Magic: The Gathering – It’s not always about the victory. Sometimes it’s about the synergy


It’s the end of a season. The Magic World Championship is coming toward the end of this month, and with it some of the biggest names will clash in a multi-day multi-discipline tournament that will feature some of the most interesting matches the world gets to see. Draft, Limited, and eventually Standard will be the way the champion will be decided, and it eventually all boils back to the most well-played of the formats as the victor is decided through a Standard tournament.

The current meta around Standard is interesting. Recently, Michael Majors surprised everyone by running a deck revolving around milling his opponents deck down, figuring that a vast majority of players would be focusing on draws and discards as part of their own strategies due to the synergies available in the new set. He was right, and this lead him to winning the GP San Diego with a deck he hadn’t even played before the GP.


The cards that worked together to take Majors to victory.

I’ve spoken about beating the metagame previously, and those sentiments still hold true: An overwhelmingly vast majority of GP wins come from those players who recognise what the current metagame likely holds, and craft their deck around that. Michael Majors himself mentioned that the deck he created specifically for the event will have no future use — it was a one-shot weapon, to be discarded once victory was secured.

However, you don’t have to win a GP or Pro Tour to still be considered prestigious. Taking a look at the Magic World Championship Competitors List we find that only 1/3rd of them have GP victories. Of the remaining 16, only three of those have Pro Tour victories.

So what about the other players? Have they simply been unsuccessful in these ventures because they haven’t found the most optimally abusive decklist to work against the current meta? Or is it because for them, success is defined by an altogether different metric, getting to fight it out in a 24 player tournament with the world watching. There is after all, a significant difference between a player who wins a GP tournament once, never to finish in the Top 32 again, and a player who consistently and regularly hits Top 32 and even Top 8 finishes. These players make up well over half of those competing in the World Championship this year.


One such player is Samuel Black. Over the years, his is a name that has been spoken of with no small amount of reverence, as he is considered one of the best deckbuilders in the history of Magic. He has been consistently ranked for the past two years within the Top 10 players around the world… and yet, there isn’t a GP or Pro Tour victory to his name. He was considered for the title of Player of the Year both this year and last, and for good reason… even when he is not at the table, decks he has designed for other players have led them to some stunning victories.

His capacity for holding all the variables in his head while figuring out what deck will work in a certain situation is a skill that all professional level players, as well as those looking to dominate their local scene need to keep in mind. It doesn’t matter how well you can play the game of Magic, if you can’t come up with a good deck… and the same is true in reverse. It’s the last 2-3 years where Sam’s playing skill has increased to match his innate deckbuilding skill, and he, like all of the World Championship competitors, will be a force to be reckoned with.

A lot of aspiring players I see take a look at the decks that other pro players play with, and utilise them for their own accord. This isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, but if you want to get better at the game, practicing your own deck building is probably the best way to do it. Firstly, it teaches players to learn card synergy, something that learning will have you understanding potential threats coming from other players long before they play them. Secondly, it starts you on a path of honing a skill that is practically required to do well in the pro circuit.


Hangarback Walker, considered to be one of the most powerful threats in the Origins set.

You don’t need to be a rich player with access to all the cards to be able to do this either. Take a look at the spoilers when they come out, and start thinking about what cards do well when triggered by other cards. Try to batch the cards together in groups of synergies, and think to yourself what it would take to devastate someone playing that. Figure out fringe case synergies which most people will overlook, as these have the potential to be some of the most damaging options available to you. Finally, create a few different decklists of cards you would play, and then compare them to the Top 32 decks shown at National events.

When you start seeing a lot of similarities between your decks and what comes up at those events, you are getting to the point where you can compete on that level in not just a one off victory scenario, but the more capable, higher skill field of consistent performance. After all, Sam Black has been spoken about for years, and will likely be so for years to come… but a one-off GP victor? Well, there are too many to count.

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