Mis-Identification of role = game loss
You've likely read that somewhere before. It is, after all, the punch line to one of the most celebrated Magic: The Gathering strategy articles of all time.
Who's the Beatdown? clocked in at a paltry 1404 words; below the acceptable submission minimum for most websites nineteen years later. One interpretation is that it got to the point. Ever the Sondheim-esque tinkerer, it's author, would say that, as useful as it was, framework-wise, there is probably a good bit of nuance we can expand on, past those five-and-a-half words.
Mis-Identification of Macro = probable problems
What do I mean by macro?
Patrick Chapin's Next Level Deck-building talks about some sixteen different macro archetypes. Sixteen!
Patrick starts with four basic strategies:
. . . And then subdivides them into four useful chunks each.
- Red Aggro
- Linear Aggro
- Fish/Suicide Black
- True Midrange
- Non-Blue Control
- Big Spell
- Traditional Combo
- Lava Spike
Each macro archetype is quite close to its neighbors philosophically or functionally, often even crossing strategic lines.
Tap-Out Control (my favorite archetype) is full of permission spells . . . Just like Draw-Go. They are differentiated somewhat by when one would be willing to play a threat.
Draw-Go primarily uses permission to defend itself (or buy time); Tap-Out can use its similarly voluminous permission to defend itself, but is just as apt to use it to defend a lead . . . Just like neighbor Aggro-Control!
The Upheaval in Upheaval-Tog (the quintessential Combo-Control deck) is itself a Big Spell; Upheaval-into-Psychatog has more in common with Natural Order-into-Verdant Force than either of them would likely want to admit.
But the most interesting neighbors might be Deck 1 (Red Aggro) and Deck 16 (The Lava Spike Deck), at literal opposite ends of the Next Level Deck-building spectrum. It's worth mentioning that Lava Spike is, for practical purposes, generally indistinguishable from a Storm-Combo deck . . . Yet is most likely to be mis-identified as a Red Aggro one.
Here is a Legacy version of The Lava Spike deck:
Burn -- Legacy | Patrick Sullivan
- Lands (20)
- 20 Mountain
Maybe you are more familiar with the Modern version:
Burn -- Modern | Michael Flores, 8th Place, SCG Regionals 11/4/2017
- Lands (20)
- 3 Mountain
- 2 Sacred Foundry
- 3 Bloodstained Mire
- 4 Inspiring Vantage
- 4 Scalding Tarn
- 4 Wooded Foothills
Obviously these two decks have a lot in common, despite being different formats; despite being different numbers of colors; despite, at least arguably, being forced to face off against wildly different types of opponents with even more wildly different capabilities. They clearly share some core cards: Lightning Bolt most importantly, but also Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and the eponymous Lava Spike. Interestingly, Lava Spike never really hit it big in Standard, so it is kind of odd that it contributes to this day to one of the most enduring Legacy builds.
Rather than work on a strategic breakdown, I'd just ask . . .
Is Wrath of God good against this deck?
I know I may be asking a question skewed by format and casting cost, but go with me on this . . . If you had access to it, would you sideboard in Fumigate?
What about against this deck?
Mono-Red Aggro -- Rivals Standard | Miles Rodriguez
- Creatures (27)
- 3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
- 4 Bomat Courier
- 4 Earthshaker Khenra
- 4 Falkenrath Gorger
- 4 Hazoret the Fervent
- 4 Soul-Scar Mage
- Planeswalkers (2)
- 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- Instants (4)
- 4 Shock
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Incendiary Flow
Red Aggro (formerly "Ramunap" Red) has been one of the most generally popular strategies in Standard since at least the printing of Hour of Devastation in 2017. This build from last August was used by my buddy Miles Rodriguez to great effect in the Syracuse Classic.
Miles's deck was extreme for its time. Note that all his Abrades were in the sideboard! Every single one! Today, Abrade is typically at least a 2-of in Red Aggro decks, and has been played as heavily as four-of throughout. For example, when he won PT Kyoto, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa played his Abrades all in the starting sixty.
Miles played an extremely low curve with twelve offensive 1-drops. He ran only 23 lands despite the flood-insurance of Ramunap Ruins; and perhaps most importantly, every single spell in his main deck could deal damage to a player.
