A couple days before PT Born of the Gods, I found myself without a deck. Since I didn’t like anything, I decided to go with one of the team decks—Scapeshift or Affinity. I picked Affinity up to play a couple games and EFro told me that with the very limited time that I had, he didn’t think I could learn to play Affinity at a good enough level, so I probably should not play it.
I think he was right. I consider myself a very good player, but I also consider Affinity a very complicated deck, and one I’m not used to, so I knew wouldn’t be able to play it at a satisfactory level. I thought Affinity might have been the better deck, but I played Scapeshift anyway because that deck was easier and, with little practice, I thought I would do better.
This requires two different assessments—first, I need to know my strengths and my limits. I would have played, for example, UWR on a whim, because I’ve played this kind of deck before and I’m good with it; not so much with Affinity. Second, I need to know how hard the deck is to play properly and what kind of skills it requires. I need to know that my skills with, say, Faeries, will not translate into skills with Affinity, whereas they would maybe help me if I was playing something like Merfolk. Much is written about the first assessment, but the second is rarely mentioned, as if it’s not important—but it is very important.
What makes a deck hard to play? In what ways does a deck being hard to play impact our decisions? What decks are hard in the current metagame?
Some people think figuring out if a deck is harder or easier to play is not relevant; they would rather hear “every deck is hard!” because that way no one feels “excluded” from the skill-intensive decks club. This also makes the definition completely useless. If “every deck is hard” then you will never be able to make an informed decision regarding what to play.
Deciding if a deck is easy or hard, and what specific skills are required to be able to properly pilot it, is not just an intellectual exercise; it has real applications if you want to win at Magic. We’ve all said “I don’t want to play this deck, it’s too hard,” or “I can’t play this deck at a PT, I’ll just get outplayed,” or perhaps “I haven’t played Standard in a while, I should probably just play this deck because it’s easy.” But is it too hard? Will you get outplayed? Should you just play this deck? Maybe you’ve played a different deck that utilizes the same skills; maybe that deck doesn’t require a lot of experience and it’s more important that you know the format, which you do. Often, we just assume our opinions on what makes a deck easy or hard are correct and sometimes we never touch a deck based on that assumption, when in fact the deck doesn’t actually require that much practice or skill and we are just missing a great opportunity.
I want to be clear that this article is about defining which type of deck is easy to play, and not about judging the players who play them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing an easy deck. In fact, it’s often better if the deck is easier because then you can focus on the key decisions rather than worrying about details. I’ve played many “easy” decks in the past, and my results with them did not feel any less worthy because the decks were easier to pilot. In Hollywood, I Top 8’d with Faeries, a deck I consider to be very skill-intensive. In Hawaii, I Top 8’d with RG Ramp, a deck that is very simple to play and very hard to mess up with. Both of my results felt equally awesome and the fact that I was playing an easier deck in one of those tournaments does not take anything away from me. Later on in this article, I ask players to grade decks on difficulty, and Reid Duke gave “Bogles” a grade “1”—the easiest possible grade. Yet Reid still chose to play Bogles at the World Championship of all tournaments, and I’m sure his second place doesn’t feel any less great for him because his deck wasn’t, in the abstract, very hard to play.
In the end, Magic is never easy. Even with very simple and linear decks, there are many decisions you can make that influence the outcome of the game, from opening hands to sideboarding to what land you decide to play on turn one. A good player will win more than a bad player with any deck. If you are not experienced with a deck, you will win less than if you are experienced. The key here is to identify which decks you really need experience with, what kind of experience, and how you are able to get it.
So, what makes a deck harder than others? The general consensus is that “decisions” will make a deck complicated. Decisions come into play in three ways:
1) Number of Decisions
This is pretty simple; some decks have a lot of decisions to make, some have very few. A mana ramp deck doesn’t have a lot of choices—it’s going to cast its ramp spell because it’s the only thing it can do on turn two, and then it’s going to cast its Titan on six mana because it’s the only thing it can do at six mana. Now a deck like blue Scapeshift has a few more choices to make, because you can either cast acceleration on turn two or leave counterspell mana up. Having multiple spells that you can play at multiple points is going to increase the decisions you have to make.
