I Hate Winning

I have been a “Miracles” player since Grand Prix New Jersey in 2014. Even before then, I’ve been drawn primarily to control-based strategies in Magic about the time I started playing, in 2012. In my entire history of building decks, I’ve built control decks, with as few ways to win the game as possible. After all, if I’m going to win eventually, any win-conditions beyond what is strictly necessary are just wasted cards. This philosophy was the driving force behind the one-dimensional deck lists that I played up until, and through, the Legacy ban on Sensei’s Divining Top.

In deck design, I eschewed a lot of cards for being “inelegant.” My refusal to play Blood Moon, or other nonbasic land-hate, is a prime example. In card evaluation, I solely focused on the “floor” of a card like this, thinking, “How bad is this card when it’s bad?” and I simply saw it impeding my own ability to play Magic. I did not consider the upside of the card to be worth the downside, because the upside was simply “winning the game,” and I had no interest cards that simply “won” because I was so focused on “not losing.” I made the assumption that as long as I was not losing, I would eventually win, somehow. This proved to be true… for a time.

After the Sensei’s Divining Top ban, the development of new Miracles was a slow process. A few groups would try various iterations that seemed pop up from time to time, but nothing caught on. Even in my own testing, I was losing quite a bit, trying my best iterations of Miracles, and still not coming remotely close to having a winning record. My friends had the same experience. A few people were seeing some success with the archetype, but their deck lists were ugly, filled with cards like Blood Moon or Monastery Mentor, that would either “win the game” outright, or do nothing but impede our own elegant “control” plan. So, I stubbornly adhered to my own deck-building values, losing over and over.

Eventually, I got so frustrated that I decided to take a serious look at the winning Miracles decks, and started to see trends. The GP Chiba 2016 Miracles list had 4 Monastery Mentor and 4 Daze, and the GP Lille list had the same! GP Columbus 2016: 4 Monastery Mentor, Blood Moons, Back to Basics. GP Louisville 2017: lots of Monastery Mentors and Blood Moons. I was astounded; my inherent belief about the correct way to build control decks appeared to be almost complete balderdash.

I started to look more introspectively. Why did I believe what I did about Miracles deck construction? I realized that the answer was equal parts simple and silly: I thought players better than me believed that way, so I blindly followed them, unwilling to try strategies I thought they would disapprove of. So I scrapped it all and started trying cards that I had previously dismissed as poor control cards with a low floor: Back to Basics, Spell Pierce, and high quantities of cards like Monastery Mentor.

I quickly found out that Legacy was a completely different format after the ban of Sensei’s Divining Top, and that it transformed again after the banning of Gitaxian Probe and Deathrite Shaman. Sure, a lot of the same archetypes existed through it all, but they now had completely different vulnerabilities. I was finally winning, and it was largely on the back of those cards that I hurriedly dismissed before: Back to Basics and Spell Pierce.

I eventually realized that I didn’t get “bonus points” for winning in the most elegant way possible, and for playing the most elegant deck list possible. Winning with a clean, elegant control deck earned me 3 match points, but the same was true if I were to win with Cavern of Souls and Venser, Shaper Savant in my deck, or winning with Back to Basics on turn 3, or somehow leveraging a Spell Pierce on turn 11. Winning was winning, and it took me entirely too long to come to terms with that. I had become my own biggest barrier to winning, since winning by stabilizing at 1 life while slowly grinding your opponent into dust is significantly more work than just locking your opponent out of the game with Back to Basics on turn 3.

I’ve learned to not dismiss cards because they are “cute,” have a low “floor,” or because they don’t have synergy with the control game-plan. Keep an open mind and a willingness to try anything, and never underestimate the value of just winning.

If it looks stupid, but it works, it isn’t stupid.

Written by Min