Last Sunday I was at the Helsinki WMCQ (World Magic Cup Qualifier). I didn’t do very well, but I did come up with something to write about, which is a small bonus.
One of my opponents, who was generally played much more precisely than is even necessary for a competitive tournament and asked stopped the game a couple of times to ask judges very involved questions on pretty simple situations, and didn’t want me to hear those questions.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Just felt a bit too much, as I am trying to have fun in these events, despite their competitive nature.
What actually gave me something to write about was that when it was time to sideboard, he pulled out a folder with pages upon pages of notes on different matchups.
… and there’s nothing wrong with that either. I sometimes use notes, too, especially if my plan isn’t straightforward, or its not my deck. Even then, I often diverge from the plan based on number of factors.
The actual point I want to bring up is this: You need to be more flexible in your thinking. Sure, its near rotation, which means many of the archetypes are going to be pretty much set in stone. You can take those into account in your planning pretty easily.
On the other hand, each set does have its own cards, which birth new archetypes, and force people to adjust their existing decks in order to combat the new decks. Basically this means you won’t necessarily know what you are going to be seeing.
So, if you are only going to be looking through the winners and other interesting decks in the last few big tournaments, you are probably not taking everything into account. You are basically letting someone next level you.
For example, right now, as I’ve discussed before, Burning Earth is just incredibly strong. There are plenty of decks, such as Jund Planeswalkers or Brave Naya, which play hardly any basic lands. The BE is especially strong against Jund Planeswalkers, as you can redirect any of the damage to the planeswalkers, if you wish, thus simply shutting their whole gameplan down. I completely destroyed a few players by doing exactly this at GP Utrecht (where, in the end, I didn’t do that well, going 6-3 with one bye).
There’s another way this lack of flexibility will get punished. When someone does bring a new deck against you, you will often not identify it correctly. Again, people didn’t know how to react to my deck at GP Utrecht. They saw Ash Zealots or Lightning Strike and something else, but they would rationalize (often probably thinking I’m just moron who’s been lucky thusfar) other cards based on one or two cards they saw and either think I played Boss Sligh, Rabble-Red, or Burn, when in fact I was playing more of a midrange deck, where I didn’t actually mind that much if they brought in some lifegain or something. Actually, those situations were wins for me, as the loss in card quality or synergy in their decks just made them weaker against me.
But there is a cure for this. Play more limited. In limited, you’ll have to be aware of a much wider pool of cards, as pretty much everything in the set(s) will be played. Also, the most interesting and creative deckbuilders are actually usually very strong limited players. Sam Black was known as a limited player for a long time, and Conley Woods is very good at limited. When you see the possible synergies between cards in limited, you’ll learn to do the same in constructed, although certain cards will be underestimated even when doing very well in limited (for example Pack Rat, which took over a year to become the format defining card it was for a long while, and in a way still is).
Another is to play more. Play your local FNMs. You might feel those players are below you (not a healthy attitude, but still), but there’s also always some brews running around. For example, at our local FNMs, I’ve seen BW Humans deck, which is pretty strong, but not quite top tier, a WU soldier deck, which tried to use Preeminent Captain to bring cards cheaply into play (and there are plenty of strong soldiers in the format, such as Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Dawnbringer Charioteer, which is probably very underrated), a pretty strong Minotaur tribal deck, and so forth. You might be able to easily defeat these homebrews, but at the same time, as they are so far outside of the popular archetypes, playing against them will make you ready (or at least readier) against a multitude of different decks.
I personally often prey on people who aren’t ready for anything. I like to play decks that are different. I probably can’t beat all of the major archetypes, but than again, no-one is favored against all comers, and its always a crapshoot to build your deck appropriately for the event, whatever the event is.
Also, even though people like Shahar Shenhar advocate netdecking, playing your own deck has its own rewards. You might not do as well as with a popular deck, but just seeing how your own creation does is great.