You will also have to make more decisions if your spells do more. With Lava Spike, the only decision is “do I want to tap this mana now?” With Lightning Bolt, there is something else—you can now choose to target a creature, which makes it much harder to play. Decks with spells that do more than one thing have more decision making to do.
The other factor that increases decision is card selection. Normally we don’t choose what we draw—we just draw and then have to figure out what to do with the cards we have. With cards like scry lands, Ponder, Magma Jet, and so on, we start having another thing to worry about—since we can select the cards we want, we need to know what they are and what our plan is going to be next turn, or in two turns, so we can properly choose.
2) Complexity of Decisions
Sometimes we have a lot of decisions, but they’re very simple. A Burn deck will often have the choice to burn creatures or a player, but the choice of burning the player is usually going to be correct and, if it’s not, it’s not incredibly hard to figure out. A deck like Esper will play scry lands, but in many situations it’s obvious what you want—it doesn’t take a genius to figure out you need a third land, for example, or a Supreme Verdict if they have a lot of guys.
Some decks, however, require complex decisions that need to be made many turns in advance and require analysis of what the opponent has done and how the game has progressed so far. Miracles is one such deck. Since you’re Brainstorming and Topping and you have cards with miracle, and Counterbalance, as well as fetchlands and multiple colors, your decisions have to be made many turns before they will actually matter—you need to plan the game in your head rather than just looking at what you see. A deck like Pod or Tempo Twin will have to make the decision on whether it wants to go for a “normal game” or a combo game and it might have to change that decision multiple times in a game, and to do that you have to analyze everything. Having extremely complex decisions like that will make a deck harder.
Some decks are extremely hard to play, but do not punish you if you do not play them perfectly. Affinity is such a deck; it’s almost impossible to play Affinity perfectly because you have so many decisions in a short period of time, but you don’t need to play it perfectly to win. If you make a mistake, you can still very easily win the game. With a deck like Storm, if you make a mistake you’re dead—there are no take backs, your entire game is done.
Sometimes decks are equally hard to play, but for different reasons. I see three ways in which a deck might be hard to play:
1) The deck itself is complicated with a very extensive decision tree. You do not necessarily care what your opponent is doing, and your decisions are often not influenced by how your opponents played played, but your deck presents you with a ton of options and you need to know them very well. This is the case for most combo decks, such as Storm or Elves.
Those decks don’t need you to know the format very well and they don’t need you to be extremely good at Magic. It’s more important to know your deck very well (though some of them do require you to be very good as well) and to be decent at math—not a math genius, but you can’t be afraid of doing math. Someone who has been playing Storm for years will very likely be better at it than a very good player that has not played it much before, which is not necessarily the case with Miracles.
Those decks are also generally unforgiving.
2) The deck requires a deep understanding of the format. This is the case with most answers decks. You cannot know if you are going to counter something or save it for later if you don’t know what people are doing and what cards are important to their game plan. With this type of deck, knowledge of the format is going to translate into knowledge of your matchups, and if you are familiar with what is going on then you don’t need as much experience with whatever it is you choose to play.
3) The deck requires a deep understanding of how Magic works. You don’t need to be an expert on your deck or an expert on the format, but you need to master concepts like tempo, aggression, and card advantage. Some aggro-control decks are like this, as are combo decks with multiple plans.
To make this a little more interesting, I decided to ask a panel of CFB players for their thoughts on which decks were hard in the current format. This is not a “hard ranking,” it’s just to give you an idea on what we consider particularly hard and so that I can elaborate a bit on each deck.
