The Player I Want To Be doesn’t shy away from complicated decks – he embraces them. The Player I Want To Be sees them as opportunities to leverage his play skill against the rest of the field. He’s comfortable in high pressure situations with complex board states because he’s used to playing in high stakes Magic tournaments. He shakes off and overcomes bad variance. Sure hope I get to be that player someday, cuz he definitely wasn’t around for May’s MIQ (Mythic Invitational Qualifier).
The player I am is a Drafter who qualified for two Constructed tournaments, so for the second month in a row this Limited enthusiast took a shot at a Constructed format and is here to tell the tale.
I swear I really do usually write about limited, but my tagline “Let’s Talk Limited” is once again irrelevant to this discussion, so Let’s Talk Lurrus and friends!
My typical approach to tournament deck selection was reviewed in last month’s MIQ tournament report- Almost, Paradise Druid.
- A linear gameplan with some flexibility
- Potential for dream curve out hands
- Short games.
- *A deck I could craft in Arena
Given that I don’t usually know Constructed metas, I tend towards decks with a powerful, but not singular, gameplan. Think Modern Affinnity – not Modern Ad Nauseum. Historic Elves – not Historic Tainted Pact. I want to kill my opponent quickly, but I want a couple different ways to do it. The longer the game goes, the more the Constructed players can leverage their knowledge, so my guidelines exist for a reason.
The first two Standard decks I crafted when I downloaded Arena were mono-Red for completing daily tasks and Rogues for fun, so those were my two options without crafting a new one.
No offense to my fiery friends, but mono-red just isn’t for me. Hazoret decks are fun, so maybe it’s just this particular iteration of mono-red that I don’t enjoy, but completing daily tasks feels more like a chore than an opportunity for a good time. Really, deck selection was never truly in contention. Give me the deck with cards that say “Draw Four Cards” or “Counter Target Spell.”
Rogues goes against all of my tournament philosophies for selecting a deck, but The Player I Want to Be has a much more elegant philosophy for tournaments: Play the best deck.
There simply has to be a first time. I can’t just become the Player I Want to Be overnight. The player I want to be plays complicated decks at a high level, but how exactly do I get there if I never play the complicated decks? I’ll only show up to tournaments once I’ve mastered my deck and the Constructed format? Come on. If I’m ever going to be the player who plays complex decks optimally, then there has to be a first tournament where I allow myself to play those decks suboptimally.
This is a shift in tournament philosophy that playing on Arena has made possible for me. It’s not really feasible to develop tournament playskill if I only get to compete once every year or two, but If I continue to play Arena Limited well then I can play in these MIQ tournaments with some regularity. And if that’s the case, then I can start working on becoming the Player I Want to Be instead of just hoping to spike a tournament – all while sitting at home in sweatpants. What a world.
Mentally, I’ve given myself about a year. A year of playing whatever deck I enjoy or think is best and just accepting that I will make mistakes with them during tournament play.
The Player I Want to Be plays Rogues and so do I.
When I last played Standard, deck choices were Mardu Vehicles, Aetherworks Marvel, or BG Winding Constrictor. Riveting.
These days, Standard seems to be in a much better (Uro-less, Oko-less) place. There’s a plethora of competitively viable decks to choose from. Slow decks like Sultai Ultimatuum, fast decks like mono-red, kinda combo-ish decks like Winota, and handful of other respectable archetypes to choose from. Therefore, there are a variety of matchups and decks that one could face and should be prepared for.
Selecting the perfect build of a well-known deck is difficult so I will share my methodology with you. I look for the latest deck guide on CFB (subscription required -not affiliated with them. This is just honestly what I do), export to Arena, Import. I’ll look at other lists and tinker a little bit after playing games, but at first I just want something functional.
Having achieved Mythic ranking in April with this stock Rogues list, I felt pretty confident in my ability to pilot the deck. I’d watched PVDDR’s video on how to play the deck, read the deck guide update on CFB Pro (subscription required), and was winning a fairly large percentage of my games. Excellent – this is a deck for skilled pilots and I’m basically Maverick.
