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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

46915727_2188137151513631_2684090191878029312_n.jpg

Opponent

47242145_279496022909948_1777514482222759936_n

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

47105675_520006988480876_6561264406720675840_n.jpg

Opponent

47080644_2354611797945651_82934701794263040_n.jpg

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

47132079_596066347520349_6257081143347118080_n

 

Opponent

47316079_295503521088750_1414378596528553984_n.jpg

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.

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Mathemagics, Part 2, Color Distribution

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 color distribution.

 

Last week we talked about your deck having a plan, and we’ll continue that this week. When building your deck, you will have certain spells you want access to on the turn they become available. A good example of this is Settle the Wreckage or Ritual of Soot: decks playing these sweeping cards will usually be slower and trying to halt the tide of aggro decks with one of these spells on turn 4. A card like Crackling Drake is generally not a good turn 4 play because it is often simply a 0/4 or 1/4 , so when building our mana base we will not need to be worried about having 2 red and 2 blue on turn 4.

 

We’ll be using the term “pip” to refer to mana symbols, so a card that costs 1G would be described as having 1 pip since you must use 1 green to cast it, while the other portion of the cost can be any color. Here are some tables:

 

One pip Turn 1 Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5 Turn 6 Turn 7
5 47.46% 52.41% 56.99% 61.21% 65.09% 68.65% 71.91%
6 54.14% 59.33% 64.03% 68.26% 72.07% 75.49% 78.55%
7 60.09% 65.36% 70.02% 74.14% 77.76% 80.94% 83.72%
8 65.36% 70.59% 75.11% 79.02% 82.37% 85.25% 87.71%
9 70.02% 75.11% 79.42% 83.05% 86.10% 88.66% 90.78%
Two pip Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5 Turn 6 Turn 7  
10 39.98% 46.74% 53.14% 59.13% 64.63% 69.63%  
11 45.44% 52.55% 59.13% 65.12% 70.50% 75.27%  
12 50.72% 58.02% 64.63% 70.50% 75.64% 80.07%  
13 55.76% 63.13% 69.63% 75.27% 80.07% 84.09%  
14 60.51% 67.84% 74.13% 79.44% 83.84% 87.40%  
15 64.97% 72.13% 78.13% 83.05% 86.99% 90.07%  
16 69.11% 76.02% 81.65% 86.12% 89.59% 92.16%  
Three pip Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5 Turn 6 Turn 7    
15 39.90% 48.11% 55.90% 63.05% 69.44%    
16 44.91% 53.44% 61.30% 68.31% 74.35%    
17 49.86% 58.55% 66.34% 73.04% 78.59%    
18 54.68% 63.40% 70.96% 77.22% 82.14%    
19 59.32% 67.93% 75.12% 80.82% 85.00%    
20 63.75% 72.10% 78.81% 83.84% 87.16%    
21 67.92% 75.90% 82.02% 86.26% 88.64%    

 

Magic is a best two out of three game, so again we are looking for our plan to work on time 66% of the time or greater. The number listed on the left is the number of sources which produce the percentages going across their row. When looking at the pip requirements, there is only a small distinction between mono and multicolored spells. For example, Merfolk Trickster costs UU (blue blue). You should have 16 blue sources to reliably cast it on turn 2. Thought Erasure costs UB (blue black). You should have 16 blue AND black sources to reliably cast it on turn 2. This does not mean you need to run 32 lands consisting of 16 islands and 16 swamps though. A Watery Grave, Drowned Catacomb, Dimir Guildgate, or Submerged Boneyard counts for both one blue source and one black source. One last note, when looking at hybrid mana costs like the Find (G/B G/B) half of Find//Finality you can count sources of either green OR black, so if you wanted to cast Find on turn 2 for some reason, you would need 16 green OR black sources to reliably cast it on time.

 

The overall thing to take away from this is that the earlier you need multiple colors, the fewer colors you can afford to mash together. In order to consistently cast a 3-mana card with 3 pips such as Goblin Chainwhirler, you need 21 sources of the color of that pip. This is the reason decks which use Goblin Chainwhirler, Steel Leaf Champion, or Benalish Marshall tend to be mono colored, as it is very difficult to produce the mana required to play them on time otherwise.

