‘‘Knowledge is Power” – Sir Francis Bacon
Hello and welcome to the second installment of Dark Confidence. If you missed last week’s article then you may still be struggling to find time in your busy schedule to play Magic, and also you won’t know who the hell I am. I’m Dan Stokes and this week we’re going to focus on the person sat on the other side of the table from you: your opponent.
During the course of a game of Magic, I can guarantee your opponent is telling you a boat load of information that you may not be seeing. My job today is to change that.
The more information you gather from your opponent during a game, the more sure your victory becomes. A lot of the time you notice the information being passed to you but don’t recognise it for the golden nugget it really is. Today’s point of reference is a good example of this and is given to you as early as the first turn.
The Lay of the Land.
On your opponent’s very first turn, the first thing they do is play a land. Believe it or not this is the most valuable piece of information they give you. The land drop tells you one of the colours in their deck (sometimes it tells you TWO), and that in turn tells you the cards you need to be wary of and, in a lot of cases, the style of deck your opponent is playing. Blue is usually ‘control’, packing draw spells and counter-magic. Red can be aggressive with burn spells and hasted creatures etc. Knowing the colour of someone’s deck also helps you know what cards you have to play around. For example if you see an Island you know the opponent may be – scratch that, WILL be – playing counter magic, and therefore you’re going to have to save your key spells until he/she taps out, or you can bait the counter-spells out of their hand with other threats. If you see black you know the deck may have Go for the Throat, Black Suns Zenith and discard spells like Despise or Duress in it. This is information you can use to help you win the game.
The reason all this is so relevant is because of how deeply strategy and forward thinking is ingrained into Magic. The ‘strategy’ is the method you plan to use to win the game. This could be anything. Milling your opponents library away; smacking his face off with big creatures or burning him out with direct damage like Lightning Bolt or Fireball… Knowing the colour of your opponents’ decks helps you adjust certain strategies to make them more effective. For example, say you’re playing Red Deck Wins, and your opponent puts a Forest into play. You can safely assume that the deck will feature some sort of ‘ramping’ effect – either through spells like Cultivate or creatures like Lotus Cobra and Llanowar Elves – with a view towards playing big creatures like Primeval Titan. This information helps you refine your strategy from a simple “I need to win quickly by attacking and burning my opponent” to “I need to make sure I use my burn spells wisely in order to win”. This could mean saving your burn for Lotus Cobras, or for killing Primeval Titans. It could mean throwing it at your opponents face to kill him the turn before he manages to hit his ramp target.
The ‘forward thinking’ is constantly looking round the corner for what might be coming: what you need to avoid and how all that affects your strategy. Using the same example as before, let’s say your opponent has successfully cast a Primeval Titan. He’s also used that Titan to fetch up a couple of Valakut, The Molten Pinnacles. You’re in a tough spot, that’s for sure. You have three little creatures, no bigger than 2/2, in play, and a hand with a Lightning Bolt and an Arc Trail in it. How does this affect your strategy?
It’s quite simple; that Titan needs to die. Your opponent is going to use it to win by either getting Mountains to power those Valakuts OR getting MORE land to play MORE big threats – so our strategy now becomes ‘Kill the damn Titan’. You can do this by attacking with your little army of guys. When you attack your creatures the Primeval Titan laughs at you and blocks one of your attackers. Big. Mistake. That’s exactly what you wanted. You let damage resolve then throw the Lightning Bolt at the Titan followed by the Arc Trail and, presto, the Titan dies. Now, not only has your opponent taken 6 damage, they won’t gaining any more advantage from that big green guy.
The Tap of the Land.
So, we’ve established the colour of your opponents land gives you a plethora of information about what he might be playing and how that affects you and your strategy. Well what about the lands he or she leaves untapped during your turn? Here, things can get complex. You need to be wary of two things, the colour of the lands untapped AND how many of lands are untapped. The values of both those queries will lead you onto two very important questions:
1. What does that say about the cards in his/her hand?
2. How does that affect my plan for this turn?
Lets tackle these one at a time.
”What does this say about the cards in his/her hand?”
It could say everything. What if there is a single Plains untapped and you have a lone Baneslayer Angel on the Battlefield? Your opponent could have Condemn. What if you want to play a Memoricide to rid your opponent of a card you can’t deal with and there’s 2 mana open on the other side of the table, one of which is blue? Does he have Negate? Mana Leak? Maybe your opponent controls a creature with an activated ability like Blinding Mage or the now-banned Stoneforge Mystic and the mana to activate its ability.
The printing of Dismember and the popularity of Tectonic Edge mean that the colour of the lands untapped may not matter, so you need to focus soley on how many lands are untapped and whether or not your opponent has a Tectonic Edge. If you play ‘Manlands’ like Celestial Colonnade then both Dismember and ‘Tec Edge’ can be back breaking if you plan to use it to be aggressive.
Imagine you only have 6 lands. You tap five of them to activate Celestial Colonnade and move to attackers phase only for opponent to tap one and sacrifice their Tec Edge to destroy your Non-basic Colonnade. Even worse if they simply tap one to Dismember it. You’ve spent 5 mana and gained nothing, they’ve spent 1 or 2 and gained a considerable advantage.
Checking the board before going ahead with any plan is essential to any strategy and is the very definition of forward thinking. The last thing you want to do is walk into an opposing play that undoes your strategy and leads to you losing the game. That’s the reason why you need to ask the second question:
”How does that affect my plan for this turn?”
This may depend on the colour you’re playing and what you’re plan is. If, using the first example, it’s to attack with Baneslayer the question is this: Do you have a way to give your Baneslayer protection from White to stop Condemn? Do you have another Baneslayer in your hand? Further from this it can depend on if you have a second colour in your deck. Blue could give you the option to Spell Pierce the Condemn or, in fact, the Dismember I mentioned earlier. Black would allow you to Duress the Condemn out of the opponents hand before attacking.
Sometimes you’ll just need your own Tectonic Edge, not only could you Tectonic Edge opposing Tectonic Edge‘s but you could also use Tectonic Edge to destroy your opponents last untapped land if it’s Non-basic. Imagine if that one land I mentioned was a Sunpetal Grove, if you destroy it in your main phase then your Baneslayer won’t get Condemned.
The overall point of this constant checking and planning is to make sure that you are prepared for any turn of events your opponent may have up their sleeve. Either with a foil to their plan to stop you or with a clear Plan-B should you lack the means to quell their resistance. This, as I have mentioned before, is the very definition of forward thinking and allows us to execute our strategies unhindered. Strategising, looking ahead and using the resources available to us as well as possible with the information laid out infront of us form the foundation for being a good Magic player.
That’s it for this week. Join me next timewhen I’ll be talking to the Blue players in the room about the one place most players make the most errors: Playing Counter-magic.
Until then, take care and thanks for sharing.