Deck Choice

Continuing to be in a V:TES state of mind and being inclined to answer my own questions, as a follow up to Sunday’s post about our recent qualifier (arguably should be called 2012-2013 Qualifier rather than 2012 Qualifier given what it’s a qualifier for), I think I’ll make some comments about choosing a deck for a tournament.

A note should be made.  I constantly argue for how little deck strength matters, so one might wonder why I would find it consequential what deck someone decides on playing.  There is strategy and there is tactics.  One’s deck is the strategy.  As much as I may not concern myself with the puissance of a particular endeavor at a sound strategy, which strategy chosen does provide a context for a game.  At the beginning of a game, one doesn’t have 20% or 25% chance of success.  As little a percentage I think is gained from deck quality, though I can see where a lot can be lost based on the lack of quality of a deck, the percentages can vary much more based upon which strategy is chosen and how the player plays that strategy.

What the basis is for choosing decks for tournaments varies depending upon goals.  In theory, for some few folks who exist somewhere in the multiverse, the goal is to win the tournament.  For those crackpots, choosing the strongest deck would seem to make sense.  But, what is the strongest deck?

Before getting too dense in the philosophizing, let’s break this post up.

1.  Goal

Besides the utterly incomprehensible goal of winning, there are more plausible goals, such as Archon Investigating every vampire in play, including your own.

Ahem, anyway, everyone should be endeavoring to win.  Not playing to win produces anguish for all concerned.  However, there’s winning and nothing else and there’s winning with something else.  Many fall into the latter camp.

Rarely, I will trot out a rush deck for a tournament.  Given an abhorrence for such decks, one might wonder why.  I’ve been playing this game a long time.  To ignore an element of it seems inappropriate.  So, rather than build on a strength, e.g. playing stealth bleed (perhaps), work on a weakness.  That, and variety.

Many other examples of “win+” are readily available:  playing a clan not played before; playing a discipline not played before; playing a combo deck not played before; minionless deck; etc.

There are those who simply desire to win.  Their job is not necessarily any easier.  In the absence of restrictions on what sort of deck to play, value judgments need to be made on what deck is likely to be most successful.  Ignoring the next two subjects for a moment, that could be the deck with the most powerful strategy, the deck that plays the best cards, the deck that generates the least table hate or is otherwise the sneakiest deck, the hardest deck for others to defend against (e.g. a combo deck others haven’t seen), or whatever.

2.  Metagaming

Regardless as to how badly one wants to win or what recipe one wants to win with, metagaming for the expected tournament environment can suggest deck builds or deck choices.

Sure, if your heart is set on playing !Salubri Clan Impersonate to Camarilla clans to become Justicars so that you can Alastor Assault Rifles into play, deck choice is not going to be determined much by expected metagame.

While I typically find myself having multiple decks ready for multiple events and needing to determine which deck to play in which event on a given day, weekend, or Week, even for a single event, the metagame will influence the best deck choice.

I find that metagaming for V:TES events is quite hit or miss, mostly miss.  So, there is a question of the benefit one gains as one invests in metagaming.  Still, I now feel bad for not running Confusion of the Eye in my 2012 Qualifier deck.  Not that that was a deck choice but, instead, a card choice.  The deck choice would have been to have prepared an anti-vote deck, like I had in 2010’s qualifier, an entirely legitimate metagame decision given how much hate I feel for voting these years.

A more relevant example may be the 2009 Las Vegas Qualifier.  In one event, I played a 20 bounce deck.  In the other, a different deck.  I wondered at the time whether I would have been better with my deck choices switched as the bouncerrific deck appeared to play in the more voterrific of the two events.

Then, there’s timing.  When a new set becomes legal, not a problem we have at the moment of course, there will be those who use it.  Doesn’t have to be a new set, however.  It could be a rules change, a discovery of card interactions, or even just whether there has been tournaments recently or not in ages.

