PV’s Playhouse – What Makes a Good Deck Good?

It is no secret that I dislike most decks. What seems to be a secret, however, is that I actually have reasons for disliking them! Though every deck is a different deck, and some decks might be much better in a certain environment than another, at the end of the day there are many characteristic that one would associate with a good deck or with a bad deck. In this article, I will try to elaborate on what generally makes a deck attractive to me and on what makes me want to dismiss it immediately. Much of this is my personal opinion and some people will disagree, but that’s true for everything I write, and remember that, despite being an opinion, it is a very educated one, based on years of experience – I did not just randomly split characteristics between good or bad.

A very big plus for a deck is its ability to get free wins. Free wins are some games you just win out of nowhere because your opponent stumbled on mana or because you had a perfect hand. Jund, for example, had a ton of free wins because it ran a two mana 4/4 and sometimes that would be enough to beat people single handedly. Faeries had the same with [card]Bitterblossom[/card], and Caw-Blade the same with [card Stoneforge Mystic]Stoneforge[/card]. Some Jund decks didn’t play Leech, but I think that was a mistake because of those free wins – playing [card]Rampant Growth[/card] into [card]Bituminous Blast[/card] is not going to punish people for keeping one-landers and not getting there.

Much more important than having free wins, however, is not having free losses. There are many decks that will simply fold to anyone who leaves home with the mindset that they will beat you, and I don’t think a deck like that is usually optimal. Take, for example, the manaless dredge deck that won a SCG tournament a while ago:

[deck]4 Bloodghast
3 Gigapede
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
4 Golgari Thug
4 Ichorid
4 Narcomoeba
4 Nether Shadow
4 Phantasmagorian
4 Shambling Shell
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Street Wraith
1 Woodfall Primus
4 Bridge from Below
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Dread Return
3 Dakmor Salvage
1 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
1 Ancestor’s Chosen
1 Blazing Archon
1 Gigapede
1 Stormtide Leviathan
1 Terastodon
4 Contagion
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Llawan, Cephalid Empress[/deck]

If this deck did not have 3 [card]Dakmor Salvage[/card]s, it would be perfect for the sentence “if they start with [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] you can literally never win”, though, realistically, you can’t – if a person did as much as adding four Leylines to their sideboard before they left for the tournament, and if they happen to draw them (very likely when they can mulligan to 3 and still beat you), then you’re pretty much drawing dead. They don’t have to do anything else, just add four Leylines to their decks. Now, do you think I spent 10 years playing Magic and reading articles to become good, that I traveled 30 hours from Brazil, to lose to any person who, by whatever reason, grabbed 4 Leylines before they left for the tournament?


Yes, yes, I know, he actually won the tournament – he took a gamble and it paid off. Such gambles are not for me – I would rather play a deck that has game even if people decide to beat me. Sure, it might be that no one packs Leyline, but would you rather leave the fate of your tournament at the hands of your opponents? Hope they make a mistake in sideboarding (or even that they do not make a mistake in sideboarding)? Not me, I’d rather have control about it myself.

Look at the decks I’ve played in the past PTs:

San Diego – Naya
San Juan – RUG
Amsterdam – Doran
Worlds – UB
Paris – Caw Blade
Nagoya – WW

Of course, the Manaless Dredge is the extreme example – rarely will a deck just beat you by having a card. Still, if you look at those decks, they’re all hard to hate if you compare them to the rest of the format. WW might look like an exception, since there were many “hateful” cards ([card Oxidda Scrapmelter]Scrapmelter[/card], [card]Corrosion[/card], [card]Slagstorm[/card], etc), but the deck couldn’t really reliably be hated out – we tried it in testing and we were still not beating it nearly as much as we would have liked.

Take, for example, Caw Blade. You want to beat Caw Blade, what do you do? There isn’t much you can do. You want to beat Caw Blade with all your heart, but you’re still not going to demolish it – you will get a small edge at most, through great sacrifice, it’s not like you can just add 4 sideboard cards. Now compare it to some other decks from that Pro Tour, Quest and Kuldotha Red – if your opponent wants to beat Kuldotha Red, do you think he won’t? He has so many powerful resources at his disposal, if he really wants to beat you, then he surely will. Do you want your PT result to be decided by your opponent’s degree of desire to beat Kuldotha Red?

This will also apply to decks that can’t beat a certain strategy – such as, say, a Martyr deck. A Martyr deck will have good game against many aggro decks but will flat out lose to some control and combo decks. If your opponent left his house thinking “I am going to play an infinite combo deck”, he has automatically already beaten you! Being 100% versus 60% of the decks and 0% against the other 40% is much worse than being 60% versus the entire field, since you need a lot better than 60% to do well in a tournament and with the second kind of deck your playskill will be much more important, as opposed to pairings – again, why leave your fate to something you have no control over when you have a choice?

In Legacy, this is especially important, since the format is so open and there are so many things you can just auto-lose to. Look at the Legacy decks I’ve played:

GP Columbus – Flash
07 Worlds – Cephalid
GP Chicago – Counterbalance
GP Madrid – Counterbalance
GP Columbus – Counterbalance
Worlds 09 teams – Counterbalance
GP Providence – Landstill

(PS. If I recall correctly, I’ve never lost a sanctioned match to Merfolk. Look at the decks I’ve played. How do people think Merfolk is good???)

