Testing for Two Day MTG Events – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

Slow Play and Time Management in MTG – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre

Last year I wrote an article about attending Grand Prix vs Pro Tour Qualifiers, arguing that GPs were more difficult and had a lower expected value largely because of the ratio of players to pro tour invites given out at these events compared to PTQs.

Within the next few months there were several PTQs in the UK which featured between 250 and 300 people in attendance, rendering a lot of my arguments invalid. As a result I had a more serious perusal of the GP schedule this year, and concluded that I’d try and attend 1 per season, starting with GP Barcelona this month.

The 1000 Planeswalker Points I got from winning the Dundee PTQ mean I’ll have 2 (perhaps 3 if Barcelona goes well) byes at GPs in season 2, so I’m also going to try and attend either GP Warsaw or GP Atlanta in addition to GP Manchester.

Jamie Ross top 8’ed the weekend I wrote the article above, and Matt Light and Daniel Gilligan were both very close in Paris this weekend.

All of the above – combined with the fact that GPs are just fundamentally more appealing to attend than PTQs – made me think that it would be worth discussing the differences between testing for big events like these compared to PTQs.

GP Las Vegas 2013 MTG 1

The Differences

Big events have more rounds. If you make day two, you’ll have been at the venue from 9am, played 6-9 rounds (depending on byes) and then got home for like midnight for a 9am start the next day.

It’s worth thinking about things like how close your hotel is to the venue, and if it might be worth shelling out a little more to be closer, and how well you think you can operate your deck under these conditions. By this I mean “make sure you understand your deck – don’t chance to something at the last minute” rather than “play a red deck – your rounds will be fast!”.

The metagame will be broader. This isn’t necessarily true, but in practice it always is – with more people playing there are more deck choices being made, so there is room for more deviation.

This combined with the larger number of decks means that you’re more likely to play against a large range of decks over the course of your tournament than you are at a smaller event. It also means you’re more likely to play against a *given* deck; it’s less viable to say “I don’t think anyone will play Tron” than it would be at a PTQ, say.

Large two day events normally mean a number of pros and a bigger number of strong international players many of whom will have played multiple pro tours as well as virtually every ringer in the country in question (in Europe, anyway – obviously America is pretty big so that’s not the case – let’s call it the state there.). Obviously these guys will be good at the game and it might be difficult to win a mono blue mirror with them, for instance.

living end banner

Responses to these differences

Your testing gauntlet needs to be larger. If you take a format like Modern, you might say there are 8 decks you’re going to seriously worry about for the PTQs, which will change a little from time to time based on what happens in Starcity events, PTQs, MODO events and GPs.

For a big event you should do what you can to play against the slightly more marginal decks as well because you have more exposure to different players who might play something based on their own local PTQs, or who have been influenced by prominent players in their area who happen to think [card]Living End[/card] decks are good, for instance.

Your chances of winning will increase substantially from playing 10 games and having a rough idea of what the patch up is like, even if you don’t bother with a dedicated sideboard card.

Bojuka Bog banner

Similarly, you should try and choose a robust deck. Let’s say you’re the guy who wants to play living end because you think it’s pretty under the radar, and hardly anyone is playing appropriate sideboard hate. You sleeve up your 75, win your first 4 after two byes, loose to LSV, then get a bit unlucky against a French guy.

You’re on the bubble, but you’re feeling good because no one has made [card]leyline of the void[/card] against you all day, so you’ll win this one. Your opponent is playing Zoo, as well so even better, expect that game one he [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]’s for [card]Bojuka Bog[/card] game one, and leyline + [card]Thoughtsieze[card]’s you for your answer to Leyline game two.

Sure, you’ve been unlucky he maindecked the Bog, and that he’s got all this sideboard hate game two, but by playing a deck like this you open up another avenue to get beaten, and you were still lucky not to see any sideboard hate for the 6 previous rounds. If you’re going to play a deck like that, you need to be sure of how to play against all the sideboard cards to help mitigate for this anyway, but especially for a big event – you’re just remarkably unlikely to dodge the hate for 12-15 rounds.

Scapeshift banner

You’re going to need a good sideboard, too – you can’t just play 15 graveyard hate cards in your Zoo deck to make sure you beat the guy from the local shop who won’t shut up about living end!

