As a Senior Financial Analyst my time is split between Magic and money. There are busy times in my work cycle which prevent me from going full-on Magic mode. You might think this is a bad thing, but it gives me time to reflect on what matters. Both in Magic and life.
I'm always torn between Magic being a break from work and competitive outlet. As I'm writing this article Grand Prix Columbus is a mere three hours away. This got me thinking about how to play Magic smarter and not harder. I'm not alone with these tensions given the average age of competitive Magic players is increasing.
As Magic players, we have a tendency to overthink things. I'm always looking for ways to think less in tournaments because brain processing is a scarce resource over ten hours. Showing up to work on Monday after a grindy weekend isn't fun.
Let's get to it!
Deck Selection Shortcuts
Play a Simple Deck
This pertains to Modern in particular. At this point, there are dozens of powerful archetypes to play. Going back to brain capacity being a scarce resource I don't want to work harder for my wins than I have to. I played Burn at the last Pro Tour because sixteen rounds is a lot and every opponent will give me a run for my money. Unless you love playing complicated decks like Storm, I would pick something else. Modern is chaos; you aren't leveling the competition by playing a stock deck with known weaknesses just because it's hard to pilot.
Play a Deck You Enjoy
Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Pauper are packed to the brim with playable archetypes. There's something for everyone. WOTC has done a great job recently with keeping things relatively fresh and balanced. This means it's not necessary to go outside of your comfort zone for any other reason than to expand your horizons. I will sometimes play a deck at a local event for science and nothing more.
I will use RIW Hobbies teammate, Max McVety, as an example. He is a Red mage. When I discussed Standard with him, the question wasn't what deck to play, but rather what aggro deck to play. He recently Top 8ed a Grand Prix with Hollow One, which is very much in his wheelhouse. Before that he played Affinity. I wouldn't call him a savant with game decisions, but his greatest skill is playing to his strengths. He isn't overly confident in his expectations either. Magic tournaments are a collection of people who are used to being the smartest person in the room so it's refreshing to see hubris successfully cast aside.
I need some level of a nut draw in this age of Magic. Pure interaction decks have some atrocious matchups and typically 50/50 when their removal actually has valid targets. A 60% matchup is an embarrassing ceiling when your floor is about 10%. The games take a long time, too. Draws are horrible as attendance increases and round numbers remain constant at SCG Opens and Grand Prixs.
Odds and Evens is Greater than High Roll
Players have been picking up odds/evens which makes me happy. It's better than high roll because there are no ties. It's one or the other; no fancy stuff.
Imagine you're opponent pulls out a giant six-sided die and essentially drops it on the table barely rolling. It lands on a six and they choose to play first. That would rub me the wrong way, but I have no recourse. They would say I was calling it out because it doesn't favor me. You can't call the judge and have them re-roll otherwise that would be chaos. It's a gray area I can avoid altogether.
I prefer to initiate odds/evens and ask my opponent to call it while the die is in my hand. It's nice I can use a spin-down twenty-sided die despite the numbers being in order unlike with high roll. This is because players are weary about rolling it sideways to have it land between sixteen and twenty a large percentage of the time. I don't think I could do that consistently, but it's more about optics.
You can also roll any number of six-sided dice and have an equal chance of the result being odd or even. There are some strange combinations of dice that will make it unfair, but just stick with something conventional and you will be fine.
It would be preferable if the DCI pairing software would randomly assign one player the option to go first so we don't have to waste time at the start of every round.
Hold Revealed Cards Upside-Down in Hand
If my opponent Thoughtseizes me, I will hold my entire hand upside down afterward. This is because they wrote it down and will be playing around those cards. I want to play those upside-down lands first to conceal information about my next draw steps. Why waste brainpower thinking about what lands they saw or what art or language and illustration if your cards don't match? An instant or sorcery I revealed with Delver of Secrets will also be drawn upside-down, too.
Brainstorm adds a slight complication. If I have a revealed card in hand I will flip it over and then cast Brainstorm. This is because I theoretically can shuffle my deck and then it's a guessing game on my opponent's side what's left in hand.
This is a way to effortlessly track what my opponent knows. Not only do I not have to think about doing this, but my opponent will likely not even see what I'm up to.
Use Dark Monochromatic Sleeves
For some reason most sleeves with illustrations peel shortly after I buy them. You would think they are cheaper because of this drawback, but that's not the case. I find them more difficult to shuffle, too. They are just worse. The technology is reminiscent of a grocery store birthday cake with an illustration. Dragon Shield seems to have improved the process and I hope others follow suit. Team Genesis has some sweet sleeves from them.
Even if the graphic sleeves don't fall apart within one event, I would still avoid them. This goes back to my strategy to single out revealed cards in my hand. The opponent is more likely to see what I'm doing if a sleeve looks different from the other side.
I use dark sleeves all of the time because you never know when your deck calls for a flip card. Checklist cards look tacky so I don't want to play them if I can avoid it. It would be nice to avoid a game loss because I can see the top card of my deck through the sleeves.
There have also been times where I proxied on a trash common only to find it playable years later. If I use a light sleeve color I can see the writing on the back of the card rendering it unplayable. The sleeve prices are the same if you can see through them or not so it's pure upside to get black and dark blue.
Don't Sleeve Your Tokens
The most avoidable game loss at a serious event is not shuffling your tokens into your deck. Since you can't see the backs of your cards with dark sleeves, it will be harder to notice. Might as well not sleeve them in the first place to make it very apparent what should be presented each game.
