Breaking Through – Misconceptions


Prior to breaking through onto the Pro Tour (see what I did there?) I, like many of you, heard the constant debates surrounding issues that seemed to be totally opinion-based and arbitrary. I would take a side, because after all, that is what you do in an argument situation, but the data and basis behind both arguments always seemed flawed and overly general. In essence, everything was an argument going nowhere, and changing nothing. Everyone is familiar with the issues, like whether the casual or pro player is more crucial to Magic’s survival etc. They have no true answer and each person can come up with 50 different reasons to support one side over the other.

Amidst those petty arguments though, the occasional point would come up that was deeper and more philosophical, yet equally misunderstood. I am not claiming to know all of the answers here, but I do have some opinions and some new thoughts on such arguments that I would like to discuss today. The first is a popular one that a forum poster mentioned on a recent article of mine. Allow me to quote (paraphrase) here, although the misspelled words have been corrected. Straight from the keyboard of one “F*** you metagamers”

“I hate those fat boorish magic players who run nothing but blue, white or W,U,G, all they do is think of the metagame and build decks that counter and control. Its like these decks don’t even take skill to play. Some cheeseball combo usually ends up winning the game and they run with like the most staked cards in magic history.

Vendilion Clique is a bad card. Same with path and same with Tarmogoyf. I went to FNM and I saw about 5 metagamers running the same deck. They really take the fun out of this game and they cant possible conjure up anything remotely creative.
_Lets pick all the best cards and throw them in a deck so well be sure to WIN metagame FTW!_

I ran a mono colored discard deck, not that original i know, but my deck only cost 50 bucks compared to all these power gamers running with only pure rares in their decks who ended up getting whooped. Their jaws almost dropped in amazement that cards they thought as useless like mires toll, and quest for the nihil stone where whalloping the **** outta their metagame control decks.

No offense Conley but its people like you that take the fun outta games.
The fat magic elitist that think their somebody cause they can outsmart somebody in a card game.
Stop writing articles and go get a life or something.”

Now, this post brought two things to mind; one simply being a spin off of the other. I understand that the first thing to do when reading this is to jump down this poster’s throat and tell him how ignorant he is, but that accomplishes nothing, and sadly, he is not alone in these thoughts. While the “No Metagamers” argument may be new to me, the “No Netdeckers” argument certainly isn’t and this is just a different form of it.

It is a common trend among casual players to hate those players who netdeck because they see the act as a cop out. They believe these players have no deck building skill of their own and therefore turn to the Internet. Unfortunately, part of this negative stereotype has come about due to the name given to the group. The term “netdecker” just seems spiteful in nature and definitely contributes towards the negative opinions generated at the group from those who do not know the reality of the situation.

Magic is a complex game with multiple layers of strategy and game play. Being a good player is a prerequisite to being successful but being a good deck builder is not. In fact, being a deck builder is a skill that only a small portion of the community shares, yet at the same time, they tend to be missing some other skill that another player may possess, such as deck tweaking, metagame predictions, or drafting. Look at a sport to examine the fine differences between various skill sets. Because a basketball center has good post moves, should every player be required to be proficient in the post? Or if they are skilled in the post, should they not have adapted moves from a different post player?

Borrowing decks from online is simply an admission that the player wants to win and does not feel confident in his or her own deck building skills. This is just an admission of a flaw with a apparent solution that is being utilized. When looked at from that angle, it is much harder to accuse these players of faulty anything. If you insist on blaming them for being thieves and non-creatives, they seem to be much easier to target. Those without the talent to sing, do not sing, or admit to their lack of ability. Those without the ability to build should not be outlawed simply because they also wish to enjoy the greatest game around.

Likewise, those that metagame should not be attacked because they think a level above where a player may wish to think. Everyone has gifts and plays into those gifts. The same argument is used to berate pro players for “making the game less fun.”

Magic is unique in that the professional players play amongst the competitive, but not quite professional, crowd. You will not find Kobe or Lebron playing at the local gym too often. Yet still, who accuses Kobe or Lebron of ruining the game for the non-professional crowd? No one.

Basketball has been around long enough that people understand their role within the game. The backyard players realize that they are not Kobe or Lebron and stay away from NBA tryouts because of that. Yet in Magic, due to the underground nature of the game, everyone shares most of the same environments and common grounds with each other. This means the player looking to make a living off of the game might be sitting next to the EDH superstar. Still, just because the physical lines are blurred does not mean that all of the lines should be.

