This season has been a complete bust for me results-wise, but I learned a few lessons about metagaming the proper way in the process. Today I’ll be covering what I could’ve done better in my attempts to metagame for my field and the thoughts I had in picking and modifying decks for PTQ play. First though, we’ll start with the basic concepts behind metagaming in the first place.
Metagaming to a great extent is done best when a field can be accurately predicted. The main problem I’ve been running into is that the past three major constructed formats were too varied to pin down a major subsection. You could easily identify the difference between the bottom and top tier decks in the room, but the numbers could only be a couple of ticks off from one another. The other issue was that in varied fields, some people that are like me will take guesses as to what the metagame will actually be and skew their sideboards toward those decks.
So when you try to guess at a metagame composite without a clear best deck then it becomes more about guessing what the three most popular decks are. Surely what you think is the best deck will be in there, but maybe your second best deck is Elf Ball or something and you think only a few skilled pilots will run it. In that case it can’t be a major factor unless you want to prepare for the Top 8 to a greater extent than the Swiss. You are at the mercy of the patterns you observe and the conclusions you draw from them when you metagame.
Since it just happened, I’ll start with the most recent PTQ experience, the one I played this past weekend in LA.
What I played: UBR Faeries
What I should’ve played: 5-CC
How off was I on a metagame prediction? Pretty off on the numbers, even though I knew the best decks.
David ‘Web’ Ochoa won the LA PTQ this weekend with 5-CC while I never made it out of the Swiss. Originally I was going to play 5-CC or UW Lark, but my friend Richard took the cards for it and so I settled for Faeries. I was pretty content with UBR Fae, since it had a solid match against what I considered the best decks. 5-CC and UW control of the Baneslayer and Lark variety I figured would show up in large numbers since they clearly dominated other decks in the metagame and had reasonable control mirror plans.
Unfortunately that was my first mistake, I had the natural idea that people would switch to these decks since they were obviously stronger. People tend not to switch to the best deck for a number of reasons, even when it becomes obvious. This was true even back when decks like Trix had such obviously busted cards as Necropotence, Demonic Consultation and Force of Will to power through. So while I expected control matches all day, I was greeted by 5 Red decks over 7 rounds and a total of 7 aggro decks.
My first round match was much of a surprise, as I got paired against Kithkin. Although I dismissed the deck as unplayable since 5-CC and UW mauled it, I knew people might choose it to mise wins and crush other aggro strategies. It isn’t a very fun match for Faeries though, and after I lost round one, I ended up in the all Red section of the PTQ. At the top tables I saw all my juicy matches, but no matter how many Blightning decks I managed to smash, I would never see any of them.
It sounds obvious in retrospect, but the key mistake I made was to overestimate the layman. I had assumed people would adjust to the new metagame accordingly and play the current best decks or decks that had a shot at beating the best decks with consistency (like Faeries). Instead most of the field was aggro and Red-filled either due to card availability, the belief that Red beat 5-CC, lack of skill, not caring or any number of other factors. What this reminded me of is the argument people were having in Chapin’s article forums last week over Baneslayer Angel. People were arguing that Broodmate Dragon was better than Baneslayer Angel in 5-CC* when the metagame was properly adjusted for it; and that this would happen for the last few PTQ’s. The 5-CC players played Baneslayer and seemingly nobody had extra answers (or enough to begin with), so bringing Broodmate meant you overestimated your competition and paid the price.
*This isn’t true anyway. Baneslayer is just on another level than Broodmate Dragon and wins from positions where any other card would lose you the game.
So as a result I lost to Jund and Kithkin. Go me.
The second mistake I made was not optimizing my deck for the metagame. I cut all my anti-Red cards, which was perfectly fine for what I thought the metagame would be. My problem was I didn’t go far enough: I kept stuff like Stillmoon Cavalier and Mind Shatter around when I should’ve gone next level and run a full set of Glen Elendra Archmages in the board (had 2 main) and Sower of Temptation. If I really think the meta is control oriented and people will know this, what are people more likely to play? Essence Scatter or Negate? Glen Elendra’s of their own? As LSV pointed out to his Five-Color playing comrades, Sower slides right by many of the commonly played protection suites for Baneslayer and actually devastates the opponent if they just run Glen Elendra out leaving a U open. If you feel you have the read on the metagame, better to stick with it and fail than go halfway and not succeed despite being right.
San Jose PTQ
What I played: Baneslayer Jund
What I should’ve played: 5-CC or UW Lark
How off was I on a metagame prediction? Completely wrong.
