So, this is deckbuilding.
I remember you, now.
This is a strategy article at the end, believe it or not. If you read my last article, you'll know where I'm at: Back in the game, scaling a wall of ignorance, trying to mind my P's and dot my I's. Really, it's both easy and hard. It's easy in that I can have a general concept of different types of decks in each color/combination. It's hard in that the Kamigawa block is a mishmash of names and randomness.
Isao, Dosan, Arashi, do I know you? You're green! At least I think so. Arashi, the Sky Asunder sounds black to me. Or Blue. Not Green. But... you're Green. Ok. Got it. Thank goodness for Gatherer, which has temporarily replaced Google as my friggin' homepage because I'm looking stuff up on it so often.
I haven't run away yet, however. (You can cheer or sigh at your leisure.) Our local card shop plays Friday Night Magic, and that's probably the only competitive scene we'll see for awhile. States isn't gonna happen for me this round, unless they wanna take my word for it that I'll get the cards in my deck at my earliest convenience. Man, wouldn't that be helpful?
Me: "Sir, this Plains represents Kokusho, I have 4 of him."
Authority Figure: "Ok, Mr. Mason! You're going to actually purchase him in the near future, right?"
Me: "Yep! I'm just saving up a bit of cash for him, cuz he's expensive. Also, this Mountain? Kagemaro. Times four."
Authority Figure: "Sounds good! Enjoy the tournament!"
A boy can dream.
You know, I'm utterly flabbergasted that Magic Online doesn't let you playtest decks. I'm even more shocked that it's making so much money from people buying things that actually don't physically exist and can disappear at any time.
You are evil geniuses. Forget those guys in movies, they can't hold a candle to what you've got goin' on. I thought there was nothing sillier than paying money for cardboard. Now, I know I've risen a notch above. Thank you.
Back on track: No cards = no decks, and no deck = no tournament. We have enough cards that I can proxy and play things at home, but I'm busily trying to accumulate more. See, the problem is, I don't like to do things halfway. If we're going to play in FNM (which, according to the store owner, is about half draft, half Constructed), I don't wanna show up on Constructed night and go "anyone have a spare deck?" anymore than I wanna whip out my Nightguard Patrol beatdown deck.
You laugh, perhaps, but Nightguard Patrol beatdown helped carry me to 4-0-1 in draft. Don't mock the weenies.
That means building a few decks. That means finding out what's competitive. That means jabbing a couple of toothpicks in my eye sockets and going to work. I tried to encourage Barrett to build a deck, but she's definitely in the "casual" zone right now, which means that sitting and learning every card in the environment is a no-go. She's entrusted me to build a few decks for us both to play against each other.
The good news is, that means free reign to spend money on cards. I win!
The bad news is, it means there's a lot of cards I need. I lose!
Magic is an expensive hobby. We both know this. I've already had to scratch a number of things off my list, like the new dual lands. My word, you'd swear people were selling real estate. When it comes to an investment versus reward comparison, the strategist in me *knows* how valuable those lands are, and I can't argue with it, because if I had dual lands, I wouldn't sell them, trade them, or let people crack open the card sleeve and take a whiff. Stay away, sir, these are mine.
Well, ok, I *did* sell some, but that's because I quit playing. That's different. I know better now. I'm off the wagon now, so I can hug my cards to my chest and call them "my little poppets" in a Cockney accent and madly laugh at all of you. All of you! I mean it! Mine!
Ahem. The sad thing is, they're not mine, they're "ours". I gotta get used to this sharing thing.
What I've had to do is choose quantity over quality. That ties in neatly to the strategic part of this article.
Let's face it; identifying what's going to be played at States is hard. There's going to be a bunch of favorites that people are going to prepare for, but the metagame is never completely prepared for what it faces. Right now, the environment is wide open. Remember those toothpicks? No, really, it's almost the truth. I have read decklist upon decklist upon decklist upon pop-up ad for better virus protection upon decklist.
What I've come up with is this - Chances are you will face a deck that falls into these categories:
1. U/B Dimir Beatdown
2. Gifts Control
3. R/W or R/G Wildfire
4. GB Rock
5. Fungus Fire (RGW Control)
6. Heartbeat Combo
7. Rats/Mono-Black Control
8. White Weenie
9. G/W Control
10. G/W Selesnya Beatdown
11. R/W Boros Beatdown
12. Enduring Ideal/Good Form
13. R/W Control
14. U/B Control
15. U/B Doppelganger Reanimator
16. U/W Control
17. B/G Greater Good Reanimator
18. U/B Mill
19. Eye of the Storm combo
20. Mono-Blue Control
Feel free to smack me. Seriously, however, that's how wide open the format is.
