In the introduction to his Bodhisattva-caryāvatāra (Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life), Shantideva writes:
‘I can say nothing here that has not already been said before,
And I possess no skill in prosody. Hence, I would not even imagine that this might benefit others; I wrote it only to cultivate (bodhicitta [awakening]) within my own mind. (…) Still, if by chance others equal in fortune to myself view these, some benefit might ensue.’
I’m using this quote to illustrate that I’m writing this as much for myself as for anyone else and as a preemptive apology for those that might find this article useless or meandering, but who might still benefit from some of Shantideva’s wisdom.
Ever since I began playing Magic regularly again, my results have been either thoroughly mediocre or simply bad. By ‘mediocre’ I mean a record of 1-2 and ‘bad’ I mean a record of 0-3. This Friday marked my first 2-1 record in a Standard FNM, which most of you would probably consider average or just OK. Maybe it is. It was pretty exciting for me, as much as such a thing can be. The feeling of victory rang a bit hollow, though, as the deck I played (R/G Monsters) so completely bored me. As I alluded to above, I have nothing enlightening or useful to say about the deck other than that the more I play it, the more I grow sick of it. And my mediocre record with it in general comprises only a small part of what I don’t like about this deck.
Here’s the list
My major complaint about the deck is its linearity and resultant redundancy. Given that you are keeping proper hands with it, a pattern of play emerges quickly. To wit: mana guy, mana guy, Regent/mana guy, BIG THREAT. This pattern repeats with such unwavering vigor that soon each game begins to feel the same, regardless of the matchup, regardless of the opponent. To be clear, I am not saying that R/G is a deck that requires no skill. Nor am I saying that it’s bad or that you shouldn’t play it. I just don’t think it’s the kind of deck I like to play, which, as a player who does not have a ton of experience with serious constructed, is an important thing to know. I’m beginning to suspect I’m not much of the beatdown type. Consequently, it wouldn’t surprise me if, in the coming weeks or months, I was slinging some countermagic and true removal.
Onto the matches!
Opponent: Daniel Stein
Deck: Ojutai Spells
Match Overview: Game one ended quickly, unfortunately, due to mana screw so severe that I was unable to put my opponent on any deck for sideboarding purposes. It always feels a little dirty to win this way, but it’s part of what makes Magic a game of variance and not simply checkers with pictures.
Game two contained at its center one of the most ridiculous board states of which I’ve ever been a part. This included a Dragonlord Atarka on which Mirror Mockery had been cast, effectively giving it Defender, as a I wasn’t about to wrath my board by giving my opponent an Atarka. There was also an Illusory Gains in play. At one point it was necessary to call a judge over in order to see if I could play Atarka, kill the creature to which Illusory Gains was attached (a Courser of Kruphix), thereby destroying Illusory Gains and keeping Atarka (FYI I couldn’t). I ended up winning by playing two good creatures in one turn and attacking for a lot after fighting through two Ojutai’s Commands that had both been given Rebound by my opponent’s Narset Transcendent. That’s sixteen life and a bunch of recursion. So I was able to power through that one onto…
Opponent: Josh Early
Deck: 5C Good Stuff Whip
Match Overview: Game one I lost pretty quickly to turn a three Siege Rhino followed by Torrent Elemental followed by Dragonlord Atarka. I got outpaced and none of my maindeck removal was effective. Also Torrent Elemental eliminates the option of chump-blocking. The only big thing I got to play was maybe one Polukranos, which I believe was immediately Hero’s Downfalled.
Game two I won with the help of Hornet Queen and her babies and a suspect keep on my opponent’s part (no offense to Josh — I am by no means immune to the allure of the one-lander).
Game three I won partly due to some pretty lucky topdecks. My opponent cast two separate Siege Rhinos in this game and both times I immediately topdecked a Roast (of which I had boarded in three) when I had very little on the board which could deal with a Rhino. I then won by attacking with one of the big things in the deck. It’s kind of irrelevant which one it was.
(Josh’s Caveat: This was, in fact, a match against a Whip deck in which the actual card Whip of Erebos failed to make an appearance. So game three was kind of a double lucksack. But my luck ran out in round three pretty hard, so I don’t feel too guilty.)
Opponent: Parker Hopkins
Deck: Naya Dragons
Match Overview: Both games played out pretty much the same. I got destroyed by what I think is just a better version of the deck I was playing. In place of the burn spells he had See the Unwritten and white for Dragonlord Dromoka, both of which contributed to my quick demise in this round. In both games, there was a fatal See the Unwritten with Ferocious from Whisperwood Elemental revealing Dragonlord Dromoka and Dragonlord Atarka. My opponent was essentially putting into play creatures equivalent to or better than the ones I had access to at a much higher rate than I could keep up with. Both games were quick and fairly brutal, though it is always fun to see so many dragons flying around, even if they are on the other side of the table.
In order to become better at anything, whether it’s Magic, art, an instrument, it is important, every so often, to think about what your goals are, what you can do to achieve them and what you are doing to achieve them. If all of these things are in alignment, then you should be on a track to improvement, at least in the way in which you want to improve. If you want to learn to play guitar like Andres Segovia, then practicing a bunch of Blink 182 songs isn’t gonna get you there. If you want to play Blink 182 songs and have a bunch of fun, Segovia’s gonna get in your way. If you want to become a better deckbuilder and craft sweet brews, then quit netdecking and start brewing. Brew as much as possible. Write them down in a notebook. Do it in multiple formats. If you want to become the best control player possible, maybe don’t spend all of your time trying to make Living Lore-Clone Legion a thing and concentrate on mastering your matchups. This may be tired advice, but if you identify what you want and pursue it using the correct means, you can never go too far off.
Check It Out
Finally, since I forgot to do a deck tech, I’m going to include links to a very fine article and a very fine video from Mr. Mike Flores and Patrick Chapin, respectively and also some musical suggestions which will automatically improve your game.
An article by Mike Flores (an old school pro) from ’99 that is still very relevant. Don’t get too caught up in worrying about the what the old cards do if you’ve never seen them. It’s more important to grasp the concept. Shout out to Logan Powell for recommending the article.
A video of Patrick Chapin speaking on deckbuilding. Again, for those of you who don’t know the cards, though these are relatively new compared to the Flores article, don’t get stuck on them. The big picture is the takeaway. I’ve watched this video twice so far. I find Patrick to be a thoroughly engaging speaker and a unique creative and analytical mind in the Magic world.
Lilac Queen(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSml2KS32SA) — Pale Horses — mewithoutYou
Human Nature(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ml8KDumTO0) — Debut — Bjork (for Josh)
Putty Boy Strut(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuQGfk9Gmgo) — Until the Quiet Comes — Flying Lotus
Enjoy the food for thought and yer ears and stay sweet.