Every one of those decks has resources – it is either very fast or has counterspells (all of them have four [card]Force of Will[/card]s). This comes from my horrible aversion to the feeling of being powerless. I never want to let my opponents do what they came to do – I want to be able to stop them. If I can kill them fast enough, I can stop them. If I can counter their spells, I can stop them. If I’m busy durdling with Green dudes, then I can’t do anything and that is something I wholeheartedly avoid.

Some decks cannot just be hated out (or simply won’t ever be hated out because it’s too costly to do so), but they’re still not good because they do not reward skill in any way. Again, I’ve spent A LOT of time with Magic – I’ve played a lot, I’ve read, talked and thought about it a lot. Why would I throw such an advantage out the window? If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re also better than the average competition and should not give up this advantage either. (If you’re not, go read my other articles! :D)

Take, for example, Burn. How do you outplay someone with Burn? Unless you trick them into playing untapped Ravnica lands, you can’t. This would not be that relevant if Burn was good enough so that you’d still have an edge without having a skill edge, but this is not the case, so it’s pretty safe to say I’ll not be playing burn anytime soon. Take Tomoharo Saito – he is an excellent player and he has done well with many decks he designed himself, but he has also played Burn in a big number of tournaments and as far as I know he has had no success with it. Why he would choose to throw away two great advantages (being a good player and refining a deck so well), I cannot say. The moment he added a couple creatures to his decks, to give him a little more play, he started doing much better.

There are exceptions, of course – sometimes the deck is just good enough that it’s worth it. It happened with Swans in Barcelona – the deck had 40 lands and every spell was either a Swans, an Assault or a way to get to them, so it’s not hard to see it was not the most skill intensive deck ever (which does not mean there is no skill involved, of course). At that tournament, I could have played Faeries, which is a deck I think I played better at the time than almost everyone else. Why did I play Swans then, and not Faeries? Because I thought the Swans win range was still higher. To exemplify:

Faeries is a very skill intensive deck, and also a good deck. I would expect the Faeries results to range from, say, 40 to 70, based on playskill. If I played it, we could say I’d get somewhere from 65 to 70. The Swans range, on the other hand, was something like 65-75 – despite skill playing a smaller role, it modified a much bigger number to begin with.

Two important things to note; first, “skill intensive” does not necessarily mean control deck. There are many control decks that are very easy to play, and many aggro decks that are hard, and it will generally change from matchup to matchup anyway. In general, the more interactive your deck is and the longer the game goes, the more it rewards skill, but that doesn’t have to be true. Second, complicated does not mean good – I’m not telling you to pick a deck that’s impossible to play just because you’re good, every deck has a limit no matter how well you play it and the limit is not always correlated with the complexity. The point is, before you play a deck that is going to obliterate your advantages, make sure that it is worth it. If you’re one of the best players, don’t play a deck that gives you no play unless the deck is so good that you don’t actually need any play.

A good deck will not only reward your skill, but it will create opportunities for the opponents to make mistakes. Take White Weenie, or the Swans deck – the opponents are not going to have a very big decision tree, and once they understand the fundamentals of the matchup, a game is not going to play very differently than any other. Now imagine you are playing Faeries – even a very good opponent will struggle because there is so much you could have, and each card you have requires a completely different play from him, let alone a bad player. This is a big advantage of Red aggressive decks over White aggressive decks – if you’re Red, you can win a game that you were going to lose on the back of their mistake – if they, for example, tap out when they shouldn’t or fetch when they shouldn’t. If you’re white, all your cards are on the table, so it’s way less likely for them to make a mistake that actively costs them the game, and much harder for you to punish them for it.

Another really important plus for a deck is that it has a good sideboard. Whenever I am deciding on a deck for a tournament, I try to envision a possible sideboard and it will really make or break a deck for me, since you play over half your matches post board. In general, control decks have a much better sideboard against aggro than the opposite AND they can afford to sideboard in a lot more cards, so this is a big plus for control decks. This is also a super advantage of multicolored decks, since the monocolored ones usually don’t have a lot of options. Let’s take a look at two random Sideboards from German nationals t8:


[draft]1 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Despise
3 Disfigure
1 Dismember
2 Duress
4 Flashfreeze
2 Memoricide
1 Wurmcoil Engine[/draft]

Mono Red:

[draft]2 Act of Aggression
2 Combust
3 Dismember
3 Leyline of Punishment
3 Manic Vandal
2 Vulshok Refugee[/draft]

I mean… which one of those would you rather have? The first one has a bunch of specific, high impact cards, or cards that lower your curve and let you take out useless ones. The second sideboard is a bunch of cards that are either underpowered, the same kind of card you already have and don’t really want more, very small upgrades (since you can’t take out much) or cards you don’t even want to draw. I took this particular version of Mono Red, but it could be any version – with Mono Red, there is simply nowhere for you to go, since it’s both aggro and mono-colored, and the same happens with mono white (or Green or Black or that mono U Illusions, I’m sure). UB and UW, on the other hand, have great sideboards. When both decks are similar in power level, I will always choose the one with the best board (well, duh).

