Hello, readers! Today I’ll be covering something that mostly stems from personal experience, and largely encompasses a deckbuilding philosophy that a lot of us cling to, but never flesh out.
Whenever we build decks, or simply pirate them from a list on TappedOut or MTGSalvation, we look at some of the cards and our immediate reaction is “I [like/dislike] this card specifically.” In theory, these cards have the potential to be complete blowouts, fantastic in your metagame, or absolute flops that lead to dead draws or virtual mulligans. But what’s theory without a little bit of practice?
Before I continue, let me give you something to work with, because I realize it can be quite easy to misconstrue the point I’m trying to make. My Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice deck features the following gems that differ in function:
So in these mockup scenarios, the following key plays happened:
-I topdeck Phyrexian Processor with Trostani on board and slam it, going all-in. In response to making the token, my opponent removes Trostani somehow.
So with that being said, obviously I’ve cast the three example cards in a pretty bad light. However, let’s look at other similar mock scenarios:
-My opponent is playing a similar Trostani list and is at upwards of 200 life. Every player on the table has spent countless amount of resources attempting to remove his, leaving you unfettered with ten 1/1 Human tokens from an Increasing Devotion cast from your graveyard, as well as five utility dorks. You topdeck Nomads’ Assembly, and the turn after draw Craterhoof Behemoth.
-A very complex board state erupts, and your opponents, more fit to deal with it than you, tap out on their turns to solve the puzzle. Your Trostani, made indestructible via Dauntless Escort untaps as you draw Phyrexian Processor. With upwards of 15 mana at your disposal and 80 life, you pay 60 life for it, create a token, and then populate it. Attacking with your Sun Titan returns Dauntless Escort to play, and you’ve gotten yourself to 143 life with two 60/60 tokens.
So obviously there’s a lot of swing and synergy involved to make these cards good, but it takes a certain type of board state to make them specifically bad as well. But when do we decide one outweighs the other and start making cuts?
1) When the card’s value narrows, perhaps due to metagame shifts
Whaddya mean, I don’t get to attack?
In simpler terms, opponents will get smart to the strategies you employ, especially if you tend to be repetitive about it, and will work together to stop you if it’s toxic enough. This can severely hamper the effectiveness of your plan, specifically if you lean on it to win your games. Alternatively, the matchups it functions best in may change as the players you attempt this strategy against begin to favor alternative decks that it functions poorly against. Adaptation obviously goes a long way here, but don’t try to make a certain card or combination of cards work so much that it eschews the other, perhaps more important parts of your deck.
2) The card is good in situations not popular in your metagame
Hexproof? u wot m8?
The absolute perfect example of this is the card Vandalblast. The card is extremely attractive at first glance until you realize it has an incredibly volatile best-case / worst-case scenario. Best-case, Sharuum the Hegemon combo sits across from you and you chortle silently. Worst-case, it’s a Shatter that destroys a Sol Ring. Most times, the card will have 3 or less targets, making it vastly inferior to Return to Dust, but in certain situations, the card will be an absolute workhorse (because let’s face it, Plague Wind + Shatterstorm is awesome even if it has 3 or less targets – that being said, it’s still not as awesome as Return to Dust or even Into the Core)
3) One card usurps the deck’s purpose
Why cast spells when you can cast me instead?
This is an example of an opposite reaction to live testing cards while playing them – one card ends up being so good you want to dedicate your game plan to that card. My former Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius deck was for the longest time a URgoodstuff.dek until I was in a board state where Relic of Progenitus stopped me from abusing my Charmbreaker Devils, then I topdecked Time Warp. There are situations where you don’t realize the sheer value of a card until you playtest it – you sleeve it up thinking “hmm, this card is pretty decent for getting two or three key cards in the deck” until you test it out and have little else to do with it, then ask yourself “why don’t I do more with this?” Common examples of cards that will do this are the aforementioned Charmbreaker Devils, Stonehewer Giant, Reveillark, Deadeye Navigator, Leyline of Anticipation, Mikaeus the Unhallowed, Sheoldred, Whispering One, Utvara Hellkite, Seedborn Muse and Genesis Wave.
4) Your metagame forces you to adapt to it
Leyline of the Void? Well piss on a rake!
This is a rather extreme example in the case of established decks and more of a natural example when building new decks for an established metagame. For the longest time, the CG Realm has been known as the blue meta (it’s since not really been keeping up such a reputation, but admittedly I’ve been playing control a lot more often lately), so a lot of players would dedicate cards in their decks to fighting this – Grand Abolisher, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Price of Glory, Choke and Vexing Shusher. Sometimes, you want to build a deck from the outside in (the best example of such a deckbuilding process is the innocuous Gaddock Teeg). Save some of the deckbuilding room to fight that one guy you’ve had trouble beating in the past. (Spot removal is the best way to go about this without being too narrow – disruption has its name for a reason, after all)
5) The strategy got stale
Totally not going infinite here. Nope. Never!
Sometimes, let’s face it – we get bored of the strategies we play. We ready the deck, it does the same thing over and over (this is mostly caused by a strong dependence on a select few card(s) to get going), and its lack of variance turns us off from playing the deck. It’s happened to me multiple times (it’s why Niv-Mizzet is now a Melek deck), and it happens to everyone – we go in thinking we’ll enjoy the lines of play that the deck entails, play them out, again and again, and they grow dull. (A good example of this is any self-sufficient combo deck that involves the general, such as Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind.) Blanking a good 70 or so cards because you all-in your combo can get very dull very fast for some.
So I hope I’ve given you insight on the process of playing your deck. If you want to craft the best deck possible for the metagame you’re in, you need to be constantly evaluating cards and adapting to what your metagame calls for. To do that, sometimes you need to drop the less effective cards from your deck, and while evaluating those cards to remove can be difficult sometimes, if you’re going to take anything away from this article, let it be this – the wilder the best-case/worst-case scenario, the less you have to attach yourself to the card and the more you have to realize that the card probably isn’t as good as you evaluate it to be.
That’s all for this week. Until next week!
Check out my previous articles here:
Adapting to EDH Metagames:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1177
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1252
Part 3 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1317
Part 4 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1370
Part 5 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1454
Building on a Budget:
Dragon’s Maze Prerelease Weekend:
Hits & Misses of Dragon’s Maze:
Top Ten Most Hated Generals: