Breaking Through – Innovation is Underrated

Last week, AJ Sacher wrote an article that detailed the reasons that not playing the best deck was just wrong. He had some fine points, many of which I agree with, but he approached the subject from a very polarized angle. Naturally, I figured if anyone should be the one to look at the other side’s arguments, I should probably be that person. Not only have I advocated for more deck designing in the masses, but I have often been criticized for my deck choices, sometimes warranted, other times not so much.

AJ is not the brewer that someone like myself or Patrick Chapin are, so I understand him not entirely grasping why it is that we do what we do. Winning is most certainly what matters, even if it seems like we are just dead set on bringing a wow factor to a tournament instead. We are honestly just trying to gain an edge in an area where, not only do people choose not to do so, but most of the time, those people are not even equipped to do so. If we did not think that we were improving our chances at winning over the long run, we would probably not be doing what we are doing.

Sure, at any given tournament, we might fail spectacularly. In fact, we accept this as a truism when we bring brew after brew. But, at any given tournament, we might break the format and show up with a Top 8 beauty. Lets look at the breakdown for tournament level Magic by borrowing an example from a different form of competition.

Everyone knows what basketball is, even if you do not follow the sport intensely. It is therefore not a big jump to state that basketball has a lot of different things going on that ultimately form a complete game. Imagine for a second though, that the game of basketball was only a free throw competition. There were no passes or dribbling, dunks and three-pointers didn’t exist, all you did for 48 minutes was go to the foul line and shoot. At the end of the game, the highest percentage for a team wins. As a result, who is the best player in the NBA? Currently, that would be Peja Stojakovic.

However, if you were to take a poll of just about any number of NBA fanatics, I am willing to bet none of them have Peja as the number one player in the league in a traditional sense. The point is that basketball is not just about any one attribute. The game is too complex to simply pinpoint a single area, or even a few areas, and from that data conclude who the best is, or who is going to win. Magic is the same way.

Magic has an insanely large amount of factors that go into success. If everyone played the best deck all of the time (and for simplicity’s sake we will assume the same 75) so many areas become obsolete and we are left shooting free throws* to decide who the best is. While technical play skill may be the most important part of success, it is not the only part of success. Deck building is a place where I personally get one of my edges. Paulo may be a better technical player than I am, but I still feel like I can take down any tournament he is participating in due to factors outside of technical play. By telling people they should always play the best deck, you are eliminating options from them, even if you think those options are wrong. A parent may not think music can take his child very far and is a money pit, but no one wants to be told to give up music because they cannot be successful at it. In fact, despite the odds being against you, some people ARE successful at music, and arguably end up better off than the person who stuck with molecular biology.

*Ignoring the random elements of the game as they are not relevant to the conversation.

This concept is easier to grasp when you compare it to a role-playing game, either in the form of a video game, or something like Dungeons and Dragons. In each, there are multiple statistical areas where you can be better or worse than any other player, but the entire statistical make-up combined is what matters. Your character may have more strength than mine, but if I have more intelligence, I can probably avoid hand to hand combat altogether. If everyone were to always play the best deck, you would actually eliminate a very large number of places where players get an edge, such as metagaming or rogue deck building. For a player like Paulo, who is in the top 0.01% of technically proficient players, that may be a desirable thing, but for the large majority of us, we would prefer if the battles were fought on multiple fronts.

I specifically might have what it takes to hold my own running the best deck, but there are obviously a lot of players out there who are not as skilled in the technical play statistic and therefore need to turn to other places to get there edge. With all due respect to Mike Flores, (and I think he would agree here) Mike is not the best player in the World, not really even very close, but he does have an edge on people in a lot of other areas. His theory development, unorthodox limited style, and brewing ability have made him a household name and allowed him to win tournaments like States, or make it to Nationals when his technical play probably could not have done so alone. Now. if the argument is that I (Conley Woods) specifically should be playing the best deck, I think AJ’s argument is a little more sound in this regard. I think I should be playing the best deck more often than I do as well, but I certainly do not think I should be doing so exclusively, or even a majority of the time. That said, he wrote the article to the world, not just to me (he writes love poems just to me though, so back off).

Part of the reason goes beyond just various attribute points like we just discussed. There is a commonly understood phenomenon in psychology and other disciplines where people give a greater output in both effort and production when they enjoy what they are doing. Even if you have not studied a social science, that fact probably comes as no surprise and seems like common sense. If I like what I am doing, I am more willing to do it and put in a greater effort when I do. Well here is a fact that may blow you away, so brace yourself: I enjoy brewing!

I know, catch your breath buddy.

So what does this mean? Should I brew based on this fact alone? Well, yes and no. The question is a little loaded because that fact does not come alone. Remember, enjoying what you do translates into better productivity. In Magic, this means I am more likely to be involved in my games and decks, which means I am more likely to catch small interactions I would otherwise miss or make better plays as a result etc. To simplify this all, what this really means is that regardless of how good my deck is, if I were to take an equally good “best deck” in a vacuum, I would usually record a better result with the brew, simply because I enjoy what I am doing. Now obviously AJ’s entire argument is that the brew is worse than the best deck, so saying all things equal is a bit of a cop out, but when you examine that a little further it makes more sense.

