With the last few major events featuring Limited, Modern, or Legacy, we haven’t seen much new technology in the way of Standard lately. 40 card decks and fetch lands have taken center-stage and we’ve had little-to-no new Standard results to pull from. Some small innovations have become more widely adopted, such as the inclusion of Revolutionary Rebuff in U/W flash, (as highlighted by fellow SpellSnare scribe and Christopher Robin impersonator, Peter Rawlings) but for the most part the format has stayed mostly settled. The metagame trifecta of U/W Flash, G/B Delirium, and R/W/x Vehicles remains the same, with the only caveat being vehicles is maybe seeing a somewhat diminished presence as the other two establish themselves as the best strategies in the format.
So what’s a grinder to do? By now you’ve most likely picked up one of the aforementioned three decks and started to develop a familiarity with its matchups and board plans. You have a rough 75 in place and a general sense of how you’re winning any given match. You feel good about your list and confident in your ability to pilot it. So what’s my best advice to you to further prepare?
Pick up one of the other 2 decks this week in testing. One of the most common mistakes local grinders make is locking into a deck or archetype early on and never exploring anything else. I know I’ve personally done it plenty of times. It’s easy to develop a bias or a preference, especially if you’re winning with something, but so much can be gleamed when you take a look at the format from a different perspective. Remove yourself from any preference and strip yourself of the idea that you know what is best in this format.
Obviously, this works best if you have access to MTGO and enough tix to throw another major archetype together, but don’t be afraid to grab a Sharpie and some draft chaff and proxy something up for your local testing this week. Take whichever of the big 3 that you aren’t playing and that you happen to think is the worst positioned. Even if you think Vehicles isn’t good enough against U/W or G/B, there is a good chance someone at your PPTQ disagrees with that, and they will be playing it. You might get paired against them, and while you think you’ve played against it dozen of times and have a good sense of the matchup, there is always more you can learn from the other side.
Test objectively with the intention of winning, regardless of whether or not you think the deck actually can. In the past when I started testing like this more, I know I didn’t play as objectively or as well as I could have. I had a vested interest in proving myself right. I wanted whatever it was I was testing to fail, so I could be validated for my deck choice and prove that there was a reason I had avoided this deck and stuck with my preference for so long. Maybe a loose keep here or there, maybe a misuse of a key removal spell. Small mistakes made lazily to reinforce my confirmation bias were everywhere. Remember to remove that bias, and play to win regardless of whatever it is your piloting.
There is a lot to be gained from playing against a deck over and over again, but there is a lot to be learned from piloting it as well. Your assessment of cards might start to differ once you actually look at it from the other point of view. I recently built G/B Delirium on MTGO so I could get a better sense of how the deck’s matchups play out from its end. Coming from the Vehicles side, I had often thought of its best cards against me as being the instant speed removal and Ishkanah, Grafwidow. Having now played a few leagues with G/B, I think I was only right about one of those cards. (Hint I wasn’t wrong about Ishkanah, that card is still bonkers)
Grasp of Darkness was a solid instant speed answer that could kill copters before they got to loot all while preserving the GB player’s life total. But once I started to play with GB I realized that anytime I was casting Grasp, I was most likely not working towards turning on delirium as quickly as I needed to be. The same was true of Liliana. Spending 1 card to answer 1 threat and maybe gain some life was fine at prolonging the game, but it was slow at actually turning on delirium and making my best cards function properly. Ishkanah, Grafwidow was as good as I thought she was, but those reactive hands that played a 1 for 1 game plan were not great at turning on a turn 5 delirious Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and she often rotted in my hand until I could draw a Vessel of Nascency or Grapple with the Past. Also, using a Traverse the Ulvenwald to fetch for a basic land in the early turns so I could make sure I could cast Grasp of Darkness felt like a misuse of one of my most powerful cards. I’d much rather be saving the Traverse for later in the game so that I can tutor for a threat that will win me the game, instead of smoothing out my mana. Having played the deck now, I realize how much easier a spell with the cost BG is to cast rather than BB.
And on the subject of cards with BG mana cost, Grim Flayer was the biggest things I’d misevaluated. I had never considered the creature to be much of a threat, since its body blocks poorly against Nerd Ape (Inventor’s Apprentice), and Smuggler’s Copter flies right over it. But, the reality is the early creature isn’t played to block or trade, it’s played to attack and turn on delirium. When Ishkanah, Grafwidow is as good as she is at clogging up the board and stabilizing, you don’t need to kill creatures and preserve your life total. When your best card is that powerful, you can afford to take some extra hits, use your life as a resource, and take the time to set yourself up. Once I realized how good Grim Flayer was at turning on delirium, all while offering the option of smoothing out my draw, I realized I had been misevaluating Vehicles’ role against B/G Delirium.
I came to the understanding that I didn’t want to be completely trimming on removal to bring in sticky threats like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar against B/G. Rather, I wanted to bring in Gideon and trim on slower 3 mana creatures like Thalia, Heretic Cathar or Depala, Pilot Exemplar while leaving in removal. This also created a better game plan at answering any difficult creature they might present post-sideboard, like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. This was a small but important conclusion that I only really understood once I’d played 10+ games with B/G in the matchup. In the future, for as long as I’m able to, I’ll be looking to continue a fluid approach to deck choice within testing on MTGO. Keeping an open objective mind will hopefully continue to offer up future bits of wisdom.
The local PPTQ I was hoping to attend this past weekend was unfortunately rescheduled due to a judge conference interfering with their ability to secure judge staff, so no glory for me this past Saturday, but they’ve rescheduled for this upcoming Sunday, so I’ll be battling in that and hopefully bringing you tales and reports of victory come next Tuesday. Regardless of my result, I’ll be offering you objective reporting about however I did! Yay transparency!
Do you love problem-solving in Magic? Then you’ll love Ryan Saxe’s final article before his big move to Starcitygames.com, which you can find here.
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