Hey everybody! We’re just 9 days away from the ARG Circuit Series in Fort Worth! I hope you are all super excited for this awesome opportunity to expand competitive play. With over $10,000 in prizes, this tournament is sure going to be worth coming out for!
Way back in January I brought you an article called “Understanding Relationships.” The article dealt primarily with in game relationships, that is patterns that emerge the more you play certain matchups. In it I talked about the different types of games that a Wind-Up mirror could produce. Understanding which type of game you were playing was important in identifying when the most effective time to play certain cards was. In a certain type of Wind-Up game, you may want to play Heavy Strom for an immediate plus 1 to take an early advantage, but in a more grindy game Heavy Storm is the trump card that would end the game and using it for a simple plus 1 would be a poor decision. To read the full article, you can click the title above. This week I have a follow up article. That article focused on understanding relationships during in game play and this one will focus on understanding relationships during deck building and side decking.
Near the end of the summer last year, I made a huge realization. I realized that I was side decking completely wrong. I was playing in top 8 of my local tournament. I was playing Chaos Dragons. My opponent, Ben Leverett, was playing Rescue Rabbit. He opened game 1 with a very strong hand of Rescue Rabbit and Tour Guide from the Underworld. Game 2 came and my opening hand was complete garbage. It was something along the lines of 2 Forbidden Chalice, Dust Tornado, and some Dragons. Ben had a completely average hand, but was able to take the game with relative ease due to how poorly I had drawn. At first I brushed it off as a run of bad luck. Oh, he drew Rabbit Tour Guide game 1 and I drew completely unplayable game 2? I certainly couldn’t have played the game any differently. Welcome to the average player’s mentality.
I began to de-side deck. I took out the 3 Mystical Space Typhoon, 3 Forbidden Chalice, 2 Soul Taker, and 2 Dust Tornado I had put in. At the time, this side deck made perfect sense to me. There were two big problems that Macro Rabbit gave Chaos Dragons; Macro Cosmos and Evolzar Dolkka. I sided in 3 Mystical Space Typhoon and 2 Dust Tornado to deal with Macro and 3 Forbidden Chalice and 2 Soul Taker to deal with Dolkka (and Laggia). You side and deal with the problem cards. That’s what I thought at the time, simple as that.
You certainly do want to have an adequate amount of outs to problem cards like Macro Cosmos. The problem is when you have too many. In the average Chaos Dragon deck, you played 3 Ryko and 3 Lyla from the base. You also played a Charge of the Light Brigade to search it. Now you’re siding in 3 MST and 2 Dust Tornado. That’s 12 cards you have to deal with Macro Cosmos (you’ll see shortly why I am still counting Charge even though it’s not actually an out since you can’t activate it under Macro).
There are actually a couple of different problems with having this. The first problem with this is clogging. In terms of killing Macro Cosmos all of these cards do the same thing. If you’ve got 12 of them in a 40 card deck, you’ve got a 90% chance of drawing at least 1 of them in your opening hand. You’ve got a 59% chance of drawing at least 2 of them. You’ve got a 24% chance of drawing 3 of them and you’ve got a 5% chance of drawing 4 of them. The math comes from here. If they are also playing a 40 card deck, they’ve only got a 39% chance of drawing at least 1 copy of Macro Cosmos. Ideally, I’d like at least 1 answer to it in my opening hand. Well since I get at least 1 answer 90% of the time, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that by having 12 outs, I’ll generally have at least 1 in my opening hand. What happens when I have 2 though? It wouldn’t be bad to draw MST and Dust Tornado together in your opening hand against Macro Rabbit, but it becomes slightly less ideal. If they don’t draw Macro whatsoever then it becomes even less ideal. Now what happens when you draw Lyla, MST, and Dust Tornado in your opening hand? Now you’ve got three outs to a card that they have a greater chance of not having. Certainly it’s not the end of the world as these cards aren’t dead and there are plenty of other cards that you are able to hit, but it’s not ideal. If you have 3 cards in your opening hand that all serve the same purpose, you’ve only got 3 other cards in your hand to actually advance your gamestate.
