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An Article On How To Read Articles


Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

An Article On How To Read Articles

Hey everyone! As you might have already guessed from the name of this article, today we’re going to talk about something a bit different than usual. In the majority of my recent articles, I tried to analyze changes and trends in formats like Standard and Modern, bring you decklists that define these changes, as well as some non-mainstream brews with a lot of innovation. Today, I’m going to take a step back from all the data mining and decklist hunting in order to take a look at the topic of dealing with Magic-related information in general.

Wizards has recently announced that they would no longer publish all the decklists from the Daily Events on Magic Online, because this source of information – in their opinion – contributes massively to formats being solved very shortly every time after a new set is released. I’m a bit skeptical that this restriction will have the desired effect – as much as I understand this decision and would like to see formats take more time to stabilize than a couple of weeks, I think that this is only going to restrict the MTGO Daily Events website as a source of information and players will likely cope with this change and draw from different sources of data. The only change is that whoever wants to browse through a bigger sample of decklists will have to put in more effort and look for other sources. That’s why today, I would like to take a closer look at this process and the ins and outs of it. Adrian Posoiu already touched on the subject of Wizards stopping most of the MTGO decks going public in this article. I’m going to take on this topic from a more general point of view. One information source is going to be strangulated. So where do we get the information from? And – perhaps even more importantly – what do we do with the information? Where and how do we look for what we need?

Information Overload

Even with the Wizards MTGO Daily Events site restricted, there are still plenty of websites with decklist databases and various information regarding the ever-changing formats of Magic. In fact, there’s actually a huge information overload and you couldn’t possibly go through all the interesting data sources, unless you wanted to turn that into your full-time job. In this regard, the information ban by Wizards will only cause people looking for information in more places, not just one major source that’s constantly rolling out decklists, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week (except for the downtime, of course). I still remember how scarce up-to-date data used to be when I started playing Magic competitively, some twelve years ago. Back then, there was such a lack of information that every single piece of strategy advice or deck tech was extremely valuable. Because of the huge delay in obtaining information, testing was much more beneficial. People used to read about new decks in the Sideboard magazine, which was distributed to local stores and at big international tournaments like Grand Prix and Pro Tours. You can imagine that it takes some time from collecting the information, to editing and printing the magazine, and finally delivering the information to the local players. The data was not exactly „fresh“, but it was still worth reading thoroughly and taking into account during the testing sessions.

Information Dealer
Onslaught (Foil)

Today, the situation is obviously completely different, as I’ve already mentioned. So where to go now when you want to find the right decklist for an upcoming tournament? Well, that depends a good deal on several things: what time of the season it is (Magic-wise), how familiar you are with the format and how mainstream you want your information to be.

The first criteria that I have set is „what time of the season it is“. By this, I don’t mean what time of the year it is – Magic cards don’t really care if it’s summer or winter and burn spells are certainly not going to work any worse when it’s January and it’s freezing outside. By „season“, I mean mostly if there has been a major tournament with the world’s brightest and most innovative minds involved or not. Pro Tours are now held right after the release of a new set and they are generally what define the starting shape of a format. Also, the coverage tends to contain pretty much every kind of information you could ask for. If there’s no Pro Tour in a particular format after a rotation, it takes a bit more time for the format to take off and we’re also left with less high-profile decklists. But as long as there has been a PT recently, the database of decklists provided there is golden and definitely what you should be looking at. And if there hasn’t been any Pro Tour recently, then you need to look elsewhere for decklists. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The second criteria that I’ve set is how familiar you are with the given format. If you haven’t been playing this format for a longer time and want to get a grasp of what’s important, what’s going on, then it’s good to try to browse as many decklists as possible. The Wizards web page with Daily Events has been perfect for this (and still will be, to some extent), but any page with bigger concentration of lists will do – be it results of a Grand Prix, SCG Open or PTQs. There are plenty of websites that provide these decklists and you can easily find various examples of such sites if you type something like „mtg decklist database“ into Google. It doesn’t really matter where you find these lists, but the important thing, when you’re not very familiar with the format, is to look for patterns in the lists, for things that are crucial in the format. Do the decks play a lot of removal? Countermagic? Big creatures or small creatures? What are the most widely played threats? This doesn’t apply only for constructed. If you want to familiarize yourself with a draft format, the easiest way how to do it is to launch one of the countless draft simulators (like bestiaire) and get as many „drafts“ as possible under your belt. It won’t teach you how to draft like Jon Finkel, but you’ll be able to get a feel of the format, which can come in really handy, for example if you’re going for your first draft with a certain set when it has been out for some time already and everybody else has a headstart.

