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By: CalmLittleBuddy, Christopher M. Dansereau
Jan 27 2015 1:00pm
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Birthing Pod


Lesson Sixteen of Tournament Preparation: Never Trust the Man!

I have to have a moment. Indulge me. The tournament I'm preparing for is Standard, but I have spent a lot of time and money on Modern. I did so because, as one famous beginner's article about MtGO states, Modern never changes that much. The most I was ever supposed to do was pick up a few cards here and there. Some at a substantial price yes, but essentially nothing as dramatic as what Standard requires for an investment of resources and time buying and learning new decks.

I picked Birthing Pod, specifically Melira Pod, as the deck I would build and learn to play. I wanted a deck that would get substantially better with the amount of time I put into learning it. It wasn't because Pod was dominant, and I continued to play it through all the ups and downs of the past year. I slowly saved and traded my way into the Noble Hierarchs, Verdant Catacombs, Misty Rainforests, etc. etc. until I had a near ideal list. I played it before even having all of those cards. Ever try playing Pod with Elvish Mystic in the Noble Hierarch slot? I did for weeks.

I spent a month deciding if I was even going to invest in Pod. It was expensive! I read all the ban speculation and was aware that it could happen. I figured it was unlikely and worth the risk.

The closest I came to selling my Pod Deck was when Jeskai Ascendancy decks with Fatestitcher became popular. Delver of Secrets was everywhere. Storm, Scapeshift, and any Blue deck running (Teasure Cruise) or Dig Through Time had a legit shot of blowing me up if I didn't draw out perfect, play perfect and be allowed to play and protect Birthing Pod. The question, for me, became 'Can Treasure Cruise/Dig Through Time consistently defeat Birthing Pod?'. The answer was yes, but not in the way I envisioned.

The murderer is...
Treasure Cruise
Treasure Cruise. In the Library. With the Ban Hammer.


I thought if Pod were to be destroyed, it would be on the table, deck vs. deck, in a war of attrition. Never did I imagine that it would be defeated in a DCI meeting, over donuts and Mountain Dew. Because Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time came in, warped the meta in Modern, and eventually got banned, Birthing Pod had to be banned too. Pod survived and even thrived through the Blue Menace of Cruise and Dig, thanks in part to Siege Rhino (MY HERO!!!). Removing Cruise and Dig took away some of the main threats to the Pod decks. Wizards knew that without the Blue Meanies, Pod would be too dominant. I get it. Plus, it sure keeps the player who lost Cruise and Dig from complaining. You can still at least play UR Delver without Cruise/Dig. It's not as good, sure, but the deck is still there. You can play Storm. You can't play a Pod list without Pod. Banning Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time certainly makes decks that play them worse. Banning Birthing Pod eliminates the deck entirely.

The reason Wizards gave for the ban was that if Pod remained, every time new and powerful creatures are printed, Pod would get better than the other possible creature decks by default. That's bull. The manabase for Pod is tight. The slots are precious. Wizards used Siege Rhino as their example. Well, duh! Siege Rhino is a Green Black White, four mana creature with life gain, life drain and trample in a 4/5 body. OF COURSE IT'S GOOD IN POD! It's good in Jello, for crying out loud! If the Green mana for Siege Rhino was Red, it wouldn't be in Pod. It's like they custom built a creature that was perfect for Pod. It's like printing a 4/5 Trample Kitchen Finks minus the persist, for crying out loud. They say printing 'powerful creatures' makes Pod that much more dominant. No. Printing creatures like Siege Rhino makes Pod more dominant.

Butcher of the Horde

Is this guy in Pod lists?

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

How about this guy?

Soul of Theros

This guy?

Hornet Queen


Pearl Lake Ancient

Uhhhh, nope.

If Wizards R&D spent a little time testing in Modern before releasing cards, maybe they'd know which creatures they intend to print make Pod Decks more dominant and could either crank them down a notch or ramp up their cost. Or, I don't know, print cards to deal with them. It's so disingenuous to say Pod is banned because other creature decks can't incorporate the powerful creatures as easily as Pod can. I think Birthing Pod was banned to push business back to Standard, back to the print market. Right before Fate Reforged released. It's not a coincidence. Just my opinion.