Given that the most recent winner of a Mythic Championship, Arne Huschenbeth, piloted Rogues en route to victory, watching his matches from the tournament seemed like a great way to confirm that I was already an ace with the deck and could go into the weekend confidently.
First turn of the first game: I would’ve played blue source, Ruin Crab. The Kaldheim Champion played a blue source and a Merfolk WindRobber.
I am a big ol’ dumb dumb. Not sure how I’ve ever won a game with this Rogues deck. What am I even doing with these 60 cards? It took all of two game actions for me to make a mistake. Not even two turns! Two game actions! Back to the drawing board.
Having lost so many games of Limited, I’ve become quite adept at identifying the factors that contributed to those losses. But that skill doesn’t translate to Constructed all that well. I’m not sure what the most important cards are in each matchup, can’t theorycraft it, and can’t extrapolate that information by playing a few games. I’d gotten to know the ins and outs of Rogues pretty well after grinding on the Arena ladder, but I didn’t feel like I understood my matchups or optimal lines against them better than I previously did. Unlike Limited, I can’t separate my decision from the result when playing Constructed – not in any meaningful way that would lead to improvement anyway. That being the case, I reached a point where I didn’t feel like I was learning very much playing games and consequently changed my approach.
It’s counterintuitive, but I actually played less Standard the week before the tournament. I found that my time was better utilized watching Arne’s Khaldheim Championship games or listening to coverage from League weekends. If you’re looking to improve a skill, it helps to find a model of an expert completing that task. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, and you want to make sure you’re piloting your deck as close to the Pros as possible (More on learning in this article: Listen). So watching really good players pilot Rogues helped me fill in some gaps I didn’t realize I had, and listening to the commentators gave me insights about what was important in each matchup. I found Paul Cheon’s analysis in particular to be fantastic.
Dimir Rogues has some flexible card slots that can be adjusted based on the meta you expect to see or player preference. Based on recent events and games I’d played, I expected to see a decent amount of mono-white and mono-red aggro, matchups which I’d been struggling to win, so I adjusted my list to give me a more favorable Game 1.
My tolerance for dead cards in hand is low, so the option to cycle away Suffocating Fumes was extremely appealing. It hits tons of relevant creatures against mono-red, mono-white, Winota decks, and Adventures.
Indestructible creatures had given me some trouble during testing so I wanted to diversify my suite of removal spells, replacing one Heartless Act with Flunk.
The previous versions of Rogues I played had four Of One Mind. It made sense because lack of card draw without Into the Story is one way that Rogues loses. Castle Lochthwain, however, is a much better solution to that problem. The land can draw multiple cards per game in some matchups, cutting two Of One Mind opened allowed room for more interactive cards, and I was thrilled with its inclusion.
The list in Reid’s article contained two Baleful Mastery but I found the second to be a little bit of a liability. Still, having a maindeck answer to Polukranos or other Escape creatures was great, and casting it for its alternate cost in response to Embercleave when necessary was often well worth letting my opponent draw an extra card.
Third Zagoth Triome
Cycling away suboptimal draws later in the game will always appeal to me, so I liked the adjustment of three Triomes and three Temples instead of the 4 Temple/2 Triome split. I often struggled with the decision to cycle or play a Triome in the midgame. Those are the times I’d love to pick someone like Arne’s brain to hear how he thinks about the decision.
Didn’t Say Please
Truthfully… I go back and forth on this card. There are games where I’m ecstatic to play the three mana counterspell, and games where I think “…. in the year 2021, I am playing Didn’t Say Please in a Constructed format. What. Am. I. Doing?”
Maybe should’ve been Essence Scatter? Frank Karsten’s analysis (subscription required) found maindeck Essence Scatter decks were particularly successful, so there’s a good argument that I should’ve maindecked it instead of Stroke. I felt most matchups, except mono-white, had enough good targets to warrant Disdainful Stroke’s inclusion but it’s definitely possible the creature counter would have been better.
Shores up matchups against aggressive decks and Lurrus can recur the enchantment. Dr. Karsten’s article noted that decks with access to Dead Weight in the sideboard have been particularly successful, and it’s easy to see why after playing with them.
