As the Managing Editor of this here site here, I’m supposed to know a fair bit about Magic. Y’know, about decks, and tech, and… stuff. So far, I’m two articles into my series and the only nugget of Magic Wisdom you’ll find is that “America is like Draco.”
Frankly, I’m disappointed with this. I expected more.
So today, some honest-to-goodness Magic theory. Bear in mind that it’s not my strength: I’m more at home with a knob gag or fart joke. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Life is like a salad bar: you only get one visit. So go easy on the onions, and use the tongs provided.
For today’s instalment of SCG Daily, I present “Cat and Mouse: Playing Beneath Yourself.”
Lately, when I play Magic, I’ve noticed an alarming trend. My play seems to mirror that of my opponent.
If my opponent is playing well, I tend to do the same. We trade blows, and the crowd gasp at our cerebral parries and thrusts. On the obverse, if my opponent is playing like a monkey, I join in the “ook ook” chorus. I’m not a steady player, not dependable to produce results over and over. One day, I’ll take the whole hill o’ beans. The next, I’m buried by it. My proverbial Bad Player persona waxes and wanes with the follies of the Moon. In a lot of ways, I’m a Were-Flores.
Even so, there are times when I read the parings (or click the info tab) and know that the next match is one I should automatically win.
It’s a strange feeling, sitting opposite a player you know in your heart you should beat. It’s mirrored in the opposite, of course: facing off against an opponent who has your knackers in a bag from the moment you enter the building. Should such parings alter your perspective, and thus your play? Should you tremble at the prospect of playing a World Champion, or scoff at the frippery of facing a no-thumbed simpleton?
I think so. Sort of.
Let me quantify: it’s not about looking down on your opponent. Nor is it about treating a superior foe with reverential awe. If you’re of average skill, it’s simply about assessing the position you’re in — be it that of Cat or Mouse — and subtly altering your gameplan accordingly.
Being the Cat
You’re in Round 1 of a Draft on Magic Online. Your deck? Passable. A strategy you like (be it Boros or Mill or whatever), but lacking a few key cards. An average Draft deck, so to speak. Your first round opponent has an online rating of 1385. You smile. You’re the Cat today.
As the Cat, you’re relying on your playskill: after all, it’s the tool that should elevate you above your opponent. If all things were equal, you should win the match with ease. Card strength should not be an issue, from your perspective at least. It’s all about the play, baby!
Therefore, if you’re the Cat, the first thing you should do is remove all chance of things not being equal. Thus, that slightly dodgy two-land hand on the draw, with one two-drop and promise of strong action to come should you top land? Ship it.
Sure, the temptation is to keep… “hell, the guy’s a moron, I’ll roll him in a few turns. So what if I miss a few land drops? Is he gonna beat me down with his Infectious Hosts?”
Actually, he is.
The trick to being the Cat is that you must avoid the manascrew. If you both drop a land a turn, you’ll win. Through playskill. If he drops land and you don’t, you’ll lose. Through stupidity.
While I’ve mentioned that, for the Cat, playskill is king and the cards don’t matter… that’s only half true. Your cards don’t matter, but your opponents probably do. You, as a Good Player, have a deck full of respectable cards. Your opponent, however, may not. Once, as the Cat, I faced a first turn Benediction of Moons. It simply meant it took me an extra turn to win with my random 2/2 beatstick.
However, don’t fall into the typical Cat trap of thinking that your opponent’s cards will always be bad. For a start, everyone knows that Faith’s Fetters is good. The strong cards will be there too. More importantly, however, is the fact that even bad cards can be good cards sometimes. Once, as the Cat, I lost game 1 of a Draft when my opponent foiled my intricate Milling strategy with a maindeck Mnemonic Nexus, and killed my entire team over time by swinging with a Goblin Fire-Fiend armed with Strands of Undeath.
If anything, a Cat swinging into open mana must be very careful. He must weigh up both the probable outs of his opponents, plus the improbable one. Would Seismic Spike wreck your hand? Against a decent opponent, it’s not worth considering… but against some guys, beware. Killing a Karoo and burning for two is quite the tech in some circles.
