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75% Doesn't Mean Terrible


I have a terrible deck. It’s a creation of mine, so the blame falls squarely on my shoulders, and as much as I accept that, I wish that weren’t the case. The deck is in my favorite two-color combination, plays my favorite Commander card overall, and contains cards that say the word double, which is like catnip to a Commander player. I can’t for the life of me figure out why it’s not good. You know another thing I can’t do? Bring myself to improve it. Let’s talk about why that’s ridiculous.

Vorel of the Hull Clade
Anyone who follows me on Twitter or who has played against me at a Grand Prix probably knows the deck to which I’m referring. I play it a lot more than I play some of my other (better) decks even though it has the lowest win rate of all of my decks—well below the 1 ÷ X threshold I set for the deck. In short, it’s not exactly getting there. And it’s not just that it’s “not winning”—it’s “not fulfilling the basic requirements for a deck to be considered 75%.”

I shrugged off the losses because I genuinely liked the deck—maybe a little too much. I would lose and then say things like, “Well, I don’t mind because I like this deck,” or, “I don’t know why I can’t win with this thing!” or, worst of all, “Eh, it’s a 75% deck, so it’s not going to win ’em all.” That’s loser talk, and coming from the guy who is all about 75%, it’s a pretty bad example to be setting. Why? Because here’s the deal: 75% doesn’t mean terrible. You shouldn’t win way fewer than 1 ÷ X games (for those who need a refresher, it means you win 1 game out of every X games, where X is the number of players in the game. Four-way free-for-all? You should have roughly a 25% win rate that night) and then call it a 75% deck. You’re just an ineffective deck at that point. Remember that we should be able to beat tuned decks if we play tight and get a little lucky, and that 1 ÷ X win rate should be constant, irrespective of the power level of our opponents’ decks. So why was I letting my deck be terrible?

I have a soft spot for the deck—I’ll admit it—but that is no excuse for it underperforming. Haven’t guessed the one I mean yet? Here’s the one I mean:

Jason Alt?s Not-So-75% Vorel of the Hull Clade Pile ? Commander | Jason Alt

  • Commander (0)

And this is the after deck from the article after I tuned it once. I keep smashing big Hydras into chump-blockers, being pantsed by Control Magic, and watching a 96/96 trample Hydra bite it to a Path to Exile while I look at all the green cards in my hand and say, “Yeah, that’s pretty good.” The deck doesn’t have to be bad, and since it still is, it’s because I am actively allowing it to be bad. I have tuned up other decks—some I tuned so much they’re no longer 75%, which I’m totally cool with.

Vivid Grove
When a deck no longer is fun to play, I have a few options. I can take it apart, I can make it not 75% anymore, or I can sell it. I’ve sold quite a few decks because, as a financier, I can’t turn off the part of myself that’s inclined to do that. Still, I’m trying to get more decks together, not fewer, so instead of taking decks apart or selling them, I find it’s fun to tune them out of the 75% range, which means I can play them less often but that I can use them against people who are asking for it and not feel bad. You should have a few decks tuned above 75% for this purpose. I’m not a robot; I like to smash things, too, but only when my opponent deserves it.

I don’t have a ton of experience tuning a deck into the 75% range after playing with it a few times and finding it to be deficient, but it’s not as though I haven’t tuned a deck ever. So why was I allowing myself to play a deck that I knew felt clunky and that struggled? Why wasn’t I willing to tune it up and see if I couldn’t make it both a pet deck and a fun-to-play-because-I-don’t-lose-every-game deck? Why was I playing Vivid lands in a two-colored deck? Maybe if I keep putting counters back on them with Vorel they will be . . . still worse than Simic Guildgate in a two-colored deck. I let how much I like the idea of the deck make me complacent in tuning it up, and that’s not good. Let’s reiterate the title of the article: 75% doesn’t mean terrible.

Is the deck terrible? Eh. No, it’s not, but it’s not playing the way I want to play it, and that feels terrible. Tuning a deck may feel a bit like admitting you failed, but I don’t think that’s why there was inertia for me in tuning the deck. I think I just accepted the power level of the deck as a consequence of building it 75%. Another issue is that I sort of moved on to building another deck from scratch rather than tuning an old deck, and that left the deck essentially unfinished since I never brought it to where I wanted it. I’ve built a lot of decks since this one, and I haven’t gone back and tuned very many of them even though I come across cards in collections that would be perfect for them—but that I instead end up selling. No more. Tuning a deck isn’t failure, and being 75% isn’t an excuse for not being the deck you want it to be. If I tune it and it’s too consistent to be in the 75% range, then I’ll just make it the best deck it can be and make another 75% deck to replace it. If it ends up winning as much as it’s supposed to, I’ve done what is essentially my job as 75% cheerleader. Neither of those outcomes is so frightening that should I leave the deck the way it is.

If I’m tuning the deck some more, here’s what I’m probably ending up with:

"Third Time?s the Charm" Vorel of the Hull Clade ? Commander | Jason Alt

  • Commander (0)

It was at the cost of some of the “cute” and “fun” stuff I was doing, but I added some more win conditions and ways to execute my strategy to heap counters on my perms. The deck needed a second look, so I did some more research and tightened up the mana base (Saprazzan Skerry is the land you want with Vorel, not Vivid Creek, and I blame the Tony Stark Method I used to assemble the deck in the first place) and cut unnecessary creatures. The result? It’s a better deck to be sure. If it’s not, I’m going to keep on keeping on until it’s where I want it. Building new decks doesn’t mean I let a deck fall by the wayside, and it certainly shouldn’t mean I keep playing a deck that doesn’t win just because I like green and blue decks. This exercise was a nice gut check for me, and maybe it will serve as an impetus for some of the rest of you to tune up some of your 75% decks. If the worst-case scenario is that you wind up with a deck that you can use to smash someone who’s asking to be smashed, I’d say there’s no reason not to do it. Get out there and tinker a bit.

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