Category Archives: TCGs

Mind Over Matter

By: Daniel D’Amato

Magic the Gathering can be very mentally straining. Having to recognize and execute hundreds of plays in each match over the course of numerous rounds can be very exhausting. Mental health is very important for maintaining tight play and personal gain. Mental health is vital outside Magic and, just how it influences everyday life, it can influence your game. So, what can be done to stay mentally healthy and at your best? I hope to cover some tips in this article to help you be the best you can be.

The best tip for staying fresh in the game is, ironically, not playing the game. Now this doesn’t mean just quitting, but instead realizing that you may be burned out and need to take a break. Grinding as much as I do between online and paper play, I try to take anywhere from one to two weeks off every couple of months to stay fresh and mentally prepared for tournaments. The hardest aspect of this ideology is realizing when it is time to step away and reset. I typically can tell when I need to take some time off if I am on a long losing streak or find myself consistently making the wrong play in my matches, but gameplay isn’t always the signal that we need to realize. If you find yourself not enjoying the game we love or just not being happy while playing, it may be time to put the game down for a little while and enjoy other hobbies and aspects of life. That way the return to the game feels fresh, enjoyable, and reminds you why you play. There is nothing wrong with taking time off from the game. This game can create stress, anxiety, and can ultimately contribute to attitude and behavior problems depending on how seriously it’s taken. At the end of the day it is important to take care of ourselves and stepping away can help maintain a positive mental attitude. While the primary goal regarding mental health can be gameplay, another aspect is how testing too much can negatively affect your mindset.

Testing is an important aspect to succeeding at professional magic but can have less than desirable effects on the mind. Testing through simulations of multiple tournaments worth of games and matches can be draining. Straining yourself trying to prepare for a tournament can lead to negative results not only in the tournament but in quality of life depending how aggressively you pursue testing. Staying up abnormally late trying to get another league in online can become the reason why the quality isn’t there when it is time to perform. I tend to test leading up to an event until about two days before, where I’ll take a break and relax. I am a believer in the idea that all the preparation will show when it is time to perform, like preparing for a race and resting the day before. Over testing is a real concern and if your head isn’t in the game or match once you’re in the event, your chances of winning drop significantly. This idea also is relevant during a tournament. Everyone comes in with the same goal and when you’re using your mind to help solve other peoples’ dilemmas you may lose the edge you need to realize that goal. I am always a fan of healthy discussion when it comes to making the right play during matches but at the end of the day it’s your tournament that you need to worry about and there is nothing wrong with throwing the headphones in and getting prepared for your next match. I always discourage playing matches between rounds because there is no reason to burn yourself out over a game that doesn’t matter with the hope that it may help you. The potential downside significantly outweighs the potential upside. Staying mentally focused always helps produce solid tournament results and we want to maximize our ability to focus.

You should always take care of yourself first and foremost when it comes to any activity in your life and Magic is no different. If you find that the game is causing stress more than reducing it or having a negative influence on your daily life, it may be a good time to consider taking a break. I know I personally try to use Magic as an outlet to relax and clear my mind. However, there have been times where playing was the last thing I wanted to do, so I would just leave tournaments, even if I was undefeated. It’s very difficult to tell yourself to step away because Magic can have that rush that keeps its players always coming back and the urge is very real to continue through it. When I step away, I tend to distance myself from anything involving the game and shift my focus elsewhere, sometimes even another game like Hearthstone. When I return, I find Magic a lot more exciting and refreshing. Part of me misses playing every day, but a part of me is also satisfied because I feel like my mind has been reset and is ready to focus again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting yourself first and Magic second. I see tons of grinders get burned out and it shows because their play will get sloppier as the tournament continues. Tunnel vision affects me especially since I traditionally lean towards combo decks, and without proper rest it can be hard to find lines to win the game. Ultimately this game should be a game you love and not one that pulls you down.

I think it’s vital to consider how the game affects each of us and analyze the toll that it takes. Often, admitting you could use some time away is in your best interest. Preparing for a tournament can be a lot of serious work and relaxing a couple days out can seriously improve your results. Taking care of yourself during a tournament and keeping your mind clear of other issues can also be beneficial. At the end of the day, slinging cards and seeing our friends is great, but being miserable while doing so because of burn out is, well, miserable. As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions or suggestions, I would love to write about a topic someone is passionate about, until then, storm count 3.

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The Mechanics of Ravnica Allegiance

By: Myles Miller

Happy New Year, readers!! I hope you had an excellent holiday season with friends and family, and I’m sure I saw a good number of you at the Battlegrounds New Year Lock-In. Special thanks to the Battlegrounds staff for hosting such an awesome event and organizing so many great events.