So, yeah, you can imagine the fun I'm having. "Hmm, I think I'll pick the six top decks and try and build them all for us to rotate around and play."
Well, unfortunately the Gifts deck is flat-out beyond my price range, or at least the versions I wanted. A shame, because the deck really is my type. U/B Aggro I can do, R/W Control I can do, but I Wish I Hadn't Sold My GD Wrath of God Set. Rock? Sure, I drafted B/G and have some nice cards. Heartbeat Combo is cheap. Fungus Fire would be cheap except for the erstwhile basic lands. Seriously. Every deck list I see has, I swear, 2 sets of duals. 4 Overgrown Tomb. 4 Sacred Foundry. 4 Temple Garden. 4 Watery Grave. It's driving me insane.
But, I want to be competitive.
So, I've had to find a couple of decks as our main decks to work on and tweak and test. Until then, I'm just watching the clock, waiting for cards to arrive so that I can go play somewhere.
What was that? Clock?
Why, Mason, was that a completely and blatantly contrived segue designed to look coincidental?
Yes, yes it was. Barrett likes to say I'm as subtle as a hammer to the skull. C'est la vie.
Raise your hand if you've heard of the Metagame Clock. Anyone? Bueller? [Oo, I have! I even tracked down the old images we had for some theory work I was doing that... well, that went on hiatus about the same time I become editor. Sigh. - Knut, noting there is never enough time in the day]
The Metagame Clock is what'll help me get a grip on things. Maybe it'll help you as well, as some last-minute reading that puts things in perspective.
This is the original article referencing the Leon Workman theory, though unfortunately the graphics seem to have disappeared. [And have since been replaced. Knut, got your back] Never fear, I can make more. I'll summarize a bit here, but I encourage you to read the full article if you haven't heard of it. The Clock wasn't my brainchild, but it was my baby. Oh, how I love it, like an obsessive mother ready to hire someone to kill the coach that doesn't give her daughter head cheerleader.
Wait a sec, that isn't love. See, I shouldn't keep Lifetime on the television in the background while I write articles.
Metagame Clock Theory in Review
There are five general types of Magic decks. They are Beatdown, Midgame, Combo, Control, and Aggro-Control. We're all familiar with these terms, and we use them frequently. Sometimes, people take the easy way out and lump things together. I'll borrow from the prior article here.
Beatdown overwhelms. They peak early and fade late, and rely upon dropping consistent early threats, often with high evasion. They lack the strength to survive the long haul. In general, Beatdown loses to Combo, which ignores it and/or is faster than it, and Midgame, which possesses the stalls and resets necessary to cause Beatdown to over commit or suffer large disadvantages.
Midgame waits. Characterized by "reset buttons", early-game stall and control mechanisms, and a steady/progressive mana curve, Midgame decks are focused on creating advantages - small advantages early, and massive advantage late. Decks with a high mana curve are clocked earlier than those with a low mana curve, because a cheaper Midgame deck can more easily cope and recover in a Midgame-Midgame matchup. Midgame loses to Combo, because it doesn't generate threats until the combo has long since killed them, and to Control, against whom much of Midgame's tactics and resets are rendered useless. I sometimes theorize that you can also call low the "low advantage" area (one-for-one trades) and high the "high advantage" area, which is multiple-for-one trades.
Combo explodes. These decks generate a near-instantaneous win condition based on a combination of cards (usually enchantments.) The entire deck is usually built to generate that win condition and protect it from disruption. Clock position is twofold. One, the more the combo deck is focused on generation moreso than protection, the closer the deck lies to :20. Combo usually has a light counter base (if any), and thus loses to Control, who has the ability to ensure the combo never sees the light of day, and to Aggro-Control, which is able to present both aggressive threats and combo disruption.
Control maintains. Control likes to preserve an empty board, then typically win in a short amount of time with highly evasive or large threats. A lot of people confuse Midgame decks with Control; the difference is that true Control does not desire or allow permanents to reach the board. This objective can be attained via heavy counterspell, discard, or bounce. The fewer win conditions a control deck has, the closer it is to the clock position of :30. Control loses to Aggro-Control, as its ability to deny threats is thwarted by the Aggro player's own denial abilities and threat production. It also loses to Beatdown, whose ability to generate plentiful threats means Control is unable to prevent them all from reaching the board.
