Before I start, I’d like to talk a bit about something people brought up in my last article’s forum – 61 cards. I said it cannot be good to play 61, and I stand by that. I understand that people have won pro tours with 61 cards, but that does not mean it is the correct choice – it is not terribly wrong, but it is strictly wrong. The reason for that is that the first 60 cards in your deck are the best 60 cards – or they wouldn’t be the first 60. The 61st card is certainly worse than the first 60, or it would be in your 60. If you don’t know what the 61st card is supposed to be, then just cut one of the worse ones – you can’t have 61 equally good cards.
If you say you want 38.9% land over 39.4% or whatever the percentage is, then you are probably just making that up (the fact that you need those specific percentages, not the numbers). I mean, how can you seriously say this exactly what you need? If you really, really must have a different percentage of lands, then play a Ponder or an Urza’s Bauble. As I said, I believe that anything you use to justify 61 cards is just wrong, and even if you cannot see why it is wrong, even if the argument for it is very appealing to you, chances are you are missing something or being deceived and should just go with 60 no matter what.
That said, today I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the best five six decks I’ve ever played in a big tournament, how I came to play them and why they were the best.
6 – UBr Teachings, GP San Francisco
The reason I have six, and not five, is that I had already written about this deck when I remembered one that I think is better. Now I could just remove it, but since I have already written about it, it might as well stay there in 6th place.
Record: 11-0-4 (3 byes), then 1-1 in the top 8
How I came to play this deck: During this GP, I stayed at Web’s house with Paul Cheon and Luis. We played a lot the day or days before the event and the match we were concerned about, Mono-Blue Pickles, turned out to actually not be a bad matchup. The deck was very good against creatures, with Damnations and Voids, and could handle itself well against the control decks because it just had infinite card drawing and some silver bullets like Detritivore and Teferi.
Why the deck was good: well, for basically the reasons it was appealing to us – it was a control deck with a lot of removal and card drawing that would draw you into more removal, with some specific cards and Mystical Teachings to get them. In many formats, this strategy wouldn’t have worked out, but in this format there was something that was the key to the deck’s success – even the control decks were based on creatures. That made it so we could overload on those and still handle ourselves against the likes of Mono-Blue Pickles – to give you an idea, we even boarded in more spot removal against them. With Damnation, Void, Strangling Soot, Tendrils of Corruption and Slaughter Pact, the actual creature decks (GW and such) were no trouble.
The lesson: the lesson here is that every format is a format, and, again, that playtesting is good (it does seem to come to this almost every time). We assumed it would lose to other control decks because historically decks like this do, but the control decks in that format were fundamentally different than every other, and by playtesting that match extensively we were able to figure that out and exploit that weakness. In the end, three of the four of us made Top 8, with me and Paul Cheon losing to Jon Stocks with a UG control deck (which was actually not that based on creatures, even if it had more creatures than your average Pickles deck) and Luis winning the whole thing.
What else I considered playing: Pickles, before I found out it didn’t actually beat what we were playing.
5 – UGR in Pro Tour San Juan, Zendikar Block Constructed
I have written a long report about this a month ago, so I will not go into a lot of details (and that gives me more space to talk about Faeries *_*). It was an excellent deck for the tournament because it had game against everything – it didn’t have any outstanding matchups, but none horrible either, and the sideboard was really good at improving all your matches, whereas no one had relevant sideboard against us.
What else I considered playing: Mono-Red, before Luis asked “what the hell happened to you that you want to play [card]Goblin Guide[/card]s now??”
4 – Faeries, every tournament ever
You knew this was coming, right?
I’ve played Faeries in many tournaments, almost always with some success. To give you an idea, my finishes with it are two PT top 8s, a GP t4, a nationals win, a GP 9th, a GP 20th, a GP 25th and then a 2-2 in Kyoto and a 1-2 at nationals, and if I am not mistaken, my overall record with it in matches played is 61-25, which almost 71%. I don’t say this to brag, but just so you understand why I think the deck was super good – nah, ok, I’m just bragging.
Since I played it in so many tournaments, I will talk about the first one, and the one I think it was the best in.
