B is for Beautiful: Overvaluing Your Cards

In the second installment of his new column, BDM discusses the roles we assign our cards. Should we trade that Guildmage for a lowly Sell-Sword Brute? With examinations of real match decisions, this thoughtful article will definitely improve your logic in the Limited game.

Welcome to the second installment of my new column. The title will hopefully become evident in a couple of paragraphs, but first I wanted to lead with some commentary based on reader feedback in the forums of A is for Aggressive.

Thanks for the positive feedback. I was nervous about posting the initial article. There are so many permutations a game can take, based on any given play. As I pointed out you, can win on a mistake and lose on the correct play. The choices are never really clear, since the goal in a game of Magic is ultimately to win. Sometimes, striving to find the correct play is at cross-purposes with that goal.

I was surprised by how many posters took time to examine the Lurking Informant scenario at the opening of the article. I wish I’d talked to the player who made the play in question (that was the genesis of the article series, in fact). I was not presenting either play as being correct, although it seemed pretty clear-cut to Igor Frayman — a man I would gladly defer to in all matters Limited.

Quentin Martin was the first poster to broach the topic, and suggested that “Lurking yourself is cuts, plus a huge tempo loss…”

RandomSam also chimed in with “Lurking yourself for two or three turns – even when you find the land – is a good way to get beat.”

Even Excellent Magic Player Rizzo was dubious: “while the argument to use him on yourself was convincing (somewhat), I’m not completely sold.”

I have to admit that when my opponents use a Lurking Informant on themselves, I tend to pump the fist. The reason I pump the fist is because it most likely means my opponent has an unmanageable land-to-spell ratio — be it flood or screw. I am happy to see that situation indicated by the use of the Informant, but when you find yourself under that particular gun aren’t you forced to dig for your lands? What else should you do – sit there and take it?

If you had a Sensei’s Divining Top in play, you would obviously use your mana — assuming for the moment some scenario where you could not use it at an earlier point in the match — during your upkeep to make sure you drew land. Especially in a Sealed Deck match, which this was. Sealed Deck games tend to go on longer, and often come down to who is able to cast their Chorus of the Conclave, Blazing Archon, or some other eight-mana monstrosity that would almost never see the inside of a Draft deck.

Two points of Transluminant damage are not going to be as crucial to the game as finding your lands. Sadly, I cannot resort to the old chestnut of saying that this player lost the game so therefore the Informant was the right play, since we already established that is a dangerous trap to fall into, but…


He lost the game!

Seriously though, Igor’s take seemed correct to me at the time, given that it was Sealed Deck and based on the player’s hand. I did not take specific notes on his hand, since I was unaware that I’d be writing about it; in fact, I never imagined I would be writing about it twice. The player’s mana and the spells in his hand did not necessarily seem associated. He needed more help than simply land on top of his deck. He needed very specific lands.

Thanks again for all the feedback. Hopefully your words will continue to be kind, as we revisit Player A for a b-side from that same Draft I wrote about last week. Player A lost the match in question and went on to play against Opponent Z’s teammate – henceforth dubbed Opponent Y.

Game 1 of their match saw Player A going first, mulliganing a hand containing Swamps and a Plains with an accompanying suite of Blue spells — easy decision. His next hand was five lands and a Magemark. No one likes to mulligan a hand with land, but without some critters to enchant the Magemark was essentially a mulligan anyway. Player A chose to keep that hand, and proceeded to draw four straight mana related cards: land, land, Dimir Signet, and Terrarion, before drawing his first spell of the game — Twisted Justice.

Now, on the other side of the red zone Opponent Y was not off to a blazing start. He had summoned the beatdown of a lone Selesnya Evangel, and was pecking away for a point a turn before tapping out for a turn 5 Bramble Elemental. While this was not exactly ideal for Player A, things could have set up worse.

Having done a fair bit of match coverage over the last few years, you learn to write ahead. Some plays seem pre-diagrammed, and you just make a note of it and wait for the reaction and the countermove.

My notes read:

“Cycle Terrarion. TJ the Evangel. Draw two cards — Pass?!!!!???!! WTF? Ask about later!!!!”

Player A simply passed the turn, despite that being the only point in the game he could actually trade the Twisted Justice for an actual card (if his opponent had either another creature or sat back on his Evangel). And not only trade, but also go two cards deeper into his library to find something to do with his abundant mana. Plus — as we have seen — you don’t always know what someone will do. Opponent Y could have overvalued the Evangel and sacrificed the Bramble Elemental instead, to allow him to go five cards deeper.

Instead the turn was passed without a play.

Opponent Y had Fists of Ironwood (an amusing name for a card if you have ever seen Bill Willingham’s Ironwood comic book during the softcore comic boom of the early nineties) for his Bramble Elemental, and the game was over rather quickly. Just to take a moment to look at the mulligan… Player A drew four spells after his opening six: Signet, Terrarion, Twisted Justice, and Strands of Undeath (on the final turn before scoopage).

