Playing Best of Ones in Magic Arena
Anyone who knows me personally knows I have been playing Magic Arena in a lot of my free time, the interface and accessibility of Magic is just too attractive. I used to only play the tournaments where you can essentially double your gold every hour if you have a good run and that used to allow me to draft at least once a night.
But mid-December, a big change happened and this cause me to shift my playing too Best of Ones. But before I get started…
I have to say, Best of One is bad, it is the main reason why I never fully shifted my focus to Hearthstone in the time I was away from Magic. Best of One takes away one level of skill that can make or break a deck and replaces it with an element of luck. Something that favours new players, but it really takes away from people who know what they are doing. Playing Magic with BO1 is like playing chess with two thirds a chess set and if you think you couldn’t make chess any more boring, try playing without knights or rooks, it removes an element that is essential to the game being the game. Magic is a BO3 game and should be treated as such. How would ranking work then? I don’t know, I hate pointing out flaws in a system where I can’t find an applicable solution. But it is what it is and so instead of boycotting the system I adapted and overcame.
With all this in mind, I want to give a primer in what I believe is essential to ranking up in a BO1 format. I want to take what you know about magic and amplify certain aspects with BO1 in mind.
Aspect 1: Mana base
In a BO3 you have a bit of leeway with your mana base, you can often put versatile lands in your sideboard, and this will allow you to play only the lands that are good in all matchups in your main board. Lands, in Standard, that fall into this category are Field of Ruin and Detection Tower. In BO1 you cannot afford to be caught without at least 1 of each in your main deck. Field of Ruin kills Search for Azcanta and Legions Landing once they have flipped and often this can mean the difference between winning and losing.
In a second instance, most of the time in BO1 you can’t afford to get mana screwed, so you must play with the idea that getting flooded is better than not having enough...
So how do you build your mana base with this in mind?
Firstly, you should play with more lands than you would usually, not exceedingly more, just one more, so in my Golgari, I play 24, in Izzet I play 22-23, Dimir Control 24-25 and so on.
Secondly, I replace a few of my basics with spell lands, Field of Ruin and the Memorials. In Every Blue deck I have 2 Memorial to Genius and in every Black deck I have 2 Memorial to Folly, I have put 1 of each other Memorial in their respective colours deck, with exception to red. Basically having these in my decks allows me to get flooded and still have something to do with my Mana.
Remember, that building your deck like this means that you might be playing from behind sometimes, because you might be playing more tapped lands in the first few turns. So inherently you must include cheap removal that can help you catch up, like Moment of Craving and Seal Away.
Also, knowing that there is a possibility that you could get flooded allows you to play other cards that you would not usually consider, cards that abuse the fact that you have more mana on average, in my drakes deck I have 1-2 Expansion//Explosion and in my Mono Red I have a full 4 Risk Factor. In Boros I have 1 or 2 Blaze. This gives me something to do with my mana when I draw too much.
In my Blue decks, I take a little bit of a different approach, I include cards like Radical Idea, this lets me pitch extra lands for other draws and in green decks you have the Explore mechanic.
Aspect 2: Answers
The biggest thing you must take in consideration when building a BO1 deck with regard to answers is that you will have to play some of the sideboard cards in the main board. Cards like Duress, Spell Pierce, Negate, Assassin's Trophy and Operative all fall into this category.
You'll also be building with the idea that you could face any deck at any time.
The idea here is to take out your specific answers and put in more generalized answers and if your card can answer 2 types of threats, then I'd use them over a card that answer only one.
In Golgari I tend to play more Vraska's Contempt over Ravenous Chupacabra and I play a higher amount of Assassin's Trophy than I usually would. Instead of Karn, I tend to play more Vraska, Golgari Queen because she can answer early threats that if you had Karn you would will fall behind. Often it is the difference between winning and losing a game. And I repeat this evaluation process for every card selection.
And you need to maintain this thought process for every deck as well, keep your answers robust and plentiful. Duress isn't such a bad main board card and it has targets in every deck that you will face on the ladder.