Here is what I told them to do:
Assign a number from 1 to 5 to each deck based on how hard you think it is to play. You are ranking it on how likely you are to tell someone “I don’t think you should play this deck in a major tournament because you are not going to be able to play it at a satisfactory level.”
1 means you will basically never say that about this deck to anyone (and you would actually recommend this deck to someone who is not good/experienced with the deck/experienced with the format).
5 means you are very likely to tell someone they should not play this deck, because you think to play it at a good enough level requires a lot of skill/deep knowledge of the deck/a lot of experience with the format.
Here, there are many definitions for “hard” I could have chosen. I could have chosen “grade on hardest to play perfectly,” or “easiest to mess up”; I chose “how likely you are to tell someone they should not play it,” which to me serves as a better way of judging if you should play the deck despite not being familiar/skilled with it.
The graders were Shahar, Matt Nass, Josh Utter-Leyton, LSV, EFro, Reid, Owen, and myself. Then I averaged the grade and this is the order we came up with:
[Comments are mine]
RW Burn: 1.1
Burn is the most straightforward deck in Standard—you want to draw burn spells and cast them. The deck has one major decision point, which is “should I target their creatures or them?” As a general rule, I’d say that targeting them is usually the right choice, though you clearly have to evaluate each situation—sometimes killing a creature is going to give you three extra draw steps which should on average be worth more than the 3 damage you used. The deck plays both Magma Jet and scry lands, and, though by the time you cast Magma Jet you generally know what you want, the same is not true for scry lands. Your deck is very interchangeable (you want burn against everyone), but some cards like Skullcrack and Searing Blood are matchup dependant, so try to get at least some information before you scry (though do not set yourself back too much for that). I would be very comfortable letting a friend of any skill level or experience with the format play Burn (in fact, I would recommend Burn if they asked), so my grade is 1.
TL;DR: Anyone can play burn, but you need to be able to figure out when to burn them and when to burn guys.
RGb Monsters: 1.8
I think Monsters is also a pretty straightforward deck in the sense that you don’t have a lot of decisions; you play your 2-drops on turn two, your 4-drops on turn four, and so on. There are choices, of course—planeswalkers with multiple abilities, when to monstrify, when to save removal—but for the most part you are deciding between 2-3 things and not more. I would also recommend Monsters for someone who is not familiar with the metagame or even with the deck.
TL;DR: Monsters is not hard to play, you can mess up some decisions but overall you shouldn’t have many problems.
Mono Blue is about the same. You have options, but never more than 2-3 because you only have so many 2-casting-cost cards, so many 3-casting-cost cards and so many 4-casting-cost cards, and as a general rule the more a card costs the better it is, so you’re just going to play the most expensive one you have every time. The big decision point with Mono-Blue is, to me, when to go aggressive. The deck can kill out of nowhere with Thassa making your guys unblockable, but many times we start behind and we’re too focused on defending and forget that we must also attack. If you’ve played similar decks before (Faeries, for example), then this shouldn’t be a big issue, but if you haven’t then I’d practice a bit with the deck and I’d make sure I always keep being aggressive in mind.
Another thing I feel is a little different with Blue Devotion is that the devotion mechanic requires you to alter your decision making to play it. Where before you wouldn’t mind trading a creature, now maybe you want to keep yours alive because in two turns it’s going to animate your Thassa or make more Master of Waves tokens. This is not super intuitive and I would recommend specifically playing a couple games with Mono-Blue Devotion so that you adjust to this different value of cards.
The next skill-intensive point with the deck is, I think, sideboarding. The deck uses all its cards and has very few things you can take out in most matchups without disrupting your game plan, and you need to play it to understand how to sideboard properly. Tidebinder Mage, for example, seems like a card you’d side out against a lot of things, but you often keep it against decks that have no targets because you just need a 2/2 for 2 and if you haven’t played the deck you will not know when to do that.
TL;DR: If you want to play Mono-Blue Devotion, make sure you play the deck beforehand. It doesn’t require a lot of brainpower, but experience with it is valuable because some of the concepts are different than what you might be used to with other decks.
