Analyzing and Dissecting Yomi #2

You have a lot of free time in MTG to make your decisions. Use it to break down decision trees and variable options before your opponent has a chance to truly think about his own board plan. Try to avoid going into a “muscle memory” mode like some fighting game players do… always consider your actions before making them.

Analyzing and Dissecting Yomi #2

Hello and welcome to the second part of the yomi series! I apologize for the delay in getting this to those that were interested, but real life intervened in the form of a car accident. Remember kids, a red light means stop… My tip? Avoid old ladies in big vans.

Today we’ll be going over the following topics:

  • Major shifts between yomi in fighting games and MTG
  • Basic strategies to improve your yomi

Let’s begin, shall we?

The key differences between yomi in fighting games and MTG are two-fold.

1) The speed at which information needs to be processed during active and null time in both games.

“Active time” in fighting games would be when your actively advancing and attacking one another. “Null (Neutral) time” would be when you’re a significant distance apart and in no danger of being hurt and/or when the opponent is knocked down and hence can’t respond to anything until his character gets up.

“Active time” in MTG would be all the play during your turn, and “null time” would be during your opponent’s turn. That being said, due to instants and the opposing combat phase it can be argued there is no neutral time in Magic, and your always in an active thought process. Though thinking during your opponent’s non-relevant phases is a great way to get a jump-start when your turn comes around.

This should be obvious to anyone who’s played fighting games in the past fifteen years, but in case it’s not, you only have about half a second to make a decision when someone actively attacks you from close range. Even if neither player wants to attack each other and just keeps walking back and forth at one another throwing out whiffs*, you still only have less than a second to a second to respond.

*Whiffs are fast attacks that aren’t designed to hit, merely to build super meter and draw out an opposing attack that can then be retaliated against.

In Magic you’ve got a huge amount of free time by comparison, with about 15-30 seconds per move. Of course this is assuming you aren’t just a slow player, in which case it’ll take judges to speed up your play; in fighting games somebody just slugs you upside the head and then fires a Hadouken up your butt.

You have a lot more time to think ahead in MTG, yet not that many people truly take advantage of the extra time they are given. This is one of the easiest ways to improve your yomi skills – use every moment to analyze the game information and what your options are. People don’t do this often enough, or they try to do lame mind tricks during this time. For those of you at home – and I know many of you try this – note that the vast majority suck at it and probably should spend time analyzing the board play. There’s a reason why it’s easier to be a silent thinking fortress than a sly successful trickster.

You have a lot more free time in MTG to make your decisions. Use it to break down decision trees and variable options before your opponent has a chance to truly think about his own board plan. Try to avoid going into a “muscle memory” mode like some fighting game players do… always consider your actions before making them.

Fighting game players tend to just learn every notable attack pattern by heart, either via competition or just forced training against the beginning of each attack string (which you usually experience in casual play against good players anyway). So eventually muscle memories take over, and when you see something you’ll react ASAP without needing to truly contemplate the action. That’s why it’s important to dictate what which pattern or reaction phase your going to do next, instead of just stopping the opponent and then going into the same mode you were in before.

The Magic equivalent is testing decks against one another, which… is really obvious, I’m sure. The problem is a lot of people aren’t looking for patterns, or the reasoning behind why they are winning a lot of the time. For a time I was very good with nearly any aggressive deck, especially ones featuring little red men. The main reason is I always spent the first 5-10 matches figuring out what plans I could run with and what ones weren’t so hot. Then I’d breakdown why they weren’t working as well as I thought they would. As a result I could generally play competently against opponents with a huge experience gap on me.

I like to call this the Affinity Rule. People get a singular pattern or two engrained into their heads and they play the deck that way every single time. With some decks this is strong enough to work a significant portion of the time. With others, not so much… and these are typically the people you hear complaining about, “how can this be considered a Tier 1 deck!!!11! It sucks!” People don’t take advantage of testing enough, they look at the results and draw conclusions from that, rather than take a look at why they got the results in the first place.

2) The ability to modify the base abilities of a deck versus a character and the amount of moves possible

This is pretty obvious to most people, but it has to be said anyway. In MTG you have infinitely more options before the game actually starts than pretty much any fighting game ever. Most 2D fighters follow the same basic set-up:

4-6 buttons for controls. Each one does its own individual attack, it also does a separate one depending if you’re in a standing, crouching, or jumping position. In addition to these moves there are typically another eight to a dozen special / super moves at your characters disposal.

In Magic, you typically can choose from a thousand or more possible cards. Although when we narrow those down to ones that are good enough, it only leaves us with a few hundred cards to work with. Breaking it down further, we’ll say an opponent will be playing between ten and thirty relevant play cards. So roughly an opponent will have the same amount of “moves” as in fighting games, but the variability is there. Sure if you include every character’s moves as individual; you may have an argument that it matches the overall amount of relevant cards there are in an environment. However, basic moves are nearly the same for almost all characters, so it’s simply an irrelevant factor.

