All Your Invalid Excuses

by Simon Nielsen on 10 April 2017, Monday

Simon Nielsen

All Your Invalid Excuses

Disclaimer: You're going to hate this article.


If you're anything like me a couple of years ago, these kinds of articles are the worst. If you identify as a brewer, always seem to end up with your own creation for each event you play, always make excuses to do so, because that is who you are and that is how you're going to win. If you're like that, you'll dread this article, because it's just another narrow-minded pro telling you to behave like everyone else.


Also, if you're like that, this article is truly meant for you.

At some point in your quest for glory within the competitive Magic scene, you'll need to ask yourself what your goal actually is. You might think that your goal is to win, but consider if you have some sort of caveat. Your actual goal might be: "I want to win with my own decks" or "I want to win with control" or "I want to win without preparation".

Having these caveats is totally fine. I mean, it takes a lot to dedicate yourself to the Magic tournament life, and maybe going all in on winning is just not for you. Then, you just have to accept that you are also going to win fewer matches because of your caveat, and that you'll achieve your goal less often.

On the other hand, if you don't have these extra conditions and you just really want to qualify for the Pro Tour and achieve some kind of Pro Club level, but you just keep avoiding the best deck event after event, convinced that you made the right choice.


Well then, my friend, you are biased.


You keep making invalid excuses for not just giving yourself the best chance to win. In your attempts to play up your strengths, you actually sabotage yourself. And trust me, I've been through all of these excuses myself, and have only recently came out on the other side. Most brewers end up brewing less and tuning the best decks more. It's just so hard to win with your own creation, because in most cases, that deck just isn't good enough.



So... which of these nine excuses are you sticking to?




Excuse #1: "Brewing is my identity!"


Bubbling Cauldron


Is it really?


Do you seriously think that people will like you less if you just choose a popular deck? Do you think you'd like yourself less?


While showing up to a tournament with a crazy, winning deck does give you lots of attention, that would only be if you actually do well. And what's​ that attention even worth when your goal is to win? And if you win, you'll get the attention anyway.


Again, this obviously only applies if your goal is to win. Contemplate what you actually want and accept how those will affect you.



Excuse #2: "I have no edge if I just play the same deck as everyone else!"


Oh boy, have I told myself this so many times.


I thought that I wasn't good enough to play against the best players if I didn't attack from an unknown angle. Countless times, I've spent so much time trying out other decks that when the tournament came close, I'd just think: "Well, everyone else has played the best deck for so long now, I'd never be able to win the mirror. Better just stick with what I know!"


First of all, not everyone else has practiced a ton with the deck. And if you're a level-headed GP grinder, chances are that you're just the better player and will win even though they have more practice. Also, you could've spent all that time you wasted on your bad brew to just familiarize yourself with the best deck and how the mirror plays out post-board. Having the right sideboard or just understanding what is important will give you the edge you need.

So no, it's not that you lose your edge if you just pick the weapon. A tournament is a gun fight where a surprisingly large number of people turns up with a knife. And yet, you still thought it would be a good idea to bring your screwdriver-flinging catapult that you built out of an old couch and some rubber bands, hoping to get lucky.

Get it right! Playing the best deck is your edge!



Excuse #3: "I just can't win with the best deck!"


It will happen sometimes that the considered best deck doesn't seem to be all it's hyped up to be after you've tried it a bit. Sometimes you really need to think hard about how this could be. Did you play optimally? Maybe you need more experience. Did you sideboard correctly? Did you just get unlucky in your first two leagues.

Some of it could also be confirmation bias. You want the deck to be bad, so you can excuse yourself from playing it, which makes you just look for all its flaws.

Now, don't get me wrong, sometimes the crowd is not correct. Sometimes a deck is popular just because it's popular. That's rarely the case late in the format, and also rarely the case for all Tier 1 decks. So dabble around a bit and try out some of the other known good decks. The best deck isn't always clear.



Excuse #4: "This IS the best deck!"


Yeah, right…

Sometimes you might think, that you've just found the best deck that nobody else has discovered yet. You feel invincible with it (well, except for when you get unlucky). And while that does happen sometimes, it's quite unlikely that your deck is actually the best thing around.


This would be another case of confirmation bias, because you really, really want your deck to be the best thing, so you'll just write off every loss as an anomaly. This can be extremely dangerous in your evaluation of how good the deck is, and you need to get someone else who is competent and not as invested to take a look at your deck and games to give an unbiased opinion. And you need to take their word for it.


Realistically, you won't be better off alone than the masses who have grinded the format for so long collectively, and you just have to accept that it's way more likely that they are right and you are wrong, than the other way around.



Excuse #5: "My deck beats the best deck."

Again, confirmation bias comes into play. You can never be sure that you are actually favored in the match-up. Maybe you've played against bad opposition that don't play the deck optimally. Maybe you just got lucky and don't have enough of a sample size to confirm your hypothesis.


It's important to find the best opposition you can get, to put your ego aside and actually listen to their opinion. Magic Online testing might not even be enough.