Record: 12-4 (then 0-1 in the Top 8 )
How I came to play it: For PT Hollywood, I tested A LOT – it was probably the first tournament I dedicated this much for. From the early stages of testing, everyone knew Faeries was the deck to beat (there was even a question in the Top 8 profile, “how worried were you about Faeries and how many cards do you have in your sideboard?”), so we kept throwing decks at Faeries – it was basically the first test, and if a deck was simply smashed by Faeries, it was no good no matter what else it beat. Once a deck had a passable matchup against Faeries, it could then be tested against everything else. The problem was just that nothing had a passable matchup against Faeries!
When the format is new, it is natural that people want to try new decks. I always build 150 decks before every tournament, and most of them turn out to be pretty bad, but in this case, every single one of them was losing to Faeries. At some point, we became so focused on the Faeries matchup that we warped all of our decks to beat it, than we would already build decks with beating Faeries in mind, and we still kept losing to it!
So, it dawned on us, after smashing every deck we tried with Faeries, that perhaps we should just play Faeries – after all, if someone was going to be beating everyone else, that person might as well be us. The background for that tournament was PT Yokohama, the one I played White Weenie in, and the situation was familiar to that of Teachings – we couldn’t beat it with most decks, but we decided to just not play it because it was “the target,” and in the end I regretted the decision terribly, so I decided to not let that happen again. Since I started testing a lot of time before the event, I had the time to set on Faeries and practice a lot with it, to the point where I got a nice list and I played it well.
Why it was good: I’ve written a lot of articles on why Faeries is like the best deck ever, but the main point that made it attractive was that it just slaughtered randomness. Most serious matches with Faeries were hard – you had to really work for your wins, and you had a small edge. When the match was unfavorable, it was only slightly unfavorable. Then there were the decks you just wouldn’t lose to Reveillark decks of sort and every single deck someone decided to “brew” for the Pro Tour. When you are playing a creature deck, you always have the risk of running into someone who decided GW Loxodon Hierarch is a good deck *cough* LSV *cough*. If you play a combo deck, you might run into Mono-Blue Control or Mono-Black Discard. Anyway, you get what I mean (I hope) – with every deck, there is the possibility that you will run into something that is very bad for you. With Faeries, that possibility just did not exist – you were a heavy favorite against all the “unconventional” decks, and we knew that because we tried every single unconventional deck.
There is also the fact that it is incredibly hard to play against. We played infinite games with and against Faeries, and we still had major trouble deciding what to play every single turn we were faced with two or more untapped lands, so I guess for most people who didn’t know the deck as much it was even harder. With Faeries, you actually win a lot of games you shouldn’t win because your opponent plays in a certain way, and you cannot actually say they played badly, because most of the time, they just have to guess!
3 – BW in Pro Tour Charleston 2006, Team Ravnica Block
How I came to play it: We tested a lot for this event too. At some point, I played with Diego Ostrovich, and he was playing with this deck. I really liked what it did, so we worked on it nonstop for a long time, until I learned how to play it very well, and then I announced to my teammates that this was what I was going to play and they would have to manage with the other cards.
Why the deck was good: The deck was good because every card was super synergic with each other, and everything in it was able to play defense and offense. Some cards made tokens, some cards pumped tokens, some cards sacrificed tokens and made more tokens, some cards killed your opponent’s whole board, and most cards did more than one of those. You had good game against the control decks, because your cards were all very resilient and some of them threats unto themselves (Skeletal Vampire, Belfry Spirit), and there weren’t that many Wraths being played, and you simply smashed the creature decks with your constant stream of card advantage. The board let you swap removal for discard and discard for removal, making all the matches better, too. And on top of all that, the format was Team Constructed, and this deck managed to do all that while taking pretty much nothing away from any other deck, since none of the cards were powerhouses other than maybe Skeletal Vampire and Dark Confidant.
The lesson: There are a couple of lessons here. The first is to have good testing partners, so that you can steal their ideas (but hey this is kind of obvious, I know). The second is that a deck is a deck, and not 60 individual cards. When you look at this deck, it might look bad – I mean, Belfry Spirit? Plagued Rusalka? But it was actually very good, because all the cards worked extremely well with each other. When you build a deck, it is important to look for raw power in individual cards, but also important to look for power in the entire deck. Most of the time, a bunch of bad cards with some good ones will not turn out to be a good deck, but hey, sometimes it will (Living End for example doesn’t have a single good card in it).
