Deckbuilding and Tournament Structure

Hey everybody! Last week I talked about the contradictions that Djinn created in terms of deckbuilding and technical play for Nekroz. This week I’m back with the other half of the problem; the contradictions created from the various other floodgates present in the current format.


vanity's emptinessThese are cards like Mistake, Anti-Spell Fragrance, Vanity’s Emptiness, and Lose 1 Turn. All of these cards are exceptional against Nekroz, but they come with their own set of problems when using them and building to get around them.


If you’re not playing Nekroz, it may seem very obvious that you want to include whichever of these floodgates that your deck can support. But if you’re building to go into an 11 round tournament, is that the case? Nekroz may be the best and most-played deck, but it doesn’t really make up more than maybe half the decks in the meta. That means if you have a card like Mistake or Anti-Spell Frangrance in your main deck, you have to deal with drawing it when you get paired up against Shaddolls, Satellarknights, or any other deck that they won’t be optimal against.


This choice should play an equally important role if you are playing Nekroz. You have to acknowledge that, whether or not it is correct to play those floodgates in the main deck, it is commonly done. Do you try to out them the first game? It may seem obvious that given the choice between losing to them game 1 or not losing to them game 1, you would chose to not lose to them game 1, but it is not that straightforward of a decision.


MysticalSpaceTyphoon-LCYW-EN-ScR-1ELet’s say you include Mystical Space Typhoon in your deck to avoid losing to Mistake or Anti-Spell Frangrance game 1. Those Typhoons may be excellent when you play against the decks playing the floodgates, but what happens when you play against the mirror? The mirror likely plays no trap cards, so any time you get paired up to a mirror match, you’ll be lucky to get any value out of it. Most of the time, it’ll be a card in your hand that won’t be able to do anything with.


So what’s optimal for both non-Nekroz players and Nekroz players? Do you main deck the floodgates and accept that they’ll be subpar in roughly half of your matchups, if you’re not playing Nekroz? Do you try and counter them by main decking cards like Mystical Space Typhoon and accept that they’ll be subpar when you play mirror matches, if you are playing Nekroz?


I think the right answer depends on what your goal with the deck your building is. Now of course, you want to win the tournament that you’re playing in. But the tournament structure largely dictates the best way to approach this.


Let’s say your deckbuilding for a typical American YCS. These events are draft once you hit the top 16. That means that you need to go x-2 for the 12 rounds up to that point. That’s a significant difference if you’re building a deck to make it to the World Championship. There, you need to go x-2 for 11 rounds, but then can’t lose for at least three rounds, then if you lose the fourth, must win the fifth. If you want to actually win the WCQ, you have to win all six rounds once you make it to top cut.


What do these various tournament structures and performance targets mean for deckbuilding? You can actually use the two losses you’re allowed to get in swiss as a guide to how you should build your deck. Logically, if Nekroz is the most played and best deck, they will likely be the most represented deck in top cut. This has been the case every single event since their release back in February. If you’re building to win the tournament, playing a card like MST in your main deck might help you make it through the swiss rounds at x-2, but it likely won’t help you very much once you reach top cut. If you’re content with making it to top cut, it might make sense to main the Typhoons and just side deck cards for the mirror match, but the increased chance of making it to top cut comes with the increased risk of not actually winning the tournament once you make it that far.


So let’s say you choose to exclude a card like MST from your main deck when you’re playing Nekroz. If you get paired up against five or six Nekroz decks in swiss, you’ll be at an advantage by not having to draw it, but you’ll put yourself at a disadvantage the five or six rounds you don’t play against Nekroz, if they do main some type of floodgate.


Two things are working in your favor, should you choose to put yourself at a disadvantage against these other decks. The first is that you are allowed two losses in swiss. Just because you are putting yourself at a disadvantage against these decks, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll lose to them. They may not even be playing a floodgate. If they are playing a floodgate, they may not draw it. If you’re playing MST to counter their floodgate, you may not have even drawn it to counter their floodgate. It may cost you a game one against these decks here and there, which may be the difference between whether or not you win the entire match, but you’re allowed to lose twice. Is the MST going to be the difference three separate times throughout swiss?


The second thing that you have going for you if you choose to take this disadvantage, is that you’re still playing the better deck. It’s easier to beat inferior decks in a match if we assume you lose more game 1s to them than it would be to beat a superior deck in a match if we assume that you lose more game 1s.



By excluding the counters to the floodgates, you lessen your chances of making it to top cut, but increase your chances of actually winning the tournament should you make it that far. Similarly, if you’re not playing Nekroz, you risk drawing the floodgates vs. non-Nekroz and decrease your chances of making it to top cut, but increase your chances of actually winning the tournament if you do make it that far. It’s higher risk and higher reward.


If you’re building just to make it to the draft section of a tournament, you want to maximize your chances of making it through swiss. In this case, you want to main counters to floodgates if you are playing floodgates. It’s likely worth it now to main MST since you don’t have to worry about putting yourself at the disadvantage of playing lots of mirror matches once you make it to top cut. If you’re not playing Nekroz, you don’t need the advantage playing floodgates will provide if top cut were constructed and you would be playing vs. mostly Nekroz decks.


The structure of the tournament and what you’re trying to accomplish in the tournament with your deck is something that’s rarely talked about and thus is poorly understood by many, but it plays a huge role in optimizing deckbuilding. I hope to see you all in a couple of weeks at the ARG Circuit Series in St. Louis. How do you think the structure of ARGs affects optimal deckbuilding, where you have to go x-1 in swiss and then x-0 in top cut to win? Leave a comment down below and see if you can apply what was said about YCS vs. WCQ tournament structure that I talked about in this article to the Circuit Series. Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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