Shard of the Week: Sleeve Em’ Up… Finding Your Best Archon
As a teenager in the mid 90s, my mind was blown by an article I read in a Magic the Gathering magazine. Apparently, the best players in the world were playing solo games against themselves to test their decks. Back then, it was brilliant. Nowadays, card gamers have gotten much more advanced and this kind of advice comes across as obvious, though still relevant. In today’s article, I will discuss a few of the methods I use to analyze decks, hopefully with a greater depth than the wisdom of the past. With any luck, I can help you decide which Archon is your absolute best. At worst, you will have an inside look at the methods I use as a competitive player.
Playing vs Analysis
Many players use statistical analysis from websites. Counting how many of your cards steal, or tricks like counting the Aember pips on cards but these only give a generic baseline for how your deck “might” function. A quick Google search will yield some sites for deck analysis, as well as a large community of gamers who would insist the answer is just “playing your decks”. As an obsessed Keyforger, I can tell you with certainty that no algorithm is ever 100% accurate. Bear in mind that algorithms are made by human beings, as a shortcut to playing an infinite number of games. So while this provides a decent baseline, it may also steer you away from a great deck because it has “bad stats”. I’m not bashing these sites in any way. Don’t get me wrong, for players who don’t have the time to test hours of gameplay they are a blessing and do a really good job. It’s that small percentage of variance, however, that leads me to play almost every deck I open. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you how many games I have playtested to get where I am now, or how poorly rated some of my best decks actually are. This variance is typically derived from a few choice cards that work so much better in my own deck, with scoring that couldn’t possibly attest to their actual potency.
One of these decks for me is ‘B. A. Lorevine of the Incisive Kingdom’, Untamed, Sanctum, and Shadows. The deck typically wins when you are able to force the opponent into turns where they unload more creatures than usual. The follow up from one of two Lifewebs in the deck can bring a massive advantage in Aember. In many decks Lifeweb is just an okay card, however, in my deck it’s an all-star. Not to mention all the combo plays this deck can manage with Masterplan! If I were to try and sell the deck, it wouldn’t get a tenth of what it’s worth to me. So many players focus on online ratings and miss out on the real treasures that may already be in their collections. If you have the chance to play every deck you open, do so. On a budget? Then you have no excuse not to.
There are a few statistics I always take into consideration, but these can be calculated just by looking at your deck. High Aember generation, lots of stealing, lots of high power creatures, the presence of board wipes and artifact removal. But typically, the outstanding ways a deck functions won’t be as easy to identify until you sit down to play.
So how have I been testing?
As efficiently as possible.
Since I have owned and playtested with around 300 or so decks, I need a serious schedule of how to analyze everything quickly, yet efficiently. If you are reading this, it means that you probably already have a few stronger decks you prefer playing with. Those will be a good starting point.
My first bit of advice would be to use your own favorite decks (typically 3-5) as a “gauntlet” to run new decks through. It doesn’t even matter if you have an opponent, just run your best vs. those new decks by yourself. Play both sides and see how they look. It’s a fair analysis since you will likely be the pilot of your own decks anyway. Sure, one deck might play better in the hands of another player but that isn’t the puzzle we are trying to solve here. We just need to know what works for you. Unless a deck is obviously terrible, I will typically run any deck I open against my own top five.
If you notice a deck that seems to crush everything else, then you’ve found a new contender in your gauntlet. Using the win/loss tracker in the master vault app can easily tell you when the time is right to retire one of your decks from your personal best gauntlet. After a while of testing, you will be exclusively seeking out only the best decks that win half or more of their games when tested. The hardest part is not getting too attached to your favorite decks.
It takes some cold statistical analysis to know what is really good for you. Fortunately, numbers don’t lie.
Don’t forget to mix it up, too. I like to roll a die to determine what matchups I play so I don’t end up using the same three decks repeatedly from my top five gauntlet. This will give a wider spread of statistics to your casual master vault game results. More information is always the goal.
CotA vs AoA…
My experience so far with Age of Ascension has been interesting. I have run approximately 20 or so AoA decks through my gauntlet with strange results. What I immediately noticed were the performances from my best CotA decks. Decks that would typically win 80% of their games would be struggling against some of the new strategies of AoA. While some of my other CotA decks with lower win percentages were easily outclassing those same AoA decks. This will be an important variance to take note of, as your local meta will typically be comprised of players who are either excited to try out their Age of Ascension decks, or still enjoying their older favorite Call of the Archons decks. This distinction could be a valuable asset to determine what you should bring to your local events. Something I always take note of in the master vault app. There will always be more research to do. My end goal from this analysis will be discovering which of my favorite decks play best against CotA, which ones play best against AoA, and what deck has the best chance of winning when I don’t have a clue what to expect from my opponents.
Testing as a Team
Once you have reached your pinnacle of solo deck analysis, you will have a better understanding of which decks you will want to try out with friends and teammates. Running a mini in-home (or online) tournament wouldn’t be a bad idea. The greatest benefit is the variance of decks you can experience from multiple collections of well-tested decks. It doesn’t hurt to play against outsiders, but when you test with a team you will know that you are always playing against the best of what your group can provide.
On a side note, playtest groups are the perfect place to test your abilities for predicting and maneuvering the plays of your opponent; something impossible to test in solo play, but vital in Archon events.
Eventually, you will reach a point where the team has identified the best of the best. With any luck, one of these decks will be yours. But even if it’s not, you can take pleasure from being part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing that your efforts are guiding your team and friends to victory, there are no losers in that scenario.
So that’s all I have for today. No magic wand to make you win. No easy analysis. Just the truth: Getting the edge in any competition will take work, and no small amount of dedication. As the Unicorn once said to Alice- “If you believe in me, then I will believe in you.”
Until next time, keep forging ahead!
PS: I dedicate this article to my friend, Nick. I taught him how to play and donated him a deck. I thought it was “good enough”, but not really my play style. He went on to go undefeated at his first Archon event. Thus proving that the right player with the right deck makes all the difference. He also proved what I say at the end of all my articles… glory be to Mars!