Another aspect that makes me like a deck is the fact that it doesn’t need to draw the right cards at the right moments. I absolutely hate decks that play 30 mana sources and don’t always have anything to do with them, which is most of the mana ramp or [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] decks. With those decks, you need to draw the mana early and the bombs late, and anything else just dooms you. Let’s take Valakut – you have say 14 threats and 46 mana. You need to draw a lot of accelerations and some threats. Just look at the Tim Landale vs Todd Anderson game in the finals of the TCG 75K – Landale had a very explosive start and hit 6 land plus Titan on turn four, but then the Titan was countered, one of the lands was killed and he drew nonland, nonland, nonland and died. Just like that, he could have gotten to 6 lands, played the Titan that he did play (and gotten it countered) and then drawn land, land land and died regardless, because the deck has 46 of them. With this kind of deck, you will get free losses simply due to their nature.

For that not to happen, you need either something to do with your lands, or lands that do things. [card]Mutavault[/card], for example, was one of the main reasons I liked Faeries so much, and it also had Commands and a lot of tricks you could use your mana for in the same turn. Caw-Blade not only had Edge and Colonnade but it also made great use of its mana with Equipments, [card Squadron Hawk]Hawks[/card] and card drawing. RUG had Ravine and Jaces. Legacy decks have [card Sensei’s Divining Top]Tops[/card], [card]Brainstorm[/card]s and Jaces. Decks like White Weenie, Mana Ramp, Mono White Control, those don’t have anything, and as such they are a lot more dependant on drawing the right card at the right time – even having something like Preordain goes a long way, because it makes sure you are going to hit your early land drops and your early plays while at the same time guaranteeing you’re going to hit your business spells in the late game. Basically, for the small price of one blue mana, it eliminates a big part of negative variance, and it’s certainly one of the factors that have made blue decks so dominant this season. Once you realize you can play more lands without flooding because of cards like that, then you also lose less due to not having enough mana, winning in both fronts.

The other option is having a deck that is so fast that you have no time to have mana problems, or a combo deck that does not mind if you draw too many lands because 3 specific cards plus 15 lands will kill them just the same – an aggro deck will very rarely accomplish that.

Lands are not the only problem – cards like [card]Memnite[/card] and [card]Ornithopter[/card], for example, are a big part of your nut draw in certain decks, but drawing them late is just horrible. Sure, they will give you free wins, but they will also give you free losses in the late game, unlike [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]. If a deck needs a critical amount of bad cards to work, then I don’t like it.

So, to sum it up:


Doesn’t get hated out easily
Doesn’t auto-lose to any deck
Has a good sideboard
Has potential for skill to make a difference
Has uses for its mana in the late game
Doesn’t need to play many situational cards


Uh, the opposite.

When you look at those criteria, it’s easy to see why I think White Weenie is a horrible deck. First, it cannot stop your opponent from doing anything they want to do, and it is not degenerate itself, so if they are doing something degenerate they’ll just beat you. Second, if they decide they want to beat you, they have a ton of reasonable options for that and you can’t do much about it. Third, you have nothing to do in the late game, no use for extra lands and you are forced to play suboptimal cards to fuel a nut draw. Fourth, you’re mono colored and aggressive, so your sideboard is bad. Fifth, it doesn’t offer you a lot of ways to outplay your opponent, since it’s basically a non interactive aggro deck. Compare it to, say, the UB deck we played at Worlds – it cannot be completely hated out even if the opponent wants to do it very badly, and it can stop them from doing whatever they want to do since it has discard and permission. It has uses for its mana and a powerful late game in the form of Tar Pits, Edges, Jaces and Preordains that dig to Titans. It is two colors and control, so the sideboard is excellent. And, finally, it interacts a lot more with your opponent and it has a lot of instants, so your playskill is going to matter more and they’re going to have more chances to mess up since the game is not going to be laid out for them. Caw Blade, Faeries, Counterbalance are all examples of decks that share those characteristics.

If that is the case, then why did we play WW in Nagoya? Because, for that tournament, every deck had those problems. You couldn’t actually hate it, since no card did that, and, true, you had bad late draws, but there was no good card drawing or selection, so that happened to all the decks – but much more so to the reactive decks because they had to play reactive cards and many more lands. Your sideboard was bad and it wasn’t very skill intensive, but even then it just felt better than everything else.

In Standard, this does not happen – you do not need to accept those flaws or settle for them. Caw Blade, though less powerful than it used to be, and with a lot less free wins, still retains most of those qualities. The [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks, twin or no, have great late game and sideboard, are hard to hate out and are pilot-dependant. Valakut has the whole mana ramp problem, but it also has a lot of free wins to make up for that. UB is the same as caw, though more “powerful”, I guess, but with even less free wins. Mono Red is like Tempered Steel – a ton of free losses and a bad sideboard – but with a much better late game since topdecking Bolt sometimes kills them whereas topdecking [card]Ornithopter[/card] makes you want to drop and trade all your WW cards away.