I know it's a weak comparison, but what if they banned Scapeshift? Can you play a Scapeshift deck without it? How many of the cards are still usable in a similar deck? By banning a card like Scapeshift or Birthing Pod, you're banning an entire deck. You're deflating the value of at least 15 key cards, counting duplicates, but not even counting the fetch lands because honestly fetch lands are always useful and exist in many decks. Wizards took a 30% block of Modern players and instantly reduced their collection value by around $200, probably more, in the hopes they will sell their Pod lists and buy Fate Reforged packs to play in Pre-release and release events.

Let's put that aside. Let's say the ban was inevitable. They know it's going to hurt a third of their Modern players. Was there anything they could have done to soften the blow?

Standard Rotation gives every player the option to divest themselves of expensive cards that will rotate out months before the value drops. Ban Notices gives no time. Poof. Bye bye. With Dig and Cruise, that's not a huge deal. We're talking a few dollars. With Birthing Pod, there were rumblings. Sure, I could have sold my Pod list before the ban based on those rumors. Then, let's say Pod doesn't get banned but The Blue Bombs do. I have my money, but my deck is gone and skyrockets out into a land where I pay a premium to get back into it. Either way this shakes out, I have a good chance of being screwed.

Why can't they give us a 1 month warning on bans? The prices would initially drop, but folks would still play those cards for the month, maybe buy into them short term to win some events, keeping the price higher. That would give folks like me a window to get out without losing a ton of cash. My Mono Black Standard cards from last year are an example. I had right up until a week before rotation to get out for decent value. A one month notice on Bans would allow for a chance to sell at a better value.

I can imagine all the "Are you crazy?" responses folks may have to this suggestion, but it's fine for Standard. It should be even more relevant for Modern. Modern is a more expensive initial investment, and a format with the implied promise that you don't have to buy a brand new deck every few months. 1 out of every 3 Modern players had to play a guessing game with their collection. If we had advance notice, we could control our fall, sell at a decent time and Wizards still gets to grab the cash on their new release.

"Oh come on...
Taunting Elf
We all knew Pod was getting banned!"

Thanks, Legolas. Some folks have said to me, "We all knew Pod was too good and was getting banned eventually." No. We didn't. It had made it this far. It was established. It was a hard deck to play that rewarded preparation and innovation when new threats arose. No one 'knew' it was getting banned. People guessed it was getting banned and were right for the first time since the emergence of Pod decks. That's not knowing anything. That's guessing an outcome until you're proven right and then saying "I told you so" when it finally happens. If I predict a blizzard in New England mid January, one year I am going to be right. It doesn't mean I buy 50 crates of bottled water and pile cans of Dinty Moore up to the ceiling on New Years Day (no, that's what I do for Easter).

As a side note, the childish glee some prominent pundits expressed over the past week turned me off. Hating Birthing Pod doesn't mean you should be glad other players lost their money and their entire deck. At least wait a few months, or express sympathy for the players who lost out before grinning like an idiot and fist pumping.

Anyways, I hope this 'stealth rotation' known as the "banned and restricted list" gets looked at after this, because honestly, I'm off of extended and eternal formats and intend to limit all my purchases from today on until I recoup my losses. I'm going to create my own refund to correct this mistake by not buying anything until it's absolutely certain I need it. I would have overspent like I always do when new cards are released, but now I'm mad. I'm not rewarding Wizards for stabbing my wallet and my heart. Great move guys!

Enough. I'm done ranting about this. Time to rant about this lesson from the end of last week:

Lesson Fifteen of Tournament Preparation: Visualize Winning

Again, this is for folks looking to compete at a high level, so if this sounds a bit much, consider what we're talking about here. We want to compete and do well at a Grand Prix. It's not as simple as rolling out a deck with some sweet cards and praying for luck.

Let's play good news bad news, shall we? The good news is, no videos for this week! Unless you liked them, then, well... you're very nice for lying, or very bored! But seriously, I will make some more videos next week for those who actually did enjoy them.

What's the bad news? This week's topics are not super exciting. The rest of this article is complicated, a bit dry, and may hurt your brain. The upside is, the information can be very useful. If at any time you bail on it, I'm cool with that, but do yourself a favor and eventually look into the topics presented. If not here, somewhere, because as boring as they may be, they are helpful for competing at a high level in card games and strategy games.