I am not a math man — never have been — but it seems to me that with sixteen land, two Signets, Terrarion, and however many non-creature spells are in your deck, the odds are pretty bad that you will draw well with an all-land hand. The best you can hope for is something like one-in-two cards being creatures, and if you hit any kind of stretch of non-spells you are dead in the water. Especially with a deck running multiple creature enchantments for the Magemark effect. You don’t even have to hit lands; one or two creature enchantments should spell your doom with that opening hand.

That’s not what Player A was thinking, apparently: “I was thinking that since I had so many mana sources that I had a better chance of drawing more spells. I liked my five mana better than going down to five cards.”

That aside, I could not understand Player A’s decision not to kill the Evangel by running Twisted Justice through the Terrarion. At the very least he could have started off by popping the Terrarion and seeing what the next card was. So what was he thinking at the time?

“I figured that would draw into Douse in Gloom, and then maybe be able to use the Twisted Justice to get some better card advantage and kill off a big creature,” Player A continued after going on to lose that game. “I guess I wanted to use it at that time, but I was thinking that if I could draw into something better I could get the Bramble Elemental. Douse in Gloom would have let me use the Twisted Justice the way I wanted to. I guess I was taking a real big chance.”

Ham-Fisted Justice

We talked a little more about what he meant by that, and it turned out that Player A assigns very strict roles to his cards. In his mind, Twisted Justice was a card you use to generate card advantage and take out creatures starting at Viashino Fangtail and up the curve. Douse in Gloom could kill the Evangel while it could do little to deal with the Bramble Elemental. Never mind that he was not going to be able to take any form of control over the game so that he could possibly hope to deal with the Bramble Elemental

Player A demonstrated a similar propensity in the next game. He went to his sideboard and brought in two copies of Runeboggle. On the play, and making no three-drop, he seemed to set off warning bells on the other side of the table. Opponent Y was careful to not play anything without leaving mana up. Still, Player A stuck to his guns and chose not play a Torch Drake on turn 4 to keep his Runeboggle at the ready.

Opponent Y remained cautious and only cast Gruul Guildmage and Fists of Ironwood that turn. You can see where this game is going. Player A refused to “cycle” his Runeboggle — he also had a seemingly unbreakable Terrarion — and got stuck on four lands. I use the term “stuck” pretty loosely, since he actually refused to play his Torch Drake. Player A had to then use his mana on his own turn to kill the Gruul Guildmage with a freshly drawn Douse in Gloom.

Opponent Y attacked with his two tokens, and was able to bloodthirst up a Ghor-Clan Savage. Followed Footsteps might have been able to keep Player A in the game, but he found the fifth mana a couple of turns too late and by then it did not matter. He was behind in creatures, never had enough mana, and was soon overrun.

“I was hoping to Runeboggle a big creature like Bramble Elemental,” Player A sighed after the match. “I guess I really didn’t think about it at that point. I see now that if I had cycled the Terrarion or Runeboggle — even if it didn’t have a real effect on my opponent — I might have gotten to my Blue source for the Followed Footsteps. Yeah. I could have done so many things. The Torch Drakes, etc. I was stuck on four lands for at least three or four turns.”

Once again, it seemed like Player A had assigned very specific roles to his cards. Terrarion was there for his off-color Faith’s Fetters, and Runeboggle was never “just” a cycling card.

“I always want to get the full use of any card that I have, and not waste its potential that it may have along the way,” Player A agreed. “I guess sometimes you really can’t get what you want out of the cards you have, and you have to make do.”

Obviously you would straight-up trade your Selesnya Guildmage for a Sell-Sword Brute if it meant that you could live another turn and possibly win the game, but I have seen countless variations on this scenario where the Guildmage player is unwilling to give up his first pick for the lowly Sell-Sword. Yet if that is what you have to do…

If it helps, you can always preface the trade with a grumbled, “I must be the only person in the world to trade a Guildmage for a crummy Sell-Sword.”

I was talking this over with the well-grumbled Jon Becker, and he helped me find my B-word for this column by relating a story about how he found one of the few holes in Mike Flores Mental Magic game.

Mike's face-lift wasn't exactly brochure-friendly

“Mike refused to use any of his beautiful card advantage on a lowly Fallen Askari,” Jon grinned. “By the time he realized that it had done twelve to him, I could sit back and protect it. I won multiple games with Fallen Askari against Mike.”

“Now, he just kills it whenever we play.”

Mike completely disputes this claim, but so would you if a lousy Fallen Askari killed you because you didn’t want to waste 1R spell to Hammer it when you might be able use it as Burnout later in the game….

And he calls me greedy.

Until next time…
Brian David-Marshall
Brian at top8magic dot com