Yorke on Games #33 – How to Evolve a Winning Deck in Ixalan League
League play is all about choice. After all, as a league player you can play your matches when you want (choose the day and time to play), where you want (choose the location: store / café / train), how you want (choose the format: best of 5 / multiplayer / 1v1 / planechase), with who you want (choose which opponents to challenge), and with what you want (build your deck in any style you like, then choose your punishment packs from any Standard legal set you like if you lose). All of those choices are important in their own ways, but the one I am going to focus on today is the last and most crucial: how to evolve your deck through multiple iterations to become a metagame-dominating beast, from the basics all the way up.
First, the Basics
Face to Face Games Presents
HOW TO LEAGUE:
Chris Yorke & Johnny Mariani
Open 6 packs of the latest set
Register all your bomb rares
Build your league deck
Play at least 3 matches a week
Open a pack when you lose
Winner completes match slip
Get eliminated after 11 losses
or STEP 7B
Hang in there and make Top 8!
Free MegaDraft finals and prizes awarded at end of league!!
Ixalan Sealed League launches
10 am October 1st
Face To Face Games Montreal
$30 entry: join until October 8th
Advanced League Tips and Tricks
- Keep a separate box for your league cards
- Keep 10 punishment packs in your league box to help you keep track of how many losses you have left (or write your wins and losses directly on your league box)
- Rebuild from scratch after every loss to ensure that your deck is as good as it can possibly be (prevents ‘deck-blindness’)
- Play your minimum # of matches at least, and your maximum # if you possibly can, to ensure no unnecessary match losses result
- Remember that the number of matches you can play is determined by the Week # of league play x3 +3 (for instance, Week 1 = 3-6 matches; Week 2 = 6-9 matches; Week 3 = 9-12 matches; Week 4 = 12-15 matches; Week 5 = 15-18 matches; and Week 6 = 18-21 matches)
Expert Level League Advice: Evolving Your Deck
For this section, we’re going to take a look back at Hour of Devastation League as a case study. As my deck ended up in the #1 position of the main portion of the tournament (I dropped to #2 after the MegaDraft finals: more on that below), I’m in an excellent position to share the nuts and bolts of a relatively successful league deck-building process. So that you can play along at home, I’ll start with my full pool, then show you what I built from it. Then, I’ll go through each subsequent addition of booster packs with each loss, and share with you the rebuild which resulted from it (if you want to see what you would have done, just take a moment to think before you browse down and see what I did).
Neheb, the Eternal? Hour of Devastation?? Chaos Maw??? TWO Earthshaker Khenras???? With Sand Strangler and TWO Open Fires supporting all those on-color rares, I couldn’t help but laugh maniacally when I cracked my opening pool. Whatever it was I was building, red was a no-brainer. But I still had to fill out a 60-card deck, and so in my first draft of the deck I chose green as the next-best color in a supporting role.
Build #1: Gruul
Obviously, I just mashed all my red and green cards together with my artifacts in order to get down to two colors rather than three, as I valued being reliable over being powerful. I beat Ronan 2-1 on the first day of play, and noted some key synergies:
Quarry Beetle + Cycled Deserts
Thorned Moloch + Traveler’s Amulet
Firebrand Archer + Traveler’s Amulet
Deserts + Sand Strangler / Sidewinder Naga / Gilded Cerodon
22 Lands // 25 Creatures // 13 Spells (4 Red + 1 Green Removal)
In my next match, I lost to Michel A. who had opened well with Hour of Eternity. For no other reason than my happening to have one lying around, I added a pack of Battle for Zendikar to my pool:
The Gruul build felt a bit gutless to play (even when winning with it), so I decided to experiment with an aggro route early days by capitalizing on my low-to-the-ground suite of black cards. I thought that they’d be a more powerful complement to my unshakable red base. Was I right? You decide:
Build #2 Rakdos
22 Lands // 24 Creatures // 14 Spells (6 Red + 3 Black Removal)
Used 5/14 new cards
My second loss of the league came at the hands of Amir, who killed me in a most painful manner with his Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs: in game 3, when we were both at 1 life. When your deck is still in its infancy, without a fixed theme, you have a lot more freedom in what you can open in terms of punishment packs. So I opened Aether Revolt for my loss here simply because I wanted some tasty revolt triggers to go with my Traveler’s Amulets and Bone Splinters: plus, I figured that the artifact-heavy block could help pad out my deck regardless of which direction I went with it in the future. Again, you could argue here that there were more defensible standard-legal expansions I should have gone with:
Armed with these new cards I made some minor substitutions, then won vs. Chao Li, and Tim Min due to a rules blunder on his part (I was at 7 life when he copied his Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign with Mirage Mirror hoping to fly in for lethal, but the legend rule forced him to sacrifice his Mirror and open himself to my lethal crackback). My good luck came to an end when Tim Martoni savaged me with The Locust God. For loss #3 I opened Amonkhet, hoping for more in-block synergistic goodies:
This open prompted me to make a fairly significant revision to my red-black build, replacing some underperforming cards with better removal.