As usual, I learned a lot of this stuff by not doing any of it for a long time, and losing. A lot. So, don't be like this Buddy.

Self-Evaluation Test:

Please perform the following mental exercises and answer the questions presented. (I told you it was exciting!!!)

Without looking, can you list what cards are in your 75, including lands? Can you list them right down to the number of copies of each card? Do you know the mana cost of each card and its effects? Can you describe your sideboard plan against each of the top Tier decks in standard? Can you list 5 'perfect hands' you'd like to have on the play? On the draw?

Do you know the percentage to draw one copy out of 4 cards in your deck when there are only 46 cards left in your deck? 32 cards left? How about the percentage to draw one of two copies of a card in your deck in your opening hand?

Do you know which 'problem cards' opponents can play that are good against your deck? Do you know which card or cards you need to draw to offset those cards? Can you recognize the top 50 most played cards in Standard by their artwork? Do you know what each does? Do you even know how to find out what the top 50 most played cards in Standard are?

Do you play or goldfish the popular decks in the format? Do you know how to do this without buying the cards?

End Self Evaluation

If you answered 'no', 'nope', 'uh uh', or 'BLARGH' to any of these questions, it may help you to read on.

Visualization is the ability to picture the results of an action before the action is taken. Most times, it specifically means 'seeing' the outcome as a picture in your head, but can also be used to describe knowing what the most likely result is in words or numbers.

You can dramatically improve your chances of winning at Magic the Gathering, or any competitive game, by improving your visualization skills. There's tons of research on this. The main factor is the brain's ability for pattern recognition. The quicker and easier you brain can recognize a pattern and visualize the results of the available choices presented to you, the better player you will become. "Cut to the chase and make me better at visualization now please!" Okay, okay. Don't get a hernia.

Wild Nacatl
This is not a hernia.
(is it getting weird around here or is it just me?)

Here's an exercise. Please hold your objections to the methods until after it has all been explained. I will address why we want to use this method at the end of the process. Let's use MtGO as our tool, shall we?

You have your deck created. Make a 'goldfish' copy of it. Now, let's create an opposing deck. Make sure your MtGO card search filter is set to for Standard. Go to the top of the client and click quantity and set it to '0'. This will show all cards, even the ones you don't own. Build the opponent's deck using whatever list you believe is the most relevant of that deck type. There are a ton of great sites for finding the most played decks on MtGO, as well as their top performances. It shows the user who played the deck and the exact 75 cards they played. Add every card from one of those lists to the deck and the sideboard.

Now, you have the ability with both your deck and the opposing deck to 'goldfish' hands and card draws. Right click on one of the decks and click "properties". You will see at tab for Sample Hands with a Draw Card button. You can't do this for two decks at once, so if you only have one account, you cannot do both at the same time, but that's okay. We're mostly concerned about using this to deal only our initial hand, then dealing our opponent's hand and drawing their cards.

Using the Sample Hand tab, deal yourself a hand and memorize it. Close your eyes (or look away if you're afraid of the dark). Can you name each card without looking on the first try? If not, keep doing this until you can name each card fairly reliably. Most of you can do this already.

Now, get a piece of paper. Deal yourself a hand and remember it. Write it down from memory, but don't look at it too often during this exercise. Now, go to your opponent's deck and deal them a hand. Keep their hand on screen. We're going to draw cards for them. No need to memorize their hands.... yet. Now, play out a game. Use the client to draw cards for your opponent. Use your 'memory jar' to draw cards for yourself.

Memory Jar
Yours is your brain, doofus!


You can draw whatever card you want from your deck, provided you have a copy in there that hasn't been drawn. Do this part entirely from memory. Decide what to play and write it down. Use the client to draw a card for your opponent and make a logical play for them. Write it down as well to make it easier to track their hand. You can look at your paper any time you like to know what your opponent has left in their hand, but try not to look at your own information. Keep all your cards, your plays, in your head as best you can. You really shouldn't look at your full deck list either. if you don't have your deck list memorized, stop and memorize that first. Now, repeat the process for turn 2.


