Most people have their own way of evaluating new things; for me, I’ve generally found it useful to relate them to a past experience. When a new card comes out, the first thing I do, even subconsciously, is to compare it to a card that already exists, and remember if it was good or not, and then see how exactly it relates to the new card. For me, that makes it much easier than to just evaluate them as if they were an entirely new element (though of course you have to adapt to the new format etc., etc.,), which is why I think planeswalkers, for example, are nearly impossible to properly evaluate at first glance since they are all unique.
The same process I use for new cards, I use for new decks. Most of the time when people copy/paste a deck to me, I can relate it to a deck that already existed, or that someone already tried, and figure out if it has potential or not. If someone shows me a Soldiers deck, I immediately remember the White Weenie decks, and then I remember why I don’t like them. After that, I try to see if the Soldier deck has the same weaknesses that made me dislike the deck before, if those weaknesses matter as much, and if it has new strengths. Doing that, I can more or less evaluate the Soldiers deck without ever playing a game with it. For example, I am pretty sure this hypothetical Soldiers deck is bad, and I don’t even have a decklist for it.
In this article, I will list what I consider to be the worst five decks I’ve ever played in an important tournament (GP/PT/Nats), why I came to play them, why they happened to be bad, and what lessons I took from playing those decks, that I now apply in every deck I build or choose – by knowing what the problems with those decks were, I know how to identify it and better prevent it from happening in the future, and I hope it is useful to you, too. Next week I will go over what I believe are the best five decks I’ve ever played, and why they were good for those tournaments.
5th Worst deck: Naya, Pro Tour San Diego 2010, Standard
Why I played it: because it kept beating Jund in testing. I had ideas of playing Jund, but since I just couldn’t reliably beat Naya with it, I decided Naya had to be the better choice.
Why it was bad: Well, to be completely honest, it was not bad. The thing is, I went through a lot of my events and this was the “best of the worst,” so this is the one I chose (but don’t worry, after this one things get real bad). I’ve always thought I was pretty good at choosing decks, and the fact that I cannot find a deck I hated playing to fill the slot probably means I am doing something right.
So, it was not a bad deck (LSV and Tom Ross did go 10-0 and 9-1 after all, so I cannot say the deck was bad) as much as a bad choice for me, and it was a bad choice because I should have just played Jund, because it was a deck I liked more, was more comfortable with, and a deck that was, looking back, actually better in my opinion.
The lesson: The lesson I took from this is that not all playtesting is accurate. When we were playing, I was losing to Naya, and then I just assumed “Naya beat Jund,” but that was not actually the case – the matchup was worse than 50/50 for us. The reason I was mislead was because I was playing a bad version of Jund, I was not playing optimally against Naya, and I was not playing boarded games. That would not have been such a problem, except the players who played Jund at the Pro Tour were more prepared than I was on playtesting; for example, I played against Shota Yasooka, and he had every removal spell in the world, plus Master of the Wild Hunt, and he knew exactly what to kill. I playtested the matchup a lot, but I still didn’t figure out the optimal configuration and way of playing it, and that cost me.
So, basically, what this taught me was that that playtesting does not mean a lot – only correct playtesting does. It does not do to play outdated lists, and then beat everything and conclude your deck beats everything – other people are also rational beings that want to win the tournament, and they will evolve as you are evolving.
What I wish I had played: Jund
4th worst deck: 5cc in Pro Tour Honolulu 2009, Shards block
Why I played this deck: because I had no idea what else to play. I basically didn’t test as much as I should have for the event, and when the time came I just picked something and convinced myself it was good enough, because the alternative – not having a single good deck – was not comforting.
Why this deck was bad: a couple reasons. The first is that the mana base in this deck was really bad, but I hadn’t played enough games to realize how to change and make it better. The second, and most important one, is that our sideboard was truly the worst. I went 1-4 for a variety of reasons, but LSV played the same deck and won almost all his game 1s for example, only to lose almost all his games 2 and 3. The main problem with this sideboard is that it is designed to fight maindecks, in a format where every deck changed radically after board. We played a bunch of pre-boarded games and then “theorized” a sideboard based on those games, but we failed to realize that the post boarded games were not really the same games – we had a lot of answers to cards that weren’t even in their decks anymore, but we were not suited to fight the new battle they dragged us into.
