The internet is a fantastic source of information, and a great time sink. Nowadays there are so many tournaments that you no longer need to sit for hours carefully crafting a deck list—you simply look one up (the aptly named process of netdecking). And who can blame you? The combined power of so many brains and ideas is clearly going to result in a better list than you individually can create. Take my recent article about Amulet Green in Modern. I took the list that was sculpted from scratch and shared it with the world. A week later, the deck is transformed. It’s still trying to do the same thing, but the many cooks found better ingredients that had previously remained hidden away in the cupboard.
An unfortunate downside of this vast pool of information is that metas dissolve down to a small number of decks quickly. This is particularly true in Standard. WotC realized this recently, and tried to limit the amount of information available by only publishing deck lists from one event for each archetype from Magic Online Dailies. This was a pretty meaningless gesture, as there is still just so much out there.
Given all this information, you should certainly be using it, even if you aren’t just cribbing lists. But with so much of it, where do you start?
This week’s article aims to point you at the resources I find most helpful for tournament preparation. It’s not intended to be an all-encompassing guide to Magic on the internet, so I apologize if your favorite resource isn’t mentioned. In fact, I may not have heard about it, so share your personal preferences in the comments for others to use!
Articles are a great way to keep yourself abreast of thoughts and tools for the different formats. I’m sure that a lot of writers, like myself, write about whatever we are currently interested in—be it a new deck we’ve been playing or a meta we have been studying.
If I see something cool I’ll write about it. If I hear people discussing some aspect of the game a lot, I will write about it. Articles also wield significant influence. If there were no articles, you would have a very different meta where players would just choose whichever deck they liked best. However, if LSV says that a deck is sweet, then a whole bunch of people will turn out playing it, and you should factor that in to your preparations.
Obviously, your number one article resource is right here on ChannelFireball. I think some other sites do articles if you want to look them up, but why would you go anywhere else?
I don’t read many articles. I browse them and look at ones my friends are excited about, but there are so many these days that you have to be selective. What I do spend a good portion of my time doing, is looking at deck lists.
Deck lists, Deck lists, Deck lists
When I prepare for a tournament, I want to know what everyone has been playing. There are so many tournaments these days, and people are kind enough to publish the top performing lists online—If you know where to look. Again, there is more information than a normal human being can deal with. Here are my top resources:
This is probably my number one resource for deck lists, when I have the patience. TCG player gathers deck lists from all sorts of events, including Magic Online Daily Events and SCG Opens. Unfortunately, it also gives you a whole bunch of lists that are just random brews, so it’s important to pay attention to the location column if you just select a format to search. You can use the “place(s) finished” search criteria, but then you miss out on the deck lists from Magic Online Daily Events, since they don’t have a finishing position.
Still this gives you a pretty quick sweep of what is doing well at the moment. For example, I paid no attention to the Magic coverage last weekend, yet I am now aware that Junk Rites performed well. Notably, aggro decks were down, as was control (probably why [card]Unburial Rites[/card] could resolve). Midrange made up most of the non-Rites spaces in the top performing decks. This is the sort of knowledge you can base your decision for next weekend on. I would be looking to pick something I felt confident playing against midrange, and be sure to have plenty graveyard hate or counters to shut down the Rites decks.
I also use this site to help me determine sideboard choices. There are some sideboard choices which are obvious foils to popular decks, but sometimes I need inspiration. Yeah, I could do a Gatherer search for a color if I wanted to trawl through every card, but even for Standard that is far too much effort when only a small number are playable/useful. When you get up to Modern it’s just impractical.
Instead, I look at a whole bunch of deck lists that have done well that are similar to the deck I want to play, and look at what they sideboard. Certainly in older formats you can get quite disparate choices, probably based on card availability, but a successful sideboard will have a range of answers available to it. Seeing what choices people have made can help greatly.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to build a sideboard, then don’t mix and match between lists too much, or you might end up with a lot of hate for one deck and nothing for another. With practice, you will be able to identify what cards are for what matchups and then choose a combination of cards that suit you, your deck, and the metagame you expect.
