Perilous Research #4: Predicting Standard Metagame Shifts
Competitive Magic has found itself in an odd place this year. There are large events that take place almost every weekend. With the modern technology available, a large portion of these events are now being covered live. Typically even the ones that aren’t being covered by webcasts can be followed via twitter as the players in the event constantly post how they and others are doing and what they played. This brings a change to the way we play the game in constructed formats like Standard.
Gone are the days of only changing your deck when a new Set arrived. Instead of making changes every three months, players are now changing their lists on a week-to-week basis. The formats are being played heavily every single weekend in events much more competitive than the local FNM. Players are there to win, and will usually only bring decks that they are sure they can win with. But unlike a few years ago, when you would pick a deck and play it for a whole season, you now choose your weapon of choice based upon changes in the metagame.
What was played last weekend? What won last weekend? How was it winning? How can I stop it from winning and in turn beat it myself? This is the (very) basic version of the line of thinking the good players go through while choosing and building their deck for the next weekends event. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this thought process and it should be the least that you consider when deciding what to play. You definitely don’t want to be that guy that shows up to an event with a deck meant to combat the metagame of three weeks ago. We all know you love your deck, that you think it’s tuned, and that you believe you’re going to hand out the beats like its your job, but unfortunately you’re just going to find yourself at the bottom tables and dropping x-2. You have to make changes based upon the current metagame.
However, the top end players in the game take this process a step further. Instead of only thinking about how to beat the decks that won last weekend, they also think about what other kinds of decks are good against what won last weekend. Then with that information in mind, they make their changes so that they are actually ahead of the metagame for the upcoming weekend because they’ve predicted how it will pan out.
Predicting metagames is not for the newer player. Making accurate predictions takes experience, a solid knowledge of the format, and just a little luck. But, if your start practicing now, eventually you will find that you’re predictions are at least close and have acquired a new skill, one that is needed for success at high levels of competitive magic. I didn’t play in any large events this weekend, but I did make predictions for the metagame. I even convinced a friend on Twitter to audible for his PTQ, but more on that at the end. I’ll take you through the process I used to determine what I thought would be played, and how I decided what could be played to beat my predicted metagame.
The first step I took was to look at all the results from the previous weekend. In the SCG results from Cincinnati we have Caw-Blade, various Twin builds, Tempered Steel and U/W Puresteel as the real standouts. The other large event was Japanese Nationals which saw Valakut, Tempered Steel, and two U/B Control builds on top. This gives us a solid list of decks that we need to be able to beat:
Looking at this list of decks my snap judgement is to drop U/B Control. Compared to the other 5 decks it had a reasonable chance against two Puresteel and Valakut, while having bad matchups against Tempered Steel, CawBlade, and Twin. Until some real brewing is done, the U/B Control shell just doesn’t have what it takes to break out in the metagame. The other deck I’m initially unsure of is U/W Puresteel. The deck is an update to what is probably the strongest Scars Block deck. The fact that it did so well at Cincinnati is a testament to the power it can deliver to the table. But, the deck is still new and I’m sure had a certain surprise factor attached to it.
Going over the other four decks I can also tell that CawBlade is going to gain popularity again. Good players like playing skill-based matches to give themselves an edge and CawBlade certainly allows you to do this. The version coming out on top of Cincinnati is a little more aggressive than I like, but that certainly gave it game against Valakut, the most played deck in Cincinnati. Twin also likes to prey on slower decks like Valakut and even had good game against the second most played deck RDW. Burn just isn’t large enough to kill Deceiver. They need to have Dismember and Dispel stops that. Valakut and RDW were definitely hated on in Cincinnati, but the Japanese Nats results gives the Valakut deck a little hope.
At this point most players would resign themselves to playing CawBlade, Twin, or Valakut. They did well and all three can still play well against the more aggressive metagame. Valakut just needs to run sweepers, spot removal, and Natures Claim to combat the decks that were putting it down. This is fine, and these decks would do well against most of the decks that would see play in Seattle or PTQs. However, if you continue your line of thinking you’ll find the metagame may be a little different than you expect.
During Cincinatti everyone played more aggressive-style decks to combat to the slower decks that others were playing. With this is mind people are going to start playing cards to combat the aggressive decks; sweepers like Pyroclasm, lifegain like Obstinate Baloth, and removal like Dismember. After looking at that, the CawBlade list from last week looks a little weak doesn’t it. Twin suffers from the removal increase also. So, if the meta is actually morphing to be more controlling than the previous week, what can we play to combat that?
The answer is a resilient aggressive deck. You want to put as much pressure on your slower opponent as you can. You need to force them to act and not give them a lot of time to draw their outs. Doing this gives you your best chance for success. But, not only does your deck need to be resilient to the more controlling decks, it also needs to be resilient against the other aggressive decks. There are still those people who will be playing the in the metagame from a few weeks ago with decks like Goblins. There are two decks that fit this, Tempered Steel and Vampires.
Vampires will let you attrition your opponent in the aggro matchups, while presenting a resilient clock to your control adversaries. Tempered Steel gives you the ability to play with the most explosive deck in the format, one that can just win on turn 4 with the correct hand. That is one hell of a clock for control. Combine the explosiveness with the innate resilience provided by playing Glint Hawk Idol and Spellskite and control suddenly has minimal ways of interacting with you. Against other aggressive decks you’re just more explosive so you can race faster, and you’re playing spells to make your guys bigger. Tempered Steel pushing your creatures into 3/3’s definitely has the advantage over decks with 2/2’s.
Now that you’ve narrowed it down to two decks, you can decide which to play by figuring out which deck wins in a heads-up game. Unfortunately for vampires, it gets hosed by Tempered Steel. 3/3’s vs 2/2’s win in Steels favor, Dispatch stops the ability to attrition with Bloodghasts, and evasion allows for Steel to win the race. Steel is at a slight disadvantage initially to Vampires burn spells, but once you hit a Tempered Steel the sailing is pretty smooth. From the board Steel has Celestial Purge to use as Dispatch 5+, while Vampires has Manic Vandal. Manic Vandal is good, but it doesn’t stop the card that puts Tempered Steel ahead, the namesake enchantment itself.
There are several different types of Tempered Steel. U/W, Mono-White, and G/W. For the upcoming weekend I found U/W to be the choice I liked the best because preordains smoothing out your draws seemed key to help the deck finish off after an explosive start. The sideboard counter-magic also gave you outs to the inevitable sweepers. That’s why when my friend on twitter, Peter Knudson aka MTG_Pete, asked me if goblins were viable I immediately told him to audible to Tempered Steel, suggesting U/W. How’d he fare?
Well, he went on to make top8 and take down not only Tim Landale, but also RedSiteWins very own Ashley Morway on his way to winning the whole thing. If you can accurately predict what people will play, you’ll have a better chance at success. I encourage you to practice this mental exercise. Before the next large event write down what you think will be prevalent and what you think can win and see how your predictions turn out. Go back to your notes and mark what did or didn’t pan out. Then do it again for the next week, and the week after. You’ll end up with a running record of where your predictions were correct and incorrect and by looking back you will see trends that you may have missed. Slowly you’ll get better as you develop the skill and eventually you’ll reach a point where the skill becomes second nature and you will be ahead of the metagame.
I leave on Tuesday to make the trek to Indianapolis, IN for GenCon and US Nats. I’ll be attempting to grind in on Thursday, but I will have an article go up sometime during the event. It isn’t directly about Standard or Limited, but is definitely something you will want to read so keep an eye out. Until next time, keep your mind focused and your plays tight!
@RealEvilGenius on Twitter
P.S. You’re welcome Pete.