The lesson: start working on a format faster than the week before, so if all your decks are bad, you don’t have to lie to yourself and pick one of them, you can try to work on something else (or work on fixing it). Also, be aware that you are not the only person sideboarding – some cards change the way the games play completely, for example the cards people are taking out when their decks have 8 cascade spells. To have a good deck postboard, you must board against boarded decks. I’m not saying you have to play a thousand postboard games, I’m still an advocate of playing a lot more preboard games and then using your understanding to build a sideboard, but you have to be aware that things change sometimes, and in some formats this happens more than in others. In many formats it is almost irrelevant, but in this format is was crucial.
The deck I wish I had played: Either Jund, or GW, or this deck but with a much better sideboard.
3rd Worst deck: White Weenie in Yokohama 2007, Block Constructed
Why I played it: basically, I was persuaded to. Most Brazilians were playing this deck, and they all said it was good, so instead of seeing for myself I decided to take the easy way and just follow what they said. We played a couple of MTGO tournaments, doing well in them, so it seemed good (and there was a Premier Event that had 8 (!) WW decks in the Top 8).
Why it was bad: first of all, because it was just underpowered. It was an aggro deck without any disruption or reach, and you couldn’t really do anything to stop the other decks from doing what they wanted to do (which was generally more powerful than what you wanted to do), while at the same time not being fast enough to kill them before they do it. This is a problem all the White Weenie strategies share, and the reason I dislike all of them.
Second, because the format was absurdly overprepared. Even if people weren’t gunning for it, the deck wouldn’t have been very good, but as it actually turned out, it was on the verge of playability. It was one of the most played decks, and it put only two people in the top 50, both in the 40s if I recall. People were maindecking Fortune Thieves, Blood Knights and Sulfur Elementals, often two of those. LSV, for example, played four Sulfur Elementals, three Fortune Thieves, and some Vesuvan Shapeshifters just in case. My very first match started with my opponent playing Gemstone Caverns into turn one Blood Knight and turn two Sulfur Elemental in response to my Griffin Guide
The lesson: DON’T PLAY WHITE WEENIE! Well, in fact, don’t play decks that have no disruption, no reach and are not fast enough. The other lesson is to not play a deck that is so easily hated – people don’t even have to go much out of their way to play Blood Knights and Sulfur Elementals, and when they do that, you will lose most of the time, and it became clear that, for that tournament, people were going to do that, but we simply ignored it. Also, do not blindly trust your friends – I know it is tempting to do so, because finding a deck is so”¦ good! When you figure out what you are playing, you don’t have to worry about it anymore, you can just tweak the deck and practice your playing with it, so it is easy to convince yourself this is the deck to play, like I did – people want to find a deck, so they are more likely to believe they have. Be a little more critical in that aspect.
The most valuable lesson for me, though, was to not trust MTGO results or deck representation. MTGO is not the same as paper Magic, and it is definitely not the same as the Pro Tour. There are a lot more people playing, people care a lot less, people hide tech, people try new things, people have budget restraints, and tournaments are generally smaller. A lot of the time, people come up to me and say, “This deck has been winning on MODO,” or ,”This deck is all over MODO so it is going to be huge,” but this means practically nothing to me nowadays, and I simply do not trust any kind of data from MTGO.
What I wish I had played: UB Teachings
2nd Worst deck: BUG in Valencia, 2007, Extended
I cannot actually find a list for this, since Wizards didn’t post them and I did not write a report, and no one playing our list day 2ed, but it is similar from the one Antoine Ruel played, so I will post his list just so you can picture how the deck looks like:
Why I played it: this is almost the same as Honolulu, except worse – I went to Valencia without having a clue what to play, and then I played for a couple days and didn’t find anything, so I just panicked and latched to the first deck that I liked at first glance. I did not play many games with it, because I was afraid of finding out it was bad – what would I play, then? As it turns out, I found out during the tournament, but by then it was already too late.
The deck appealed to me because it was a collection of cards I liked – Fact or Fiction and Pernicious Deed are two of my favorite cards ever, for example. In theory, the deck was all monsters, removal, counterspells and card drawing to find more monsters, removal and counterspells – what could go wrong?
Why it was bad: because it doesn’t do anything! Sure, some of the cards were powerful, but you just had to draw them in the right moments. In some of the games I was able to deal with the first spells my opponents played, and then rode a Tombstalker or Goyf to victory while still dealing with everything they played, but in most games we would just trade 1×1 spells and then I started drawing Force Spikes, Stifle, Spell Snares, Remands and Mental Notes which are only half a card (since the other half of your deck is useless in the late game) – basically once we got to the late game, I was only happy to draw one in every three cards in my deck. Since this was not the fastest deck in the world, the late game happened a lot.
