Who's the Beatdown?
The most common (yet subtle, yet disastrous) mistake I see in
tournament Magic is the misassignment of who is the beatdown deck
and who is the control deck in a similar deck v. similar deck
matchup. The player who misassigns himself is inevitably the loser.
You see, in similar deck v. similar deck matchups, unless the
decks are really symmetrical (i.e. the true Mirror match), one deck
has to play the role of beatdown, and the other deck has to play the
role of control. This can be a very serious dilemma, if, say, both
are playing aggressive decks.
Let me give you an example: At a 1.x PTQ in Washington D. C., my
teammate Al Tran was playing for a top 8 slot v. Sligh. Al was
playing Lan D. Ho's White weenie/Jank deck, normally an aggressive
deck... but not v. Sligh.
The match was split 1-1, and the third game was going to
determine who made top 8.
Al's opponent went first and laid a Jackal Pup. At this point, Al
had 2 Cursed Scrolls, 2 Swords to Plowshares, an Honorable Passage,
and some land in hand. Al chose not to Plow the Jackal Pup, taking 2
on the first attack.
His opponent played another Pup. Al didn't Plow either, waiting
on Scroll mana or a Lightning Bolt.
On his own second turn, Al played another land and a Cursed
Scroll, so he only had 1 land up.
On his opponent's third turn, you guessed it, another Mountain
came down, followed by Ball Lightning. Al was forced to Plow the
Ball. He gained control over the next few turns, but ended up dying
What was the problem here? Al was a beatdown deck, and he wanted
to deal damage to his opponent via the Jackal Pups. However, in this
particular matchup, he had to play the control deck. You see, Sligh
is just much faster than Jank, so Jank's way to win has to be
stifling Sligh's early speed with removal, and then locking down the
midgame with Cursed Scrolls. Because Sligh also has Cursed Scrolls,
as well as more bolts than Jank, the only way that Jank can win is
to make sure it has a decent life total as it plays its own threat
Though it ostensibly hurts the initial race to give the Sligh
player 4 additional life from the Jackal Pups, you can see from this
example that Al had to give him 6 more life from the Ball Lightning,
and still took at least 8 from the Pups before he could control
them. It would have profited Al much more to Plow the Pups, Passage
the Ball, and enter the midgame with 20 life as he started to
threaten with his own Paladins, Priests, etc.
The same comparison can be made when 2 control-based decks slug
it out. At the same PTQ, I was playing High Tide against what is
normally a dangerous matchup for me, CounterSliver. My opponent was
running the usual array of Slivers, Worship, and permission, as well
as Cursed Scroll. He made the mistake of thinking he was the control
After playing a turn-2 Crystalline Sliver, he followed up 2 turns
later with Worship, so I Stroked him out. (I killed him the first
game with Palinchron, and because I mostly showed him some Disrupts,
Force Spikes, and card drawing, he may have thought I was more
It doesn't matter... he thought he was the control deck in this
matchup when clearly I was the control deck. I had a comparable or
greater amount of permission, but where he had Slivers, I had card
drawing and deck manipulation; where he had dual lands, I had
Thawing Glaciers. My Thaws were going to insure that I never missed
a land drop. I had already housed a couple of his Brainstorms with
Disrupt. This means that I was going to win the long game every
His job, therefore, was to kill me before I killed him. The
normal formula is to play some decent-sized Slivers (2 power or
more) attacking every turn and leaving mana open to try to counter
whatever the opposing blue deck does that might be threatening (you
know, a Wrath of God, an Engineered Plague, or in this case the High
Tide finishing combo). First of all, he probably should have tried
to threaten me more aggressively: only one Crystalline gives me a
lot of turns of Thawing and card-drawing. Secondly, tapping out is
the death knell: I didn't even have to waste a Turnabout on him.
In similar deck v. similar deck matchups there are a couple of
things that you want to look at to figure out what role to play:
If you are the beatdown deck,
you have to kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. If you
are the control deck, you have to weather the early beatdown and get
into a position where you can gain card advantage.
- 1. Who has more damage? Usually he has to be the beatdown
- 2. Who has more removal? Usually he has to be the control
- 3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Almost always he
has to be the control deck.
For an example of correctly determining who is the beatdown deck
and who is the control deck, look at the Sligh v. Sligh match
between Price and Pacifico at the top 8 of the 1998 U.S. Nationals.
Although on the surface, the two players seem to be playing very
similar decks, there are major design differences:
Dave's deck was running more Cursed Scrolls than Pacifico's, and
he also had Hammer of Bogardan and Fireslinger. His only real
beatdown was Jackal Pup and Ball Lightning -- the rest of the deck
was more control and utility oriented.
Pacifico's deck was much more damage-oriented... it was based
around attacking and celerity creatures instead of dedicated
removal. In addition to Jackal Pup and Ball Lightning, he had Goblin
Vandal, Mogg Flunkies, Suq'ata Lancer, and Viashino Sandstalker.
Furthermore, Pacifico's deck lacked Fireslinger and Hammer of
Bogardan, and ran only 3 Cursed Scrolls.
While Dave's deck could definitely get a quick start, in this
matchup, his deck was the control deck, set up for the long game. In
one duel, Dave just played land and Scrolls and did very little
else. He started by removing Pacifico's creatures with blocks or
bolts, and then Scroll-locked him, gained a little card advantage,
and finished the game.
Had Dave tried to race Pacifico, he might not have won. When two
players are just blindly throwing their creatures into one another,
the one with more damage-oriented cards is going to win the race
(but I figure we expect good Sligh play from the King of Red).
Finally, think about the Suicide Black v. Sligh matchup. These
are both very fast beatdown decks. Sligh invariably wins.
Which deck has more damage? Suicide Black. It runs many high
power-to-cost creatures, like Carnophage, Sarcomancy, and sometimes
Flesh Reaver. Sometimes it has stuff like Hatred. It damages even
Which deck has more removal? Sligh. If Suicide Black even runs
Cursed Scrolls, the Sligh deck can invariably match them. Moreover,
the Sligh deck has not just weenies, but bolts.
Though Sligh is very fast (goldfish around turn 4), Suicide Black
can goldfish on turn 2 or 3 depending on the version and the Ritual
draw. Clearly the Suicide Black deck has to be the beatdown deck and
the Sligh deck has to be the control deck. However, Suicide Black
*can't afford* to be the beatdown deck. It can't lay many of its
clocks, especially Sarcomancy or Flesh Reaver, because the Sligh
deck has so many bolts. It can almost never cast a Hatred, for fear
of auto-loss to an Incinerate. So if it can't really beat down, the
Suicide Black deck has to try to be the control deck.
Anyone who has ever witnessed this matchup (at least when the
Sligh deck gets a decent draw) knows how well control-oriented
Suicide Black turns out.
Misassignment of Role = Game Loss.
After sideboarding, the Suicide Black deck has traditionally done
*much* better. By taking out a lot of its "damage myself" cards for
creature removal and life gaining, it can play the control role more
adequately, and has a much improved (if not great)chance of winning.
Team Discovery Channel