When playing tournament-level Magic, you usually know what decks you are going to face over the course of any tournament. The metagame determines that you are likely to face a certain deck X times in a tournament. However, you are likely to face a deck at least once that you haven’t seen before. People have a tendency to automatically dismiss rogue decks as childish, or simply “bad decks.” The truth, though, is that building a rogue deck can not only be a bad idea, but – if done properly – can be the best ticket to a blue envelope.
A rogue deck is any deck that does not follow the constraints of a well-known archetype. In reality, any deck that isn’t Blue/White, Red Deck Wins, Mono Blue Control, Mono Black Control, Zoo, etc. are rogue decks. This means that nearly every deck in the current metagame started off rogue. Taking a look at the decks that have Top 8s in PTQs and 5ks, the sheer number of rogue decks versus previously known Archetypes is astounding.
Red Deck Wins
Next Level Bant
Overrun Ramp (G and G/R)
As you can see, the number of rogue decks heavily outweigh the number of typical “metagame” decks. Even decks like Jund, Tooth and Nail, and Psychatog started out as rogue decks before everyone figured out how to play with and against them. Decks that are not in the current metagame have a very high “Risk vs. Reward” factor. If the deck and the player have gone through the appropriate measures to be proven to beat the metagame, the deck will be completely unstoppable. However, if the player falters while testing the deck, he will likely crash and burn under the pressure of a high level event.
From Rogue to Assassin
Personally, I love playing rogue decks. While I will choose the best deck in the format if the deck is so degenerate that I just cannot lose a non-mirror match with it, if I have a logical choice for a rogue deck that can beat the next big deck, I will likely choose the rogue deck. There are a lot of good reasons to back the rogue deck instead of taking the road more travelled.
Avoid bad mirror matches
One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who play popular decks in the metagame is that they hate having to play mirror matches all day. While I do not have an undue aversion to mirror matches – in fact, I actually love playing skill intensive mirrors like Thopter Depths, Zoo, and Valakut – I do like to avoid mirror matches that are particularly excruciating, such as the Jund mirror. Playing a rogue deck not only reduces the number of mirror matches you will face, but will likely eradicate any possibility of having to play a mirror whatsoever.
This is likely my favorite advantage of playing a rogue deck. When playing with a deck that is not known to many players, most opponents will not know what angles to attack the deck from. During a PTQ I was judging a few weeks ago, I was in charge of looking over two games in the Top 8. One of the games in the Top 8 was Dredgevine versus Mythic Conscription. While shuffling up for Game 2, the Mythic player thumbed through his sideboard and said to the Dredgevine player “I have a very poor understanding of how your deck works; I have no idea how to board for you.” While the Dredgevine player did lose that match, he still had the tactical advantage of knowing how to board for his opponent, while his opponent wasn’t offered the same luxury. Some people may not even have cards that are worth even boarding for your deck at all!
This runs along the same lines as tactical advantage. When entering a tournament with a deck, whether it is a homebrew or a new deck pulled from the internet, you will have (hopefully) done enough testing to know exactly what your gameplan is against each deck. While an opponent will be scrambling while trying to figure out how to beat you, or what spells to counter, you will buy turns to assemble your gameplan, or to attack their threats to buy even more time. It’s also easier to bait counterspells and removal by making your mediocre spells seem like threats, and vice versa. Turboland was a perfect example of this, as players would counter Jaces and Time Warps, remove Oracle of Mul Daya, and be out of resources when Avenger of Zendikar finally hit the table.
Do your homework
When preparing, or playing with a rogue deck, testing is of the utmost importance. One of the first things you have to do is make sure your deck can beat the deck you expect to be the most dominant – Pre-board and post-board. If you can’t beat the deck with the highest share of the metagame, then you cannot reasonably expect to win a large tournament. Test every matchup with your typical playgroup (for a bit more on having a good playgroup, check out my article on preparing for an event here and make sure that your deck can reliably beat a good portion of decks in the current metagame. If your deck just cannot keep up with the biggest contenders, don’t be afraid to throw it back and start over again. Even pro players go through several different deck ideas before finally settling on the one they will be playing for the next big tournament.
As long as you keep an open mind, going rogue can be just one more strategy you can employ to get a blue envelope in your hands. Be sure to try as many decks as possible until you find something that works. Don’t get too attached to one deck, and don’t be afraid to abandon the rogue strategy altogether if the decks don’t prove good enough, or the best deck in the format proves to be too good during playtesting. Going rogue is only profitable if you don’t become foolhardy. So, as always, pick the best deck, play tight, and maybe I’ll see you in Amsterdam!