Everywhere you go, there are many things that people, for one reason or another, accept as true. It doesn’t take much for something to spread as “common knowledge” – someone saying it with an air of knowledge and confidence usually does the trick, and at some point the information will stop getting challenged because “if it wasn’t true, then all those people wouldn’t believe it”. In fact, I bet I could sneak a lie in this article somewhere and most of the people reading it would never think of calling me on it, they’d just accept it as the truth and they’d possibly spread it to even more people, but that’s neither here nor there… Anyway, this “common knowledge” is sometimes correct, and sometimes not. Today I’m going to talk about some instances where it’s wrong – things that you might have heard, repeated over and over by multiple people, and that you might actually believe, but aren’t true. I’m going to talk about some common misconceptions in the world of Magic.

”You side this card in every matchup, you should just maindeck it”

Nooooooooooooooo…. every time someone posts a sideboard guide and there is a card that gets boarded in a lot (and I mean every time), someone asks why it’s not in the main. There could be two main reasons:

1) The card is an answer to something that they are sideboarding. Take, for example, [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] in UB – I boarded it in against almost everyone, but it was not in the maindeck because the reason I boarded it in was mainly to deal with [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], and this card is usually not in their maindeck game one (or at least not in great quantities). As a matter of fact, I’d probably maindeck Image in UB nowadays, but that is because of the rise in [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] – if Ramp is the default RG deck, then you don’t want it main. If you’re playing a combo deck, then you might end up siding [card]Echoing Truth[/card] against everyone, because you need an answer for their answer, but that doesn’t mean you need [card]Echoing Truth[/card] main – you’re just not going to face any Leylines game one.

Sometimes, it’s not a specific card that they have, but a culmination of cards that makes one of your cards worse. Take, for instance, [card]Goblin Guide[/card] and [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] – those are two highly aggressive cards, good for racing but not that reliable in the long game. In game ones, that is good enough – they can’t deal with your cards so you just kill them. For games two and three, though, especially if you are on the draw, they will likely bring in answers and that will make the game a lot slower, at which point those cards are no longer very good and then you side them out for a card that is slower, but more resilient.

2) There is simply no room for the card. Sometimes, you need stuff in the main to deal with different decks and you can’t afford a generic card, but you end up having cards to side out against everyone, so you bring them in. To extrapolate – in a scenario where every deck is either Black or Red, you might maindeck four Circle of Protection: Black and four COP: Red. Then, in the board, you have four of a generic card – say, [card]Loyal Cathar[/card]. If you play against a Red deck, you’ll take out COP:Black for [card]Loyal Cathar[/card]s; if you play against Black, you’ll take out COP:Red for [card]Loyal Cathar[/card]. In every single match, you bring in four [card]Loyal Cathar[/card]s – but you still think it’s going to make for a better deck if you have those COPs main. For a more “real life” example, take a card like [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] in UB – It’s in your sideboard for a reason, to deal with graveyard effects (say Frites). However, you have some dead cards against everyone – removal against control, Countermagic versus aggro – and you really don’t want those cards there. In this case, you might just take them out for [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card], which draws you a card; this may lead to you siding Spellbomb in against almost everyone, but it definitely does not mean you want it in the maindeck.

”I only need a land to win!”

It’s not uncommon to ask someone about a bad keep and have them reply “I only need a land to win”. The thing is, unless the rest of their hand is [card]Channel[/card], [card]Fireball[/card], and [card]Black Lotus[/card], chances are they need a lot more than a land – likely several lands, and some more good spells to boot. When people do the math on “getting there”, they forget all those instances where they get there but still lose! Sure, you might have a 60% chance to draw your second land by turn two, but drawing your second land doesn’t mean you win – you still have a game to play. Once you factor in the percentage of winning if you do draw the land (as well as flat out losing if you don’t), then mulliganing that hand will generally be more attractive.

”Player X is so much better than me, if we play a normal game I have no shot. I’ll just keep this bad hand and try to get there / board those unconventional cards to try to get him / not play around anything because maybe if he doesn’t have it I win”

Do good players have an edge against worse players? Yes, I’d hope so. Is doing any of this going to diminish their edge? NO!! If anything, it’s going to increase it. You see, the reason they have such a big edge against you is because you are doing stuff like this! When you play against a better player, calm yourself – they are better but you can still beat them. “But PV, I have to get lucky to win anyway, might as well go all-in on luck!” – no you don’t. Now shut up and play correctly. No, seriously, just do what you normally do, and you’ll be fine – there’s no need to go on all-in plans that you otherwise wouldn’t. If you want to change something, then change the way you acquire information, expect their plays to make more sense (i.e. if he is doing this, he must have that), but this is about it – otherwise, just play like you’d play against anyone and you will have a better record than if you despair and start making awful plays.