Let us be more realistic and assume the brew is worse than the best deck, which to be fair, is not always the case but I digress. In this hypothetical, the brew has to be worse than the best deck MORE than the enjoyment bonus I get from playing the brew spans. To throw some made up numbers on this. If the best deck is a 10, and my brew is a 7, the bonus I get from enjoying what I am doing must be a 1 or 2 in order to make playing the best deck correct. If it is a 3, or higher, there is no reason not to be running my brew. Of course, I don’t know what the actual quantification of this factor is, but it most certainly exists.

In Worlds 2009, I wanted to “grow up” and play Zoo when I was in heavy contention to top 8 on day 3. Out of that choice came the infamous land, crack, fetch, take 2 story and all of its contrived reproductions. I in no way enjoyed battling with Zoo that day and was unfamiliar with the archetype to boot. Obviously my arguments do not bypass the later complication, but they do aid in the former. Similarly, last year at Worlds, I did not have a brew I was comfortable with and went with Vampires. I cannot tell you much from that tournament other than the fact that Extended was about 1000 more fun than Standard was, regardless of how I was doing. For Extended, I played with Necrotic Ooze and went 5-1 while Standard issued me a 2-4 finish, for those curious.

I am not in any way trying to say that enjoyment is the end all be all here. In fact, winning is certainly more enjoyable than anything else. All I am saying is that enjoying what you do helps lead to winning, which leads to more enjoyment, and it was a factor that AJ did not touch on during his article.

I think the biggest factor missed by AJ though, was that always playing the best deck is an unending cycle of boring mirror matches and stale formats. This may just seem like a gripe against mirror matches, but in fact, always playing the best deck can stifle a format so badly that it prevents a best deck from being born. Let me take you back a few months to demonstrate.

Going into Pro Tour Paris, the CFB crew was, for the most part, stationed in San Diego drafting and working on the format. The best deck at the time was Valakut, and it had been rumored to get even that much better with the release of cards like Green Sun’s Zenith and Slagstorm. In fact, Owen was so impressed by our builds of Valakut that he had sworn to play the deck well over a week before the tournament (good call not doing so buddy).

By AJ’s hand, we would have all played Valakut at this tournament. Some of us may have had success, others maybe not so much, but what I think we can all agree on is that we would not have had the success that we collectively had playing CawBlade. With 5 copies in the top 16, what emerged from that tournament was in fact, a new “best deck.” So, by following the rule of always play the best deck, we actually hit a conundrum here.

If CawBlade were never invented due to everyone always playing with Valakut, we wouldn’t have the current best deck in Standard. It isn’t too far of a stretch to assume that Valakut would still be number 1 today if CawBlade had never come to exist. So, do you brew and risk failing, but potentially coming up with what is hands down the most dominating deck in Standard currently? Or do you just play it by the book and run Valakut, content with a bunch of boring mirror matches and repetitive game states, hoping to ride that 1 to 2% edge that your superior play skill gives you in said mirrors to victory? I know my stance on the issue.

I agree with AJ that perhaps some people brew too much, myself included. In fact, I tend to openly admit when I make a mistake and play the wrong deck, like in Paris. Occasionally, like in Paris, this information is apparent before the tournament, but in an overwhelming majority of the cases, you don’t actually know whether you should have played the best deck, or your brew, until after the fact. CawBlade could have easily run into a wall of Kuldotha Red during that tournament and put maybe 2 people into day 2 and none into the Top 8 and we would have all been a little bummed and regretted our decision. But it didn’t, instead, it broke the format in half, received some favorable match ups, and resulted in overwhelming success. We only knew after the fact.

So, do you stop brewing and throw away that small percentage chance that you come up with the next CawBlade? Or do you continue to hone your craft and do what you love, accepting the failures with the successes and leverage any edge you receive from doing so.

For some of you, the answer should certainly be the former. The bottom line is that there are bad builders out there who are not creating an edge for themselves and they should most certainly be playing the best deck while they brew on the side. For others though, keep on keeping on as they say. Do what you enjoy and take home some tournaments while you do so.

AJ is right in that you shouldn’t be addicted to brewing. That is, you should never be brewing just for the sake of brewing, knowing full well that you are actively hurting your chances at success. But if your motives are pure and you honestly think you are bringing something to the game that no one else can, more power to you. Know when to fold em’ and pick up the best deck, or at least be willing to learn that skill, but otherwise, innovate. After all, there are far to few of us out there as it is.

Conley Woods

66 thoughts on “Breaking Through – Innovation is Underrated”

  1. I believe that if you’re trying to win, you’re trying to maximize your win percentage. The best way to typically do that is to play the best deck (or one of the best decks) and practice the deck until playing it becomes second nature.

  2. @huh dont over think the analogy….

    @daniel i think you’re missing the overall point of this article. if everyone only played the “best deck” then the environment would go stale and valakut would be putting up all those top8 not caw-blade. does this mean everyone should be brewing decks in the hope to break the format, no, some people just lack the skill set and understanding to do this. but to tell people that everyone should be playing the same deck is just wrong.