Aggro-Control answers. These decks consist of generally quick, efficient threats and disruptive control elements that work to prevent the opponent from stopping them. AC is positioned at :40; as control elements lessen, the deck moves in the direction of Beatdown, and as the control elements increase, the deck moves below :40. Aggro-Control loses to Beatdown, because AC has difficulty fulfilling both of its roles at once. Beatdown's threats match AC, who finds themselves having to pick an offensive or defensive posture to react, neither or which it can sustain versus a strong creature-heavy strategy. AC also loses to Midgame, who can withstand early aggression and reset the board efficiently. People often confuse Midgame with Aggro-Control. The difference is that Aggro-Control generates threats that require answers. Midgame's early game doesn't consist of threats; it consists of answers.
That's our clock.
If you take a ruler and draw a straight line through the center of the circle from any point along the edge, the particular decktype that you're drawing the line for will lose to all of the decks in the 50% proceeding clockwise from it, while it will defeat all of the decks in the 50% preceding counterclockwise from it. In simple English, you Win Counter-Clockwise, and you Lose Clockwise.
If you find a deck you need to beat, you clock :15 ahead of its position. That's where you'll find its worst opponent.
I've also noticed another fairly interesting aspect to this clock-like design. The closer a deck gets to the top of the clock, the easier it is to play. Mindless Beatdown decks and decks with huge reset buttons are very easy to play with. On the other hand, Aggro Control, Control, and Combo decks can be very difficult to play correctly.
Let's revisit our decklists, and separate them into their respective categories.
1. U/B Dimir Beatdown - Evasive creatures. Card advantage. Removal. Has more of an aggressive removal/disruption base.
8. White Weenie - The most consistent, but least explosive. Protection from Red/Black common. Compare to Green/Red.
10. G/W Selesnya Beatdown - Creatures, some acceleration, and boosters.
11. R/W Boros Beatdown - The most explosive, but can be inconsistent. Burn and kill.
Intra-Beatdown: Boros beats Selesnya because of more evasion and faster kills. Selesnya and White Weenie are fairly even depending on build, depending on if the G/W player goes for fat/pump, or evasion. We'll call them fairly even. Dimir loses to aggro decks like Boros, because oftentimes the Black/Blue combo has significant life loss. Their best creatures often don't match up to those of White, who can also prevent damage while dealing their own. This means a need for more disruption. We'll shade Dimir towards Aggro-Control.
3. R/W or R/G Wildfire - Midgame. Small early, scaling upwards. Sweepers. Resets.
9. G/W Control - Stallers and sweepers. Finishes with either fatties or large amounts of tokens.
5. Fungus Fire (RGW Control) - Sunforger. Burn, sweepers, control. Few creatures.
16. U/W Control - Stalls, sweeps, finishes with something pretty.
2. Gifts Control - Plays for the late game. Synergetic, not comboriffic. Utility answers.
Intra-Midgame: Gifts beats the other Midgame decks because it's closest to a combo. It has nearly flawless recursion that, lacking true control elements, other Midgame decks cannot beat. Note the difference between "stalls and sweepers" and "control" exerts itself here. Moving counterclockwise, you can surmise that U/W's combination of counterspells and sweepers help it to beat the rest of the Midgame field and stop people from doing tricks, such as Sunforger in Fungus Fire. It has a high advantage engine. G/W Control tends to have a lot of critters built to stall out Beatdown, and the mana accelerants to be able to compete well against Wildfire. Wildfire tends to have a quicker, more efficient creature base, ramping to six mana, Wildfiring, and predicating its win condition on 1) being able to recover faster, and 2) suckering the opponent into over committing resources because they think it's a Boros deck.
You know what we see so far, by the way: A plethora of aggro decks, and everyone attempting to react to them by developing in the midgame. Note that early in the cycle, this is commonly how the metagame starts to fill out. Beatdown develops first, because it requires the least amount of trickiness. Midgame naturally arises from everyone who says, "well, I gotta be able to stop the fastest beatdown in the game."
12. Enduring Ideal/Good Form - Synergistic combo, rather than a one-turn deal.
6. Heartbeat Combo - Combo. Highly focused on generation. Limited kill.
19. Eye of the Storm combo - Seems unfinished and fragile in Standard.
Intra-Combo: Heartbeat's so focused on generation that it doesn't protect itself well. Enduring Ideal tends to protect against creatures and disruption - but not other combo decks. This gives Heartbeat an edge over it. Two people playing solitaire against each other, gotta love it. Eye is so odd and fragile that the jury is out. For now, we'll assume the Eye player will have to be able to protect whatever he's trying to set off. We'll shade it towards control.