 

Let’s look at some decklists and discuss the construction of the archetypes:

RW Angels – Carson Lewis

5-8th Place SCG Classic – Dallas

 

2 Adanto Vanguard
3 Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice
4 Knight of Grace
4 Lyra Dawnbringer
4 Resplendent Angel
3 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
2 Tocatli Honor Guard

1 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants

2 Conclave Tribunal
3 Deafening Clarion
4 History of Benalia
2 Justice Strike
2 Lightning Strike

4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Mountain
12 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
SIDEBOARD
2 Banefire
1 Ixalan’s Binding
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
2 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Seal Away
2 Settle the Wreckage
1 Silent Gravestone
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Tocatli Honor Guard

 

This deck is almost a mono white deck but is splashing red for Justice Strike, Deafening Clarion, and most importantly Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. This deck’s plan is to curve out with good threats, most importantly playing Aurelia on turn 4. The Justice Strike on turn 2 and the Deafening Clarion on turn 3 are less important to the plan for the deck than consistently landing Aurelia on time, as she pumps whatever threats you have out already and adds a significant clock on the next turn when she can join the battle. Looking at our chart, they should have 13 sources of both red and white to consistently cast Aurelia on turn 4. They have 20 white sources and 12 red sources, so the deck is almost exactly where it should be mathematically but may wish to change one more Plains into a Mountain to bump their numbers slightly more into line. If the deck wanted to cast Justice Strike consistently on turn 2, it would need to climb to 16 red sources, but since Justice Strike is a late game removal card to clear out a card like Ghalta, Primal Hunger, we don’t have to worry about being able to cast it on turn 2.

 

Jeskai Control – Michael Hamilton

9-16th Place SCG Classic – Columbus

 

1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy

3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

2 Chemister’s Insight

1 Cleansing Nova

2 Deafening Clarion

2 Essence Scatter

4 Expansion // Explosion

4 Ionize

2 Justice Strike

1 Lava Coil

2 Lightning Strike

1 Negate

2 Search for Azcanta

3 Settle the Wreckage

1 Shivan Fire

1 Shock

4 Clifftop Retreat

1 Evolving Wilds

2 Field of Ruin

4 Glacial Fortress

2 Island

4 Plains

4 Sacred Foundry

4 Steam Vents

3 Sulfur Falls

 

SIDEBOARD

1 Chemister’s Insight

1 Dawn of Hope

1 Deafening Clarion

1 Disdainful Stroke

1 Invoke the Divine

3 Lyra Dawnbringer

1 Negate

1 Nezahal, Primal Tide

2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty

1 Shivan Fire

2 Siege-Gang Commander

 

Now, you might be saying, are multicolored cards always a worse choice than mono colored cards? For example, is it always harder to cast Ionize (1UR) instead of Sinister Sabotage (1UU)? The answer is: it depends. If you are playing a three (or more) color deck like this one, and especially if you have multiple cards you want to cast on the same turn, multicolored cards and dual lands can make it easier to have different plans spread across multiple cards. In this deck you want to cast Deafening Clarion (1WR) or a counterspell on turn 3, depending on what you’re playing against and what you draw. For both Sabotage and Clarion to work in this scenario you need 14 sources of each red, blue, and white to have all your options open, but for Ionize you can share dual lands when building your mana base. For example, Steam Vents counts as both a blue and a red source for Ionize AND a red source for Clarion. Likewise, Sacred Foundry counts as both a white and a red source for Clarion AND a red source for Ionize. The overlap between the two enables a more reasonable mana base for achieving the desired plan for the deck.

 

BG Midrange – Maxwell Jones

1st Place SCG Classic – Dallas

 

3 Doom Whisperer

2 Golgari Findbroker

4 Jadelight Ranger

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Merfolk Branchwalker

3 Ravenous Chupacabra

3 Seekers’ Squire

3 Wildgrowth Walker

3 Vivien Reid

3 Vraska, Relic Seeker

2 Assassin’s Trophy

3 Find // Finality

8 Forest

4 Overgrown Tomb

7 Swamp

4 Woodland Cemetery

 

SIDEBOARD

1 Assassin’s Trophy

2 Carnage Tyrant

3 Duress

1 Find // Finality

3 Moment of Craving

1 The Eldest Reborn

2 Vraska, Golgari Queen

2 Vraska’s Contempt

 

This deck is cluttered with mana symbols looking to cast powerful cards like Jadelight Ranger (2 pips, green) on turn 3 or Ravenous Chupacabra (2 pips, black), and Golgari Findbroker (4 pips, green and black) on turn 4. To be able to play these spells reliably, the deck has to stick to 2 colors, otherwise it would be impossible to get the required number of colored mana sources without playing an extraordinary amount of lands. With just 23 lands, this deck still plays 16 green sources and 15 black sources enabling it to reliably fill out the large number of color pips required from all the powerful double pipped cards.

 

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

1) Which of my spells do I need to cast as early as possible?

2) Are there any multicolored cards which I can substitute in to make my plans overlap better?

3) Can I achieve the number of sources I need in the number of lands I’m playing?

 

If you find yourself answering number 3 with “no”, you probably are trying to stretch your early color requirements too much. You should either substitute some multicolored spells in if possible, or change your plan to be less color intensive or involve fewer colors. I hope you’ve enjoyed your second lesson in Mathemagics, and I’ll be back with another one soon!