The third criterion that I’ve set is “how mainstream you want your information to be”. If you’re not familiar with a format, you’re generally looking for the most „mainstream“ information possible. You’re interested in what the majority is playing. But if you already know what the format is about, then you might not be interested in the mainstream information anymore. Generally speaking, „the more mainstream“ equals „the more tested version of a deck“, but on the other hand, the less mainstream sources often have much more innovation in them, which can be useful when you’re trying to approach a format from a new angle. You can also find some „non-mainstream“ pieces of information in the huge decklist databases, but it takes a lot work to do that – it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. So of course there are ways how to make all the work a bit easier. When I’m looking for a bit of outside-of-the-box thinking, I usually do it in two ways: either I browse a large sample of decklists, just as if I was trying to familiarize myself with a format, but instead of looking for the patterns and things the decks have in common, I look for cards that stand out. It’s easy to do once you know what is „normal“ – you then just look for everything else. The second way how to look for hidden gems is to search specifically in places where the reliability might be lower, but the density of new ideas is higher. A good example of such a site could be a website called „Magic League“, but you can also browse through articles of people known for their tendencies to innovate – Travis Woo, Patrick Chapin... Again, googling comes in handy here, especially if you already have an idea of what you’re looking for: someone else’s take on a wacky build you’re carrying in your head, a brand new sideboard tech that nobody has yet thought of... Things are always easier when you already know what you want to find.

Super Secret Tech

Browsing decklists is an important source of information, but of course it’s not the only one. Just by reading (and copying) a decklist, you’re by no means guaranteed to have a successful tournament. Unless what you’re bringing to the tournament is a straightforward burn deck where all you need to do is find in which direction the opponent is headed and then fling all your burn spells that way, you also need to practice with the deck before you can reasonably expect to win more often than not. Testing is the best way to improve with a certain deck, but testing takes time and sometimes time is not what you can invest. Fortunately, you can let others do the testing for you and then learn what you need the quick way. Reading articles can obviously help here, but there are other ways as well. The upcoming changes in the Magic Online decklist publishing strategy fortunately won’t change anything about MTGO replays, and watching replays from daily events is something that I really recommend if you want to know not only what decks people play in a given format, but also how these decks stack up against each other, and how the matchups play out. Personally, I usually find this even more helpful than reading articles. And if not helpful, at least more time-saving, since you can easily watch enough matches to familiarize yourself with most usual matchups in a format in less time that you would need to read everything necessary about it. And you can also „accidentally“ come across some interesting tech that you otherwise wouldn’t find, something seemingly insane, like playing Evil Twin against Thragtusk (I’ve actually seen this some time ago and was pretty impressed).

If you’re not a fan of Magic Online and don’t want to be watching replays there, of course there are other ways how to get to know a certain deck before setting off to a tournament (or even before buying the cards necessary to play it). Magic Workstation / Cockatrice are good tools for people who are not terribly fond of MTGO (or who don’t have that big of a card pool there), either in the „solitaire“ mode – to find out if the deck is consistent and what you can expect from a regular draw, or in a testing session with somebody else. Either way, in most cases, doing some small research online on any deck that you want to run can’t possibly hurt.

That’s all from me for today. Next time, I will be back with a fresh batch of decklists, back to analyzing the twists and turns of the metagame. I hope that you enjoyed today’s little excursion into the realms of theory. May you always find the decklist that you’re looking for on the internet and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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