Speaking of new things, it’s time to start talking about some new cards. Today’s topic is a preliminary look at the upcoming mechanics in Ravnica Allegiance (here’s your first spoiler, they’re all brand new mechanics!). I’ll also discuss other cards that are currently in standard that might play well in a Standard deck that features each new guild, just to get your deck-brewing started. Consider this your final warning: Here There Be Spoilers.

Cult of Rakdos: Spectacle

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The Cult of Rakdos is all about dealing damage, and this new mechanic fits the bill: cards with Spectacle have an alternate casting cost that you may use if an opponent has lost life this turn. The red/black color combination usually excels at dealing damage to opponents, so Spectacle should be relatively easy to turn on. I’d expect the current iterations of Monored that are running cards like Goblin Chainwhirler and Experimental Frenzy to sprinkle in some black mana to take advantage of these powerful effects. What cards in Standard might complement this new mechanic? Why, cards that deal direct damage, of course!

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I’d expect to see cards like these featured in a future Rakdos deck. Fanatical Firebrand is a cheap, aggressive creature that can use its ability to turn on Spectacle without having to spend any mana. They say the best things in life are free. Angrath the Flame-Chained is a strong planeswalker that hasn’t gotten a chance to really shine in Standard yet. With Blood Crypt being added to standard, and the fact that Angrath’s +1 ability turns on Spectacle for free, I won’t be surprised if we start seeing this angry pirate more often.

 

Orzhov Syndicate: Afterlife

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Once you’re in debt with the Orzhov, you’re in debt for life. And sometimes longer than that. Get your Settle the Wreckages and Lava Coils ready, because exile effects are going to be at a premium. Creatures with Afterlife X will create X 1/1 spirit tokens with flying when they die, so you’ll want to have some exile removal ready or be prepared to deal with fliers.

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If these creatures leave behind a spirit when they die, you might as well get some value out of killing them yourself. It’s not hard to imagine a black/white or a black/white/green deck that gains value by sacrificing its own creatures to Vraska, Golgari Queen or Demon of Catastrophes. It has been a while since Standard had a good “Aristocrats”-style deck, and Afterlife might just be the tool needed to bring it back.

 

Gruul Clans: Riot

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It seems like the Gruul are ready to take advantage of the chaos on Ravnica and cause a bit of property damage. Creatures with Riot will present you with a simple choice: you can have that creature enter with a +1/+1 counter, or you can have it enter with haste. Hit hard or hit fast, you decide! Either way, the battlefield is bound to end up looking like, well, a riot.

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It’s tough to relate Riot to the rest of the format, since it’s a very “isolated” mechanic. It doesn’t affect cards besides the one it’s on, it simply affects how the creature plays on the battlefield. Regisaur Alpha comes with an extra creature that can attack right away, putting a total of 7 power on the board for the low cost of 5 mana. Pelt Collector is a very powerful card that doesn’t really have a deck to call home in the format right now. If a creature with Riot isn’t big enough to trigger Pelt Collector, consider choosing the +1/+1 counter option to get that Pelt Collector trigger. Both of these creatures are the sort that might complement creatures with Riot and really bring the pain.

 

Simic Combine: Adapt

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The Simic have always enjoyed playing around with +1/+1 counters, and this new set is no different. If you played during the Theros block, you’ll recognize that Adapt is similar to the old Monstrosity mechanic: you may activate the Adapt X ability to put X counters on this creature, but only if it doesn’t already have a +1/+1 counter on it. Monstrosity could only be used once though, whereas Adapt can be used multiple times if the creature has lost its counters. Rumor has it there will be cards that let players use these counters as a resource by removing them or donating them to other creatures, so keep an eye out as spoiler season continues.

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Remember Hadana’s Climb? This enchantment saw a small amount of play when it was first released, but has fallen into obscurity. It might be poised for a comeback with a guild full of +1/+1 counter manipulation. Shapers of Nature may not see much play in Standard, but the potential for using those counters as a means to draw cards is always promising.

 

Azorius Senate: Addendum

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The laws of Ravnica are written and magically enforced by the Azorius, but sometimes the law needs to be altered to allow a little flexibility. The new Addendum keyword grants an additional effect to a spell, but only if it’s being cast during your main phase. Following the rules of sorcery-speed casting has its benefits.

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Much like Riot, Addendum is a very isolated mechanic. Any Azorius deck will likely value flexibility in its spells: even if you’re not always playing a card on your opponent’s turn, having that option available to you can be a powerful tool. Cards like Merfolk Trickster and Seal Away that can be played at any time to create problems for your opponent are exactly the kind of cards that would pair well with the Addendum mechanic.

