How to Choose the Deck: Predator or Prey

Dmitriy Butakov

Hello, everyone, my name is Dmitriy Butakov and this is my first article for Hareruya.


Image Copyright : Wizards of the Coast

Recently I’ve won Magic Online Championship (MOCS) with Bogles deck, but I don’t think the deck itself deserves an article right now, it’s not that hard to master, and the best trick you can learn is pokerfacing a fetchland with 《Dryad Arbor》 already in your hand. If someone is interested in the article about the deck, I promise I’ll make one, but for now I’d like to talk about the methodology of preparation for the constructed tournaments in general.

I think the very first thing you should do preparing is to understand your place in the food chain and it is the hardest part because it requires you to be absolutely honest, at least with yourself. So, you know the format of tournament, as well as the competition level (Regular, GP, PT or greater), you can even possibly know preferences of some of your potential opponents (though I really advice you not to rely on that). That information is available to us, so keeping that in mind lets us proceed to the deck choice. We divide all decks in 2 groups:

1.Predator Decks

Predator's Strike

That’s the kind of decks you use when you think you play better than the field in general, i.e. you want to play as much magic as possible, “clashing” with opponent in decisive situations, because you believe every time you’ll bite a bigger piece. Jund was the perfect example of that kind of deck, it can have unforgiving starts as well as incredible long-term plans, but when things are not going straight your way you must fight tooth and claw for even the smallest bit of advantage (just like your opponent), the deck itself is capable of doing it, but are you?

ThoughtseizeTarmogoyfBloodbraid Elf

One more thing to make the deck predatory could be your experience with it, especially if the deck was below the radar for some time. I’d like to make an example with my choice of Gifts Rock on the Player’s Championship 2013. There were perhaps 3 people in the Magic Online playing the deck, so it was reasonable to think the most of the players, even the top pros, wouldn’t be ready for it. Even knowing the decklist it was very hard to make a system of possible plays quickly, there were just way too many of them. But unlike my opponents I knew the deck inside out, and I think 2-1 result of a modern portion can be considered a success in a field with 15 world’s top players.

It may seem logical that all control decks are predator, but in fact it’s more about the midrange decks. No doubt, control can have some very tough decisions, but in general it comes to just staying in one piece, then everything becomes better every turn. Midrange requires these decisions every turn, you should be ready to adjust to any slightest change on the battlefield, including entirely changing your strategy for the whole game and then changing it back again. The match between Steve Rubin and Niklas Dahlquist in the semifinals of the same MOCS is a great example of it.

Snapcaster MageDeath's ShadowTraverse the Ulvenwald

Another good predator deck is almost any 《Death's Shadow》 build. The deck embraces all three strategies – it can rush you down with creatures and removal, it has a combo out of 《Temur Battle Rage》, it can even assume a control role with 《Lingering Souls》 or 《Snapcaster Mage》, there is no situation the deck couldn’t adjust to, provided you’ve made the right plays.

To sum up the deck fits the predator style if it’s going to take the win step by step, slowly gaining ground, sudden wins are possible, but that’s not what you’re expecting to happen. I think predator decks are usually very good for GPs, due to its size and unpredictability of the meta. And one more thing about premium tournaments: let’s imagine the MOCS consisting of me, Thiago Saporito, Steve Rubin and 21 byes. Technically my win percentage would be great, but in this exact case I wanted the first place badly: money and next year’s invitations are awesome, but the Platinum status is something I would bet everything on. So eventually I will play against a better player and everything will be solved in this particular match. Honestly I don’t know how I’d have acted in this hypothetical situation, but at least I’d have considered the option of not playing a predator deck, despite the fact that it definitely fits all other requirements. Here’s a little breakdown of things that might convince you to go on a hunt:

2. Prey decks

Mentor of the Meek

First of all I’ll try to explain how and why this choice is usually made. I’ve already heard different kinds of psychological nonsense like the following: it reflects how you position yourself in a real life. Even some of my fellows told me something like “Why do you say you play worse than the Platinums? Have you already accepted your loss? Have some guts!”. But there is one simple point – it has nothing to do with your ego (and my friends would tell you I don’t lack one).

You’ve analyzed the metagame, the players, the stakes, now you have a very solid system of information that shows you’re probably not among the leaders at this particular tournament, you still have to find your best shot, would you work with the what you’re given or would you sacrifice all the data for sake of stupid bravado? You can lie to the others whenever you want if it’s vital for you to keep your image, but lying to yourself is absolutely the worst thing you can do, after all it’s the result that would matter in the end.

All these “Predator/Prey” and “Strong/Weak” concepts are just fancy words whose primary goal is to make you understand how to maximize your chances, they have nothing to do with your real life, your personality or anything else you have, when the tournament is over you just take off this mask and throw it away. I hope I’ve made a clear point of this, because, to be honest, I didn’t expect people to discuss it so actively, it seemed logical enough to me.

Now to the practical use. Playing a prey deck, all you want is to win the game before it had even started, i.e. before turn 2-3. I’ve ran through cards that allow player to do that and have found 3 of them: 《Blood Moon》, 《Chalice of the Void》 and 《Leyline of Sanctity》.

Blood Moon
Chalice of the Void
Leyline of Sanctity

First thing for you to accept as a prey is if opponent is ready for you – you’re a dead meat, there is no way you can win a focused sideboard in the hands of even slightly competent opponent, there is no bargaining here, that’s just the way it is.

Second, you could just miss the metagame, all you have is suggestions and possibilities, everything can turn out far from expected, but that’s the risk you take with such a deckchoice.

I think prey kind of decks are ideal for small premium tournaments or PTs sometimes, they have an insane payout rate, as well as equal fail rate, if you don’t mind biting the bullet. If you’re ready for the all-or-nothing kind of competition, there is a whole variety of decks like 《Living End》, Elves or some 《Ad Nauseam》.


That was the path I took for the preparation, this time it paid off, but next time it might be logical to take just the opposite, everything constantly changes, and there are always variables. I expect you to take it not as strict instructions, but as something to think about and make your own conclusions that would fit your playstyle.

I hope you have enjoyed the article and will find it useful.

On my part, I’m very happy to stand under Hareruya’s banners and will do my best to provide good content and results.

P.S. This is a report, after all, so I have a few thanks to say: Wizards of the Coast staff, you are the best, guys, and the tournament organization was awesome. All the competitors, you were a great company, special thanks to Jose Cabezas for presenting a very interesting perspective on drafting, and to Alexey Petrykin who made the same long journey from Siberia. And, of course, Babushka Butakov who gave me the best cheer-up ever.

See you online and best of luck to you.

Dmitriy Butakov

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