Don't get locked into any one mentality. Sometimes, at some ranks, you'll face a single deck over and over, like platinum 4 to 2 is nearly entirely populated with mono red and if you spot a trend like this then you can construct your deck to combat that specific deck. When I was there, I played more Wildgrowth Walkers and Moment of Craving than I usually would because they gave me padding for my life total.
Aspect 3: Card Selection
Even if you have a robust and adaptable answer package, you will be stuck with extra cards in your hand that are useless at certain points in the game or against certain decks. Best solution to this is having card selection engines in your deck, cards that allow you to pitch useless cards and replace them with valid draws. And this is the key to winning more BO1 games.
Luckily, almost every guild has card selection engines in them naturally, Golgari has the Explore mechanic, Dimir has Surveil and Izzet has Jumpstart.
But over and above the mechanics there are some cards can be played and can help with card selection.
Notable mentions include Search for Azcanta, Radical Idea, Tormenting Voice, Risk Factor, Karn and Treasure Map all help.
Worth a mention too is decks that kind of don't have answers, decks that play the “answer me” role. You know those, mono red burn, Boros aggro and Tokens. Playing these decks gives you the least number of dead draws and allows you to play your game without worrying too much about what your opponent is doing. And these are some of the easiest decks to ladder with.
Aspect 4: Oops I win! & Threats
In BO1 there are no do overs and with this in mind it is important to have as many types of threats that you can, differences between Legendary status in your creatures, Enchantments, Re-Occurring Threats, and Even Planeswalkers are very important in BO1s because sometimes your opponent’s answers don’t line up with a specific type of threat you are putting out. It can sometimes give you free wins.
“But..” I hear you mumbling under your breath, “free wins aren’t really in the essence of magic!”
You see, Magic, is a game of occasional free wins, sometimes it happens and maximizing your free win quota is important. Because you will have games where you lose to a mana screw one round and then face a decent deck the next round and then if you play something he wasn’t expecting, you can make up for the variance of the initial round.
Diversity is key, play as many kinds of threats you can, if you can get 2 different threats that on the board, you make their mass removal less useful.
After having a diverse set of threats, there is still one type of card that you need to look into, it’s the “Oops I win!” card. These are often overlooked because of the sheer ridiculousness of the cards themselves or cards that people don’t play because they don’t fit in the archetype you are playing.
Sometimes an “Oops I win Card” is the card your deck needs to push it over the top. Banefire in Mono Red or Carnage Tyrant in Golgari, it is important to find these cards and have some amount in your main deck. And on the same tangent, an “Oops I win” card can also be a card that trumps another problem deck, or card that you can play to abuse some sort of surprise factor.
Cards that served me well, as “Oops I win!” cards, are the following;
In Tokens -
These are both amazing cards. And in Tokens, both cards can be a blowout.
I remember playing against Paul Cheon “HAUMPH” on arena, he was playing Golgari, he then cleaned my side of the board with Finality, we’re both on low life, he has a Bunch of Fatties left over from the Finality. I know the following turn I’m dead to the trample damage from the tyrants and I don’t have enough blockers anyway. So with a Settle in the hand I emote “Good Game”, being a good natured chap he “Good Game’s” me back and clicks through the motions, all attack. After the attack his side of the board was empty and he had no creatures left, I then made a bunch of tokens from March and won the following turn.
Izzet Drakes/Phoenix -
Both cards push these decks over the top, I highly recommend at least 1 of each in any deck that has a lot of instants and sorceries to use.
Dimir/Grixis/Jeskai Control –
Nezahal is exactly what a “Oops I win!” card looks like, it is exactly what you need in the mirror and often, the moment it hits the table, your opponent will attempt to play on, but they won’t be able to. This is also true for Niv-Mizzet.
Lyra, on the other hand is a different type of “Oops I win” card. She destroys any deck that needs to deal combat damage and is the best thing you can drop against burn.
Finally, Clutches, this card is my catch all against slower decks, I have taken Azcanta lands, Teferi, Niv-Mizzets and Eldest Reborn. I am still experimenting with this card but so far it looks like a good 1 of.
I hope you all can make Mythic with my help. See you online and good luck!
- Steff Vesely