7. Rats/Mono-Black Control - Control via discard. Has some nice creatures, like, oh, Rats.
18. U/B Mill - Seems fragile, like Eye, at this point.
14. U/B Control - Countermagic, bounce, removal. Fat finisher.
20. Mono-Blue Control - Control via counters. Few, if any, sweepers. Card drawing.
Control is the refuge of people who try to split the difference. Control doesn't acknowledge Midgame's desire for card advantage, because it doesn't offer anything for Midgame to stall against or sweep against. It's not uncommon to see Midgame with 4 Walls, 4 Birds, and a handful of Wraths of God, while Control sits back and says, "sure, that resolves. Sure. Ok. Oh, no, not that actual threat." Control can get overwhelmed by Beatdown, but if they can withstand the initial rush, they can garner an advantage. That's often what they shoot for.
Intra-Control: Rats can present an early, seemingly insignificant threat. Via discard, it can stop the control person from answering it. U/B Control is what Mill will probably use as a template. It has discard, bounce, counters, and perhaps a few efficient beatsticks like Moroii that its control elements help get down and protect. However, by the time it's done that, Rats already has multiple threats out and can answer - this is why Rats clocks ahead of it. Mono-Blue Control is best against decks with no early threats. That's why it loses as decks become progressively more Aggro-Controllish. At this point, U/B Mill hasn't been able to really establish itself yet. I recognize this may be my own inexperience speaking, but I haven't come across anything I'd call a definitive Mill deck. We'll assume it has Glimpses and Twincasts backed with counters and discards. That means it's going to have problems reacting to early threats because it has to devote too many cards to its win condition, which ostensibly is milling away the opponent's deck. To me, that speaks of a more Comboesque feel, which dilutes its control power in favor of generation.
Finally, if you haven't decided that hard Magic theory is way too dry and boring for you, we come to the marvelous world of Aggro-Control, which happens to be one of my personal favorites. See, Combo is neat, but I think it's a bit goofy. Beatdown can be fun, but I'm too farsighted, and can always see the point where it flames out and I wish that I had some sort of defensive or control mechanism. Control annoys me because I hate not having plentiful threats. So, I'm definitely personally a Midgame/Aggro-Control person. I switch back and forth. You might ponder a second on the fact that I'm teaching Barrett how to play a Wildfire deck first. That's Midgame. My personal deck at the moment is Aggro-Control.
Coincidence? I think not. It lets us have a nice 50/50 matchup.
4. G/B Rock - Efficient creatures and disruption.
15. U/B Doppelganger Reanimator - Disruption. Recursion. Removal.
17. B/G Greater Good Reanimator - Acceleration. Aggressive recursion. Removal.
I often think of AC decks as Tempo decks. Hell, maybe I should change the name of it. These decks establish a threat early, then mechanisms to preserve the threat and further it.
Rock is as steady as its name implies. It has discard, removal, recursion, and beatsticks. It's not about combos, or late-game card advantage. It's about taking a hammer to your opponent's skull. Rock has a lot of variants. Some use Phyrexian Arena for card advantage. They like the dredge mechanic, and they don't mind sacrificing one for others. They like things control can't target or bounce. They like presenting so many threats that Midgame can't react in time. Unfortunately, this is why the best beatdown decks can beat Aggro-Control. AC decks have a higher mana curve, and have split their decklists to be able to answer more problems. A lot of times, you'll see AC decks play cards from the other side of the spectrum in attempts to beat Beatdown - such as Plague Boiler. Boiler is really a Midgame card that doesn't belong in a pure AC deck, but if AC can go against its grain and turtle-shell itself against Beatdown until a Boiler resolves (in essence, playing like a Midgame deck), they can turn losses into wins. You'll rarely see AC beating Beatdown because of its Putrefy or Last Gasp. No, you'll see AC win because it uses Plague Boiler, Hideous Laughter, and advantage-based Midgame cards in hopes that Beatdown will flame out. Then AC comes out of its shell and says, "Kokusho called, he wants to borrow your life total. Swing."
Reanimator decks are often hard to categorize because there's a lot of variants. This is where the arguments are going to come in, I feel. That's why theory is fun.
Pinning down Reanimator is rough, because no one seems to agree on what the best mix of cards is. Some use Glimpse to dump their critters into the Graveyard so that Doppelganger can mimic them. Some use Greater Good to set up lifegain, a draw engine, and creatures to use via recursion. Some use neither. All of them use creatures from around the scale. You see a lot of Midgame-esque creatures like Blazing Archon.
Doppelganger uses spells (like Ideas Unbound and Compulsive Research). Meanwhile, Greater Good accelerates into a threat-producing environment using permanents. It beats more and suffers less. Both see a good number of their cards, and from matchup to matchup their success will differ.
