Hello, and welcome to a new daily series of Magic articles, articles that delve into the seedy depths of planeswalking problems the world over.
There are many things in this glorious game that can go wrong.
Consider this a Magical problem page. And I, Doctor Mox, am your physician.
So gather round fair moonfolk, for we have work to do…
Dear Doctor Mox,
I’m new to the game of Magic: The Gathering. I learnt to play some three months ago.
At my local FNM tourneys, I tend to fare badly. All around me, people point and laugh at my lacklustre performances. I have yet to win a single duel, game, or even dice-roll. The scornful glares of my peers are becoming too much to take.
Have you any tips for the aspiring playa?
Doctor Mox, you’re my only hope. Please stop me before I kill them all.
Thanks in advance,
I’m always pleased when I see a young man eager to improve his standing in this great game of ours. It shows passion, commitment and verve. On some levels. It also shows intrigue and guile, especially when the “commitment” concerned involves cheating, scams and fraud.
But competition in today’s cut-throat Magical age can be tough. Indeed, the latest card-set, Betrayers of Cowabunga, sees boosters packed with actual ninjas, ninjas that are ready to cut heads off all the time and not even think twice about it. A simple draft pick-error, or card misplay, can lead to players being beheaded and killed. Wizards defend this rather peculiar marketing decision by claiming that ninjas are cool. And by cool, they mean totally sweet.
So, when wanting to improve their play and avoid certain death, what are the options for the spell-slinging novice?
Frankly, I don’t care. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I myself am proficient at all the Magical Arts. I know how to handle myself in sticky situations, when to speed things up and when to slow things down, and when to go for the money. My Swiss ladyfriend Jetta is particularly impressed with these feats.
In truth, the best advice I can give is this: Trawl the Archives. Go back and read all you can from the truly great players and thinkers of this glorious game. Names such as Rizzo, Tait and Alongi. Trust me, they’ll steer you right.
Of course, this advice alone does not an article make. After all, you have a God-given right to quality free Magic tech supplied on a silver platter, delivered each and every day with the relentless efficiency of Kai Budde circa 2000.
Frankly, it’d be churlish of me to disappoint.
So I give you, untarnished by the gold of Premium concerns, free to all under a cloudless sky… the Doctor Mox Guide to Improving at Magic.
Tip One: Card Advantage is King.
Perhaps the most powerful mechanic in this great game of ours is the ability to draw extra cards. Some say that the power to say “No” is the strongest, of course- something my Swiss ladyfriend Jetta demonstrates with maddening regularity- but ploughing through your deck at breakneck speed, drawing card after card, is a sure-fire way to success. The more cards you draw, the more options you have. The more options you have, the more games you will win.
For your next tournament, Zvi, I suggest you max out on this concept and run a variation an the following decklist:
Another aspect of Card Advantage is the profit and loss scenario. If you spend two of your cards in removing one of your opponent’s threats, then you have suffered a two-for-one loss. Alternatively, if you spend a single card in removing two of your opponent’s threats, then you have netted a two-for-one gain.
This concept is fundamental to Magical success. At all costs, you must attempt to net at least a two-for-one gain when casting a spell. If you find you are not gaining card advantage with every play, I suggest you distract your opponent with something sparkly. Then you can palm a few cards from his library and call a judge to check his deck.
Tip Two: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway!
This is basic advice for the aggressive player. If you are piloting a beatdown deck, attempting to destroy your opponent as quickly as possible, then you’ll find that your biggest enemy isn’t a board-clearing spell or a gripful of countermagic. Your biggest enemy is fear.
When playing to win, you must face this fear. And ignore it.
- If your opponent is signalling countermagic, cast your spells regardless.
- If your opponent would gain creature advantage through blocking, swing with your troops and burn for the win.
- If your opponent is smiling behind a handful of possible removal spells, go all-in on the alpha-strike.
If they have the cards to wreck your plans, then so be it. The thing is, if you don’t make them use these cards, they’ll still have them the following turn. And the one after that. It’s best to make them spend their resources immediately.
And if they don’t have the cards that wreck you, you’re a bona-fide winner!
Of course, there are times where it is prudent to embrace the fear rather than ignore it. If, for example, you’re facing a six-foot-four, three-hundred pound opponent with a lazy eye and a B.O problem, it’s probably wise to heed the voice in your head that implores you not to say “I take it you couldn’t find the deodorant this morning, you fat goggle-eyed bum-chugger.”
Tip Three: Don’t Sweat the Petty Things, and Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things.
My tip for those wishing to master the art of control decks is a simple one: get out of my sight, you Godless morons.
Control decks are pure evil.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a little evil, if taken in moderation. And the lure of the Blue spells can be strong.
Ironically, the greatest players of the control archetype are not those who say “No” the most. The truly great control players are the ones that say “Yes” the most.
When piloting pure control, it is vital to know what you should counter and what you should let resolve. On one level, this is a simple thing: the Llanowar Elf will likely not kill you, but the Goblin Piledriver will. At the thick end, however, it can get more tricky.
- Do you counter the card-drawing spell, or the cards that are drawn?
- Do you counter the Vampiric Tutor, or the tutor target itself? What if the tutor target is uncounterable?
Take each card and consider its potential threat. Can you cope with it in another way? Does your deck have the resources to bounce back? If it’s possible, then let it slide… let the thing hit the table. Don’t worry. Have faith. You can deal with it later.
So in general, you’ll be a better control player if you counter nothing at all. You may not win much, but people will respect you. It’s easy to be respected amongst the fools at table three-hundred.
Tip Four: Read the F***ing Cards!
To be fair, this is pretty self-explanatory.
If you read the cards, you’ll win more games.
No jokes, no tricks, no drawbacks.
Simply take your time, and read the cards… then trade all the good ones to me.
And there, my friends, we shall draw this exercise in improvement to a close. I must depart, as I’m due to attend a party aboard a yacht with my Swiss ladyfriend Jetta in less than thirty minutes. And Jetta, sweet Jetta, despises tardiness of any kind.
Zvi, I hope my words offer some hope to you. You seem like a smart boy. If your game improves, maybe I’ll see you in a PTQ Top 8 sometime soon.
And after that… who knows!
Until next time, keep swinging with men!