What I’m getting at is this; players use the same 8-12 “best” moves for a given character. They simply are the most effective, efficient or damaging moves they have access too. In Magic the concept is similar, in that once a deck archetype is figured out, in an ideal world; it’ll be playing the objectively best cards. That’s the catch, though: random or different choices can easily catch you off-guard far more than in fighters.

This makes yomi far more difficult than in games with perfect information. It means sometimes your probability runs are going to looks like complete guesses, because you’re forcing yourself to paint in broader brush-strokes until you key in on a singular card or set of similar cards to play against.

Figuring Out Where You Stand

The first thing you have to figure out when wanting to improve your yomi is where you currently stand with it. This is pretty easy in fighting games, because in most areas with competition you can get in a relatively large series of games every few days. So your record against people of equal or superior skill levels are easy to acquire and breakdown. In addition it’s also a pretty easy endeavor (with a little technical know-how) to upload quality videos of your play online for others to watch and critique.

In Magic, though, it’s a bit tougher to get a clear picture of how skilled you are in various areas of the game. Part of this is because it’s incredibly difficult to get a clear gauge on your skill level without some tournament experience. In other cases it’s because you typically won’t be able to play against a lot of high-level players (outside of a team setting) in everyday gaming, when you want to test or just play for kicks.

So in reality the only good way to get a gauge on where you are in your yomi skills is to test versus competent opponents, preferably ones better than you, and then see how well your doing reading patterns and guessing what they’ll be doing next. Take notes and go back into games and redo key moments with the benefit of hindsight and see if there were any significant deviations. Could you have known? Would it have helped?

Once you can basically see the opponent’s moves coming and the game starts to almost seem scripted (this is really obvious in a few deck match-ups in every format), then you can begin honing in on patterns. Can you bait? What about slow-rolling removal for maximum effect? Can you tell when the opponent may be making exploitable mistakes, but you don’t know how to punish them?

Getting started with this type of skill is a lot of self-questioning and taking a hard look in the mirror at how good your basic reading and mental processing skills are.

Basic Ways to Improve Yomi

Clearly there will be times where lack of information will make the right decision be practically impossible to figure out without the benefit of hindsight. That being said, you can better your odds of making the correct decisions by simply memorizing decks and the key strategies the best decks are trying to employ. Even if you don’t face them directly, having a clue about general styles can help against similar decks. So the more informed you are in a given format, the better handle you’ll have on a situation.

Learn to key in on patterns – both in-game and outside of the game – by keeping track of player’s moves and the cards themselves from testing. If your opponent constantly keys in on a specific move or card you happen to be making, make a note of that for future reference. The opponent may have just a natural impulse to always destroy the first guy you play with a burn spell, regardless of value. Perhaps he always casts draw spells at the end of your turn, because that’s what cool kids taught him to do. If the opponent keeps going and doing the same old stuff, punish him for it!

Other patterns that help your yomi skills, and really your skill at Magic in general, are when you notice specific patterns in match-ups. In fact these are typically far more crucial than anything you learn from singular opponents. In fighting game tournaments, the higher ranks of players and smaller pool of competition means you’ll run into the same players far more often than in Magic. Instead, the best way to learn devastating patterns is to run the matches against whatever deck you’ll be playing at a tournament, and then figure out both the sub-optimal line of play and the best line.

Knowing what cards directly correlate to you, or your opponent, winning the game can be an incredible boon. Yet people commonly overlook this facet of play when picking up decks to play or when playing top tier decks. Guess what? Even the best deck gets better when you have a clue of what the opponent is queuing up to stop you.

And a few more quickies:

Any sort of common correlation between the cards that set-up the win in certain decks.

Specific areas in decks that look flimsy – this is why good testing gauntlets stress deck pressure points.

Players using cards in same basic way every time – if they have a certain phase or bluff engrained into them, use it against them!

This one is only for Limited: Know what tricks are in the environment and how/when they’re most commonly used. Again, limited information comes into play during the games, which you see in the most common sense as “Does he have it?” i.e. the combat trick that may cost you the game. Knowing about combat tricks is good, but analyzing why most people are going to try and use them is better.

Practice against competent opponents; note the emphasis on opponents. When you’re testing to improve in general, you always want to be trying to play against different styles and different people/decks to help build different pattern recognition. Playing against one great player a lot is fine, but you must accept that you may be getting a skewed perception of your overall reading capabilities. Playing against one or two opponents all the time will help your yomi in the short run, but you have to keep your mind open, as odds are those few people aren’t so much better that you can learn every optimal play / pattern play from them.

Next time we’ll start going over play scenarios with a more in-depth look at the theory.

Joshua Silvestri
Team Reflection
E-mail me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom