Win More, Lesson Two: Stay Winning

Hi all,

Last week I presented to you a style of deck selection and play called “Start By Winning.” Essentially, I encouraged everyone to select a deck that applies pressure as early as turn one. Essentially, we want to eliminate all losses that would come from our deck choice. Here are the key ideas from last week’s article:

1) Do not adopt a strategy that hopes to stop an opponent from an element of play.
If you pick a deck that attacks a certain axis, such as land destruction or discard, then know that some match-ups will be lost because your opponent is stable on that axis point. If you choose to play [c]Stone Rain[/c] maindeck, know that you will lose to an opponent who can operate on one or two lands every few matches. If you want to target your opponent with a lot of discard, know that your opponents will occasionally topdeck answers. If you want to prevent your opponents’ creatures from attacking or even surviving, then you can write off all the matches where your opponents don’t care to attack.

2) Do not choose a deck that hopes to put together two or more components.
If your deck’s strategy is dependent on assembling a combination of cards, then you are walking into games, matches, and events knowing that the odds are your deck will fold one or two times out of every ten. R/G Tron is extremely consistent at putting together [c]Urza’s Mine[/c], [c]Urza’s Tower[/c], and [c]Urza’s Power Plant[/c] by turn three. Still, each of its dedicated players knows that sometimes you won’t assemble the pieces, and others you will have loads of mana and nothing to do with them. Bogles, similarly, is relatively consistent at enchanting [c]Slippery Bogle[/c] with [c]Rancor[/c] and [c]Ethereal Armor[/c], but you have to accept that you are going to mulligan into oblivion a statistically significant number of times.

3) Assert the win from turn one.
Instead of preventing your opponent from winning or hoping that by turn three, your strategy will begin to take shape, I encouraged everyone to play aggressive one-drops: most notably, creatures with haste, the ability to grow and stay relevant over time, Infect, or a power of 3 are effective threats with which to open a game.

In short, when describing your deck to someone, you want to start with “It beats with (proposed creature X).” Your sentence doesn’t start with “it puts together” or “it stops the opponent from,” as these are not the most consistent ways to win.

This week, the phrase I want you to remember most is “Stay winning, but only just.”

Once you’ve followed my advice and played [c]Wild Nacatl[/c] or [c]Glistener Elf[/c] on turn one, what next? Well, fortunately, you’re in the driver’s seat, and you get to decide how things play out. You are winning. Your opponent has three options:
1) Neutralize your threat.
2) Win before you do.
3) Lose.

The decisions we make will keep your opponents’ options in mind, but we will break them down into the decisions on our turn and the decisions on their turn. Each decision will be made so that we stay winning, but only just. That is, we don’t want to extend ourselves so far that the opponent is more capable of neutralizing our threat or winning before we do.

During Our Turn

If you are winning with a deck that follows the “Win More” strategies, then it is usually correct to keep the upper hand and leave your mana untapped during your turn. However, you are keeping in mind your opponent’s option number two: “Win before you do.” If we are against a deck who either wins on turn four or begins to control the board on turn four, we may decide we need to apply pressure. Therefore, there are some questions we want to ask ourselves:

1) Does this threat reduce my opponent’s clock?
If my opponent is at 15 life, and I have four power on the board, then my opponent’s clock is four turns. It will likely be advantageous for me to play any creature at this point because it will reduce my opponent’s clock to three turns. However, if I have eight power on the board with my opponent at the same life total, it is highly unlikely that playing a creature here will be beneficial. This mistake is called overextending, and when I see players overextend I can easily sort them out as a lower caliber threat.

I will admit, albeit at the cost of the point I’m trying to make here, that this math has gotten much more difficult in recent history. It has been difficult to evaluate the opponent’s clock with cards like [c]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/c] and [c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c], for example. Even [c]Delver of Secrets[/c] varies as an effective or under-performing threat.

2) Does playing this threat prevent me from being able to protect my board presence?
Tapping out of mana on your turn prevents you from removing your opponents’ defenses or protecting your offenses. Often it is better to hold up mana for removal, pump, or my favorite, [c]Boros Charm[/c].

3) Will an opponent’s answer set me back further than I am now?
Right now, I am in the lead, and if I gamble to advance that lead, an opponent may answer with [c]Day of Judgment[/c], [c]Electrolyze[/c], [c]Pyroclasm[/c] or another effect that not only negates my added play but also puts me further back than I am now. You have to gauge what your opponents’ answers to your threat are. If you are playing a deck with a removal suite of [c]Path to Exile[/c], burn spells, and [c]Abrupt Decay[/c], then it will likely be correct to add to your board presence. If your opponent is playing a mix of these effects and [c]Wrath of God[/c], then things get more complicated.

