среда, 23 августа 2017 г.

Simple and Complex Deckbuilding Lessons. Part 2. Details and Mindset. Examples in Modern.

Hello, folks...

This time I would like to continue going 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 or other formats, but particular examples from certain formats and certain decks will be included. I would be also making very general parallels with other card games for comparison and to stress some points. Each of the points I make in this series are not fully unpacked, and there can be a lot of additional things one can add to each topic.  

Number of copies in your deck

There have been some articles on this in the past, and here I would start by summarizing what I’ve learned from them: 1 - to occasionally see it, or e.g. for wincons in control decks sometimes, and for a tutor toolbox; 2 - appears often as part of the maindeck-sideboard split, or when you try to diversify let’s say your removal package; 3 - for things you want to draw in a game, but not all the time, or when you try to make the deck more flexible and diverse, or when the mana curve is a consideration; 4 - for your best cards that you always want to draw every time, whether it is an essential combo piece, or just a great all around quality card.  

Flexibility of your cards

In some other card games at tournaments you bring a set of decks instead of just one. And there is preliminary deck ban to utilise before each match. But that game has no concept of sideboard. In that game you “sideboard” by constructing a deck lineup where you can queue up a certain deck to counter one of the opponent’s. The only real downside of that system in my opinion is that it acts as a barrier to entry. However, I think it is a great setup, because even if you don’t know opponent’s decks, you have some prepared aces, and those matches often are played out as Best-of-5.

In Magic your adapt tools are those 15 extra cards. That puts a rather bigger pressure onto maindeck configuration. Although, Magic, due to its vastness and long development throughout the years includes incredible card options when it comes to deckbuilding, especially in Eternal formats. In Magic one can address almost any issue by tuning the deck accordingly. If the metagame shifts towards swarm aggro decks, then you would have a bunch of cards that you previously haven’t thought about, but they were there (answers to Monored decks in current HOU Standard season). Many card games haven’t progressed that far in terms of the available card pool, or have other limitations or try to be flashy and gimmicky to tailor to the audience.
Some card games at times feel like chess, but then, players don’t have many answers available to address a new shift in the meta, or just answer challenges efficiently (e.g. cheap target removal). Over time this becomes less of an issue. This is why I am in favor of frequent new set releases, and against stretching out second set release for too long for a new card game.

We don’t always have great removal or great counterspells in Magic in Standard, but generally designers and developers give us a decent array of tools, at an expense of extra flashiness, in my opinion. Perhaps, the reason for the latter being bad history with some combo decks…Yet, the new Play Design team inside WotC RnD department will help us to see some cool synergies, i.e. things can get tested more from now on, which means there will be less fear to introduce something crazy.  
In the end, in my experience, most current card games have an expected metagame in each format. And addressing each status quo is both a limitation and a beauty.  
Deck choice into card choices

A lot of the time in pretty much any Constructed format you don't just answer opposing decks, you answer what's in them. You study what threats and answers they run and try to figure out how to counter-act with them.
Modern metagame is not always stale, but a lot of decks either fold to same hate, or follow a certain distinct strategy. I mean when you try to meta a deck, a lot of that is down to card choices.

Customization and personalization

I enjoy all kinds of strategies, with linear aggro decks being the least attractive. But I try not to bring decks with ridiculous amount of “play to it” to biggest events. I can easily burn out due to bad sleep, long day in a hot convention center, or just get mentally tired at the end of the day. It is often smart for me personally to take something smooth, like Eldrazi Tron in Modern. UR Storm is technically a solitaire deck, but the winning sequence is not that short. And then with Abzan Vizier Company the actual winning combination is not that complicated, but everything else is, meaning what can you “afford” to play this turn, etc. Not in terms of mana, of course.

Tiredness is only one of the concerns and considerations. Choosing a sideboard configuration that you understand, among public decklists, is another customization for comfortable play.   
And then there are many points about things like utilising breaks between the rounds and other exhaustion precautions. In short, I prefer to walk around slowly, pack in some dark chocolate, lots of water. Just a few check marks I prioritize.

Follow the trends

Here I don’t mean follow suite, or do want most people do. Here I mean that you should be simply following what’s going on. Knowledge is power, and knowledge comes from information. Study decklists, your archtype, their archtypes, their maindecks, their sideboards, their tech cards and variations.

