Last weekend I competed in Grand Prix Denver, where I brought the Red-Green Aetherworks Marvel deck to battle. The deck performed very well for me across a variety of matchups, even against the White-Blue Flash deck that I expected to be my most difficult adversary. This new Standard archetype exceeded my high expectations by performing very well in the Grand Prix in the hands of other players, and in other high-profile events over the weekend - Grand Prix Madrid and the SCG Invitational - but I wasn't satisfied by my own play. Specifically, I was held back by an extraordinary three draws, all in Aetherworks Marvel mirror matches. These matches not coming to a conclusion meant I didn't win matches I should have, and it sabotaged my chances at a high finish. It's essential that I examine my own game so I can avoid this fate in the future, so today I'll explore how to play efficient tournament Magic and conserve the clock. I'll also share some tips for efficiently piloting the Aetherworks Marvel deck and some ideas specifically for navigating the mirror match.
Conserving the clock each round actually begins before the timer starts, from the moment the pairings are posted. Play can begin immediately when the clock starts ticking, so having your deck shuffled and presented ahead of time allows you to save valuable round time. The rules allow for completing mulligans and scrys and everything up to putting cards into play, so take advantage of this as the free time it is. This extra time to prepare pre-match is a boon to the competitive player, and neglecting to take advantage of it is leaving money on the table, so to speak.
Arriving to your table early each round does take some effort and preparation, and from a practical standpoint, adjusting to the location of pairing boards. Most, if not all, large events feature online pairings systems, so take advantage of them so you don't have to suffer the crowds of people in the tournament hall. This system is also a great way to keep track of the round even if you have to leave the tournament hall for whatever reason. Just be sure to keep your phone charged to keep pairings at your fingertips. If you are relying on the physical pairings boards, hang out around them before the round so you don't waste time walking to them when pairings are posted, and so you can be first in line and get to your table as soon as possible.
Last weekend in Denver the pairings boards were strewn across the entire event hall, and my name at the end of the alphabet forced me to walk clear to the far other end of it to see my pairings, and then all the way back to the GP area to play. One match I cut it close enough that I asked a judge to escort me to my table so I wouldn't get a match loss if the round started suddenly. The pairings situation was annoying at the time, but I didn't realize that it was actually hurting my chances to win the tournament. Arriving at my table without time to spare meant I had no opportunity to start shuffling and mulliganing before the round began, so I wasted a lot of valuable time that would have been converted to extra game minutes. All of my drawn matches were decided on the final turn, or would have been decided in another turn, and a minute could easily have been the difference between a draw and a win in one match in particular. Arrive at your table as early as possible so you give yourself the entirety of the round timer to actually play cards.
Beyond having yourself and your deck ready to play each match, have everything else you need ready too. A pen and a life pad are the bare essentials to play a game, and I've wasted time on plenty of occasions because I misplaced a pen or my paper, so keep track of them and even carry extra. Asking to borrow dice or ripping paper for +1/+1 counters all take time too, so carry everything you will need to play your specific deck. Having tokens ready will also save time, especially if they are the exact token because they will help make the board clear and transparent for both players. On the topic of dice rolls, I advocate for rolling for even-odd, or even flipping a coin, because no potential for ties means there will never be wasted time re-rolling.
A major time spew for many players, and one I'm very guilty of, is shuffling. You can spend as much time as you want shuffling before the match, but once the time has started it's important to keep shuffling to a minimum during deck searching effects and after sideboarding. I've always enjoyed shuffling and be sure to do it more than thoroughly, but the reality is that at a certain point it's just wasting valuable time and not further randomizing my deck. Shuffling happens often, your own deck and the opponents, and it adds up to a considerable portion of any match, so it's an important area to focus on if you want to conserve time.
On the topic of shuffling, the pile shuffle has been codified into the Magic tournament rules as no longer being a true shuffle or randomization technique, but simply being a method of counting the deck. There may be some value to counting deck and sideboard before games, but it's more expediently done in-hand than in piles. The upside of counting the deck - not presenting an illegal deck - does come with the cost of time. At this point it's pretty clear that it's a poor use of time when draws are so costly. I recommend counting the deck before the match starts when there's no cost to doing so, before the clock starts running. This could be pushed even further, to back after the previous match ends, assuming you keep track of your deck and don't open it in the meanwhile. For between games, simply counting your sideboard will ensure your main deck is in order.