My guesses for the top 3 decks were 5cc, Faeries and Jund; since I felt in an open field they were the best choices for most players. I saw at least 8 different archetypes at the top tables throughout the day and no clear representation of a single deck archetype in the room. There was no point in metagaming for the decks I thought were popular, because it was a complete crapshoot that I’d ever see them once. My three matches were 2 Blightning Aggro and a Cascade Control; after which point I had two losses and dropped to go draft.
If I had taken a stock list instead of my more metagamed list, I’d of likely been able to win both Blightning matches. I’d of had a full set of Kitchen Finks instead of just two and Makeshift Mannequin with Baneslayer to take advantage of it. In my other match against Cascade Control I’d of had Sign in Blood to help draw out of the land clump that ultimately did me in one game. For a metagame where I wasn’t clearly aiming at people, instead of running more anti-control cards like Thought Hemorrhage, I’d of probably stuck with general cards like Puppeteer Clique and Primal Command.
To boil it down for easy consumption, my 3rd mistake was knowing the metagame wasn’t very concentrated, but running narrower answers anyway. Sure I was preparing for the best, but that did me little good if I could never play them anyway. My deck wasn’t inherently powerful enough just to power through everything and allow me to take liberties with so much of my deck.
What I played: Tribal Jund
What I should’ve played: Tribal Jund
How off was I on a metagame prediction? Dead-on
I had assumed the field was going to consist of mostly aggro decks worse than mine, slower 5c Blood decks, Blightning, Kithkin or G/B Elves; with a smattering of Fae and control around. This prediction turned out to be almost 100% right, with the only surprise being how many people actually switched to the better version of Jund before the PTQ. So how did I go with my perfectly metagamed machine? I went 0-2 and was out of contention by lunch time.
My fourth mistake and one that I find is very applicable was a lack of playtesting before the tournament. When I showed up at the PTQ that day, I was playing my version of the deck nearly completely cold. I had tested previous versions of the Jund deck, but only had a few 8-mans with the newer version. As a result of my inexperience, combined with some rogue decks as my early match-ups I was lost in regards to correct plays and threw away multiple games.
It doesn’t matter how inexperienced the opponent is or how bad you personally think his deck is. The key is to hone in on what cards you’ve changed and correctly evaluate if this has changed the overall feel of the match or not. People showing up with last month’s tech can completely shut down your brilliant ideas on how to smash them. Won’t you just feel silly if that great Baneslayer tech you had to win the Jund mirror runs into the guy packing quad Shriekmaw? Or you decide to go ahead and run your Putrid Leech pump right into an otherwise dead Agony Warp from an older Fae deck?
Past these types of in-tournament situations, a good rule of thumb is this: If you are going to tweak a deck in a notable fashion, you might have to replay matches you thought were previously good and see if anything changed. Certain matches that are amazing can quickly fall back to even if you’re cutting all the ‘OK’ cards in the match from the deck for narrower ones. Most recently, the Red mirror is a good example of this; people who cut Demigod of Revenge are major dogs to the ones who kept Demigod in their version of the deck. Sure it might be better against the field not to have it; just don’t pretend the mirror is a coin-flip when they have a clear edge now.
Finally, the fifth error I made during this season was not switching to the best deck when I knew what it was. I just got done running some smack on people who don’t this, but I have to note that I didn’t either. I was trying to gain an edge by picking a Tier 2 deck and modifying it so in the context of that single tournament it upgraded to Tier 1; but the correct solution could’ve been just to play the best deck and metagame that. My own stubbornness in wanting to stick with a proactive strategy was my own downfall, when I should’ve just modded 5-CC for the control mirrors and dominated other opponents.
With the Standard season practically over, I’ll likely be turning my eye toward Extended and post-Zendikar Standard (Depending on the flow of information). My only recommendation to those still playing in Standard tournaments is to play 5cc w/ Baneslayer Angel. For those who prefer something different, this is the Faeries build I’d currently play.
Yes, Drowned Catacomb is fine and Gargoyle Castle doesn’t ruin the manabase. You can switch it to 4 Ruins and X Catacomb if you really like, it isn’t that big of an issue. The singleton Gargoyle Castle was solid in my tournament games all day. Glen Elendra was nuts, and the Cruel Ultimatum I didn’t play at the actual PTQ but would add because the deck has issues having a lot of land and nothing to do in the late-game. If seven sources seems a little on the loose end, add the 4th Necropolis, but the idea isn’t for turn 7 CU, more like turn 10 or 11.
Hopefully these tips serve you well in the future.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom