It’s a rare occasion that a mere amateur such as myself could be in a better position to offer Magic-related advice than one of the game’s
professional players, but with today’s subject, I think I’ve got them beat.
Brian Kibler last known misplay was the infamous “Angel of Despair trigger” incident at Pro Tour Austin in 2009, an event he still managed to win.
PVDDR has not made a technical error in a game of Magic since the age of fourteenâ€”an event that still haunts him to this day, resulting in his annual
pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro to repent this sin at the statue of Cristo Redentor.
Me? At the draft last Tuesday, I made Tim Willoughby cry because I was messing up so badly. “I don’t think I would have played any of turns 0 through 6 the way you did,” he said after observing my second match, “But I couldn’t bear to watch after that.” A glutton for punishment, he came back for my final round: “You won that, but only because your opponent punted even harder than you did.” ” Maybe this is why people swear at you on Magic Online… that never happens to me.”
If it wasn’t abundantly clear alreadyâ€”I am a leading expert in this field.
What is a misplay?
For any situation, if you did x, when y was a better option, you have misplayed. This applies in many areas of the game, not just to decisions you make
within matches, and doesn’t always result in a lossâ€”it’s possible to play badly and win after all (e.g. I went 2-1 in the draft Tim watched above).
It’s also important to realize that a good play can still be a misplay if there was a strictly better oneâ€”countering a lethal Fireball with Deprive
seems good, but doing so with the otherwise dead Spell Pierce in your hand is better.
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of misplaysâ€”those you make in your preparation (or rather, lack thereof) for an event (knowledge of rules,
format, metagame, deck construction, etc.) and those you make in and around the tournament itself (technical play, in-game decisions, physical actions,
and tournament errors).
There are also misplays confined within the realms of certain formats, events, or decks, far more than could ever be covered in one article, so of
these we’ll just look at Limited-specific errors.
Here are the seven main types of misplay, with a range of examples for each.
1â€”FORMAT, METAGAME, AND DECK
Preparation errors that are a result of poor and insubstantial knowledge of the format, metagame, or decks and mistakes relating to the deck you take
to an event.
— Poor knowledge of the formatâ€”trying to play cards that are illegal (e.g. sleeving up Knights vs. Dragons for FNM, playing four Brainstorms in
your Vintage deck). Not constructing your deck with the power level of the format taken into consideration ( playing Standard Vampires in a Vintage event).
— Poor knowledge of the metagameâ€”not being able to recognize what common deck an opponent is playing after their first few plays, not being
able to predict what other cards your opponent is likely to have based on what you’ve seen thus far.
— Not being able to identify key cards to counter or otherwise disrupt, particularly when playing against combo decksâ€”this is especially
relevant in Legacy and Vintage.
— Poor deck choiceâ€”choosing to play a deck that folds to the current most popular, consensus “best” deck.
— Playing 41/61 cards (without good justification).
— Not having constructed your sideboard correctlyâ€”with an idea of matchups you are expecting and how many cards you can remove from your
maindeck against each of them. Having more cards to bring in than take out is a clear sign of this error.
— Taking an audible last minute (without very good reason).
2 – RULES ERRORS
Preparation errors that occur as a result of not fully understanding the rules of either the game or specific card/interaction. In games, these are
nearly always identified by a phrase such as “Oh, but I thought that…” said to either your opponent or a judge.
— Not understanding how your cards work in fullâ€”not knowing every possibility for using Mirrorweave in your Kithkin deck.
— Not understanding how commonly played cards work in fullâ€”for instance in Extended, that you can Lightning Bolt a Spellstutter Sprite with its
ability on the stack or that lands “see each other” when put onto the battlefield from a Primeval Titan trigger.
— Not knowing all of the rules for a particular card type/keywordâ€”damage redirection and planeswalkers, the planeswalker “legend” rule, keyword
abilities such as deathtouch.
— Not knowing how phases/steps/priority/etc. workâ€”commonly leads to errors in the timing of spells (“I thought I could respond to…“),
floating mana at the wrong time, etc.
3 – TECHNICAL PLAY
Technical play errors are some of the easiest holes in your game to identify, because they are those which have a clear right/wrong answer, derived
only from the rules of the game itself, and information readily available to you. While a robot may not be able to make judgment calls, or read/bluff
an opponent, it could certainly have technical play perfectedâ€”as such, good technical play often seems pretty obsessive-compulsive in nature.
As well as being some of the most obvious misplays, these are also the most frequent. So for the average player, this is an area far more important to
work on improving than fancy stuff like Jedi mind tricking your opponentâ€”you’ve got to walk before you can run, so if you’re still unsteady on your
feet, don’t try getting fancy!
— Missing mandatory triggersâ€”Bitterblossom and Dark Confidant.