I think Mono-Black is a little different than Mono-Blue because you need to know the format more than you need to know your deck. You need to know what each deck in the format is doing, so that you know what to Thoughtseize, when to save Hero’s Downfall, and so on. Mono-Blue plays relatively the same across the field, but Mono-Black is going to change depending on what you’re playing against, so it’s better to get a few games in against each archetype to get a feel of what’s important for them in this matchup.
If you’ve played with other decks, then that is going to help you play Mono-Black as well. If I was to play Mono-Black in an important tournament, I’d try to play many decks against Mono-Black, to understand what’s important for them against me. If I was to play Mono-Blue, I’d just play with Mono-Blue.
The one point that gets massively better for you if you’re experienced with the deck is Pack Rat. I think people need to play some practice games with Pack Rat and just make a bunch of Rats so that they lose the fear of committing. The Pack Rat game is very scary for the Mono-Black player, because it’s so all-in, but it’s often the best way to win the game and you need to get those wins to get it out of your system.
Mono-Black is also a little bit harder on life management, since you have Underworld Connections and life gain. You don’t need to play Mono-Black specifically to know this, though; just be aware of what you can draw into.
TL;DR: To play Mono-Black, you need to know which cards are important for each deck. The best way to do that is to just play those decks, particularly against Mono-Black.
Esper has two very different kinds of games. Games in which you are winning are incredibly easy—perhaps the easiest games in the format. Anyone can play a winning game with Esper. You just cast a removal spell on turn two or three, then a Dissolve, then a Supreme Verdict, then Revelation, then Elspeth. You can’t mess up, and, if you do mess up, it’s not going to matter because you have seven cards in hand and they have one.
The Esper games in which you are losing, however, are probably the hardest in the format. If you are behind, then every turn presents you with a lot of decisions and you need to know your deck and their deck. You need to analyze their game plan and decide what is important enough for you to spend removal on, what else they could be holding. You need to know if you can tap out for Wrath or if you need to keep counterspell mana up, you need to know if you use Detention Sphere or Doom Blade, you need to know if you +1 or -2 Jace. If they have something in their deck, there is a high chance that they will draw it, because games will go very long. You need to plan your answer to that card from turn one.
As a whole, the skills Esper requires are more “control skills” rather than “Esper skills” specifically. The style of deck that Esper represents has existed for a very long time, and knowledge of how to play control decks in general is going to help you play Esper tremendously. Whether you’ve played Esper in Standard two years ago, UWR in Modern, or 5cc in 2009, it’s going to be useful. Esper also gets a lot of benefits from someone being just a good player, but it’s not necessarily required. A good player who has played control many times before should not need much time to be accustomed to Esper specifically; rather they should focus on learning the format and what other decks do.
Esper, like any “answers” deck, needs to know what is worth answering. The only way to do that is to know what people are playing and to know what their game plan is. The best way to figure that out is to just try to play games against all the different decks.
TL;DR: Know the format and know your deck a little, but the most valuable thing is to have experience with control archetypes in general, otherwise you will have trouble in games in which you are behind.
The conclusion on Standard is that decks are, overall, relatively simple. Lots of the guys I talked to commented on how the “skill cap” for Standard is not that high. A “skill 9” player will get about the same amount of wins as a “skill 8” player if they have the same experience with the deck, and someone who is familiar with the format and of a decent skill level can play any deck in Standard after picking it up for a while. If you want to play a different deck, then it’s important to play games with it so that you learn how it works, how to mulligan and how to sideboard, but there is no deck that absolutely requires an enormous investment.
