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Improving Your Play Through Magic Online

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Magic Culture

Improving Your Play Through Magic Online

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.

This past weekend, I played 4 Color Saheeli for the Standard Grand Prix in New Jersey. I went in hoping to make day 2, since that’s something I haven’t done yet. I don’t get too many chances, or at least haven’t had many in the past few years, to attend and compete in Grand Prix. I have slowly improved since my first Grand Prix, the last one in New York. My records have been getting better, from 5-4, to 5-3-1, to finally hitting day 2 at 6-3. Sure, I back doored with the recent mercy rule (x-3 now making day 2), but I’ll take it.

I ended up dropping from the event at my fifth loss in round 12. While I finally broke through to day 2, I am by no means happy with my performance. In terms of technically sound play, I couldn’t have been happier with how I performed. I do feel like in within the past year, I’ve become a much better player from a technical standpoint. However, since the RPTQ, I have noticed that I lose percentage points before even sitting down to my first round matchup. By that I mean, I don’t register the correct 75 cards.

At the RPTQ a couple weeks ago, I played the Elder Deep-Fiend/Aetherworks Marvel version of the 4 color deck. I was extremely happy with it, but I wasn’t prepared correctly for the 4 color mirror. If I had three different sideboard cards aimed at specifically fighting the mirror match, I would probably be on the Pro Tour now. Fast forward two weeks to GP:NJ and I didn’t really change my deck too much. I was still playing the Elder Deep-Fiend/Aetherworks Marvel version of the deck, which was flat out incorrect, I should have been playing the Chandra, Torch of Defiance version of the deck.

If that’s the case, how was I comfortable sleeving up Elder Deep-Fiends in the first place? I spent some time playtesting online, but not nearly as much as I should have. In my testing, I think I was bailed out more by the combo, where having the Aetherworks Marvel and Elder Deep-Fiends in my deck didn’t matter. They could have been Chandras also, and it still wouldn’t have mattered. If I had tested more, and tested with other versions of the deck that had been doing well online, I feel like I would have found that my version of the deck was worse overall. So how can I improve my testing, and what are some steps you can do, to improve your results?

Step 1: Test more.

I was afraid of losing. Period. That’s a mistake. That’s what testing is. Making decisions on what cards are in your deck, or making changes in sideboard plans to see what makes matchups better, and what feels better in a deck in general will lead to losses. But that’s fine. Look at the scientific method, that’s essentially what we’re reproducing when we playtest. We make an educated hypothesis, and then move forward with our experimentation to prove that hypothesis. Only after our experimentation will we know if our hypothesis was correct.

When you’re afraid of losing in a league online, you put too much emphasis on winning rather than getting correct results from your testing. When you’re afraid of losing, you do things like trying to time your opponent out online, try to not use your new cards that you’re trying to test, and you stop playing as much because the league you’re currently 3-0 in might be a 5-0, and you’re afraid of losing.

It’s much like Magic in real life, which I’m more comfortable in. In real life, I don’t really mind losing a match of Magic, it comes with the territory. I think though that you can still top eight a PPTQ or IQ with a loss and a draw, and online, you can’t 5-0 a league if you lose, and that leads to you stopping testing and focusing more on trying to 5-0 a league. So stop being afraid of losing, and play more Magic.

Step 2: Try Others’ Ideas.

When you see someone 5-0 a league, or place in a MOCS, or win a PPTQ with a deck that share the same archetype as yours, but they have different cards in their deck, that person has a reason. Find out what those reasons are, and try testing their ideas. This is something that I failed at when testing for the GP. I did try the Chandra version of the deck, but I only did it one league, and never tried it again.

I was stubborn, I thought that I was the only one that knew that Elder Deep-Fiend was the best build of the deck. In reality, I was stupidly stubborn, and simply dismissed what the consensus online was proving to me was the better version of the deck, and continued to perform sub-optimally with my version of the deck.

When looking at testing for an event, you should not only take into account your own testing results, but see what others are doing as well, as they might be ahead of the curve while you’re playing catch up, as I was this past week, without even realizing it.

Step 3: Take Notes.

Your testing is for naught if you don’t remember what you’ve tried, and what your results of those attempts were. When trying new ideas, try writing down what new cards you’re trying for which matchups, when those cards are bad, when those cards are good, and when you sideboard them in and out and if they helped. Some people keep a spreadsheet, others keep a notebook or notepad with the results. Just make sure you’re tracking your results in an organized way, and you’re putting those results to work for you.

I hope that these are tips that will help you improve when you’re testing in the future. I know that these are things that I have an issue with that I will be improving upon. I think that this is the next leveling up point for me, and when I break through it, I will start to see a lot better results, and I hope that this self-enlightenment helps a few of you as well.

So now, let’s talk about Standard currently, especially after the most recent banned/restricted announcement. Wizards banned nothing, if you haven’t heard, in Standard. This has both pros and cons. The pros are that consumer confidence is still high. There were a lot of fears and actual expectations that a few things would be banned to shake up the format, and this caused a few selloffs of cards. So while people who are invested in standard don’t lose too much, and can still play the decks they are enjoying in this standard, this is, in my opinion, one of the worst, most stagnant Standard formats I’ve ever played in. I think the only one that I’ve played in that was worse than this was Ravager Affinity Mirrodin Standard/Block season (I missed from Lorwyn to Khans, so I never sat through Caw Blade).

Standard is 100% solved, and it is a two-and-a-half deck format. Sure you can play other decks, but if you aren’t playing Mardu Vehicles, 4 Color Saheeli, and arguably Green Black Constrictor, you are playing the wrong deck, and you’re likely to not perform well. A banning in Standard would have shaken things up, and potentially opened the door for new decks to unfold in the format.

However, back on the other side of the coin, there is the potential that since the cards Wizards has been printing are so powerful with few checks for them, if something like Felidar Guardian and Gideon were to be banned, then something else would be the best, most oppressive card in standard. Maybe Walking Ballista with Winding Constrictor would be extremely more powerful than anything else. Then if they were to ban one of those cards, Torrential Gearhulk might just be the most oppressive thing in Standard. Long story short, there’s this cascading effect where there will always be something powerful to fill the gap with this new paradigm of Magic design philosophy.

In the end, I understand why there were no bans, but I’m not excited about this Standard at all, and I fully expect bannings to happen before the next Pro Tour, unless there are a lot of answers printed in Amonkhet that can keep these things in check, something that we’ve been missing for a while.

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