 

End Step

Spoiler season has just begun, so there are plenty of cards left to see in the next two weeks. Be sure to keep an eye out for new cards being announced and familiarize yourself with each new guild before the Battlegrounds prerelease events on January 19th and 20th. Which mechanic are you most excited to play with? What cards currently in Standard do you think will make an appearance in the format once this new set releases? Let us know what you think!

Pass turn.

Mathenagics: Episode 3

By: Joseph Davis

Hi, I’m Joseph, and welcome back to Mathemagics. The goal of this series is to help you level up your deck building whether you’re new to the game or just trying to improve your brews. We’ll be exploring important aspects of deck design and diving very lightly into the math behind it, so you know not just how to build a deck, but why some deckbuilding choices are better than others. This week we’ll be building on last week’s article by talking about how many copies of a card you should be playing.

 

This week’s article deviates slightly from the last two in that is isn’t about arriving at your deck’s “plan” on time. Instead we’ll be looking at some math and then discussing why you might consider playing a certain number of each card. For the purposes of this article we won’t be talking about what turn you are likely to draw a card on. Instead we will be looking at how many draws before you are likely to draw the card.

 

Here are some tables:

 

Draw One Copy

 

1 played 2 played 3 played 4 played 5 played 6 played 7 played 8 played
31 cards 18 cards 13 cards 10 cards 8 cards 7 cards 6 cards 5 cards

 

Draw Two Copies

 

1 copy 2 played 3 played 4 played 5 played 6 played 7 played 8 played
43 cards 31 cards 24 cards 19 cards 16 cards 14 cards 13 cards

 

Draw Three Copies

 

1 copy 2 played 3 played 4 played 5 played 6 played 7 played 8 played
48 cards 38 cards 31 cards 26 cards 23 cards 20 cards

 

 

For this article we are looking for the point at which you are more likely to draw a copy of a card than to not have drawn a copy of the card. Our decision point when generating these tables is thus > 50%. For the first table we are looking at how many cards you need to draw to be > 50% likely to draw one copy of the card, and similar for drawing 2 copies and drawing 3.

 

You may notice something strange about these tables: we are going above 4 copies of a card. This is not just talking about Rat Colony or other exceptions. This is to account for playing two copies of a card which serve the same purpose such Ionize and Sinister Sabotage. While the cards are different and have slightly different color requirements, they are both 3 mana counterspells with minor upsides, so a deck playing 3 of one and 2 of the other can really be counted as playing 5 copies of that effect. This often explains why you may see a deck running 4 copies of one effect and 1 copy of a similar effect on a different card; it approximates playing 5 of the effect.

 

The other thing to note is that some of these numbers are lower than 7 cards. This means that for any opening hand of 7 cards you are more likely to draw a copy of that effect than you are to not draw a copy of that effect. Another important point is that drawing two copies of a card (or effect) is very hard. To get two copies of card in your hand in the first 10 turns of the game you need 6 copies of the card in your deck.

 

What does all of this really mean for deck building, though? Do you simply always put 4 copies of any card you like in your deck? The answer is as always, it depends.

In decks without many ways to draw extra cards per turn, we can look at the tables as basic turn outlines. When playing 8 copies of a card, we are likely to start with a copy of the card, and by turn 6 are likely to have drawn a second copy. With 6 copies of a card, we are still likely to start with a copy, but become likely to draw our second copy on turn 9. When looking at a linear system like this, we see why playing 4, 3, 2, or 1 copy of a card is a fine sliding scale. At 4 played, we are likely to draw our first copy by turn 3 whereas with 3 played it’s turn 6. When playing 2 cards it becomes likely to draw a copy by turn 9, and we just are flat out unlikely to draw a singleton before the game is over.

 

To decide how many copies of a card to play, think about those milestones and when you are likely to want the card the most. If your deck does not plan on the game going past turn 5, you should be looking at 4+ for your business cards, but if your deck looks to go much longer and slower, you can tune down the numbers.

 

So how do you draw extra cards? Is that power only reserved for blue? Should other colors always be playing 4+ copies of all of their cards to have any chance of drawing them? The answer is no. You can consider any card that adjusts what you are drawing as “drawing a card”. This means a scry from Treasure Map will help any deck draw an extra card (since you will either keep the card you want on top, or put an undesirable card to the bottom). Surveiling and exploring both are mechanics which will behave as functional draws, as well as effects like Vivien Reid or Adventurous Impulse, or even Fetchlands in older formats.

 

When building your next deck, keep these principles in mind and ask yourself these questions:

1) Which of my spells do I need to see in a game to win? Do I want multiple copies of it?

2) Are there any ways I have to draw cards or filter through my deck?

