Breaking Through – The Hidden Costs of Going Rogue

I have championed the idea of going rogue since I made it onto the scene and despite what the title may tell you right off the bat, I still feel like going rogue is advantageous. That said, I am not foolish enough to believe that it all comes out roses and gumdrops. While there are plenty of advantages to slinging spells others do not even have on their radar, there are also a lot of negatives. Determining your deck building style is less about just looking at the sheer number of positives versus negatives, and more about figuring out what positives and negatives your strengths play into.

Today I want to talk about some of the sacrifices that must be made in order to not only go rogue, but to be successful while doing so. These may seem like a big deterrent at first, but again, it is about figuring out if you can handle the climb, as the peak is that much sweeter as a result.


Building decks on any level is a time-consuming process. I don’t think I would play Magic if I were just handed a deck before every tournament and told to play it, but I certainly have moments where I envy those players who eschew the building process altogether. For example, testing for a tournament should probably take a week or two if you know the deck you are going to play and are simply tuning it and getting more familiar with the decision trees. If you take a step back and look at the deck builder’s path to a tournament though, you probably double that time frame on a good day.

Instead of just playing, we are working on ideas that will likely be thrown out well in advance of any playtesting or group get together so that we might even have some material to test. It might take a day or so for a player to rifle through the best decks in a format and settle on one, but we don’t have the luxury of a catalogue of decks, instead opting to design that as well.

I am not trying to proclaim that deckbuilders work harder or are doing anything better, but rather just pointing out that we have to work LONGER for the same result. This is quite blatantly a sacrifice that needs to be made if you are hoping to start designing your deck before every tournament. The work load is lessened a little bit when you don’t design a deck for ever tournament you go to, instead skipping one from time to time, but I have never been in that position, so I will let others chime in there.

Baseline Comparisons

While every negative associated with rogue building can probably lead toward eating up some time, there are other downsides as well. When a player looks to take the popular deck off the shelf for a tournament, even if they decide to make some tweaks to the list, they at least have a reference point somewhere for their changes. Faeries might not currently be playing [card]Sower of Temptation[/card] main, but if you wanted to make that change, at least you could look at existing Faeries lists and figure out where the room is going to come from.

With rogue deckbuilding though, we cannot just turn to the baseline comparison lists and tweak from there. Instead, the only way to rule out card choices or integrate them into the list is to test them individually. Again, this leads to a lot of lost time and more importantly tends to eliminate the chance for a last minute card change. While nothing is technically stopping you from changing a card or two, you also have no realistic way of understand how that change will impact the deck outside of pure theory.

MTGO Sacrifices

One of the biggest factors in going rogue is maintaining a level of secrecy to some extent. This is not done just to be a tool or anything like that, but it is plainly the case that leaked tech tends to degrade the deck as a whole. Going rogue is beneficial when no one knows how to play against you, but loses a big edge when this is not the case. Because of this, the use of MTGO for testing becomes very limited.

Unlike any run-of-the-mill deck, you can’t be jumping into daily events and doing well as your list then gets posted on the mothership for all to see. Even joining an 8-man is pretty risky as the potential for 7 other people to see your deck can cause a cascade of information. That leaves you with basically just 2 -mans to get testing in with, and even then only a limited amount of them.

I, for example, usually have to test my decks in 2-mans on a ghost account or else the attention is a bit too high for my liking. Obviously not everyone has to do this, but anyone with any sort of recognizable MTGO name needs to stay alert. I try to limit my 2-man testing to either well in advance of the tourney, or the last few hours beforehand. In the first case, the deck is probably not going to be the same as what you register and you just need to get a feel for what to change. There is less of a risk of someone taking your deck and running it because they don’t even really know what it is going to look like in the end. In the second case, if you wait until the day before, there is a good chance no one will want to move off of their deck and on to yours or be looking to add specific sideboard hate just for that random deck that they saw a day before the tourney. If you do testing around 1 week to 3 days before the tourney though, there is a nonzero chance that someone will see and some kind of negative fallout will occur.