How to prep for a GP

By Myles Miller

Today’s article is going to be based around the competitive side of Magic, a little bit more than usual. I and the other Battlegrounds authors always strive to create content for players at every level, especially those looking to improve their game, but this week, I’m going to focus on a more competitive aspect of Magic: preparing to play in a Grand Prix. I’ve asked some of Richmond’s most competitive players to share their experiences and insights to help you prepare for the event, whether it’s your first or your fiftieth.

What are GPs?

The Grand Prix are Magic’s premier competitive events, and certainly the largest you can enter without requiring an invitation. I will be heading to New Jersey at the end of the month with a group of friends and teammates to play at GP New Jersey, the first Standard Grand Prix since the release of Guilds of Ravnica. Let me describe a few details about GPs, to give you an idea of how these massive events work:

  • Grand Prix are two-day events. Players compete in 8 rounds on the first day, and any player with a record of 6-2 or better (18+ match points) can compete for 7 more rounds on the second day. After 15 total rounds, the top 8 players play for the grand prize.
  • The prize payout of a Grand Prix can be quite substantial. For example, the prize payout for 1st place at Grand Prix New Jersey is $10,000. $5,000 to 2nd place, $2,500 each to 3rd and 4th, and so it goes down to 64th If a GP has over 3,000 players, the cash payouts extend down to 180th place.
  • Professional Points can be earned at GPs by players who do well enough. Pro PointsImage (1).jpg are accumulated by players with excellent records at GPs, the Pro Tour, and other major events. Earning enough Pro Points will earn you special perks, such as byes, invites to the Pro Tour, and travel reimbursement. Speaking of:
  • Players earn Planeswalker Points by playing in any official event, including your local FNM. I won’t go into detail, but every recorded match you play and every win you earn is recorded in your planeswalker point total, and players with enough points are awarded byes at major events like GPs. Certain events award extra points, but the default numbers are 3 points for a match win, 1 point for a draw, and 0 points for a loss. 1,300 points in the year (from the end of May to the end of May) gets you 1 bye, and 2,250+ earns 2 byes at Grand Prix events.
  • GPs are conducted at Competitive Rules Enforcement Level. This means that players are expected to know the rules and play correctly. Judges work hard to assist players with any disputes or questions. Careless mistakes will result in warnings, while serious or intentional errors can escalate to more serious penalties. Players are also required to turn in a decklist before the event starts, listing every single card in their deck and sideboard, to help prevent any cheating.

Grand Prix are massive events, and held all over the world, all year long. Players who are serious about competing at this level will travel far and wide to play in any GP they can. If you wait for a Grand Prix to come to you, you’ll miss out on a lot of events. I personally have driven as far as Providence, Rhode Island and Orlando, Florida to play in a Grand Prix, and plenty of others in Richmond alone have traveled much farther than that. Because of the level of competition and the travel that’s usually required, there are a few ways you can prepare. Let’s hear from some of the more competitive local players and how they prepare for this level of competition.

Choose your weapon!

Q: How do you prepare for a Grand Prix? In terms of choosing a deck, practicing, etc?

Daniel D’Amato: I decide a deck two weeks out, test sideboarded games especially, and consider different flex spots in the mainboard to finalize a list 1 week in advance.

Charles League: I try to read articles to find out what the top decks are. I’ll watch event roe-91-training-grounds.jpgcoverage, specifically of players who I respect playing those decks. If time permits, I play online in competitive leagues.

Orlando Lucas: Set up a testing group 3-4 days a week, play online, and read up on everything and watch streams.

Wyatt Plott: Get a lot of reps in with the deck I want to play, and play it online to get more matches in. Play in person and just do post-sideboard games to find a good plan for the expected metagame. Read articles to see what other people might be playing: don’t necessarily copy the lists but update them.

Pierson Geyer: I try to play in a weekday and weekend event to get some real practice in. Experience and performance are both important, so it helps to get a feel for your deck. I don’t recommend entirely online testing, because the human face-to-face aspect of the game in an important one. I also try to read an article or two about the format: knowing what other decks are out there will help you prepare.

Q: Travelling and logistics are also important. What do you recommend for getting to the event, and how can you be on top of your game throughout the weekend?

David Beniamino: Find someone else to do the driving. Get your own bed at the hotel, a restless night is not worth it. Make sure you know where to park and how much it will cost, so you’re not late. Play throughout the year to earn byes, they can make all the difference at a Grand Prix.

Andrew Black: Pack deodorant, book your travel ahead of time, drink water, and get Image (2).jpgplenty of sleep.

Adam Bialkowski: Never expect to win. Focus on one round at a time and try to have fun! GPs are like mini vacations.

Wyatt Plott: Travel with friends to help with the strain of driving long hours, and travel with people that have similar goals for the event.

Orlando Lucas: Bring water and stay around friends so that you’re not stressed out during the tournament.

