Modern Legacy: Options
I have enjoyed success in my last couple of Legacy tournaments, more than I have had in a while. After some consideration, I think I figured out the reason for that success. It is because I had a different approach to these tournaments. I feel that this approach can be summed up in a single word: “Options”.
By having options available to yourself, you can ensure the best chance of success in anything. There are three stages to build up your options, to critical mass. The first stage is preparation. In this stage, you learn as much about the overall format as possible, such as what decks are popular, and what the inherent strengths and weaknesses within these decks are. The best methods of doing this are by following coverage and keeping up with a variety of internet forums. The internet is an amazingly powerful tool. Use it. The more time you do, the more you benefit from the knowledge countless people are putting out there.
I read the major internet resources for Legacy daily, making sure I understand the key cards in the popular archetypes. I am now at the point that I can identify the possible archetypes of the decks I face within three cards, sometimes less. This is an considerable advantage for me because I know exactly what cards are essential to that archetype, so by relation, I can know how to best attack that deck, and how to utilize my deck’s strengths while minimizing my deck’s weaknesses. By preparing well, you also have a good chance to identify underlying trends in the overall metagame. How might this help you? Let’s say you notice a dropoff in people using graveyard hate in sideboards, even going so far as having none. If you noticed that due to preparation, you are very well-poised to attack this weakness by piloting a graveyard based deck such as Dredge or Reanimator. Preparation flows very well in the next stage to building your options; practice.
Practice does not mean picking a single deck, and goldfishing it a hundred times to understand how it plays. Neither does it mean taking that deck and ramming it through a gauntlet of popular decks in legacy a hundred times and calling it a day. What is important to practice, I believe, is not limiting your options from the outset. Legacy is a format with a massive card pool, with a ton of viable decks available. It is my opinion that you should select several decks that suits your personal preferences, several decks that function differently in a critical aspect of the game, and build each of those decks. The reason for this is that it expands your options. After the selection, you should play these decks, in a gauntlet, THEN turning the tables on your decks. How? Be the gauntlet. Play as many decks as possible against your own decks.
This allows you to assess what the key cards in these matches are. Every time you groan when your opponent plays a trump card against you, take note of that card, because in tournaments, you will be the one who plays that trump against others. You should become a skilled pilot with your own decks and a decent pilot of other decks. This experience becomes very valuable when you play against somebody who does not have the same experience that you do in both sides of the matchup. Know your enemy well. Speaking of knowledge, this brings us to the third aspect of having options.
Knowledge is a powerful tool to be used if you understand how to use it. When going to a tournament, you should not lock yourself in to play one deck. You should bring several options. This is because of the pre-tournament work that you’ll do. The tournament starts long before you hand in your decklist. You should have already had your decklists prewritten before the tournament starts. Leave a few sideboard slots free for modification, but the maindeck should be pretty set in stone. When you arrive in the venue, do not take out the decks you may be using. This is in order to deny everyone else the knowledge of what you might be running. You should stand up, and wander around the venue with a notepad and pen, writing down every deck you see. Due to your preparation, you should be able to identify what decks people are using fairly easily. Also take a glance at the people with these decks. You do not need to make an effort to memorize these people, but you could remember these people if you happen to be matched up against them. This gives you a nonzero chance of having an advantage.
After you are finished scouting, you should be able to extrapolate what decks are popular that day and what is not. From this, you can have sufficient data to make your deck choice. Focus on decks that have an advantage against the more popular types of decks present. A great example of scouting making a direct impact on how successful you are, would be a legacy tournament a few weeks ago, where after I looked around, I noticed several aggro decks and combo decks, with a large lack of blue control decks. Armed with this knowledge, I chose to play 1-Land Belcher. The result: a second place finish. I won every match in the swiss, only losing to Team America in the finals.
Another amusing story from that tournament, that really hammers home the import of knowledge, is in the first game of the tournament. I cast Gitaxian Probe on my first turn, before casting anything else. He reveals a hand full of Force of Wills. Knowing the chance of me winning that game was less than zero (Force of Will beats up badly on Belcher), I immediately scoop and move to game two. From my point of view, I knew exactly what my opponent was playing, and what to sideboard in to help me winning. I conclude my sideboarding, only to sit and wait while my very confused opponent struggle to figure out how to board against a deck that casts a Gitaxian Probe before scooping. He finally decides on a boarding configuration. We play the second game, a game that was lopsided massively in my favor. All of his sideboard cards were dead. He changes up his sideboard for game three, and I was able to pull off an extremely narrow third game win to win the match. If I simply played normally instead of scooping in the first game, he would have beat me in the first game, sided correctly for the next two. I would have had to win two narrow games instead of one. This is how much knowledge matters.
What you should take home from this article is that you should not lock yourself in a single deck choice if you can have the option of having several decks. If you do, you become much more flexible and receptive to changes in the metagame. This, when coupled with scouting, allows you to have a greater chance of success. Never give away information, whether being in a match or before the tournament, and always try to gain information all the time.
Until next week,