I spend a lot more time on my sideboard choices than anything else. Main decks are often fairly static, but if you have the right 15 cards ready and waiting, then you will be very successful. I like to find cards that answer multiple matchups to best maximize my sideboarding power, which is why I will trawl through many lists so that I can consider all my options.
Speaking of sideboards, the other thing to take note of is what other decks are commonly boarding at the moment. For example, whether [card]Blood Moon[/card] is in favor, or whether artifact hate is currently low. It is important to remember that as well as helping you with your sideboard choices, sideboards from other lists can also inform your deck choice.
The other cool feature I should mention about TCG player is if you go to the Standard deck list page, they give you a meta breakdown of Top 8s since last rotation. Obviously it’s a little sweeping, since it covers a long time, over which the metagame can shift dramatically, but I still like it.
As I mentioned at the beginning, WotC now publishes fewer Magic Online deck lists than they used to. However, you still get one scheduled event per day for each format, plus any PTQs and Premier Event Top 8s. You can find the links to them on the right-hand side of the above page.
TCG Player does get these lists, but only displays the 4-0 decks whereas here you can also see the lists that went 3-1. This can give you a better overall feel for a meta, as this lets you see 40% of the field. With TCG Player, you only see the top performing decks, which is a relatively small proportion of the field that entered. This does tend to dictate future metas but does not actually represent what the meta was like on that day.
Magic Online is also a good place to check for formats that are not currently in season. For example, when Modern is not the PTQ format, then very few events will be being played, limiting data. I would use Magic Online event lists to find a list or lists to copy, and also to see what people are currently playing to prepare for an upcoming event such as a GP.
Again, these lists are available on TCG Player, but sometimes I just like to look at a particular tournament rather than sifting through lots of lists. If I want a quick look at a format, then the bigger the tournament the better, and SCG Opens are getting pretty big. If GPs published more lists, I would go look at them, but SCG normally has the Top 32 lists up.
Importantly, many other people will also be looking at and reacting to these lists. The attention on tournaments increases and broadens with attendance. If there is a funky new deck, people will pick it up and run it at every event from FNM to GP, so you don’t want to be caught unaware.
You want to be aware of any high profile “new tech” coming out of big events, as they will be adopted into the general pool very quickly.
This page actually has a whole bunch of lists from all sorts of events. It has lists from the most recent Pro Tour, but those are only useful for a while, as things shift too quickly. However, it also has a link to a bunch of Top 8 deck lists from PTQs around the world. It’s currently the top link. I think it might always be, but don’t hold me to that. I rarely go here, as the other sites give me a better idea of what’s going on, and this is subject to local metas and other factors. But, if you hear about a list that won a PTQ (like the Gruul Aggro list in Modern), then you might be able to find it here. Note they only have some PTQs, and I don’t know what determines which ones.
I know it seems like a bunch of these resources are redundant, but I really do use all of them at different times for different reasons. I hope I managed to convey those to you. It’s easy to get distracted when sifting through all the information out there, so try to keep your goals in mind.
If you have the time, watching some of the great videos here on ChannelFireball (and yes, elsewhere as well) is an excellent way to understand how to play or draft a format. I feel like I learned to draft at LSV’s side. Hearing what people are thinking and the reasons behind their decisions, especially when you are screaming for them to take the other card or making the other play, is probably the most valuable resource. I just wish it wouldn’t take so long!
Videos are a far better use of your time than coverage, in my opinion. Often the commentators at events don’t really understand the deck they are watching and they can’t see either hand very well. At least watching a video you get to hear the pilot’s views.
I know Matt Sperling recently voiced his dislike of streamers. But I think some people are worth watching. Again, you need time, but the main benefit of these over videos is the ability to ask questions in the chat. Generally, these will be answered meaningfully by the streamer, so if you are planning to play a new deck, see if anyone you respect is playing it. If you aren’t sure who to watch, look at the viewer number as that’s a pretty good indication of who is interesting. I’m lead to believe Travis Woo’s stream is a good place to look for brews. Follow this link to find all the Magic currently being streamed.
I think that’s all I wanted to cover today. I hope you found out something new and useful, and as I said at the beginning, feel free to mention your favorite resource if I didn’t mention it. I’m going to be taking a few weeks off, but I will be back soon.!