Welcome to the third installment of Going Blind. If you haven't read my previous two articles, I suggest you go do that right now, as some of the information in this article will rely on the fact that you have a good understanding of three, four, and five card blind rules, as well as some of the terminology that I've explained in past articles.
As a quick recap, the last two articles focused on a particular subset of cards that are played frequently in 3CB, 4CB, and 5CB: Lands and other mana sources. Lands are the foundation of everything that we'll be doing today. I cannot stress enough how important it is to choose the right mana sources for the deck you play. Your entire match-up record can change in an instant because you played the wrong card, and if you want to play to win, you can't take those chances.
A lot of players who are into XCB enjoy it because of the mental challenge developing a deck provides. They like to go over the data, view their possible card choices, predict trends and patterns, and try to break the metagame with new or well-known decks. While all forms of x card blind are played mathematically for scoring purposes, the largest part of the game isn't the mathematically determined score you get at the end; the largest part of the game, and the largest part of the fun you have with the game, is the deck you submit to the game moderator.
Some players who are new to the game don't think about the inherent advantages of thinking like seasoned XCB players. They look around the Internet until they find a deck that won a 3CB or a 4CB a few years ago, and then submit that deck to the game mod. While that's an okay way to play, that person isn't actually playing XCB. They're copy & pasting a list from an archive somewhere, and they're not putting the thought into the game that it takes to truly do well.
Of course, players can do well with copy & paste, but that’s not the point. It's not a sin or a terrible tragedy to look at other lists and play old lists. That’s not the issue either. In fact, it is encouraging to see current players using old ideas, manipulating older decks to fit newer cards, and using past work to build the decks of the present.
XCB is not merely a quick-play, copy-paste and send in a deck type game. Versions of three, four, and five card blind have been so successful because of their ability to get players to think outside the proverbial Magic: the Gathering box.
In short - XCB is a format of thinking, not a format of CTRL + V. But how do you think like an XCB player?
XCB thinking is, in normal terms, what most Magic: the Gathering players would call “metagaming.” In normal Magic, decklists don’t change much – deck ideas stay basically the same, but card choices change in order to shore up bad match-ups and take advantage of the most popular decks. This is a relatively common practice, and using it in your own deck building can, if done properly, help you win games you might otherwise lose.
In three, four, and five card blind, you can‘t metagame the same way a normal player would. Changing one card can change the entire game plan of your deck. That’s why, from week to week, XCB players build new decks in order to beat the metagame and win the latest round.
“Winning games?” you say. “I’m interested in winning games!” That’s great, and perfectly normal. Most Magic players like to win. The difference between normal Magic and XCB Magic is that obtaining victory is a whole new ballgame. You don’t have the ability to topdeck the right cards, or out-maneuver your opponents. You win by the metagame, and the metagame alone.
If understanding and building around the metagame can win you the round of XCB, it would make sense that most players would want to learn how to read the metagame. How do you do that?
The answer is both simple and complex – you must use analysis. To understand the metagame, you must look at lists, run data, look at scores, and understand trends. You must know banned lists and work through scenarios, build decks, and ultimately make a decision about what you believe will work the best.
This week’s article will start this process, and over the next series of articles, I’ll show you how I metagame, and how other people metagame in order to play effective XCB.
Metagaming is a relatively logical process of analyzing current information while simultaneously comparing this information with global trends. Using last week’s information, along with information about the format you’ve garnered over the past few weeks, will help you understand how the game is going to move forward.
In order to start this process, you must collect the most recent data. Let's go ahead and bite the proverbial bullet, and take a look at all the decklists and scores from 3CB #2. Since 3CB is the largest current running format on both MTGS and MDV, we'll be discussing 3CB for the majority of the article, and the majority of this Going Blind mini-series event from this point onward.
PART 1: ANALYZING THE DATA
What a lot of info to sort through! There are almost 20 players, and just about as many decklists, and that chart of numbers! What's up with that? How am I ever going to figure out what all this means?
If you're a new player, these questions are all surely running through your head. But calm down, breathe deep, and take a closer look. These are the tools you'll be using as you develop your ideas for the winning deck of the next round.
STEP A: CATEGORIZE THE LISTS
The first things we'll look at are the decklists. Since most XCBs have limited amounts of space to build a deck with, decks tend to be rather narrowly focused. This is especially true with the 3CB data we're working with. If we can fit decklists into categories and game plan types, it will be easier to determine what the current metagame is like.
That means first and foremost, before the sorting begins, the way that you as the player will sort decks needs to be defined.
Each person who plays XCB sorts the decklists they have collected in different ways. Some prefer to sort by overall strategy, while some prefer to sort by the cards in the deck. Both ways are valid, but I personally feel that it's best to look at the overall strategy as the most important, and then look at the cards in those decks later.
Some players, when analyzing decklists, like to try and understand the decks in terms of aggro, control, and combo. These players see numbers of threats and resilience to certain cards as indicators of whether a deck is a control build, an aggro build, a combo build, or a mixture of two of the three. I prefer to think about decks in the way they play the game of XCB (how they win, basically). For this type of analysis, it's good to think about decks both ways, but I'll be covering the way decks play in order to help better discuss the analysis that we'll be doing after this. The way I classify these decks, being the more uncommon of the two methods, will help you to see the cards in a different light, and may help you better understand XCB. Let's take this approach for now, and sort the lists we have.
EGGS IN A BASKET - This strategy is where a player uses all their available cards to create one big game-winning creature / enchantment / permanent. The resources could be made with Channel, 2x Black Lotus, or other big mana producers. Cards that fall into this category are the two banned enchantments Barren Glory and Form of the Dragon, and creatures like Darksteel Colossus. While how they win is interesting, what is most important here is that this strategy wins quickly, but is extremely easy to disrupt because of the large amounts of first turn control and hand disruption that get played.
