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How to Read a Metagame

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Checking in with our goals, I only ran three of the five days I had wanted. I’m going to start running first thing in the morning so that I don’t run out of time during the day or procrastinate. Feels bad missing the mark and I’m determined to do better this week.

Last week we talked about how picking a deck is the most important part of winning a tournament. Pick the right deck and you could find yourself sailing easily to the top tables. Pick the wrong deck and your chances of winning might be gone before you draw your first hand. Today we are going to dig into how we can find a good decklist or at the very least avoid choosing a lemon.

For this weekend’s Historic tournaments I had the pleasure of working with Seth Manfield, Alia Beatriz Grancha, Javier Dominguez, Toni Ramis, Brad Nelson, Eric Froehlich, DanyTlaw, and Ben Stark. Though Ben mostly kept telling us he had the perfect 40 card deck and then dropped a Bant fog deck in our laps at the 11th hour.

To figure out which decks will perform well in a given tournament we need to talk about the “metagame”. There are a lot of definitions for the metagame, I think of it as the decks that are going to show up at a particular tournament or point in time.

There are some basic rules that we can follow when trying to predict the meta for a given tournament. Both the size of the tournament and type of players playing can give us clues to nailing our prediction. In a large tournament like the Zendikar Championship Qualifier, there will be players playing almost every imaginable archetype. In situations like these we want to play a deck that has raw power and consistency. In a smaller tournament like a PT Finals or SCG 10K you have the opportunity to target the top decks as you can predict more accurately what decks you are likely to face. Players in these tournaments are more likely to play established archetypes.

To give you an idea for just how fast the metagame can move, last Wednesday I suggested we look into Mono Green Aggro. By Thursday most of the team had climbed to the top of the ladder, so we decided to stop playing on the ladder to not tip anyone off. By Friday, despite having a very high win rate with Mono Green, the team had started to settle on Sultai.

At the time I was perplexed by this sequence of events. It was mostly reasoned that Mono Green was beating up on a lot of untuned lists and wasn’t really as good as the numbers were showing. On the other hand Sultai had been putting up a mid 40’s win percentage in the few tournaments that had been played.

Looking back now I think this decision was correct. Mono Green has become a known quantity and doesn’t look great in a field full of Goblins, Jund, and Sultai that are prepared for it. Meanwhile Sultai, if tuned correctly, could have solid matchups against the three main decks in the tournament and certainly some game against everything.

The takeaway here is that you need to be looking at what is really happening in your matches and not simply picking your deck off of a win/loss ratio. Javier Dominguez likes to play a lot of games quickly, getting a feel for decks and match ups and then basing his decisions off of that. I think this is a great approach, either way it requires you to really pay attention and not just go through the motions trying to find a win/loss ratio.

For this weekend’s Qualifier I suggest watching all or as much of the Mythic Invitational as you can. Whatever deck or decks have a strong showing there is most likely where you want to plant your flag. Goblins, Jund, and Sultai are all powerful decks with a lot of consistency. This is the reason they are the most played decks in the tournament. The best players in the world have put in the time to tune these lists, keep it simple and pick one that works for you.

Decks that have won tournaments and done well on the ladder like Bant Control, Rakdos Midrange, Burn, Mono Black Gift, Gruul Aggro, and Azorious Enchantments to name a few are most likely traps in varying degrees. Is it possible to do well with one of these archetypes? Of course it is. If you are extremely versed in one of these decks and know it inside and out by all means play that deck. If you are like me and you have bounced from deck to deck over the weeks, never really mastering any of them, then you are probably headed for trouble by picking one of these up.

If your proficiency with any deck is going to be about the same then you should pick a deck that is on the whole more powerful. I am a rebel at heart and I want to win with the deck no one sees coming. There are percentage points to be gained by going rogue, but only if you or someone else have really put in the time to nail down a list and a plan. This late in the game if you aren’t well on your way to being at that point with a rogue deck, do yourself a favor and pick up the big club over the tiny stone. For every Goliath that gets slain there is a road paved in flat Davids.

This Historic season has been a rollercoaster. After Field of the Dead was banned it seemed like Goblins was bad and Jund Coco/Citadel was over hyped. Over the weeks many different decks would sit at the top of the mountain and at the finish line Goblins is considered the “best deck”. Jund has gone through many variations only to end up with the current #1 Mythic player using a list that looks like it hasn’t changed a bit from the start of the format. And Sultai, which often sports a losing win percentage, is the go-to deck for many of the world’s top pros.

So what’s going on here?

I think part of the reason for this is a lack of tournaments for lists to be smashed against each other, slowly weeding out the ones that don’t work. The card pool is large enough that there are variations on each archetype, which leads to confusing results trying to figure out which deck actually has the advantage over another. You will hear Jund players say they have a great Goblins match up. Only for a Goblins player to think they have a great Jund matchup, possibly because they are playing Leyline of Combustion in their sideboard.

To recap, watch the Mythic Invitational coverage closely as it will shed light on which decks and strategies are the truth and which ones should be avoided. You can assume the metagame for the qualifier will be largely influenced by the Invitational. As for me, I will be running in the mornings and playing Historic as much as possible until the weekend.

If you have questions or want help feel free to message me on Twitter @JasonFleurant. Hopefully I have good news to report in next week’s article, win or lose we will learn and move forward!

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