Build #3 Rakdos v. 2
22 Lands // 24 Creatures // 14 Spells (6 Red + 3 Black Removal)
Used 5/14 new cards
This build bought me a very tight win against Cameron, and a landslide over Michel J., who had joined the league late. A close match against a refreshed Tim Min resulted in loss #4 for me, and I whimsically added a pack of Shadows Over Innistrad to my pool:
One card in particular should stand out in that pack. The rare, Always Watching, is an outstanding combo with all exert cards, and I was incredibly fortunate to rip it. My white pool had been quietly accumulating strength in the background, and this booster was all it took to put it over the top and on a near-equal footing with my red cards. Angelic Purge is very nice against the God creature type, to boot…
Build #4: Boros
24 Lands // 21 Creatures // 15 Spells (3 Red + 3 White Removal)
Used 3/14 new cards
For the remainder of the league, this deck never really lost again and needed no further alterations. It felt amazing to play, and had answers for nearly everything. Eventually I rose to the top of the league standings, dethroning Tim Martoni (did you know that Struggle // Survive is also excellent removal against The Locust God?). Tim’s 2nd place decklist is included below to share a different route to inclusion in the league’s Top 8.
Honorable Mention: Tim Martoni’s Five Colour Good Stuff
Pro Level League Tech: Spotlight on Top 8 MegaDraft
The final standings of the league’s Top 8 players are always decided by MegaDraft, which is to say an oversized draft (usually of one pack of each standard-legal set), resulting in a 60-card deck. Now, the size of standard changes from 5-8 legal expansions, which means the MegaDraft changes in size every league. Nevertheless a MegaDraft deck will always be more powerful than a regular draft. Here’s a breakdown of a regular draft:
3 pack draft = 24/42 cards used = 57%
You get to choose 42 cards, and usually use around 24 of those in your deck, which means you are forced to use 57% of your pool. Clearly, if you get to choose even more cards, and use an even lower percentile of them, your deck will be more powerful. Compare the stats on MegaDraft:
5 pack Megadraft = 36/70 cards used = 51%
6 pack Megadraft = 36/84 cards used = 43%
7 pack Megadraft = 36/98 cards used = 37%
8 pack Megadraft = 36/112 cards used = 32%
I’m assuming that you’ll use around 36 of your picks to make a 60-card deck. Each pack added will have a substantial effect on the projected power level of the decks. In short, these decks are no joke, and can convincingly be built to run the gamut from aggro to midrange to control to combo. This fact can sometimes take players who are new to MegaDraft by surprise.
But the league finals are, above all else, for fun. This time, due to summer-level attendance, prize support was such that we could only do a 5-pack MegaDraft. We decided that instead of going back to Eldritch Moon, we’d make the fifth pack Conspiracy: Take the Crown. Insanity ensued!
In the end, I came in second place running red-green aggro. Below, I have included all of the cards that I used in my final deck, in the pack order that I received them. It should give you a good idea of which packs were key (in terms of % used), which could be helpful to you as 4/5 of the packs will be the same in the Ixalan MegaDraft.
Come MegaDraft With Me
Pack 1: Conspiracy: Take the Crown [7/15]
Pack 2: Kaladesh [7/14]
Pack 3: Aether Revolt [10/14]
Pack 4: Amonkhet [7/14]
Pack 5: Hour of Devastation [10/14]
The Monster at the End of This Book
There’s nothing I’d like better than to end this article on a triumphal note: to say that this is how I finally won my first league at Face To Face Games. That hard work and dedication to one’s craft inevitably pays off. That virtue is always rewarded. Instead…
Congratulations to Amir Hassan, HOU League Winner!
Amir cobbled together a deck of what looked to everyone else to be absolute garbage, and then proceeded to brutally crush the rest of us with it. There was one game where he Demonic Tutor’d for Immanent Doom, and then started ticking it up until it was doing 3-4-5 damage. There’s another where his Fate Foretold did most of the heavy lifting. I can’t bring myself to type any more on this subject—it’s too fresh and painful—but needless to say he’ll happily tell you all about this little slice of League Lore if you ask him. Congrats Amir… enjoy your victory… until Ixalan league (shakes fist in air)!!