I also know it’s tempting to keep a bad hand and say “oh well, didn’t draw land, couldn’t have done anything”, or to make a risky play and tell your friends “he had the only card to beat me, bad beats” – yeah, I can see right through you. Don’t do that.

(For the record, if I was going to lie in any of the misconceptions, and I am not saying that I am, it would probably be this one…)

”Aggro is for bad players, good players play control because it’s more skill intensive”

We can actually break down this misconception in two – “aggro is for bad players” and “control is more skill intensive”. Regarding the second, it’s not true – they simply operate on different skill sets. Some control decks are actually quite simple to play – you just react to whatever they do. Most of the time, you don’t have a whole lot of choices on what your reaction is going to be – either you [card wrath of god]Wrath[/card] or you don’t, either you [card]Mana Leak[/card] or you don’t, and most of the time the answer is “do”, so it’s hard to mess up terribly. Control versus control is generally trickier than control versus aggro, but some of the games are also not very interactive – the game 1 of UB versus UB, for example, is almost all making your land drops and drawing your [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]s. Sure, you have to understand that you have to Drownyard them, but once you get to that part, most of your choices are going to be “do I discard the [card]Doom Blade[/card] or the [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card]?”

Aggro, on the other hand, is more complicated than it looks (which is not to say it’s more complicated than control, it’s just different). To give you an idea, at some point we were playtesting Zoo for Worlds and Luis said he wasn’t going to play the deck, because he just didn’t feel like he could play it well… Sure, sometimes you just smash them, but in the games where you don’t, then you have to think – even something like “do I [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] their creature or them?” could have a lot of math behind it. In the control versus aggro match, I would say that, most of the time, being the aggro player is harder than being the control player – i.e. it’s easier to be the person playing the Wrath than the person playing around Wrath.

Combo decks also have an unique skill set – they can be the hardest decks ever to play, but it’s a different kind of hard. Most of the time, you acquire the skill set through repetition – since you mostly goldfish, you just need to get acquainted with the common scenarios (which doesn’t really take a genius to do, and I’d guess most decent players would be able to given enough practice). I think I am a better player overall than Matt Nass, but if you give us both a deck like Elves, Storm, Eggs, Heartbeat, then he is probably going to play a lot better than I am, because he is used to this kind of thing and I would just fumble and kill myself trying to go off. Once you get to combos like Splinter Twin, though, then we’re a lot closer, because they “look more like Magic”.

I’m actually pretty sure the hardest decks to play are aggro-control – you usually win very narrowly, any mistake will cost you a lot, and you have to change strategies multiple times during a game. They’re also the most interesting decks to play in my opinion, and the most rewarding.

It’s then, pretty obvious, that the first part of the statement is also wrong – aggro is not necessarily for bad players. In my experience, good players like control more, because you feel like you have more choices if the game goes longer, but in the end this is just personal style – Kibler and Saito, for example, are excellent players and both lean towards aggro, whereas I like aggro-control, LSV likes control, Matt likes combo, Conley likes LD, etc. In the end, I believe we’ll mostly play whatever is better, regardless of what we like more.

Why am I even talking about this? Because it’s not uncommon for someone to say “I’m worse than the competition, I can’t play this control deck, I’ll just play aggro”, when in fact aggro might be harder! People think they’re not costing themselves games by missplaying with aggro, and they really are – sure, the bar for control is a little higher, so if you’re horrendous then you should probably play aggro, but if you’re decent, then it doesn’t make much of a difference which one you decide to play.

”MBC is back!”

No. Just no.

You should draw in constructed, since the match is an attrition war

No, you shouldn’t. Unless it’s against me, anyway – in this case feel free to. It’s kinda funny that, when I asked people what they thought common misconceptions were, the answer I got the most was the opposite of this – it was “it’s always right to play in constructed”. Though it’s not necessarily wrong (i.e. you should actually not play in every single match), I feel like, at least in a more competitive level, the bias is in the other direction – far more people choose to draw when they should be playing than the opposite.

I see a lot of people choosing to draw in all sorts of matches, and I don’t really understand it – to me, it’s almost like they’re doing it to be different, to make the “pro play”. Wafo Tapa, for example, chose to draw in the UB versus UW match – as much as attrition and card advantage are at play here, the difference between a t2 [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] getting [card]Mana Leak[/card]ed or not is insanely big! If they land that, it doesn’t matter that you drew an extra card, you’re still going to lose. Playing for the top 8 of Yokohama, Luis’s opponent chose to draw in the Tempered Steel mirror – pure insanity, if you ask me. I even thought about how much life I’d pay to go first in that matchup – I came to around five. Basically, if you’re even the least bit unsure, then just play first, it’s better 99.47% of the time in constructed (I did the math). If you’re still unconvinced, look at it this way – drawing first is never going to be much better, but playing first is. Even in matches where drawing first is actually better, it’s, say, 5.5-4.5 in favor of drawing,whereas in matches where playing first is better it could get to something like 9-1.

