I hope that everyone has had a good new year so far, and I hope that your endeavors in Magic, whatever they are, be achieved. With Standard on the backburner for me with spoiler season in the back of my mind getting ready for a long and arduous Standard season coming up toward the end of January, I’ve been taking my lickings in Modern. At first, I was torn over which deck to play. My heart of hearts love that stupid Lightning Bolt card, but I feel that it’s just so bad right now outside of decks like Death’s Shadow Zoo and Burn that decks like Jund are nearly unplayable. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, because Jund is still a fine deck, but it’s nowhere near where it was even a year ago.
So I’ve played in two Modern events in the past two weeks. They were both on the north end of 40 players, both being 6 rounds. I played a different deck at either event, Grixis Delver, the most recent love affair of the format, and Bant Eldrazi, the enemy alien monsters turned midrange heroes. At both events I went a disappointing 3-2 drop with no hopes of making the final cut to top eight. This is a far cry from where I was a few months ago, where I understood Modern and played it well, top eighting a myriad of PPTQs with both Jund and Death’s Shadow Aggro.
The reason Grixis Delver appealed to me was because it plays a bunch of my favorite cards. Snapcaster Mage, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Lightning Bolt, Murderous Cut, while also having access to cards like Terminate and Mana Leak really appeal to me. I enjoyed playing the deck, but not enough I think to be invested in it. I felt a lot like it was just a worse version of Jund that spun its wheels trying to cobble together answers to cards instead of just playing more powerful cards like the green shard.
The reason Bant Eldrazi appealed to me is because I honestly think it’s one of the best decks in the format on paper, and the interaction it provides is enjoyable to me, while keeping an almost 50% matchup across the field and a versatile “box” in which you can place a variety of Bant answers to strategies for your sideboard, as well as more reliably hit artifact answers because you’re an Ancient Stirrings deck.
“Tim, we know you’ve been struggling with the Modern format for a while, why do we even have to take you seriously?” Mainly it’s because right now I don’t really want to talk about decks. I want to talk about pitfalls in losing that I’ve made with these decks to try and help you improve. After the most recent 3-2-drop in Modern, I’ve realized why I lost, and I want to share those points with you.
New Card, New Deck Syndrome
When I played Grixis Delver, I lost to Grixis Control, and Skred Red, while beating Jeskai Prowess Aggro, Affinity, and Grixis Control. My first round, and first loss, was to Grixis Control, against a not very good player. Why did I lose to him then if I believe he wasn’t very good? Well, he just plays Grixis Control all of the time, so he’s more familiar with his cards, but my play skill should have been able to make up for that. What really happened was I got excited to cast Snapcaster Mage and Tasigur for the first time in sanctioned competitive REL Magic for the first time in a long time.
What I mean by that is that I was too quick to play these spells because I was excited to play these spells. If I were to play Grixis Delver again, I probably wouldn’t fall for this, but this is a reason I think I tilted off of decks last year. I would feel like my deck is great, or that I really enjoy it, and just use my cards to fight over things that in the end don’t matter. One position in which I remember explicitly making one of these decisions, my opponent was at a very low life total, and I was at three or less. This is against my Grixis Control opponent in round one, and I have a Tasigur and a Spell Snare in my hand. I used my mana to handle everything he had, such that he is dead on my next turn unless he produces a blocker to block my lethal Snapcaster Mage, or a Lightning Bolt to kill me. I played the Tasigur to hedge against a blocker. I died to a topdecked Snapcaster Mage-Lightning Bolt while I had the answer in my hand, because I wanted to hang with Banana Man.
This is something that happens over time, but I tilted off, and straight up lost the second game in our set because I knew I should have beaten him. I took a bad matchup and almost broke serve in game 1, before sideboards even! That’s the real thing I should have taken away from the match that I had played, as opposed to taking away the match as a loss.
So if you’re like me, and losing in your first event of a lot of people with a deck you haven’t really played before is a very polarizing experience for a deck, you should probably play the deck in a couple of events as a litmus test for whether you like the deck or not. Even later on in the same event, I calmed down enough to beat another Grixis Control player, one I hold in higher regard than my round 1 opponent, so I was even then getting the hang of the matchup and the Delver deck.
Losing to Deck Construction
My most recent event, I took Bant Eldrazi out for a spin. This is a deck that appeals to me for various reasons. It’s claimed positive matchup against midrange decks, which are prevalent in my area, while also being a midrange deck with decent answers against the field with a high score on the free-win-o-meter is right up my alley. The deck is naturally slightly favored against Black Green decks, so the rest of my deck including the sideboard needed to be constructed. I personally wanted to try Ben Friedman’s latest build with Talismans. This is what I played:
When I was constructing my deck, you can tell from both the maindeck and sideboard that I wanted to beat decks with a lot of creatures, and decks that attacked. It shouldn’t have been a surprise then when I lost to a player on a Blue-White control deck featuring not only 4 maindeck Path to Exile, but also maindeck Condemn, Blessed Alliance, Supreme Verdict, and even Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge for my lands. In fact I had played a turn 2 Cavern of Souls on Eldrazi on the draw, which was a feelbad when he went turn three Ghost Quarter my Cavern of Souls with Mana Leak mana up.
I tilted against this player, especially since I played spectacularly in game 1, such that even with him resolving THREE Ancestral Vision, he won at two life facing a lethal crackback. In honesty, I shouldn’t be tilted at all. I lost because my deck was not constructed to fight him. I didn’t even have decent sideboard cards to bring in against him. I ended up bringing in the Stubborn Denials and Eternal Witness while taking out my Engineered Explosives and a Path to Exile.
And while I take away the loss against a deck I should have lost to because I had no plan for that deck, I did beat Infect 2-0 the round previous. So my deck did exactly what I built it to do, and I still almost beat UW control in game 1. While some people try to strain themselves to find a misplay against a certain opponent, the matchup may have been lost as soon as the deck was registered, simply because the matchup wasn’t something you prepared for when creating the decklist.
While things like misplaying or keeping bad hands are likely to be the majority of the losses you receive when playing Magic, there are certainly other reasons. These are the times when you have to look beyond the games as to how you lost. Being excited to cast your new cards is a natural behavior. Humans are quick to try and show off all of the neat new stuff they get, we do this after we get our gifts for the holidays, we do this when we get a new phone, we do this when we get a new jacket or new shoes or even a new car. You think your neat new stuff matters to people out there, but they don’t even care, they just beat you at Magic anyway. Anyway, here’s to winning at Magic in 2017!
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