How would you feel about Fumigate against Miles's deck?
Personally, I think it would depend on what deck I were playing . . . But generally? I'd be a fan. No, Fumigate is not the best against Hazoret the Fervent; it's somewhat limited in its ability to establish control of a game given the haste at every curve point, but even without its life gain component, Fumigate clears creatures off the battlefield.
This deck is half creatures!
It's in spots like this that mis-identification of macro can be important.
What about against one of the Lava Spike decks?
On the high end, my Modern deck has half the creatures of a Standard Red Deck. To a degree, this makes a sweeper -- a life gain sweeper or no -- less effective. But! You can probably get a two-for-one (or better). In fact, I may want to play so that you can a get two-for-one on me.
The philosophy of creatures in a Burn deck (versus a Red Aggro deck) is just as more "burn" cards. Almost all the creatures have haste, and those that don't go straight to the face with burn-like abilities. The point is to count to twenty; Lava Spike counts as three . . . The creatures tend to count for 4+.
This is quite different than a Red Aggro (that is, creature) deck . . . Where the point of creatures is to actually be creatures as they behave in, say, non-Red decks.
While Fumigate may be imperfect against a Standard Red Aggro deck, it (and its format-appropriate cousins, Wrath of God or Supreme Verdict) are not the kinds of cards you want against Burn. If anything, a Burn deck wants an opening to resolve all the cards it has been stockpiling, and might be grateful for the opponent tapping 4-5 mana on his main phase.
How about Spell Pierce?
Again, irrespective of format . . . What would you think of Spell Pierce against Miles?
It's kind of awful, right? Yes . . . You will probably hit Chandra, Torch of Defiance if that comes up. But the only other spells in his deck are 1-2 casting cost, and half of them are Shock! Every other spell in the main is a creature (i.e. not a card you can counter with Spell Pierce).
What about against one of the Lava Spike decks?
In a sense, these are the decks Spell Pierce was built for! While you can't stop an Eidolon of the Great Revel with it, the very low land counts of both Burn variations, coupled with their fundamental non-interactive natures, makes Spell Pierce a great tool. Not only is it the kind of card that can cut off the opponent's offense before it's too late, sloppy play with fetches or Fireblast can be doubly dangerous for the soon-to-be victim.
Bespoke human judgment almost never outperforms linear models. Ask any investor who is not Warren Buffett. As a Magic player, you will gain percentage in winning matches and tournaments if you can develop stronger mental models to influence your strategic decisions.
It is common for less prepared players to lose percentage in sideboarded games. They think they are bringing in good cards, but in fact are diluting their core plans for inappropriate or inefficient answers (Fumigate in our above example).
How about a non-Red Deck example?
The first time I played Approach of the Second Sun was actually the weekend after Miles's Classic Top 8. I was playing Roman Fusco's actual Top 8 deck; literally in that he handed it to me, complete with Hour of Revelation in the sideboard, rather than less-literally (but still pretty literally) copying it off the Internet.
Which brings us to the title of this article:
Is Authority of the Consuls Good Against The Scarab God?
Authority is a card I generally side in against God-Pharaoh's Gift. I like how it buys me time, plus counteracts the fundamental initiative of their full machinery.
I got Authority early, and it reinforced everything I already thought about it, in-matchup.
My more informed position nowadays is that we should not generally side Authority of the Consuls against The Scarab God. That creature will generate too much card advantage. Time cards are generally awful against card advantage, unless you can finish the game very quickly . . . Not something you can count on against another Negate deck.
Mis-identification of macro only equals probable problems; those I had (my Hour would blow up my own Authority) . . . Since it doesn't equal game loss, I was able to pull the match out. Largely by getting lucky.
The essence of strategy is putting yourself in a situation where you might not have to get lucky. In my case, I sided out an Approach of the Second Sun; under pressure, I drew back-to-back Approaches to win the game. That's not the kind of lucky you can angle for; and even if you are trying, you probably want to try with all your Approaches in the deck.
This kind of mistake takes time and familiarity with a format to avoid with greatest consistency.
When in doubt, remember this: Try getting more proactive, rather than reactive. You might not necessarily have the optimal build for post-sideboarded games, but you will at least minimize losing specifically to mis-identification of macro.