By: Jesus Garcia
This article is in a different style than my norm. The article will be predominantly informative about overall decision-making and discussion on what a meta is, how to play with a meta, and how to promote a continuously evolving meta within a playgroup. As such, this article will be written a little more “detached” than my typical style where I normally refer to my own approach to a given strategy. This is to help you, as a player, analyze and approach different strategies in your own manner. I want you to think like a brewer and use your own form of theory-crafting to tackle your meta head-on and find a way to make it fun for everyone.
What is a Meta?
The term “meta” in gaming often refers to the accepted standard within a game, group, or area, when it comes to gameplay patterns, style, and overall game plan. As an MTG player, the meta often refers to your playgroup and the decision-making involved when it comes to the style of play, power-level involved, and archetypes that are commonly in use. In this article, as I am predominantly an EDH player, I will be discussing meta and meta analysis from an EDH lense, as you look upon your playgroup. Because of this, I do not anticipate for this to be for everyone, as some people are content with their metas being stagnant and unchanging, but I believe that constant evolution and tension between playgroups as there is an unknown in every game allows for a more fun and dynamic experience.
Commander and Metas
In EDH, there are often strong correlations between commanders and the metas involved. Before you even look at the 99 of the cards in your opponents’ decks, you can often get a solid grasp of what they want to do depending on their commander. In a previous article, I discussed the various types of Commander types (not archetypes), and although it isn’t a fool-proof method of watching where you stand, it is a good indicator, and can allow you to build around specific strategies by just observing the commander alone.
Here is an example of what I mean: say your meta is heavy on Board Advantage commanders (ex: Ghired, Edgar Markov, Najeela), first, observe how they want to develop their board. Is it tokens? Is it one big creature? Is it engine based? How much do they care about casting their threats vs cheating them out or naturally generating them? From there, you can make the decision on what type of silver bullet response cards that you need in order to deal with the threats the deck tries to place upon you. Board wipes are always good into these types of commanders, but sometimes they aren’t enough. Forced sacrifice or single target exile is also good depending on how fast they build up. From there, they will need to contest you by putting more protection in the deck. Now you need responses for their protection. This is how a meta begins to develop and evolve.
Next, look at the archetype of their commanders. Is it mill? Is it aggro? Control? Combo? Sometimes, depending on your playstyle, targeting the common archetypes in your meta is easier than targeting a specific commander type, as such, you fall back into a similar boat as before. Theorize play patterns and develop a strategy around the commanders your opponents have, and have reasonable flex slots within your deck to answer them while protecting your own strategy. Your opponents will do the same in order to deal with you. Rinse and repeat, you now have an evolving meta.
Analyzing a Meta
Although you can assume a lot about a deck from its commander, it doesn’t tell the whole story. A commander is merely one card. To truly understand a meta, you need to watch the interaction and gameplay of every player at the table. Commander is a social format. Even at the most competitive of tables, this single fact is true. Watch how people watch each other. Watch how they play their decks and what win conditions they want to play towards. You have 2 proactive people in the meta who dictate the pace of the game? Watch how they try to race each other and how the other two players try to slow them down. What types of removal are being ran? What are the common value engines? How much card advantage is there? The only real way to get a full grasp of a meta is to understand the playstyles of the players alongside the archetypes being ran. Only then, can you really find yourself a home in it, or change it.
Evolving a Meta
Evolving a meta is a tricky task, as there is a subtle difference between the methods of execution, whether it be via deck tweaking, trend setting, or meta breaking, it must be done in a manner that is both respectful to and respected by the playgroup you are with.
Let us first talk about deck tweaking, as this is the most common and least drastic way a meta evolves. Once you have a set of common decks at a table, people will often look to upgrade or modify their decks to make up for it’s downfalls. This can be either by adding silver bullets, getting stronger or higher synergistic pieces, getting more card advantage, etc. Either way, this is the most subtle way to evolve a meta. By adding answers or bolstering the deck strength, it forces your opponents to tweak their decks in response in order to deal with any potentially new threats to their strategies.
Next is trend-setting. There lies a fine line between trend setting and meta breaking, but I will try to do my best to elaborate between the two. Trend setting within a given meta is when one introduces a new core strategy to the table to spice up a meta, without impacting the powerlevel of the meta itself. The reason I call this trend-setting is because it often ends up leaning towards opponents tweaking their decks to either implement or punish the new core strategy. Introducing Superfriends? Your opponents will respond with more answers to Planeswalkers. Introducing mill? They may slot in Eldrazi Titans. Is that a toolbox commander? They may try to stop your tutor effects with Aven Mindcensor.
Trend Setting is all about providing a new challenge without changing the difficulty of that challenge.
Meta Breaking is a different monster, and is often the subject of much ire within playgroups. To meta break is to actively introduce a different powerlevel deck to the table. Often people remember when unsportsmanlike players bring highly tuned decks to untuned tables, and this is where that frustration stems from. While I am against this sort of behavior, meta breaking can be good for some playgroups. From personal experience, there is a level of finesse or subtlety when it comes to changing the powerlevel of a playgroup.
Often, there are players who want to play at higher powerlevels, but a proper meta break can help remove the mental binds which keeps them from tuning or making changes to their strategies. The new strength doesn’t have to pubstomp people. It doesn’t have to completely destroy them. It is all about making people look at the deck and it’s interaction. It’s all about making them think “that looks fun.”
From there, regardless of what strategy you impose on evolving your local meta, people will respond. There will be a change in the group dynamic which can make people change how their decks are tuned and can often lead to very interactive and memorable games.
You can find me @HispanicattheD5 on Twitter or find me on the Conviction Gaming Discord @Jesus (Hispanic!attheDisco)