3) Can I play extra copies of certain cards to duplicate important effects?

 

These three questions should help guide how many copies of a card or effect to play in your deck. Remember, you either need to play a lot of copies or filter through a significant number of cards to be likely to draw more than one copy of a card in a reasonable window.I hope you’ve enjoyed your third lesson in Mathemagics, and I’ll be back with another one soon!

Standard Vs. Modern

By Drew Kobus

Pros and Cons of Magic’s two most popular formats. What makes Standard great and Modern sorta… meh.

Hi there guys! Hope you are all having a great day as we quickly approach the holidays and, shortly after that, 2019. For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Drew Kobus. I’ve been playing Magic casually for a little over seven years and competitively for almost three years. I’ve had some reasonable success on the SCG Tour in both Modern and Standard, and those are the formats I’ll be discussing today. To start, I’d like to take a moment to address a question that I’ve pondered a lot in recent years and know others have as well, “What exactly makes a format good/healthy?”

Answering this question is a daunting task to be sure and, honestly, I don’t really think it’s possible in a truly objective sense, but I will do the best I can. If you are like me, and from what I have gathered, most of you are, Magic is at its most enjoyable when there is both great variety of gameplay and diversity of playable decks, both of which keep the game new and exciting every time you sit down for a match. MTG’s multiple formats do this mostly all on their own, but I personally feel things can get stale when these elements are lacking within a particular format. A great example of this is the Standard format around the time of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation when the only deck that you could really justify playing competitively was some variant of Ramunap Red. Don’t believe me? Let’s just put it this way, 6 of the 8 decks that made the top 8 of that event were some variant of the red aggro deck playing the card Ramunap Ruins, including the deck that ended up winning the event.

Anyway, now that I have set the baseline for my feelings on what makes a good Magic format (and a bad one), let’s get into the meat of what I really want to discuss.

What makes our current Standard format so great?

This standard format is some of the most fun I have had playing Magic in a long while, and as someone who has avoided Standard and focused on Modern for the last year or so, it’s refreshing to have a Standard format that is so open and enjoyable. Now, yes, I know there are the consensus “best decks” in the format that make up the top tier in standard, those decks being Golgari Midrange, Jeskai Control, Izzet Drakes, and Boros Aggro. Which of these four options is truly the best of the bunch is debatable, which is a good thing.  As I mentioned before, having diversity in what is viable in a competitive setting is a good thing for the health of the format. Aspects that make it even better are twofold, the first being that among these top decks, there are many variations that can attack different metagames and conform to different playstyles. Regarding the Izzet Drakes deck, a good friend of mine (shoutout to Ben Ragen) just 8-0’ed the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational playing Drakes, without one of the cards that initially put it on the map,

Arclight+Phoenix+GRN

Here’s his list:

1 Beacon Bolt
3 Lava Coil
4 Discovery
2 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
4 Crackling Drake
4 Chart a Course
2 Search for Azcanta
3 Dive Down
4 Enigma Drake
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Spell Pierce
1 Drowned Catacomb
4 Steam Vents
7 Island
6 Mountain
4 Shock
4 Opt

Sideboard
1 Beacon Bolt
1 Lava Coil
1 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
2 Ral, Izzet Viceroy
2 Shivan Fire
2 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Entrancing Melody
1 Treasure Map
2 Disdainful Stroke

Now, the other aspect I feel has led to the success of this format is that these four top decks aren’t really pushing out other decks from the competitive sphere entirely.  Various other decks have been able to put up good results recently and have proven to be viable in the format, such as Mono Blue Tempo, Selesnya Tokens, Grixis Control, Dimir Control, Bant Nexus, and Mono Red Aggro. Some more fringe decks than these have also been able to do well in the right metagame. With this much deck diversity, it is a great time to be playing Standard, especially for someone like me who loves to play something a little more off the beaten path. That said, my deck of choice, of course, is Dimir Pirate (I love a good tempo deck). It’s a brave new world, so if you have a deck idea for this current Standard, test it out! If you really think your deck is sweet, ship me a list, I’m always down to check out new sweetness, so let’s see the brews!

What makes Modern so… meh?

Now that I’ve taken you on a journey through how great Standard is, it’s time to pull back a little and compare it to another very popular format in Magic, Modern. The Modern format has such a deep card pool, there isn’t really an issue as far as the diversity of coherent and functional decks in the format. Because the card pool is so vast, it’s easy to have certain cards pop up that are too good for the format, which is why Modern has such an extensive banned list. In the current state of the Modern format, there are a couple cards that most people would agree are just a bit too good, but those cards are still legal and enable some of the decks in the format that make it very “unfun” at times.