We also did not play much with it, so we made some suboptimal changes, and I didn’t play as well as I could have, though I don’t think it would have mattered much.
The lesson: well, other than not leaving everything to the last minute so you don’t have to lie to yourself for the lack of a better alternative, again, there is the fact that you should just play good cards instead of situational cards. Whenever I see a deck with a bunch of Stifles in Legacy, for example, it reminds me of this deck – you will Stifle their first land, sure, but they will eventually draw out of it, and you will eventually draw more Stifles that don’t do anything. A couple of situational cards are okay, but this deck had just a critical mass of them, and they were all situational with the same situation – early game and a board advantage.
If you want to play situational cards, you either spread them so you are prepared for most situations (which I don’t recommend because you can just draw the wrong half), or you play a deck that will often be in the situation where they are good. An aggressive deck, for example, plays cards that are good in the early game – no one wants to draw Kird Ape turn 10 – but it does so in a strategy that hopes to end the game quickly, so that scenario does not happen as often and Kird Ape will not often be a dead card. With the BUG deck I played, the deck played cards that were only good in the early game, but the deck was built in a way that most games would go late – the very existence of cards such as Force Spike in your deck will make the games go late, which is OK when you are prepared for it, but we were not. As it stood, the only games you won were the ones where you could press the advantage with a monster or two fast enough and long enough that the fact you had a bunch of blanks in your deck didn’t matter, but that was almost never the case.
The worst deck I’ve ever played: Battle of Wits in GP Curitiba 2001
I was not going to post a list for this, but I know you are all dying to know, so here you go.
Record: 3-2-1 (three byes though!)
Why I played it: because I was a little kid.
Well, ok, there are reasons. The real reason I played it was because I wanted to be different. I wanted to be famous, wanted people to know me, and since at that point I was not good enough to be known for my playskill, I decided to try something else. This is not the reason I gave myself at the time, but it is the truth.
Why the deck was bad: I mean”¦ for starters, it had more than 60 cards. That was not even the only problem, though – a lot of the cards in the deck were just bad, even in a 250 card deck universe. Since I was playing so many cards, I just added whatever I felt like, and everything was excused, because, you know, I had to get to 250 anyway, and once I was at 250, hey what’s one more right?
The lesson: Stop trying to be cute! You must have priorities, and, if you want to do well, the priority has to be to do well! Of course my case is a little bit extreme, but people often try to be fancy or different just for the sake of being fancy and different, and you CANNOT think like that if you want to win. If you like a deck, make sure you know why you like it – is it because it is good or because it is different? Do you want to be “the guy who won the PTQ by attacking for 127 on turn 5?” Because, if you do, that is the wrong mentality (if you actually want to win the PTQ, of course). You have to be the guy that wins the PTQ, it does not matter if it is with a completely different card or the stock Jund list – whatever is good is good, and it is not related to being “nice” and “original” in any way (unless being original is the reason it is good, but that is veeeeeery rare).
People often come to me with a list that is like an established list, but with a bunch of different cards, and then I ask them why they are playing those 12 cards instead of the 12 cards the build normally plays, and there is pretty much never a satisfying response, and you can just tell they want to play those cards because those are the cards they thought of themselves, so if they win they will get the credit and become “famous.” I just want to make clear that I am not against “having fun” while you play or anything, and if you want to play the PTQ with your latest 5-card-combo creation, by all means go for it, but you have to admit for yourself that winning is not a priority.
Also, always look at what is around you, and try to figure out if you aren’t just playing bad cards. I mean, look at some of the cards I played: Oath of Druids, Fact or Fiction, Force of Will, Intuition, Wrath of God – those were all legal, and there I was playing Treva’s Charm in my deck.
Another thing, though that was not really something I learned by playing this deck, just do not play more than 60 cards in your deck. I don’t care what sort of argument you are presented with, or what sort of calculation anyone has made, even if you cannot point a flaw in it be sure that there is one. Playing more than 60 cards just cannot be good.
What I wish I had played: the UWg Walamies deck, with Call of the Herd.
Well, this is it for worst decks (ok, four worst decks, and one “choice I regret”).
I hope this was any useful to you, and see you next week, when I will talk about the five best decks I’ve ever played in a tournament.
Thanks for reading,