Not as germane, but storyline rules typically produce a distinct metagame to where metagaming is more predictable and comes with more benefits.

I would be remiss in not mentioning metagaming not for decks but for players.  Above, I mention the possibility of playing a deck the field doesn’t understand well.  How familiar players will be and how unfamiliar players will react to an esoteric deck is a metagame consideration.  As are, of course, what sort of play styles players have.  As someone who used to play smaller tournaments, I had a pretty good idea who would be at them and adjusted my deck decisions appropriately.  It would be interesting to see if one could group players in larger tournaments by style like one can group decks by style to metagame.  A European might have more to say on this as certain countries appear to have certain reputations; if that’s accurate, a multinational event is an opportunity to metagame based on national character.

3.  Comfort

This is where my playing a rush deck is a perfect example.  I lack any sort of comfort with the rush strategy.  I am not a preemptive sort.  I am a reactive sort.  There are cases when minion removal is justified – those are few.  In general, minion removal just leads to players waiting to die, which is far less enjoyable than being dead.

The strongest deck for any given player is not necessarily the best metagame deck or the objectively strongest deck, to the extent that someone could judge either of those.  For a given player, success, as measured first by winning the tournament, followed by such things as a seat at the finals, is more likely when the player plays the particular deck well.

More than one element goes into playing the deck well.  Knowledge of the deck’s strategy and how it interacts with opposing strategies is one facet.  Being in tune with the strategy is what I speak of when speaking of my own difficulties with the rush strategy.  But, also, there’s simply desiring to play the deck.

Also in that qualifier post, I commented upon how I would be bored playing the same decks over and over as others are wont to do.  There are decks I have interest in playing more than twice in my life – they are few.  As an example of a lack of desire, I could point to the second round of the fourth tournament over Labor Day Weekend in Los Angeles, where “Catatonic Dudes” was so excruciating to play that I hoped for a mercifully quick end.  Or, I could point to a Summer tournament in 2009 where my tournament report clearly shows a disgust with tournament play in general and a desire to play a deck that simply played quickly to get things over with.

What prompted this subject was how much more successful, in a horribly insufficient sample size way, I was playing decks never intended for tournament play in Los Angeles versus playing decks I built specifically to play in tournaments this past weekend.  Now, there are many factors, including randomness, at work that could just as easily explain the difference in results, and it wasn’t like I was completely inept on Saturday as I did come within a VP of the finalists in the second tournament, but I would posit that I was more comfortable with the decks I played in Los Angeles, which contributed in some way to heightened success.

Why?  Why would “just some” deck be better for tournament play than decks I specifically design for tournament play?

I believe I try too hard.  I have a streak of trying to be way too clever for my own good.  Now, it’s important to me to play decks from my limited collection experiments in tournaments to address goals of the experiments.  But, playing one deck in a day that had the potential for frustration (by not having cards I would normally run), even though it didn’t frustrate me in the least, was sufficient in the realm of doing something different.  The first tournament’s deck could have been even more frustrating if the second tournament had turned out differently.

Of course, another possibility is lack of pressure.  When I build a deck specifically for a tournament, I do so with the intention of achieving as best as possible with that deck.  When I play “just some” deck, I don’t feel burdened by the idea that I gain value from succeeding with such a deck.

Note how many times someone who wins a tournament speaks of throwing together a deck at the last minute.  Is that the deck with the best strategy or the best cards?  Is that the metagame breaker?  Maybe, it’s just the most comfortable deck since it comes with no expectations.

Why do deck choices matter?

That’s too broad a question for this post.  Why do I care enough to speak of making deck choices?

I suppose that I wish to argue myself out of trying too hard.  Meanwhile, I believe it’s worth publishing the idea that it’s both possible to underthink deck choice by not even trying to metagame – see lack of vote defense in Saturday’s qualifier leading to a vote deck crushing – and overthink deck choice by worrying too much about how good a deck should be or how clever a deck should be.

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