4) Does this threat preemptively answer something my opponent could do?
There are certain situations where you can anticipate what your opponent has or how they may try to answer you. For example, if my opponent is stuck on three mana for a few turns and can produce black, green, and white mana, I may assume that once he makes his fourth land drop, a [c]Siege Rhino[/c] will surely follow. Can I play a threat that will keep me winning even after his life gain and 5 toughness?

5) Can I bluff anything instead?
Throughout the course of this match, has your opponent seen a [c]Forked Bolt[/c], [c]Lightning Bolt[/c], [c]Boros Charm[/c], or other surprise? If so, they may be making decisions based on the fear. If you tap out, remember that you are removing your opponents’ reservations about how to develop their board state.

6) Most importantly, does tapping out here mean that I can’t prevent my opponent from winning before I do?
Between [c]Splinter Twin[/c], Infect creatures, [c]Birthing Pod[/c] (for a week), and others, we may simply lose to our opponent’s combo if we do not hold up mana for removal.

Most likely, we have mana available and means to interact with our opponent during his turn. When we do interact on their turn, they are forced to make some tough decisions, knowing that we are going to be untapping soon. Like during our turn, there is a series of questions we want to ask ourselves when our opponent makes a play. Once again, we are keeping in mind that we are winning, so we don’t want them to stop us from doing so or to win sooner.

During Our Opponents’ Turns

First of all, our opponents’ attempts to neutralize our threat could include a blocker or a removal spell. Here is how we decide when to react and to what extent.

1) Does this actually answer my threat?
In the case of removal spells, we can easily determine whether our threat is in jeopardy and how we can respond with [c]Vines of Vastwood[/c] or another pump effect. When our opponent plays a creature, though, we need to know how often we actually care. Does the creature trade favorably with my threat, like [c]Kitchen Finks[/c] or [c]Siege Rhino[/c]? If so, then we want to answer with [c]Dismember[/c] or [c]Path to Exile[/c]. When playing [c]Wild Nacatl[/c] and the like, though, often we can get away with ignoring the creature or letting it block so that our opponent will be down a card. This is especially true when playing cards like [c]Colossal Might[/c] and [c]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/c].

Our opponents’ second hope is to win before we do. If it seems they can, we have to determine the best way to interact so that we have the upper hand again.

2) Is this his win condition? If so, is it faster than mine?
Measure your clock against your opponents’ clock often. When you have less time than they do, then it is time to interact.

3) When is the best time to remove the threat?
Often, when playing against aggressive decks that have the ability to pump their creatures, it is best to give your opponent the hit during combat and remove their threat after combat damage. There are a lot of pump spells, [c]Mutagenic Growth[/c], etc. flying around in Modern now, and you don’t want to waste a [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] on a [c]Goblin Guide[/c] when your opponent can play [c]Mutagenic Growth[/c], putting you down a card and four life. When playing [c]Path to Exile[/c], the best time to play is often during your opponent’s upkeep. They will not have access to the extra mana during their turn, and they will not be able to attack with the creature.

4) Is my removal best used on my opponent?
Just like evaluating whether or not to play a creature during your turn, we want to determine whether a [c]Lightning Bolt[/c] is best spent reducing the opponent’s clock. This is especially true if we can untap and continue to play more burn spells in addition to our attacks.

In Conclusion
This is probably the end of the “Win More” series. Part three would be simply labeled “Finish winning,” but I believe the site deserves more than an entire article stating “Combine [c]Boros Charm[/c] with [c]Become Immense[/c].” If you want to see some more decks that are geared to this strategy, please let me know in the comments section. I can show you the lists and the roles of their cards as they pertain to these two articles.

I hope the “Win More” series given you some insight on why your strategy may not be producing the results you want and on how to get there instead. These tips have been invaluable for me as a player. I’ve continued to succeed with the decklist and strategy from last week, placing 3-1 in the only daily I entered and getting to the finals* of Blippy’s event last night. I have spent less tickets than the number of packs that I have won with the deck, plus I have won $20 Canadian to use at Face to Face Games for paper cards. Gone forever are the days that I try to enchant a [c]Gladecover Scout[/c] or assemble a combo!

* – Latin for “placing second,” because otherwise instead of saying “getting to the finals,” I would say “winning.”

Good luck, have fun, win more.