Overall, being the Cat requires respect, and discipline. Yes, you should beat your opponent… but you won’t if you’re too dismissive of their role in the game. Remember, even Goliath had an Achilles Heel (or something). Don’t take the win for granted. Mulligan those dodgy hands, plan around long-forgotten cards. If all things are equal, you’ll win… so treat your opponent as an equal, and you’ll be fine.
Being the Mouse
You’re in Round 1 of a Draft on Magic Online. Your deck? Passable. A strategy you like (be it Boros or Mill or whatever), but lacking a few key cards. An average Draft deck, so to speak. Your first round opponent has an online rating of 1985. You frown. You’re the Mouse today.
As the Mouse, you’re relying more on the power of your cards. If all things were equal, you should lose this match. Your opponent is more skilled than you, and they undoubtedly have a good deck. They know how to draft one, after all.
Therefore, as the Mouse, your task is to ensure things are not equal. Of course, this is easier said than done. You can’t for example, bank on your opponent being manascrewed. You can however, cheat things a little in your favor by calling on your luck. That slightly dodgy two-land hand on the draw, with one two-drop and promise of strong action to come should you top land? It’s a keeper. You have gas, and if you draw the real estate you’re cookin’ like Ainsley.
Sure, the temptation is to ship it back… “If I don’t draw a land, he’ll overrun me! I’ve gotta make a game of this or I’m punished for sure! I don’t wanna lose to manascrew!”
Thing is… does it mater how you lose to this guy? All things being equal, you’re going to lose anyway. Surely it’s best to keep a potentially great hand rather than risk an oatmeal six from your deck of average blandness? You’re there to win, remember. Putting up a modicum of fight with a beige hand of land and poor spells will not help. So what if you lose to manascrew? You don’t get points for effort. And by riding your luck, your hand may explode and be unstoppable, Cat and Mouse bedamned!
As the Mouse, it’s also important to gauge the optimum possible play of your opponent at any given time, and react as if such events will transpire. This has value across the board: it helps you plan your moves according to a strict gameplan, and it helps improve your game in the long-run. Hey, maybe your days of being the Mouse will be short, and you’ll be pouncing like a Cat before you know it.
An easy example of this is with Auras. If you’re the Mouse, you should reliably expect your opponent to two-for-one you with removal should the opportunity be there. Consequently, unless caution sets you back a great deal, beware the untapped land.
However, as the Mouse, your opponent’s play can be liberating, and telling. If you assume your opponent always has a plan or reason for any Magical action, you can logically deduce the probable outcome of any situation. He’s got one Plains in play and doesn’t swing with his evasive White guy? He’s sitting on the Devouring Light. He leaves back a 1/1 evasive chump for your 3/3 trampler, despite being far ahead in the damage race? He’s holding pump, or Gaze of the Gorgon, or something similar. Against a lesser player, such things could be labelled “mistakes.” They didn’t swing with their 2/1 flyer? Scrub! However, when you’re the Mouse, you should expect and anticipate trickery.
As for liberating… when you’re the Mouse, the field of responses narrows somewhat. There are a finite number of cards deemed playable in any given format. As the Mouse, it’s likely your opponent is holding the 1B for Last Gasp, not Shred Memory. Thus, in the game, the Mouse can disregard a number of options as unplayable (or at least, improbable). This can save time and vital energies for the game ahead.
Overall, being the Mouse has benefits as well as drawbacks. For a start, you’ll only improve by playing superior opponents. You’re also expected to lose, so you can throw a little caution to the wind, if not all of it. And who knows? Maybe your Cat will scoff at your chances, and keep that dodgy two-lander? Even Mice can roar at times.
In the end, be you Cat or Mouse, there’s one piece of advice you can’t go without, one sliver of truth that’ll keep your game tight and your wins flowing…
Beware of the Dog.
On Friday, I’m opening the column in an Ask The Editor stylee. I’ve got some ace questions so far, but I’d like some more. Jot ‘em down, and send ‘em to Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2. Remember to put Ask The Editor in the subject line… it makes me feel important.
Craig “Cat” Stevenson
Scouseboy on MTGO
Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2