Pierson Geyer: Getting your transportation, lodging, and budget figured out helps reduce stress, and getting a good night’s sleep is vital to performing well. I usually keep some protein bars in my bag to keep my energy up. Having a plan lets you keep your mental endurance over a full day of 8 rounds.

Daniel D’Amato: During the tournament I’m drinking water, walking around, and staying focused between rounds.

 

End Step

Each one of these players from RVA or the VA Beach area has several Grand Prix under their belt (a few even appearing in Pro Tours!), so they really know their stuff when it comes to competitive events. Whether you’ve been to a few GPs or would like to try one out the next time we have one nearby, these insights will go a long way towards helping you prepare for your next competitive event! While this article focuses on the main event, there’s plenty to do at a Grand Prix besides compete. Starting in 2019, these events will be referred to as MagicFest, a name meant to more completely describe the experience. MagicFests will include premier events such as a Grand Prix, but the weekend contains so much more than that: card vendors, cosplayers, casual and competitive events in all formats. You don’t have to be on the hunt for Pro Points to attend a Grand Prix weekend, there’s something for everyone to be found in the event hall which makes for an incredible experience. Have any habits or practices of your own you’d like to share? Further questions about GPs or competitive events? As always, drop a comment below or on Facebook, or come visit Battlegrounds anytime.

Pass Turn.

Mathemagics, Part 1

by: Joseph Davis

Hi, I’m Joseph, and welcome 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. First up is a classic question: how many lands should you play?

 

There are two important points to consider when thinking about how many lands to put in your deck. First, what is the critical number of lands to be able to reliably make a drop each turn? Your deck has a plan and some part of that plan needs to happen on time. Figure out which turn is the most mission critical to arrive at successfully, whether you only need 3 lands to play every card in your deck or you want to cast some more expensive spells. Second, what is the minimum number of lands possible to play in your deck so that you reliably hit that number? Lands are the worst draw late in the game, so you don’t want to play too many or else you’ll run out of good things to do.

 

As a very brief aside in case you want to follow along, we’ll be using a mathematical formula to help figure out how many lands we’ll draw on average for each turn from turn one to turn seven. This formula is called hypergeometric distribution. Here is a big chart which I’ll explain below:

 

Land count Turn 1 Turn 2 Turn 3 Turn 4 Turn 5 Turn 6 Turn 7
20 95.17% 82.42% 63.75% 43.91% 26.87% 14.28% 5.76%
21 96.02% 84.96% 67.92% 48.77% 31.28% 17.44% 7.34%
22 96.73% 87.22% 71.81% 53.53% 35.82% 20.84% 9.11%
23 97.33% 89.22% 75.40% 58.13% 40.39% 24.41% 11.03%
24 97.84% 90.96% 78.68% 62.50% 44.91% 28.06% 13.05%
25 98.26% 92.47% 81.63% 66.58% 49.29% 31.69% 15.10%
26 98.61% 93.76% 84.24% 70.33% 53.41% 35.21% 17.12%
27 98.89% 94.86% 86.53% 73.69% 57.19% 38.49% 19.04%
28 99.13% 95.78% 88.49% 76.62% 60.55% 41.44% 20.77%
29 99.32% 96.54% 90.13% 79.09% 63.40% 43.94% 22.24%
30 99.47% 97.16% 91.44% 81.06% 65.66% 45.93% 23.40%

 

Magic is a game which is played best 2 games out of 3. Because of this, any plan which works less than 66% of the time is not a good idea, since you want to be winning 2/3 of your games. This applies to lands more than anything, so for whatever critical turn is most important, you should plan to arrive at it on curve at least 66% of the time. Let’s go through some examples with up-and-coming archetypes in Standard:

 

Steam-kin Aggro

Marc Kaake – 4th place, SCG Standard Classic, Columbus OH

4x Fanatical Firebrand                        Sideboard:

4x Ghitu Lavarunner                           2x Banefire

4x Goblin Chainwhirler                       3x Diamond Mare

4x Runaway Steam-Kin                      3x Fight with Fire

4x Viashino Pyromancer                    3x Lava Coil

3x Experimental Frenzy                      3x Legion Warboss

4x Lightning Strike                              1x Shivan Fire

3x Risk Factor

4x Shock

4x Wizard’s Lightning

22x Mountain

 

This aggressive strategy relies on playing aggressively on turns 1, 2, and 3 – playing out hasty creatures or deploying burn spells to clear the path or deal damage to the opponent. A big tempo swing usually comes on turn 3, when Goblin Chainwhirler hits the battlefield, clearing the way of tokens and pushing through an extra point of damage on the opposing player and any planeswalkers they’ve played. The deck does not have any real acceleration to it and relies heavily on hitting its land drops naturally but cannot afford to draw too many or it will lose tempo and putter out. According to our chart, this deck should be playing 21 lands since it cannot accelerate itself ahead of the normal behavior of drawing 1 card and playing 1 land per turn.