— Mana errorsâ€”playing the wrong land (land drops should be planned around spells you intend to cast or represent). Mis-tapping lands, meaning
you cannot hold up/represent removal/counters (in Standard right now; this may actually mean leaving up only basics rather than duals, to avoid a
Tectonic Edge knocking you off Stoic Rebuttal mana, say)
— On-board misplaysâ€”forgetting that your opponent has a manland and suiciding a guy into it, losing in combat to onboard pump effects,
forgetting a creature has first-strike/deathtouch/protection, targeting the mountain you laid that turn with Koth of the Hammer’s first ability.
— Mis-sequencing of playsâ€”not using your mana as efficiently as possible over the course of successive turns, and falling behind as a result.
— Forgetting (to take advantage of) discovered informationâ€”not playing around the counterspell you knew was in your opponent’s hand, forgetting
what card you left on top of your library with Sensei’s Diving Top.
— Bookkeeping errorsâ€”discrepancies in life totals between players, not putting counters on planeswalkers when using their abilities.
— “Doing the math” badly, or not at allâ€”not pre-planning your storm combo turn and coming up one spell short, not calculating combat math and
attacking for less than lethal, under/over-committing attackers when blocks are obvious. Bad attacks/blocks alone are the deciding factor in a large
percentage of lower-level limited matches, and in a typical game, I can frequently identify at least three points of damage I missed as a result of
being lazy when it comes to combat arithmetic.
4 – PLANNING, DECISIONS AND JUDGEMENT
Away from the black and white of technical play, come errors of planning, decisions, and judgment. This being a grey area, there is certainly room for
discussion in a lot of cases, particularly those in which we are not playing with perfect information and heavily on “feel”â€”for example, when it comes
to what cards you decide to play around.
— Relying on assumptions rather than facts —”Kor Firewalkers in the sideboard mean I beat red,” “Red deck beats Faeries,” not reading the text
of an unfamiliar card and needlessly dying to it.
— Under-thinking, or lapses in concentrationâ€”forgetting to counter a key spell, allowing an opponent to move to the next step/phase before
— Going on autopilotâ€”making the obvious play in a given situation, without bothering to consider whether it is the right play.
— Overthinkingâ€”railroading yourself away from the obviously good and correct play by considering it in too much detail.
— Being easily read or influenced by your opponentâ€”drawing a Razor Hippogriff and immediately picking up your graveyard to look through it,
drawing a land late-game and sighing dejectedly, telling your opponent what you’re playing before game 1.
— Failing to recognize who’s the beatdown (Little known
factâ€”SCG writers are contractually required to link to this article at least once every six months).
— Based on your assignment of role above, not having a plan for the matchup.
— Not realizing what resource is most important in the matchupâ€”failing to keep up counter mana versus a combo deck to increase board presence,
pursuing cards rather than preserving life total versus a red deck.
— Failing to press your advantage when ahead.
— Poor mulligan decisionsâ€”keeping loose hands (“I’ll draw into what I need“), or hands with a mix of lands and spells which does not
have a plan or that does nothing in the matchup (say, a Zoo deck keeping 4 lands, Wild Nacatl, Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary vs. a fast combo
— Being unwilling to make card-disadvantageous trades when necessary to survive.
— Trying to be too cleverâ€”not attacking with Goblin Guide against a mana-screwed opponent, who later stabilizes on one life, Shattering a turn
2 Gold Myr thinking your opponent will be mana-screwed. These are the kind of mistakes that will really leave you looking and feeling like you made an
omelet with your face.
— Snap-playing cards just because you have the mana/target(s) for themâ€”casting Mana Leak on a turn 2 Bloodghast, playing a removal spell on an
irrelevant creature just because you have more removal in hand.
— Focusing only on the board and your hand, when your opponent may be giving away free tit-bits of info.
— Being the first one to try and cast a spell in a heavy control mirror without good reason.
— Playing around too many cards (e.g. a removal or pump spell your opponent would have cast already if they’d had it)
— Timing of spellsâ€”always playing instants in opponents turn (when you may want to cast them while they are tapped out in your turn), always
playing spells post-combat (when you may cascade into a haste creature, or otherwise impact combat).
5 – PHYSICAL ACTIONS
Any error of dexterity or involving the handling of game materialsâ€”these are more common among newer players who may not be used having cards in their
hands a lot.
— Drawing extra cardsâ€”it’s good practice to draw cards onto the table first before looking at them, so you can catch any mistakes made like
this without receiving a game loss.
— Unnecessarily revealing cards to your opponentâ€”holding your hand at a very low angle, dropping cards during shuffling.
— Poor shufflingâ€”too slowly, or not thoroughly enough.