While both cards enable different things, they are both very good at what they do. What they enable is a clear step above the other decks in this format, leading me to the opinion that if you aren’t playing one of these two cards in Modern right now, you’re just doing it wrong. That being said, yes, I know what you’re going to say, Jund and Jeskai Control and Storm and this and that all put up results, and you would be right, any deck can do well on a given weekend, and to be honest we don’t have the data needed to prove one way or another that the decks playing these cards are oppressive. However, what I do know from sheer experience playing this format and trying to play decks that aren’t leaning into these cards, when your opponent casts an Ancient Stirrings and finds a Krark-Clan Ironworks or an Urza’s Mine, and you look at your hand full of Tarmogoyfs and Fatal Pushes, you feel a bit foolish.

Speaking as someone who has played both with and against these cards, when you cast an Ancient Stirrings in a deck built to maximize its power, you feel like you’re playing Legacy, and it isn’t difficult to see why Stirrings is often compared to the card Demonic Tutor. Faithless Looting has some of the same effects on a game as Stirrings, but it enables busted things in a different way. To take an example from my current deck of choice, casting Faithless Looting and discarding two copies of Arclight Phoenix makes you feel like you’re cheating. It just isn’t okay. Now, I could go on for a long time about these two cards and get into a whole rant about the Modern Ban List, but that’s not really what I want to get into here. I simply want to leave you with the pros and cons of the Modern format and give you the context of a format I feel is far superior in a multitude of ways, so I’ll move to wrap things up here soon.

The biggest pro for Modern is its extensive card pool. You get to play with a lot of sweet cards and, yes, there are many sweet archetypes that you could potentially play and do well with (for my money I think Izzet Delver is the sweetest deck in the format). The con side of this coin, is that there are some decks that are incredibly frustrating to play against if your deck is not built to target them in some way. The greatest con in the Modern format is, however, the prevalence of games of Magic where one player simply doesn’t have a chance. When you play Jund against Tron, you just lose, none of the decisions you made in the game really mattered, and you end the match feeling worse than you did before, and that just isn’t a feeling I enjoy. Modern is a format full of instances like this, and unlike the current Standard format, favorable matchups in Modern are, for the most part, very one-sided, so it can be difficult to feel that confident in a deck when you know that going in to an event if you hit too many of one matchup you just won’t get to play any Magic that day. I experienced this first hand at SCG Regionals a few weeks ago when I showed up with my Izzet Delver deck and ran hot for the first couple rounds, then hit a couple matches where I just didn’t get to make any meaningful decisions and ended up in a position where I was unable to cash, and that’s just how Modern is.

 

Wrapping up

All of this being said, I don’t want you all to think I innately dislike Modern!  As I said, Modern does get to play a lot of sweet decks and the card pool allows for a lot of very sweet things to be done, but I do feel the format could be better and, especially when you compare it to our current Standard format, the differences are night and day.

I hope this article has been informative and maybe helped some of you know what to expect if you were considering jumping into one of these formats. If you disagree with something I said here, or just want to discuss anything Magic be it Standard or Modern, leave a comment, or maybe even find me on social media, on Twitter @TheMagikalDrew, or on Facebook Drew J Kobus, or even in person sometime. I’m always down to chat about everyone’s favorite TCG! Keep slinging your favorite spells and remember that this game is about having fun -so do what helps you do exactly that!

 

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see ya next time!

Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Bigger Scissors

By Adam Bialkowski

The Standard metagame is stuck in a rock, paper, scissors situation; however there is one deck that can get over all others and is deemed bigger scissors, and that is Izzet Phoenix. Paper is Jeskai Control, rock is Golgari “Aggro,” and scissors is Boros Aggro. The metagame percentage for each deck is,

 

Golgari Aggro: 23%

Boros Aggro: 13%

Jeskai Control: 12%

Izzet Drakes: 10%

 

These four decks make up almost 60% of the entire Standard metagame and for good reason. In my opinion, these percentages represent, in descending order, easiest to play to hardest. Golgari Aggro is pretty linear with the only big decisions are what cards to keep on top with Explore triggers. Boros Aggro is a bit harder, understanding when to be the aggressor and when to tempo things out, this takes experience with aggressive decks and knowledge of the format as a whole. Jeskai Control has an easier early game than most other control decks due to Deafening Clarion; that card is the deciding factor on if you win or lose against the aggro decks. The late game is where skill comes into play. With Jump-Start cards and different graveyard interactions you are forced to use counter magic more cautiously. Izzet Drakes takes the cake for the hardest deck to currently pilot to success. I have seen plenty of average players play the deck and it is powerful, but in the hands of a more experienced player, the deck can be taken to the Top 8 of any Standard event. The deck rewards players for making good decisions on every play. At first glance the deck may seem random, but it requires a lot of careful thought into what should be discarded (other than the obvious phoenix), what spells to cast before others, when is and isn’t the right time to play and attack with drakes. All these elements combined reward skilled players with wins over some of the worst matchups the deck can have, thus the “Bigger Scissors” title.