 

Mono Green Stompy

William McDonald – Top 32, SCG Team Open, Columbus OH

2x Ghalta, Primal Hunger                   Sideboard:

4x Jadelight Ranger                            2x Carnage Tyrant

1x Kraul Harpooner                            2x Deathgorge Scavenger

4x Llanowar Elves                              2x Kraul Harpooner

4x Merfolk Branchwalker                   4x Prey Upon

4x Nullhide Ferox                               3x Thrashing Brontodon

4x Pelt Collector                                 2x Vivien Reid

4x Steel Leaf Champion

2x Territorial Allosaurus

4x Thorn Lieutenant

1x Thrashing Brontodon

3x Vine Mare

23x Forest

 

This deck is built around curving into big nasty hexproof threats and the key number for this deck is 4. At 4 mana they can cast both Vine Mare and Nullhide Ferox to curve out into Ghalta, Primal Hunger. Looking back at the table above, you’ll see this deck will want to end up at 25 lands so that it can reliably hit these threats on time. Green has the ability to play creatures which accelerate their mana curve though. Playing Llanowar Elves is about half as good as playing a forest, since it does add an extra mana source, but it has summoning sickness and dies to removal. Because of this we can treat a deck with 4 copies of Llanowar Elves as needing 2 fewer lands to really work well. You will find mono green decks playing 23 lands comfortably due to the presence of Llanowar Elves, plus any other creatures with Explore that will help smooth their draws, such as Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger.

 

Esper Control

Orlando Lucas

Top 16 – SCG Standard Classic, Columbus, OH

1x Chromium, the Mutable                             4x Glacial Fortress

4x Teferi, Hero of Dominaria                          4x Island

3x Cast Down                                                 4x Isolated Chapel

4x Chemister’s Insight                                    1x Plains

1x Disdainful Stroke                                       3x Swamp

2x Essence Scatter                                        4x Watery Grave

3x Moment of Craving                                    Sideboard:

3x Ritual of Soot                                             1x Arguel’s Blood Fast

2x Search for Azcanta                                    2x Disdainful Stroke

4x Sinister Sabotage                                       2x Duress

3x Syncopate                                                  2x Fungal Infection

3x Vraska’s Contempt                                    2x Invoke the Divine

4x Drowned Catacomb                                   1x Negate

2x Evolving Wilds                                            1x Ritual of Soot

1x Field of Ruin                                               2x The Eldest Reborn

2x Vona, Butcher of Magan

 

The control deck in the new meta, piloted to great success by a local player from the VA beach area, looks like it will be an Esper (blue white black) deck featuring Teferi, Hero of Dominaria plus a lot of counterspells and removal spells. This deck relies very heavily on hitting a sweeper (Ritual of Soot) or removal (Vraska’s Contempt) in order to avoid dying. They also have very powerful threats and board control to take control of the game on turn 5 (Teferi, Vona). This deck needs to reach turn 5 on time so it can deploy stabilizers such as Teferi or Ritual of Soot. Running the math as shown in the table above would suggest this deck should be playing 30 lands! The trick that blue decks have up their sleeve is that they can draw extra cards and get ahead of the curve with extra chances to draw a land. Cards like Chemister’s Insight and Search for Azcanta will usually end up drawing the equivalent of 2 extra cards by turn 5. If we count Chemister’s Insight, Search for Azcanta, and Sinister Sabotage (all with effects that let us look at extra cards and find lands) as 1/3 of a land drop, similar to how I mentioned Llanowar Elves is equivalent to ½ a land drop, we can safely run 27 lands in a deck like this one.

 

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

1) What is the critical turn I need to hit (3, 4, 5)?

2) Do I have any mana acceleration (mana creatures, artifacts which tap for mana)?

3) Do I have any ways to draw extra cards or filter what I draw (surveil, explore, card draw spells)?

 

From there, start at 21, 25, or 30 lands and then fill that many lands or land effects. Mana accelerants should count for half of a land per copy, and card draw should count as a third of a land, since they do not replace lands directly but rather increase your likelihood of drawing them. If you have cards which draw you lands directly, or directly put lands into play, consider what mana level you need to hit to reliably play them and avoid going below that number. For instance, if you have 4 District Guides in your deck, you should still not go below 21 lands, since you’ll need to hit 3 to use the Guides themselves. I hope you’ve enjoyed your first lesson in Mathemagics, I’ll be back with more soon!

 

10 Cards To Play at the PPTQ

By Myles Miller

This article drops the day before Guilds of Ravnica officially releases, and I don’t know about you but I can’t WAIT to get my hands on the new set. I hope you got the chance to get out and play in at least one prerelease event and play with some awesome new Ravnica cards, but if not I’ve got some great news for you! This Saturday, Battlegrounds will be continuing their tradition of hosting the season’s first PPTQ, where competitors will play some Guilds of Ravnica sealed format at the first official event using the newest set.