— Drawing from an opponent’s deckâ€”Valeriy Shunkov and friends inform this is a national pastime in Russia, alongside shooting oneself with acannon, andthrowing children off of abandoned buildings. “Your cards are my cards too, comrade!” â€” @ZXSphynxx.
— Shuffling your hand into your deck, dropping cards on the floor, knocking over the table, and other such ridiculous things that really do happen.
6 – TOURNAMENT ERRORS
Misplays that impact your performance in a tournament, but which are not necessarily rooted in game-play.
— Arriving lateâ€”being present at the player meeting is not exactly cutting-edge tech.
— Deck registration errorsâ€”writing “Jace” or “Sword” instead of the full name of a card, not double-checking your sealed sheet and registering
a 39-card maindeck.
— Not knowing how tiebreakers work when considering standings in the final rounds – IDing into ninth when you could have played and won.
— Poor use of judge callsâ€”not calling a judge when you should, not requesting extra time when a ruling took longer than a minute or two.
— Not de-sideboarding between rounds.
— Pace of playâ€”playing too slowly, allowing an opponent to play too slowly or pressure you into speeding up your play unnecessarily, conceding
too quickly or not early enough.
7 – LIMITED-SPECIFIC
There are a number of errors specific to draft and sealed play, that aren’t seen in constructed.
— Being too attached to your first pick in draftâ€”many players fall in love, run away and get married to their first pick rare. Much like
high-school romances, fully committing too early often doesn’t work out.
— Not using the full amount of time for each draft pickâ€”windmill slamming a powerful card, then failing to consider the rest of the pack, what
your neighbors are likely to take, etc.
— Not reading signalsâ€”failing to move into a color or strategy that is clearly open, staying in a color or archetype you are being completely
cut out of, always trying to force one deck.
— Incorrectly choosing to play or draw, when it is obvious based on your deck and the format in question which is correct.
— Incorrectly (not) splashing a colorâ€”splashing green for mana-fixing, splashing for redundant creatures/removal, not splashing for a small
number of powerful cards in an additional color your deck sorely needs.
— Playing a pile of good cards rather than a deckâ€”particularly with a weaker sealed pool, building with a plan in mind is important.
— Over/under-valuing cardsâ€”playing a color for a single card without any support, losing to the same “bad card” repeatedly and failing to pick
it higher in future.
Reducing the misplays you make:
I’ll freely admit that despite having improved since I started playing (a point I fear my friends may debate), I still have a looooong way to
go. But, while I do not have a detailed route-map for the journey, I do have a rough idea in which direction the destination is:
IDENTIFYâ€”The worst kind of misplay is the one you do not notice, or refuse to admit. So be self-critical. Blaming all your losses on bad matchups or
getting screwed (two things which occur, though with far less frequency than is claimed) does not lead to improvements in your game. Look for errors
even when you win (we’re striving for perfection here), though try not to rub it into your opponent’s face unless they’re open to discussing your play
after a matchâ€”it’s pretty much the worst “still had all these” ever if they’re not in the mood.
DO YOUR HOMEWORKâ€”Do you think Tiger Woods spends his time between majors working on his swing and putting, or cheating on his wife with supermodels?
Okay, bad example… Professional sportsmen and women don’t just arrive at the field on game days and turn on the awesome. Between events they do
drills, practice set-pieces, and otherwise make a full-time job of improving and maintaining their game. You can do this too once you’ve identified
which areas need work. Bad at doing arithmetic on the fly? Play some games with a tricky combo deck that forces you to do this. Rules knowledge
lacking? Download the comp rules and get reading. Want to know every deck you could possibly face in Standard? Read the last few weeks’ worth of
articles here on SCG, and go digging through Magic Online results (“event coverage”, on
the right). Face head-on what fears you most.
DEVELOP SYSTEMSâ€”As a part of your practice, try to find little personal techniques and systems that help to improve certain aspects of your play. For
instance, when I realized my shuffling was substandard, I sleeved up some draft scraps to practice riffling with at my desk, and when playing I count
to at least ten repetitions to ensure I’ve randomized sufficiently. When I noticed I was forgetting Ichorid and Narcomoeba triggers playing Dredge, I
started to “tap” these cards within my laid-out graveyard, as a reminder to resolve them after finishing other actions. With issues of memory, the act
of creating yourself a reminder often prohibits you from forgetting at allâ€”so putting a counter on top of your library, or saying “end of turn, pingÂ
you” in your head a couple times can really help.
STOP AND ASK “WHY?”â€”Going back to the notion of always having a plan, whenever you make a decision or action in a game, pause for a moment to make sure
you can justify it. Why am I playing this 2-drop and not the other one in my hand? Why am I declaring these attackers? Why am I countering that spell?
If you can’t explain your reason for making a particular decision, chances are, you might be misplaying.
May your quest to misplay less be more successful than mine…