LOCKDOWN MODE - This strategy is when a player uses their cards to lock down the board, either with cards that prevent an opponent from attacking, or by keeping them from playing key spells, and then uses a normally slow clock to end the game.
OPPOSABLE THUMBS - Decks that run an opposable thumbs strategy try to capitalize on whatever they can, normally using a decklist of one mana source and two cards. Normally, the deck will only be able to play one of those two cards, so it plays the one that will best help it in the current matchup.
NO CREATURE/CREATURE - No creature/creature decks are decks that play some sort of control option (normally creature control), a man land or animatable card, and a way to animate that card. These decks win by avoiding most creature destruction and hand disruption, as they are able to discard their control piece and still have a viable decklist. TET.dec falls into this category.
ALL-DAY REPLAY - This deck type uses cards that allow it to replay cards over and over again. These decklists normally run 1mana source, 1 reanimator/replayer, and 1 key spell. Isochron Scepter decks and Anurid Scavenger decks fall into this category.
TURN 1 CONTROL - This deck runs a control build that lets it control a large part of what goes on for the remainder of the game - provided that the deck gets to play first. These decks normally run cheap discard or counterspells in order to keep powerful cards off the board so that they can win with a slower win condition.
COMBO…ISH - This deck is as close as a combo deck comes in XCB. It uses all of its cards to create one giant effect, or uses them to facilitate a combo that wins the game within a few turns. Storm is used quite frequently in these decks. They are normally run in 4CB and 5CB, since you have more cards to work the strategy around.
COMBO CONTROL - This deck is like the COMBO…ISH deck, but uses its combo to simultaneously control the board and win the game. This deck is slower than COMBO…ISH, but it normally has a better chance out of the door.
SYNERGY CONTROL - This deck uses its cards in any synergistic effect to try and overwhelm an opponent. SYNERGY CONTROL decks include the nefarious Karakas + Leyline of Singularity combo, or any form of universal discard + Nether Spirit.
DIRECT DAMAGE - Decks that run the DIRECT DAMAGE route normally play cards that deal high amounts of damage each turn. Cards that get played in this strategy include Wheel of Torture, Lavaborn Muse, and The Rack.
HYBRID - These decks use more than one deck archetype together in the same deck. While normally this is done only in 4CB and 5CB, there is a little of hybridization that goes on in 3CB.
Seems like a lot of work already, doesn't it? Well, don't fret just yet. Most of this categorization can be done in your head, now that you know the majority of the deck strategies as they've been presented to you. Let's go to the next step - understanding the categories.
STEP B: ORGANIZE LIST INFO / GENERALIZE ON LIST FINDINGS
Now that you have these decklists broken down into categories, compare the numbers of each.
Leave this be for now, we'll come back to it soon.
STEP C: ANALYZE THE SCORES
The decklists have been sorted and compiled. It's time to look at the scores that go along with the lists.
The score table above is the way that XCB moderators show the match-up scores for each player. Each player has both a row of scores and a column of scores. The row (horizontal line) shows the scores that player scored against other players. Each column shows what opponent was played to receive those points. Finally, there is an X where the player's row and column intersect, since no player can play against him or herself.
Now, it's not necessary to assign scores to the groupings and run averages to find out the average score per deck type, but it is nice to know the total amount of points possible, and the average player score. Each deck is its own entity, and despite their similarities, the decks will work in different ways, so knowing that the average score of the TURN 1 CONTROL decks is 50 points is not all that useful. Knowing this, however, it is good to know how each category did in relation to other categories. Let's take the information from the score table and look at the scores in a form that's a little easier to read.
Total points possible per player: 108
Try to discover the trends within the points. Scores like these tell you a lot about the metagame, as they are the direct offshoots of how well each deck did.
All this information is good, but needs a little more context - it's time for step D.
STEP D: USE DECKLISTS TO ADD RELEVANCE TO ANALYSIS
This next-to-final step will layer information into what you already know. Without looking at the lists and card choices, your information as of right now is like an unfinished painting. The figures and background are in place, but without the shadows and lighting, the contours and lines, it is still incomplete.
During this step of the analysis, look for patterns in card choices. Look for card density - cards that appear more often than other cards. Also look for decks that are close in similarity, but not the same. If these decks have significantly different scores, figure out why. Note that not all of the information you glean from these results may be extraordinarily relevant, but all the information will be good to know when deciding on a decklist.
This week's results are especially good for this type of analysis. Let's take a look at the cards, and see what we can come up with.
There's much more that can be said here, but in order to get to the point faster, we'll move to the last point in the analysis chain.
STEP E: CONSIDER THE FORMAT / BANNED LIST
The last step before drawing initial conclusions is to look at the format of the tournament. Were there any special rules? If so, how could they have affected the way the game was played? Would these rules invalidate any of the information you've collected?
Since XCB is dynamic, just like regular Magic: the Gathering is dynamic, the banned list changes and mutates. Ask yourself the following questions: Did the banned list change? Is that change significant? Were decks played last round that might evolve into a deck that could use cards that are unbanned, if any? Did any mainstream deck die because of a card banning?
We're done with Part 1. We've analyzed data, looked at the results, and now it's time to move on to Part 2. What decks will look good for the next round? What will be strong, and what will be weak? Sadly, I'm out of time for this week, but check out the Part 2 of this series, as we go deeper into the metagame, and use all this analysis to create the perfect metagame deck.
Until then - Get Blind.
Spotlights from 2007: