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The Dragon's Den

By DeQuan Watson - 05.26.05

I know that many of you hear the term a lot.  I also know that many of you are unsure what it is.  It's the make up of a particular group or organization.  As it pertains to Magic, it's a dichotomy, if you will, of the current tournament scene in a given area or environment.
So, what do you all know about your metagame?  Well, you know you need to know what decks are in it, so that you can be prepared to beat it, right?  You also know that it helps you prepare your sideboard, right?  But what else do you know?  Are you aware of your metagame enough to feel confident in figuring it out or trying to discover what it is?  Do you think that you could build a metagame deck for your local environment?  And for those of you that don't know a metagame deck generally plays a few offbeat choices in he main deck to help it better deal with problems that are expected to be not only present, but possibly dominant, within a set metagame.
First things first.  You have to gain knowledge in some way, shape, or form to base you hypothesis of the predicted field on.  Sure, you could always take a shot in the dark, but what good is that?  You need to gather information.  Ultimately, the best way to do your information gathering is to play a few times in the place that you plan to play at.  If it's Friday Night Magic that you plan to attend, try to play at the host store a few times prior to the event.  Maybe play a few of the regulars during the week.  If it's something like a Pro Tour Qualifier, try to frequent message boards for that area.  Maybe try to find out what store has the best players in the area and play there.  This gives you a lot of information that can be used.
First and foremost, it's possible that you can get a grasp for what decks players enjoy or are planning on playing.  There are a lot of ways this can happen.  Some of it is direct information.  A player may show you what he's playing.  He may play you with his pet deck.  He may even tell you what his plans are.  Another is to see what singles are being traded and/or sold.  This can be a very solid indicator of what is going on in the local area.  You can try to get a feel for what decks are being built this way. 
Also, don't forget that playing people can tell you a lot.  For instance, you may want to take a moment to identify the alpha male in each group of players.  Sometimes, there is one alpha for the entire group, while other times, there are four small groups, each with their own alpha.  The reason this is important is that the alpha player can dictate things.  If a particular player dislikes a card or has a fondness for a particular card, expect other within the group to share those feelings somewhat.  Even if they aren't in total agreement, their judgment is likely affected by the alpha's opinions.
Not only that, but many times, the alphas tend to be the better players.  This can be used to your advantage as well.  But to fully take advantage of this, you have to think outside the box a little bit as well.  Remember that the alpha can not only help dictate what is played, but can also dictate what is played against him.  If the best player in the area is playing Ponza (monored), then it is likely that other players will be sideboarding in Circle of Protection: Red or Sacred Ground.  This means that you could be at a disadvantage if the deck you are planning on playing includes a lot of red creatures or land destruction spells.
On top of all this, one of the major things to consider is that skill level and dedication of the players you plan to play against.  If many of them are casual gamers, you need to know what cards are popular among the casual crowds.  This will prepare you for dealing with the bringers or the dreaded combo of Spawning Pit and the Zuberas.  Granted, they may not be the best potential decks in the world, but you have to be prepared for them.  Conversely, if the crowd is full of serious or dedicated players, you need to do your homework.  Look on all the popular sites and read articles.  Find out what's available.  Found out what's winning elsewhere.  If nothing else, you will be armed with the same strategies and information that your opponent's are.
There's no right or wrong way to go about figuring out a metagame situation.  In the end, it just an educated guess.  The trick is to give yourself the most information to make a properly informed guess.  Preparation is the best way to achieve success.  I heard a phrase once: "Piss poor planning prevents proper performance."  And to this day, that phrase still holds true.  Not being prepared with a plan can cause so many things to go wrong.  At least with a plan you have somewhere to start from and build your impromptu strategy in case things don't quite go as predicted.
And nothing beats a good ol' group of solid players playtesting.  Putting each other through the paces is a great way to find out what's important in different matchups.  It can also help you define what decks outright beat other decks.  This can save you so much time when trying to build a new deck for a format.  It takes a lot of the guesswork out of the equation.  And the best part is that you will also have the experience to better deal with certain situations and predicaments when they arise.
The term metagame gets thrown around a lot. Some people use the term not knowing what it truly is.  At least now, you all know.  More importantly, you now have some ways to figure out yours and crack the code on it.
Until next time,
DeQuan Watson
a.k.a. PowrDragn
PowrDragn at Pojo dot com

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