If you are a casual player and wish to play only casual, avoid tournament structures. I understand FNM is one of the lower level tournaments, but it still remains a tournament. Tournaments for anything serve one purpose, and that is to determine a victor. If your number one priority is not to win a tournament, and you choose to still attend one, that is perfectly fine, but do not blame or berate those that do. Just as a pro player would not force themselves upon a table EDH game and criticize everyone for playing casually, one cannot show up to a competitive environment and accuse those involved of being competitive.

There is no reason the two halves of Magic cannot live together, and for the most part they do. In fact, in general the halves help each other, through trading, idea sharing, etc. The important thing here is just to understand your own identity and know where you fall. If you can define yourself, then you no longer need to define others and subsequently accuse them of crossing some line.

Wizards understands the lines here and has gone so far as to create the Wizards Play network in an effort to allow casual crowds their own devices. A player wanting to win should never be scrutinized on that fact alone so long as they remain honest in doing so. Which brings me to my next misconception. this one more from the other end of the play spectrum.

Winning is all that matters.

That my friends, is a phrase you will hear countless times on your way to the top of this game, yet maybe only a handful of the times, will the speaker actually understand what that phrase entails. The actual words contained in that phrase are simple enough, and are basically true, assuming you wish to play competitive Magic.

The problem with that phrase is the connotation with which it is used, and the baggage that it has picked up. The other day on Twitter, Mike Flores, Aaron Forsythe, myself, and various followers were discussing the success of past rogue designers. The names that came up are irrelevant here, but one follower noted that winning was all that matters and rogue designers hamper their chances by forcing rogue.

The argument stems from this idea that having fun directly conflicts with one’s end goal of winning. In reality, there is nothing that prevents these two items from being mutually exclusive. In fact, going beyond them even having no impact on each other, some would argue that having fun directly caters towards your ability to win!

Winning may be the result we each look to reach, but the path upon which we take to get there is going to be different per individual. We have definitely seen some trends, such as “playing the best deck” that tend to work more often than not, but these are still only supported by small sample sizes. Just because winning through different methods has not been extensively tested does not mean it does not work.

The problem here is that players tend to project onto you what they either must do for themselves, or have done for themselves. Yes, sometimes, even most of the time, this will help you improve and likely increase your winning percentages, but to be so tunnel visioned that you think that is the only way to reach a winning platform is just ignorant.

I have no problem with telling others that winning is all that matters, but when you begin to define the methods for that to happen, you have actually contradicted yourself. If winning is all that matters, how can it be that playing the best deck is what matters? Maybe for that person, playing the best deck does not directly lead to winning. Remember, by one’s own admission, winning is all that matters.

Magic is too young, both physically, and in theory development, to know exactly what works and what doesn’t work in such a law-like manner. This is not anyone’s fault, and is actually a beautiful thing that showcases the complexity of the game. Still, this leads to most “Theories” about the game being either too overly general to be useful, too specific to be useful (as in regarding a single card), or not true at all.

Claiming then, that winning is all that matters, is actually an overly general statement of theory that, while correct, states nothing of relevance. Instead, people interpret that phrase to mean a bunch of the things we have discussed like “Play the best deck,” which in and of itself, is another general theory as “the best deck” is a subjective interpretation. You actually take this general, do nothing statement, and begin to unravel it into some convoluted mess.

-Winning is all that matters
-To accomplish winning, play the best deck
-The best deck is the deck that has won the most tournaments so far
-Unless there have been no tournaments, in which case the best deck is that of general consensus
-But only play that deck if you haven’t discovered some better deck AKA” Broken the Format”

So yes, winning is all that matters if you wish to play competitive Magic, but how you go about winning is irrelevant, so long as you ultimately win. Do not be discouraged by those players who choose to tell you differently. Obviously it is of your best interest to take advice from those better than you and to learn from every mistake but there is no magical fool proof secret that will result in winning. This should not be used as an excuse to go all out and do everything radically different just to claim that it might lead to winning though. In fact, I would still argue that 95% of the time you should be running the cliché and “playing the best deck” etc. But, if you happen to be one of those people who discover that something else works for you, ignore the naysayers and run the game your own way. In the end, your results will speak for themselves regardless of how you get there. Avoid the blanket statements, which are ultimately what both of the above are, and maybe the mold will be broken. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

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