Welcome to another article!
This time I’d like to talk about constructed, in a very general way. It has always been my favorite format since I started playing magic. I personally find it easier than limited but I’m sure that a lot of you will disagree with me on that. What do I mean by easier?
First of all, you have a fixed strategy, at least theoretically; all the decks have a plan, a predefined theme. You can be aggro, combo, control or sometimes both aggro and control or midrange (which I think is the only theme that doesn’t really have a very well defined strategy).
I say theoretically because the plan of every deck is always a function of how the game develops. The example that comes to my mind now is Splinter Twin. If you ever played Twin, how many times did you end the game by racing with Deceiver Exarch and Pestermite? By doing so you modified the nature of your deck adopting an aggro strategy instead of Twinning your creatures.
Apart from this, a constructed deck performs better if it follows its designed strategy, which sounds pretty obvious. For this reason, when playing constructed you always have to take into account the type of deck you are playing and play accordingly.
For example, you are playing Ad Nauseam which is a combo deck (just as the deck’s name suggests) based on Ad Nauseam and Angel’s Grace. The most common situation that occurs is that you have just one piece of your combo, either Ad Nauseam or Angel’s Grace. In such a situation the goal is to dig deep in order to find the missing piece. Sometimes you get it and sometimes you won’t but if you play according to your strategy it will happen far more often!
Imagine your opening hand is Ad Nauseam, a bunch of basics, a fetchland and a Serum Visions. You play island + Serum Visions turn 1 putting both cards on the bottom with the scry ability (there is no Angel’s Grace there). On turn 2 you can either play a basic land or fetch for a land and there isn’t a clear reason to choose one option over the other. What to do? This is the moment in which the nature of your deck can drive you to the right play. As I said before, the deck just needs two cards to go off. Because of Serum Visions you know that the last two cards are not Angel’s Grace. By fetching, you will remove a card which is not Angel’s Grace (actually a land), increasing your possibility to draw the Grace. At the same time, however, you will shuffle back those two cards and by doing so you are lowering your chances to draw the card you need!
Another characteristic feature for constructed, due to its definition, is the ability to put the cards you want in your deck (according to the format and ban list). For this reason, no matter what deck you are playing, a lot of the other decks will run one or more cards that are very efficient against it. An example would be Pyroclasm against a deck full of 2/2s. While playing constructed it is crucial to know what are your “enemy cards” and which deck plays what. In fact, your game should be designed with the mindset of avoiding these cards. Following the Pyroclasm example, a possible way to do this is to have no more than two 2/2s on the board.
This is not only true for “enemy cards”. If the metagame is well-defined, you should know almost all the decklists. It is important to always think of what could happen if you make one play as opposed to another, depending on all the cards that your opponent could play, and to evaluate the situations in this manner. This, I think, is the hardest part of constructed. Due to the fact that all the constructed cards are basically good and they often have a lot of effects (Cryptic Command, Izzet Charm, Mizzium Mortars), it is very difficult to play depending on what could happen. Some situations are so difficult that if you are not a computer it can take you 30 minutes to make the best possible play based on the cards you know that could be played.
This leads to the psychological evolution of the game, in which evolving is essential to being good. In fact, due to the fact that the game is very focused on the attitude of playing around cards, bluffing becomes a very powerful tool. This is particularly true when playing against combo. A combo player will rarely go off as long as you keep some mana up and he knows his combo could be disrupted; he will try to set up a 100% win, independently of what your hand actually contains, and you can earn a lot of valuable time to draw answers to his combo.
In the Top 4 of Italian nationals in 2009, I was playing a five color control mirror (for those of you who don’t know the deck you had to wait and play lands to win, roughly speaking). I was aware of this and kept a seven land hand! In most cases it was wrong to be the first player to cast a spell in this spot, and my opponent did not play anything until I was able to draw all the cards I needed – giving me the win!
Moving on to another point, let’s talk about evaluating a deck and the parameters that indicate whether the deck is good or not.
A good deck should be solid and consistent enough to allow you to mulligan your starting hand without putting you too far behind. In addition, you should be able to play a game without relying on drawing specific cards. In my opinion a lot of midrange decks are not solid; in fact, while playing midrange I find that the game is far too dependent on your draws. For example, you run both discard effects and removal effects. Usually discard is good against combo and control while removals are better against aggro and almost useless against control and combo. Since you don’t have draw effects, you will often be stuck with the wrong cards for the situation. The solidity concept is a little bit different for combo decks. To measure it you have to face difficult situations and find a way to win the game. It is important to have a lot of backup plans and to build a combo deck that is very difficult to disrupt.
Try to use as many polyvalent cards as you can, such as the multi-effect ones – they are never situational and will increase your deck’s solidity.
Another parameter which is important to take into account while deckbuilding is the adaptability of the deck (see the example of Splinter-Twin). A good deck should be able to alter its plan and do better if played one way instead of another. Splinter-Twin is obviously better as a combo deck than as an aggro one but a good aggro-control for example is good in both situations. For this reason there is nothing better than building an aggro-control deck.
In conclusion, remember to play according to the nature of your deck, play around cards (in particular around the most dangerous ones that can lead you to unmanageable situations), exploit the psychological side of a constructed game and, last but not least, check that your deck is good.