Further shoring up those aggressive matchups. Also great against Adventures and Naya Showdown, though you need to be careful against the latter, as they have some Humans and Rogues that will survive if you choose the wrong creature type.
Cling to Dust
Oxen & Spiders & Zombie Hydras, oh my.
The crabs come out, the Shades go in depending on the matchup. Nice and easy for a sideboarding simpleton like me. An expert Rogues player can probably tell you why there’s three Shades instead of four. I can give you some shrugged shoulders and a sense of bewilderment.
Came in against all the controlling decks. Drown in the Loch’s flexibility gave me great comfort in sideboarding out most removal spells in exchange for counters in some matchups (though if we want to be results-oriented I sure could’ve used a way to kill an Elder Gargaroth in one sideboarded game).
The Player I Want To Be doesn’t rely on a Sideboard Guide during the tournament. The Player I am, however….
The Tournament: Day One
Here are the actual notes I wrote myself the week leading up to the tournament:
- Don’t play scared.
- Windrobber or crab first? THINK.
- Remember how good rogues are at attacking.
Nothing about individual card interactions, corner cases, or sideboard plans. Just big picture stuff.
Playing scared is a hurdle I overcame long ago in Limited but still persists when I play Constructed, apparently. When my opponent’s game actions tell me they don’t have Bury in Books in hand during a draft game, I attack confidently and just accept the small possibility that they got lucky enough to find it with their previous draw step. But those decisions are much more difficult for me in Constructed.
Example: I attacked for lethal with three Rogues into a lone Yorion on the battlefield. With Drown in the Loch in hand, I had the option to remove the flyer before blocks and win the game. “But what if they have Heartless Act in hand?”, my brain started to consider. Then I won’t have lethal on board, they might cast Emergent Ultimatuum on the next turn and I won’t have Drown in the Loch to counter it.
Fear of losing is a very real barrier to Magic success. With an apparent advantage on board and clear path to victory, my brain came up with all sorts of creative ways I could lose. Any objective observer, myself included, would have looked at my opponent’s game actions and concluded that they very obviously didn’t have anything in hand, nevermind the combination of cards I was envisioning. So I killed the flyer and got in for lethal. But it was so easy to think “Ya know what? I’ll play it safe because I’m ahead” and I’m horrified by how many games I probably used to lose with that mentality.
One thing I was sure of: when the tournament is over, I want to be able to say “I tried my best to win my games,” not “I did my best to beat everything my opponent could do.” I’ll be working on that in every tournament for the next year.
Saturday’s games felt like a dream. My seven card hands were pristine. I had pressure in matches where I needed it, and mill crabs in games where that was the plan. Drown in the Loch always seemed at the ready. The deck ran beautifully and I didn’t let fear of losing get in the way. Turn One plays were considered critically before being placed on the battlefield. And I, for sure, remembered how good Rogues are at attacking.
Wins: Sultai Ultimatuum x2, Naya Showdown, Jeskai Control, Doom Foretold, Temur Luuka, and a sweet Sultai Rogues list with Scavenging Ooze for win #7.
Losses: Rakdos Sacrifice.
Heading into the game that would potentially win me my seventh match, my thought was “Ok, your goal is to mill them. That’s how you win this matchup. You mill them.”
The Tournament: Day Two
On Sunday morning, I remarked to Mrs. Schaab that elite Magic players often describe a paradox about how much more you win after giving yourself permission to lose. I was ok with losing on Saturday and absolutely crushed. What a freeing feeling. “Ok,” said the universe, “let’s take this permission to lose, notarize it, laminate it, frame it, then hang it on the wall so you can look at it all day. Cuz’ losing is all you’re doing today, chief.” Ya know how the universe talks to you like a grandpa sometimes?
Look at how lucky my triple Ruin Crab hand was in the above picture: now imagine the opposite of that.
Losses: Sultai Ultimatum, Rogues, mono-Red
The Player I Want To Be has better luck on Sundays, y’all. The shuffler and I were such great friends on Saturday but somehow our relationship became tarnished overnight.