  3. I am an ambitious, competitive Magic: The Gathering player. My natural inclination is to be playing in a deck with islands, as I feel the power level of blue cards scales best when technical play skill in a consideration. I have a losing record in testing with CawBlade. I don’t necessarily think it is because I am making mistakes, though that certainly may be one factor. I believe that the primary reason that my record with CawBlade is rooted in one (or all) of these three factors:

    1. CawBlade is extremely popular amongst the local competition

    2. A not-insignificant portion of these players are at least as good with the deck as I am, if not better

    3. I can’t win a dice roll for my life.

    For these reasons, I refuse to play CawBlade for the rest of this standard season.

  4. Daniel Brooks – Did you even read the article?

    The whole point of a rogue deck is that the pilot is familiar with it, and that no one knows how to play against it. And that edge was enough for CawBlade to wreck Paris. THEN it becomes the best deck. But Conley is saying that SOMEONE needs to make a rogue deck first.

  5. I loved the article, especially the point of happiness derived from the game when playing your own brew. Sometimes you just gotta put blightsteel and shape anew in your cawblade deck to break up the monotony, then try to win by decking, damage, and poison in successive rounds.

  6. Here is my perspective on what happened to innovation (aside from the ability to net deck)

    Try a new deck and do not jump into an 8 man on MTGO but go to the Tourny practice room and play. 1 of 4 things happen with your new crazy deck.
    1.You loose badly to the tier 1 decks
    2. You get ridiculed for running X-card
    3 Your opponent, running a tier 1 deck, gets smashed and concedes the match, game 1, complaining of your crap deck and luck draws.
    4. You play that guy who has nothing better to do then complain about the price of cards and the fact that you own them and he apparently does not.

    After you play and win several games yet get ridiculed and put down you start to think maybe the deck is garbage, maybe I shouldn’t run x-card, maybe I should just run x-deck. Then all deck ideas go out the window.

  7. I think the opposite… if you are trying to win it’s best not to get hated out and avoid mirrors as much as possible.

  8. “AJ is not the brewer that someone like myself or Patrick Chapin are, so I understand him not entirely grasping why it is that we do what we do.”

    … and snap.

  9. Conley, I agree with many of your points, but I think you’re missing the main reason it’s good for even average players who may not have the best brewing skills to at least tweak lists, even if they can’t innovate entire new decks.

    Say I’m an average player, and say that Deck A, is the best deck. In fact, Deck A is so much the best deck that it’s absolutely guaranteed to win first place in the tournament In a room with 39 other players all playing the stock list, since I’m an average player my chances of winning are only 1 in 40. Now maybe this is good enough for a Pro Tour, where placing high is still good even if you don’t make top 8, but for a PTQ this is pretty unacceptable.

    What happens if I modify my deck a bit, though? Say that Deck A is CawBlade, and I decide to splash red for Lightning Bolt. When I go to play against my opponents, they don’t know my deck, while I know their copycat lists down to a card. What else am I splashing red for? Can they drop Jace, or will I go Mountain, Koth? What did I cut? Do they have to play around Spell Pierce or not?

    Assuming the minor changes I’ve made haven’t drastically reduced my deck’s win percentage against the field, the fact that I know their decks and they don’t know mine gives me a very significant advantage. If this advantage is enough to offset whatever percentage points I lost by making the change (and it almost certainly is), then suddenly I can give myself better than 1 in 40 odds of taking down that PTQ.

  10. (Please stop using a random spam throwaway e-mail and your posts won’t be eaten. Thanks)

    Looks like CF is still eating my posts, so here’s attempt three:
    Conley, I agree with many of your points, but I think you’re missing the main reason it’s good for even average players who may not have the best brewing skills to at least tweak lists, even if they can’t innovate entire new decks.

    Say I’m an average player, and say that Deck A, is the best deck. In fact, Deck A is so much the best deck that it’s absolutely guaranteed to win first place in the tournament In a room with 39 other players all playing the stock list, since I’m an average player my chances of winning are only 1 in 40. Now maybe this is good enough for a Pro Tour, where placing high is still good even if you don’t make top 8, but for a PTQ this is pretty unacceptable.

    What happens if I modify my deck a bit, though? Say that Deck A is CawBlade, and I decide to splash red for Lightning Bolt. When I go to play against my opponents, they don’t know my deck, while I know their copycat lists down to a card. What else am I splashing red for? Can they drop Jace, or will I go Mountain, Koth? What did I cut? Do they have to play around Spell Pierce or not?

    Assuming the minor changes I’ve made haven’t drastically reduced my deck’s win percentage against the field, the fact that I know their decks and they don’t know mine gives me a very significant advantage. If this advantage is enough to offset whatever percentage points I lost by making the change (and it almost certainly is), then suddenly I can give myself better than 1 in 40 odds of taking down that PTQ.

  11. Playing the top deck card per card just to win is a very lazy way to play what is the fun in winning with the same build as someone else?

