A Narrow Metagame Isn't All That Bad

by Chapman Sim on 16 March 2017, Thursday

Chapman Sim

A Narrow Metagame Isn't All That Bad

The common consensus nowadays seems to suggest that we're in the middle of one of the stalest Standard environments in recent times. Players are also complaining that there are "only three decks", and that it is "boring" and the metagame is "bad".


Reflector Mage Smuggler's Copter Emrakul, the Promised End

All these opinions are also coming before and after a time when three cards were banned in Standard. Before, there were three dominant decks. After, we're back to having three dominant decks again, both times with a little sprinkling of Aetherworks Marvel and Dynavolt Tower on the side.

What gives?


Heart of Kiran Winding Constrictor Saheeli Rai

However, for purposes of today's discussion, let's just assume there are three "big" decks in the format, namely "The Vehicles Decks", "The Winding Constrictor Decks" and "The Saheeli Rai Decks".

According to the March 13, 2017 Banned & Restricted Announcement, Erik Lauer made the statement that "While having three top-tier decks isn't unusual, we were concerned that they could be so strong as to crowd out all other decks." What this suggests is that we aren't really in such a rut as it seems.

Personally, I feel that there has been much better Standard environments in the past and I won't deny that I would like a little more variety, but I would also like to share some thoughts on how a narrow metagame isn't all that bad!

You're Not Pressured To Own As Many Cards

In a narrow metagame where there are only three decks, you are less pressured to own as many cards. Imagine a format such as Modern where there are twenty different archetypes at any time, all of which are viable. You wouldn't be able to make the switch to any one of them as interchangeably unless you owned a huge collection.

Metagame shifting in Modern?

Too bad.


Mishra's Bauble

I'm broke so I'll just stick to Boros Burn now. I couldn't possibly afford to buy Death's Shadow and certainly not the Mishra's Baubles even if it is the best deck to play at this particular tournament. And what happens the week after that if I needed one of the remaining 19 decks?


Of course, Standard is a much smaller format so the card pool is naturally smaller, but imagine a world where... oh wait... we don't have to imagine because this way two years ago.


Pack Rat Thassa, God of the Sea Sphinx's Revelation Loxodon Smiter Warleader's Helix Obzedat, Ghost Council

Anyway, we once had a Standard environment with Mono Black Devotion, Mono Blue Devotion, Mono Green Devotion, Sphinx's Revelation Control, Boros Burn, Selesnya Aggro, Orzhov Control. Few components overlap between archetypes which means that you'll need to own a larger pool of cards if you wanted every weapon of choice at your disposal.

So, on the bright side, this narrow metagame is good because you'll only really need to build two decks and in the rare situation when you need the third, you know that things are within reach.

A Narrow Metagame is Easier to Attack


Delver of Secrets

I've shared the story of how I won a WMCQ during a time where Delver of Secrets was the dominant deck of the format.

Seriously. It was literally Eldrazi Winter all over against, except that it was Delver, Delver and more Delver. It was also a time where the metagame was even narrower than it is right now and I showed up at the event with Esper Control which was engineered to slay it. I also had a tiny interview on the mothership and you can read it here if you like.

Or, if you're lazy, here's the decklist:


This list was given to my by Tay Jun Hao, who is a great friend and has a Grand Prix Top 8 to his name. The deck essentially benefits fully with an extremely, extremely narrow metagame. The deck was built to slaughter any player playing with Delver of Secrets.

In addition to cheap removal to relieve early pressure, four copies of Phantasmal Image serve as great solutions against Geist of Saint Traft and also "combos" with Sun Titan because once it hits play all of the dead Phantasmal Images come back as Sun Titans.


Phantasmal Image Sun Titan Ratchet Bomb

There's the full playset of Ratchet Bomb to kill a transformed Delver (heh, rules worked differently back then) and also because Mana Leak is terrible against one-drops. Plus, I've traditionally had "The Mana Leak Face". I keep two mana open and my opponents will play around it.

There's also Lingering Souls, which bought me a lot of time while creating headaches for anyone trying to jab me in the face with Restoration Angel holding Runechanter's Pike.

How did I do that weekend?

I played against 6 Delver decks, and went 6-0.

The point is, if you know what you're doing in times of a narrow metagame, you will be able to benefit from it. The conscientious grinder, the hapless researcher and the fanatical innovator will be able to examine the rifts in the current climate to exploit it. They'll actually be able to make small tweaks to their decks to beat the mirror.


Oath of Chandra Archangel Avacyn

Terry Soh also wrote about how the successful Mardu Vehicles players stayed ahead by building a brand new planeswalker sideboard and added Archangel Avacyn to beat not only their opponents but crush entire tournaments. Only the players who put in time to research are able to come up with these findings to stay ahead of the others who "only netdeck". That piece is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone who plays Standard.

You Have More Time To Master Your Deck

Of course, all this learning and understand doesn't come without putting in time.

To understand a metagame, you actually have to play at least a few games with every deck that's present in the metagame. It's like putting yourself in another pilot's shoes such that you understand the train of thought and logical processes when you're playing against it.


Imagine a metagame with ten dominant decks versus a metagame with three dominant decks.

Assuming I need to run 20 games per archetype to get a feel of it, that's a different of 200 games against 60 games, which is a significant difference in the amount of time put in.

As such, the players who wish to put in time are rewarded more than those who don't, even more than ever before. Instead of putting in 60 games and stopping, they'll have the excess time from the 140 games, which they can channel towards practicing these 3 decks even more.

Or, they could just channel all the excess time from the 140 games into mastering one single deck. Case in point, Lee Shi Tian never plays anything other than Mardu Vehicles and look how good he is with it. When you give anybody of Lee's caliber 140 additional games on a single deck, that's like giving a well-trained assassin a machine gun and a scope.




The New Standard Format Will Feel "More" Refreshing

As with any environment, there are always highs and lows. I'm sure there has been a lot of "boring" times, which made the subsequent "exciting" times feel way more exciting than it should be. As players, we cannot expect every metagame to consistently have the same number of archetypes. It just doesn't work that way and it never has.

Sometimes, there are ten viable decks in a format and sometimes there are three. Usually, there are four or five, and sometimes six or seven. Just because we're at a low number right now doesn't mean that it's totally bad because the next Standard format is going to feel more exciting. Imagine Amonkhet coming in and then imagine the rotation of Battle for Zendikar.

Alan Alexander Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh books, once wrote:

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called."

Well, it's called the anticipation of good things to come.

For now, I'm enjoying my Blue-Red Tower deck and waiting for Amonkhet to arrive and I believe things will be great! Stay happy, stay positive and do SHARE this message if you agree with what I'm saying! Hang in there and enjoy the last month of this format. You might just be missing it once its gone.


Chapman Sim,
The Traveling Philosopher

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