Important Things for Tournament Success – Part 4: Familiarizing Yourself with the Metagame


Those who get the better of the metagame are those who succeed in tournaments.

This idea exists because anticipating the metagame and sufficiently taking it into account in selecting a deck are extremely important. Honestly, my most recent accomplishments were playing Terastodon in Hypergenesis and the Ad Nauseam build, but predicting the metagame as well as selecting a deck and deck components are my strong points.

Following my Grand Prix victory at 2009’s GP Singapore, at GP Kobe I used some of the build and technology of my version of Zoo that had been previously revealed to win a second championship. At my first Grand Prix Top 8, Affinity was very popular and in the main deck of my U/W control build I played the defensive and narrow Relic Barrier.

So, moving forward, today’s theme is the metagame.

Anticipating the Metagame in Constructing Your Deck

Being unable to predict the metagame results in being unable to select an appropriate deck. I’m going to write about how to make this assessment and how this is related to the place where you plan to play.

1) In a new environment where your first impression is that there are many strong deck types

For example, at PT Honolulu where the format was Alara Block constructed, Jund made its appearance in the early days of my testing period. At that time the new set was Alara Reborn, which introduced the powerful ability Cascade. The deck that included eight Cascade cards and was composed only of the Jund colors was truly strong. I thought that there would be a lot of Jund decks being played. Also, following the release of new cards like Wall of Omens and Gideon Jura in today’s Standard, many U/W decks are being played, and from the beginning it seemed to me that these were also strong contenders.

Prior to making small adjustments to your build, if there is a deck where you find yourself thinking, “This is powerful!” it is highly likely that many such decks will be present.

2) Watching the sales at a dealer booth

This technique involves observing the sales at a dealer booth either on the day of the event or the day before and taking in information about the metagame on a grand scale. “It seems like a lot of Eldrazi Monuments have been sold, so I bet there will be a lot of mono-Green token decks!” is an example of this sort of assessment. I feel like this is a fine practice at the Pro Tour. If there are dealer booths at Grands Prix and at your own local tournaments, this would again be useful, and the metagame information you gather in this way is extremely reliable. However, the necessity of doing this right before the tournament is this strategy’s weakness: it is better to use it to fine-tune your deck or sideboard than to select a deck for the event itself.

3) Looking at the results of recent large events

I think many people use this strategy. When there is a Standard tournament approaching, if there has been a similar large event in the recent past it is definitely a good idea to look at the results. In terms of succeeding in a new metagame, it is often the case that the environment is such that there are many strong decks. And besides large tournaments, if there are a sufficient number of results from Magic Online or other smaller events these can also be used as a reference point.

There are exceptional decks like Vampires and others which, even though they are not particularly strong, still have a large fan base. In the articles of professional players and elsewhere there are several strategies discussed that are connected to metagame predictions, but above I have talked about the three that I think are especially effective. Even for a tournament that you don’t attend, try to predict deck distributions and train your abilities while always further developing your metagame assessment skills.

What Should I Do Now I Know the Metagame?

When you can predict the metagame, there are two particularly vital things to do: select an appropriate deck for the metagame, and then tune it appropriately for the metagame. I think many players are able to do this naturally, but please take this opportunity to try and consider changes you could make.

1) Choosing a Deck for the Metagame

Choosing a deck for the metagame and then building it are very important. The strongest deck in the format is the standard choice. At this time, both whether you have correctly predicted the metagame and your understanding of the environment are crucial. When creating a new deck for the metagame and not adhering to fixed ideas, you should be prepared for the possibility of failure before going to a tournament, but when you become skilled with it this is very effective.

2) Tuning a Deck for the Metagame

Having found a deck naturally suited to the metagame, it’s time to improve its composition. How skilled you are at this is also important. To cite an example, “due to the large number of creature-based decks, it would be better to play four copies of Day of Judgment,” or conversely, “there are a lot of control decks, so two copies is best.” After considerations like these, try testing them out. I think that everyone usually does this sort of thinking.

Regarding card selection, the choices of which cards to use and not to use and how many copies of each is best to play contribute to your success in a big way. For example when thinking about a deck, you might naturally include four copies of Spreading Seas as well as four copies of Wall of Omens, but often this kind of decision is not easily made. Changing how many different cards you are using might be best. I believe that you should not dismiss the potential for different combinations in favor of fixed notions.

In this example, if you are playing Spreading Seas I understand playing a full set. A clear reason for playing four copies is that having just two copies in play increases the likelihood your opponent will have mana troubles, in turn increasing your chance of winning. Of course, I think there are cases where even playing just three copies and another card would be better.

But what about Wall of Omens? Certainly it is a strong card, but it does not have the same synergy in multiples as [card]Spreading Seas[/card]. On the contrary, increasing the possibility of drawing multiple cards with the same mana cost is basically undesirable.

Beyond the metagame, if you anticipate playing many less-experienced opponents I think that the probability of drawing this card while playing three copies is enough. Regarding all of this, it is important to consider in detail your individual card choices as well as the reasons why you are playing each card and to closely compare these factors with the metagame.

In conclusion, deck tuning is simpler than deck selection and I think mistakes are less widespread. At the actual event, you will be more comfortable playing a deck you are accustomed to than the “correct” choice for the metagame if both of these options exist. With deck selection there is a greater risk and return value. Certainly the best option in terms of the metagame is choosing the strongest deck and carefully tuning it, but in reality the problem is that there are many cases in which it is better to use a deck suited to your own circumstances and ability.

Playing in a Limited Metagame

When speaking of “the metagame” we tend to think only of the elements of constructed formats, but sealed and draft formats have their own metagames too. For example, with sealed: “In the current environment black is extremely strong and around 70% of players use it, so putting this swampwalk creature in the main deck is a good idea.” Or, “This time my deck is weak, and there are many U/W heavy packs, so in order to defeat my opponents’ flying decks, I’m going to add some mediocre removal to my main.” These are metagame-based choices. In draft: “There was a concentration of red commons in my first pack and it will be easy for several players to choose red, so I will avoid it as much as possible.” I think that this is also a “metagame”. However, it is more difficult to gather data for predicting a limited metagame than it is for a constructed metagame, and more discussion and information exchange is necessary.

Those who get the better of the metagame are those who succeed in tournaments.

I don’t think this is an exaggeration. It is no mistake that the constant variation in what archetypes and builds are strong is what makes Magic more interesting, and in order to succeed this is an extremely important concept. Try your best to skillfully ride the metagame wave.

From Tomoharu Saito, to Magic players throughout the world

6 thoughts on “Important Things for Tournament Success – Part 4: Familiarizing Yourself with the Metagame”

  1. Nice article. I would go even further, and say that knowing your metagame is important beyond choosing and tweaking your deck, but also important for how you play. For example:

    Do I need to mulligan this hand? Knowing what decks you are likely to face can help you to make this important decision game 1 before you know what your opponent is playing. Also, knowledge of the format as a whole can effect this rather than specific decks (E.g. ROE limited is generally quite slow, so you can generally afford to keep a slower hand than you might in Zendikar limited).

    Do I want to play first? In standard, this is almost always a yes, because some decks are just so fast. But in ROE limited, it’s almost always a no, since the games are (paraphrasing LSV here) long enough that generally an extra card will give you more of an advantage than getting to play first.

    Again, great article. Some interesting thoughts, especially thinking of your particular draft pod as having a metagame in itself.

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  3. Metagaming affects your sideboard the most. If you have a strong matchup against e erythign but mono-red, and you expect to see some mono-red, then your SB should contain some Firewalkers, DClaws, Perimeters etc…

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