  12. I think it’s okay to be addicted to brewing!!!

    Back when we all started playing Magic, we were all brewers forging our way through endless possibilities. Now that net-decking has almost completely destroyed originality, it’s great to have someone awesome like Conley defend the competitive merits of brewing. If he even wins half as much as your average net-decker, he’s twice the Magic player they are, and he wins more than that.


  13. I like brewing – it doesn’t always give an edge (and often they fail spectacularly), but it’s worth it for me to home-brew.
    I don’t do it JUST to win more, though, I do it because, when I do win, it feels much better to know it was a deck I built, winning is great – winning with a deck you built from the ground up, is much better for me though, than winning with someone else’s list.
    that being said – if all you want to do is win as often as possible, then the safest way to go is to use the best list card-for-card, and learn to play it extremely well. If you want to try to break the format, or beat the current best list with a better one, or have more fun playing, or feel a sense of accomplishment when you win and look over the list you won with, then brewing can be much more rewarding – just don’t expect every idea you have to be a good one.

  14. Personally, I love brewing, though I tend to be better at making small innovations to established decks than brewing completely new ones (I have never taken a completely original brew to an important [read: not FNM] tournament because they really aren’t that good). That being said, I think that there is one large reason to simply play the best deck that no one has addressed to my knowledge. Note that I don’t support this idea, I just think that it should be tossed out there.

    First, lets go back to an economics class that I took last year. My teacher was explaining the role at one point in his explanation he used the example of lighthouses. He told us that no company that would actually benefit from a lighthouse being built would build one, because other people would benefit (the idea being, not that they were trying to take the benefits away from others, but that someone else would do it if it benefited them, giving them the advantage without having to pay for the lighthouse). A similar idea can be applied here: if you always play the best deck perfectly, then you will probably do better than the person who constantly brews. You will lose to the person who breaks a format once in a while, but once that happens you just adopt the deck that they built, and save yourself the work of brewing. AJ mentioned that the time spent brewing could’ve been spent on technical play, but he didn’t say that the work of brewing was also being done by other people, who are probably much better than you (‘you’ being the average brewer, the people doing the work being Chapin, Conley, etc.). This doesn’t work for every deck (Soul Sisters), but it does for others (CawBlade).

    As I said, I don’t actually support that. It ignores things mentioned in your article, and it also assumes that ‘all wins are created equal’. Breaking a format at Worlds is much better than breaking a format at a Grand Prix. I agree with a lot of what AJ said: if you bring a brew and lose to bad decks that Tier 1 decks would have beaten because you hadn’t tested against them and thus weren’t prepared, you don’t deserve to whine. If you bring a brew that’s supposed break the format but is horrible in a tournament, you don’t deserve to whine. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be brewing however, in my opinion. It just means that you shouldn’t have brought that brew to that tournament.

    Also, AJ was speaking with a faulty assumption: everyone has the *potential* to play at the same level. You implied, Conley, but I don’t think you explicitly stated it. If everyone spent the exact same amount of time doing the exact same quality testing, certain people would still consistently do better, even if we ignored things like enjoyment. Why? Some people are naturally more talented, some people have a higher ceiling on what they can achieve through technical play. If someone, because of the way they think, is not very good at learning technical play, but learns very quickly from brewing, it might be more efficient for that individual person to brew instead of play. AJ cited examples where he played the best deck and won. That’s fine for him, but not everyone is AJ.

  15. I have always liked the Conley Woods brews for the most part, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the “midnight special” at PT Amsterdam which vaulted you to a sick finish (a constructed record easily worthy of top 8, if not for that train-wreck of a day 2 draft).

  16. @natron -> Well said.

    On topic:

    I, particularly, have been playing my own Naya since MBS (I have 1956 rating and have had 2013 this season) and my specific brew is actually VERY good vs. Caw Blade, even though Valakut is a problem (but I still beat it more then lose to it, duo to technical play). The deck just suits my play style very well.

    Considering players with the same skill level, my chances looked like 60% vs. Caw Go, 35% vs. Valakut and 80% (no, not exaggerating) against all form of other aggro decks (vampires, boros, etc).

    With the rise of RUG and the metagame becoming more like a rock-paper-season thing lately (RUG > Caw Go > Valakut), the aggro decks that I had 80% against only make up about 25% of the field (no longer 50%) and my chances vs. RUG are about (40%). Valakut being 35% and Caw Go “only” 55% now (duo to the ways the list evolved, with the inclusion of Mortapod to kill my sparkmages, more Gideon and other things) sadly it is the time to change decks.

    I either must brew a new deck again (witch to me takes about a month, 3 hours a day, since I’m not Conley Woods/Patrick Chapin neither have such a big team to brainstorm with) or became way better with caw go (I kindda like how the new Green Version seens to have a slightly edge in the pseudo-mirror if it is properly tuned) then my average 3-0 on opponent.

    The reason I’m not doing it right now is because I must wait and see how NPH impacts the field (and the possible ban of Jace on July, since I believe NPH does not pack enough answering to it).

