Analysis Paralysis

In the muggle world, I’m a mechanical engineer. At the risk of this sounding like a job interview, my greatest professional strength is analyzing a difficult problem and finding a solution when it initially looks like none exist. My most significant weakness, however, is when I am solving a problem and find multiple reasonable solutions. All too often, I fall into the trap known as “analysis paralysis.”

Wikipedia describes the issue in the following, brutally honest way:

“Analysis paralysis is when the fear of potential error outweighs the realistic expectation or potential value of success, and this imbalance results in suppressed decision-making in an unconscious effort to preserve existing options. An overload of options can overwhelm the situation and cause this "paralysis", rendering one unable to come to a conclusion. It can become a larger problem when in critical situations where a decision needs to be reached but a person is not able to provide a response fast enough, potentially causing a bigger issue than they would have had they made a decision.”

As it turns out, I have this issue in my hobby, too.

Discovery is my favorite part of Magic. To explain exactly what I mean, I’m going to use a very long analogy, comparing a Magic tournament to a race to the top of a mountain.

Different racers prepare for this race in their own ways. Some people find a route they think is great and then specialize in at racing up that route, like Julian Knab with Elves or Cyrus Corman-Gill with ANT. Some people try to find a less-traveled route, accepting that it may not be quite as good as the “Tier 1” routes, but it provides them the unique advantage of less congestion up the mountain. Think of someone like Daniel Nunes on Slivers.

I like to find a route, work out the best way up it, and move on to find another route to optimize. Perhaps I don’t physically master the actual mechanical process of climbing each route, but I get good enough to understand how that route compares to all the other routes I try. Rationally, I justify this by saying that it allows me to choose one of many routes the day of the race. Maybe some routes are better in different weather conditions. Maybe one of the routes I like is super congested with racers. I want options, and I want to be prepared to pick whatever option is best on race day. Or, less flatteringly, perhaps I’m just deep in the trenches of analysis paralysis.

The only known Legacy Grand Prix of the year is coming up in six weeks, in Niagara Falls, and I’m going! I don’t go to many big Magic tournaments anymore, and have only played in two Grands Prix prior. Naturally, I want to make this one count. Between my own collection and the generosity of friends, I effectively have access to any deck I would want to play.

Through a bunch of leagues on Magic Online and a few local paper events, I’ve narrowed my choices down to three decks: Steel Stompy, Grixis Phoenix, and UW Delver.

Door #1

Door #1

Door #2

Door #2

Door #3

Door #3

In an effort to be quantitative and mathematical, I made a spreadsheet detailing the aggregate weighted matchup profiles of each of these decks. For each deck, I rated a plethora of matchups 1-9, where 1 is abysmal and 9 is close to a free win. I then multiplied these against their approximate metagame percentages (obtained via MTGGoldfish and MTG Top8), and summed their total scores.

Steel StompyEldrazi AggroGrixis PhoenixUW DelverMTGGoldfishMTGtop8
vs...    Deck Meta %Deck Meta %
Grixis Delver35346.64
UW Delver45352.523
UR Delver33361.893
UB Shadow55562.521
Burn44462.53
Miracles66745.668
UWx Blade75732.525
Grixis Control74834.726
Eldrazi Aggro65261.576
Eldrazi Post73372.831
Steel Stompy54161.262
Mono R Prison62534.723
4c Loam32553.142
Lands43322.833
Turbo Depths32371.21
Slow Depths43453.773
ANT98444.094
TES98551.891
Phoenix98572.21
Sneak and Show64683.464
BR Reanimator76672.24
Dredge87741.51
Death & Taxes35753.147
Elves64532.833
       
Weighted Totals (Goldfish)394.24328.61347.41338.86  
Weighted Totals (Top8)432371397376  
Weighted Totals (Average)413.12349.805372.205357.43 

I included Eldrazi Aggro in the table to answer the question, “If I’m considering an aggressive Chalice deck for the GP, why am I considering Steel Stompy over Eldrazi Aggro?”

For a reference as to what these numbers mean, a deck evenly matched up against everything (all 5’s) would have an average weighted total score of 376.4. A deck that has a “6” rating across all matchups would have an aggregate score of 451.7, while a deck with a “4” rating across all matchups would only score 301.1.

