вторник, 16 января 2018 г.

Power and Consistency. Rivals of Ixalan Limited.



(Valentin Soloviev, Team BoatBrew, One Pro Tour. Several money Grand Prix finishes.
Born in St.-Pertersburg, grew up and lives in Finland)

This was the first Prerelease I played after returning to MtG after a break and I noticed one interesting thing, and it intrigued me so much that I just wanted to put my thoughts on paper. More experienced players tend to do this on instinct, while it's one of the bigger things that beginners struggle with. In fact it might be said that doing this on an instinctual level is one of the hallmarks of graduating from "beginner" status as a limited player.


So what is that mystical "this" that I am talking about? It's a decision of when to sacrifice power for consistency and vice versa. When I build limited decks and discuss strategies, it kinda comes off naturally. When you have played for a few years it becomes easy to see "this pool is bad, so my only option is to splash additional colour for more power" or "I have colour fixing and I have bombs, but if I cut the third colour, the deck will be much smoother". This applies more to sealed than to draft, but similar considerations will apply in draft as well (although not as noticeably). Yet, I have rarely seen this topic covered.


When I was playing on last Prerelease and discussing the decks after the round (also helping them improve theirs), I was quite often surprised and frustrated. The frustration was caused that after 2-0 all people I played against had much better pools than me. The surprise on the other hand was due to apparent greed of their decks.

Now, of course there is always the issue that evaluating cards in Limited is a tricky process and there are always sleeper hits and there are some cards that seem good but are actually bad, so I am not going to talk about that. What I want to talk about is that after you have evaluated your pool, you will have a few ways to build your deck. No matter the format or the deck, you will always have the choice: consistency vs. power. Sometimes this choice is as simple as "9th removal spell instead of a creature" or "running 16 lands over 17". Other times it might be "splashing additional colour" or even "playing another combination of colours altogether".

The choice is always there, and it is an important thing to realize it's existence and ramifications. For example - in the last Prerelease I played against a friend who opened a red-white-green elder dinosaur in their pool and enough mana fixing to reliably play a 3 coloured deck (had other good cards as well). The obvious instinct of "play all the bombs you can get your hands on" kicked in, and he built a good 3 colour dino-deck. Good pool - good deck, we have a happy ending, right? Wrong... Well okay, it might not be wrong in all formats. But in this particular case it was wrong. The reason is that when you splash a colour, you are automatically making your deck slower. Even most "free" splashes actually mean you have that one extra off-colour land or need to spend 2 mana for a colour you now need. While this does not necessarily make your deck less consistent in casting your cards, it does make your deck slower in doing so.

This is where the devil lies - if you have strong bombs and good deck, the only way for you to lose is either getting aggroed, or if your opponent has better bombs. And since you have a good pool, you can assume that getting out-aggroed out is more likely to happen than being out-bombed.

Let's return to the example with 3 bombs. My friend had enough fixing and good deck, but the issue was that to get all 3 colours he had to be playing all that fixing, so he wasn't playing threats. It also meant that his early game suffered, as he couldn't be as sure to get correct colour on turn 2. After tinkering with the deck, it turned out that the only reason to play 3rd colour was to play one bomb and one removal... While I would be glad to do that with my pool of mediocre creatures (if I had fixing that is...), he did not have shortage of decent early game, removal and bombs. After he cut the 3rd colour, suddenly he had 5 decent 2-drops that he could play reliably on turn 2. Not only did it allow his deck to defend better (not that you want to do so in Rivals Sealed), it also allowed him to put more pressure in the early game. This helped to mitigate both potential weaknesses of his deck.

The opposite case happens much more often and is much less fun. When you simply don't open a good pool, there are only 2 things you can do - either try building super-aggressive deck to go under the decks with bombs or splash multiple colours and hope to not get mana-screwed. If you get mediocre pool, it is kinda pointless trying to build a consistent deck. Consistent deck with mediocre pool will lose most of the time against consistent decks from good pools. The only way to win in that case is to take the risk and play all the good stuff you can scrap together in an inconsistent deck.

In the end, the idea I was trying to preach with all this rant is following: "If your deck is weak, then you will have better odds of winning if you sacrifice some consistency for more power. Conversely - if you have a powerful deck, then make sure it is as consistent as possible and consider sacrificing power if that makes your deck deal better with things that might kill you."
I will finish this up with a famous quote - “Know your enemy and know yourself and you will always be victorious”. Or if translated into Magicese - “Know how strong your deck is and take your risks appropriately”.

P.S. Magic is a game of chance, so the the meanings of the word “always” is constant as many would like it to be.

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