For those of you unfamiliar, PPTQ is an acronym: Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier. The winner of this event receives an invitation to the Regional Pro Tour Qualifer, which sends a few top-performing players to Magic’s biggest stage: the Pro Tour. With a prize like that, you’ll probably find most of Richmond’s best players at this event, and if you’ve been looking for a chance to upgrade from FNM and take a step into the deep end of competitive Magic, this is exactly the event you want to play in.

This event, as I said, will be Guilds of Ravnica sealed. If you got the chance to play at prerelease, you’ve already gotten some experience building sealed decks with these new cards. But regardless, this article is to help you prepare to bring your best game to the tournament. I’m not going to talk about the big powerhouse cards in this set: mythic rare cards will usually overpower any game in which they’re played, rare cards are typically very strong and help you decide which colors to use when building your deck, and even most uncommons in this set are extremely powerful and will help you decide which guild is the strongest in your sealed pool. That being said, you can’t build an entire deck out of rares and uncommons. You’ve got to include some commons, the meat-and-potatoes of any sealed deck. In this article, I want to point out some of the more useful commons that you might hope to see in your packs: these will help you flesh out your deck and make it all come together. I’m going to highlight one card from each color and one card from each guild that will help you put together a full 40 card deck and go toe-to-toe with the competition. Let’s get started.

 

 

 

WHITEgrn-22-parhelion-patrol

Parhelion Patrol is a really strong common in white for a variety of reasons. It’s got flying, which makes it hard to block, so it’ll be able to chip in a fair amount of damage over your opponent’s blockers. Vigilance means Parhelion Patrol can both attack and block, or even be used for the convoke mechanic after attacking. And finally, it’s got the new keyword Mentor, which lets you make a smaller creature a bit bigger. A lot of cards in this new set create 1/1 tokens with lifelink, and you know what’s better than a 1/1 with lifelink? A 2/2 with lifelink. Fly to victory, and train your army while you’re at it.

 

BLUEdownload

After playing a couple games at prerelease this weekend, I can say with some confidence that if you’re in a blue deck of any kind, you want as many of this card as you can find. A 3/4 creature with flying is no joke, and it’ll even make sure the next one or two cards you draw are cards you actually want to draw. If you’re playing Dimir, you’ll likely have other cards that care about Surveil, or if you’re playing Izzet you might not mind putting a card with Jump-Start into your graveyard to use later on. Your opponent will feel like they’re trapped in the art of this card when this is staring them down from your battlefield.

 

 

 

BLACK175184_200w

            The actual best black common is Deadly Visit, but taking up space on this page to tell you to play a powerful removal spell seems like a waste. So instead, let’s talk about a less obvious choice: Moodmark Painter. This is a 4 mana 2/3, similar to the stats you get on Parhelion Patrol, but Moodmark Painter itself doesn’t have flying or any other evasion. Instead, you’re giving a significant boost to a threat you already have in play, pumping up it’s power based on how many creatures you have in your graveyard, and granting menace to push that damage through. In a typical limited game, Undergrowth usually comes out to about 2 or 3, and with menace added you can either force damage through to your opponent, or take multiple blockers off your opponent’s board.

REDdownload (1).jpg

We’ve already looked at a creature with Mentor, but hey it’s a really good mechanic in an aggressive limited deck. Most of the cards with Mentor printed on them have the notable downside of having a low toughness, making them easy to block and kill when they attack. Wojek Bodyguard is one of the few creatures that gets around that: with a solid statline of 3/3, this soldier will be able to survive combat, as well as put counters on most of the rest of your creatures. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this! No, really, take this with you, he’s scared to attack by himself.

 

 

GREENgrn-144-siege-wurm.jpg

Convoke is the only guild mechanic making a repeat performance in Guilds of Ravnica, and that’s because we already know it’s sweet. If you’re building a Selesnya deck, you’re going to be using your creatures to call out some huge threats way earlier than your opponent. I mean, look at this Siege Wurm, he’s huge! This is a really solid card for any green deck: a 5/5 body paired with trample is already a solid threat. Pair it with convoke, allowing you to cast this card as early as turn 4? Seems like a pretty good way to win a game of Magic.

 

BOROSdownload (2).jpg

The Boros Legion is the guild of aggression, and uses the keyword Mentor. A Boros deck is going to come right out the gates swinging, looking to hit your opponents hard and fast, and use the Mentor ability to make your threats, well, more threatening. Skyknight Legionnaire is exactly the kind of card you want for an aggressive start. Flying makes it hard to block, haste lets it come across the battlefield right away, and 2 power is a fair amount of damage, but still low enough to be able to benefit from your other creatures with Mentor. Be on the lookout for these if you’re trying to build a Boros deck. Otherwise be prepared to deal with them.