I don't own a Boogie Board myself, but I'm interested. Remove the worry of pen and paper. There's enough room to track life totals and revealed cards from my opponent. A lot of the life pads handed out at events don't give you ample space to write down notes on the front side. I like to jot down key tricks to play around in limited matches. If you play Standard, it's now a rule to write down energy like life totals; that's a lot of paper for a single match.
Play Less Win More
I found myself in a Magic rut the last few months. When I play too much I'm focusing all of my time on little details. This means I bypass the big picture in my games. Magic is a fun game, but playing it all of the time can be tedious.
As I was focused on work the last couple of weeks, my familiarity with the key elements of matchups was less pronounced. The game felt newer to me and I was happier just to be playing instead of just focusing on the goal of winning.
I'm not much of a Magic Online player; but, if I was, this issue would be even more apparent. It doesn't feel sustainable to play so much so often. Even World Champion, William Jensen, said in his winner's interview he was taking a step back and playing less events leading up to his victory. Less is more.
Early Dominaria Thoughts
Dominaria has been a hit in Standard so far. The once dominant Grixis Energy deck is still a viable option, but I see plenty of other viable contenders. Looking through Magic Online Standard League 5-0 decklists and results from the SCG in Atlanta I'm excited to play. Since Modern has overtaken most competitive Magic, I haven't had many opportunities to play Standard and that's a shame.
As expected Karn, Scion of Urza is showing up in many different archetypes. The artifact creature token gives a boost to Unlicensed Disintegration and Toolcraft Exemplar. Karn, Silver Golem was printed twenty years ago in Urza's Saga, which means he's old enough to have a driver's license, and Heart of Kiran is a great starter car.
Here's a 5-0 list piloted by EVANGE_
Mardu Vehicles -- Dominaria Standard | EVANGE_
- Creatures (20)
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 2 Pia Nalaar
- 2 Rekindling Phoenix
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Karn, Scion of Urza
- Enchantments (2)
- 2 Cast Out
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Heart of Kiran
- Lands (25)
- 1 Plains
- 1 Swamp
- 3 Mountain
- 4 Canyon Slough
- 4 Clifftop Retreat
- 4 Concealed Courtyard
- 4 Inspiring Vantage
- 4 Spire of Industry
Cast Down is a great removal spell because it kills small creatures, but the heavy hitters require their own answers. Baneslayer Angel was very hit-or-miss in Standard because half of the time she was answered for two mana or bounced by Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Many of the answers to the big legends have a comparable mana cost, like Vraska's Contempt and Cast Out. Note that Cast Down misses Heart of Kiran because it's:
Dominaria changes the way planeswalkers take damage. Unlicensed Disintegration deals damage to the creature's controller which means it doesn't have the option to redirect to planeswalkers. The same goes for Chandra, Torch of Defiance; her +1 deals two damage to each opponent. While that wording is great in Two-Headed Giant, she has been nerfed in Standard. Damage must specifically say it targets in order to hit a planeswalker.
Approach is also a strong option in the beginning weeks of the format. Zan Syed has been innovating and managed a 5-0 with this list:
U/W Approach -- Dominaria Standard | Zan Syed
- Instants (14)
- 1 Hieroglyphic Illumination
- 1 Supreme Will
- 2 Essence Scatter
- 2 Glimmer of Genius
- 4 Disallow
- 4 Settle the Wreckage
- Artifacts (3)
- 3 Treasure Map
- Lands (26)
- 3 Island
- 7 Plains
- 2 Memorial to Genius
- 2 Scavenger Grounds
- 4 Glacial Fortress
- 4 Ipnu Rivulet
- 4 Irrigated Farmland
It's nice WOTC made a Challenger deck for both Mardu Vehicles and Approach, if you don't already have the cards.
Karn also looks great in Approach because beginning with five loyalty is serious business. The reverse-Opt +1 ability is great here as drawing lands or spells is desired. Once I cast Approach of the Second Sun, digging two cards deeper to draw it again is neat synergy.
Lyra Dawnbringer is a worse Baneslayer Angel in most cases, but still strong enough nine years later. Like Karn, she can be played as a haymaker in control or the top of the curve in aggro and midrange.
History of Benalia is like Kitchen Finks because two 2/2s with vigilance can be used on offense or defense. I've seen it used as part of Approach's transformational creature sideboard plan over Regal Caracal.
The best part of the newest iteration of decks is the lose-lose situation when playing around both Settle the Wreckage and Seal Away. It's conventional wisdom to attack with your best creature to draw out Settle the Wreckage only to be time walked by Seal Away. The classic Cryptic Command/Mistbind Clique conundrum. Playing around one blows you out by the other.
Control had a fantastic showing at SCG Atlanta. Rudy Briksza took down the Team Open and Brennan DeCandio had an updated version he used to Top 8 the SCG Classic. Since Brennan was already aware of what Rudy was playing and made changes I would say this is the current deck to beat:
U/W Control -- Dominaria Standard | Brennan DeCandio
- Creatures (3)
- 3 Torrential Gearhulk
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Instants (17)
- 1 Blink of an Eye
- 2 Negate
- 3 Essence Scatter
- 3 Settle the Wreckage
- 4 Disallow
- 4 Hieroglyphic Illumination
- Sorceries (3)
- 3 Fumigate
The only change I would make is to add a single Commit // Memory to the main in place of a Cast Out so I can shuffle my graveyard into my library against Ipnu Rivulet. I'm locking in Teferi in Team Unified Standard for the next RPTQ.
Standard is in a great place right now. Regardless of strategy preference there's something out there for you.
That's all I have this week. There are many ways to reduce brain power over the course of a day. Keep it simple. Use these tricks in the new Standard format; I'm excited to play.
Thanks for reading,