The game has changed since 1993. I’m not talking about the rules (though the fact that damage no longer uses the stack have certainly made their impact). I’m talking about the parts of the game that happen when you aren’t rolling dice and shuffling cards. A round of magic may be 50 minutes long but the game is played nearly every waking minute for the average competitive player. At work, we brainstorm sideboard plans and scribble deck lists while watching TV. Most importantly, we research the game incessantly when we have time in front of our computers…
A simple search for Magic: The Gathering will result in plenty of information needed. Add the name of your deck archetype and you may be able to find the most recent lists. Add the word ‘primer’ and you just might be able to find a comprehensive guide on how to play it. Those of us who are most successful at the game on a competitive level have done their homework. You’ve planned their sideboard based on the meta and predicted it’s changes from week to week based on the speculative discussions on how everyone might adapt to the previous week’s winning or most played deck.
There is so much more information easily accessible online than there are opportunities to play the game itself. So much so that we often shape our in-game and deck-building decisions based on the conversations and articles that we read rather than the experiences we have playing. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how the “status quo” can get pounded into our heads and how the stock deck lists such as the recently surging UW Eldrazi become so apparent in the three simultaneous Modern GPs that we had this March. It is tough to innovate and brew in this game and even tougher to prove the results behind a deck that you know “has a shot”.
In a 12-round event, there are so many variables (bad match-ups, bad mulligans, bad luck) that everything really has to fall into place and no mistakes can be made in order for you to make a strong finish. With that in mind, any new list or tech without strong tournament results is often met with quick dismissive speculation purely based on a hypothesis of how a card might perform in a particular situation. Comments like “this deck is trash because it loses to Jund” aren’t exactly helpful. Comments like “running 4 of this card is just incorrect” is just…incorrect.
While there are, no doubt, negative aspects of every new design that are worth considering, constructive criticism can go a long way to promote a happy and healthy gaming community. Even better yet, if you like what you see, let ’em know it! Those who are generating Magic content put a lot of time and effort into something that they do because they love it. If the only people that take the time to share what they think are shooting down ideas to demonstrate how much more they think they know about the game, then it can be very discouraging to share in the first place. This leads us back to the status quo where we find comfort in the top tier where everyone is focused on what is proven and not what is yet to be explored.
Let’s use spoiler season as an example of this phenomenon. Think of how much a pre-order price can change from the time a card is spoiled through the time it is released. During that time, so many people say with such certainty what a card will do when we are able to play it in a deck. Do we remember when this guy was pre-ordering for $10?
Who’s to say that in the tens of thousands of magic cards that have been printed, there isn’t another Jace Vryn’s Prodigy out there? Even more likely is a meta-specific card that will perform in a way that you would never expect. This applies well to deck-building because a set of cards that hasn’t seen the same amount of play as a tier one staple is an untested commodity in the same way that a new spoiler card is.
If you take this a step further, a third party claiming “incorrect plays” (even if they are made with a top tier stock list) can be even more detrimental. Sequencing errors aside, a conscious decision to make one action rather than another is based on some facts that may only be apparent to a pilot. If you were to make the most common decision based on the assumption that you and your opponent are playing a very stock 75, you leave yourself open to get blown out by the aforementioned ‘innovations’.
“It was incorrect to keep that piece of creature removal in your deck for game 2” may be true based on conventional wisdom but a savvy control opponent may side in a slew of creatures knowing that you’d likely be boarding out all of the answers to them after seeing zero creatures in game one. Hindsight is 20-20 but sometimes you’ve got to take bold chances for big results.
For the good of the community, I ask that we make a better effort to replace dead end dismissals with constructive feedback. Let’s make conversations over forums and blogs a place where we can share ideas that can lead to improvement and innovation. Everybody that can win an FNM instantly feels like a fantastic player. Let’s just remember how many great minds there are in the community and no one’s got this thing totally figured out. That’s the beauty of it.