If you have to play Standard right now, I can’t say there is a specific deck I recommend, though I do not recommend any of the aggro decks – they are fundamentally worse, and the environment is actually hostile for them (Reinforcements, etc), so that’s two negatives. All the other decks feel viable to me, and I would honestly play whatever you’re most comfortable with.

My nationals haven’t happened yet, and they won’t for quite a while, since some genius scheduled them on September 17, the exact same day as GP Montreal. As such, my next Standard tournament is GP Pittsburgh. I don’t know what I am going to play yet, but I rather like the RUG Pod decks. If I do not play Pod, then I will probably play Valakut because I do not like the Caw Blade versus Valakut match right now and I expect Valakut to be popular, though that in itself is a strike against Valakut since the mirror is dumb.

Before I leave today, my opinion on the PT changes – I like them. I did not like the Extended format (who did, really?), and I really, really like new formats, so I would have taken anything and Modern doesn’t seem particularly bad. I think they should have given a little bit more of a warning, but I think this is certainly better than the alternative for both Wizards and the majority of the players. If you are one of the few players who did get screwed by this (as in you had already playtested and can’t playtest anymore, or you have no friends), then there is only one thing I can say to you – hope we get paired round 1!

(Nah, seriously, I understand why some people would hate the fact that this was done with such a short notice, and I sympathize. In the end, you can’t please everyone, though an effort could have been made to displease less people by announcing this a bit sooner. I still maintain it’s much better than the alternative).

The ban list does seem kinda random, true, but, if it’s not going to be thoroughly tested, then I think this is the correct way of doing it, because overbanning is much better than underbanning (are those words?). If you ban something that wasn’t a problem, life just goes on as normal. If you do not ban something you should have, then you might compromise the entire Pro Tour. Besides, those bans will force some more diversity, which I think is great – if it wasn’t bad for business and for the people who buy cards, I would like them to ban cards every couple months to keep the formats changing.

Well, this is it! In a couple weeks, I’m going to a Mountain House (Mountain House is the new Beach House, really) with 13 other awesome players and hopefully I can make a good article out of that for next week.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it,


42 thoughts on “PV’s Playhouse – What Makes a Good Deck Good?”

  1. “Take, for example, Burn. How do you outplay someone with Burn? Unless you trick them into playing untapped Ravnica lands, you can’t.”

    Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiick burn on Conley.

  2. Usually your articles are ridiculously awesome. As a result, I read them religiously. Therefore, I am familiar with everything in here, as you have written about this subject a lot. Still, a few good jokes. Too bad you won’t be at GP Montreal 🙁

  3. whilst all this is true, I think you’ve forgotten another very important point: consistency

    although you are right to criticise valakut as a do nothing deck that plays infinate lands and must draw its spells in the right order, what about a deck like Eldrazi Ramp? This has a similar strategy to valakut WITHOUT the aspects of the deck (inconsistency, needing to draw the right mix of spells etc., lands that actually do something) that valakut has. HOWEVER, it still has several dead cards which you do not want to draw in the early game (even if these cards can be turned into useful cards with fauna shaman etc.)

    The article is actually one of your least good ones because of this issue. You discuss general trends but not in terms of specifics. Any good player can see having more options is a good thing, and losing to hate is a bad thing. But at what point does a deck become bad because of its lack of a gameplan.

    Case in point: LIFE (the combo deck from extended a few seasons ago)
    This deck had a combo that involved playing a lot of dead cards which you had to draw in the right order (albeit with tutor support) that didn’t win the game, and pretty much auto lost g1 to another tier 1 deck at the time (desire with Brain Freeze).

    At the same time, it had a good matchup with several of the other most played decks, and BECAUSE the player using the deck understood its weakness, he/she could sb several cards for the one matchup. Is a deck like this bad?

  4. Good:

    Doesn’t get hated out easily
    Doesn’t auto-lose to any deck
    Has a good sideboard
    Has potential for skill to make a difference
    Has uses for its mana in the late game
    Doesn’t need to play many situational cards

    In fact, this seems to suggest that combo decks are generally a bad choice for a tournament, even if the field doesn’t expect that combo deck. Seismic swans actually fails several of these tests, and I don’t think either you or I dispute that it was a good deck.

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  6. It was an interesting article, but I can’t say I agree with much. Except for the leylines, that mono red sideboard seems fine. If given the choice you would never want those reactive UB cards in mono red, as many of your cards as possible need to be atleast part proactive and present a threat. Whether aggro or control is best is something you can argue about for an eternity, but it’s curious to make mono red out to be a bad example when four such decks made it to the top 8 you mentioned, and it ended up winning the tournament as well.

    I’m on the Pat Sullivan side of the scale, and if I couldn’t play aggro I’d rather do something else altogether than play Magic on my free time (aggro control is fine also though).

  7. The reason white weenie ever was good is spelled Armageddon. Savannah Lions into White knight into Swords to Plowshares your guy followed by Armageddon to lock you out of the game often ment free wins. People tend to forget how awsome bury all lans was and instead focuses on the creatures played. Still any good player would save a counter spell for Armageddon and simply take the gaöe over with more powerful lategame cards.