Sideboard card numbers

Lesson here is simple. Count how many cards you can afford to cut, and how many you are likely to bring in. You have to optimize it as an exact plus-minus, and not just jam everything you can use sometimes. To go deeper, especially if you play a combo-ish or a very synergistic deck, you cannot simply side-in too many cards. But there is a positive side. Often you won’t even need as many card as you thought. Sometimes a lot of the cards you thought are necessary or just good, might be completely extra and irrelevant.

Don’t get trapped by misconceptions

You have to have good reasons to think everybody will be playing aggro in the given format. Same for control decks. If you think you can and will next level, it doesn’t mean others cannot do same, or go next next level.

And then, in a local metagame you have certain special but common factors. At local stores people will often play what they have, what isn’t that expensive, or just a simple tier 1 deck. Have one deck for FNMs, another for big events. Those big ones likely will also include premium in-store events with competitive rules. Then, a similar thing but reverse goes for taking that local big store in a capital or metropolitan city will have your stereotypical FNM meta.

All of the above can be also broken down on the micro level of tuning one deck you have for the circumstances mentioned above. It all boils down to just knowing what people play, and what can affect it. For instance, even if your local meta in general is not that competitive or well adjusted to the big picture meta. But then, if there’s a new broken deck published and covered online, and some regular players at your store can afford it, then you will have to be ready for it.

Therefore, watch closely Gran Prix and Pro Tour, but at the same know the realities of the local store. Both for deck and card choices.

Don’t over-complicate things for yourself

I’ve been playing variations of Abzan Pod/ Company in Modern for years. I’ve tried nearly every possible configuration. Yet I do like to keep it simple and not get ahead of myself. That is I try not to fill my main and/or sideboard with cards I don’t fully understand how and when to apply, as well when to bring them in or out.

One more point here is about tournament preparation. Even if, for example, like Storm as an archtype in Legacy and Modern, I tend not to take it to big events that matter, unless I feel like I haven’t tested a whole lot for that particular metagame and I shouldn’t stress myself too much (in such cases something like Abzan/Jund Midrange is usually best thing to use). I can easily get burned out, if I was travelling to a big event and it will be 7+ rounds. Hence, at those times I try to avoid playing a deck that really depends on the correct sequencing within a specific turn.

Plan your curve and the manabase based on it

Port Town is bad in a control deck, unless, for example, it has 3+ colors in it, and card costs are very color hungry. Prairie Stream are much better, when you don’t mind early tapped lands, because, perhaps, you don’t have that many early plays anyway in a control deck, but need all the mana later in the game.

It is much better to splash a third color in Limited and in Constructed, when it is about late game cards, and then, those probably should rather have a single symbol requirement.

In general, simply count the intensity of colored symbols you need for each turn/ stage of the game. E.g. WW on Turn 2, GGWW by Turn 4, etc.

Is it really a problem?

Sometimes, especially in building your sideboard, you might overestimate certain challenges for your deck. What are you really worried about? Is it worth the slot? Is there a bigger problem?

Abzan Company in Modern being a toolbox deck often features all kinds of bullets to answer meta decks or to counter opposing hate (including Plan B wincons and similar against extraction effects or special removal spells or effects). So does Dredge in both Modern and Legacy. And then Standard sometimes gets one or more combo decks too.

Tech cards are often mostly found via thorough playtesting with a gauntlet of  metagame decks, and then you browse real answers for real problems that your deck cannot overcome. And those problems could be not only cards, but, for instance, tempo of the tier1 decks, or density of their answers.

Questions the decklists

If you see some decklist of your archtype at a big event performing well and scoring high, it does not mean it was the right build even that day that tournament. Question, doubt, reflect, reason, deduct.  

Pack answers to the trends

This is especially truth with decks that feature a lot of tutors and/or cantrips. I am not saying that others decks don’t follow trends when they get tuned, but rather that if you can fetch and dig out an answer in your deck with relative ease, then you should really take full advantage of that by including most powerful yet narrow tech cards.

There have to be enough of factors to justify

Colorless lands that destroy other lands are not a huge rarity in Eternal formats in colorless or 1-2 color beatdown, like Hatebears variants, and land-based value midrange decks, like Life from the Loam based decks.  But going deep into this sub-theme in deck construction is not always worth it. Non-beatdown midrange Tron variants in Modern need Crucible of Worlds or Life from the Loam in their sideboards much more than Eldrazi Tron/ Taxes, since those are beatdown decks and they don’t rely on ramping as heavily as the former type of decks.  

