While Standard and Modern are taking shape with the recent bans and the addition of Fate Reforged, I decided to write an article about technical plays and how you should walk through a turn with multiple choices. I will use as an example a turn that I believe is challenging in terms of decisions but also really easy to analyze, and I will show you the pact that I (should) use during a game of magic.
The situation is taken from my last daily recorded for this website. Check out the video below.
Around the 19-minute mark this is how things are going.
In the previous turn I got my courser threatened by Act of Treason, he saw a land, played it off the top, and there’s another land on top of the deck so we know at least that he will draw a blank next turn. So how should we play? To answer this question we need to proceed in 4 steps.
Step 1: What do we want to do?
This is the base, the beginning of our thought process. Understanding our role in a matchup or a given situation is really important, it sets how we evaluate our priorities and motivates our plays. It’s probably the least mechanical of all the steps and comes down on a experience / intuition level. The more you are accurate in this phase the easier it will be make a decision in the end. If you want to go deep on this path I suggest you read one of the most important article in magic theory ever written, Who’s the Beatdown.
In this case, though, what we are trying to accomplish is simple as a concept: staying alive in the best shape possible at the end of his turn.
Step 2: Considering all you options
Caught in the moment I have to admit that I’m usually a very hasty player, I base my plays on intuition and this is mostly bad. There are great players in the game that use intuition as a driving force for their tournaments (for that I know LSV is one of those) but I still think that a slowly analytic approach is far better if you are not a mastermind of this game.
This step is, for the most part, easy. We have to consider every line of play that we can make.
Here we have substantially four possibilities since we can’t play more than one spell: whip a courser, whip a satyr, whip an eidolon, play an eidolon. We have also an attack phase in which we must consider if it’s worth attacking with a courser; so we end up with 8 scenarios.
We can swipe away a couple of those, though: whipping a courser is significantly worse than whipping an eidolon since we don’t have any lands to play. This holds true, as well, for playing the one in our hand. We can clearly cut these two options and we are facing now only 4 possibilities.
We should go a little deep though and ask ourselves what are the consequences of whipping one or the other creature: in the deck we have still 4 Jungle Hollow and 1 Radiant Fountain so we might consider the possibility of netting more than 1 life with a single land drop.
Here are our life points considering the situation in which we attack or not with courser. This will come in handy when we will need to analyze which play is the best.
Step 3: What our opponent can play
Now we focus on what our opponent might play next turn. First of all we start having in mind a stock list of mono red aggro. The cards that we might face are these:
or a one mana non-haste creature.
Even in this case we can eliminate some options: since he played the land off the top thanks to our courser and passed with one mana up we are pretty sure there’s no CMC1 spell in his hand.
The remaining cards are these:
Step 4: Making a decision
Now that we have analyzed what we can do, what our opponent can do, and in which perspective we should act, it’s time to make a decision. Eidolon or Satyr? Let’s see:
4-6 life: We can stay alive if our opponent is on Lightning Strike or Act of Treason but not Stoke the Flames. The problem is that we also have to chose if we attack with courser or not; attacking will let us survive if he has Act but we’ll be dead if he has Strike (and vice versa if we don’t attack). I will put more on my opponent having Strike (that is a 4-of) rather than Act so I’m not inclined to attack.
5-7/6-8 life: We are alive no matter what our opponent does.
Basically, now we want to go for the play that gives us the best odds of reaching 4-6 life for further scenarios. Unfortunately, we are not machines. It’s pretty hard for me to make this calculation now, writing this article and with all the time in the world. Much harder when we are mid-game, so I won’t present my results.
What is important is the method used to reach what we assume is the right play. Just for reference I went for Eidolon because I thought it might gave the best odds of reaching a higher life total. My opponent scooped. To be honest, Satyr might be a correct play also because we are around 90% chance to hit a land and play Hornet queen the turn after.
This is how, in my opinion, we should elaborate and process information during every turn of a game. Of course sometimes we do that without being conscious of the fact, but learning how to proceed faster during these four steps will definitely improve your game. I would love to say that I’m doing this myself, every time, but sadly I haven’t quite reachd that level yet.
Hope you enjoyed the article and found it useful!
Until next time,