You need to always know what's in your hand, what you've played and what you've drawn from your deck, without looking at what's written down. Do this as far out into a game as you can. At first, you might not get past turn 2. It's harder than you think! Stop when it becomes too much and your brain makes sad baby noises. Then, take a five minute break and start again. Do this for 3 hours.

What?!? Okay, build up to three hours. Then, review the write up sheet and make sure all the cards you chose to draw were still in your deck at the time. If you don't have three hours, do this for as long as you can. Substitute the memory game for one practice session per week. Great, right?

And heeeere come the objections!!!!

"But but but, Buddy! Why go through all the trouble? There's plenty of tools out there to goldfish! Why not use those or get a friend to play the opposing deck? Isn't playing an actual game better than all this writing down and stuff?" This isn't a gameplay exercise. It's a memory building technique. It's based on three repetitions. It's solid. Trust me. Humans memorize by repetition. Here, we are doing 'reps' with our brain. One rep to think of and draw the card from memory. One rep writing that card down. Another rep when we take our eyes off the paper and think about our full hand again, including the new card. We are building our powers of visualization.

We use the client to draw the opponent's hand so that we can focus on our own deck. The goal is to be able to draw your deck versus random hands mentally for as many turns as you can.

"But but but, Buddy! It's not realistic to draw whatever card you want!" This isn't about playing a game. It's about knowing your 'outs', the cards you want to draw! This is what you should be doing during an actual game. You should be thinking about the exact card or cards you want to draw in any given situation. It's not about winning this simulated game. It's about being able to visualize what card will help win the game at any point!

But but but Buuudddeeeee... *huff* *huff* *snarf* Can't we do this in a real game with a friend? he's nodding. Look, he nodded I'm right!" Sure, but you'd have all the information in front of you. You want to know the information in your head. You want to be able to play your deck in your head! That's what visualization is!

"But but bu-" *SLAP* Stop that! "Sorry." It's okay. "...can I have some string cheese?" Sure. But pay attention.

Why is this important? Does it really help? Grandmasters use this technique in Chess. They play both sides of the board in their head! Masters do this in martial arts, visualizing attacks and counter attacks. Baseball players visualize hitting. Artists and architects visualize the end result of their endeavors before beginning, down to the smallest details. It's a verifiable and extremely successful way of improving one's ability to do anything requiring prolonged focus. The point of the exercise is to visualize what wins the game. We're building the power of visualization to the point where we can play Magic the Gathering in our head. It sounds over the top, but I try every night before going to sleep to visualize, right down to the artwork, possible hands, draws and plays for my current deck of choice. I try to play games out in my mind. Usually I end up asleep before I get too far, but it does help.

Oh boy! Sleep! That's where I'm a Viking!

Do professional Magic players do something like this? No clue. Probably something similar at least. There will be professional magic players at the GP, so I will need any advantage I can get just to survive. I will brit a shick (sic) if I look at my second round match up and see that my opponent is a big time player, but at least I'll know I can play my deck in my sleep (literally) when the game begins.

Is there any easier way to start off with? Sure. Right click your deck and use the Sample Hand/Draw Card functions under properties as described previously. Draw a hand. Memorize the hand. Make sure you memorize it well. Write it down on a piece of paper (or type in notepad, whatever). Once you're sure it's memorized, play turn one in your mind and write it down. Try not to look at your hand or previous turns in between steps. Draw a card and write it down. Without looking at your paper or hand, play turn 2. It doesn't matter what you play. There's no opponent. Make sure it's something reasonable of course, and fits your lands etc. Do this as far out as you can without looking back at your hand or your paper. It's hard not to cheat because it's right freaking there, but you can manipulate the screen a bit to hide the original hand.

It's like playing blindfolded. Chess masters play blind matches versus multiple players to test their memory and visualization prowess.

Monastery Swiftspear
 Can't even say "prowess" without taking 2 damage anymore!

You can do this with a physical deck as well, setting the cards aside and writing down as suggested above. Any way that you can simulate accurate card draw and use that information to play games in your head will work.

Playing multiple practice matches at a time can help as well. You can keep your eyes open for this, if you want. This is probably best done with a few online friends. Nothing is worse than waiting for the guy who threw up practice matches all over the queue to finally get around to your game. Friends you can manipulate into waiting with offers of fresh cheese, or candy corn. This exercise forces you to juggle multiple sets of information. If you can really hone in and focus, it makes playing one match at a time seem easy.