    Anyway, what I really wanted to do with this post is to echo Natron once again: if Conley even wins half as much as your average net-decker, he’s twice the Magic player they are, and he wins way more than that!


  17. That was an awesome article, i loved it.

    I hate how some people bad mouth you just because you love having fun and you don’t place as well as your team and friends as much as they do sometimes, but the people who bad mouth you don’t know anything and are ignorant. You’re a very good player, and there’s a reason why you’re a pro level 5 (or 6, I forgot).

  18. Noticed that your free throw stats are slightly outdated. Peja led the league a few years back. This season, of players the NBA considers statistically qualified, Stephen Curry shot the best percentage. Several players shot perfectly from the line, Anthony Carter’s 8-for-8 besting the rest.

    *In b4 “obvious troll is obvious.”

    Good article, though.

  19. Fair, I think the stats were actually accurate, they were just taken at the all0star break. Regardless, it is irrelevant to the point of course

  20. Dude, Peja is a worse Dirk. And now that they’re on the same team, it’s even more obvious. Also, Acidic Slime is the best player in the NBA, duh.

  21. I love brewing. Call it the creative side in me.
    I only get discouraged when one card (jace) starts dominating a format, and WotC refuses to but an answer to it – or at least a equally broken competitor. I dont see anything in NPH that answers him.
    Jund might have been a PITA, but it was at least a deck – not just one ($100) card.

    Matt Nass’ Dallas list (Caw Blade)

    Thats $747.49 on this site for that deck and JTMS is almost half of that cost at $340 for 4 of your 75 cards.

    Owen Turtenwald Dallas (RUG)
    -$612.17 over half for 4 Jaces.

    And neither of those deck won said tournament they were in!

    When the entry fee starts at $350-400 for 4 cards to just be competitive with the “best” deck(s), some of us HAVE to innovate just to play and have a lil competitive fun.

    And, yes, I do get great satisfaction beating someone with my $200 (or less) decks 🙂

  22. ggr, stupid computers….

    I’d rather brew and have fun, than drop $400 on 4 cards and be bored to death for 8 hours (or two days)

  23. I am glad that I read this. Brad and I are always on opposite sides of the table when it comes to a given format and often have very heated discussions on some of the ideas I come up with. While I am not a seasoned pro at deck building it is very apparent that he and I share different loves for the game. He loves to refine a deck to the point where 1 land is key to the final build while I dream of much larger things such as: How do I put together a deck that abuses Acidic Slime (a card I find very intriguing in the current standard meta) AND Mimic Vat. The two together make for a very favorable combo, but it is the rest of the deck I want to figure out. I tell Brad about my idea and his response is a very simple “Good luck with that.”
    Now I have someone to relate to that is fairly successful at this end of the spectrum.
    While Mr. Hagon was doing his book on Brad I stated this situation and resolved it to my love of going big and making exuberant plays. Now I know where I truly stand; as a brewer.
    Final thought: Brewers remind me of poor, out of work actors waiting for their big break.

  24. The comparison of brewers (solo builders especially) to struggling actors seems apt. In both cases, a large percentage of them clearly overestimate their talent.

  25. Great article, but keep in mind that some people don’t enjoy brewing (no idea why) and would rather just drive the Ferrari instead of trying to build a car that’s better.

  26. Fantastic article! When i read AJ’s article last week I felt exactly as you did and that CawBlade would never have been invented if not for brewing. Thanks for displaying my view as well. I also love to brew 🙂

  27. “arguably end up better off than the person who stuck with molecular biology”

    Molecular biology IS music. When transcription factors bind to the promoter region of a gene, ’tis like a violinist putting the bow to an instrument capable of playing an infinite variety of notes. The ribosomes are the speakers through which the song of life is amplified and boomed to the furthest reaches of the earth and sea.

    Plus, population genetics and phylogenetic analysis has a lot of things that are applicable to Magic theory. Have you ever seen someone come up with a consensus card list for a deck? Yeah, evolutionary biologists developed that like 70 years ago.

    tl;dr science is best

  28. And of course Caw Blade required innovation to create. But it wasn’t the result of a forum-dwelling lone brewer… it was professional work. So I wonder: how many top-performing Type 2 decks were innovated by established teams, and how many by random scrubs?

  29. @Bradsroommate

    I agree with your synopsis of brewer’s. What you need to find is a solid group of Johnny-Spikes and just sit down and bounce ideas off of each other. Just don’t fall in love with a pet deck or card and great decks can come out of this process.

  30. though I agree with your conclusion (that you should NOT play the accepted best deck all the time), I think I mostly disagree with how you got there. I had a much bigger point but I think I’ll just include it in an article of my own, no reason to waste any content in those desperate times 😉

    To be honest, I think that I actually have a bigger edge because I play a better deck than most people than because I am a better player – I would actually hate if I had to play mirror matches all the time, and I absolutely do not want everyone to play the best deck if that is also what I’m playing.

  31. Recently I had this debate with myself. I kept brewing and getting a lot of good but no great tournament results. Meanwhile grabbing a great net deck from a friend generally resulted in x_1 or better at tournaments. I thought I should just give up on brews to try to do better in constructed. Then I made another brew and have won 3 tournaments in a row. I think the corect decision is keep brewing but test the deck before running to a tournament with it. So you can get the failing decks out of the way.

