Owen’s a Win – How I Went from 0wen-2 to X and 0wen

Tournament success depends on many factors, but picking the right deck and having the right attitude are pretty high up on the list. Today I’d like to share the process I use for picking decks, tested by trial and error, and some reflections on how my attitude has changed (a little more on the error side here).

First is figuring out how to pick the right deck. Magic players spend a lot of their time reading articles, watching MTGO replays, talking to their friends about decks, and brewing in general, though it seems little is said about the actual deck-picking process. It feels like every single weekend there is another tournament so I’m often asked what I would play if I were to go (and I’ll have to make that decision myself for SCG LA soon). I usually give the same answer: “play whatever deck you know best”, because not only do I believe it’s true, I always have and I probably always will.

Don’t Audible

If I played Counterbalance in the last 10 tournaments and for the 11th tournament Goblins is a better choice I should still probably play Counterbalance, because over the course of the tournament the edges I gain playing a deck that’s better against the expected field aren’t as large as the edges I’m giving up playing a deck I’ve never played before. If you happen to just break the format and have a deck that is that is so good it basically breaks the rules of Magic and does something broken and consistent, then yeah, just play that, but it’s rare and I don’t think I’ve seen it yet. You hear this advice from many people, and that is because it is just the truth. Just think about it; even the best players don’t want to switch at the last minute, regardless of what they hear the night before at the Pro Tour.

Have a Nut Draw

Doing something awesome is underrated. By that, I mean if you have a choice between two decks, assuming all things are equal, picking the deck that does something more powerful is usually the right choice. I’ve played Vintage for a long time and it’s more true there than anywhere. When I started out I used to play UW fish in every Vintage event to very mediocre success and I did this because I liked the deck and I assumed it would be too hard to get the expensive cards to play a real deck. Eventually as I made friends and was able to borrow cards I quickly realized how wrong I was. It may sound stupid but you drastically increase your odds of winning when you put Tinker and Yawgmoth’s Will into your deck. Free wins are not to be underrated.

I always knew this but I was never able to really understand it until Mike Jacob put it in one of his articles, basically saying you should always try to play a deck with a nut draw. Some decks have a very specific nut draw, like Faeries, which aims to have t1 Thoughtseize t2 Bitterblossom t3 Spellstutter Sprite t4 Mistbind Clique/Cryptic Command, while other decks just aim to consistently do something very powerful if undisrupted, such as a turn 4 Primeval Titan. Normal aggressive decks don’t usually have a nut draw outside something simple like t1 Goblin Guide or Steppe Lynx but they just look to end the game as soon as possible because most other decks will have a stronger late game than them. Having an unbeatable (or nearly unbeatable) draw, like that Faeries hand, just means sometimes you will draw that hand and just win the game. Some decks, no matter how well you draw, just don’t have that capability, and it is definitely a downside to playing them.

Again, there are exceptions to this and a solid example is Kuldotha Red. This deck is built with its nut draw in mind and every card in the deck is in there for just that reason. In fact, it sacrifices too much in search of having an unbeatable opening hand. I read one of those stupid data mining articles and it basically showed all the decks from PT Paris and how they performed against each other on average and it said Kuldotha Red overall had a 40% win % against all decks. If you take away anything from this article it should be to never play Kuldotha Red under any circumstances (the same goes for any deck with Tempered Steel). I beg you just play anything else.

Aggro is Awesome in New Formats

In an undefined metagame it’s usually best to play something aggressive. In this new day and age of a 5k every weekend and Magic Online this doesn’t happen all that often, but it is the case for some Pro Tours. It’s just significantly harder to build a control deck when you don’t know what threats you need to be fighting, as opposed to a known format where you know if your 5-color control deck should play Day of Judgement or Consume the Meek or even something as simple as Go for the Throat or Doom Blade. On top of that, in an unknown metagame it’s pretty safe to assume that the newer strategies you play against will not be optimally constructed and playing a straightforward aggressive deck can do a lot of good things, like punish their bad draws and put the pressure on them to show an answer or die.

To elaborate, this year at States I played mono red and I think it was a good choice, but before the event I was asked multiple times why I would play a deck like mono red if I thought I had a skill edge against the field. I said then what I’m saying now; there is an unquantifiable advantage in playing an aggressive deck. You are the one applying the pressure and putting the onus on them to react. Simply put if they keep a bad hand or make a mistake (which isn’t surprising at a tournament like States) it makes it much easier for you to win. I would hope that it’s also common knowledge by now that with a mono red or zoo type deck you can play it suboptimally and win but when one of these fast aggressive decks is played poorly versus played well it’s night and day as to the power level of the deck.

