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Making the Most of Deck Selection

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

Making the Most of Deck Selection

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.

Hello LegitMTG readers! It’s been a minute, I know. I’ve been on a summer break of sorts. With the Standard season of PPTQs winding down, I decided to take a bit of time off from Magic, and from work. I took my lovely wife on our first vacation in five years, since our honeymoon actually. We left the kids with my in-laws and the two of us escaped to Cape Cod for a few nights. We got to see some humpback whales, go to the ocean (National Park Service just kills it, as always), and enjoy great food.

But that’s all over now. We’re back to business. This was supposed to be an upbeat article. This was actually supposed to be the article. The one in which I revel in my grand successes of finally winning a PPTQ since I first laid out my goals to do so last year. It certainly felt like it was my time to shine. This past weekend, with the release of Eldritch Moon, the Modern PPTQ season spun up. I took my pretty much stock Abzan Company deck, the one that I haven’t lost with at my local shop in the three weeks that I was playing it, and did…good enough.

I and two of my teammates top eighted. Special thanks to teammate Joey Cody for scooping me into top eight, where all three of us decided to stop actually playing Magic, and start to try out for the New York Jets special teams. In the end, one of us was either going to win the PPTQ, or be the newest punter in the NFL.

So instead of being a couple of pages about how glorious I am, and how great I am for winning a PPTQ, instead, I want to talk mainly about deck selection. Now keep in mind, I hadn’t played Modern seriously at a competitive rules enforcement level for about a year. Since then, a lot had changed. Mainly, Splinter Twin was banned. That was my deck. I loved it. It was so much fun.

Now I’ve become a grumpy Gus when it comes to Modern. A salty Steve. A torrid Tim. When Splinter Twin had gotten banned, I was slowly building Infect, because it looked fun to play when I wanted to take a week off of playing Twin. Twin got banned, and it became the deck I played in Modern.

I dominated week after week after week at local, less competitive events. The weekly Modern events were Tim and three other people in the top 4. And then the hate came. It became difficult to top eight even, because sometimes people would get lucky, and find their one of sideboard card. Or I’d get unlucky, and not find any Dismembers for Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and couldn’t beat their Kitchen Finks. Or I would just get housed by the guy playing B/W tokens because that matchup us just unwinnable. Along with this, half of the people in the local metagame actually started to sleeve up Infect themselves. So between all the hate cards and mirror matches, I just got frustrated with the deck, and shelved it.

While I was playing Infect, I was sneaky building the G/B/x manabase. I had traded in all of my Splinter Twin cards for Liliana of the Veil. My Scalding Tarns for Verdant Catacombs. I now had access to Jund and the Abzan Company decks.

Because of my past experiences with Splinter Twin, and my fear in Modern of just dying on turn 4, I decided to play the Abzan Company deck. It had decent matchups against all those annoying aggressive decks like Burn and Zoo, and decent matchups against damage based combo decks like Ad Nauseam, Storm, Infect, and Scapeshift. It also had a sideboard plan against the grind midrange decks that I was comfortable with. It had the combo plan, and the attack with value creatures plan, kind of like Splinter Twin.

Quickly, I was back to just winning every week. Unstoppable. I was locked in on playing the Abzan Company deck this season. I took it to a Friday Night IQ after work, went 3-1-1 to top 8 and lost in the quarterfinals. It was awesome. My first Competitive REL event and I top 8.

The PPTQ came. I went 3-1-1 into top 8 and lost in the quarterfinals. Ok, now this was getting annoying. I took it to our weekly Modern event that Monday and went 0-2 drop. I didn’t even play against hate cards. What was happening? The deck had been doing so well previously. Was I just bad with it?

Then, instead of looking at my positive win record, I looked at the standout decks and players that I played against.

Burn: 0-3
Infect: 3-1
Death’s Shadow: 0-1
Affinity: 0-1
Mono Blue Tron: 1-0
Jeskai Nahiri: 0-1
Grixis Delver: 1-0

I found that all of the matchups that I thought I could beat, I just wasn’t beating. I was beating either bad players with good decks, good players with bad decks, or I was just getting lucky in some spots. I no longer felt confident with this deck after realizing I couldn’t find results with it, especially against matchups that I was supposed to be strong against.

Then I looked at why I even chose this deck in the first place. It was two reasons, I love Collected Company. Love it. Probably my favorite card printed in the past year. The second reason was that I wasn’t winning in my local meta with Infect.

Well, let me tell you. Collected Company isn’t great when half of the creatures you Company into are Wall of Roots and Noble Hierarchs, and all you want to hit are Kitchen Finks. You can’t even get Murderous Redcap with the stupid card. And don’t even get me started on Chord of Calling. When it’s good, you’re probably already winning. Otherwise, it’s a pretty poor card in the deck.

Also, when picking up Abzan Company, I was becoming results oriented with Infect, which isn’t what you should be doing, especially when you’re talking about your local metagame for casual events. I had forgotten that I was doing really well with Infect beforehand, and that fluctuations in a metagame happen, and you won’t always be able to win with the same deck week after week.

When becoming results oriented with a deck, which I typically am, you should be looking at the results of individual matchups rather than a whole tournament. Are you happy with how your “easy” matchups are playing out? If you aren’t, you should either change your mind set for the matchup, the cards in your deck, or the deck altogether, because if you’re not really comfortable against decks you should be beating, why are you even playing the deck?

So now I have a dilemma on my hands. I have access to two of the best decks in the format: Infect and Jund. Which will I play? I’ve asked a lot of people, and have gotten input on a lot of people, all of whom I respect, and hold their opinions in high regard. It’s literally split down the middle. Both of the decks are fine, but I really need to make up my mind. I have to play in this invitational in a few weeks, and I’m no longer playing to just do well enough. I’m playing to win.

I realized something else over my vacation. I’m great at Magic. I’m not just good enough to top eight a PPTQ or IQ. I top eight almost every IQ or PPTQ I attend. That’s saying something. I’ve been to game three of the finals of a PPTQ three times in the past year without even trying to get that far. Since the beginning of this year, we’ve been actively trying to get onto the Pro Tour. I can’t do that if I just get excited to top eight these local events. Top eighting doesn’t mean anything anymore other than we’re actually on the clock now.
So this article is really saying two things. Mainly, pick a deck based on how well you perform with it in matchups you feel you should be comfortable in, and don’t sell yourself short. People say to not be cocky, and you shouldn’t. You should respect each of your opponents, and show good sportsmanship. But if you think you can beat someone, believe it. Don’t just accept that you’re the worse player before the games even begin.

A close friend and very good magician had this to say to me recently: “I had to play against Mike Flores, and someone told me ‘If you don’t beat him, you can’t come home tonight.’ I woke up in my bed the next morning.” – Sham Artist, 2016

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