Know the game: Preparation for any event
Whether you are going to play FNM, or prepare for a large event, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind if you want to do well, things that go beyond the text on cards and rules. What I am talking about is preparation and this can be a tall order, because the pending question remains “How do you prepare for a big event, or any MTG event for that matter?”. In this article I am going to share some insight through my time playing the game and preparing for events (When I do), and what happens when I do not prepare for events.
Let us start with the Tarmogoyf in the room
The first issue in playing MTG (Unless you are on the pro scene) is that new players often attribute losing a game with “Bad cards” and the opponent winning the game with “Good cards”, but it is a little bit more complex than that. Sure, there are creatures and spells that outclass one another because of their abilities and interactions, but some principles remain the same. Let me paint a simple scenario for you:
It is turn three, Player 1 (Jund) is on the play and has a Tarmogoyf on the field, while Player 2 (Stompies) has a Kalonian Tusker and Experiment One (2/2), there is only one sorcery card in all graveyards making Tarmogoyf a 1/2. Player 1 attacks with Tarmogoyf. Do you block with the Kalonian Tusker, both the Experiment One (2/2) and the Kalonian Tusker, potentially killing Tarmogoyf, or do you take the one damage?
For those of you who thought to either block or take the damage before asking a couple of critical questions may have some problems relating to how you make a decision in this game.
Before you can answer any questions or make any decisions about any game of MTG, you need to assess the information and resources first. Let us add some detail to the scenario, the Jund player has access to an untapped Mountain, the Stompies player is tapped out. What would you do now? If you think blocking with the Experiment One (2/2) is a good idea, then you are wrong. If you think chump blocking with both creatures is a good idea, then you are wrong. If you choose to take the damage, you are correct and here is why:
The Jund player is threatening a Lightning Bolt in hand. If you block with Experiment One (2/2), The Jund player can respond with Lightning Bolt on Kalonian Tusker, pumping Tarmogoyf to a 2/3 killing both Kalonian Tusker and Experiment One (2/2). If you chump block, the same applies, but if you take the damage this turn, you can potentially save the Experiment One (2/2) landing two points of damage when you attack next turn. Not only did that simple choice get you an additional two points of damage, but also it saved your Experiment One (2/2) from going to the graveyard. If the opponent was bluffing, it was a bad bluff, because they will take five damage next turn. What was illustrated here is the good old principle of 2-for-1, because if you make the wrong choice, the Jund player will have a resource advantage (Please see the previous article “10K here we come…” from Stef Vesely on resource management).
The good old principle of 2-for-1
By definition, the name of the statement describes itself. A 2-for-1 is where an interaction gives one player an advantage regarding a resource of the game, and the resources here are measured in cards. Probably the best example of a 2-for-1 in the game of Magic is the card Hymn of Tourach. The description reads, “Target player discards two cards at random”, which is just brutal. With one card, you take two cards, AT RANDOM, giving yourself an immediate resource advantage. However, this is a direct example of a 2-for-1, but there are many indirect examples of this, which are situation specific, and interaction specific.
If you cast two removal spells to remove a creature (Let us say two Lightning Bolts to remove a Primeval Titan), then you are down with a resource, and the opponent has an advantage of value and resources. If you cast Supreme Verdict on a board full of elves, then you have the advantage. The best interactions are the ones where you spend fewer cards to get the maximum outcome. It is simply impossible to list all the 2-for-1 trades in the game because there are too many. Just like in a game of chess, it depends on the pieces, your board state, available resources, and types of interactions you can commit to. The possibilities are endless. Even though these interactions cannot be listed (There are simply just too many), there is one thing you can do to learn how to make the best play, and that is to playtest one deck. I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight a flaw I see in people who start playing the game or who have only played it for about a year or so. I call it the diversity disease.
The diversity disease
So, a new player comes to FNM, they borrow a deck, and fall in love with the game. The following week, they come with their own deck, and do not do so well. The week after, they borrow another deck and do not do so well either. They manage to get a deck they like, and still do not do well for another two tournaments. Then they decide to build another deck and so it continues – The diversity disease.
What adds fuel to this fire is that the people who are consistently in the top four at FNM, can play with different decks every week (It depends on whether they are preparing for a tournament or not, and preference). The perception that can be created is to change deck and strategy until you find one that works. THIS IS WRONG and you will not learn much if you do this as a new player.
Stick to a deck – Learn the deck and play against as many DIFFERENT decks as you possibly can before you change decks. Make tweaks to the deck depending on both interactions and the Meta, until you are satisfied. If you want to try a different deck, choose the same strategy as the deck you know. If it is aggro, change to another aggro deck. If it is midrange, stick to the same. Why? Because if you are new, and you jump from an aggro strategy to a control strategy, you are more likely to consistently make major play mistakes.
People who constantly change decks are either in love with brewing like Nici Slabber (See “The Brewers Guide to Surviving the Meta Deck”) or people who want to enjoy their different decks. What they all have in common, is years of playtesting and MTG experience.
Before you can say a deck is bad, play at least 20 different matches (At least two games per match) with the specific deck, against as many different decks as possible, and look at the data. A regular at a local tournament used to play Abzan, and then later Jund. He lost many tournaments, and made many misplays/play mistakes, but eventually he learned how to play with both decks so well that you will always see him achieving consistent results in any tournament. Why? Because he looked at the data, applied Rule #1, and got better at playing the game.
Read and watch videos. The MTG community worldwide has a monolith of content related to any deck you can fathom. Read and learn what they learned, watch what they do, emulate the same, and you will improve. If you do not spend time outside the game learning a bit about the game, you will not grow or develop in the game.
Enjoy the game. I always say, “It is not about winning or losing, but learning”, a borrowed philosophy from a profound MMA fighter. Whether I win or lose a game, I still learn, and still enjoy the game. Do the same. If you get frustrated when you lose a game, then you have more serious problems than having a “Bad deck”. Rather than getting frustrated, enjoy the journey, it is fun, talk to people, and learn.
Good luck on your MTG Journey
A Researcher by day and student of life by night, my diverse interests all require some form of learning. With over 20 years’ experience playing Magic, having played casually all over the world at local tournaments, my favourite formats are Legacy and Modern. Although I have never made the competitive scene, I respect and value the players who commit to making this a great game and will continue to learn on my journey of becoming a better player.