 

 

 

 

DIMIRdownload (3)

I had initially picked Artful Takedown as my spotlight card for House Dimir, and that card is still one of my favorite combat tricks in the set. But this card impressed me quite a bit in prerelease games, enough to put it to the top of the list. Whisper Agent is everything you want in a Dimir deck. It’s got flash, so you can surprise your opponent with an unexpected blocker or get a Surveil trigger at any time. Having the option to Surveil on your opponent’s turn will work very well with other cards that care about when you do it, and can also just make sure your next draw will be useful to you. Besides, 3 mana for a 3/2 isn’t a bad rate in this format. Don’t let this secret agent catch you off guard.

 

IZZET175186_200w.jpg

Why is this card a common? I don’t know. When I was looking for an Izzet card to spotlight, I initially passed over Sonic Assault simply because I could have sworn it was an uncommon. This card exemplifies everything the Izzet League wants to accomplish in a game. It can get a blocker out of the way, it can stop a creature from attacking you, it deals direct damage to your opponent, you can cast it at any time, and it’s got Jump-Start. In a guild that cares about casting instants and sorceries and excels at chipping away at your opponent’s life total, Sonic Assult is the real deal. Plus, look at that sweet art. It probably makes for a great foil.

 

 

GOLGARIdownload (4).jpg

The Golgari Swarm believes in the power of the circle of life. “The dead gain new purpose here.” says the flavor text on our next spotlight card, and boy do the Golgari mean it. Undergrowth gives a benefit to your spells that grows with the number of creatures in your graveyard, and Rhizome Lurcher is a perfect example. I mentioned previously that you can typically expect an Undergrowth value of 2 or 3 when casting Moodmark Painter. If that’s true, you can probably expect your Rhizome Lurcher to be a 5/5 or larger by the time you play it. For only 4 mana, you can get quite a large body, and get some revenge for the creatures your opponent already destroyed.

 

SELESNYAgrn-197-rosemane-centaur.jpg

The Selesnya Conclave works in harmony to achieve great things. In the case of prerelease weekend, what they achieved was winning a lot of games with the help of this card. Rosemane Centaur is certainly a very solid creature, a 4/4 that can attack AND block makes combat difficult for your opponent. Not to mention this card has the same benefit as the several other creatures in Guilds of Ravnica that have vigilance: they can attack and then be used to convoke out a new threat in your second main phase. Any deck including green and white will be happy to include Rosemane Centaur and stomp out the competition.

 

 

END STEP

Which guild are you looking forward to representing at the PPTQ this weekend? Did you pull off any awesome plays at the prerelease? Do you have any other questions about PPTQs and how they work? Drop a comment here, or on Facebook, or drop by the store anytime. See you on the battlefield this weekend!

When To Concede

By Daniel D’Amato

Concession is something that every Magic player hopes to be on the receiving end of, but one of the most important skills that a Magic player can learn is knowing when a game is over. Being able to analyze the current game state and make appropriate plays is important to success in competitive Magic; knowing when to concede is one that isn’t addressed as often, if at all. Anyone that has played in a competitive Magic tournament knows that every round is timed and that sometimes matches can get drawn out leading to draws or even one game matches. Ideally you don’t want to put yourself in that situation, so what is the best way to approach that? Conceding. I will be the first one to admit that conceding doesn’t feel good, ever, especially when the game was close or could have been the deciding factor in receiving prizes or even making top 8, but there are numerous benefits to conceding games, and especially game one. There are multiple factors to consider when determining whether a game is winnable or if conceding is the right answer. One of the most common factors that is associated with early concessions is the amount of time left in the current round.

When to Concede?

Time in round, while a necessary parameter for not only Magic but any competitive atmosphere, can be one of the most stressful factors in giving yourself the best chance to win a match. Just how football teams must practice clock management when there is two minutes left in the game, Magic players need to practice clock management for playing at a proper speed and giving themselves plenty of time to win the match. So, what does time in round have to do with conceding? Control is always going to be in the game regardless of what format you play. There are many very efficient control players, but there are also many control players who have a slower pace of play. It is typically these matches that you worry about going to time and understanding when a game is a lost cause can be extremely beneficial to your success. All the following scenarios for time consideration are from a midrange deck’s point of view.

 

Control Matchups

The best way to elaborate on this matchup is to explain personal experiences I have had. About a year ago when I was playing the best midrange deck in the Standard format, Temur energy. Control matches could go either way, but I knew that game one was always tough and that I had to play quick and tight. I can’t count on my hand the number of game ones I conceded against control while on Temur before turn 10. Temur was a midrange deck that planned to win through tempo creatures and quality removal, both of which are not great against control due to counter magic and board removal. I knew during sideboarded games that I would have access to 5 forms of counter magic along with my own Torrential Gearhulks to keep the tempo. Being able to properly analyze the board and the matchup your playing is important because conceding allows you to have plentiful time in what could be a grindy matchup to win. So how do you know?