There are literally hundreds of visualization exercises you can adapt and use for Magic the Gathering. Not only does visualization allow you to play games in your head, anytime, anywhere (church goes by super quick when I do this!), but it boosts confidence in your analysis of outs and probabilities. It increases your memory exponentially. If we can't spend 8 hours a day testing and perfecting, at least we will not be at a severe disadvantage when it comes to familiarity and number crunching. Plus we can simulate games in our brains, which ups our available prep time, turning useless waiting around (like at the fire station) into moar prep time!

Another part of the game you should be able to visualize is common scenarios your deck runs into that could be problematic. Think of an example of a bad spot to be in on turn 3, just before your draw step. Example, you have no lands in hand, you have x, y and z spells, your lands in play are Burp and Candle... what are your possible land draws and what are the 'close enough' percentages of drawing each? Which would you most like to draw? Which would you least like to draw? Which spells may be okay to draw instead of a land (we'll do a specific example later)? Another common situation is when you have to choose which permission spell to play. Do you Dissolve that Planeswalker or use Negate? Think of every situation that calls for Dissolve. Then go through every position that calls for Negate.

This is a form of practice you can do sitting on a bus, or in the dentist chair to take your mind off of that squealing sound the drill makes. When you're taking a shower, picture what the board looks like when you keep mana up for certain spells. Really try to see the cards and the board. Is this taking Magic the Gathering too far? If you want to compete, no. If you're lucky like I am, you enjoy thinking about Magic whenever you can. It's not like totally weird to love thinking about a game every hour of every day, right? Right?

Hello? Is this thing on?

And if you thought that was a load of boring nonsense, wait until you see what's next!

Here's another area you can visualize to help your game. Percentages. I'm using 'visualize' a little loosely, as you're probably not picturing giant percentages performing Swan Lake to Speed Metal. Hey, if you are picturing that, I'm not going to be the one to tell you you're nuts! What I mean by visualizing is working through percentages in your head.

Know your percentages. This goes hand in hand with visualizing outs. You need to be able to snap off percentages in your head. What's the percent to draw 1 of 4 copies of Thoughtseize with 53 cards left in your library? If you can't answer that, you're putting yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage in high level play. The equation is (number of copies of specific card remaining) divided by (number of cards remaining in the deck) multiplied by 100. 4 divided by 53 times 100 = 7.5% or there abouts. You don't need to do the math in your head, but you do need to know the answer. I created a table with the 'landmarks' to help guide you. The more you review it, the more likely it will be to stick in your head.

4 Cards in Deck Percentage to Draw 3 Cards in Deck Percentage to Draw 2 Cards in Deck Percentage to Draw 1 Card in Deck Percentage to Draw
4 of 53 7.5% 3 of 53 5.7% 2 of 53 3.8% 1 of 53 1.9%
4 of 50 8.0% 3 of 50 6% 2 of 50 4% 1 of 50 2%
4 of 40 10% 3 of 40 7.5% 2 of 40 5% 1 of 40 2.5%
4 of 30 13.3% 3 of 30 10% 2 of 30 6.7% 1 of 30 3.3%
4 of 20 20% 3 of 20 15% 2 of 20 10% 1 of 20 5%
4 of 10 40% 3 of 10 30% 2 of 10 20% 1 of 10 10%

Pretty, ain't it? Well, I'm no Rembrandt, but I know what I like.

I at least know the ranges I'm working within. If I have 45 cards left in my deck and I have 3 copies of Hero's Downfall and need to draw one, I know it's closer to 6% than it is to 30%. I can slide between the ranges and guestimate from there. Generally, in a normal game of Magic, 4 copies left in a deck means 6 - 15%, because you're rarely going below 30 cards left in your library unless you're Blue Black Control, in which case you already know this because you're the best Magic Player in the World!. blllweeeehhhhhhaahhhh). It's good to know the same for 3 cards, 2 cards and 1 card. You don't need to be pinpoint accurate, but you certainly don't want to be more than 2% off.

