Like basically every Magic player, I suffer from deck anxiety. My Friday evenings are typically reserved for a self-induced panic attack as I stress myself out about sideboard slots and overall deck choice.
“Am I making the right decision? Is there too much hate right now for this to be a valid option? What if I hedge too much against (generic deck name) and then don’t even play against it?”
These are the questions I often hound myself over. I stress myself out come every major event, often enough that my biggest barrier to success is typically my lack of focused preparation; preparation and testing that I simply didn’t spend my time on because I was too worried and distracted about variables that I can’t control. If I spent my time focusing on playtesting or tuning a specific 75 instead of worrying about whether or not my deck is even a good metagame call for the weekend, I’d most likely play tighter, board better, and make better mulligan decisions.
So what is the solution? What is the prescription for deck anxiety? For me, its been acknowledging that a lot of aspects of this game are out of my control, so it’s within my best interest to devote my time to the things that I can actually influence. We all accept and understand that variance is a part of Magic. Sometimes, you don’t draw any of the cards you need, even though you have an overwhelmingly large percentage of hitting it.
Sometimes you keep a two lander on the draw and never hit your third land. Sometimes you just brick on all of those Collected Company. And while I understood that variance was present in Magic, it took me a long time to understand that there is another type of variance that exists before you even draw your opening seven.
In an open field, with a diverse metagame, you can’t fully expect what it is you’ll be playing against. Sometimes you’ll play round after round after round against a bad matchup, even though its reported as being only 7% of the field. Sometimes your opponents will be playing extra pieces of hate in their sideboard. Sometimes you just don’t play against what it is you were testing against. While we can make informed deck choice decisions based on what the expected metagame might be, we can never completely control what it is we get paired against.
Finally coming to the understanding that I can only do so much when it comes to the variance of pairings let me shed some of that stress and fear. If it’s out of my hands and there is nothing I can do about it, then let’s focus on the things I can actually control. Part of this is my journey down the Spike-ier path. It’s putting more faith in what the best players are suggesting and recommending, and it’s trusting the fact that their experience and skill can overcome any worries or fear I have about the metagame.
But, even more so, it’s about time management. If I spend my time stressing myself out or overcorrecting, then that is less time spent just playtesting good Magic. Time spent browsing Gatherer trying to find some missing piece of sideboard tech that doesn’t exist could instead be time spent finishing another league on MTGO.
I find my best results often come along with a clear calm mental state. When I’m relaxed and content is when I play my best Magic. Eliminating the things that stress you out about Magic will help you bring your
“A game”. I hope that doesn’t sound like an oversimplification, because I never want to feed you one of those redundant vague articles about “eating healthy and getting exercise before a long weekend of mental pressure” that other writers seem to half ass once every 6 months when they don’t have anything to write about. It can be a hard to articulate concept, but I always want to offer something of substance, something tangible to you, my reader. What I want is to advocate for spending your limited Magic time on focusing on the things that you can actually change.
So how can we apply this to practice? Well, Skred Red just won a Grand Prix. Wait, what year is it? It’s 2016, and a Modern GP top 8 just got crushed by Skred Red, a deck fondly referred to as tier 5. It goes to show just how hard it can be to prepare for a diverse open metagame.
Personally, I’ve felt lost in Modern ever since Splinter Twin was banned. Twin was the rock I chained myself to for the better part of modern’s existence and it always served me well. It was my Trusty Machete of the format and ever since it’s removal, I haven’t found a deck I’ve felt confident in. Registering Burn for one event, Jund for another, Jeskai control for the next. I kept worrying about what was well positioned and what edges I could gain in deck selection when I should have just put more time in learning one particular deck like I had with Twin. In every event I played, mistakes kept creeping up due to my unfamiliarity with the decks. Simple mistakes that could have been avoided if I had just put in the time to properly learn the deck haunted me.
Knowing how to properly use fetchlands is a basic, yet vital, skill for any modern deck, one that can be easily overlooked and might even potentially cost you a game. Control or prison strategies have often been dismissed as being impossible to play in Modern due to the wide range of proactive threats you’ll need to answer in the format, but Kevin Mackie’s experience with Skred Red plus seeing Corey Burkhart’s continued success with Grixis Control further proves that the format is more about playing what you know and are competent with, rather than picking up something last minute that seems well-positioned.
Dredge might currently be the most “busted” deck in the format, but it’s power means little if you don’t know how to play it against Soul Sisters one round, and then Titanshift the next.
While Standard might not yet be solved, it’s definitely more defined than Modern is. U/W flash and B/G Delirium still look like the decks to beat/play with Vehicles variants trailing slightly behind it. I continue to advocate for picking up one of these 3 and learning how to play it to the best of your ability. Test the mirror and test against the other two and hopefully you’ll have a solid grasp on how to pilot whatever deck you’ve chosen.
For the sake of transparency!
I mentioned last week that I’d be playing in a Sealed PPTQ this past weekend, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how that went. I never want to be the kind of writer that shines a light on their successes while hiding their failures. Though honestly “failure” might not be the correct term for how my tournament actually went. Friday night I wasn’t particularly feeling the fire to play up to 6+ rounds of Kaladesh Limited.
I’d spent most of my MTGO time focusing on Standard and I was still having a hard time getting a grasp on this difficult Limited format. I felt obligated to attend the PPTQ, however, since it was a short 10 minute walk from my apartment in Astoria, Queens. It’s hard to pass up on such a convenient event even when you aren’t particularly interested in playing, especially when it’s hosted by a great store like The Geekery HQ (shoutout to this store, they’re fantastic).
I begrudgingly attended and after opening the literal worst sealed pool I’ve ever had, I promptly 0-1 dropped. I barely convinced myself to even play that first round, my pool and deck were actually that bad. Typically opening such a disaster of a pool and accepting that my tournament was going to be a loss would be a depressing affair, but honestly I felt pretty great about dropping at 0-1.
I knew my matches would be hard fought and would require optimal play in order to make up for the subpar cards I was playing, and requiring play I simply was not confident I could muster in the face of my lack of experience and enthusiasm for the format. So, I made the smart play and went home to hang out with my wife and clean our apartment before we had a bunch of people over for games and drinks that evening. We got everything done with plenty of time to spare and I even took a nap. I haven’t taken a nap in years! Clearly my tournament was not a failure in the least bit. Nap EV is the highest of EV’s.
Sometimes, I have a hard time remembering that this game, while being a huge passion of mine, is not an obligation. I shouldn’t feel guilty or pressured into playing if that’s not the right thing for me in that moment. Feeling great about my drop taught me that important lesson, and for that alone, I could never count it as a failure.
P.S. How would you build this mess of a pool?
Feel free to post in the comments how’d you personally build this pool! I’d love to hear people’s suggestions and hopefully learn something about this format. Below are pictures of the pool as a whole, as well as what I ended up registering. Note: There cards that I registered are not in their respective colors, so keep that in mind.
Thanks for reading!
Blue, Black, and Multicolor
Red and White
Artifacts and Green
The deck I registered