Analyzing My Results
I don't consider myself a results-oriented man. One small instance of a result occurring does not mean it will always happen. However that doesn't mean that over time with years of results to study one can't pick up on trends that have occurred.
Mike Flores loves green cards but once he saw he was winning 60% with blue cards and significantly less with green ones he incorporated that into his game. I wanted to analyze my tournament history and do the same. Each of these tournaments has its own story but I'll save those for later.
After searching through the deck database here on StarCityGames.com I've categorized them loosely by archetype.
Affinity 1st place States 2004
Goblins 1st place 40 Duals 2005
Dredgevine 1st place TCQ 2010
Dredgevine 2nd place Standard Open 2010
Dredge 2nd place Legacy Open 2012
Dredge 11th place Legacy Open 2012
White Weenie/Red 8th place States 2005
B/R Vampires 10th place Standard Open 2011
Affinity 16th place Nationals 2004
Zoo 49th place Worlds 2008
Boros 8th place Magic Online PTQ 2010
As you can see most of these aggro decks aren't exactly aggro decks at all. While Dredgevine and Dredge have aggro elements to them they are also combo-oriented. Still I wouldn't feel right putting Dredge and Dredgevine in the 'combo' category any more than I would Valakut. If you're playing Dredge with the sole intention of flipping your whole deck and going nuts you're doing it wrong.
One thing to notice is that these aren't mono-red decks. Aside from Affinity these decks give me the ability to switch roles if need be. Goblins can take over with massive card advantage and the White Weenie I played also had access to Lightning Helix and Umezawa's Jitte. Vampires could drain you out with Kalastria Highborn rack up two-for-ones with Arc Trail or grind you out with Bloodghast.
The Zoo list I built for Worlds 2008 was built with those same principles in mind. If I needed to take the control role I could. In fact that list was probably one of the first Zoo lists to have a basic land other than Mountain in it. In order to become the control deck in certain matchups I needed to take less damage from my lands. To that end I added a land and some basics. Blood Moon and Burn were no longer issues after those changes.
I've played decks like Kuldotha Red often to disastrous results. Hyper-aggro Boros at Worlds 2004 didn't go very well and neither did any of the times I played red decks at Nationals. At the time I wasn't confident in my ability to outplay the best the game had to offer so I shied away from decks I wouldn't be able to pilot at 100%. Little did I know that aggro decks weren't exactly easy to play either. I was in over my head no matter what I did but I would always see players like Antonino DeRosa wielding Wild Mongrel for the fifteenth tournament in a row and always doing well. "That could be me" I thought.
As it turned out I didn't know how to build nor pilot aggro decks at 100% so I should have stayed away or at least gotten some advice on how to improve with them. Instead I built them as hard and as fast as they could go but they were not very resilient. Soon I started incorporating midrange elements that I had learned from years of playing Rock in Extended and I fared much better. Having some sort of engine or different avenue of attack is a very valuable thing to have when your Plan A doesn't work out.
For me I need those options. Waiting to topdeck that lethal burn spell is too much variance for me. I'd rather put my destiny in my own hands. Because of that you're going to see me playing midrange aggro decks if at all. Jund and Zombies are up within my range but there's no reason why Burn should be.
Aggro Loam 1st place PTQ 2008
Valakut 1st place Invitational 2010
Jund 3rd place PTQ 2010
Maverick 7th place Invitational 2011
Rock 1st place PTQ 2005
Rock 1st place PTQ 2005
Rock handful of PTQ Top 8s 2005
Rock 32nd place Grand Prix 2003
W/B Tokens 49th place Worlds 2008
It's not often that I delve into this realm but when I do it's to crush some PTQs or Invitationals. I used to like these decks a lot because Cabal Therapy allowed me to shred the hands of combo or control decks while playing life gain animals like Spike Feeder and Ravenous Baloth to beat the aggro decks. It was always decks like Psychatog and Oath of Druids that gave me trouble and eventually led to me playing those.
As I said in the aggro section having flexible cards that gave me options and having the ability to switch roles provided me with what I needed to dispatch multiple different foes on the PTQ scene.