After losses, it’s common for players to resort to a version of “well, there was nothing I could do.” I genuinely believe that’s the case for my first match and maayyyyybe my third, but not my second – the Rogues mirror. Constructed isn’t my format so I’m not an expert on tournament preparation, but I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to play the mirror for the first time on Day 2.
The Player I Want To Be can overcome bad variance – future Schaab is so good – and maybe a presently great player like Arne could have found a way to overcome the issues that I experienced on Sunday, but I am far from that player. At this point in my Magic career, I fully accept that better players might have won games that I lost – games where I made the best decisions I could, lost, and walked away with a feeling of “eh, that game wasn’t winnable” because I couldn’t see the line to victory. I don’t know what I don’t know. My mono-blue deck could inexplicably draw all Plains and these days I’d still think “I bet PVDDR finds a way to win that game.”
So if I were a better player, there’s a universe where I win that Rogues mirror and write a tournament report about how I clawed back from 1-2 to win 7 matches on Sunday. The player I want to be writes Tournament Reports with winning endings – but I’m not him yet.
I ran hot on Saturday, got unlucky on Sunday, but it’s best not to focus on the luck part. The best players aren’t luckier than the rest of us. They experience bad variance just like I did, just like you do – but they continue to make optimal plays that give themselves the opportunity to win those games despite their bad luck. And when they get normal or good variance, the games can seem unfair because their skill level is so high. You need to play extremely well (and maybe get a little lucky) to beat the best Magic players. We all get unlucky – they just handle it differently.
MTG Hall of Famer and fellow paper boomer Raph Levy had some Twitter wisdom on Sunday night that I really needed to read after my losses.
Variance didn’t go my way on Sunday – the details don’t matter so I won’t write about them. Frank Karsten can double check my math, but my research approximates there are a bajillion ways to lose a game of Magic, so there’s no real point in focusing on whatever unique and unlikely one you happened to experience.
What matters, and was disappointing to learn, was that I got so frustrated after my first two match losses that I made small mistakes in my third match. They probably didn’t change the outcome at all, but reflecting on previous bad luck during a current game is an area I’ve worked on for a long time and must continue to work on.
Overall, I’m thrilled with this weekend’s performance. I overcame fear of losing when necessary, (mostly) played well after experiencing bad luck, and made my first MIQ Day 2 – a result I would’ve been more than happy without before the tournament’s outset.
Constructed Mythic Qualifier #2 is in the books for this Drafter, and a 50% Day Two conversion rate is more than acceptable (ignore my Day Two win percentage, please). The Player I Want To Be minimizes his mistakes so he gets opportunities to play against the world’s best – and that’s where my focus will be in next month’s MIQ.
The Player I Want to Be doesn’t have restrictions when it comes to tournament deck selection – he plays the best deck and plays it well. I’m closer to being that Player today, so Sunday was a good day despite a bad result. Figure out what kind of Magic Player you want to be and try to be a little bit more like them tomorrow than you are today. And maybe, just maybe, that player and Future Schaab will sit across the table from another someday at an all-limited Pro Tour. Because the player I really want to be is a Pro Tour Qualifier who has the chance to sit across from him opponents. He shuffles real Magic cards in his hands, carefully considers his lines, doesn’t rush, and when the time is right – he most definitely doesn’t play scared. He turns his creatures sideways, declares attackers, and goes for the win – just like he practiced.
Schaab is the writer and operator of LetsTalkLimited. He considers himself a Draft Enthusiast, Moderately Decent Rogues Player, and successful casual Magic player.
Thanks so much for reading! Tournament reports aren’t usually my style but these have been pretty fun. I’m very close to finalizing a comprehensive guide called “Be Boring: Drafting and Building Better Magic Decks” for Limited players. Once that’s done, I’ll write more about Strixhaven limited.
Raphael Levy’s piece of wisdom was particularly great to read because I’ve been watching his stream lately. My infant daughter wakes up at unspeakable times, so I’ve been catching streamers from other time zones. This American East Coaster has been watching Raph and Andrea Mengucci, who are both great and highly recommended.
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