For those who don’t know the basics about the series of leagues I’ve been running for Face To Face Games for the past two years, feel free to check out the following articles for more background:
- Amonkhet League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-31-league-bolas/
- Aether Revolt League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-29-league-update-aether-revolt-amonkhet/
- Kaladesh League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-26-kaladesh-league/
- Conspiracy: Take the Throne League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-24-watch-back-conspiracy-2-one-day-can-play-league/
- Eldritch Moon League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-23-go-mad-eldritch-moon-one-day-can-play-league/
- Shadows Over Innistrad League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-22-soi-league-wrap/ & http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-17-announcing-shadows-innistrad-league/
- Oath of the Gatewatch League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-16/ & http://manadeprived.com/yorke-on-games-12-the-future-league-league/
- Battle for Zendikar League http://manadeprived.com/yorke-on-games-3-the-once-and-future-league/
Also, I’d like to recommend an excellent piece on the joy of playing league by Katie Roberts of Manaleak.com (although she’s talking about the 30-card variety, not our 60-card sealed league, a lot of what she says still applies): http://www.manaleak.com/mtguk/2017/08/everything-you-need-to-know-about-mtg-league-and-why-you-should-give-it-a-try
Final Note: Full Ruleset [Fine Print] for Ixalan League
- Player registration. The start date for the Ixalan sealed league is 10am, Sunday, October 1st, 2017 at Face To Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $30, which includes prizes and the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until October 8th (outstanding matches not resolved by 5pm Sunday, October 15th will count as losses).
- Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Ixalan to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. No trading of league cards is allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face To Face Games (this should also include a player’s email address in order to receive essential league updates). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned.
- Playing matches. Players are required to play a minimum of 3 best-of-three game matches per week, and are allowed a maximum of 6 matches, but may never play more than 3 matches in excess of the current minimum required number. This means that in Week 1, players can play between 3-6 matches; in Week 2, 6-9 matches; Week 3, 9-12 matches, and so on. Players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per league week (even in multiplayer matches). Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with automatic match losses for any missing matches, starting at the end of Week 2. Players who exceed their maximum number of matches per week, or who play against the same opponent more than once in a week, will either be disqualified or issued a severe warning at the TO’s discretion. If a player is disqualified for overplaying matches or opponents, that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Similarly, bad sportspersonship or other abusive play will not be tolerated in the course of playing league matches, and a player engaging in such behavior will either be issued a warning or be disqualified, depending on the severity of the behavior. The loser of each match may take a ‘punishment pack’: that is, the loser may open an unopened standard-legal booster pack in the presence of the winner, and add the contents to their league card pool, which the winner records on a match report slip. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10.
- Reporting matches. Winners must complete match report slips (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the punishment pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Match reports must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 5pm deadline on the Sunday of each week to count toward the current week’s minimum play requirement. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published via Facebook, along with current player standings.
- Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination) and can play no further matches. Players who do not play their minimum number of matches will automatically take losses (without punishment packs) until they reach that minimum: these auto-losses will count towards a player’s total number of match losses.
- Optional formats. Optional formats (such as ‘Planechase’, ‘Two-Headed Giant’, ‘Star Format’, and ‘Best-of-Five Games’ and more) are supported for league matches, if agreed upon by all players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decide to play an optional format. Multiplayer matches require multiple slips because they result in multiple losses and thus multiple punishment packs being opened: a 5-player ‘Star’ game, for example, would count as 4 matches being played (the winning player would claim 4 match wins, and the other players would take 1 loss each).
- Top 8. League winners are determined by elimination. When only eight players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals event (in the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week, resulting in less than 8 players remaining, tie-breakers for Top 8 will be decided first by [A] total # of matches won, then [B] total # of perfect 2-0 wins, and then [C] total # of matches played if necessary). The finals are always on the Sunday following the last week of league play, unless an alternate date is announced by the TO. In the finals, the Top 8 players will retire their league decks and receive a free MegaDraft, drafting one 1 booster from each standard-legal set (alternately passing packs left, then right; pack choice for draft may be altered if prize pool is insufficient). No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 60-card deck from their MegaDraft pool and play 3 best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Each league finals match win will count for 3 points, and each pre-finals match win will count as 1 point towards determining final ranking. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their finals matches.
- Final prizes. The Ixalan sealed league sponsor, Face To Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x boosters for each participating player + 24 packs toward the final MegaDraft in the league finals. Most of these packs will be used as MegaDraft sets for all Top 8 players; the remainder will be distributed among the Top 4 players according to their final rankings [in a 4:3:2:1 ratio, or as close as possible].