Doppel can "setup" faster with its Ideas and Researches. However, Greater Good has the same reanimation spells - and because Doppel has to respect that, they have to hold back countermagic, or limit their playing in order to bring their creatures out in the same turn they are put into the graveyard.
Because Greater Good makes Doppel slow down, and usually has more permanent threats on the board early, I give the nod to GG. Color me embarrassed if I'm blatantly wrong, but it wouldn't be the first time.
Randomness: Using Glimpse is a mistake, I feel. Seeing 10 cards of your deck and choosing ones to pitch is a lot more effective than simply turning 10 of your library over and picking one to mimic. Yes, I know there are Dredge cards. I don't care. It will help you at times, but it will hurt you a lot. That means use smart cards where you can control the outcome.
Wow, there's our wheel.
Take a peek.
(Yes, I'll take praise for that graphic. Praise in the form of rare Kamigawa legends, at that.
Fine, fine, I take it back.)
[I apologize if the graphic is too small for some resolutions. A larger version can be found here. - Knut]
In this environment, I don't see a lot of very-low mana curve Midgame decks. I also don't see many all-out Beatdown decks. If you had to throw a Red Deck Wins type of deck in there--and I honestly don't think the burn exists to truly support it right now--it'd clock in later than Boros.
Let's draw a sample line.
Dimir Beats: Sits at :47 on the clock. We'll split the circle in half, drawing a line straight across to :17. Win counterclockwise. Lose clockwise.
Dimir's speed, evasion, and early advantage should be able to beat the Reanimators, Rats/Mono-Black Control (Lay them out before they can be discarded, and race), U/B Control, U/B Mill, and Enduring Ideal.
It should have a 50/50 matchup with Heartbeat and Gifts deck.
Dimir should have problems with White Weenie, Selesnya Beats, Boros Beats, Wildfire, G/W Control, Fungus Fire, U/W Control.
Looks about right to me.
Take a peek at Fungus Fire. :10 to :40.
Its sweepers, burn, stalls, and advantage should defeat G/W Control, Wildfire, Boros, Selesnya, White Weenie, Dimir, and GG Reanimator.
It should have an even match with U/B Reanimator. Hi, big creature, meet Faith's Fetters. That's okay, Mr. Fire, I'll just make another.
It should have problems with U/W Control (no tricks for you, Fire!), Gifts decks, Heartbeat, Enduring Ideal (creatures! Give me creatures to kill!), U/B Mill, Mono-Blue Control, U/B Control, and Rats/Mono-Black Control.
The only one I don't quite like there is the Rats matchup, where the clock would put Fire at a disadvantage. I'm not *quite* sure that it's a strong disadvantage, and might shade towards a more even matchup, but an early rush combined with forcing Fire to draw into answers rather than having them ready to go makes sense.
Worst enemies? Gifts is :15 away from U/B Control. Discard and counters disrupt the recursion engine, sorry. Mono-Blue Control rotates smack in the middle of GG Reanimator and Dimir. The first doesn't really care if you counter, because it will get most of its cards back. That's the point. Dimir threatens early and pulls out counters. White Weenie? :15 ahead is G/W Control. Ow. Same creatures, some bigger creatures, and creature sweepers WW lacks.
Hey, clock theory's kinda fun.
Well, it is to me, at least.
I'm going to say one thing here, and one thing only:
If you disagree with Metagame Clock Theory, be my guest. I realize you may think I'm full of crap. No worries, sir. I find it useful. It helped me when designing the God deck. It might help you here. How? Examine your local metagame. Then, rotate around the clock from it. When I originally made God, our area was heavily into Fires and Blastogeddon. You remember those, right? So I clocked :15 ahead of it and made God, and turned their world upside down.
Okay, One Thing Moment is over.
Right now, I think people are anticipating Beatdown, meaning they're playing Midgame and Combo. Metagamers are therefore clocking to Control.
I don't know if this is going to make it online in time for States. If not, then consider it a nice retrospective.
Next article, I hope to examine some cards I'm quietly in love with, depending on how much playtesting I get to do. If not, there are always States results to examine. Or maybe both. We'll see.
I'll give you a name, however, so that you can either quirk an eyebrow curiously, or laugh at me uproariously and decide that anything I type in the future isn't going to be any good to you. Regardless, it's my favorite 1/1 creature at the moment, because it kicked the hell out of me in draft decks and is currently frustrating Barrett to no end, to the point where it always draws a burn spell out of her hand. You know, that means something, even if it dies.
The name: Thoughtpicker Witch.