Monday, August 22, 2011

deck choice (a response to pvddr)

There is a very good chance that you are not Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Not only, chances are, do you not have his sweet name, you are not as successful a player as PV. This means that you are under no obligation to choose a deck for your next tournament in the same way that PV does.

His latest article was titled “What Makes A Good Deck Good?”, but it wasn’t about that. It was about the factors that affect PV’s decision to play a deck. I’m not going to hold an inaccurate article name against him too much since a) it’s an eye-catching title, b) he might not have chosen it himself, c) I wrote “why i want to fuck mark rosewater.”

“There are many decks that will simply fold to anyone who leaves home with the mindset that they will beat you, and I don’t think a deck like that is usually optimal.”

PV likes to play decks that don’t have any truly terrible matchups, and have answers to every possible threat (usually, but not always, control decks). This next sentence is important. Feeling like you control the outcome of a game of Magic is not the same thing as controlling the outcome. PV specifically calls out Manaless Dredge as a deck he’d never play, since it auto-loses to Leyline of the Void. It's the pinnacle of The Fear, enemy of everyone who plays either combo or any linear strategy that can be specifically hosed. The issue with his approach is that it means he’s fundamentally opposed to playing any combo deck that isn’t completely degenerate. Hypergenesis, if it wasn’t banned in Modern, would certainly auto-lose to any player with enough specific hate, like Chalice of the Void, Ethersworn Canonist, or even countermagic. Yet it’s banned anyway, because requiring players to sideboard specific cards to be able to beat a specific archetype is rather silly. When it comes to tournament performance, it doesn’t matter whether you lost that match because they guy set out specifically to beat you, or because it’s a 60% matchup and you happened to run smack into the 40%.

“Being 100% versus 60% of the decks and 0% against the other 40% is much worse than being 60% versus the entire field, since you need a lot better than 60% to do well in a tournament and with the second kind of deck your playskill will be much more important, as opposed to pairings – again, why leave your fate to something you have no control over when you have a choice?”

Pro players see a 60% matchup differently than the rest of us. If I say I have a 60% matchup against something, I’d expect to win roughly six out of ten matches. Complex, isn’t it. When PVDDR talks about his 60% matchup, he translates that in his head into “I’d need to fuck up pretty bad in order to lose that in a tournament.” Statistically, the quote in the above paragraph is just nonsense. If you have a matchup that is honest-to-god 60%, you’re going to win about 60% of your matches, and it’s exactly the same as the 100%/0%. There are two ways it’s different: one is, as mentioned above, it’s 60% for us plebeians and ridiculously good for pro players. In which case, be honest and say that. The other difference is how the games feel. Playing The Rock or any other deck that 50/50s everything, most games one loses are going to feel like it was just that close, like you only needed that one more turn or one different card in order to turn the game around. This doesn’t mean that you actually could have.

Regardless of what deck you choose, fate dictates a large amount of the outcome, and in a game with a random element, there’s really no way around that. Even if we could create KaiFinkVargasBot3000 that makes the technically correct play every time and plays the best possible deck at every tournament, they’ll still mulligan to four, or face a bad matchup, or get out-drawn by the twelve year-old kid. Choosing a deck, in many ways, is choosing what you want to lose to. PV has chosen that he doesn’t want to lose to hate cards or a truly unwinnable matchup; instead, he’ll lose to getting worse draws than his opponents. And there’s nothing wrong with that decision.

This is the part that y’all should pay attention to again: the real way for anyone to choose the best deck to play at any tournament. First, find a way to narrow down the field to a manageable number of decks that are reasonable. A reasonable deck is one that has been posting good results, or, if it’s a mostly uncharted format, goes about 50/50 on balance with the expected field. How exactly to narrow down a field is a whole other article, so let’s assume you have that group. Now, play some matches and find the deck that you enjoy playing the most. Playtest the hell out of it. This isn’t some, “Magic is a game so enjoy yourself” nonsense; this is the best way to win a tournament. If you enjoy the deck you’re piloting, you’ll be more willing to put in the extra hours testing, tuning, tweaking, sideboarding, and discussing. You’ll wake up in the morning and look forward to hopping on MODO to grind Daily Events. That extra work is what decides tournaments. You’ll also playtest harder. You’ll care more about each game, because you’ll want to prove how great the deck is that you’re enjoying. (N.B. this isn’t a justification for people to play awful pet decks and expect them to win tournaments. It still has to be a reasonable choice. Is your pet deck a reasonable choice? Maybe.)

In the end, what makes us play specific decks has way more to do with personal preference, style, and having fun than most serious players want to admit. Look at the massive amount of headshaking and justification that it took PV to bring a white weenie deck to a tournament where it was far and away better than anything else. It’s not a coincidence that Chapin almost always goes for awkward-looking blue control decks, Nelson and Ross play aggro, and Ari Lax plays Storm tournament after tournament. People play what they want, and they’ll do best that way.

Since this is a criticism article, people will probably expect some vicious takedown of PV’s style. Here it is: he uses too many exclamantion points. Ooohhhh buuurn, take THAT.


Post a Comment