Sideboarding is another area where time bleeds away from the round timer, but it's preventable and it can be turned into extra time for you to play. It's important not to waste time when sideboarding, so prepare plans ahead of time so you aren't reinventing the wheel every time you play a match. Familiarizing yourself with your own deck and how it matches up against all of the other popular decks, and even specific cards, allows you to plan for what you'll come up against and not be caught guessing. Every player is allowed a piece of paper with notes like sideboarding plans for matchups that they can reference between games, so take full advantage of this and have your plans written down and handy if you think it will help. Saving time in sideboarding is limited by your opponent taking their own time sideboarding and shuffling, but consider that presenting your deck in a timely fashion puts some pressure on the opponent to finish what they are doing and start playing. There are also many players who simply keep shuffling until the opponent is done, so present your deck as soon as you can to start playing as soon as possible and make it more likely you will finish your match.
My draws last weekend were all against other Aetherworks Marvel decks, and because I expected the deck to be an important feature of the future of Standard, I want to focus on some finer details of piloting the Aetherworks Marvel deck relating to saving time. As someone who had only played Red-Green Aetherworks Marvel online before playing the Grand Prix, there was definitely a learning curve I had to overcome, but I did quickly develop some tricks to saving time, and I picked up some tips from observing the experts pilot the deck.
A major feature of the Aetherworks Marvel deck is the graveyard, specifically the card count type for Emrakul, the Promised End, which defines the deck as the ticking time bomb that looms over the game. Keeping track of this means keeping close eye on the graveyard, but it can quickly get clogged and cluttered. The graveyard can be made easy to keep track of by manipulating it to make viewing the number of card types easier. Create a separate graveyard pile that includes one card of each card type, spread out and in plain view, and add to it each time a new type is added, to keep the count clear and save time for each player. Making an announcement when you reach delirium is another thing that might save a few seconds of your opponent looking at your graveyard.
Shortcuts are another place where time can be saved, and there are some specific scenarios where they can be applied to Aetherworks Marvel. There are plenty of shuffling effects between Attune with Aether, Traverse the Ulvenwald and Evolving Wilds, and if it's the last effect of your turn you can pass the turn while shuffling your deck to save a few seconds. If you're using Evolving Wilds, you can pre-emptively crack it and search your deck while they are taking their turn to save some time. You can even put it the land into play face-down as to not impact their play, but be sure to communicate with the opponent so they understand and agree to what you are doing.
Aetherworks Marvel itself also offers the opportunity for shortcutting. Each activation asks that the cards not selected be shuffled and placed on the bottom of the deck, which gives the opponent opportunity to also shuffle them. Most opponent's won't want to spend time actually shuffling them if they see you do it, so ask them to shortcut it and save yourself a few seconds.
Emrakul, the Promised End can be a time sink because of the complexity of taking the opponent's turn. Make it as easy as possible by asking your opponent if you can simply manipulate their cards, and when they target you offer your own hand and cards to the opponent to help expedite the process.
A pragmatic approach to finishing mirror matches is to play haymaker cards that win games outright. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is the single biggest trump in the Aetherworks Marvel mirror match because it's a huge tempo swing and a nearly unstoppable threat that will often win the game in a single attack. I didn't include any in my decklist, so it's no surprise that I wasn't able to gain a huge edge on my mirror match opponents and quickly end games. Even Emrakul, the Promised End doesn't win the game outright, so I never had an easy-mode button to win games. Contrast that to Steve Rubin's second-place decklist from the Grand Prix, which had two main deck Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which surely allowed him to win many games quickly, even as soon as his first activation of Aetherworks Marvel.
If you are playing a competitive Magic tournament with intent to win, you are wagering that you are advantaged over your opponents. If you are more likely than your opponent to win the match, it's desirable to play each match to its natural conclusion. Stopping anything short of that makes it less likely that you will win, which costs valuable equity in an event where prizes and glory go only to the very top finishers. In large Grand Prix where you need a record of 13-2 to qualify for the Pro Tour and to reach the Top 8, draws are very similar to losses in most cases. Playing expediently and finishing each match within the round time is essential to achieving your full potential as a tournament player.