  32. Ten_Percent_Gangles

    Well done articulating your argument the way you did.

    I think that both types of players (brewers / innovators vs. best deck / net deckers) each play their part in the evolution of a meta-game. Seems to me that when just starting out (playing for just about a year or so) the deck lists that come out of big tournaments can provide a great starting point for tweaking or at the very least giving a good framework to try and base your brewing off of.

    Sometimes you need something established to teach things like tempo, card advantage, aggro, control, etc.. and when you start to grasp those concepts is when you can start to step out into some uncharted brewing territory.

    There’s no need to hate on either type of player. Without people holding onto their best decks there wouldn’t be a clear angle for the rogues and brewers to attack the format. It’s always unfortunate to run into trolls (modo or at events) that like to look down their nose at other players from some sort of made up moral high ground.

    Anyway, keep up the good work conley.

  33. @Huh – I have no idea how one would measure relative success in molbio versus music, other than maybe straight up money (in which case, just go do business), but for the curious, you can compare me to Miles Doughty, one of the founders of the band Slightly Stoopid. We graduated from the same high school, same year. 🙂 They opened for Snoop Dogg last year, which is pretty sweet.

  34. I loved the article but i think you missed a huge point. Namely that if your playing a new deck people do not know how to play against you. Its a huge plus when people don’t know what cards to play around. Cards to name. Many people rely on the pros to tell them what to do how to play, by playing a rogue deck you force people to think for themselves, it always worries me how few people seem capable of doing this.

    A few examples

    Top 8 of a masters on ml, i was playing a brewed ur splice deck. My top 8 opponent cranial extracted glacial ray over ire of kaminara, if he names ire its next to impossible for me to win. If my deck was not rogue, my opponent would have almost certainly knew to name ire, or that he should board out takenum bleeder, as it just helps speed my deck up and its the creature he should always be equipping with jitte, to draw the spliced puppetry. I know all these details but he couldnt and go on to win the game. Then i get paired in a playtest partner in the top 4 who knows my deck and is playing mono blue, i side out pupetry and load up on burn and boseju. I needle meloku think its the only way i can lose, he drops jitte and beats me to death with river kajin equipped with jitte cant ray that. Would he have been able to come up with that stratergy on the fly with no prior knowledge of my deck, I doubt it.

    Another invitational on ml forget what round, I’m playing a brewed uwr control deck, oppoennt playing 5 colour zoo, this is before the pt. He drops creatures for the first 4 turns, I play one spell wrath of god on turn 4 and he scoops. Would never have over extended so much if he knew my list, there was no chance i hadnt drawn an eletrolyze, lihtgning helix, mana leak remand hinder, something to slow him down and it was obvious i was sand bagging cards. But for all he knew i could be playing a combo deck I assume thats why he played as he did and he had to kill me asap. I win and go on to top 4 again.

  35. While brewing is most definitely a dying art, brewing is just as harmful as helpful. It is rarely beneficial to have the element of surprise on your side when your deck is just too sub-par to actually make a competent finish, no matter how well you pilot it. One point that Conley made but didn’t focus on enough is that you need to put in the time with your deck and if it just isn’t up to snuff, you need to cut your losses. As someone who enjoys a good homebrew every now and then, I feel that you should have access to the best deck and be extremely competent with that deck before you try breaking new ground. One of the reasons why Conley consistently has more successful brews than any other random grinder is that he has such a solid view of the format and he realizes how to properly attack the top tier of decks. As he said before, if you love what you are doing, you will do it better and work harder while working at it. Since he loves brewing so much, is apart of Team Fireball along with all of their time testing and quality play, and on top of all that, he plays so often, he has an extremely well rounded view on the format. Due to all of these factors he can fairly consistently brew a new deck and do fairly well with it. Opposed to that, the random grinder has a play group with a lower skill level, probably puts in less time on testing, and therefore has a weaker grasp of the format than that of a pro. Due to all of these factors, unless you truly believe that your idea is head and shoulders above that of the competition, I would hold back on the homebrew and rather focusing on perfecting your play with an already established deck and instead spend your play testing time on breaking mirror matches and beating other top tier decks. This is what Gerry T, Alex Bertoncini, and AJ Sacher do and we can see how well this has worked out for them at each Star City Games Open. After you get to that level, then it is time to working on brewing a new deck and breaking the format from there. Sorry if I have rambled a bit, but it’s just how I think.

  36. People who say you shouldn’t ever brew are just idiots. If everyone stopped brewing people would just play caw blade until it rotated… and then…? With noone sat thinking about how to put together a deck, I guess people would just pick cards at random for the next tournament after cawblade goes, and thene everyone plays the winning decklist forever?

    However I firmly believe that developing a new deck is the most difficult and most time consuming thing you could do in magic. And that people like Sacher should just leave it to the pros (like conley :D)

    Conley, never ever ever stop brewing. Without you magic would infinitely less enjoyable.

