Block Rotation - by Jim Grimmett

A common complaint amongst the tournament players I know is that blocks of cards rotate out of Type II too fast. There aren't many Extended or Type 1 tournaments near where we all live, so Type II tends to be the defining contructed format in our area. The biggest complaint is that it takes months to get to know the new cards and so tournament attendances drop off... no one likes to lose.

I thought I'd share my thoughts and methods on what to do around the time of a block rotation, especially with one right around the corner.

I started playing Magic during the time of the Mirage block, just before Ice Age rotated out. I was happy when it did as I didn't have many cards and it put me on a more even footing with my new playmates. Since then I've watched all my favourite Mirage cards rotate out for Urza's block cards, and I'm about to see my Tempest cards - by far the greatest number of cards I have - leave for good. Am I going to stop going to tournaments? No. What am I going to play? That's a good question.

I always start by looking at mono-coloured rush decks. White Weeny, Suicide Black, Green Beatdown, Fish and a red rush/burn deck. Build new versions of these and play them off against each other for a couple of weeks. Tweaking a deck when it gets to the bottom of the pile after five or so games. After a while you'll end up with two or three of the decks that seem to work quite well against the others. These are your alpha test decks. Every new deck I will build must be able to win at least 1 in three games against the top two or three rush decks before I'll start to work on it seriously.

Once you have your test decks you have to make your new tourney decks. Mine come in two flavours:

  1. modifications of existing deck-types.
  2. decks built around new 'cool looking' cards.
I take three or four deck types I like to play and look for analogues in the new sets for cards that have rotated out. In some cases decks get worse, in some cases they get better. Most people would say that Red burn/rush deck got faster with the advent of Tempest, whilst green decks lost a lot of utility creatures and slowed down a bit. What you're looking for here is an unexpected synergy between new cards, something you didn't realise would be that good. For me it's been Yavimia Elder and Masticore. The Elder gives you three new cards - as well as thinning your deck - excellent when you're down to only one or two in your hand with the Masticore in play. When you spot a new good thing, look to see if it's because of a new mechanic. If it is - play with some of the other cards that have it and see how they shape up. They may play better than they look like they will.

Test these against your alpha decks. In some cases they'll get crushed, in others they'll be obviously superior - build sideboards for the test decks and see if that helps. Eventually you'll be left with one or two decks that behave, if not better, but differently against the rush decks. Good decks to build of this type are a heavy control deck (12-20 conterspells) some form of Ernie-geddon, a lock deck that will deny a resource (generally mana or cards) or a black discard/control deck. The resulting decks should push the evolution of your original aplha test decks, and thereby push forward their own evolution - this should give you around four, good beta test decks.

Finally I look for cards I think might define new deck types. I didn't spot Academy straight away, or the Will/Necro decks that sprung up everywhere - but I started working on my own Ensnaring bridge/discard decks - even if they never became Tier 1. The type of cards you want to look out for are cards that look like ones we've seen before (but are restricted or banned) such as Stroke of Genius, Yawgmoth's Bargain, cards that look like they'll generate a lot of card advantage such as Wildwire, Catastrophe or Planar Collapse and cards with new mechanics, such as Fluctuator. Start off making the decks very single minded until they do something good - like deck your opponent on turn four, then play them against the fastest rush deck you've built and your new more controlling decks and start to work out the sorts of defensive and utility cards you'll need to make it really work.

When you think these are ready you'll have your first version decks. It'll take you a month or so to run through the whole process, and your rush decks will probably be the strongest of the lot - having been worked on more than the others. Play them against your friends and see how they do. If you choose two or three, then you'll familiarise yourself with how they play. You can never underestimate how much of an advantage playing with a deck you know will give you, sometimes you can even win against a better opponent, just because they were playing a new deck. Some of your friends decks will beat you so take notes, go home and work how to beat them. Then you'll be ready for a tournament.

Take the best to a tourney and see what's there. You might win, you might not. Whatever you do take A LOT of notes and go home and spend the next weeks tweaking the decks you've got and building new ones. Whatever you take remember that there'll always be control, always be some rush decks and always be some burn decks. Be ready for them.

That's just about it folks, I've followed this path, and a modified version of it when every new expansion is released for the last two years. I might not win many tourneys, but I rarely loose DCI points overall, even with a brand new block, and that's not bad for a casual player who plays once a week and has made the UK nationals for the last two years running ;)

Cheers, Jim Grimmett
Bath Magic UK -