    I agree with PV here (he’s awsome, so who doesn’t). One cannot play a deck that has free wins if any good player easily could outmanouver you.

  8. @dv8r:
    Swans, in a nutshell, fails a lot of those tests, yes, but think in terms on context:
    Doesn’t get hated out easily (no one was expecting the deck then, so they didn’t have enough hate, maybe a Pithing Needle or two, which Swans addressed pre-emptively with Maelstrom Pulse out of the board)
    Doesn’t auto-lose to any deck (answered the same way as above, there were no “infinite life” decks – at least not good ones that were widely played, there always seem to be an infinite life deck – that’d force them to deck out)
    Has a good sideboard (since it played out of Cascade, and very few things could hate it out, Maelstrom Pulse + the whole maindeck was a good enough sideboard most of the time, and they could pretty much jam anything in there, though they had to think about power-to-mana cost since they had to choose between casting it and cascading into it – even by accident.)
    Has potential for skill to make a difference (adressed in the article, doesn’t matter when you don’t need skill at all and still get a higher win percentage)
    Has uses for its mana in the late game (the deck pretty much neutered this question altogether, which is what made it broken at the time)

    So yes, even considering PV’s answers about decks, Swans would still fit the bill – at the time it was brewed.
    Doesn’t need to play many situational cards

    @adressing consistency: As for consistency issues, a lot of people complain it was not mentioned, but I think a deck that has uses for mana floods, does not need to draw cards in a specific order and has powerful and versatile spells is a consistent deck, it’s just sort of a consequence considering the rest.

    @PV: I just think that, although obvious, the article could also adress “path to victory”, as in, it doesn’t matter if you take the whole CawBlade shell – which is good – for a tournament, if you’re jammin in Mind Unbound, Jace’s Erasure and trying to stall the game with the Hawks until you can mill them to death. I say this becuase whenever a new set comes out, people are always trying to make mill work, lifegain work, or saying monoblack control has come back (it never has). In the mill example, you’re facing a 53-life opponent that takes 1 a turn at least, sure, but it doesn’t matter if the game will have around a maximum of 20-25 turns, and you’re playing cards that do not interact with anything – their hand, their board, your board, etc – while they interact with you – and smash you.

  9. Missed the “Doesn’t need to play many situational cards”, although it’s pretty much answered in the sideboard question, thei actually could have access to pretty much any powerful enough spell they could get their hands on, due to the Cascade nature of the deck, and most of the maindeck Cascade spells actually had good effects on their own, and drawing them late game was as good as early on, since they all insta-combo’ed for you (ok, ok, with a slight variance depending on the spell and what you still needed to hit).

  10. dv8r:

    I don’t think Swans fails several of these tests.
    – It was hard to hate out, because it essentially played 18 of (almost) the same cards. Something like Pithing Needle didn’t do the trick because of manland/BBE beatdown or simply Deny Reality.
    – It didn’t autolose to anything, really. It killed around turn four or five, something the aggressive decks of those decks had trouble doing.
    – It had a good, transformational sideboard with Countryside Crushers and stuff like that. So you couldn’t just bring in a bunch of combo hate.
    – Sure, skill didn’t make much of a difference.
    – The deck had use for its mana in the late game – it ran a bunch of manlands, or you could simply discard extra lands to Seismic Assault.
    – The cards in the deck were not situational, but redundant. That was the entire point of the deck.

    As far as I can see, Seismic Swans failed just one of those tests.

  11. @dv8r: What do you mean eldrazi ramp doesn’t have the consistency problem? Of course it does, your deck is still half ramp half cards to be ramped into. In Valakut, I’d argue your lands do even more (since they sometimes kill creatures/the opponent without big guys) whereas eye of ugin is the only one that “does something” in mono green.

    I agree that “any good player can see that”, but then why do people still play those decks? Clearly people don’t see that. Every person who plays WW in a tournament doesn’t see that. You could argue that “any good player” can see ANYTHING, therefore magic articles are all useless. You should play 4 stoneforges in your caw blades? Well, every good player can see that. You should mulligan hands that do nothing? every good player can see that. You should not play around what they can’t have? every good player can see that

    I agree that swans (and most combo decks) will fail most of those tests. I DO think most combo decks are not a good choice, precisely because of that, though some of those fail more than others – hate kills dredge way more than it killed Flash. The exception is when they fail those tests but will still win enough that it doesn’t matter because they’re so good (or no one is trying to hate them), but that is the exception – swans was an exception.

    Is life a bad deck? I don’t think it was a good deck. I certainly didn’t play it. IIRC, the only good “Life” deck was the one that also had the cephalid combo in it, and it had life more as a backup plan against decks that would kill all your guys.

    @over: sure, and which of those are proactive and present threats in mono red? Combust? Act of Aggression? Dismember? Leyline? Even Maniac Vandal is not very proactive. They’re all cards that do not fit your general strategy nearly as much as the UB ones do with it. They are answers in a questions deck. UB’s sideboard is answers in an answers deck. I know mono red won the tournament, I still don’t think you should play it.

