With all the preparation and games of my first Open still fresh on my mind, I wanted to write through my experience preparing and leading up to the tournament. Hopefully newer players can take something away from this to help them find their own process and be confident going into their first Open.
Try to begin playing the format on ladder about 3 to 4 weeks in advance.
You can certainly use a homebrew or pet deck to begin, however, I recommend using Eternal Warcry to grab a decklist with a strong finish from a recent tournament to use as baseline for gauging the meta. Feel free to grab whatever is easiest on your shiftstone wallet. What you’re trying to do is play the format as often as you can to get familiar with the most prevalent cards and decks.
You’re not necessarily trying to work on improving the deck you’ll ultimately use in the Open at this point as much as you are just getting comfortable with what’s out there. What are the most impressive cards you face? What are the most impressive decks you face? Again, this is why I recommend starting with a proven list. If you’re playing a subpar list, most everything you face is going to seem impressive. But with a tuned, powerful deck you will get a better sense of what is busted and what’s just average much faster.
This phase of gaining familiarity with the format should not take up all your time leading to the Open, you just need to be intentional about putting the work in early so you have time to hone the deck you do end up taking into the tournament.
Develop some theoretical guardrails you’re noticing within the format.
Within any given constructed format there are two basic limits that contribute to defining a meta. First, what’s the quickest way to defeat your opponent? Second, what’s the most powerful card or combination of cards that win you the game by themselves and generally invalidate any progress the opponent has made up to that point in the game? We can look at the most recent Open results as a good example. The Fire cards represented the quickest path to defeating your opponent. Battlefront Dasher
, League Explorer
, Inferno Phoenix
, Oni Inciter
, Gemblazer Cannon
, D’Angolo Houndmaster, and Parapet Sentry
were fast, powerful, flexible, and great on rate to be featured in a couple different packages depending on what other faction you chose to supplement them with.
Moving on to the top end of the format, after the changes to the draft packs in the weeks leading up to the Open, it became very apparent the most powerful thing you could do was cheat out Aid of the Hooru
using Davia, Azurebreaker
on 8 power. Staying alive long enough wasn’t easy but the list developed to where you could consistently get the combo off at the last minute when facing an aggressive opponent. So, with the knowledge of both the fastest route to victory and the top end established at 8 power you can put any potential deck into the perspective of the meta. Can I stabilize against or race the Fire + X strategies? Can I meaningfully disrupt or beat the TJP before they get to Davia? Assuming you aren’t playing one of those decks, you know exactly what an alternative deck needs to be able to accomplish to become viable. Simply accepting a losing approach to either matchup would be a non-starter.
Consider what general approach you want to take with whatever deck you may end up playing.
Do you have a natural tendency toward a specific type of deck that gives you confidence and that you’re comfortable with? Are you willing to play a 3 (or more) faction deck and risk stumbling on influence? Are you willing to play any relatively narrow interaction to address a specific matchup or card in the format that might be dead against other decks? You might face a resource issue with getting the shiftstone or cards needed to build the deck you’re leaning toward. Are you okay committing to those cards or do you want to work within your current collection as much as possible? Taking the time to thoughtfully consider questions like these will help you stay focused and confident in your process as you approach the Open.
For example, I made the decision I didn’t want to run any 3 faction strategies at all, to the point where I even explored mono-fire, justice, and shadow each just to see if the card pool was deep enough to completely short circuit the influence problems. I also made the decision I wanted my deck to work as a cohesive unit with all the cards singularly focused on one goal – reducing my opponent’s life total. I wanted as few cards as possible that could be dead depending on the matchup. Lastly, there was plenty of good Inscribe cards in the format and whatever deck I ended up with I wanted to run at least 8 good Inscribe cards. That’s pretty specific but it did help me narrow down my options and disqualify some strategies quickly.
With the familiarity of the best cards available in the format, the understanding of the limits of the meta, and your own preferences you can develop an initial deck or framework. There’s not much else to discuss with this point if you’ve put the time in to do your homework and eat your vegetables, so to speak. I went through this process and ended up with a Rakano list
that was similar to most, but still unique for the preferences I chose.
Remember, the vast majority of the time you will not be the only person settling on whatever deck you ultimately choose. It’s a digital game and information spreads very quickly the more games are played on the ladder. It doesn’t matter who built it first. All that matters is whether it’s the best deck for you to play at this tournament.
Refine the list through iteration as you play.
As you build your initial 75 you will undoubtedly have cards that didn’t quite make the first draft. Or you will play ladder and notice innovation from others in the mirror match. This is the time to just play a ton and swap out what’s not working for what might be better. As an example, Parapet Sentry was not a card in my first draft. I was happy using a combination of Inferno Phoenix, Riva, Crimson Blur
in the 5-power slot… until I played against it in the mirror. The more I considered Parapet Sentry, the more I was impressed. The 4 damage to the face on Summon could only be stopped by face Aegis. Whereas the attacking Phoenix (representing 6 damage on curve) could be blocked or interacted with a number of different ways at Fast/Ambush speed.
The Sentry very sneakily left behind an awkward blocker for my opponent to deal with if we were racing. And there’s a chance I get free material from knocking an opposing Helena, Skyguide
, Phoenix or Steyer’s Eyes, etc. out of the sky to top it off. And if I still had a Depth Charge in play from League Explorer the Sentry would be a 6/5. It became my preferred 5 drop and did everything I wanted. Right or wrong, I preferred it in the mirror which I expected to be abundant and played 4 copies, dropping all the other 5’s I had in the deck. Point being, if you play against a card you hadn’t yet considered or even realized was legal in the format, don’t be afraid to try it out.
Settle on your list within a few days of the tournament and don’t change it.
If you’ve gone through this process and produced a list that is powerful, sound, and gives you confidence, stop playing. I reached this point with about 3 days to go before the Open. I put it away and didn’t mess with it. Once you know, you know. Again, this is just what worked for me. I think the worst thing you could do is put all the time and preparation in, only to overthink it at the 25th hour and make a change you haven’t vetted that reduces your confidence. Best way to avoid that is stop and wait for the tournament to begin.
Play some Gauntlet prior to beginning your run.
This is just to get your muscle memory and pattern recognition firing ahead of time. A misclick or unnecessary tank would be a poor way to get your run started. I also recommend this just to start playing against some unfamiliar decks and get those creative problem-solving juices flowing. The challenge isn’t the difficulty of the Gauntlet decks or AI. The challenge is unwiring your brain from the auto-pilot that playing ladder can be at times.
Take notes and breaks
Force yourself to take even a couple minutes between each game just to stretch, get a drink or snack, or take notes on the previous game. The best way to avoid playing tilted or sloppy is to force yourself to slow down. Notes can be helpful for acknowledging key moments, cards, or interactions that you might face in a future match. It’s also a healthy way to vent some frustration after a tough loss.
Also, remember to get plenty of sleep the night before. And most importantly have fun. You will probably do better than you expect, even if you make some mistakes along the way. Put things in perspective. It’s your first Open. Enjoy it.
I hope this has been helpful to you and good luck!