 

In this four deck metagame, each deck has its preferred matchups:

 

Golgari Aggro > Boros Aggro and Izzet Drakes

This match up is hard for the more aggressive decks due to playsets of Wildgrowth Walker being in every Golgari deck now. If the card is unanswered, the game almost becomes out of reach for aggressive and burn strategies.

 

Boros Aggro > Jeskai Control

One card in this match up makes it a living hell for Jeskai and that is Adanto Vanguard. The two mana 3/1 Indestructible Vampire is out for blood and there’s nothing Deafening Clarion can do about it. Boros Aggro has evolved in a way to beat a single Clarion.

 

Boros Aggro > Izzet Drakes

Bigger scissors doesn’t have the best matchup against any aggressive deck playing red. There’s a lot of skill involved with the matchup and I do believe the better player will have a much better shot at winning here, but Boros still has a favorable matchup.

 

Jeskai Control > Golgari Aggro

Golgari Aggro is slow enough for Jeskai to have a steady game against it. Carnage Tyrant and Midnight Reaper are control’s biggest concerns but with a lot of mainboard sweepers from Jeskai, they can keep up. Clarion being copied by Expansion/Explosion clears everything Golgari has to offer. The matchup is grindy but it favors the deck playing Teferi.

 

Izzet Drakes > Everyone

Though mentioned above that it has a hard time against Golgari and red based aggressive decks, most matchups reward the better player. The microdecisions during each matchup will lead to wins that come down to skill and experience. Having the tools to fight every deck in the format will make it, in my opinion, the best deck in the format for a skilled player.

 

All the other decks in Standard not listed above aren’t necessarily bad, but most of them end up resembling one of the Tier 1 decks above. For example, the best version of control is Jeskai with Esper coming in second, the difference in these two decks is how good the Golgari, Boros, and Drake matchups are in relation to each other. Jeskai is well equipped with a three mana sweeper but lacks exile, whereas Esper has a slower sweeper but gets great exile potential by adding black. They both have their pros and cons, but I believe Jeskai is easier and better suited against the whole field than Esper.

 

How to beat the Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Bigger Scissors?

 

You can’t! {insert frowny face here.}

As someone who enjoys making meta stomping decks I’ve found almost impossible to

create a deck that has a good matchup against all four of the listed decks. You can run a lot of mainboard sweepers but then give up percentages in the control matchups or even run a lot of slow, powerful creatures and give up on the aggro matchups. That’s not a bad thing, though. If there was a single option that had good matchups against all of them, everyone would just play that and we’d have a stale format. Don’t let that keep you from trying to brew, though. Metagames change based on just a couple of cards, and maybe you’ll be the one to find the key. Going forward, Ravnica Allegiance will push Standard out of its comfort zone by introducing all ten buddy and shock lands in Standard again, giving each deck a viable manabase to work with and opening up several more options.

Qs & As: A Control Primer

By Myles Miller

Welcome back to the Battleground weekly article segment! We hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday, however you chose to spend it. We took a week off from articles, but I’m going to make it up to you with a segment that’s a bit longer than usual.

If we’ve never met in person before: Hi. My name is Myles, and I play control. I like Islands, I have very strong opinions about the best art for Counterspell (it’s the Signature Spellbook printing, not close), and have a Jace tattoo on my right forearm. I’ve also been playing some form of blue/white or blue/white/black control in standard for the better part of the past two years. And so my goal here today is to pass on some of my knowledge of the control archetype, with some help from examples pulled from my matches at Grand Prix Milwaukee 2 weeks ago.

I’m first going to discuss the biggest threats of the format: every deck in Standard has cards that can be difficult for control to handle. A successful control player is one who recognizes how threatening a certain card is and responds accordingly, rather than just using counterspells and removal spells indiscriminately. After that, I’ll share a few examples from my experience at the Grand Prix, where I played at least 1 match against just about every popular archetype in today’s Standard format.

The Toolbox

Here is the deck I played at GP Milwaukee. Take a moment to look through it, then I’ll break down how these cards combine to make my opponents miserable.