Be Organized in Acquiring Cards

I’ll speak briefly on this next subject as it can be wildly different for all people and playgroups but card availability is an issue for some. Basically if you want to maximize your chances of winning the tournament don’t let it be an issue. People aren’t going to look down on you for asking to borrow cards and if you want to win and think a deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor is best, then ask everyone you know if they will let you borrow them. ALWAYS return them as soon as you are finished with them and always be sure to thank them, and at the same time be willing to lend out any cards you yourself own to anyone who you trust that needs cards. There is nothing worse than ‘that guy’ who needs to borrow an entire deck for every tournament while also never lending out his own cards. Worst come to worst, sometimes you should just buy the cards you need. Listen to my friend Kyle Boggemes and just buy Jaces if you think you need them to win. Hell, just buy 8 so you have 4 extra just in case.

Play a Deck You Will Have Fun Playing

Next, I believe there is quite a bit of value in just playing a deck you enjoy. If you HATE HATE HATE playing Valakut, no matter how good it is, you shouldn’t play it because during the (nowadays very long) tournament you are going to be miserable. This all comes down to some very simple concepts, like “confidence” and “playing well” and “not wanting to drop and do literally anything else” and believe me, it all ties together. If you play a deck you like and want to win you will be that much more emotionally invested in all your matches and will just generally try harder and look for more obscure ways to win, as opposed to some people who when they don’t want to win or don’t think they have anything to prove are more apt to giving up.

How I Went from 0wen-2 to X and 0wen

I have only recently seen myself vow to take tournaments more seriously and try to improve my game and that is a product of many things. First was being unsatisfied with my own results and testing process (as many players are). Next was playing with players who are even more dedicated to this game than I was/am. Lastly, and probably most importantly of all I have a hunger and will to win more than I have ever had before. I’ve seen this happen countless times to countless players and I know this because I lived it myself. When reality hit and I started doing worse at tournaments as time went on, I just chalked it up to variance and assumed I was running bad, and honestly I probably was. Still, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also falling into terrible habits that not only made me a worse player but they also just made me lazy and complacent. When I started I practiced so much and took the game very seriously and my results reflected that, but the more I would win the better I thought I was and the less I felt I needed to prepare. It shouldn’t surprise any of you to read that the best players I know are also the most dedicated and hardest working.

I suppose im choosing now to write about this topic because I’ve been reflecting on myself a lot recently and I’ve seen many young players and friends making the same mistakes that I made. This game can be cruel when you don’t respect the process it takes to improve and if you don’t continually work to get better you will get punished. I guess another thing that prompted this kind of thinking was being asked by multiple people “how do I get better?” and again the only answers I can give them are to practice and to play with better players. Make no mistake, you need to be doing both of these things. During the stretch of events I played with all poor results I was definitely practicing and playing plenty of MTGO but there are many players who play more MTGO than anyone alive (all brazilians) who practice constantly but never get better; in fact they are probably getting worse. To improve you need to respect others’ input, since even if you believe they are a worse player than you, you can learn from them, even if it’s just taking the good and leaving the bad and incorporating the good parts of their game into your own.

I believe it is human nature to always assume that you are right about something simply because you yourself came to that conclusion; I mean how often do you think something up on your own and just assume it’s wrong? You actively have to watch what you say and how you think to make sure you aren’t dismissing things other people say simply because they aren’t what you think or because it’s not something you already thought of. Often even if they are wrong it can be helpful to hear others’ advice on something such as sealed deck just to know how other people might value certain cards or think about the format.

I think one of the things that has helped me the most is my willingness to ask for help from people I respect and utilizing my resources as best I can. In the Scars and Zendikar sealed formats specifically I remember playing them on MTGO religiously and constantly screenshotting my sealed pools and asking everyone and anyone how they would build it or if they agreed with the way I had built it. There is a medium here that you must maintain; if you believe you are right you have to fight and argue your case. Being able to explain why something is correct is as important as being correct in the first place. It’s even more important when you are trying to get better and get your friends to improve.

Well, this certainly turned into more of a rant about growing as a player than it was about deck selection but I think there is a wealth of information here to help aspiring players and it’s all pretty relevant for tournament success in general.

Although there are no decklists in here I think if I had read something like this and took it to heart when I was starting it would’ve made me a much stronger player much sooner.

I’m not sure that this type of article is up everyone’s alley but as always I welcome and encourage you to post in the forums and let me know what you liked and didn’t like about it so I can fix these things in the future.

Owen Turtenwald
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on MTGO
OwenTweetenwald on Twitter

48 thoughts on “Owen’s a Win – How I Went from 0wen-2 to X and 0wen”

  1. Have you improved your attitude as well? I remember back when I played a lot of MODO you were easily one of the whiniest, most disrespectfl players on there. For whatever reason I always ran really well against you on MODO and you would always berate me call me an idiot, an awful, a sack, etc. Granted, this was about 4 years ago, and I’m not sure I’ve played against you since then. Still, I’ve never seen a really poor attitude out of an actual good player before (well, besides Gadiel), and am wondering if an attiude adjustment has coincided with your becoming a very strong player.