Calculating odds of drawing 1 copy of 4 cards with 30 cards remaining over 3 turns is beyond the scope of my mental math, so I look at it as I have 3 chances at about 13% per draw. If you've played paper and pencil role playing games before, that's about the chance to roll a 18, 19, or 20 on a twenty sided die. If your GM gave you three shots to hit with a roll of 18 or over, you'd have some hope. Much more hope than if he said 'roll 20 or you're dead' (5% over one roll).

But but but but, Buddy! Math is hard! Seriously, knowing what chance I have doesn't help me draw the card I want! Who cares? Hmmm. Good point. Knowing the percentage of what card you need to draw doesn't make you more likely to draw that card. Or does it?

Do the percents matter? Not too much if you need 1 card on this exact draw-step or you lose instantly. But if you want to know how likely you are to pull a card over the next 3 turns to base a decision on now, it helps. Do I pay 2 life to draw 2 now, or is the chance high enough over 3 turns that I'll draw something I need? This is especially important with lands and mana colors.

This is your mana base:

4 Copies 4 Copies 2 Copies
Temple of Malady Sandsteppe Citadel Temple of Silence
1 Copy 2 Copies 2 Copies
Temple of Plenty Caves of Koilos Llanowar Wastes
4 Copies


1 Copy 1 Copy
Windswept Heath Mana Confluence Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Copies 2 Copies
Forest Plains

Knowing how many sources of each color you have is important. Knowing how many lands come into play untapped is important. Knowing how many lands cost us life to use is important. Translating that information into draw percentages is critical.

Scenario: I am and the draw. I draw a 7 card hand with two lands and five spells. I have one Temple of Plenty and one Temple of Silence. There's nothing in my hand I can cast for less than 4 mana, except one copy of Courser of Kruphix. Let's say the rest of the hand would be good if I knew I could get the Courser in play for turn 3, but bad if I can't cast anything until turn 4. I'm on the draw. That means I will draw cards for turns 1, 2 and 3. I will need to draw one land that generates Green mana that comes into play untapped. Life cost doesn't matter. How many Green sources that come into play untapped do I have?

I have 2 Forest, 2 Llanowar Wastes, 4 Windswept Heath, and 1 Mana Confluence. 9 untapped Green mana sources. What's the percentage I draw one of those untapped Green sources by Main Phase turn 3 on my turn? I never memorized percentages for 9 cards! Wait. I remember that the chance to draw 1 out of 4 copies of a card with 53 cards left in my library is around 7.5%. So, 1 out of 8 copies is around 15%. We are close. We know the chance to draw 1 exact card out of 53% is 1.9%, so we have a 17% chance (7.5% +7.5% + 1.9%) or so to draw an untapped Green source each turn for 3 turns. We just add up the percent chances we know by heart to make nine. If it doesn't make sense to you, try writing it out for yourself.

We have 9 cards that fit our purposes. That's like saying we have 4 copies (which is 7.5% of 53 cards) plus another 4 copies (7.5% of 53 cards) plus 1 copy (1.9% of 53 cards). Add those percentages up and get 17% to draw 1 card out of the 9 we can use from a 53 card library.

That's 17% per turn to draw one of the lands we need. We have three chances. Unfortunately, we don't add the percentages together for those chances as they are all unrelated events, but we still get 3 cracks at drawing what we want at 17% each time we draw. To use the dice comparison, that's like trying to roll a 16 or higher on a 20 sided die in at least 1 out of 3 tries.


Is that a good enough chance to keep the hand? A ton of other factors can go into it, but based on the information as presented that's a little shaky. Going to 6 cards on the draw isn't a complete disaster. But say you have 4 copies of Sylvan Caryatid as well. That means if you can draw a Caryatid and cast it on turns 1 or 2, it would be like drawing that untapped land. Drawing the Caryatid on turn 3 doesn't help because it has to be cast on turn 2 to be usable turn 3. So, now we would have 17% chance plus another 7.5% chance (4 copies out of 53 cards) for a total of 25% chance in turns one and 2 to draw 1 of the 9 lands or 1 of the 4 Caryatids, with a 17% on turn 3 to draw one of the lands.

Knowing there's probably other possible draws that probably work for turn 3 in a real life deck, I'll take 2 shots at 25% and a third chance at over 17% rather than dropping to 6 cards.