Planeswalkers (4)                                     3x Moment of Craving

4x Teferi, Hero of Dominaria                     2x Negate

Enchantments (3)                                     2x Golden Demise

2x Search for Azcanta                              4x Sinister Sabotage

1x The Eldest Reborn                               3x Chemister’s Insight

Lands (26)                                                 2x Ritual of Soot

4x Watery Grave                                        4x Vraska’s Contempt

4x Drowned Catacomb                             Sideboard

4x Glacial Fortress                                    4x Thief of Sanity

4x Isolated Chapel                                     2x Lyra Dawnbringer

1x Detection Tower                                    2x Disdainful Stroke

1x Field of Ruin                                          1x Negate

4x Island                                                     2x Invoke the Divine

3x Swamp                                                 1x Ritual of Soot

1x Plains                                                    1x Dawn of Hope

Spells (27)                                                 1x Profane Procession

1x Fungal Infection                                     1x The Eldest Reborn

2x Syncopate

2x Cast Down

2x Essence Scatter

 

Knowledge is Power

The most important tool of a successful control player is knowledge: knowing what your opponent is likely to play, what decisions they are likely to make, and how you are most easily able to deal with their threats is an essential part of the control archetype. I played against 5 different types of decks at Grand Prix Milwaukee, all of which are very popular in the current Standard format. I’d like to analyze each matchup and describe what the threats are in order of severity. Let’s start with the ones I played against the least amount of times and work up the list.

Selesnya (green/white) Tokens – 1 match

Top 5 threats: 1. History of Benalia 2. Legion’s Landing* 3. Trostani Discordant 4. March of the Multitudes 5. Emmara, Soul of the Accord.

I only played against this deck once in all 15 rounds of the Grand Prix, and I’m thankful for that. This matchup is not an easy one because the opponent’s ability to make multiple tokens without spending much mana can quickly overwhelm the board, regardless of what Answers I’m holding. History of Benalia is Public Enemy #1 in this contest because for the price of 3 mana and 1 card, your opponent gets 2 creatures and a powerful power and toughness boost. If left unchecked, it’ll create a 2/2 on the first turn, create another 2/2 on the next turn while the first attacks for 2 damage, then make those tokens big enough to attack for a combined 8 damage. That’s 10 damage out of one card, half your life total! Legion’s Landing has an asterisk because it’s not the front of the card that’s scary, but the back side. If it flips, your opponent can keep making 1/1 tokens to slowly pick away at your life total, and it becomes a land which is significantly harder to remove than an enchantment. Trostani Discordant, March of the Multitudes, and Emmara, Soul of the Accord all follow this trend of creating multiple Questions out of just one card, making it easy to overrun your Answers.

Jeskai (blue/red/white) Control – 1 match

Top 5 threats: 1. Niv-Mizzet, Parun 2. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 3. Crackling Drake 4. Expansion//Explosion 5. Banefire

It’s a mirror match! Sort of! Jeskai is an extremely popular deck right now, the fact that I only played against it one time was remarkable. Niv-Mizzet is an important part of your opponent’s gameplan in this matchup, since his text box includes the phrase “can’t be countered”. If left unchecked, Niv-Mizzet will give your opponent a lot of extra cards and give you a lot of damage to your life total. Expansion//Explosion pulls double-duty in a control mirror match. The Expansion half of the card allows your opponent to cheaply copy your draw spells and counterspells, and Explosion serves as a huge source of card advantage and potentially lethal damage. Lastly, Banefire can deal immense amounts of damage in the later stages of a game, and it also contains the text “can’t be countered”. You see how this is an issue.

Boros (red/white) Aggro – 2 matches

Top 5 threats: 1. History of Benalia 2. Adanto Vanguard 3. Legion’s Landing* 4. Experimental Frenzy 5. Banefire

Threats #1 and #3 have already been discussed, but there’s a newcomer between them: Adanto Vanguard is a nightmare for control. For the low, low price of 2 mana, your opponent can attack for 3 damage each turn with a creature that can only be removed by a few specific cards. If you have a Cast Down or a Ritual of Soot in your hand, your opponent will happily pay 4 life to keep this threat around. Experimental Frenzy allows your opponent to keep playing cards directly from their deck, which makes it easy to flood the battlefield with new threats, while you are limited to just the cards in your hand. This deck is the reason my list contains 2 copies of Golden Demise as a way to stave off a flood of aggressive creatures.

Izzet (blue/red) Drakes – 2 matches

Top 5 threats: 1. Niv-Mizzet, Parun 2. Murmuring Mystic 3. Arclight Phoenix 4. Crackling Drake 5. Goblin Electromancer

I, thankfully, did not see any copies of Murmuring Mystic in either match against this deck. The Izzet Drakes deck relies on cheap spells that draw cards, so if your opponent gets a 1/1 creature token for each of these spells? It can get out of hand very quickly. Arclight Phoenix can be dangerous because of its ability to return from the graveyard multiple times. Without a Vraska’s Contempt to get rid of it permanently, it might take several Answers to deal with just one copy. Goblin Electromancer makes the list not because it does much damage, but because of the benefit it provides to the rest of your opponent’s deck. When their cheap spells become even cheaper, it’s not difficult for your opponent to draw and cast more spells than your Answers can keep up with.