  2. For the record: Kuldotha Red is fun and affordable and Kyle Boggemes is an elitist. Other than that, I like this article a lot.

  3. I like how you reference a data mining article as proof that kuldotha red sucks and call those types of articles stupid in the same sentence. Such supporting evidence doesn’t add much to your position.

    What’s stupid is patronizing kuldotha players by assuming that they think they are playing the best deck in the format. Everyone knows that it isn’t as good as a jace deck, but it has a reasonable chance of making a top 8 and costs a ton less. What this translates to is that the red deck doesn’t have to win out in a tournament nearly as many times to provide a profitable return on the initial investment.

    Sure, if you really want to win that plane ticket or you’ve qualified already then putting in the effort to get the optimal cards and deck is probably worth it because the potential payout is much larger. But when a player is just trying to grind lower tournaments for profit, starting off way less in the hole is very attractive. In fact, it’s a good way to EARN jaces rather than wasting a month’s rent on set.

    The rest of the article while being mostly sound advice is literally just copy/paste from every generic strategy article I’ve ever read. Nothing new and original to you at all except some personal anecdotes that don’t add any information. Also, I never thought Kyle’s Bog’s incredible elitism and lack of shame in showing it to the world would ever be surpassed. But then you go and raise him four jaces. Please tell me that statement was just a troll.

  4. Luis Scott-Vargas

    @ Bob

    As usual with Owen, his humor is pretty tongue in cheek. The 8 Jace comment in particular was just poking fun at Kyle more than anything else.

  5. RE: Jim Varney

    Well, yeah, that is the classic Owen. You’re not the only one who’d had that opinion.

    But he is a great player. And the advice here is good and solidly written.

  6. @jim: I beat owen with hive mind once and he didn’t say a word. I think it’s safe to say his attitude has changed. And yes this is just a thinly veiled I beat owen once post.

  7. @Jim Varney, Did you watch his matches during LSV’s gauntlet last week? I really knew nothing about Owen before them but there’s only so much “my opponent’s so lucky / woe is me” I can take before an image starts to form. I mean yeah I know that turn 2 Sphere of the Suns is practically game over, but maybe you let him play a second spell before you assume it’s “the nut draw.”

  8. As pointless as Jim’s comment was, the Gadiel reference did make me laugh out loud.

  9. Great article, Owen! It made me look at myself from a totally different angle. Looks like I shouldn’t procrastinate on my Fearless Magic Inventory any longer (been wanting to do that since I bought Chapin’s e-Book early last year, only to to keep putting it off due to work and such)!

    Another thing I’ve been wanting to say…your MTGO handle looked totally random, until I tried typing it.


  10. Owen has a lot of trouble accepting the fact that his opponents also get to play spells. Which makes sense, honestly, opponents who play spells are my worst matchups.

  11. -when he’s wrong / insulting he was just being sarcastic and people need to stop being gooberish about it
    -when he’s right he wasn’t being sarcastic and knew all along

    arrogance + heavy sarcasm is a great combo, it just doesn’t come off well over the internet when people miss the sarcasm part (see above comments)

    (speaking from personal experience)

  12. I played owen last week, he is still a sore loser who whines all the time. That said he is a good player and he writes for the best magic site on the web so the stuff is worth reading. For the record i do get his humor, when he is writing, but online he crys like a little girl. It is amusing, but unbecoming of someone who is a “professional”.

  13. I scanned through this for a decklist, but didn’t see one. You must have forgot to put it in there.

  14. You ppl forget that 0wen is the Vintage world champion. Like LSV said on the subsequente Magic TV: “the world champion. The world champion” (that was amusing).

  15. @Jim: id say that 17 year old Owen Turtenwald was not the peak of maturity or professionalism, and despite 1 troll id say I have had a pretty massive attitude adjustment.

  16. I for one love Owen. His one liners on GGsLive are hilarious. Everyone just needs to stop taking everything he says so seriously.

  17. Then, I guess that you are better than PV too, right?
    You are like lvl 11 already, aren’t you?
    And ctrl C ctrl V is kinda lazy on your part.. nothing new, nothing to add, i’m glad i didnt read all of this article. It sux from the very beggining.

    that statement about brazilians is tottaly unecessary.

  18. Random Brazilian

    How coul you say that the brazilian MTGO level gets worse if you don’t know any of them? Come on Owen, it`s easy to play a game when you have tons of PTQ`s, releases, SCG Opens the packs are cheap and you are inside the country with more number of GP`s in the world. Here, in Brazil, people who plays infinite on MTGO, just play it because of their love for the game, they spend day and night to get a shot at playing at Worlds or a PT. Do you know how many PTQ`s we have here? 3. Do you know how much is a pack here? Like 7 dollars. Do you know how much it is to travel from here to the US, Europe or Asia to play the big tournaments? Probably you don`t. And with all of that, we still have some people who won GP`s outside the continent, we have a Pro Tour winner and a World champion, something that you’re not yet. If you don`t know what are you talking about, just please, show some respect.

