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Optimal for me doesn’t have to mean optimal for you

January 10, 2012

It’s a recurring thing in Magic that players are constantly looking to play the best decks and play the optimal build of a chosen archetype. Players wants to win matches and hence there is an never ending quest of getting the highest EV possible out of your deck choice. If you are a competitive player at heart, this shouldn’t sound too unfamiliar.

Last year as I were testing for Nationals I had an epiphany regarding the chase of the “optimal” build of a given deck. Now, let me explain.


During the weeks before Nationals as I were testing out Standard, Pyromancer Ascension as a deck was constantly fluctuating in and out of my attention. I would get really psyched about the deck, play some games, do some “mental” playtesting, get uncertain and finally shelving the deck. I went through that cycle a bunch of times during those weeks.

During those weeks I chatted a lot with my friend (and the often mentioned) Per Nyström, who also was a big fan of the deck. He had like I some good results with the deck and was impressed by how the deck fared against the field but was also uncertain about the deck like I was. To try to make some headway about finding a conclusion about the deck we joined cause and exchanged our lists we both more or less swore by.

I got to say that we both were quite befuddled when we looked at each others lists, at least I was. The majority of the decklists were off course very similar as Standard at the time didn’t offer too many choices of what you could play in your Ascension deck. But the differences was in the context quite huge.

The difference in our lists was were I was playing 2 copies of Deprive and 2 copies of Call to Mind, Per was running a full set of Arc Trail. For a deck like Pyromancer Ascension this is a change of magnitude of the difference of night and day. Hence, a heated discussion followed about which approach was better. We both had similar results with our decklists and it stands to reason that one approach had to be better than the other, right?

After we had been nagging on each other for a while, a thought came to my mind that we both could be right. I came to that thought by first coming to the realization that people plays decks and cards differently (note that differently doesn’t have to imply worse!). We all have some more or less unique touch in our gaming that leads us to different results and opinions while playing with certain cards and certain decks.

So, in the context of the Pyromancer Ascension story I felt so strong about Deprive and Call to Mind because when I was playing the deck I was playing basically a crappy blue-red control deck, just stalling and cantripping my way through games until I reached the point where my Pyromancer Ascension got up to 2 counters and at that point every spell in the deck turned to pure gold.

On the other hand Per wasn’t playing a crappy blue-red control deck like I was. He was playing a glorified burn deck with a combo finish. He didn’t intend to be more controlling in games than he had to and rather focused on leaving his opponent dead.

With that in mind the differences in our decklists suddenly made perfect sense. 4 Arc Trail wasn’t supporting my gameplan like I felt Deprive and Call to Mind did. On Per side, playing these extra counterspells and late game cards didn’t make sense at all because he wasn’t planning on going so deep in each game.

The moral of the story and the answer to the everlong question of is there such a thing as a optimal deck is yes…but only relatively.

The lesson I want you to take with you from this blogpost is when you are looking on decklists online and contemplating on exactly what cards you should be running in your version of deck X, be careful and think about the lists and the cards on your own. Don’t be a monkey and simply ctrl+c a decklist online and expect to do well with it in a tournament the next day. Copying a list or some sideboard notes is a great starting point. But as I pointed out with the story above, what is optimal for the guy posting the decklist doesn’t have to mean it is optimal for you. The list you copied should rarely be the final product you take to the heat of battle.

Why I haven’t written about this epiphany earlier is beyond me. I think it must have gotten lost in the shuffle as there was a bunch of stuff happening right after Nationals if I recall correctly. And somehow it just got back to me now. So there you have it.

As a final note, I’m not claiming any original rights about this philosophy in any ways so please keep that sort of flaming to yourself. I’m quite sure many others have expressed similar ideas although in different shapes and context. It’s nevertheless an interesting philosophy that I think is very valuable to have in mind to get the most of the process of picking decks to play and figure out exactly what sort of build you end up running of said deck.

Have a good one,


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2012 17:13

    Who are the leading online players I should follow to obtain an idea of how to play?

  2. January 28, 2012 01:09

    The Brewery: Gathering the Townsfolk by Justin Vizaro – published on 1/24/2012Justin is convinced that Haunted Humans is *the* deck to play right now, and short of banning Seachrome Coast, it’s only getting better. Inside Justin goes over our latest Dark Ascension additions and how much better the deck becomes with them!

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