Some Article About Lopsided Play Skill That I'm Hoping You Can Think Of A Good Title For
'Twas the week before Missouri States 2000, and I was testing Nether-Go. I would hope you all remember back that far, but if you don't, Nether-Go was like an Invasion/Odyssey Psychatog deck except that you had to kill your opponent with a glorified cockroach. No Upheaval, no surprise wins from Fact or Fictions during attack steps. Just counterspells, card drawing, and relentless attacking for two. It was the last deck I'd ever want to play, but I was going to play it in the name of Becoming a Better Player.
The previous year was my first year playing competitively, and my first year on a team. I remember that Arun liked Con-Troll and Rebels, James favored Accelerated Blue and Bargain, Ian mostly used his own aggro-control builds, and I played awful beatdown decks. "Rituals, Peat Bogs and Blood Pets so I always get an early Negator" awful. "Let's see if we can put Negator and Blastoderm in the same deck" awful. Underpowered? Inconsistent? Couldn't beat counters or combo? Didn't matter to me; I wanted to turn large men sideways as fast as I possibly could. The results were predictable. My constructed rating the week before States? 1651.
So they talked me into expanding my horizons by playing a control deck that weekend. I didn't do so badly in testing, actually, though one game of the mirror match was all I could stand. Counter-rebels were a problem, and Ian's Fish deck took me to school (har!), but it seemed as usable as anything else I'd ever taken to a competition. But three days before the tournament, Ian finished"Son-of-Snuff," a G/B/r monstrosity featuring such hits as Hunted _and_ Thrashing Wumpus, Plague Spitter, Trench Wurm, Rampant Growth, and sideboarded Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore.
It was testing well, so I completely dropped the Nether-Go I tested for weeks with and played the G/B. Of course, I went 1-2 drop and learned an important lesson about the value of preparation and commitment.
Wait, no. Actually, I got second place.* Huh. How odd.
So what I actually learned was to play decks that fit my play style. Since then, I've pretty much had success only when I've played green and black decks with fat things and disruption. The Rock and His Millions got me my only constructed top 8 at GP Las Vegas two days after I first picked up the deck, and"Hell Teacher Nuube", a G/B/w deck with Necrovolvers, earned me over a hundred rating points by going 17-1 in local tournaments. I'm now just shy of 1900 Constructed; one of the top 700 players in the world without ever having learned to play another deck type.
This doesn't bother me. Even if I only play green and black in tournaments, I'll playtest anything, and if it starts working for me I can break the cycle. What bothers me is my limited game.
Nobody will be happier at the Mirrodin pre-release than I will, because I know, on that fateful day, that I'll be able to draft a deck without green in it and win. Right now, though, I feel like I'm stagnating. If I draft green cards on MODO or in real life, I make the finals 75% of the time. If I try anything else, no matter what I open, I never win more than one round. And I almost always lose to a deck with green in it. This has been happening since Onslaught came out.
Three years ago, this wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest. I'd have forced green at every opportunity, safe in the knowledge that everyone else in the world was underrating the color. But as I improve as a player, and as the draft strategy available online improves along with me, it becomes clear that green is _not_ all that...that Clerics, U/R, U/W, and B/R are all just fine.
But I still never seem to win with them. And unlike constructed, where I can play a few games with Wake for free to see if my G/B streak is over (it wasn't), I pay ten bucks good money for every loss. So do I keep trying to draft other colors so I can get experience playing a different style of deck? Or do I just run with what I know and wait for the rotation? It's a hard choice between winning and learning, and made harder as my tickets and packs dwindle and I search the trading post in vain for someone buying Baloths for more than 2.
To read Magic strategy these days, you'd think that drafting was a science. There's one master list of correct picks somewhere out there ("B/W Clerics with a low curve and four removal spells? You take the Edgewalker over the Karona's Zealot."), and we're all doing our best to figure out bits of it. If that's how things work, then I should be trying to conform my picks to what conventional wisdom says the right picks are...or else developing strategies that work for everyone else in order to prove them all wrong.
But what if play skill is partially an art, and should be influenced by personal strengths? What if the right pick out of a pack is different for Dave Humphreys than it would be for Kai Budde? Perfect play within time limits is impossible, and some of us may have better instincts about the right picks and right play for a deck that wins in a certain way...by casting large beasts, for example. Criticism and universal theories still have their places, but if something that you do only seems to work for you, there might be more going on than just you being an awful player who got lucky.
Now that the limited season is winding down, I think I'm done with learning for now. If you're sitting next to me on MODO and I pass you an Exalted Angel, it's because I first-picked Tribal Unity. Run with it.
Noctophile on MODO
Indiana's Most Overrated Player
* Yes, I realize I mention my years-old second-place States finish in every other article I write. Trust me, I'm working hard to accomplish something more impressive that I can drone on endlessly about.