    Greetings from Brazil

  19. not to put words in owens mouth, but in the past a lot of the american and brazilian and polish kids/guys would constantly trash talk and flame etc etc each other, think 2.5 era. all in good fun, to some degree. i think most of us have grown out of it, but some (bolov0) still keep it going on strong, and its just pathetic at this point

  20. The point about human nature and magic is interesting. My brother and I will often have conversations about card choices that end with “well I just like it” that probably could just as easily be “I came up with it on my own, so I’m not changing it.” Magic in the long run is always about breaking behavioral patterns that lead to making suboptimal deck choices, card choices, and plays. The better you get, the more complex and difficult to break they are; which is why I find these articles so interesting.

  21. when you name/group name drop people will always get angry, not everyone has the same opinion. I have heard this all before but still a fine article when you write these kind of articles I imagine it is difficult to come from more unexplored avenues when so much has been written on the topic

  22. 5-6 years ago, Owen Turtenwald was such a dick that he was banned from the local store I played FNM at. I think he has matured greatly from that (the only evidence I have to go by is some videos though.)

  23. I think one important thing that you could add to the last section is that what is more important than any one decision is the thought process that is used to get to it. So when asking other players for advice, as helpful as it is to know what should be the 23rd card of your sealed deck, what is more important is how you evaluate that choice.

    In magic its rare that the exact same situation will come up twice, and when you factor into that ever changing formats, it happens almost never. What does happen a lot is that you will be in similar situations, tough spots that you don’t know how to get out of. So rather knowing the way to rescue yourself from each of these individually, it is important to build up good heuristics for evaluating these situations in general.

    That said, I admire the humility you espouse (if not embody) and I think it is central to anyone who endeavors to be skilled at, anything or as is the case with this article, magic.

  24. The douche players are the ones that have something to prove. The PTQ grinders that always Top 8 or occasionally win, and then get crushed at their first PT. When someone is established as a good player, he doesn’t have to belittle people to show his superiority, he let’s his play and reputation do that.

  25. Fair enough, Owen. IN general I think MODO whining is just a sign of tilt, and it’s obvious that being able to not tilt is important in succeding at a game where even the best players have like a 66% win rate or so. Congrats on your recent successes.

  26. what’s the fun in playing MTGO without flaming/trash talking/etc? 😉
    inducing tilt is tech

  27. Article comments are serious business.

    I enjoyed reading, and eh, if y’all get on tilt when you see whining, I suggest you take some time to play League of Legends…


    A game of magic? Sure, Imma gonna flatten you with this here Pyromancer Ascension.

  29. IHeartMagicCards

    Great article.

    I don’t understand the obsession with decklists, and the idea that an article without one is sub-par.

    Perhaps you could include an Onslaught “Ivory Doom” precon decklist in the next one.

  30. First, really entertaining article. Second, there are a lot of people who’ve watched Owen grow up over the last few years who are really looking forward to seeing him monster his way through a PT, something he very nearly did in Paris.

    And third, IHeartMagicCards, I actually stood and applauded when I saw your comment. Come find me at an event sometime, and I’ll buy you a drink. That comment featured the best two lines I’ve seen so far this year.

  31. joe schmo fa sho

    sorry for teh language D:
    also this has been one of the best threads on magic in a while….i don’t know what it is aboutmagic players but most of them have a chip on their shoulders…honestly i think the reason for that is this game is used by a lot of shut ins and neckbeards to improve themselves….without really improving themselves…..not saying there is anything wrong with this game..i am absolutely in love with magic and always will be..but i never understood why ppl can’t just shake hands after a loss and try to become better. instead of blaming things on sh*t draws and such…

  32. I find these articles to be some of the most insghtful and useful because they address a broader spectrum and will remain relevant for longer than the format in question, and perhaps in a larger life context.

    Decklists are all well and good but these are the articles that strengthen my play the most.

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  34. As someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time reading articles about Magic and watching MTGO drafts/replays (Many of them on this site) I can really appreciate this. It’s not about deck theory, it’s not about metagaming, it’s about being a player; and so many people tend to ignore that you as the player are the cornerstone of your game, not your deck. There is sadly little of this kind of article around.

    Having said that, thanks for the article Owen, I’m glad you wrote it.

  35. Bram Van Akkeren

    Tolls are gonna troll. I like the article a lot. I can never claim to be a high level Magic player in and way shape or form but I’ll use a lot of this advice the next time I play. Thanks a lot.

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