The other lesson is that you must understand all your deck is capable of doing. This deck was VERY hard to play properly, mainly because of all the synergy, and you had to realize all you could do with each card. Haunt is a particularly troublesome mechanic sometimes, and you also needed some rules knowledge to play it. The other Brazilian team decided to play this deck also, but their player had no experience, and messed up a lot of haunt and sacrifice tricks when he didn’t flat out miss them. For example, because I had played my deck a lot and knew how the cards worked, I was able to kill my own Plagued Rusalka with Orzhov Pontiff to kill Tomaharu Saito’s Giant Solifuge in the finals.
What else I considered playing: a BUG control deck, but Celso ended up playing it so I guess “I ended up playing it” too.
2 – Flash in GP Columbus, Legacy
Record: 11-4 (3 byes)
How I came to play this deck: Before this tournament, I stayed at my friend Tyler’s house, and one day before it started we went and met a lot of his friends to play all day long (and eat Beans Pizza). I didn’t really want to play Flash, so I battled with a lot of different decks and watched a lot of people playing. Slivers, Sea Stompy, Affinity, in the end, nothing seemed remotely as good as Flash, so I read a couple of articles and built a list I liked.
Why the deck was good: I mean… look at the deck! If often killed turn two with disruption, and if not then it would kill turn three with two disruptions. Playing this deck made it look like half your matches were Constructed versus Limited – every time your opponent didn’t have either black or blue in his deck, I knew it was just impossible to lose, and if they had Swamps but not Islands, it was still pretty easy. Granted, I did lose to Owen Turtenwald playing Goblins, but that involved me being stuck on one land and then Brainstorming into 3 combo pieces when I had the other in hand already; I am not really sure how he managed to get 2nd place in that GP with Goblins of all decks – I know he beat me, and he beat Sadin because Sadin didn’t know how the combo worked and fizzled himself (should have read example #3!), but I guess he just didn’t play versus other Flash decks, or those were his losses and he beat everything else.
Now, this might sound a little arrogant, but I think I had the best Flash version in the tournament (though I suppose you can make a case for Sadin’s list, which is very different, but I still prefer mine). Of course I couldn’t have seen every Flash deck in there, and some cards are subject to personal preference, but some things that people were doing are just worse than what I was doing. For example, Benevolent Bodyguard will protect your combo from a single spell, and as long as that isn’t red. Then Gadiel Szleifer had the fantastic idea of playing Sylvan Safekeeper instead, so that you can protect your combo from any amount of removal – except by doing so, you fizzle your own combo, since Kiki-Jiki’s ability will be countered because the creature now has shroud. People also didn’t realize Bodyguard on red would do the same, and they opened themselves to removal from the red deck, whereas I had a Goblin Chirurgeon in the board for those matches. Everyone was undecided between Echoing Truth or Chain of Vapor – they wanted to be able to bounce multiple Leylines of the Void, but didn’t want to be caught on Chalice for two – and no one was playing the actual best maindeck bounce, Rushing River, which not only gets around both of those problems but also bounces two permanents with different names, such as one Leyline of the Void and a Meddling Mage, or two Tormod’s Crypts. Some decks didn’t have Massacre, some didn’t have Lim-Dul’s Vault – my deck had it all and I was very happy with the particular list I ended up with (I also had an Energy Field in the board to teach them not to Leyline you, but that never actually came up).
The lesson here is again of the “if you can’t beat them, join them” sort, except this time it is overwhelmingly so, since the deck was that much better than everything else. People who wanted to beat Flash would warp their decks so much that they would be completely unable to beat a Mountain, while in the end they wouldn’t actually beat Flash properly. The deck was just so powerful that I believe every single person who did not play Flash that tournament made a mistake. Even if you knew everyone else was going to play Flash, you should probably still play Flash, as there was no deck that had a winning percentage against a properly built Flash list – I mean, no matter how much hate you have, sometimes you will just die turn two with Duress and Force of Will backup, and the deck did that at an alarming rate.
What decks I considered playing: Goblins (nah, just kidding).
#1: Enduring Ideal, Brazilian nationals 2006
How I came to play this deck: Before the event, I went to GP Phoenix in search of the one Pro Point I needed to get a plane ticket to Kobe. In that event, I talked to a bunch of people and played some matches, and didn’t really conclude anything about Standard, so I just settled on playing BW, which was a deck I knew and was “decent,” not smashing anything but not losing to anything etc. I traveled back to Brazil and stayed at my friend Luis’s house, along with Xiko (Francisco Barciella). They had a deck they liked, back from Japanese nationals, which had been made by Akira Asahara, but was not really a known deck since he hadn’t Top 8ed. They decided they were going to play the deck, which didn’t really surprise me since I knew they liked weird decks – they would often opt to play something because it was different and fun.