The most common signals in this matchup that conceding may be the right call are card advantage and board state. Card advantage is something in Magic that can make or break a game. Control decks are designed to deal with threats, refill their hand with utility and spells, and then eventually land a threat that can’t be dealt with. This makes them very agile game one against midrange decks because they can use spot removal or board removal on our threats after our hand is depleted all while they have upward of five or more cards still in hand. This is a spot to consider conceding because now you are just watching your opponent play Magic until they find a win condition and finally beat you. This is not only one of the worst feelings in Magic but can also be one of the most time consuming. Concede. The average midrange deck has multiple answers to control style decks in the sideboard and will ultimately have a stronger success rate in the post sideboard games. When your threats have been dwindled, it is not a bad idea to just concede the game instead of wasting time. Conceding here allows for enough time to win games two and three, saves some frustration, and allows you to focus on winning the match. Staying focused on winning the match rather than the game is a huge factor because these types of matchups can become very frustrating and can cause you to lose sight of the objective. Control matchups can be straightforward or difficult and knowing when to concede can potentially give you the upper edge in the matchup.

 

Midrange Matchups

Midrange mirrors can be the grindiest matches you will play. Both decks being designed with the same goal in mind can clash and cause a board stall or blowout very quickly. Time can sometimes be even more of consideration in these matchups due to the fact it can take a very long time to win game one and board stalls can cause a person not to concede since there are still outs to win the game. The key to winning these matchups is card advantage and threat removal. If you notice yourself falling further and further behind, consider the concession. Like the control matchups, conceding here allows for less frustration and more time to focus on the match at hand; figure out the best way to approach the matchup and how to give yourself the best chance to win the other games. Tempo and counter magic are important in the control matchup; removal and tempo are very key out of the board in this matchup. Time management is vital in this matchup because every draw and turn matters when both decks are looking to grind their opponent out to win the match. Having access to your sideboard for the next two games and hopefully plenty of time on the clock can be a strong factor in determining the outcome of this matchup.

Losing or having to concede a close match can be very frustrating and defeating. Midrange mirrors being as grindy as they are can mentally drain you and can sometimes feel like they are just one game with the chance of finishing a second. Being focused on each individual game and playing tight can help you win more matches but evaluating the current board state and mastering clock management can allow you to consider variables that not every player can consistently consider. In these midrange matchups, the main parameter to consider is card advantage. Currently in Standard we have midrange all-star Glint-Sleeve Siphoner which allows its controller to draw extra cards for the cost of one life and some energy. In midrange matchups this guy is a massive advantage because he can give the controller the card advantage necessary to apply and deal with threats efficiently; unanswered it is likely the controller will win due to the card advantage alone. However, if cards like this go unanswered and you can’t seem to find the line to win, concede and refocus, the other games are more important; remember that a match is best of three and not one.

When Not to Concede

I figured since I am giving all these examples of when concession may be the right call, it’s important to know when you are ahead and maybe your opponent should be the one considering it. All the topics can just be repeated above with roles switched obviously but it is possible to be in a losing situation and not conceding is important…. combo. Combo exists in the eternal formats and not so much Standard but eventually everyone will have the pleasure of playing against a combo strategy. For those unfamiliar, combo likes to just try to pull off a win by assembling the pieces of whatever puzzle and executing it and doing everything to protect it. It’s important that when a combo player is “going off” that you don’t concede and wait to be beaten. Not only will you gain valuable insight on how to shut down the combo, but people are also human, and they may mess up the combo along the way allowing you a victory. The latter happens often which is why it’s important to let your opponent do their thing and follow closely for better understanding.

I previously touched on situations on when to concede in control and midrange matchups but there are times where concession isn’t necessary. Things you need to consider are whether you are ahead on life total, card advantage, or board state. You obviously never want to concede a game that you are winning especially just because your opponent finds an answer. With the Glint-Sleeve Siphoner example I talked about card advantage. If you have a hand of 6 cards while your opponent has a hand of 1 card, the board state doesn’t matter because you are still ahead pending life total situations etc. Times like this is when concession should be considered because you have a greater opportunity to win based off just card advantage alone. Its situations where your opponent is the one with the card advantage where concession should be considered. I know it sounds self-explanatory on how you should be able to tell you are ahead but there are issues where people do concede while ahead or give an early concession when they analyze the state of the game incorrectly. Overall concession, while a difficult concept to grasp sometimes, can be a good tool for growth in professional magic.

Concession

Conceding a game or match obviously doesn’t feel good but it can have its benefits. The most beneficial aspect of conceding a game early is the amount of time you can gain to win the match. Time is important in competitive Magic and unfortunately this game is no stranger to slow players and thus this skill must be analyzed carefully. Conceding isn’t something that should be impulsively done but rather analyzed and determined if it is the best line to help you win the match in the end. Thanks for reading and I hope your concessions are more received than given!