Assuming my matchup scores are accurate, Steel Stompy looks to have the best matchup profiles across the field, 40 points ahead of Phoenix, which is 15 points ahead of UW Delver, which is 8 points ahead of Eldrazi Aggro.

I’ve also been tracking my records with every deck I’ve played since the bans of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe. With Steel Stompy, I have 106 wins and 44 losses, winning 71% of my matches. With Grixis Phoenix, I’m at a modest 15 wins and 14 losses, or 52%. With UWx Delver decks, I’m at 33 wins and 22 losses, a clean 60%.

Math says I should play Steel Stompy, but I’m in the middle of analysis paralysis here! We all know numbers don’t tell the full story. Qualitatively, each of these decks have pros and cons.


Steel Stompy

Pros: The deck is insanely powerful, and I think I’m a bit better than your average Chalice player. While my paper sample size is low, I can honestly claim that I have never missed a Chalice trigger, and I’ve won every tournament I’ve entered with the deck. That may be one win for one entry, but who’s counting?

Cons: I don’t own the deck. I can borrow it, but that means borrowing thousands of dollars of cards and bringing them across the country with me. While I would obviously be extremely careful with the cards, borrowed or not, there’s always a stressor involved with making sure I don’t lose or damage things that I don’t own. If something happens to my own cards, that’s on me, and I can let myself be “out” the thing I lost. If I something happens to something I’m borrowing, I’m replacing it with the equivalent cards, in as good or better condition. Ideally, I’d like to not have this confounding factor causing me undue stress at a large tournament.


Grixis Phoenix

Pros: The deck is very new. Its debut was something like a month ago, and its current form, with Dark Confidants, even more recent than that. If the deck can post the performances it’s had in its infancy, it could easily develop into brokenness in the next six weeks. With how difficult the deck is (see cons), I would be remiss to not spend time honing my skills with it in case it develops into something even stronger than it is now. It’s also the most fun deck I’ve played...ever. There aren’t any other decks where I could 0-3 a paper weekly event or fail to cash a league and then tell you I had a good time. Playing Phoenix means that no matter how I actually do at the tournament, I’ll be enjoying it regardless.

Cons: This deck is incredibly hard to play; never have I been less confident in my ability to play a deck well. You have to simultaneously balance the combo window, like you would for Storm, but also balance your fair game plan with it. Storm is already considered one of the hardest decks in Legacy, and that’s “just” to figure out when to combo / answer hate cards, then combo. Phoenix is figuring out whether to leverage the fair game plan or combo plan, constantly reassess whether that plan needs to change, whether to leverage cantrips to find the correct part of your deck, or save them for Elemental tokens or Storm count when resources are low, and then answer hate cards, find your combo window (if you’re going that route), and combo. I feel like I misplay the deck constantly, and making any single judgment call wrong, out of dozens, is often the difference between a win and a loss. My win percentage with Phoenix is much lower than my win percentages with other decks, and the deck’s difficulty is primarily to blame.


UW Delver

Pros: When I bought into Legacy in 2012, it was to play Jeskai Delver. I loved that deck and everything about it, and the UW Delver deck now is basically the same thing, except I get to play some pretty APAC basics. I’ve written articles about why it’s okay to put Swords to Plowshares in a Delver deck, and people who know me often associate me with the deck. I’m comfortable piloting the deck, and know I won’t be mentally fatigued playing it for 9-15 rounds of Magic.

Cons: It’s nothing special, other than my sentimental attachment to it. At this point in the Legacy metagame, I believe that the primary key to success is to leverage powerful openings, often with fast mana. Phoenix and Steel Stompy do this; UW Delver does not. It has worse matchup profiles than my other two contenders, so why bother?


Sometimes, shouting into the void provides clarity. Writing this article, a desperate plea for insight when I wasn’t able to name a single card that I was sure I’d be registering, has brought something to light: I shouldn’t play UW Delver. It’s probably the right choice for many people playing in the Grand Prix, but I’m not one of them. I can now confidently announce one card I’m going to register: Lotus Petal.

 
Lotus Petal.jpg
 

Written by Max