  12. So then by the same token, if you are just yet another PTQ weekend warrior, does that mean you shouldn’t be playing very difficult decks like Faeries or Legacy Counterbalance? I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t play Sensei’s Divining Top unless you can play at a Pro Tour level. The decision trees presented by Topping several times a game are challenging and present so many opportunities for mistakes to the average player. So why shouldn’t they play a powerful deck that’s easier to play?

  13. Alexander Lapping

    I disagree will dredge being a poor choice. Let me introduce myself Paulo Vidor. My name is Alexander Lapping and I invented the manaless dredge archetype. I put it on the map with the strictly better chancellor build, only to be discredited by some charlotton dumbing the deck down and getting lucky. Irregardless, the power of dredge, specifically manaless dredge, circumvents the auto losses by having free wins since no one knows what is going on. Have you considered that perhaps your refusal to follow the metagame to track GY hate is a weakness as a player for you PV? The most powerful of mages take calculated risks.

  14. Yeah the only thing I feel was left out was addressing that an easier deck is sometimes the right choice for a not so great player.

    A deck that rewards playskill, also punishes poor play.

    Where as a deck like WW doesnt require the most playskill ever, can still be competitive in the hands of someone not as great as PV.


  15. Having free wins does not make up for having free losses, since you can’t do anything about the losses. If a deck has 65% free wins and 35% free losses, I’d rather not play it. I don’t think it’s a weakness as a player, I think it’s a strength – why would I take that risk when I don’t have to? The rewards are not that great. I can follow the metagame but not the minds of the players in a specific event. You could argue it’s a calculated risk, sure, but I am arguing that you should not take that calculated risk (in most circumstances) if you are good.

    @Ichorid: yeah, I guess you’re right, if you’ve followed most of what I’ve written there isn’t going to be much particularly new. Apologies!

    Yes, I do think it goes both ways – if you are one of the weaker players in the tournament, then you probably shouldn’t play a deck that has a very big range since you’ll end up in the lower end of it. I think, though, that if you’re one of the weaker players, then you should worry about that more than your deck selection, and if you play a more complicated deck at least you will learn a bit – you could, for example, practice a lot with that particular deck before the tournament so that, despite being a worse player in general, you can perform well with it. But yes, I agree, if you’re playing in say a PTQ and you want to win and you know the competition is better than you then that is going to affect your deck choice, especially if you have no time to playtest.

  16. As much as it pains me to say this, the pompous guy does have a point. There are two concepts here: how easy it is to hate out a deck and the expected value of that ease. Meaning, that its not enough for a deck to be easily hated out, someone has to actually do it.

    So lets go back to your dredge example. Yes, if you play that deck, and someone has leyline of the void you will loose, but what are the odds of someone having a leyline of the void? Well, that varies based on the metagame. So if there is a lot of dredge being played, you can rest assured that people will be playing leyline, but if there is no dredge then the odds of people playing leyline are very, very low. So, now you have to ask yourself “what are the odds that someone will have that card, and what is my likelihood of winning when someone doesn’t have that card (we’ve assumed that you will flat out loose if someone pulls that card)?”

    If that number is higher then other decks, then you should play that deck, despite the fact that it is capable of being easily hated out.

  17. I am not certain which WW builds you mean specifically, but i think sideboards are historically
    one of the strong suit of WW builds. That may not be the case with today’s standard. Together with an Enlightened Tutor Toolbox you get to use Armageddon and a whole bunch of Cards (CoP for example) that can mean free wins for you.

    But i just hate Decks without Permission, so that’s definitely a downside.

  18. Alex Lapping go away. Do you just google manaless dredge and post in every comment section that you invented it? Even if you did, which you didn’t, at least not this version – you can’t pilot it for anything. Spend less time being a baby and more time playtesting and maybe you’ll get whatever respect or attention you did not get as a child.

  19. Here’s another perspective on the recent PT change:

    “But as a newer player to the game who has spent the last two months learning the Extended format, I’m really devastated. I have three weeks to learn a huge card pool. There is physically no way (given that I have a job) I have the time to read all the legal cards, get a grip on all the interactions, have some understanding of the metagame, playtest, and fiddle with decks in that time. Also, they added a very large Banned List; while I agree with it on principle (especially banning Jace), I can’t help but feel I have even less information on the meta than ever before.”

    tl;dr, some people have actual lives that don’t revolve around playtesting new formats.

    But don’t worry, PV – I’m sure Carrie will enjoy having the opportunity in Round 1 to thrash you again.

  20. Other things I can think of that make a deck good:

    1. Power x Surprise. If you just broke the format, it’s going to be a good deck because you’ll catch everyone with their pants down. (ie Dragonstorm when it first broke out). Even if your sideboard is “crappy” it won’t matter because post-board people will probably have little hate and maybe even punt by bringing in bad cards.

    2. Capacity to change its stance. Faeries and Jund are both awesome because they can go from ‘control mode’ to ‘aggro mode’ as the game demands it. This allows you to capitalize on a change in the “Who’s the Beatdown?” question more rapidly.