Think for a second about the above example if you didn't have the percentage information. How do we decide if we're keeping a hand like that without the percentages? We guess. Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we make a rule and stick with it. "I never keep hands that can't cast at least one spell." "I never mulligan, except for zero land hands." "I never mulligan below 5 cards." I think it's good to have a few general rules like that, if we know when to break them.

Here's a bonus question. If I have 25 lands in a 60 card deck, what's the percent chance to draw all lands in a six card hand draw? I'm not giving the answer because I don't know it.

Brain Freeze
Plurbcentages is da braineraserz.

Not to beat a dead Rhino, but this is also true when we consider card draw effects. Do I us the "Draw 2 cards, pay 2 life" mode on Abzan Charm now, or do I save it in case my opponent plays a big threat next turn? Well, how bad do you need the card? How many turns before you'll need it or you will lose the game? Look at this card:

Read the Bones


Why is this card better than Sign in Blood? Read the Bones gives you 4 extra chances to get the card you want. You get to look at two and draw them if you want, or ship either or both to the bottom and draw the cards after them. If you're just digging to get anything, they're about the same. If you want 4 legit shots at one specific card, then Read the Bones is your card. It's the same with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. Which gives you the best chance to find a specific card? Cruise gives you three shots. No peeking. If drawing any extra three cards will normally win the game for you (and for a lot of decks, that's true), then you want Cruise. But if you need specific answers on time, Dig gives you seven chances to find what you need. Especially useful in control decks that play up to 12 cards with the same effect. That's a 24% chance for each of those seven cards you're going to look at to find what you need. It's close to tutoring up an exact card, usually for 2 Blue mana.

So, yes this percentage stuff matters when building a deck, sideboarding, preparing for a match, playing a match and evaluating your play after a match. Everything else is guessing. If you're taking a test and you're allowed to know the answers beforehand, why guess?

There are methods to help visualize percentages, and cool little shortcuts for calculating them in your head. It's not the sort of thing that's going to win you matches on its own, but when you put a bunch of small advantages together that require nothing but a little effort on your part, then you're looking at a substantial advantage.

Speaking of many small advantages adding up to a big advantage, let's do a big unit review of the things we've learned by looking at my mistakes over the past seven weeks. I wonder what kind of advantage they give us when put together?

Mentor of the Meek
Self Portait: Age 2.

Disclaimer:  These tips apply to amateurs like myself who wish to prepare for a Big Tournament. They don't always apply to casual play, small event play, life in general, or cheese making.

Know your format. You have to know what your format is all about. Everything from deck design to strategy is totally format dependent. Study the format before anything else. Learn everything possible about it.

Prepare financially. Always have a big enough reserve to buy necessary cards as the format changes. Never invest in a format you are not competing in unless you're very wealthy. Don't card speculate with your stash.

Know what you're playing and play what you know.  Find the deck that's most fun/comfortable for you, but be sure it can really compete at the top level.

Ignore haters. Don't waste time and energy getting into arguments with angry players. If you get in the habit of responding, a player at a big event will find a way to take advantage of your lack of emotional control. Practice calming yourself when taunts and accusations come. And for crying out loud, don't be the hater either.

Be ready for the metagame to change. Strategies can change from out of nowhere. Shifts in the metagame need to be carefully considered. Be ready to adapt your sideboard or even your main deck. Stay on top of what's happening in the metagame of your format by staying current on the tournament results. Play a lot of games at the highest level you can afford. Pay attention when you see a new deck that's rolling you over, and determine what to do to stop it.

Learn from Previous Mistakes. If you notice a trend of losing, don't try to play through it. Stop. Analyze your recent games. Ask other players for help. Identify the mistake. Identify the cause of the mistake. Eliminate the cause of the mistake. Have a plan to reduce mistakes you frequently make.

You Have 75 Cards for a Reason. USE THEM! Learn the best sideboard plans for your deck versus the other popular decks in the format. Every card in your sideboard should have a specific reason for being there, and you should not hesitate to swap cards in when they are needed. Don't fall in love with your 60, or any single card in that 60. Everything has weaknesses. Know what the right plan is and stick with it.

Pay to Play Tournaments Are Not the Time to Experiment. Do all research and testing before you compete. Thoroughly test every card you play until you are comfortable with it. Don't add cards because so and so says they're good. Make sure you play enough test matches with those cards and learn to use them correctly.

