Monday, December 16, 2019

Getting the Hang of Controlling the Game

On December 4th I talked about trying to learn control decks in Magic the Gathering. This was a learning opportunity and I threw myself into it with the usual starting disaster I have trying anything knew. I'm just not a natural at anything I try, I can't see the combos and strategies like others can, I need to learn them from falling down a lot.

And boy did I ever. Fall down a lot I mean.

I was not having luck with the Azorius deck I was trying so I borrowed one from my friend's lists and did even worse. I went back to the Esper control deck I started with and had a bit more luck, but still couldn't make headway on the ladder.

Finally I heard about Ben Stark playing Ally Warfield at the Mythic Championship with an Azorius deck and decided to check out his list. It was even simpler than the ones I had previous tried so I loaded it up and gave it a try. This new deck, combined with some very painful lessons-learned, started to click and I finally climbed my way out of Gold 4 to Gold 3 and then Gold 2 this past weekend.

So far a 63% win rate and while it has not been completely smooth sailing up the ladder, its definitely a lot more consistent than I was experiencing earlier.
My version of Ben Stark's Azorius list for Bo1 ladder play.

And why is that?

First off was the learning curve. When you play with aggro creature-heavy decks or even mid range decks you get value from things on the board, not in your hand. Its second nature to cast things as soon as possible to get the maximum value from them, taking into account what your opponent is doing and how to get around things of course. But at the end of the day, the heuristic to use as much of your mana base as possible each turn is ingrained into my psyche.

But with a control deck every spell has to be weighed against what spells you can't cast if you cast this one. Hesitation, patience, playing the (very) long game are all called for. Its literally like playing a different game, and while I knew in my head that it was a different play style, I had to learn it in my heart and learn new instincts. That took a while.

Another factor was that the first couple decks I crafted, the Esper control and Azorius decks, were based on Best of 3 matches and I suspect that they suffered when playing Best of 1 matches. Control gets more powerful when it can customize the list for colour hate and the opponent's play style in matches 2 and 3 I think.

The Ben Stark deck on the other hand, was a simpler version of the Azorius deck and I found it surprising at the lack of win conditions. Just a few Gadwicks and Brazen Borrowers, how can this be? But it turns out that once you have control of the game in hand, a couple creatures and some 1/1 from the Ardenvale Castle are all you need to win.

Which brings me to my last point: control decks seem to have a lot more decision points involved. My normal decks have decision trees with 2 or maybe 3 branches at each point; control decks seem to have 4 or 5 branches each turn and making the wrong move can be disastrous (as evidenced by my record). Playing control is not for the casual match!

Now that I feel like I'm getting the hang of how this deck plays, I can see the attraction of control decks, the feeling that you are playing multi-level chess while your opponent is playing tic tac toe. Its intoxicating.

Next step is to ride out the rest of the December season and see if we can't get that Platinum level once again!

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