Modern Burn is easier than Standard Burn because you really never want to burn their creatures, you just want to kill them as quickly as possible. There are no scry lands and all the burn is basically interchangeable, leaving you with very few choices. I’d certainly recommend Burn to anyone (if it was good I would, anyway)
Boggles has the same game plan every time—you want to play a guy, suit it up, and hope that’s enough. As for what they are doing, well, it doesn’t really matter, because they can’t stop you and you certainly can’t stop them. The one decision point is whether Kor Spiritdancer is going to be good enough or if you need a hexproof guy, but as soon as you know what you’re playing against that should be simple to determine.
Rumor has it that Boggles is actually hard to mulligan and sideboard with. Honestly, I don’t buy it. I can’t imagine ever telling someone “you aren’t skilled or experienced enough to play Bogles, play X instead,” and I suspect the win percentage of the deck is going to be very close no matter who is playing it.
TL;DR: I think anyone can play Boggles but apparently sideboarding and mulliganing with it is not trivial, so try to improve on those.
R/G Scapeshift: 2
Scapeshift is also a non-complicated, non-interactive deck that anyone could play reasonably. With Scapeshift, there is one important decision point—whether you’re going for a “combo” or for a natural Valakut. This is a function of your draws (do you have an Omen? A lot of ramp? A Scapeshift?) and of whatever they are playing (Do they kill turn four? Do they have counterspells?). Both types of Scapeshift games are incredibly different from one another, but incredibly similar to every other game of that kind. Valakut games are the same as all other Valakut games, and Scapeshift games are the same as all other Scapeshift games. Identifying which one is which is not trivial, but once you do, executing the plan is very simple.
If I was to play Scapeshift, I’d try to familiarize myself with the deck, perhaps even goldfishing a little so that I learned how to properly sequence my ramp spells. Then I would play some games against decks that do not kill me on turn four to try and see how natural Valakut games go and to get a feel for when I want to do it.
TL;DR: Know your deck well and know how to identify and execute the “natural Valakut” plan and you are set.
Tribal Zoo: 2
Zoo’s game plan is incredibly simple and I’m sure it would be a 1 in the eyes of everyone if it weren’t for two details: lands and mirror matches. Lands are the only part of playing Zoo you can really mess up, but it’s very easy to mess up and very costly. You need to plan the first three or four turns in advance before you even play your first land to make sure you’re playing the right fetch and getting the right colors. This you develop by simply playing with the deck.
Zoo doesn’t require you to know the field or even any specific matchups; that’s part of the reason it has historically been good in very open fields when people have no idea what anyone else is playing. Your game plan is always the same: kill them as fast as you can. The one matchup this is not true is the mirror, where you have to change your way of thinking. You can no longer go all in on damage because then they can just kill you. This change of mindset is not natural, and it requires some games to adjust to the fact that your life is now all of a sudden an important resource, so I would make sure to play mirror matches if I was to play Zoo. Other than that, you’re good to go.
TL;DR: Not a hard deck, but you should practice sequencing your lands correctly and specifically mirror matches because they are different than any other match you play with the deck and require a different mindset.
Splinter Twin (combo only): 2.6
Splinter Twin is a combo deck, but unlike the more complicated ones it doesn’t require a perfect sequence of plays—all it wants is that you play Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin and you win, and you want to do that every match. Your skill-testing moment is basically “should I go for it now?” and for that you want some experience with the deck and some experience with the format, but not necessarily a lot of it. I’d feel very comfortable recommending Combo Twin to anyone.
TL;DR: Practice a bit with the deck and know what people can do to answer your combo.
Jund is another answers deck; you need to know what you’re answering, when you need to play your discard, what you’re going to take, and so on. Knowledge of the format is more important than knowledge of Jund itself, and the same I said about Mono-Black also applies here.
TL;DR: Come on this is three lines you can read it.
Affinity is probably the deck with the biggest decision tree in the format. Every game, as early as turn two, you have about 25 options and all of them could win or lose you the game. When you have 10 artifacts in play and an Arcbound Ravager, you could be right to sacrifice one, two, three, all ten. It’s easy to make the second-, third-, tenth-best play with Affinity because there are so many possibilities. In fact, it’s easy to not even realize that you have so many different plays to make.
I remember when we were testing for the last PT and I was playing Scapeshift against Ben Lundquist’s Affinity deck. We got into a fork where I could dome him with a Valakut, or a creature, or two creatures, and then we tried to figure out what my best play was. We eventually settled on what I thought was a good choice for Scapeshift and moved to his side of the board to figure out if he could beat it. After about 15 minutes of deliberating, we found out that my best option was a play he could still beat. He then said “let’s count this as a win for Scapeshift, because there is no way anyone in the tournament could figure out the winning line in this game in a reasonable time, that was so hard.” That’s Affinity for you. Affinity is, to me, the hardest deck in Modern to play perfectly.
Affinity is all about knowing your deck and very little about knowing the format. Knowing how to play against certain hate cards is good, but you honestly don’t need to. Just play your game and hope it’s enough. If I was to play Affinity, I’d just jam Affinity games, not caring much what I was playing against, though I’d make a point to play some mirror games.
The saving grace of Affinity, and the reason it wasn’t given a 5 by everyone (or so I assume) is that it’s on the very forgiving side of things. If you have Mox Opal, Citadel, Nexus and Springleaf Drum, the best play could be sacrificing Nexus and Citadel, the second-best play could be sacrificing Citadel and Springleaf Drum, the third-best play sacrificing Mox and Drum, but if you make the fourth-best play of sacrificing Mox and Citadel, well, you’re probably still going to win. With other decks, if you make the fourth best play, you’re never winning. Some decks don’t even have four possible plays for you to make! You will of course miss many wins by not taking the right macro-path (i.e. “I should win with poison”) but you will also win many games if you are just a delinquent who always goes all-in without a care in the world. In fact, you might even win some games that a player playing “perfectly” would lose. Still, I would never recommend Affinity to someone who wasn’t experienced with it, and, given that I was afraid to play it myself, I think it deserves a grade higher than 3.4.
TL;DR: Affinity is very hard to play perfectly but also very forgiving. Practice Affinity to play Affinity, don’t care about anything else.
UWR is another answers deck and, as such, you need to know the format more than you need to know your deck. It’s basically the Esper of Modern, though I think it’s harder because cards occupy the same spot in the curve a lot more (which gives you more choices) and you have less super powerful cards to bail you out.
Everything that I said about Esper applies here—if you’ve played control a lot, if you’re familiar with this play style, then you need to know the format well and, once you do, you can play UWR.
TL;DR: Same as Esper, know the format a bit and experience with control is very helpful.
Tempo Twin (With Goyf): 3.7
Splinter Twin with the tempo component is much, much harder to play properly than regular Splinter Twin because now you have another way to win, and that impacts how you play and how the opponent plays. You need to figure out if you want to go for the combo or not at every point, multiple times per game (and if you get it wrong it will punish you, because you could, for example, have scried a Splinter Twin to the bottom three turns ago). There is always the chance you just combo them out turn four, however, and always the chance you topdeck your way out of any situation. In this regard, the deck is very forgiving. Much like Esper, games you are winning with Tempo Twin are elementary, games you’re losing are very hard, but you can always draw your Get Out of Jail Free Card even if you mess up.
Not only do you need to properly choose a path, but you need to take into account that the opponent does not know it. If he thinks I’m going for the combo but I’m actually going for damage, then I have a great advantage. This could be, for example, not playing a Serum Visions on turn three, because the threat of Pestermite + Twin is going to make your opponent play differently which will let you attack one extra time with Tarmogoyf.
I think Tempo Twin (and all similar decks) is pretty hard to learn. You need some experience with the format, some experience with the deck, but I think overall you just need experience with Magic, because it uses very wide concepts such as having a plan specific for each game state, misdirection, bluffing, and so on. If you are very good at Magic, you don’t need too much practice to play Tempo Twin reasonably well. If you aren’t, then you will need a lot of practice with the deck specifically.
