Deck Selection Theory: A New Standard

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Standard

Deck Selection Theory:  A New Standard

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

As Pro Tour Kaladesh was unfolding, I, like many of the fully-time employed area grinders that I know, were glued to the constructed rounds, looking for a sign as to which Standard deck to pick up for this season. With W/R Vehicles making the top eight, and having a decent showing and conversion rating overall, along with my bias toward the deck after playing it the weekend previous, it was at the top of my list of potential decks.

However, most of those same area grinders that I like to bounce ideas off of also know me as someone who cannot commit to any single deck. I try to, believe me. And typically I am on a single deck for an entire season. It just takes me some time to really figure out the deck that I gel with. For instance, it took me a while to find Abzan control at the beginning of two years ago, even though it won a Pro Tour. I stubbornly stuck to cards I thought were cute, so I played the Jeskai midrange deck, even though I felt like the cards in that deck were not objectively powerful. Once I found Abzan though, I was in the finals of a 60 man PPTQ.

The same goes for other decks I have done well with. R/G Landfall saw me in numerous top eights and got me my first SCG Invitational invite. Bant Company and I have had a storied past. Splinter Twin and I had a sweet honeymoon before that beautiful marriage was forced to an end.

Even with the recent Modern format after the banning of Eye of Ugin, it took me a while, but I eventually landed on, and came back to, Jund. I found that playing cards that are just powerful coupled with a strategy that you enjoy can lead to good things, and great results. It lets you enjoy learning the deck, and learning how to beat each deck you’ll come across. This is why I’m an advocate for sticking with one deck for an entire season.

And it’s that that scares me. I only have at most 4 PPTQs left this year, and I really do want to win one. I’ll be elated when this happens, I know it will eventually, but if it were to happen this year, I’d be able to start next year off on a good note.

So as I’m discussing decks with one of my good buddies, I get on about how I really enjoy the R/W Vehicles deck, but there’s just something about it I dislike. White removal is a sore spot for me. I understand that cards like Path to Exile and Declaration in Stone are powerful cards, no doubt about it. They are the best at what they do. However, they also allow your opponent to gain card advantage over you. This is why I cannot stand playing decks like Bant Eldrazi or Abzan in Modern. Sure, while Path to Exile gets rid of almost any threat you care about, it gives your opponent a card. You can’t really use it to tempo out or grind out your opponent if those are the axis that you are fighting on.

I feel similarly about cards like Force of Will. Sure you don’t lose the game on the spot most of the time, but if the game goes on, are you really that likely to win? Results and math may point to yes, but I’d rather not have to worry about being down cards. Maybe that’s just me thinking about it incorrectly, but whenever I had cast a Force of Will in the past, or a Path to Exile, I tasted a bit of vomit in the back of my throat.

Declaration in Stone is the same way. Of course the card has phenomenal upside. However it gives your opponent another shot most of the time. And it doesn’t hit every creature you’d want to hit, at least before they may impact the board. And sure, I really enjoy playing with a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but I truly dislike Declaration in Stone. Even when I was playing Bant Company, I didn’t like the card.

And this, in part, is why each player doesn’t play the same deck. In the last Standard, I loved the Bant Company deck. Everything it did, I loved (except for those stupid Declarations in Stone in the sideboard). There were, however, people with a strong distaste for the card Collected Company. Did they suit it up? Never. Were they still successful? Of course.

Listen, I’m a Lightning Bolt guy. Sure, the card may not be good enough to kill your Thought-Knot Seer or your Tarmogoyf, but being able to kill a mana guy, being able to go upstairs, and being able to kill something some of the time without giving your opponent anything is what I’m all about.

You can test with cards all day. Pro teams do this, just check out the Pantheon and its two premier players as of late, Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke. They are best friends, as Enter the Battlefield would have you believe. They test with the same people, they are on the same team. They played different decks at at least the last two Pro Tours. I can guess that this sort of card bias has a role to play in their deck decisions.

Even when you’re on the same team, it’s important not to stifle the opinions of others. You want to foster their reasons for their opinion. If a member on your team decides that they like a spirit deck with Rattlechains and Selfless Spirits when the metagame is dominated by Liliana, the Last Hope, it’s important to not shut out their ideas, but make them reason through why they think the deck they want to play is as good as they think it is.

After the Pro Tour, a couple of my friends jumped onto W/R Vehicles as their deck of choice. The deck is great, and I still may play it, but needing to cast Declaration in Stone, even in an aggressively tilted deck makes me want to run away from white entirely, despite how good the other white cards may be.

My point is that at least for me, and perhaps you reading this as well, is that I’ve found there to be some happy medium when selecting your deck. For example, when I was playing R/G Landfall, I felt like it was honestly the best deck in the format that no one was playing. This was back when Jeskai Black was supposedly the premier deck of the standard format. Back when Atarka Red was faster than R/G Landfall. Sure those decks were great, but I felt like I really clicked with not only the maindeck plan of comboing people out, but also the sideboard plan of becoming this attritiony Den Protector/Outpost Siege deck.

The same was true of Splinter Twin. You were this neat combo deck that could side the combo out to become a control deck. Jund is this happy marriage between Lightning Bolt and grindy green cards. Abzan Control with Fleecemane Lions could play both an offensive and defensive game depending on the matchup. R/W Vehicles feels the same to me.

This happy medium I’ve found is not playing all of the flashy cute cards that I think would look cool to win with, but to find some cards I like sprinkled with a strategy and plan I enjoy with a topping of raw cherry flavored power.

Would I love to play a Snapcaster Mage deck in Modern? Sure. I love me some delve spells. “Tim, why aren’t you playing Grixis Delver in Modern then?” It’s the realization that I’m just not good at playing those cards right now, and I don’t have the time to devote to getting better with a deck that I feel is of a sub-par power level to Jund, and Jund does very similar things.

Would I love to play a Spirebluff Canal deck and use energy with Aether Hub? Absolutely. But I feel like I will have a higher win percentage if I play the sort of strategy I’m already kind of familiar with, the aggressively slanted midrange deck.

In the end, you might have to play a few cards you’re not happy with. I’ve come to terms with having to cast Declaration in Stone, however I now have options like Skywhaler’s Shot to be excited about (and by the way, that card is the truth!). It’s also important to note, that you shouldn’t let records at the Pro Tour determine the deck you want to play. The Pro Tour is a sort of inbred metagame anyway, where the Pros find the broken decks, and then they play decks to beat those broken decks, assuming other teams found the broken deck to begin with. Just remember what Shota Yasooka said when BDM asking him to give tips to players who might want to play his Grixis Control deck.

“Don’t.”

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