It's a question that's permeated Magic circles since the game's inception: do you play the "best deck" or do you play a deck that you believe beats the best deck?
A few months after Theros released, the answer was simple. Most players agreed that the single-color decks in Mono-Black and Mono-Blue Devotion clearly stood above the rest of the field, and tournament results reflected that. When Born of the Gods hit the streets, cards like Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow seemed like they would only strengthen black's hold on the format.
But the only thing you can expect in Magic is the unexpected, and the introduction of Born of the Gods shook up the format in a way that no one expected. With cards like Courser of Kruphix and Temple of Enlightenment fundamentally changing both the power and consistency of the rest of the field, the format has opened up. With the top decks having to adapt to a more diverse field, there's been room for an influx of innovative new decks such as Naya Auras, Boros Burn, Mono-Green aggro, and even the new black-green deck that utilizes the graveyard thanks to cards like Nighthowler and Nemesis of Mortals.
It's resulted in a format in which players can play nearly whatever they want and have a shot at doing well, which brings us back to the original question: play the best deck or innovate?
For Ray Perez Jr., who sits at third in the race for the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year and is looking this weekend to earn the two points he needs to catch Sweden's Björklund Rasmus for first, there is no right choice. Instead, it's best to play whatever you're most comfortable with.
"Every deck in Standard right now is bad, so you can play whatever you want," he said. "What I mean by that is that you'll play a few good games with a deck and think that it's really good, but they're all capable of giving you really bad games that make you think the deck is terrible. Especially now that everyone is prepared for Mono-Black and Pack Rat, there's really no best deck.
"So the best way to approach it is to pick a deck and learn how to play it inside and out. That's way better than trying to jump around."
Renowned deckbuilder and StarCityGames.com writer Adrian Sullivan says the answer lies in Magic's history.
"Only one deck — Zvi Mowshowitz's "The Solution"— has ever won a Pro Tour by trying specifically to beat the best deck," he said. "It's usually been the decks that are intrinsically powerful and do well in a random field that have won."
Sullivan breaks the field down to two camps. The "level one," group, represented in Standard by decks like Mono-Black, Mono-Blue and white-blue or Esper control, is characterized by decks that simply have the most powerful gameplan. In "level two" are the decks that can boast a positive matchup against one or two of the top decks but aren't inherently as strong. Mowshowitz's solution to Pro Tour: Tokyo and Invasion Block Constructed was a white-blue control deck that toppled the red-green and blue-black decks of the day, but Sullivan said that has proven to be the exception to the rule.
So what's the solution for Cincinnati?
"In Standard right now the format is too broad; you can only aim your gun at a few things, so a level two deck has trouble," Sullivan said. "But the format is more open. If you've got a good build and have designed it rationally you can get a lot of wins out of that.
"A lot of players — even very good players — have complained about Standard right now. I say they're crazy. There are some games where they have triple Thoughtseize and then Pack Rat, but that's the exception. There's so much room for play right now, and it's incredibly skill-intensive."