Limited Testing Partners

Unfortunately, when going rogue, it is inevitable that you will hit a dozen bad ideas before finding a good one. While this is a concession on the part of the rogue builder, this tends to keep people from being willing test partners with you.

When testing stock decks against each other, the person playing the house (the gauntlet deck) at least feels like they are learning the interactions of a match up that could impact their tournament. This interaction is lost when they need to battle that same house deck against some brew of yours unless they are set on playing your brew alongside you. Because of this, I find it difficult to find competent playtest partners to run my often bad ideas against on the path to finding that good idea.

Typically you need to get someone on board with the deck before they will play the position of the house. If you find yourself in a big testing group, there will often be too many people all wanting to see the various interactions of the stock decks and you will be left on the sideline brewing alone. No one is doing this to attack you, they simply want to get in the best testing for them. Finding a consistent testing partner when you have decided to go the path of the rogue is not only a nice perk, it is essential for prolonged success.

Regretfully Unrefined

One of the driving forces behind constructed these days is the amount of data and testing that goes on online. You can open up the computer day in and day out and find some information about some moderately-sized tournament and begin crunching numbers. This leads to more people playing the deck, which leads to more refined lists and perfected numbers. Sadly, rogue design lacks most of that.

While you can obviously throw a rogue deck on your back and work on it as much as possible, tweaking numbers, working out a manabase, and testing sample hands, the bottom line is that you remain a single individual. This is obviously not a knock on you, but it is a knock on rogue building. While the tier 1 decks grow stronger at an exponential rate, your rogue deck needs to stand on its own against the thousands who have influenced the deck du jour.

This means that before ever sitting down for your first round, your rogue deck is fighting a stacked battle. You need to prepare yourself by dedicating the time and resources to your deck to give it a proper chance. If you put only the effort into your rogue deck that you would have any stock list, even if that is a lot of work, your rogue deck will likely perform worse. You need to be willing to go above and beyond to take full advantage of your brew.

Constant Reinvention

This again stems in the “time” argument, but it is a valid concern nonetheless. When going rogue, one of the allures is that people will be unprepared for whatever you decide to show up with. Your goal is to minimize splash hate and take a format by storm unexpectedly. A good example of trying to do this can be seen in my Grand Prix Atlanta deck:

This deck didn’t end up working out for me due to issues outside of the power level of the deck (insanely complex and draining to play, etc.) but it demonstrates the point regardless. While this deck is pretty weak to something like graveyard hate, we were able to recognize that there is no graveyard hate being run at the moment. This comes with a catch, however.

If we assume that the deck performed well, now the issue arises where we much reinvent the deck, or move on to a new project, as graveyard hate surely follows any success. If you turn to a stable deck like Faeries, once you have a modern list, while tweaking may still occur, you rarely will have to start from scratch due to some success on your part. Going rogue provides awesome results for any single tournament, but over the course of a season, the stress on your creation forces you into more brews and thus more time building instead of playtesting.

The Lighter Side

Obviously being the champion of going rogue that I am, I of course feel that the benefits do outweigh the costs. I have just felt that while I always tend to bring up the reasons to go rogue, that it would be a little more fair and balanced if I were to describe some of the reasons to avoid doing so.

I tend to look at one’s style of play as simply that, style. This means that I don’t feel it is right or wrong for someone to go rogue or be a netdecker etc, but rather it either suits them or it doesn’t. We can’t try to force ourselves into roles that we aren’t supposed to. There is probably a reason why I seem to fail whenever I pick up a stock deck. Granted this is a rare occurrence, but I have yet to have any success at it. My strength lies in areas that stock decks tend not to reward which is perfectly reasonable.

There is a reason people always tell you to find a job that you love and that is because you tend to excel at it more so than one you may even be good at but dislike. Magic is no different in that you need to work to find you place. Going rogue is one of those options, but as we laid out above, it is certainly not the only option, and only in some cases the best option. Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods


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