What’s good, Spirit Squad!

Today we’re gonna talk a bit about both The Lost Caverns of Ixalan (LCI) and the Regional Championship tournaments that are going to be the highlight of a lot of players’ competitive seasons. As of this writing, we’ve seen the results of most of the non-American Regional Championships, but there’re two main reasons we’ll focus on the American tournament today: first, LCI is going to be legal for the American event in Atlanta, which already separates it from the others, but also… I live in America. So this is gonna be where my focus lives.

Knowing that we have *some* tournament results, but also that we’re working with a new set release and incomplete meta information, how in the world does one prepare for such a large, stacked-with-talent tournament? That’s where I come in; here’s the process I use to prepare for tournaments:

  • The Meta Zoo
  • Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Study and Practice

The MetaZoo… wait. We’re still talking about Magic, right?

This three-part strategy really stays the same, no matter what gaming environment you find yourself in. So, sure. We can be talking about Magic, or even literal MetaZoo. But the fact is, the competitive metagame for most games is always a bit of a zoo, and in the context of Magic it’s your job to know what decks are seeing success. Since we’re preparing for the American Regional Championship tournament in today’s article, we’ll need to be aware of what’s happening in Pioneer.

Here’s a list of the 10 most popular decks in Pioneer, over the last two weeks. As we can see, there’re all kinds of archetypes available, so there’s gonna be a pretty wide list of things you should be prepared to deal with in a large tournament. This is also not even close to an exhaustive list of the decks you might be paired against in a Pioneer tournament, either. This is only the 10 most popular decks as of right now, and we still have to talk about the “new kid on the block”!

  • Aggro: Boros Convoke, Gruul Aggro, Mono-White Humans
  • Control: Azorius Control
  • Combo: Hidden Strings, Abzan Greasefang
  • Mid-Range: Rakdos Midrange, Rakdos Sacrifice
  • Big Mana: Mono-Green Devotion
  • Tempo: Izzet Phoenix

Realistically, this is also just the tip of the iceberg. Popular choices like my Azorius Spirits deck aren’t even in the Top 10 decks right now, so just know that there are a lot of viable choices, even outside of the Top 10 decks! Which segues into our next section:

Choose Your Own Adventure

This is the part where we determine just what deck you’d actually want to play in a large tournament. If you haven’t guessed, this is the easiest part of the tournament prep process for me.

If you’re already entrenched in the Pioneer tournament scene, my honest advice is this: play what you know. For example, a player like myself could choose to play a powerful deck like Izzet Phoenix, as it often plays like a tempo deck, or the de facto “best deck” that is Rakdos Midrange. But the truth of the matter is that the sheer amount of experience I have with my trademark Spirits deck will vastly outweigh the percentage points I may gain by playing a slightly more powerful deck.

However, if you’re new to Pioneer then now’s as good a time as any to determine what deck suits you best. As a very crude baseline, let’s look at the decks that exist in Modern, our current RCQ format, and translate Modern’s most popular choices into the decks you’d most likely enjoy in Pioneer if you like them:

Rakdos Scam: Rakdos Midrange or Rakdos Sacrifice
Yawgmoth Combo: Abzan Greasefang or Rakdos Sacrifice
Cascade Beans: Mono-Green Devotion or Izzet Phoenix
Crashing Footfalls: Boros Convoke or Izzet Phoenix
Amulet Titan: Lotus Field Combo or 5-Color Rona Combo
Murktide Regent: Izzet Phoenix or Azorius Spirits
Tron: Mono-Green Devotion or 5-Color Fires of Invention
Burn: Boros Pia Aggro or Gruul Aggro
Omnath: Omnath (seriously, it’s like the same deck, just no pitch Elementals)
Hammer Time: Boros Heroic or Boros Convoke

…and for all six of you who like Hardened Scales or Samwise Combo, there’s potential for a new Creature-based combo deck that’ll play with Wildgrowth Walker and the new Amalia Benavides Aguirre, so get brewing now and you may just get the jump on everyone!

This is by no means an exhaustive, or even accurate-to-everyone list of the decks that are available or that you should play. This list is just a guideline to help y’all understand how many viable archetypes are out there, and maybe this does help you find a deck you like. Another good way to determine what Pioneer deck you might like is to simply ask your peers. If you’re playing in the same environments week in and week out, the other players around you will probably have a good idea of what kind of decks you would enjoy or avoid. You know, The Gathering and all that.

And now we come to the fun part:

Study and Practice… but maybe not years of it.

This is the most important part! Don’t forget to actually play games of Magic to prepare! In a format like Pioneer where there are basically a million viable deck options, you gain a lot of percentage points by simply knowing the finer points of your deck.

Consider this a #HumbleBrag if you want, but here’s a point to highlight just how important experience and knowing your deck are: as a Spirits player, my win percentage against Izzet Phoenix is about 55% as of this writing (I still lose to Mono-Red style decks pretty badly most of the time, though!). The Phoenix matchup, for Spirits players, is so bad that we’ve made it something of a meme amongst ourselves, but matchup knowledge and experience have helped carry me through what is honestly a miserable matchup.

The point is that knowing what your job is in each matchup (this is expanded upon in my “Who’s the Beatdown: Still Relevant” article) and having the experience to act on your plan effectively can massively increase your chances of winning games of Magic in even your worst matchups, so pick a deck and get to work! Organize a play group with your locals, install Magic: the Gathering Online, do whatever you need to do to get your reps in and experience up for the tournaments you plan on playing in.

OK, so that’s it? Three steps, and I’m ready for big tournaments?

In a word: yeah. Like anything, preparing for something as large as a Regional Championship or as small as your local Friday Night Magic can be broken down into a few steps to make the process more palatable. To reiterate:

  • Know what’s happening in the tournament metagame.
  • Use that knowledge to pick a deck.
  • Play the deck you’ve chosen… a lot.

The second point is by far the easiest of the bunch, but the first and third steps each require a very real amount of work. Hopefully seeing the work spelled out in this article helps some of y’all with your tournament prep, and for any Americans reading this: I look forward to seeing y’all in Atlanta next month!

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