  37. @JR: yea maybe if you have low self-esteem and no confidence. otherwise points 2 through 4 shouldn’t matter at all.

  38. I am not much for “brewing new decks”, but if I am really into 1.5, I like trying to see if I can make an old arcetype/deck competitive enough to beat decks to beat. With how huge the legacy cardpool is, it’s pretty much brewing though. I get both sides of this debate, but both sides are only arguing the other’s logic, not the end result.

    That means that if somone is actually going through the proper motions of brewing(knowing format very well, testing, being a good player etc), go ahead and bring a brew to an event if it’s good…there’s no reson to choose an established dtb if you have a brew that testing shows to be very good.

    The kicker is that if someone is a mediocre player to start with and prefers to spend their time dreaming up lists and not practising playing, running gauntlets with good opponents and even playing the established decks to understand how to beat them…don’t bother with brewing.

    A very simple principle can keep both sides of this debate happy: Only brew if you have the time for it and are not stupid/stubborn regarding clinging to janky garbage.

  39. deck building is a dying art. while it is easier to copy and paste your deck from internet i think it is more satisfying to build your own deck from scratch.
    it is understandable why people who want to win play “the best” deck. but by understanding this behavior you can slip behind their back and stab them. certainly this strategy is not for the faint hearts. standard format are stale (god i miss those kamigawa – ravnica days). and if you can somehow manage to decimate caw go, you will have a long and smooth tournament (still struggling to find a way, passing that jace/gideon wall are very hard quest …. sigh).
    i feel more satisfied smashing faces faces with my heap of junk rather than follow the mindless mass with their thousand-dollar-deck (boy, that sensation gorger i play in extended sure make some jaws drop when it triggers)

    anyway, great article Mr. Conley and i hope you can break the stale format very soon.

  40. As a person somewhat inclined to brew I loved this article.

    I tend to approach formats by looking at the top decks, building a new deck which I feel has decent answers for them, testing it against the field tweaking as I go and then if I’m satisfied with the matchups being good or at least winnable against the top decks i’ll stick with my brew hoping that my familiarity with it and my opponents unfamiliarity with it will give me an edge (which works sometimes and fails others(at my last PTQ I managed to play against only 1 top tier deck in 7 rounds)).

    On the other hand when I’m not happy with my brew against the field I’ll give in and play one of the top decks(after making sure I get a bunch of practise in with it and tweak the list to my liking).

    Thanks for showing that both ways of preparing are equally valid.

  41. From personal experience I would suggest playing the best deck in the format if you suck ass at Magic. At my first big tournament following about 6 months of competitive play I started out 4-0 playing Jund. I faced 2 homebrews by obviously better players and smashed them easily (Bant Exalted and G/W Tokens.) I don’t think that Caw-Blade is a Jund-type deck though and you will lose to better players. However Valakut and Eldrazi Green are Jund type decks where your opening hand will sometimes nearly guarantee victory. On a much smaller scale I think Vampires is very well positioned right now and if you admittedly are not that good at Magic you can do very well with it. Fantastic if you don’t run into Valakut or RUG I would say. So if you suck ass at Magic play an auto-pilot type of deck and reap the rewards. As far as innovation I would consider Caw-Blade a tweaked Blue-White list more than anything. Granted it’s a pretty big overhaul but the core was there. Small tweaks to established archetypes is definitely worth pursuing in my experience playing Jund. I main decked Cunning Sparkmage when Mythic was tearing up Standard and added Nest Invaders when Valakut broke out to alot of success. I really don’t think that core that Jund provided is there anymore however. Complete brokenness in Bloodbraid into Blightning while still being tweakable to adapt to any meta.

  42. I like brewing and I like to believe that the best deck may not have been build, yet. There is always room for improvement, because as the “best deck” changes the meta game changes and the “best deck” just might have a weakness that can be exploited.

  43. I rarely read pro articles, but I enjoyed this article due to your humble perspective on something I’ve struggled with for years: Playing my own deck designs.

    I’m often teased by people with no imagination, “Why do you keep trying to build your own decks? You keep losing. Why don’t you just play Jund?” This was shortly before Worldwake. I finished 1-3 with an Emeria Angel deck after playing four consecutive Jund matches. I didn’t know what to say, but I had no intention of ever playing Jund. I’m not above playing a net-deck, but an afternoon of Jund mirror matches would push me to finally quit this game.

    The following weeks were prerelease and release, and I thought a lot about what I wanted to do for the first standard event featuring Worldwake. 90 minutes before the event, I started assembling a mono-white equipment deck featuring Stoneforge Mystic and friends. It became clear that the deck would be a pile of trash. I couldn’t take that to a tournament, and all of my other decks were outdated or in pieces.

    I decided I wouldn’t be playing magic that weekend, walked away from the table and cleared my mind. I wandered back to the table. I really like Knight of the White Orchid and Ranger of Eos. Screw this equipment nonsense. Let’s play those guys. I hate Jund, so I’ll use Kor Firewalker and White Knight main deck. Steppe Lynx and Hada Freeblade for the Ranger. Fetch lands for the lynx, Kazandu Blademaster to pair with the Freeblade. Path to Exile, Honor of the Pure. Brave the Elements. Two Basilisk Collars and a Stoneforge mystic. 21 lands. It was different than the lists I saw top-8 finishers posting online, and every card in the deck made sense to me. I built this in about 17 minutes and rushed to the tournament.