Even if it seems like your brew should be a clear favorite against the best deck in theory, you'd be surprised at how well a true best deck is able to withstand hate. This partly stems from their ability to attack from different angles than what they're built for and also just playing a collection of the best cards available. Whenever you watch Mardu Vehicles out-grind an opponent, or see the control deck just slam a powerful Mythic Rare on turn 5 or 6 and easily ride it to victory, you'll know that that deck is the real deal.


This is also the reason why "I don't want to play the deck that has a target on its head" is rarely a good excuse, because the best decks are just so resilient and are not even that bad against the decks that try hard to beat them.



Excuse #6: "My deck is good, but I keep throwing away matches."


I've not gone easy with this excuse. It was actually one of my primary ones not that long ago. You see, I'm very focused on trying to play optimally and I notice a lot of my mistakes. I always feel like I play badly and can often determine exactly where things went south. And this naturally leads to excuses like: "Deck's great, I'm medium" and "I went 3-3 at this PPTQ with my brew, but I would've gone 5-1 if I played perfectly."

These kind of excuses can be very destructive and trick you into sticking to a deck you've been losing with. Do you really think your opponents are not also making mistakes?

The thing about the best decks is that they can easily win even if you misstep, just because of their sheer power level. And at that point, why do you keep trying to learn a deck where you have to play perfectly to make up for its flaws? You could just spend that time sharpening your play with a Tier 1 deck and end up with a better win percentage anyway.



Excuse #7: "My deck has a good win rate."

Alright, so you might actually have navigated through the treacherous sea of bias, tested your heart out and tuned a brew to the point where it's actually quite decent. You might have a deck with some powerful cards, inherent synergies that can go toe to toe with the best decks of the format and boasts a nice 63 % win rate online.

And you still might not even want to play it.

The idea here is why settle for just a positive percentage? Even if your deck functions, you could still just be playing the actual best deck and acquire an even higher win rate. This is the opportunity cost of a deck choice. It's not just about what you choose to play, but also what you choose to not play. And for a competent player, 63 % online isn't actually that good.



Excuse #8: "I can't utilize my creativity if I just play the best deck."


I'm not telling you to mindlessly copy the deck that everyone else is copying and plays on Magic Online. You just have to play the best strategy with the best cards. Those versions may vary, maybe even quite drastically from the stock lists.


Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim Mindwrack Demon Walking Ballista

You can tune the sideboard to line up better against the field or add some tech to surprise this week's metagame. Last week, I wrote about how we added Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim and Mindwrack Demon to our Mardu Vehicles sideboard, and they performed quite well. And think about how different the French version of Mardu with Walking Ballista was from the majority of Mardu decks at Grand Prix Utrecht, and how playing Ballista in Mardu was just universally accepted two weeks later.

I'm not telling you to play the exact list that is considered best, just to play with the best cards. There's still plenty of room for creativity in how to apply them. Just make sure you don't outsmart yourself.



Excuse #9: "Playing the same as everyone else wouldn't be fun."


Well, I can't speak for everyone here, but do consider if your goal is "to win" or "to have fun and also try to win". Obviously you shouldn't play Magic if you don't find it fun, but I think that people can enjoy more things if they're just open minded about it.

I thought that I would just dread to play the boring midrange deck and face grindy mirrors all day. It turns out that I just really enjoy playing Magic no matter what it is, and I definitely also had a good time at GP Utrecht even though I faced the Mardu mirror 7 times.

At the end of the day, it isn't really worth sacrificing valuable win percentages just to play a deck that will be slightly more enjoyable to play. It's not like I'm going to be miserable playing the most powerful cards. Also, it turns out that winning is quite fun too…





As you can see, it's quite rare that you shouldn't just sleeve up the best strategy in the format. I'm not saying you should never experiment, just that you'd be way better off if you never did, than if you always did. Brewing a successful deck is quite difficult and might take many failed attempts and a ridiculous amount of time to get right and ensure that the deck is actually tournament level material, so it's usually not worth it.

On the other hand, though, I do enjoy brewing and whenever I don't have an event coming up, I'll just work on my own ideas or fringe decks that I find interesting, just because I like it. And I might even learn something from it.

And there are also a lot of times where there is no best decks. Sometimes, the format is in its infancy and isn't figured out yet, such as every Pro Tour when the new set just came out. Often it's worth it to try and experiment for those events, especially if you have a good team backing you up. This also applies for the time right after the Pro Tour where the best deck isn't always clear but emerges after a few weeks. If you can find it before others, there are edges to gain.

Sometimes what people conceive as the best deck isn't actually that good. Usually it will have glaring flaws even though the strategy seems decent. You can try to work on those flaws or find a deck that i somewhat popular, but severely underrated.


Death's Shadow Restore Balance Voice of Resurgence

And then there are formats like Modern where there often is no best deck and you're just better off playing what you know better if it's decently positioned in the metagame. I just came off a 12th place at GP San Antonio in Team Unified Modern. I played Shadow Jund myself (Lantto's list, obviously one of us had to play the assumed best deck, and I happen to have a lot of experience with Death's Shadow), but my teammates from Switzerland, Julian Flury and Serafin Wellinger, were on some more unusual choices with Restore Balance and Green-White Hatebears respectively. Both of them are absolute masters with their decks, and both decks happen to line up well vs. Death's Shadow.


I might write about that next week. See you then!

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