Wednesday, 18 May 2016

To Brew or not to Brew

When is it correct to bring a deck of your own design to a tournament? That is the question I'll be talking about.
Last weekend I played a local PPTQ and got paired against my friend Tim Hughes. Tim was playing the latest hot deck from the Pro Tour, GW tokens. Tim is an avid brewer and comes up with lots of off-the-wall ideas. It was unusual to see him playing a 'net-deck'. The topic came up in our conversation, basically Tim hasn't had the success he would like and has started net-decking more and more.

Out of the brewery and onto the podium?

This got me thinking, when is it correct to brew? There are world renowned players with reputations for brewing so it must be correct to brew some times. Patrick Chapin is the biggest innovator among the famous players. Conely Woods used to be a much bigger one, physically. Now he likes to dance.
Here's a famous article by Patrick Chapin on the topic of brewing. It made a big enough impression on me that I remembered it when planning this article. I recommend reading it.

Let's break the topic down by listing the advantages of net-decking and the advantages of brewing; Of course there is a grey area between copying seventy five cards and building a completely new deck with an unusual strategy. For the sake of keeping this article a readable length, I'm going to ignore the grey area.

  • Guaranteed good deck. You'll always bring a gun to a gun fight. If you design your own deck, you risk bringing a knife.
  • It's really fast. Find a list online and assemble it. You can have a top tier deck sleeved in your hands in less than an hour.
  • There are articles written online by professional players about your deck for you to learn from: sideboard plans, play tips, etc.
  • There will be others in your local area playing the deck who you can discuss it with.
  • People will be more willing to practice against you. Say it's the Thursday before your local PPTQ. Jess has invited you around for some beers and testing games. Two of your other friends, Steve and Dave have also come along. Steve has brought a 4c Rite deck to test with. There is going to be several of these decks at the PPTQ. Dave has brought his Assault Formation combo brew. He is the only player in the world playing it. Who would you rather practice against?


  • You'll never be behind the metagame because you'll be reacting to the popular decks.
  • I think it feels better when you win with a brew. I get a huge sense of pride from it. The feeling is so appealing to me that I'm prepared to take a few losses testing out brews rather than going straight for a proven net-deck.
  • Most players keep up-to-date with the current successful decks. Your local grinders will have a plan to combat each popular deck. If you brew, your opponents won't be prepared for you and they may make play mistakes or sideboard incorrectly. The advantage you can gain here is increased if you play a deck which is hard to interact with, e.g. a creatureless deck, a combo deck, a deck with narrow 'blowout' cards or a deck with lots of instant speed spells.
  • Formats which aren't Standard are much slower to evolve because they don't have every pro in the world dissecting them. For brewers, this presents an opportunity. There are still PPTQ's and GP's which are Modern. Depending on where you live, there may even be large Legacy or Highlander tournaments. Brewing in non-professional formats is far more likely to give you an edge.
  • You need to think about a format a lot and understand what's important if you are to make a successful brew. This format knowledge will help you during tournaments. You will be better able to identify key cards and what role your deck plays against the popular decks. You can still develop this amount of knowledge if you net-deck but it is not a forced prerequisite like it is when you brew.
  • If you ever qualify for the Pro Tour, being a brewer is a big advantage. The Pro Tour is always the first high-profile event of each Standard rotation. You can't net-deck for a Pro Tour.
  • Deck building skills you learn from brewing will improve your limited game, i.e. choosing a good mana curve and mana base.

This question implies that winning is your highest priority. If it isn't, then you should always bring a brew. If it is, then you should be aware of when brewing will increase your chance of winning. I will list several cases where brews are 'up'. If you're preparing for a tournament and most of these cases are true, then I say it's correct to bring a brew:

  • It is early in the format. That is, there has been no more than the Pro Tour and two or three Grand Prix's played since set release. Any longer than that and your brew has probably been tried and discarded by someone else.
  • There is no broken deck. The last Standard format was Kahns of Tarkir through to Oath of the Gatewatch. 4c Rally was by far the best deck. No amount of brewing could top it. Ironically, R&D may have suffered more scrutiny over 4c Rally than UW Eldrazi had the Pro Tour been Standard.
  • There is no powerful information-gaining cards in the format, e.g. Thoughtseize. You aren't going to get the jump on somebody when they see it coming.
  • You have plenty of time to practice and refine.
  • The format is not Standard. Pros dedicate all their time to breaking Standard. You alone can't compete with the brewing power of teams of pros. This also used to be the case for Modern but not any more.
  • You know what ~75% of the field is playing. In this case you can play hate strats. This often happens at stores where the same guys show up with the same decks. Rarely does it happen at big tournaments. Note that this point can overlap with the point about there being a broken deck, in this case, play the broken deck.

Do what makes you happy. If you love to brew, then jam your brews at low stakes events for practice. If one of them performs well and most of my 'When should I bring a brew' points are true, then I recommend jamming it at your next big tournament.



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