My life has changed quite a bit over the past few months. The jump from high school to college was a pretty big moment, as was the move out of college altogether—but the past few months have felt similar to those chapters of my life in tumult. I have taken on a lot of new responsibilities, including a new full-time job, and the Daily Decks section of Dailymtg.com, among other things. As a result, I am sure some have noticed a slight decline in content from me on this site, but I hope to build that back up over time as I get more comfortable with my duties. Being busy has not only had an impact on my daily work environment, it has changed some of the ways I think about Magic.
It is safe to say that most people recognize me as a rogue deck builder. I’ve embraced the title, and enjoy everything that it has brought me as a result. That said, brewing your own decks is a task that takes up a lot of time. I am not sure people really appreciate how much time goes into building a deck from the ground up, but even if the magnitude of that task is grasped by someone, changing the focus from “a deck” to “a rogue deck” often adds even more of a commitment to the task. By definition, a rogue deck is unlike other options available. It is unique. When you go to build just any old deck, you get to reference similar models and use the knowledge that they provide to better aid your task. Working on Mono-Blue Delver Infect? Well, while few would call that a stock list, you do still get all of the work that traditional Delver players have put in to aid you. How many instants and sorceries is enough? How many untapped blue sources do I need for turn one? These are all important questions to both ask, and answer, and when you are working with a deck that has established back-work for it, your task gets that much easier.
Now let’s shift gears and talk about an even more rogue strategy than Mono-Blue Delver Infect. Let’s say I want to battle with a [card glissa, the traitor]Glissa[/card]/[card tezzeret, agent of bolas]Tezzeret[/card] list (what kind of maniac would want that?). The same style of questions asked for the Delver list get asked again, but the answers are not as easy or intuitive. How many artifacts do I need to make sure Tezzeret and Glissa work properly? How many green sources allow for turn two Glissa the most often? Do I need to outsource for win conditions, or will Tezzeret be enough? Does Glissa need specific cards to take advantage of her synergy with artifacts? Or will the ability work fine as a value mechanic? These questions cannot be answered with certainty. Instead, a lot of playtesting, researching, tweaking and tuning needs to take place to get the deck builder into a place that he feels comfortable with his work. The bottom line is that it takes a lot of time.
Given the option, I would love to have more time to work on each tournament I attend, and to have each brew well-tested before entering battle, but that is not a realistic expectation. People have lives they need to attend to when this game has been reinserted into the deck box and the client has been closed. Which is not to say that I want to stop brewing, or that I will stop, but it means I have to better learn when to pick my spots. Versatility in deck building and/or deck selection is so crucial to high level success, and yet many people believe that one way is more “right” than another, which is simply misinformation.
On one side of the equation, you have the group that thinks that playing the best deck is always right. The thinking is that millions of players cannot all be wrong—and even if they are, it isn’t going to be by much. This approach theoretically gives you the best chance at victory, assuming good play, as it equips you with the best known weapon going into a fight. Take Soldier A and Soldier B who are identical physically, and tell me one has an AK-47 while the other has a bow and arrow, and in the dark I am voting on the person with the bullets.
The other extreme camp are the brewers. This group would rather craft their own weapon every fight and then, win or lose, stick by the results. The thinking here is that, sure, millions of others think something, but that doesn’t matter if I think I can do one better. Whether this “one better” is as a result of metagaming, technology, or surprise factor is up to the builder. This group believes that the bow and arrow soldier could win the fight if he were well skilled with his weapon, or simply believe that the weapon is only perceived to be a bow and arrow, but is actually new-age weaponry far superior to Solider A’s wimpy gun.
Both sides have valid arguments, and like most debates, the answer likely falls somewhere in the middle. However, a compromise in this case creates multiple new genres of deck identity.
On the one hand, you have those that still insist on playing with the best deck to help ensure stability, but then experiment with some number of cards in that deck, or maybe even a strategy or two. Infect Delver is a good example of this, as is Caw Blade with black, or any other variation on a major strategy.
On the other hand, you have a player that knows both methodologies, and uses both at various points. This individual realizes that there is a time for stability and a time for risk, and adapts his deck choice accordingly. They see the benefits and positives of both sides, and flow with the more beneficial of the two whenever they see fit.
Beyond those two compromises though, there lies an even deeper level of adaptation. This is the player who is able to not only see the benefits of both the “Net-Decker” and of the “Brewer”, but also of the cross-section that they share. This person is truly a jack-of-all-trades. They are able to recognize a well built net-deck and know when it is the better choice, just as they are able to do a little bit of brewing from time to time, and are often found somewhere in between.
Now, I am not going to paint this type of deck selector as a paragon. They get deck choices wrong—constantly. But, the difference is that they approach deck selection with the least bias. When they make the wrong choice, it is almost always due to a bad read of the metagame and not because they fell in love with some card, or only knew how to play one deck.
Personally, I see myself falling somewhere right of the spectrum, in the middle of which this super-player lies—and I think most people fall off-center somewhere. Here is a really bad graph to help demonstrate the concept.
So where am I going with all of this? Well, I have begun to realize more of the benefits found elsewhere on the spectrum (and it’s not a true spectrum, as these things aren’t linear, but work with me here). Recently, with my time split up among so many things that I am not used to being involved with, my time to brew and come up with new ideas at a moment’s notice has shortened. This means I need to learn how to make deck selections using other methods outside of the Brewer half of the spectrum. The cold reality is that I do not have the raw resources (time, namely) available to live in that world constantly.
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not “cutting myself off” of brewing or anything like that. Whenever I have the time, I will be up all night on Gatherer and jotting ideas down in Word. But, for those times when that is not even an option, which is bound to happen, I want to be able to better analyze online lists and know which version of a popular deck is the right choice.
I have always thought I was pretty competent with a brand new list in my hands, mostly developed from years of last-minute brewing, but I know I am not where I want to be either. Learning tips and tricks to improve skills like that is exactly what it takes to balance this game with a life outside of Magic. You will never be able to erase the entire gap between dedicating your every moment to something and anything less, but you can certainly shorten it with proper execution.
Of course, that execution is going to vary wildly from person to person, which is what makes this topic tend to fall flat. I cannot just lay out a list of guidelines to follow, as each person is going to have differing amounts of time to spend, and different resources to utilize. The more important message is to self-evaluate, know that you have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to resources, and ultimately deck management. Once you admit that, and then isolate those principles, you can better allocate the limited time you are going to be working with.
For example: this past set was the first one I did not refresh every night at midnight during spoiler season. It was not that I didn’t want to do that, but I knew that time would be better spent on other things. By paying it forward, you actually manage to save up quite a bit of time for the activities you find essential. Whether you want to play Commander with your buddies, or road trip to a PTQ, knowing you got your work done before play will make the entire experience that much better, and that much less stressful.
I think the biggest hurdle for me was to admit that I didn’t have the time to dedicate to the craft I once did. It felt like admitting a weakness, or as if I was telling the game it meant less to me. In reality, it means more to me now than ever, but I have to balance it among a dozen other things now, when it used to be the recipient of all of my attention. That isn’t giving up though, or quitting the game—it’s adapting and evolving to keep your hobbies up with the rest of your life.
As I said, once I processed the idea of shifting around my priorities and managing my time, I realized I was doing the best thing to keep my life and my Magic game parallel. I intend to put the time I can safely afford to do so into the game and nothing less, nor more. I know it is the healthiest thing for both my game, and my life. Thanks for reading!