TL;DR: For Tempo Twin, you need some experience with the deck but, more importantly, you need experience with Magic as a whole and its general concepts. If you are a good player, you will do much better with Tempo Twin.
Melira Pod: 4.7
Pod is incredibly hard to play because it has all the same issues as Tempo Twin (do I go for the combo now? Damage?) with the added complexity that your combo is not something as trivial as enchanting a creature. Sure, if you get your combo in play you win the game, but getting the combo in play is very complicated, and you have a ton of choices. After you decide you’re going to combo, you need to figure out how.
To play Pod properly, you need to be good at Magic and good at Pod. You need those general concepts to understand when to go for the combo and when to go for a normal game, and then you need to understand Pod very well to be able to execute either of those game plans. You also need some knowledge of the format because you need to know what’s enough to beat them, what they can do to disrupt you, and so on. Pod is by far the hardest deck in Modern to play at an acceptable level.
TL;DR: Pod requires good Magic skills and good Pod skills. To play Pod well, you need to practice Pod, and you also need to be experienced in Magic and its general concepts.
Overall, Modern has easy and hard decks; it has decks that I would let my 12-year-old cousin play that are still very competitive, and it has decks that I would not recommend to people I consider to be very good. It has decks that care about the format, decks that care about general strategy, decks that only care about themselves, decks that require math, decks that require assessment of a board state, decks that require you to be able to execute complex game plans—whatever your skill is, you can find a deck in Modern that suits you.
Death and Taxes 2.6
Death and Taxes requires you to know the format a bit, but, more importantly, it requires you to know your deck. The overall game plan is simple, but execution is not, because there are a lot of things you can do with the deck—little tricks that you need to play specifically Death and Taxes to learn. It will not be hard to learn, but you need to invest some time in playing the deck and understanding all of its interactions. If Death and Taxes is good for the format, I’d feel extremely comfortable playing it after a week of playtesting, but extremely uncomfortable playing it for the first time.
TL;DR: Not a hard deck, but a tricky deck. Practice Death and Taxes specifically so you know what the deck is capable of.
Sneak and Show 3.2
Sneak and Show is another straightforward deck. Like the Delver decks, it has the usual “Legacy complexities” that come with playing blue cards, but the game plan is always the same and the only real question is “do I go for it or not?” I’d make sure to practice a little with Sneak and Show so that you know which hands to keep, how to sideboard, and how to win once you actually combo, but other than that I don’t think it requires extensive knowledge of anything.
TL;DR: Make sure you play some games with the deck before. If you’ve already played blue decks in Legacy before, it gets much easier.
BUG Delver 3.4
BUG Delver is not a super complicated deck in that its game plan is simple, but executing it is not easy because the cards in Legacy are naturally very complicated. You will be playing with Brainstorm, fetchlands, Force of Will, Dazes, a lot of cards that will give you many possible paths already on turn 1.
With BUG, you need some knowledge about your deck and some knowledge about the format, but, as with all Legacy decks, you need to be good at Magic. You need experience with Magic, not with anything specific, because each situation is so different that there is no way you can prepare for all of them, so you need to learn how to think. If you know what their deck does, then I think you can play BUG Delver against it even if you’ve never played against it before. With Delver decks of any kind, I’d certainly take a very good player with no practice over an average player who has played the deck for months.
TL;DR: Be good at Magic and have experience with Legacy decks. If you want to dedicate to BUG Delver, you will be able to translate those skills into wins with other decks as well.
UWR Delver 3.5
UWR Delver is similar to BUG Delver, but I think it’s a little bit harder because you have to work with less information—with BUG, you often get to see their hand and they often have no hand, whereas with UWR you need to try and figure out what they have. Other than that, everything else is basically the same.
TL;DR: Same as above.
