the times of their prime. Aggro decks were also good enough then to contend those. But with such expensive and limited tutors a lot of people got to really enjoy the game. Tutors are just one good way to balance a format. Some other card games started to pick them up as well.  
Tutors plus the toolbox package basically extends your deck, making it feel like two or more. Winning in Magic often revolves around having the right card for their card. Lining up threats and answers. With tutors you sacrifice some speed in order to stay in the game, it is a fine price for having a chance to win the game.

While having an extra card to go second and scrys after mulligans do bring some balance, but it’s of a different kind. Aggro decks often can get mana screwed or flooded and lose the game or a match just because of that. Tormenting Voice is not an amazing card, but if you have Madness cards in your deck, you probably do need something like that to smoothen out your draws.

Speed of the format

This means whether you can technically play an aggro or control or combo deck in a format at certain time. For example, we are not really allowed to durdle around all that much in current or coming Standard, since we are likely to still have Vehicles decks and Saheeli-Guardian decks.  

This topic also coincides with the next one.

Speed of your deck

I grew to appreciate creature-combo package in a control deck, even from both sides of the table. Closing out games fast enough makes playing control viable in terms of avoiding extra unintentional draws, and it makes removal important for most of the metagame.

Whether it is Saheeli-Cats, Restoration Angel - Kiki-Jiki, or Splinter Twin - Deceiver Exarch, I am just looking at the bright side as well. Grind fests and value-driven matches are nice, but you have to think of the greater good. Old-school control decks are super exhausting to use in a long tournament, especially if the format has many different midrange and control decks. Don’t get me wrong. I in no way mean that there should be something like this every set block, but formats based around removal are not bad for the game. Those deckbuilding limitations are not that absurd, it is much better than, e.g. Affinity prime year, where it wasn’t just about any removal, but also about speed, and value, and everything.    

Puzzles pieces missing or just appearing

New Wrath type of a card in Amonkhet, might give Martyr Control, or Soul Sisters, a very big boost in Modern. In new Standard it is not just likely to see aggro decks at first, including something red, but Amonkhet actually pushes those decks to a good extent.

My problem with big pushes to aggro, is when there is not enough control tools given at the same time. Yes,cards like Supreme Verdict, Sphinx’s Revelation and Lightning Helix are very dangerous for Standard, but Magma Sprays and Shock would not solve everything. Yes, we still don’t know half of the set at the time I am writing this, but I want a bit more than just a Renewed Faith reprint, not enough for me to believe.      

Winrate of the deck

In some games 56% winrate overall is considered good for a deck. But for Magic this is terrible. Yes, those 56 often mean 70+ for certain player for certain days, yet in Magic you need 60%+ against most tier 1 decks. However sweet your deck maybe, if you aim for competitive play, your deck should demolish at least some top decks to have the right to hang out there.

However, couple cards changed, some techs slided in, and your win percentage overall and vs top dogs may rise up rapidly. Although, matchup techs often come at a price of worsening some other matchup. Hence, be careful what you wish for and aim for.  

Thank you very much for reading!
Good luck at your local and online tournaments!
Stay tuned for more articles!

- Aarne Pyulze
- OthalaBor on Hearthstone
- Ekvilor or BoatBrew at other game accounts

- BoatBrew at all channels and media  

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