Without a plan, there’s no attack.
Without attack, no victory.
Today I’m diving into a topic that hasn’t been overly relevant in the last few years of Standard. How do you prepare when a format has an almost limitless number of viable decks? In today’s Standard you could be paired against a seemingly never-ending number of archetypes and even differing builds within those archetypes. Conventional wisdom says to be aggressive, but is conventional wisdom correct?
As always I will recap some of my goals and lay out my plans for the future. My goals for working out have taken a beating. I struggled to find enough time to get all of my work done, let alone find time to work out. This is the age-old excuse however, there is time. I just need to be more efficient with my work. The Planeswalker Diaries team has been far more successful than we could have ever imagined with seventy members signing up in the first month. This has forced me to rearrange a lot of my schedule to accommodate a larger workload and I have deprioritized physical fitness. I justify this by telling myself that it’s only temporary and that the financial gains made by building this Patreon are more important at this time. I know however in the back of my mind that these are simply excuses and that I need to push myself to be better. This journey that I am on to be both a professional Magic player and content creator is not an easy one. I need to be constantly digging deep to find ways for self-improvement. I will say that despite working myself ragged, I am also filled with a sense of joy that comes with seeing the results of my labor. We hosted our first $500 “prep” tournament last Saturday for our Patreon that was a resounding success – I look forward to improving upon it for the next one on Sunday, November 1st. Hearing the stories from teammates making Mythic for the first time or going deep into tournaments fills me with pride and enthusiasm to keep going. This is my dream come true and I couldn’t be happier.
In twenty years of playing Magic I have seen few formats as healthy as Standard currently is. Recently there has always been one or two decks that are obviously tier one and warp the rest of the format around them. This made it somewhat easier to choose a deck as you could either play one of those or play a deck that focused on beating them. This is however no longer the case as you are unlikely to face any one deck more than a couple of times in a given tournament. You normally see this happen at the beginning of any format where aggressive decks like Mono-Red or Mono-Green have success in punishing new and untuned lists. Playing aggro early in a format is a strategy as old as Urza himself. The thinking here is that no matter what your opponent is playing you will always have a decent chance of winning because your plan is always the same and somewhat linear. Whereas trying to play a control deck or even a midrange deck that has to be prepared for a wide range of fast, slow or combo-oriented decks is difficult to get right without sufficient information on the meta.
I do however think this logic could be flawed for several reasons in current Standard and perhaps in general. First, the format is not completely new. Rogues was already a powerful deck before the recent bans and many of the other decks have seen play at one point or another before the last rotation. This means that they have had more time to be tuned and tested than if they were new decks created with a new set of cards. The second reason is because playing aggro in an unknown format is so universally accepted, it is easy to go one step farther and be prepared for these decks.
The other thing that makes current Standard so great to play is that each game has so many important decision points that will matter. None of the decks are overpowered to the point that you won’t have time to interact with your opponent. This is both enjoyable from a play perspective and also from a competitive viewpoint as your expertise with a deck will be rewarded. Looking from the opposite end of the spectrum it also means that “free wins” will be less likely.
Now that you have laid out what is happening in the format you can plan your angle of attack. The first thing to do is pinpoint one or two archetypes that agree with your play style. You all have preferences when it comes to Magic. This is the time to lean into them and choose a deck that you enjoy playing. You will always win more when you are enjoying playing the game compared to playing a deck that doesn’t agree with your play style but is undeniably more powerful. For instance, I am partial to tap out midrange/control decks. I have thus identified Esper/Azorious Yorion as the decks that I am going to focus on for the upcoming Redbull Wings and Zendikar Championship Qualifier tournaments.
Once you have zeroed in on the archetype(s) of your liking, it is important to not be distracted by other decks. I am notorious for switching decks at the last moment, wanting to play the exciting new archetype that might have broken the format. This has almost – without exception – always spelt my own doom and I have never done well with this strategy. There can be a time and a place for it, but this format will reward your hard work so I would try to avoid this trap. You need to focus on tuning your deck as close to perfection as you can get it. Putting in these reps of playing the same deck repeatedly will also allow for you to play the deck at a high level and make far less mistakes during gameplay than if you are playing a newer archetype.
As I’ve stated before playing on the ladder is good testing and focused testing versus a specific matchup is even better. But nothing compares to tournament experience. When you play against another player that is trying their best to beat you and will try new strategies to win the game you will really see what your deck and your strategies are truly made of. Steel sharpens steel and you should always be trying to pit yourself against the toughest competition you can find to improve your game. Luckily, all week the Redbull Wings Qualifiers are happening on MTGMelee and even though I am already qualified for the weekend’s event I will be playing in at least one of these tournaments to get the best possible preparation in.
Until next time, I hope I have laid out a plan for you to use as you wade into this beautiful new world of Standard you find yourself in. In my next article I will deep dive into specific archetypes and why I think they are worth picking up or passing on.