Count matchups for special techs

This is straightforward. There have to simply be enough matchups to justify including narrow tech cards.

Evaluate circumstances

Phyrexian Revoker is not the most common card in Abzan Company’s sideboard, but if you run it, it will be likely useful in the mirror matchup. And the point being that cards targeting certain matchups might be very useful outside your expected meta range, and cards everybody likes for certain matchups, might not be that good, and sideboarding based on intuition is a thing, that doesn’t always work however. Sometimes it is pure statistics and analytics, unless you are in the Hall of Fame.

Give yourself a chance to win

Even of the matchup is very unfavorable or just tough, consider some extreme bullets like Magus of the Moon against greedy manabases and big mana decks like Valakut (even with only mana dorks or tutors to get it on board, Vizier Company) or Eidolon of Rhetoric against Storm/Living End/Ad Nauseam in all kinds of creature decks.

Look for high impact: Graveyard hate.

Leylines are a very good example here, as well as Rest in Peace. White Leyline breaks discard and burn, and some combo kills. Black Leyline annoys a bunch of graveyard based decks that rely on that pile. Both are great due to being often free and immune to cards like Abrupt Decay (particularly brutal in Legacy, where Decay is a bigger staple).

However, it is often hard to justify running those free cards without the ability to hard cast them. Also, Relic of Progenitus is often chosen and more favorable, since you are not losing a card this way. But if graveyards is a big asset in your meta, and you need an ultimate answer, or if there are too many combo decks in your local metagame, then opt for bigger guns. Cards like Tormod’s Crypt or Nihil Spellbomb might also fit better a particular deck due to targeting only a single player. As for RiP, well, it is something that kills few decks whilst it’s in play, as simple as that.    

If the deck is good, don’t forget to gun for mirrors

Linvala, Keeper of Silence during Birthing Pod era was a must at least in sideboards. Now it is often still there, but more because it is generally a useful bullet.  Then, there is a dilemma like do you side in Echoing Truth/ Anger of the Gods in UR Storm mirror match? Empty the Warrens tokens are a thing postboard, but is it that important? I don’t think it is. But if in such cases you feel strongly in need of a hoser, then go ahead, of course. But even if the archtype is actually good, it might not show up in numbers at your local events. Play what matters, if it matters.

Low opportunity cost

Relic of Progenitus maindeck in Tron variants is a good example here. It is more essential to “Big” Tron decks, though. Yet, in Eldrazi Tron it is also a fine addition mainboard, since you are not really sacrificing much except space. However, it started to show up maindeck mainly because of Death Shadow decks, and decks like Dredge/Storm/Dredge/Living End.

At my local tournaments those decks don’t seem to show up in significant percentages, so I decided to use two freed slots to shift Wurmcoil Engine and one Basilisk Collar from sideboard to maindeck and to add one more Relic to the sideboard, and one more Warping Wail in the side as well. Hence, 3 Relics and 3 Wails in SB. And Wail proved to be a nice utility in general (including Scapeshift matchup for instance). And then also add one more Collar in SB. The changes should make me more flexible and sometimes get me out of range of Burn/Storm/Valakut/Nauseam. One last change is second Surgical Extraction over second Pithing Needle for “better hoser” reason mostly.       

Just play and test and polish

There are all those myriads of decklists and articles and so on. Yet, the bottom line is to just test and see it for yourself. Trial and error, tune and upgrade.

Ask teammates, friends and accomplished players for opinion or advice

No pro players are always right. Gather as many perspectives and opinions as possible. Good deck understanding comes from practicing and viewing it via a set of prisms, via a big puzzle piece.

Deckbuilder website strategy

Think of an idea, a deck concept, a game plan that your new deck tries to achieve. Then go through websites with set databases or full spoilers, and check for available tools, i.e. cards that will make your deck idea tick. Then throw in few copies of that and that into the deck at the deckbuilder site, where you are crafting your next breakout of the format. Don’t be afraid to go beyond 60 for maindeck and 15 for sideboard. After you look at the range and numbers in your gigantic deck, it is easy to just cut extras and just cards that don’t serve the main purpose of the deck, or just do the job less well than other options, or aren’t too flexible. You can always shift some cool cards into the sideboard, unless you are trying to answer a very specific meta.   

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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