    3. Expensive. Yes… I’m serious. An expensive deck will, BY VIRTUE OF BEING EXPENSIVE be rarer in the meta, and thus harder for other players to hate out. Obviously, I don’t suggest that foiling out your Hawkward deck is going to improve your match percentage, but there was a reason Mythic Conscription did very well for a time: it was ridiculously powerful but hard for players to dedicate a lot of sideboard slots to due to the fact that it never became a huge percentage of the metagame. [This argument was first proposed by William Spaniel]

  21. I’m not arguing whether or not Eldrazi Green is a good deck, my problem isn’t with the conclusion to the article, my problem is with the theory of the article itself. You don’t state at what point you arguments come into force. Valakut clearly fails the tests you describe, but you don’t state at what point a deck DOESN’T fail the tests. Eldrazi green is more consistent, but you think that it still has the same problems. This is fine, but not covered in the article.

    The life vs. swans example is another problem about the logical inconsistency in the article. Life fails many of the tests you describe, but arguably less than swans did. Life had more tutoring, more velocity (its cards are cheaper and have better redundancy). However, swans is a good deck, but life is not? Again, this is fine to say, I have no real attachment to either deck, however, you don’t define at what point a deck becomes “bad”, and what made one deck good, but the other not (unless you are arguing for “surprise” as a way of making a deck good for a single tournament, which is also fine, but makes your argument about manaless dredge being a bad deck wrong, clearly it was a good deck, because although it could lose easily to leyline, noone played that cards, just as swans could lose if people wanted to attack it)

    A final point that the article did not cover was at what point a deck’s strength in one category compensates for its weaknesses. E.g. a deck like Life could lose to desire, but because it played so many tutors it could compensate for this disadvantage post sb (life played a lot of eladamri’s calls, which could tutor meddling mage’s vs. desire post sb, even though it lost badly in g1). Does this redundancy of hate make a deck “better”? Clearly yes. Does it make the deck good even though its gameplan is fundamentally trumped by another commonly played deck in g1? I have no idea from this article what your thoughts are.

    The way I read this article is:
    I dislike decks because of reason a/b/c. This means they are terrible and bad and you shouldn’t play them. (I don’t agree with some of the specifics of your arguments in this part, but I accept it is logically consistent, and you are probably better than me at spotting this aspect in decks).

    The problem is when you try to elaborate on your main point:
    At the same time, this deck which has weakness x (swans) is a good deck and I will play it because it wins a lot in the right metagame, but deck with weakness y (dredge) which wins a lot in the right metagame is a bad deck because you can hate it out.

    I apologise for my lack of clarity in my first post, does that make my point clearer?

  22. @jim_joe: make no mistake I love pv’s article and he is by far one of the nicest people I have ever met on the PT. However, I think there are 3 things at play here which PV just ignores:

    1) Variable change (this matters a lot in the case of decks like swans or dredge). If a deck is good in its first tournament before people know how to beat it, it can still (in my opinion) be a good deck (not even a good metagame deck, a good deck full stop) even if the deck fails on other fundamental levels.

    2) Consistency. A deck which plays a lot of tutoring cares less that it auto loses some matchups because its sb plan is better and more consistently put together. In my opinion this makes a deck a good deck, I think PV disagrees, but I’m not absolutely sure from his article.

    3) Every deck plays a lot of cards which are situationally good or bad. What about a deck which makes your opponent’s cards situational (e.g. a deck like martyr-tron, which doesn’t care about removal) whilst being weaker in areas such as pro-active gameplan. Similarly Owling Mine (this deck is TERRIBLE, but if you know in advance everyone will play slow midrange decks that lose to your core strategy…) does that make the deck bad? What about the times where playing a “good deck” is a bad idea because everyone has set out planning to beat you.

    This is ok in an article where PV looks at decks from a Nationals tournament or PTQ or w/e and says whether he thinks in his opinion the deck is good or bad, but NOT ok in an article about fundamental deckbuilding theory. I don’t dislike a lot of the arguments in this article, just those 3.

    (Oh, and I’m not pompous, I’m British) 🙂

  23. @dv8r: only a pompous person would think that I was writing about them when I said someone was pompous 🙂 I was talking about Mr. I-came-up-with-the-landless-dredge-guy (I refuse to call him by his name, since that is the only reason why he posted on here).

  24. I’ve recently taken to playing Sunny Side Up in modern. Would you say that that is a good deck? It rewards playskill immensely (very hard deck to play) but it gets hated out very easily (Leyline of the Void = autoscoop?) and it has a terrible sideboard.

  25. I understand your point, but I can’t give you the answer you want – most of the time, a deck with those characteristics will be bad. This is what you should GENERALLY avoid, for the reasons I stated. Sometimes (swans), it is not, because the environment shapes itself in a way that makes it good regardless of those bad characteristics, but this is an exception and I cannot analyze every exception there has ever been to tell you when exactly a deck with those characteristics won’t be bad.If you are considering two decks and one of them has many “bad” characteristics while the other has many “good” ones, then there is a very big chance the one with the good characteristics is the better choice. Can I tell you for sure, without looking at each deck and format in detail? No, obviously not, but that is going to change every time so it doesn’t work as a “general deckbuilding” advice. What I’m presenting will work the majority of the time and the fact that there is no set rule that tells you when you should ignore those principles doesn’t invalidate them.

