Being a Better Player: The Metagame

If you’ve been hanging around your local card shop, you’ve might have picked up on […]

If you’ve been hanging around your local card shop, you’ve might have picked up on the illusive term of “metagame.”

According to Wikipedia, the actual definition of  “meta” is:

 (from Greek: μετά = “after”, “beyond”, “with”, “adjacent”, “self”), is a prefix used in English (and other Greek-owing languages) to indicate a concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter.

From that you essentially can think of the metagame as the game beyond the game. The concept of analyzing the trends and patterns in the game when you are not actually playing and then incorporating decisions based off this analysis.

Let me give you an example of effectively understanding your metagame (and if anyone has any corrections, please feel free to share them). At the first World Championship for the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game, the play field was littered with Rogue decks. The decks were filled with abilities and equipment and chose to exclude allies (read as “creatures”). The deck was very strong, hence it’s popularity.

Guillame Matignon, a trading card game veteran, recognized the power and popularity of the deck and chose to take the route of building against the popular format and put together a deck who’s ultimate goal was to crush the Rogue deck under it’s plate-clad boot. He performed decently during day 1 of the event, as he faced plenty of variety, and muddled into Day 2 and the rest of the tournament.

And what did he find after he got past the first day of play? A field of solo Rogue decks, which allowed him to showcase his deck decision and proceeded to go undefeated the rest of the day. That landed him the first world championship, and $100,000, the largest prize in trading card game history.

Winning doesn’t always involve building against the format however. When a certain type of deck becomes the standard, it did so for a reason. If you’ve played the online version of World of Warcraft, you are probably familiar with cookie-cutter talent specs. Those are cookie-cutter for the same reason. They have been proven to be mathematically superior to other talent choices as a whole.

So whether you are choosing to play the most popular deck in the format or play against it, knowing what your opponents bring to the table is imperative. This is no different than sports teams reviewing game footage, watching how their future opponents play defense or what their offense does. It’s research and it is smart.

Magic: The Gathering recently had their State Championships across the United States and the list of decks that showed up at the top of the lists was not surprising to anyone. An ongoing list of the decks that performed well is being compiled here. As you can see from the list and the comments, the deck titled “Wolf Run Green” saw tons of play and huge success.

These decks were not surprising or unexpected. Wolf Run Green, Solar Flare, and a number of other popular decks have been tried and tested extensively and their effectiveness has been proven. The internet has changed the metagame in this way as well.

The ideas for these decks were not created in their own microcosm, independent from other sources. Deck lists are almost immediately available from any major event. They are dissected, analyzed, and critiqued extensively. That has come a long way from the late 90s when “net decking” was a dirty word.

But any player serious about competing is doing their research now. Sites featuring the best card players in the world are sharing their analysis of various formats, tournaments, drafting strategies, new sets, and every other facet of the game.

Ultimately understanding the metagame is about doing your homework. At your local game shop, who is your most potent opponent at Friday Night Magic? Can you outplay the rest of the field but lose to a few individuals? Why are you losing? Is it because their deck is a trump to yours, or are you being outplayed as well?

Understand who you are playing against and what is at stake. While I might howl at the fact my friend played Extinction during a casual game at a dinner table while I was playing my “for fun” Sliver deck, but I can blame him for knowing what he was going to be playing against?

If you are into playing online, Magic: The Gathering Online (as well as a number of free alternatives) have provided a huge platform for individuals to test decks, make modifications, and see how they compare to the current field of popular lists.

As always, your thoughts and opinions are always welcome.