Golgari (green/black) Midrange – 7 matches

Top 5 threats: 1. Carnage Tyrant 2. Vivien Reed 3. Doom Whisperer 4. Vraska, Relic Seeker 5. Find//Finality

That’s right. Seven times. The good news is that I only lost 2 of these matches. Carnage Tyrant is the number 1 threat to any control deck. It can’t be countered, it can’t be targeted, and it hits really, really hard. My deck has a few answers in the form of The Eldest Reborn and Detection Tower, but if we could always draw the card we wanted Magic would be a very different game. Vivien Reed draws creatures, so the longer she stays on the battlefield the more problems your opponent can create for you. Doom Whisperer also hits hard, and since we have no creatures to attack with, your opponent can activate that surveil ability as many times as they’d like to ensure they find the best cards to draw against you. Jadelight Ranger also helps smooth out your opponent’s draws, and the Find half of Find//Finality can bring back creatures you’ve already had to deal with, allowing your opponent to ask even more Questions while you start running out of Answers.

The Right Anwers

Knowing what Questions your opponents will be asking is the most important part of playing control, but using the right Answers can separate the best from the rest. Some of the spells in my deck are very specific, such as Fungal Infection which is only good against low-toughness creatures, while some can handle just about anything, such as Sinister Sabotage or Vraska’s Contempt. The secret to doing well with a control deck is knowing when to use certain spells for certain threats. I’m going to describe a few situations I faced during Grand Prix Milwaukee, and demonstrate why some Answers are more correct than others.

Example 1: Izzet Drakes

Your opponent is having a pretty good turn. They’ve cast enough spells to bring back 2 copies of Arclight Phoenix from the graveyard at once, which are now both attacking you. As you can see below, you have several options to deal with this sticky situation. Take a moment to think about how you’d play out this turn before scrolling down to see what I did.

You

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Opponent

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What I did on this turn is: nothing. I took 6 damage from the Arclight Phoenixes, then on my turn used Golden Demise to clear the board. Using one Answer to deal with 2 Questions is the reason for cards like Golden Demise and Ritual of Soot. This way I have the single-target removal available in my hand to use later.

Example 2: Boros Aggro

                This game is getting out of hand quickly. You’ve taken a few hits and the threats just keep piling up. You’ve just drawn for turn and played a land. Do you ue a removal spell this turn to take less damage from your opponent’s next attacks? Or bide your time and pass the turn and see what happens?

You

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Opponent

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The only point of damage that matters is the one that brings you to 0 life. You still have some life to work with, and waiting a turn to get the most value out of your board wipe after History of Benalia creates its second token is worth taking a bit more damage. Ritual of Soot should be able to clean up anything else your opponent adds to the battlefield, with the sole exception of Adanto Vanguard. But by holding on to the Moment of Craving, you can take care of that on your opponent’s turn before ruining their day on yours.

Example 3: Golgari Midrange

                Your opponent just played their 5th land, then cast one of their deck’s most potent threats: Doom Whisperer. With a whopping 6 power and an ability to surveil that your opponent can use multiple times, this is definitely a Question you have to Answer, and fast. As usual, you have a couple different ways to do this:

You

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Opponent

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Vraska’s Contempt is a great card, but there’s a reason it’s not the best play here. If Doom Whisperer is allowed to resolve, your opponent can pay life mutiple times to surveil and ensure they draw something good. So a counterspell is the ideal answer. Essence Scatter is of course an option, but I don’t think it’s the most correct choice. The card I went with is Syncopate, for one big reason. Syncopate exiles the card that it counters, which is extremely relevant in this matchup. The Golgari Midrange decks rely on strong creatures, and use Find//Finality or Memorial to Folly to buy those creatures back from the graveyard. If Essence Scatter is used on this Doom Whisperer, it’s likely to come back later to be cast again. Permanently removing a massive threat like Doom Whisperer is probably the best way to go.

End Step

With those quick looks into how Standard’s most popular decks are asking Questions, take a look back and see if you can pick out which cards in my list of 75 are meant to deal with which threats. There are a lot of different Answers, some more specific than others, but it’s important that every card in a control deck serve a purpose in at least one matchup. Do you have a card in mind that might be worth including? Drop a comment and make a case! Do you have questions about a certain matchup or different ideas on how to handle the situations I mentioned? Start a discussion below! Thanks for reading.

Pass turn.