UWR Miracles 4.3
Miracles is a control deck, so you need to know the format a little, but it’s also complicated to play by itself because you have so many choices that need to be made so many turns in advance. With Miracles, I think you require two main skills: the first is just being good at Magic. There’s no way you can play Miracles properly if you aren’t experienced with the game, you need to figure out too many things too quickly to a point where you need to have some mental shortcuts in place already or you will just draw every match trying to understand what’s happening.
The second skill is the “Sensei’s Divining Top” skill, which you acquire by, well, playing a lot with Sensei’s Divining Top. Top is a very unique card that requires you to construct your play around it, and understanding when to use each of its abilities, how to order the cards, when to try to draw something rather than advancing the game state, will only come with time. You also need to do it quickly. I had not played Miracles before GP Paris, but I felt like I could play it at a reasonable level because I’ve been playing Sensei’s Divining Top decks forever.
TL;DR: I would recommend Miracles to someone who was good and who had some experience with Legacy and Sensei’s Divining Top decks; I would never recommend Miracles to someone who wasn’t very experienced with Magic as a whole.
Elves is mechanically very hard to play. You need to think about a lot of things to even know if you can start going off and many of your cards have multiple abilities that interact with multiple of your other cards—but none of what it is doing is intrinsically difficult. I feel that Elves really rewards experience with it, and the best Elves players I know are just the guys who played Elves back when it was in Extended. You don’t need to know the format very well and you don’t need to be a genius, but you do need to know Elves extensively and you need to be able to do math.
Elves also has the “should I go for the combo or for a normal game?” fork, which creates a scenario in which you need to play your guys to win the game but you also need to hold them in hand in case you need to try Glimpsing someone out. The saving grace is that Elves has Natural Order, which is an incredibly simple card to play that just wins the game almost every time you cast it. Someone could play Elves, take out all Glimpses, and still win a lot of games on the back of Natural Order, and then that deck would be much easier to play.
TL;DR: If you want to play Elves, make sure you understand what each card does to its full potential and make sure you play a lot so you’re familiar with executing the combo.
Storm is like Elves except there’s no Natural Order to bail you out and any mistake is a disaster. It also interacts a lot more than Elves with counterspells, so you need experience playing against that specific archetype. With Elves, you can just try to brute force things—they counter your Glimpse? No big deal, play another next turn. You tried to go off and fizzled? No big deal, at least you now have five Elves in play. With Storm, if they counter your key card, you’re dead. You tried to go off and fizzled, you will have two lands in play and no cards in hand next turn.
I think that, for Storm, you need to play a lot with the deck and know your deck very well, but you also need to play specifically against counterspells. You need to learn your limits, you need to learn when to go for it and when to wait, and you need to learn how to play around a counterspell; you will only get that if you are very experienced with the Storm archetype (though playing other Storm decks in other formats certainly helps a lot with this).
TL;DR: To play Storm properly, you need to be very familiar with Storm and you need to have played specifically against counterspells or you will be lose when you stumble upon it in a tournament.
Legacy, as a whole, is a much harder format than Standard or Modern, with a much higher barrier to entry. There are many options in the early turns, and game states are hardly replicable outside of a combo deck; there are so many possible decks to face that you will never be experienced in every matchup, so either you don’t care about what they’re doing or you need to be able to make decisions on the fly. There are two types of decks in Legacy: decks that require you to be extremely familiar with them, and decks that require you to be experienced with Magic and to be able to think. I don’t think there is any deck in Legacy that requires deep knowledge of the format (though having a rough knowledge of what they are doing is mandatory).
I would not recommend Legacy as a “port of entry” into competitive Magic, but I think skills that you acquire through just playing Magic—any Magic—translate very well to Legacy. Skills from one Legacy deck will also generally port to another. If you have played Brainstorms and fetchlands before, then I think you can just show up to a Legacy tournament, read a format overview, and play at a very acceptable level (at least that’s my plan every time there’s a Legacy tournament).
Well, that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you next week!