SCG Daily – The Five Senses of Magic: Hearing

Besides the occasional foray into the Limited realm, I also enjoy dabbling with the intersection of Real Life and this silly fantasy game. In that vein, this week the offer is five articles detailing the interaction between Magic and our five senses. Five senses, five articles. It’s nice when things work out.

Hello and welcome to yet another week of StarCityGames.com dailies. Besides the occasional foray into the Limited realm, I also enjoy dabbling with the intersection of Real Life and this silly fantasy game. In that vein, this week the offer is five articles detailing the interaction between Magic and our five senses. Five senses, five articles. It’s nice when things work out.

Today’s focus is perhaps the second most important sense in regards to Magic success: Hearing. Why is hearing so useful? Well, people know you have eyes. They know if they show you a card, you’ll use those eyes to view it. For some reason though, people forget about the ears. It’s quite kind of them to forget. Keeping one’s ears open leads to all sorts of useful information.

For example, let’s say a game has been going back and forth. We’re both in topdeck mode when suddenly, at 11 mana, I pluck Skeletal Vampire. It gets played, and since I’m listening closely, I can quietly hear my opponent say “lucky piece of sh**.” Now I know I have him. There may have been a bit of doubt before, but thanks to listening closely to an opponent quietly cursing my unborn children, I feel… confident in this game’s end result. Thank you, hearing!

Something a little less obvious? How about a sharp intake of breath? A light groan? These all mean something, even if what that is varies from situation to situation. That’s the problem with hearing-based info; it’s contextual. When a guy asks you about the games you’ve played in the day, is he scraping for information or genuinely friendly? Did that guy groan because he just drew another land, or did he sigh because the draw wasn’t the particular omni-bomb he was looking for? It’s up to you put the clues together to the situation, but it’s quite useful if done right. I’ll certainly up the aggression if I think there’s a bomb lurking in his deck somewhere. Maybe I’ll save the discard spell for when he draws a card and doesn’t emit a little grunt.

Some players know you’re listening closely, and like to throw out fake information. Again, sometimes it’s just friendly chatter and sometimes it is attempted manipulation. How to tell the difference? Do some profiling. The younger or older the opponent is, the less they know or care about such tricks. Ages 15 to maybe 24 or so, I’d say, is the prime deception age. That those ages reflect adolescence and general immaturity I’m sure is just a coincidence.

Still, one does not want to be rude to a generally friendly sort. So how to really determine if they’re out for ill will? When they throw out some chatter, retort back by saying the exact opposite, just to gauge their reaction. For example:

Crafty(?) Opponent: “I can’t believe how bad Green is in this set, don’t you think?”
You: “I think you’re nuts, Green is by far the best color in this set. Black’s the real joke”

Now their next response is crucial. If they maintain their stance, or just give up the argument, you’re probably working with a genuine enough guy. But if they question your experience or your logic, acting aggressive or belligerent, than they’re probably looking for any advantage they can glean. Or they’re a d*ck. Either way, you’re under no obligation to converse with them and/or tell the truth. I actually adore playing the information pumps. They’re usually too busy trying to either distract you or pick up clues that they don’t focus enough on their own game. Obviously they continue because well-meaning people give them enough material to keep it up. You don’t have to be that guy.

My buddy Eric Reasoner has a pet peeve with hearing. Specifically, he hates it when you can’t hear him. He absolutely can’t stand people wearing headphones while playing a match; to him it’s the essence of rude behavior. I think he has a point here; it’s certainly annoying when you have to scream “any response!?” at your opponent because their iPod is turned up to jet engine levels. My pet peeve, on the other hand, is the opposite.

I absolutely can’t stand it when people whine about a game in progress. I guess I don’t mind… except sometimes they win! What’s up with that? How can you bitch and moan about a game you’re going to take down? I couldn’t care less that you had a mana hiccup on the way to a 2-0 victory. I’m oh so sorry the game had a little give and take for you on the way to taking me out of tournament contention. It bugs me… and my buddy Mr. Reasoner practices this craft quite well. Of course, I have to wear my iPod; anything to screen out that classic 1-2 punch: “This-game-is-so-stupid-I-can’t-draw-a-land-ever-killyou. Sigh. Save it for the walk of shame, boys.

And since I have your ear, allow me a note on the word “okay.” What can be said about “okay?” It’s alright? Not bad? Sure, sure they’re all true, but “okay” has the distinction of being the vaguest word in Magic. It definitely probably has meaning, maybe… but what that actually entails varies from game to game, or minute to minute. I’ve heard “ok” to mean:

*No blocks.
*No response to damage.
*No response to declaring attackers.
*No response to a casting of a spell.
*Acknowledging, in fact, that a card was actually cast, but not actually passing priority.
*Passing priority.
*Getting closer to the decision to pass priority.
*Passing priority, then changing your mind, and asking if it’s ok to take it back, cause it’s not what I meant to do really, okay?
*Agreeing to being friends, but not really meaning it.

The worst part is the word is universal. You could be in Atlantis, playing someone from Mars, and they would know the word “okay,” although God only knows what it would mean in that instance. I don’t think any other single word has ever caused more judge calls than that one. If the game or situation matters and someone says “okay,” ask them exactly what they mean by it. It can’t hurt, and you might be pleasantly surprised…

“I cast Overwhelm.”
“Do you mean okay that I can go to my attack step, or okay I’m casting it but you want to respond by killing some tokens?”
“I mean okay, I scoop, GG, GFY.”
“Okay, good.”

This game is like music sometimes.

Finally for this audio installment, here are five songs I particularly enjoy (in no particular order):

*Neulander Flying
*Snow Informer
*The Brunettes These Things Take Time (trés romantic)
*The Strokes Heart in a Cage
*Boogie Down Productions 100 Guns (the anthem to one of the craziest road trips of all time, but that’s a story for another time. To this day I can’t hear anyone say, “Got 100 gun, 200 clip” without both smiling and wincing. Good times.)

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Noah Weil