    Two weeks in a row, I cut through fields of Jund, Naya, Vampires, Mono Red, Grixis control, and Boros to finish 1st. I never played it again because I moved on to experiment with new decks, but those two victories gave me the confidence I needed and reminded me why I still try to design decks.

    The occasional success makes all of the failures worthwhile.

  44. Conley, you make a lot of concessions that AJ is correct, then refute his points, and concede that he is correct again.

    I think you are missing the point of AJ’s typical harsh tone. Its meant for the PTQ player who can never top 8, not for the pros. When John Q. PTQ’r shows up, spends his money, and plays an brew…he gets destroyed by the average player playing the best deck 99/100 times.

    AJ has even said before (maybe not in the specific article in question) to leave the innovation to the brew masters. They are magic pros with time and the know-how to create and test. They are the Conleys and Chapins of the community.

    Sometimes the best deck just wins by itself. Caw-Blade has many decisions to make, but if youre an ok-to-good player, you will likely get the vast majority of them correct. That means on any given Saturday you can beat the pros because your deck is just as awesome as theirs.

    To win with a brew you have to make a lot of card choices for the deck, and decisions in game, that have not been tested or proven. Only the decks creator can know exactly what to do, and if you have not tested extensively and are not playing at a very high level, you severely lower the likelihood of winning a tournament.

    AJ is writing to those people and those people alone. I like his tone because I feel like that type of player needs to be beaten over the head with truth to finally get it. If you want to make your goal to be the 1% of ptq winners who did it with your own deck, then you should also make your goal to win the lottery. If your goal is to get on the pro tour, then make life easy on yourself and make a good deck choice.

    I love this article because it shows you have a chip on your shoulder on the topic and proves your passion for creating… which is what the rest of us want.

  45. If you want to make your goal to be the 1% of ptq winners who did it with your own deck, then you should also make your goal to win the lottery.

    Utterly wrong. Lottery requires no skill, deckbuilding requires a lot of skill really poor comparison.

  46. A completely casual perspective, but I am honestly surprised that anyone is willing to publish AJ’s articles. I would think that a person would have to work really hard to get to the level to be able to have articles about Magic published (like I imagine Conley has) and it is mind-blowing to me that someone who is as consistently lazy in their approach to writing about Magic is able to have a soapbox from which to talk about it. The content of the article referenced in this one, therefore, comes as little surprise.

  47. Conley’s job is making magic interesting for creative people. Fine. But I’d have to very strongly disagree that brewing is a profitable or worthwhile way to win at magic.

    Listen, brewing is what it is. If you have the burning need to show other people your creativity and cleverness by creating a new deck, then by all means go for it.

    But if you want to be as competitive as you can and don’t have time to spend brewing decks 6 or 7 days a week like some of these ‘pros’ then you play the “best deck” (Caw-Blade, Faeries, Jund, Affinity, etc etc etc…)

    There’s a reason the “best decks” keep popping up, format after format. The best decks play the best cards in the strongest shells to support them. Caw-Blade is essentially 4 Jace, 4 Hawk, 4 Mystics, and some Swords. The rest is support. Simiarly to Jund, which simply played the best spell in standard at the time(Bloodbraid elf) and a bunch of support spells.

    Finishing off/summary: Brewing is fine and cool if your intent at magic is to make waves and be flashy with a new deck. But don’t ovverate innovation because the rewards in terms of success by playing the “best decks” with the “most broken cards” is almost always a better option.

  48. I think that playing an unexpected deck and attacking people from that slightly different angle gives you a big edge over most of your opponents. Keep doing what you’re doing Conley, you rock

  49. It’s funny how many people here are defending Brewing, but you know that they are mindlessly netdecking. That tells you how much pride netdeckers actually have.

  50. I agree, Conley. I can’t get into a deck and truly give it my full mind (while having more fun) if I don’t care about it. Also, making sure I don’t turn stale being stubborn, making similar choices over and over, is a big boon of “brewing.” “Brewing,” by the way, has a big negative tag on it. We should stop using the word, lol. It’s really just another way of making your own game plan.

  51. Love your self reflective analysis. Much respect for the skill and strategy. Hate to be a nit-picker but don’t you guys have an editor? Fancy web site, pro players, no copy editor? The article was well written but the editors; “therefore need to turn to other places to get there edge”.

  52. I loved this article. Essentially it boils down to 2 things:
    -Without risk there can be no reward
    -Magic is a game, and should be fun

    Brewing to me is exactly that: taking a risk, having fun while brewing and enjoying playing your own deck.

    Sure it ended up breaking the format (a slight downside haha), but when has that never been the case with the top deck?

  53. Pingback: PV’s Playhouse – The Truth about Innovation : Magic: The Gathering – Strategy, Singles, Cards, Decks

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