To expand on this point a bit, I’d like to give a more recent example. A lot of people asked me why I didn’t play Maxx “C” in my deck from Toronto. I explained to them that Maxx “C” serves the same purpose as any other defensive card I play whether it be Bottomless, Warning, Book of Moon, or Vanity’s Emptiness. Just as the Dusts and MSTs, they all serve the same purpose and don’t advance my gamestate. I’d love to have 1 defensive card in my opening hand. That means I have 5 other cards that allow me to advance my gamestate. Most people might be like “Oh great, I have Warning and Bottomless!” I see it slightly differently. In order to have a second defensive card, I can now only have 4 potential cards that advance my gamestate while the two defensive cards do essentially the same thing. Because of this, I have become significantly less fond of three ofs even when they seem extremely powerful. I have gravitated more towards two ofs and even one ofs. You really just don’t need that many cards that serve the same purpose. It takes away from the cards that further your gamestate.
On a related note I want to talk about how you actually side deck. As I said above, in the match that I played against Ben I sided in 10 cards to deal with the cards that I saw as problems. The problem with this, is that if I side in 10 cards, I have to side out 10 cards.
A very popular idea regarding siding is that you should decrease the dependency you have on your primary engine to make cards that your opponent sides against you less effective. I’m here to tell you that that is wrong. When I was playing Wind-Ups I used to say that you win with Wind-Ups by doing Wind-Up things. Because of this, I never sided out any Factories, Magicians, or Rats. I wanted the maximum number of Wind-Up cards because I wanted to keep my engine as consistent as possible. The same thing is true with Dragunitys. If I’m siding 10 cards in, please tell me 10 cards I can side out that won’t mess with the consistency of my deck? If I take out Cards of Consonance, Upstart Goblin, a Dragon, a Sword, Reckless Greed, or whatever card would further the my gamestate I am hurting my engine. I’m going to win with my deck by doing what my deck is supposed to do. If you’re siding in a card like Royal Decree that does nothing to actually put you ahead in the game in terms of advancing your combo, then don’t side out a card like Upstart in its place. Essentially:
DON’T SIDE OUT COMBO CARDS FOR NON COMBO CARDS
Instead, take out a card like Bottomless Trap Hole for the Royal Decree. Bottomless isn’t advancing your gamestate so you won’t be weakening your engine if you side it out for another card that also does not help your engine. Because of this, I tend to only side 3-4 cards a matchup now instead of 8-10 like I was doing last summer.
I have a very good example of this happening in real life. If you haven’t watched my finals match from this year’s WCQ, I encourage you to check it out. Realistically, David Keener drew very poorly games 1, 2 and 3. Had he even drawn average even just 1 of those games it is very likely that he would have been your North American Champion. Was it just bad luck on his part? Sure, game 1. Game 2 and 3 I saw Compulsory Evacuation Device, Mind Drain, and Mystical Space Typhoon. That’s 9 cards that he sided in. Please tell me 9 cards that you would side out in a Spellbook deck to not weaken the consistency of the deck? While I can’t say for sure, it is likely that he sided out cards like Crescent or Upstart Goblin. Had he instead drawn one of these cards that would further his gamestate instead of a card that did not, it is likely that he would have been able to quickly develop his game plan and in all likelihood could have won. I’m sure in terms of technical play he played just fine, but it doesn’t seem like he gave himself the best chance at playing the game his deck is supposed to play. Had he done that, things might have wound up differently.
When it comes to deck building and side decking, less is more. I guarantee this realization was the single biggest determining factor for me to go from bubbling almost every event in 2012 to having the most tops in the game in 2013. There was no significant increase in my technical play ability. I might have slightly improved, but not enough for those kind of results. Before, I was playing my hands just fine. I just wasn’t giving myself the best chance at a good hand. My hands were full of cloggy cards that didn’t advance my gamestate and do what my deck was trying to accomplish. It always seemed like I would get so unlucky at a crucial time, but in reality I was just side decking wrong and it was catching me where it mattered. It took me a long time to learn this so I urge you to not make the same mistakes that I did. Give yourself the best chances you possibly can at a good hand. I look forward to seeing you all in Texas in just 9 days! Until next time, play hard or go home!