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Down With the Sickness

Every so often, I like to do an article that covers a variety of little topics rather than having some giant, overarching point. Rather than hit ’em up with a thesis, slap in three supporting paragraphs, and then finish up strong with a conclusion that basically says the same thing as the thesis, I like to mix and match. Maybe go in strong with a thesis, have four supporting paragraphs, and then the conclusion.

Take that, high school English teachers. I like to walk on the wild side.

Or maybe, kind of like how Sperling likes to write an article about how he’s Sick of It, I can write an article about how I’m not sick of things. BBD’s Down with the Sickness. Ahhhwaughaghaghaghagh!

GW Tokens Is Still Great

There are players out there who are hating on this deck, but I’m having a ball with it. It’s a regular old player hater’s ball out there. These haters, in time, will come around. Everyone thinks they have a great matchup against GW Tokens, but what can be said about those matchups that hasn’t already been said about my opponent’s board position? It looks bombed out and depleted. For example, GB Aristocrats is supposedly favored vs. GW Tokens, but I am something like 8-0 against it over three tournaments. I think it may actually be the best matchup for GW.

This is the list Josh Cho and I played at GP New York. We were 7-2 and 6-3 after Day 1, and feeling kind of medium about the deck, but then we went a combined 11-1 on Day 2 to give us each a 12-3. Michael Majors also started 7-2 with a different build of GW but went 6-0 on Day 2 to Top 8, and Michael Sigrist went 15-0 in the Swiss with GW before succumbing in the quarterfinals. Siggy followed the recent tradition of going 15-0 in the Swiss, flew a bit too close to the sun, and then lost in the Top 8. I hate to see it.

Long story short, people are still doing really well with the deck, it’s still putting up results, and it’s still the nut high.

I’m not sure how the plan of 26 lands, 3 Secure the Wastes, and Tireless Trackers worked out. I only drew Tracker a handful of times in the event and sided it out a bunch. It’s probably just a sideboard card, to be honest.

I went 7-3 at the PT with Tokens and have now gone 12-3 at the last 2 GPs with it, losing round 14 both times to keep me out of Top 8. I think this is a large enough sample size to decide that I will always lose exactly 3 matches with this deck in every tournament, round 14 sucks, and I want to play GW the rest of the time it is legal in Standard. Keep bringing the hate—I look forward to hearing “I can’t believe I lost to Tokens, it’s such a good matchup” for the rest of the season. Well, unless we play in round 14, that is. In that case… good beats.

Luck

At this point, everyone has been trained that blaming everything on luck is not a helpful approach to Magic. For one, it’s factually wrong. Everyone makes mistakes, whether they notice or acknowledge them. Secondly, it’s pointless and unhelpful to complain about luck every time you lose. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. If every time you lose it’s because you “got unlucky,” people stop listening or caring.

It’s also possible to get unlucky and still make mistakes at the same time. Case in point—I lost my first round of GP New York. I drew badly in both games. In the first game, I drew about 8 lands in a row, and in game 2 I kept a hand with a good curve but without a white source, and didn’t draw one for a really long period of time—I lost as a result.

I got unlucky. I also made a subtle mistake in game 1. I read my opponent as having 2 specific cards in his hand. I then made what is almost always the “right” play, but one that would be bad if he had exactly those 2 cards. He did, I got punished, and I lost. I had a line of play that would have blown him out if he had those 2 cards, but would have been worse if he didn’t have them. If I had trusted my gut and made the other play, I probably would have won the game. So yeah, I got unlucky, but it would also be silly to blame luck when I could have won game 1 by following my instincts.

The reason I’m writing about luck, however, is that I think players might have actually skewed too far the other direction. Everyone’s been taught to have had it ingrained that they should avoid blaming luck for losses, and they’re actually hurting themselves by doing so.

Sometimes luck is to blame. Sometimes, the reason you went 0-2 in a tournament isn’t because you are bad or that your deck sucks, or whatever reason you want to attribute to the result. It’s actually because you had bad luck. If you force yourself to come up with a conclusion that doesn’t involve luck every single time you lose, sometimes you end up with a bunch of false positives. “This deck is bad because I went 0-2 drop.” “I must be bad at Magic. I lost every match this tournament.” That’s not necessarily true.

I don’t know a whole lot about luck, personally, but it’s a topic I would like to take a class on if such a thing is even offered. I think a Magic player who has a powerful grasp and understanding of luck and when to correctly attribute things to luck versus other factors has an enormous advantage on other Magic players. This hypothetical player has the ability to know when a bad or good result is the product of luck or the product of something else, like having a good deck, playing well, or nailing the metagame. There are many tournaments where I went 0-2 with a deck, wanted to give up on it because of my results, decided to hang in there anyway, and ended up winning a tournament with it the very next week. If I ignored the influence of luck on my 0-2 finishes, I would have missed out on some good decks.

I think understanding luck also gives us perspective as humans. Regardless of whether I am lucky or unlucky in Magic, I think I am extremely lucky as a human. I’m a white male born into a middle class family in the U.S. My parents are still happily married, my family is great and I get along with them, and I just happened to learn how to play Magic at a college 40 minutes away from StarCityGames. I was able to end up working there for many years, make a career out of doing something I love, and in a region where the highest density of Magic tournaments are held. I certainly worked hard to get where I am, but I was also quite lucky to be in the right places at the right times, and having that perspective reminds me that not everyone else is awarded the same opportunities as I am.

Long story short, I think luck is an extremely misunderstood subject in Magic. Magic players, myself included, have a poor grasp and understanding of luck, and learning more about this would help us analyze results from matches and tournaments, and act off that analysis.

250

According to Brad Nelson, my favorite games of Magic are the games where I know I am going to win early on in the game, but it is going to take another 20 turns to actually win. I don’t know whether he’s right or wrong, but I had one such game at GP Toronto.

Playing against GB Aristocrats, I made Ormendahl on turn 6. That deck has no answer to Ormendahl, except making their own. And on my opponent’s turn 6, that’s exactly what he did. He sacrificed his entire board to replicate Ormendahl.

I have ways to remove Ormendahl in my deck and my opponent does not. I can also assemble a larger board, given enough time. I was pretty sure I was going to win the game, but I figured it would take a while longer.

It took another 50 minutes. The game devolved into the Battle for Dahl’s Deep, as we just slammed dueling Ormendahls into each other repeatedly, gaining astronomical amounts of life. Eventually, we reached a board where we were both at 90 life, my opponent had 3 Zulaport Cutthroats and a massive board, and I had 4 Gideon emblems and about 40 creatures.

I went to combat after forgetting to -2 my Nissa before attacks, and swung for about 250 points of damage. The final combat step took 9 minutes, involved a judge using a calculator, and resulted in me just barely finishing off my opponent 6 minutes after time had expired.

I don’t always play 56-minute long game 1s, but I love it when I do.

I’ve got more topics to cover, but I ran out of space in this piece. Stay tuned for part two.

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