I started tuning my BW list, and the day before the event we gathered at someone’s house and I watched them playtest the Ideal deck, and it looked so”¦ good! Their opponents were always helpless, and I started to go through match scenarios in my head and Ideal always came out on top. I then played a couple of games with it, and just like that I was convinced – I threw away the “guaranteed decent” for the “potentially awesome or potentially terrible.” The following day I had to get cards for the deck, and my friends kind of laughed at me saying, “Haha you are playing that?”
Why the deck was good: The deck attacked the format in an angle that the format was not prepared to answer, and, more than that, that the format simply could not have answered it even if it wanted to, because the tools just weren’t there. No aggro deck was fast enough to kill you through Court Hussars, Faith’s Fetters and Wrath of God, and no control deck could compete with Counterbalance, Top, Scrying Sheets and Boseiju. The hybrid decks were also very easy – Mori’s UBW Counterbalance, for example, could only watch you play Enduring Ideal and hope a seven casting cost card suddenly materialized itself on the top of their decks. This was the time I felt I had the biggest edge in a constructed tournament, and the only match I lost was the 75 card mirror.
The lesson here is that those people who tell you, “Never change decks the day before the event,” are simply wrong. Of course, most of the time you should stick to what you know, but, as Obi-Wan would say, “only a Sith deals in absolutes” (which is an absolute statement in itself, but that’s neither here nor there). What you really should aim to do is, first of all, to understand how Magic works – in the end, Magic is always Magic, which is why I have a problem with people saying “stop talking about Legacy if you aren’t from the community” or the likes of that. If you build solid foundations, then everything will come easier – for example, Nassif was never a Legacy player, he got the deck the morning of the event, and he won GP Chicago, not because of his mastery of the format or his mastery of the deck, but simply because of his mastery of Magic. The best way to do that is to just play a lot of Magic, even if it is not exactly the same thing you will be playing. I mean, half the time I talk to LSV he says something like ,”So this just happened in my MED sealed,” or, “man look at what this guy did in this Pauper Highlander Rainbow event I was in,” and it certainly helps making him the player he is.
Once you are a good Magic player, then you should be able to analyze things without wasting too much time; if you know the format a little bit, that should be enough to dismiss or see potential in a new deck, and it will be enough to make you play it decently enough. The reason why I changed to the Enduring Ideal deck the day before the event and then won the event with it was that, because of the countless hours I spent playing Magic, I was able to identify something good when it came to me, and I was able to play it well even if I hadn’t played many games with it before.
What else I considered playing: BW, until I realized there was no reason to play fair when I could play unfair.
So, what do all those decks have in common? Well, it is hard to find one unique trait on them, but it seems to me that they are either the product of extensive testing, to the point where I got a good list and really knew how to play it, or a combo deck that is simply more powerful than the format. They are decks that do not have terrible matchups – they have ridiculously good matches, good matches, even matches, and slightly bad matches. They are intricate decks with a lot of choices, and especially a lot of synergy, and they all have powerful sideboards, which is something that really appeals to me in a deck.
More than anything, though, those are situations in which I trusted my gut – not anyone else, but me. I had to know when to stick with a deck that I knew how to play, and when to play something completely different, when to trust other people’s results and when to trust mine. Most of the time I went with what I thought, I was rewarded. It follows logically, then, that you should just go with what I think (ok, ok, kidding – I just don’t want to say “go with what you think and you will do well” because it is not actually true – it took me a looong time to get to the point where I trust myself over almost anyone else, and if everyone tells you your WB Clerics deck does not cut it in Extended, you should probably just listen to them even if you are beating your friend’s Treefolk deck).
Those situations showed me that I cannot fear playing a deck because everyone will be prepared against it, because other people’s “prepared” is not as prepared as they think it is – I mean, if I tried very hard to beat something and couldn’t, then why would everyone else be able to? In the end, there is basically one big lesson – play a lot of Magic. Everything is derived from that, and if you play often, you will eventually get to a point where you can challenge the status quo, and identify for yourself what is good and what isn’t, without being dependant on other people’s results.
I apologize if the article sounds a little arrogant, but, hey, it is the five BEST decks I’ve EVER played – if I didn’t do something good with them, then when did I?
I hope this was helpful, and see you next week!