Category: Strategy

Don’t Play Your Hand, Play the Situation

This article will discuss a problem unique to muliplayer Magic.  To borrow a phrase from hockey, it’s like skating through the neutral zone with your head down — you gotta watch the play, not watch the puck, or you’re going to get leveled.  In Magic terms, you have to play the situation, not play your hand!

It’s not necessary in two-player Magic to do what the multiplayer crowd calls “threat assessment”.  Threat assessment is understanding who is the biggest threat at the table.  In a two player game, you only have one threat — your opponent.  100% of their resources are devoted to stopping you from winning, killing your shit, and winning the game.  Multiplayer Magic is infinitely more complex — temporary alliances can form and fall apart, the most powerful player at the table varies sometimes by the turn, and occasionally it’s better to leave people alive than it is to kill them. 

Consequently, multiplayer Magic is significantly different from two-player Magic in how one should evaluate their lines of play and pick when to play their cards.  Multiplayer Magic forces us to understand the dynamics of many players all trying to win the game at the same time.  There are many more threats on the table and potential threats in players’ hands, and you simultaneously must not lose to all players, all the time.  Meanwhile, they’re trying not to lose to you as well.  Remember: the single most important factor in winning games of Commander is not losing games of Commander.  Not losing is really hard — everybody is out to kill you!

The potential problem that arises when confronted with this much information is to stop looking for lines of play and evaluating the dynamics of the game, and instead just play out your hand as though you’re goldfishing.  This, in my opinion, is not only a bad play strategy, but it also is the single most important factor informing why people hate combo and land destruction.  Because players are not reading the table and instead are just trying to play the cards they see in their hands, when somebody comes along and stops what it is they think they’re trying to do, they get upset.  And rightfully so, given this mindset — games of Commander can take hours, and when your strategy gets disrupted by somebody suddenly winning or you having all your lands destroyed by an Armageddon, it’s a big kick in the nuts.

But, had you been paying attention, you could have seen this coming and avoided it — or, at least, mentally and Magically prepared yourself for the eventuality.  Here’s how to do that.  But first, a quick scenario on how important this is.

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Politics: When to Slow Roll, and When to Go For It

I said in Friday’s article that this would be about how much and what type of mass removal to include, but while I’ll address that somewhat, the main subject of the article is going to be about gauging the commitment level of other players at the table and how to know when to commit yourself.  By commitment I’m not talking about going steady, but committing to the board.  What this means is, you start committing to the board when you extend somewhat to secure a position.  The commitment aspect really means something like, “commitment with risk” — you have to extend somewhat to secure a position, but you also have to be wary not to extend too much such that mass removal sets you really far behind.  As such, it’s a Balancing Act, and requires some amount of skill, a lot of guesswork, and more than a little luck.

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Casual vs. Competitive metagaming: Or, why aren’t you playing Stranglehold?

Hey everybody.  After taking last week off for a little vacation and to spend some time with my folks after a loss in the family, I’m back!  While on my long drive out and back, I immersed myself in the world of Magic podcasts (specifically, the Eh Team and CommanderCast, both of which are fantastic.)  I have volumes of upcoming new material for you guys, so pull up your sleeves and dig in!

This article stems largely from a conversation I had with my longest-running Magic buddy and fellow Thwomper Brad.  He was over at my place after some time at the driving range and hadn’t brought his decks, so he was shuffling up my decks against me.  He immediately reached for my Captain Sisay stax build and said something along the lines of, “I need to know what makes this thing work.”  He told me that of all my decks, he most loathed to play against that one, which I was certainly surprised to learn.  He then qualified that and said, it’s not the least fun to play against — that honor belonged to the U/B Dralnu infinite-turns monstrosity that I built here — just the scariest.  I was surprised to learn that what I thought was my best deck, Arcum Dagsson, is neither the scariest or the least fun.

I wanted to understand why he felt this way about these two decks, and the ensuing conversation ties very much into the long-running casual vs. competitive Commander debate that rages on still to this day.  It was particularly interesting to me as I consider Brad more toward the “competitive” side of the Commander coin than just about anybody else we play with, save yours truly.

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No take-backs!

(Due to a scheduling snafu, this article failed to appear yesterday.  Sorry about that!)

You’ve been there.  Your game isn’t going so well.  Everything you do gets blown up, countered, or stolen.  You’re mana screwed and haven’t had good cards in hand all game.  You’ve got three opponents who all seem to have better chances of winning the game than you do, and one guy who’s clearly in the lead.

Dude to the left taps out and Mind Twists your hand away.

“WTF, man?!  I’m not your threat!” you implore, begging him to direct it at somebody else — somebody who actually has a chance of winning and who is actually in competition with the guy.  All Mind Twisting you is going to do is make the game even more boring for you.

Your opponent briefly considers.  He says, “you’re right — I’ll Mind Twist you instead,” pointing it at the next player around the table.

Uh oh.  Now that guy’s complaining about take-backs.

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Abuse the Symmetry — or, Legends cards that float my boat

In addition to being an awesome metal song name, this post is about how to take advantage of effects that benefit or penalize all players “equally”.  These are sometimes called “symmetrical” effects because there is a symmetry between all players in what the effects do.  The Plane cards from Planechase do this, for example.

There are many regular cards too in Magic which do the same thing for all players, which, at first glance, don’t appear to do much for you.  After all, you’re playing the card, right?  You’re already one card down.  Giving everyone the same effect doesn’t seem like much of an advantage, right?  Right?

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The Graveyard and You — or, why not to freak out when you get milled

This will be a broad, high-level overview of the graveyard as a resource vis-a-vis the hand and the library.  Some of the points may seem obvious but understanding the crucial differences between the three areas will improve your deck design and card selection skillz*.

(* The ‘z’ is an indicator of an informal, conversational style.  We’re having fun here, after all.)

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Threat Assessment

Well hi there.

You know that feeling?  You’ve been hammering on one player all game long, answering their threats, wiping their board, countering their spells.  You just know they were the frontrunner.  If things got out of hand with that player you simply had no way to get out from under their stranglehold and you were going to lose.

Then the player to his right drops a card and wins.  It didn’t look like there was anything going on there.  In fact he was down to 10 life and looked like he was dead to the world.

What just happened?

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