With Grand Prix Omaha in the books, Standard is yet again shown to be in a state of peril. With seven out of eight decks in the top 8 being Marvel. The tournament was won by Standard master, Brad Nelson. However, the current Standard format is at an all-time low. Now, when picking a deck to play for an event the obvious answer might be “just play Marvel, it’s the best deck.” But with Marvel taking up such a large percentage of the metagame, should you just be playing it without question?
The Schools of Thought
Let’s say you’re gearing up for a local PPTQ this weekend. Maybe 30-40 people will go, and you feel confident in your odds of winning, being in the top 10 or top 5 players in the room. Should you play Marvel?
Temur Marvel by Brad Nelson at GP Omaha – 1st
Non-Creature Spells (29)
2 Chandra, Flamecaller
4 Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
3 Dissenter’s Deliverance
4 Glimmer of Genius
4 Harnessed Lightning
4 Aetherworks Marvel
4 Attune with Aether
There is no reason not to play the best deck if you’re one of the best players in the room. Even if you’re not playing the deck 100% correctly, the strategy is so linear and powerful that you’ll be able to snatch wins based on how powerful your deck is compared to the decks other people are playing. If you feel confident in your play compared to the average PPTQ-goer, then play the most powerful deck. Sure you won’t play perfect, but you’ll put yourself in the best chances for winning.
Now onto the bigger-stage events.
You’re going to a Grand Prix. Temur Marvel is your weapon of choice – but you haven’t gotten in a ton of reps. You feel relatively good with the deck, it gets free wins on turn 4 after all, what could go wrong?
Let’s put this into perspective. Are you the best player in the room? No. No no no. No way in hell. Brad’s here, so is Owen. So is Rietzl, Ruben, Finkel, and Duke. What are they playing? Marvel.
Sure you can glide along day 1 dodging the pros here and there, sneaking out your turn four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. But when you get to day 2 and you find yourself sitting across from Brad Nelson on the other side of the table, what is your percentage of winning that match? Brad’s got his reps in. Hundreds and hundreds of them. He’s probably played this mirror a million times. Scratch that. A billion. You play your match, make a small misplay here or there, and promptly lose. Sorry! Good luck next time around.
This is the issue when picking the deck to beat for larger events such as a Grand Prix. If you don’t have the reps in and you’re not one of the best pilots in the room, it’ll be hard to get to top 8 when facing opponents on the same exact deck who are much better than you. Then what do you do?
After missing out on day 2 of GP Omaha, I called up my Jedi master Mike Flores to get some insight on what I could be doing better. I want to qualify for the Pro Tour, that’s been the dream the last two years, but I always seem to fall short. “You can’t always play the deck to beat,” Mike said, “Brad plays 70 hours of Magic a week, can you expect to beat him and players of his caliber at the later portions of the tournament?” I’m definitely not an amazing player by any means. I like to think I’m better than the average local player, but at the Grand Prix level there are dozens if not hundreds of players that have either played on the Pro Tour or are much better in skill level than me.
“I’ve never lost a match to Brad” Mike told me. Impossible. How could you be undefeated vs. Brad Nelson, Standard master? “You just have to get an edge some other way…”
There are basically two paths, at least in my case, that I can take.
1. Just get amazing at Magic.
I always want to improve at my game and become comfortable enough playing the deck to beat, even against seasoned pros. This requires a lot of time and effort, and you can get there if you put in the reps and practice. Sometimes you can’t feasibly do this. People have families, social lives, long-hour jobs. You can’t always have time for Magic. So, if you can’t play the deck to beat…
2. Get an edge some other way
Although this statement sounds vague just on its own, there are a couple ways to do this. At large scale tournaments, just play a linear aggressive deck. When you’re playing 15 round tournaments you can sacrifice games and misplays due to mental fatigue, hunger, and just the overall tiredness that comes from battling so much Magic. You can eliminate this by playing a deck where the lines aren’t extremely hard to make, so you’re using less of your mental energy over the course of a long period of time.
The other advantage to this is pressure. When you put your opponent on the back foot by playing an aggressive strategy they can mess up. I experienced this in the top 4 of SCG Regionals where I won a game on the play on a mulligan to five against Abzan Company. At a crucial turn in the game my opponent had lethal on board, and didn’t kill me. Although I had one card in hand there wasn’t anything he could really be playing around, or rather shouldn’t be. If he had made the correct play I would’ve been packing up my things at the end of that game. I got a game win and eventually the match from playing an aggressive strategy where my opponent didn’t play perfectly against. When you can’t play the deck to beat know the deck you’re bringing to the tournament like the back of your hand. Sometimes you’ll get free wins off your opponent’s mistakes rather than your own.
Although Marvel is clearly the strongest deck in the format, there is reason to be playing other decks. If you don’t feel comfortable playing the deck for 15 rounds and you’re going to concede games due to inexperience just play a different deck. The answer isn’t always an aggro deck, but you can catch people off guard with an unique strategy they aren’t prepared for.
If you’re playing Standard in the next few weekends, give some thought to your deck choice. Local PPTQ that you feel confident for? Marvel, 100% Marvel. Playing a bigger event? Well, give some thought to a different deck. Bust out the Toolcraft Exemplar. Ride your Heart of Kiran to victory.
Hope this gives you a new perspective as I learn how to best get that Pro Tour invite.
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