Clone your original deck list.  If you don't clone your basic deck, you'll probably forget what cards were in it. You'll be forced to search the web or start from scratch. Always have a starting point and never alter that deck unless you are 100% certain the change is correct. Clone it and modify the cloned deck only.

Roll with the Punches. Losing is a big part of Magic. It's normal. It's useful. Even extended losing streaks are normal. Stay positive and work hard to correct mistakes. Don't throw out everything you've worked on because of a long losing streak.

Be Prepared to Start from Scratch. Despite what was said above, it may be necessary to start from the beginning again. Make sure you have the funds to do so. A new set could be released with cards that eat your deck alive. It's not super likely, but you'll know when it happens. If you're unsure if it's time to start over, it's not time to start over. If Wizards bans Birthing Pod, and you're a Pod Deck player in Modern, for instance, that's time to start over.

Don't Believe the Hype. Cards need to prove themselves before you begin paying $15 for them. Avoid buying expensive cards the first 3 weeks after they are released. Not everything that's touted to be 'the next big card' pans out. This goes for cards that have been around a while but are at $30 or more. Be darn sure it's worth it. Don't buy it because Joetle Membalina says you need to. Watch folks play it, see what it does, and weigh the cost versus what the card can do for your game.

Stay Aggressive. Don't get stuck in a pattern. Stay focused, sharp and hungry. Look for little advantages and twist them into game winning daggers of hate and retribution! Grrrr. Don't sit around waiting for your opponent to mess up. This has nothing to do with aggro versus control. Some of the most aggressive plays are permission spells and removal spells. Being passive means not playing your cards out of fear of complacency. If you're going to play that Dissolve, slam it and say "not in my house!"

Have a Practice Routine. Don't just play games over and over and think you're improving. Have a schedule, a plan, goals, and methods to work on improving your game. Review your games, especially the losses. Practice to improve. Playing and praying won't get you to where you need to be.

Determine if you're the Control of the Beatdown. If you don't know this one, look it up. It's too big of a topic to summarize here.

Visualize Winning. Hopefully you read the other stuff in this article. You did read this article, right?

How many wins is all this worth? How many win percentage points will doing all this give you? 15%!!! Am I absolutely positive about this? Hell no! But you have to admit, it's a pretty impressive list for 7 weeks of watching me screw up.

Next week I'm not sure if I'll have enough Fate Reforged cards to do much besides ramble on about how terrible I play. Perhaps I'll make an attempt to actually play a 6 tix event and record it. Won't that be fun?

Until next time.



I think you're right about by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 01/27/2015 - 18:41
Joe Fiorini's picture

I think you're right about the bans. I felt like an idiot, anda hypocrite when I sold my pod decks. I'd written about sticking with one deck, and specifically about how Kiki-Pod was going to be my deck for eternity. I really liked playing my delver lists, and felt that they were more consistent. And I wanted to try Legacy. I thought for sure that I'd regret selling the deck.

Now, I'm sad for everyone else. I get why things are banned, but pod wasn't eggs. pod wasn't storm, hypergenesis, 12 post, or any of the other nutty decks. It was a midrange value deck with an essentially fair game plan. Funny thing is, you can STILL play eggs, and storm! They aren't as good without second sunrise and seething song, but they exist. If one more person mentions Yisan I'm going to puke. The closest deck to pod in the format is GBX. I feel bad for everyone that suddenly needs four goyfs, lilliana's, and bobs.

On a side note, I wish I had picked up bobs at his lowest. I made a few bucks off the splinter twins, but I should have saved those.

Good article man, you do nice work.

Thanks! by CalmLittleBuddy at Wed, 01/28/2015 - 21:53
CalmLittleBuddy's picture

I'm glad someone understands that it's not just a card that got banned, it was essentially all my cards. I picked up bob at what I thought was a reasonable price, but sold for maybe a total of one ticket off of four. If I'd held for another month! It's a good card and good cards always gain their value back.

I sold everything I owned in modern last week. Don't care about waiting for a rebound. Still quite a bit of extra tickets when all was done. I got my rant out, got rid of the bad vibes by selling the bad memories, now I'm better.

I'm on to Fate Reforged and pretty new cards to lose money on!