    I think the dredge person took a bad gamble and got lucky – the metagame doesn’t have to be all dredge for people to play Leyline. At GP Providence, I did NOT expect dredge to be a significant part of the metagame and I played four leyline in my sideboard ANYWAY. People WILL do that, and then those people will beat you.

    I think if you autolose game 1 but have a very good plan post board then you don’t have an autolose match. The problem is that most decks like that will not have a good enough board to justify the bad game one percentage. If I had a deck that was 20% versus a certain deck pre board and 80% post board, then I wouldn’t mind that.

    Is sunny side up the second sunrise deck? If yes, well, again, being very hard to play does not mean it rewards playskill immensely. (Even though those decks are generally more about repetition and practice with that particular deck that overall magic skill). It could, for example, be a 20-50 deck – if you can’t play it well, it’s horrible, but even if you play it perfectly it’s not very good. (For the record, I don’t know if the deck is good or bad, I’m just saying the fact that it’s complicated doesn’t mean it’s good). A person who is very good is going to play it very well, but what edge is that going to bring when there is still no interaction?

  26. that’s fair, I guess I read the article in concrete terms, whereas it’s probably more fluid than that… maybe a follow up article at some point where you discuss exceptions and/or most important aspects of deck analysis. I’m being a little bit pedantic because I know what you think about so-called “rogue” decks and I guess this is just some way of pointing out why a deck that is “bad” isn’t bad… but then again, you’ve played WW at 2 more PTs than I have 🙂

    this is a very important topic that people don’t really talk enough about, and is basically the mistake that can cost your tournament (you miss a narcomeoba trigger maybe you lose a game, mispick your deck and you lose the tournament)

  27. @jim_joe Ok so say you are playing the dredge deck that auto loses to Leyline, even if the odds of them having it aren’t great, lets say 5% then what happens if you are one game out of Top 8 and you lose because they had it. Would you rather have played a deck because you liked the odds of not auto losing or a deck that DOESN’T auto lose? Just because people aren’t playing leyline doesn’t mean you will win every game nor does it mean that there won’t be sideboard cards that still drastically reduce your chances of winning. If I wanted to gamble I would just go to a casino…

  28. @jim_joe Or consider playing someone in Top 8 who plays the leylines? The thing PV is saying is that he doesn’t want to gamble on a deck because it CAN auto lose to certain things. (Especially when all it takes is your opponent having one specific card sb).

  29. @Alexander Lapping Honestly? You want to take credit for the winning deck, then claim that your deck was better when it DID NOT win the tournament? That doesn’t make much sense to me and I don’t see how your chancellor build would be strictly better anyways, seems pretty weak to me.

  30. People play Merfolk because it’s a simple deck with relatively good matchups. The guy who won Legacy Champs this year hadn’t ever played the format before: he was playing Merfolk. Your definition of a “good deck” is essentially a deck that rewards skilled play and reduces variance.

    Doesn’t get hated out easily
    Doesn’t auto-lose to any deck
    Has a good sideboard
    Has potential for skill to make a difference
    Has uses for its mana in the late game
    Doesn’t need to play many situational cards

    The first two points ensure that you get to play the game, which intrinsically favors the better player. The third point is a recursive definition and doesn’t tell us much. You have some vaguely hinted at ideas of what makes a sideboard “good,” but I’m still not sure what that is. Does it have something to do with answering strategies instead of answering cards (e.g. Dismember for the sole purpose of killing Kor Firewalker)? Point four is self explanatory, and point six is all about reducing variance. I’m not sure where you’re getting at with the fifth point. You were talking about ramp decks; to make ramp decks better the mana has to be more than just mana. Okay, that I get, but why did that become one of your bullet points for every good deck. You need to be able to do something when you’re behind, but Mono-Red is just as reliant on drawing its Goblin Guides as UB Control is on drawing its Disfigures in that matchup. It doesn’t matter how few things the aggro deck can do in the late game when it finishes the game early, and it doesn’t matter how many things the control deck can do in the late game when it doesn’t get there.

    As a final note, I don’t think Merfolk is a “good” deck by your definition, and I’m not too keen on playing it myself. All the good Legacy decks play Brainstorm: everything else will auto-lose to some things.

  31. RE: My previous post

    Imagine that the question I ended with a period ended with a question mark. Thanks.

  32. I like flow of this article start with some interesting insight slowly degenerate to bashing white weenie PV style then get back on track. Always a classic, great article.Thanks

  33. Rules to live by (In magic). As always your article has given me something to think about. Keep up the great advice.

  34. Pingback: Playing with PV @ CFB: Women and Magic | MTGirl - She Loves Magic: The Gathering!

  35. Pingback: <文章轉載>PV的劇場 – 一個好套牌的形成要件 | CardWalker

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