Playing Ahead of the Curve

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I know Art of War quotes are applied to literally everything these days, but this quote could not be more accurate when it comes to competitive Magic. Have you ever gotten a jump on a format and just been constantly one step ahead of everyone else? While the rest of the field was just discovering the level you were on, you were taking the next step in beating that level. When you have memorized all the important cards and strategies in a format and are able to break down what your opponent is doing before they do it, you are at a massive advantage.

I want to quickly recap the last week before we start to look forward. Health goals are on point and I am feeling better every week. Now that my cardio has improved, I am going to change my runs to twice a week and start doing workouts three times a week to add some muscle. I share posts on my progress on twitter and encourage you to join us on #MTGFit.

The good news from last week is the team did amazing. Seth Manfield won the Mythic Invitational, Brad Nelson was alive for Top 8 and drew into top 16 to secure a Grand Final invite and Tonis Ramos tied for Top 8 finishing 10th. Three out of five players in the top 16 with a win, is about as good as anyone could have asked for. The bad news is myself and DanyTlaw failed to make day 2 of the Zendikar Championship. I found Historic to be very confusing as a format and still do. Everyone says Goblins is the best deck and yet it had the worst record at the invitational. The deck is very powerful but also susceptible to Grafdigger’s Cage and disruption. My prior testing had shown Goblins to not be a great best of three option and yet the whole field seemed to think otherwise. This left me feeling generally confused and unsure of where the meta was at and which decks were actually favored in most matchups.

Looking back, I needed to watch more of the teams testing matches and play more matches myself. Specifically playing more targeted matches. I have let the convenience of the ladder overtake my need for targeted testing. Often there are specific key matchups that you will need good data on and playing on the ladder typically won’t give you this. You never know what list your opponent will be playing or their competency level with that deck.

After I lost my last match in the Zendikar Championship Qualifier, my first thought was to take a break from Magic for a few days until Zendikar was released. You should definitely take breaks from Magic anytime you are becoming upset with the game. This is a tell tale sign that you are burnt out and pushing through this will often only compound the issue. I wasn’t burnt out however, I was hungry for the next opportunity to prove myself.

Zendikar Rising is here and with it the long awaited rotation of Standard. There are now only five sets in Standard and they make up 60% of the legal cards for the next year. Knowing these cards inside and out will not only help us right now, but will pay massive dividends for the next twelve months. When a new set gets added we won’t have to completely relearn a new format as we will already have a great understanding of most of the cards. Our first new goal should be to have as deep of an understanding as possible of these five sets. Now is the time to be throwing decks and strategies against the wall to see what they are all about. Just because something doesn’t work right now doesn’t mean it won’t at some point in the future.

Coupled with our more long term goal is the more immediate need to get ahead of the rest of the field. The next Championship Qualifier is in a month and there are lots of tournaments to prepare for between now and then. This is the time when putting in work and finding the most powerful strategies will yield the best results. Not only will it allow us to be better positioned in the early days of the format but it will also allow us to stay one step ahead of the field as everyone inevitably catches up. Playing decklists from last week’s tournaments will always put us at a disadvantage because anyone that was already aware of that deck has since gained more knowledge and will be prepared for us the following week.

At the end of the day Magic is a game of information and how fast we can acquire it. This is why we need to manage our time wisely and use our reasoning skills to deduce fact from fiction. If you have the time, right now you should be trying out all the perceived top decks for yourself and also rogue strategies and brews. Don’t make any assumptions if you can avoid it. Everyone assumed Temur Adventures was the best deck after the last bans. I could tell after only a few matches that Sultai was going to keep it from dominance. Put in the work and find out for yourself.

If you don’t have the time then you need to find trusted sources that you can gain information from. Bad information can hurt you just as much as good information can help. This is where having a team is useful and also realizing who is actually doing the winning. If you want to climb the ladder Crokeyz has to be considered one of the best at doing so and watching his stream or trying his decks would be a logical place to start. If you are trying to win a constructed tournament, people that do consistently well in those like Brad Nelson, Seth Manfield, Gabriel Nassif and LSV to name a few would make the most sense to listen to. Just remember they might not be up to date on the format you care about since the pro schedule can differ on formats. I make this point because with the vast amount of Magic content being produced it can be hard to figure out who you should give your valuable time to. Do yourself a favor and stick with the people that are putting up results.


Next week we will talk about the advantage of knowing your deck and if you should be playing the perceived best deck or if you should be trying to beat it. Until then may your bad beats sting less and your top decks keep you in the fight.


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