”In the PT, people will do everything to win, you’d better be ready”

In truth, the PT is far and away the cleanest environment you will find playing Magic. It’s kind of counterintuitive, since, in general, the more important you go then the more cutthroats you will find, but the culmination of that happens at the PTQ, where people think they’re better enough than the opposition that it’s only “fair” for them to win, so they don’t feel like they’re doing something wrong by giving fate a little help with, say, an extra card or two. At a PTQ, people think “if he doesn’t know what his card does, why should I tell him?”, and they will let you miss mandatory triggers, they will let you play your cards differently than you should. Once you get to the PT, everyone is more professional and, in a way, relaxed – in my experience, stuff like “YOU TAPPED THAT LAND ALREADY” is going to happen less than it would at the PTQ, people are not going to let you miss your triggers and I’m pretty sure it’s the tournament you’re least likely to get cheated on, both because the players are less likely to attempt it and because the judges are better and more plentiful. “So, PV, it’s just you then?” Exactly! Wait, no…

”Deck XXX won, it must be good”

I remember a while ago when I used to analyze the top 8 decks in different tournaments – most of the time, I’d say “this deck is bad because of this, this, and this, and it could have been better if you changed that, that and that”, and I’d be met with an avalanche of “how dare you say this, the guy wouldn’t have won if what you said was true, you just haven’t played it”. The biggest shock I had was when some dude took a 5cc deck, removed three lands and added three [card]Violent Ultimatum[/card], and then miraculously won the tournament… I said “this is horrible”, and then, well, people didn’t like that very much, because “he won the tournament!!”. The truth? It was horrible.

I think that people, overall, need some more critical sense – they trust results way too much. In tournaments, most of what happens has a small sample size, and tournament results are not substitutes for a good playtesting session. MODO tournaments, especially, mean almost nothing unless there is a critical mass of them – a deck 4-0ing three DEs in a row means absolutely nothing, if you want to know how good it is and what it beats then you should build it and play against your friends. Tournaments like 5Ks and PTQs are more relevant but still not that representative, and even a PT can be misleading when it comes to individual decks – very rarely will a bad deck win or do exceedingly well at a Pro Tour, but, for example, at PT Hollywood, Ramp had a 75 win % against Faeries, and I will go to my grave swearing the percentage should have been almost the opposite. How many tournaments worth of results would I need before admitting I was wrong? Honestly, there is no amount that would change my mind – as long as I kept playing and winning a substantial amount of matches, then I’d just assume everyone else is doing something wrong. If someone I trusted a lot magic-wise said it was different for them, then I’d look more and so on.

We can also draw a parallel with people, though that’s not as useful – as soon as someone does well in two or three tournaments in a row then everyone starts thinking they’re awesome, when it doesn’t necessarily mean that – it’s possible to not be good and win, just like it’s possible to be good and lose.

”Merfolks beats {insert any Blue deck here}”

Sorry, it doesn’t – Merfolk doesn’t beat anything, it’s time you accepted it.

”I should be holding lands in my hand to bluff”

Some of the times, you should – most of the time, however, you should just play your lands. I’ve seen way more games lost because someone had three or four lands in hand and then drew either a spell they couldn’t cast, or a spell they could cast but not through double [card]Mana Leak[/card]/[card]Remand[/card], or a spell that drew more cards and then those they couldn’t cast, than because they failed to hold those hands to bluff something. Sure enough, it’s much easier to quantify the first kind of loss – when you lose because you don’t have a land in play, it’s obvious, whereas if you win because you tricked your opponent into thinking you had a [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] in hand when you had a Mountain then we might never know that this is the reason you won, but I still think people do it way too much – sometimes it’s correct to hold lands, but remember that it’s not always – if you have any sort of Shade in your limited deck, for example (a Shade is something that pumps for mana), then you’re probably better off just playing all your lands but one (you can always hold the last one unless you have an expensive draw spell, such as a [card]Stroke of Genius[/card] or [card]Train of Thought[/card] – in this case, you might want to play the last land as well, since you want to be able to draw a land with your spell and then play it immediately).

Well, this is it. I’m certain there are way more misconceptions out there, but those were the ones that stood out the most to me (besides, there may be some in which I believe as well…). I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week!