Five-Color Teachings 1st place PTQ 2007
Five-Color Control 1st place Grand Prix 2008
Counterbalance 2nd place Legacy Open 2011
U/W Landstill 2nd place Legacy Open 2011
Counterbalance 3rd place Legacy Open 2011
Gifts Ungiven 7th place Grand Prix 2005
Five-Color Control 7th place Invitational 2011
Five-Color Control 8th place PTQ 2008
Five-Color Control 19th place Standard Open 2011
Counterbalance 33rd place Grand Prix 2009
U/B Teachings Magic Online 2007
Counterbalance Magic Online 2008
I've long been a fan of control decks with minimal win conditions. Back in 2002 it was much easier to answer threats than present them so I was naturally drawn to control decks. Throughout most of my early career I played almost exclusively control decks. It was surprising to me that this list is so short. I suppose during that time I was mostly playing online and at FNMs and the like but still. Since Psychatog I guess I haven't played control that often or at least not done well with it.
I'm not ready to give up on control just yet especially with formats like Legacy around. As you can see there have been times when I've gotten a control deck just perfect and hardly anything could stand in my way. Also there have been a few times where I've gotten a deck so perfect for the online metagame that I've sliced through everyone for weeks. Control has won me a significant portion of tickets online.
What's the problem then? I suppose part of it is to do with power creep where the threats are getting better and the spells worse. Spells were always more powerful because they had haste whereas your Wooly Thoctar just dies. For the most part that isn't the case anymore. That combined with the fact that things like planeswalkers and manlands are getting tougher to deal with means that the times you will see me sleeving up control decks will be few and far between.
Assuming of course that I manage to keep my head out of my ass.
Caw-Blade 1st place Standard Open 2011
Darkblade 1st place Standard Open 2011
Caw-Blade 1st place Standard Open 2011
U/W Delver 1st place Standard Open 2012
BUG 1st place Legacy Open 2011
Darkblade 2nd place Standard Open 2011
Faeries 3rd place PTQ 2008
BUG 3rd place Legacy Open 2011
Caw-Blade 3rd place Standard Open 2011
U/W Delver 3rd place Standard Open 2012
Faeries 5th place Standard Open 2009
Darkblade 5th place Standard Open 2011
Faeries 6th place Standard Open 2008
U/W Delver 10th place Standard Open 2012
BUG 14th place Legacy Open 2011
U/W Delver 14th place Standard Open 2012
Esper Spirits 21st place Pro Tour 2012
U/W Delver 27th place Grand Prix 2012
Esper Delver 29th place Invitational 2012
Caw-Blade 34th place Invitational 2011
W/B Hand Magic Online 2007
U/W/R Aggro-Control 7th place PTQ 2001
Yeah... This section is a little longer than the rest. Without the StarCityGames.com Open Series I likely wouldn't be where I am today both in reputation and play skill and I almost certainly wouldn't be writing this article. In general I'd like to think that my range is wide and I simply pick the best deck for that weekend but this is a blatant statement.
I think the two main things to take away from this are that aggro-control decks are very good and that I'm probably better at playing them than I think I am. The SCG Open Series happened to exist at a time when Caw-Blade and Delver were in back to back formats. I would have been a fool for not playing them but thankfully I tricked myself into thinking that Caw-Blade was more of a control deck than a Fish deck. That was a massive mistake and one that I carried over to my Delver days. By the time I realized I should be actively designing my Delver deck to be a Fish deck I finally started winning again.
BUG has given me three SCG Legacy Open Top 8s more than any other archetype. I've probably played it the most but the tournaments also felt much easier when I was playing BUG than when I was playing any other deck. Why I gave up on it I have no real idea. There's always that allure that control could be good or that I should just buckle down and play a combo deck. That just isn't me though.
I'm still unsure if the SCG Open Series made me an aggro-control player or if that would have come naturally. Either way I'm grateful and I'm glad that I took the time to analyze my past and look at the overwhelming evidence.
To me choosing to play aggro-control is similar to playing midrange—your deck is flexible but aggro-control is slightly weaker against aggro. Instead you gain massive percentage in your control and combo matchups. Plus beating aggro decks with blue cards should always be easy. There is no need for Loxodon Hierarchs in my future.