If you do that you’ll end up losing to his [card]Scapeshift[/card] advocating German equivalent, after having gotten a bit unlucky against a Norwegian guy and losing to Wafo Tappa. This is a pretty tricky thing to do especially in a broad format like modern or with a 3 colour standard deck.

Modern Zoo

I’ve been messing about with Zoo recently on MODO with this list.  

Graemes Modern Zoo Deck

2 [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]: this is against Pod, Scapeshift and Tron. It’s a little narrow, and will likely change.

2 [card]Celestial Purge[/card]: this comes in vs Burn, [card]Splinter Twin[/card], [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card], [card]Blood Moon[/card], [card]possibility Storm[/card], some decks with [card]Bitterblossom[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card]  or [card]Lilliana of the Veil[/card]. There are probably other decks too – this is almost the definition of a broad sideboard card because what it does is so generic, and it hits a lot of decks.  

2 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]: this is good vs affinity, pod and probably Tron. It’s also a bit narrow, but affinity in particular is very prevalent online and pod is maybe the best deck….likely as not I would end up cutting this for something marginally broader, and invariably lose to cranial plating. Affinity gets me every time.

2[card]Kitchen Finks[/card]; this is for against red decks and aggro decks of all stripes. Pretty broad, just helps me move into a controlling roll in these match ups, which is where I want to be.

1[card]Wear//tear[/card]: goes in vs bloodmoon, affinity, twin, ascension, equipment. Again, a very broad card which isn’t amazing against anything but helps pad match ups out in combination with other cards.

1 [card]Bojuka Bog[/card]: goes in vs graveyard based plans as a target or the knight. Narrow, but covers a lot of ground because of the knights in these match ups.

2 [card]Tormond’s Crypt[/card] goes in vs various graveyard decks. Narrow, but I feel like these will be pretty prevalent at least for the next little while in light of the banning of [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], and I think these sort of decks are pretty rough for zoo in general, so it’s good to have a plan of sorts.

3 [card]Damping Matrix[/card]: Twin, affinity, Pod, Tron. Not as good vs a lot of these decks as other cards would be, but it goes in against them all, and they’re all important decks.

Kataki, War’s Wage Banner

I’ve included this to try and illustrate the kind of cards I think are broad and the kind I think are narrow. A card like [card]Kataki, War’s Wage[/card] would be better vs Affinity, but it’s so narrow compared to the cards I’m playing against affinity.

Similarly, maybe the crypts are too narrow, and I should just try and play [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] over my 75, which would help vs graveyard, midrange and aggro decks. The point is that you need to try and be broader for bigger events to make you’re 15 sideboard cards cover more ground.

It’s really worthwhile to play a lot of MODO in preparation for these events, too. This is pretty obvious in relation to limited events, because it simply gives you a far greater level of access to the format than drafting once or twice a week at your local shop because you don’t need to round up 8 other people for draft.

But it’s also great for constructed because you’ll play against a wide range of people, and varied decks, which better simulates big tournaments than playing in your local metagame would, or testing with your relatively isolated test group.

Modo is a great tool for enhancing your appreciation of a format, and gaining a better understanding of the “feel” of it, while testing lets you know the nature of your match ups; both are needed in general, I think, but this is particularly true for big events.

Modo tournaments also provide loads of deck lists, and it’s well worth just looking through them to see the sorts of deviations people have in their sideboards and mains compared to what you have established as a “typical” build of a given deck.

It’s worth listening to people’s ideas more in preparation for big events, even if you’re not going to play [card]Living End[/card], as they suggest, because other people might be thinking the same thing as them, so it’s worth just having this information, even if you do nothing else to act on it. That way when someone plays a weird card, and you’re not sure what they’re playing, perhaps you’ll realize which deck it is and keep your knight untapped for the rest of the game!

And Finally

Sorry I never managed to write anything last week, I was a little stuck for a topic, and by the time I’d thought of one I needed to get ready to go down to Nottingham to look at houses – found a place, has a big bridge next to it, pictures of the bridge to follow no doubt.

Also big congratulations to Rob Catton on his at the weekend – I actually stayed up a couple of hours later than I intended to because I wanted to know the result.

 That’s it for this week, I might try something a little different next week if I can source material!

All the best,

Graeme McIntyre

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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.