Elves Magic Online 2009
Uh... Where are all the combo finishes? My lone success with pure combo comes from grinding Magic Online eight-mans and Elves in that era ended up beating down with Wirewood Hivemaster more often than not. I know I've played things like Storm and Splinter Twin in tournaments yet I've never finished well with them. Well I guess I know what I shouldn't play at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.
My main problem with playing combo is that I don't have enough of an intuitive sense of when to go for it. Take for example roughly every match on SCGLive featuring a Show and Tell deck from the past couple years. Nearly everyone I see whether it's round 2 or the finals will shove on Show and Tell on turn 3. Sometimes it resolves and they win and sometimes it gets countered they draw protection spells and then lose. It's just the way it goes.
Through all my years of playing control I've been conditioned to wait. And wait. Then probably wait some more. 'You can pick a better spot' has served me well in poker tournaments but it did not when playing combo decks.
When playing with Splinter Twin I could have the combo plus a Dispel and still not be sure if I should go for it. My opponent hadn't been doing much and was looking pretty confident. Did his confidence mean he had one two or three pieces of removal? I couldn't exactly tell because I didn't know if he knew how much disruption he typically needed.
Several times when playing Storm I've had the opportunity to go off against a blue deck on turn 3. Remand or Mana Leak were likely while Spell Pierce Spell Snare and Dispel were also possibilities. What if it was just Vendilion Clique? How was I supposed to know this if I didn't draw Gitaxian Probe? Argh!
In most situations it's probably correct to go for it. If they have it at least you can try to rebuild—you don't automatically lose on the spot. How often do they not have it? How likely is it that waiting gives them time to draw into it? Sometimes I wait and get punished; sometimes I shove and get punished. Regardless of the outcome I feel like I'm doing it all wrong.
I may continue to practice online with various decks but as I said if I'm playing combo at PT Return to Ravnica I've made a terrible mistake. You have my permission to slap me.
Dark Depths 1st place Magic Online PTQ 2010
Reanimator 2nd place Legacy Open 2010
Ooze Survival 2nd place Legacy Open 2010
Reanimator 3rd place Invitational 2012
Dark Depths 3rd place Magic Online PTQ 2010
Oath of Druids 5th place PTQ 2002
Wargate 6th place PTQ 2011
U/W Tron 9th place Grand Prix 2012
High Tide 22nd place Legacy Open 2011
High Tide 28th place Legacy Open 2012
Scapeshift 41st place Worlds 2010
There is something here. Dark Depths Wargate Ooze Survival and Reanimator felt unbeatable in their prime. Meanwhile my attempts at playing decks like Storm and Splinter Twin have been colossal failures.
Honestly these 'combo' decks could all be classified as control decks except instead of Morphling I played Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage. It's not that much different. On that spectrum High Tide is certainly closer to pure combo than a control hybrid but I don't think those finishes should even count toward combo. High Tide is mostly a metagame deck anyway. If the field is full of Hymn to Tourach and Spell Pierce you're probably going to lose regardless of how well you play it.
On the other hand decks like Dark Depths and Tron are great at playing the control game but have the raw power of combo decks. With control you usually can't capitalize on your opponent stumbling and have no free wins. By incorporating a combo finish your games become much easier.
Killing with Gaea's Blessing might be fun but it's strenuous and inevitability may not even be guaranteed. These days it's tough to find a matchup where inevitability exists. Instead of focusing on total control you have to close the door. I feel like if such a deck existed in Legacy I'd have a much easier time in that format. As is decks like RUG Delver and even Maverick are too difficult to beat which is a shame.
Overall the clear winner is aggro-control. There is certainly value in winning in a flashy manner or racking up two-for-one after two-for-one but I'm old—my mind won't allow me to play 50 minutes of Magic every round anymore. My plan is to use this information to tune my deck selection skills. As much as I like playing brews in tournaments it really isn't the best use of my time and energy. I'll save the durdling (and potentially the bucket list) for Magic Online.
Control still has a place near and dear to my heart but my motto these days is "just kill them."