Author’s Note 1: My apologies to the readership of StarCityGames for the delay in this piece. School conflicts and a necessary family visit kept me from producing this article in a timely manner. I can assure everyone that future articles will come on a much more consistent basis.
Author’s Note 2: The idea of a glossary came to me when, in the course of outlines for articles I was working on, I would get bogged down in definitions. This made each piece much longer and more complicated than it needed to be. With the publication of this, I can simply refer the reader to this article when a definition is needed. However, these definitions are not meant to be absolute or definitive. I need readers (especially the theorists) to post better definitions or terms that I missed in the forums, or e-mail me directly with alterations. When I have enough info, updates can be made. The glossary is an ongoing process. If any writer would like to use the definitions here to agree with or refute, feel free.
Aggression: The concept of reducing your opponent’s draw steps to as few as possible. Aggressive strategies exist under the assumption that eventually, the aggressive player will be placed in a situation where he cannot win; thus, winning before that situation can be created is the driving force. A high quantity of threats and sometimes some disruption indicate an aggressive strategy. Aggression is also known as beatdown and being proactive.
Control: The opposite idea of aggression, the controlling player seeks to extend the game as long as necessary to reach a point where the control player cannot lose. Control strategies are characterized by a lot of reactive cards and few threats (which tend to be more durable, at higher cost).
Card Advantage: At its simplest, card advantage is when card destroys or generates more than one card. Card advantage is very powerful due to its perpetual nature; attaining card advantage often leads to gaining more. Fact or Fiction into Fact or Fiction, for example.
Card advantage either leads to more cards in hand or more cards in play or both. Both give a player more options, which is a good thing
It’s not always worth making plays to generate card advantage, but players (correctly) try to avoid generate card disadvantage like the plague.
There are many ways to generate card advantage. Using one card to get two is the simplest and most common, a la Reckless Spite or Inspiration. Your opponent drawing a card that can’t be cast (drawing Disenchant when playing against a deck with no artifacts or enchantments) is card advantage. Cards that negate a certain class of card (Aether Flash, Limited Resources) can lead to card advantage. Using cards to prevent your opponent from gaining extra cards (Force of Will on an Opportunity) is another way to achieve effective CA. Looking for opportunities to get card advantage, especially in Limited, is a big way to get ahead. Card advantage good!
Disruption: Usually used in a Constructed context, disruption is suppression of your opponent’s game plan.
A very common form of disruption is discard, like Duress or Cabal Therapy. Counterspells and land destruction are other options.
The more complicated a strategy is for winning (getting tons of mana into play, going infinite, or some such), the more disruptable it is. The tradeoff is that these deck’s wins are near-impossible to stop once when the pieces are in place. By the same token, simplistic decks, like ones that play creatures and attack with them (Sligh, any draft or sealed deck) are resistant to disruption. The only way to reliably inhibit that strategy is to just kill the creatures. (This is especially true in Limited, where disruption is just known as removal.)
Early Game/Late Game: The early game is characterized as approximately turns 1-4, depending on the speed of the format. The late game is turn 6 or later. The late game is when a player has the mana to cast any card in his or her hand (but not necessarily every card).
While the late game has all the power cards, the early game is usually more critical. This is the phase where players establish resources and punish poor draws. A deck with too much late game and not enough early game can get overrun. By the same token, a deck with only early game cards will be outclassed later on. A balance is required. In general though, erring on the side of the early game is best. There’s always an early game; there may not be a late.
Mana Curve: The mana curve is a deckbuilding tool, used to achieve mana maximization. It attempts to have cards’ costs set up to use mana to the fullest, with escalating threats.
An example of a good curve would be lots of two-mana cards, some three-mana cards, fewer four-mana cards, and so on. The smaller the highest casting costs are, the easier it is to make a consistent curve, although of course there is some sacrifice in power. Being Tempo-based (being able to play your cards when you want to), the mana curve is usually focused towards aggressive builds, although controlling decks have to acknowledge their own mana curve, just to compete.
Mana Maximization: The idea of using one’s mana to the fullest, as possible, with escalating threats. The mana curve is the premise; mana maximization is the execution. A good mana curve makes it more likely for a player to maximize their available mana each turn, which should (hopefully) lead to consecutively stronger plays. In theory, cards that cost the same amounts of mana have similar power levels (i.e., all two-mana cards are roughly equal), so the player who uses his or her mana each turn is playing the most powerful spells available to be cast at the time. Generally put, the turn where you maximize your resources (most often mana) is the ideal way to play the turn.
“Out”: Originally a poker term, an out is a card necessary to win or avoid losing. As threats accumulate or become more difficult to deal with, a player’s outs become smaller.
For example, Player A is at two life with no cards in hand. Player B has a Grizzly Bears in play. A’s outs are any removal or any creature.
If B’s creature were a Covert Operative, Player A’s outs would only be drawing removal. However, if player B was at two life as well, A’s outs would be removal, burn, or a haste creature.
The less outs a player has, the more dire their situation is. A player with no outs is said to be”drawing dead.”
Parity: A situation that refers to each player being on approximately equal footing. Sometimes known as a stall or stalemate. Parity occurs when neither player can enact their game plan without serious retribution from the opponent. Parity often occurs when similar strategies are matched up, like creature-based wins or counters vs. counters. Since every Limited match is about lots of creatures, parity comes up most often in Sealed or Draft.
Since stalemated games tends to reduce skill (whomever draws their gamebreaker first wins), most decks are built and played with an eye towards breaking out of a stalemated situation, or not getting into one at all.
Resource: A depletable aspect of game play that can be exchanged for something else. The most commonly used resource is mana. Mana, like cards in hand, is a resource that replenishes over time.
Depending on the game state, anything can become a resource. Life is a resource that can be used mostly for small effects normally, but certain cards (Necropotence, Unspeakable Symbol) allow life to be used in other ways. Cards in hand, white creatures in play, cards in the graveyard are all potential resources, depending on what else is going on. Identifying and using the resources available to you is critical for strong play.
Tempo: Tempo, as the name implies, is a time-based concept. It refers to playing your cards at your pace, while your opponent is inhibited from playing theirs.
Tempo is an inherently aggressive strategy, since eventually your opponent will be able to play their cards as soon as they draw them (Late Game).
When a player has good tempo, they have windows of opportunity. These windows exist when you have more relevant permanents in play than your opponent. This gives you time to develop your strategy (making guys, turning them sideways, dealing damage) while simultaneously inhibiting theirs. Good tempo is very powerful, but again over time the advantage fades.
To use an example, we’ll take a common OLS Limited situation. Player A makes a morph on his turn and player B matches it. A attacks with his morph and B blocks. Player A spends some mana to unmorph Battering Craghorn; Player B pays five life to flip Zombie Cutthroat face-up, killing it.
Now B has massive tempo. Besides having the only creature in play (and a good one at that), B gets to play another threat on her turn, giving her two threats to A’s zero. B will always be the first to attack as well, and have the flexibility of dealing with A’s stuff first.
The tempo exists because A’s strategy of doing damage to B has been completely shut down. Instead of being the aggressor, A has to alter his whole game plan to accommodate B having essentially a free turn.
Threat: A threat is a card that can win the game. Creatures with any power are automatic threats, but some are more threatening than others. In theory, a turn 1 Fugitive Wizard could kill a player over the course of twenty turns, but it’s wildly unlikely. Magic is designed so that (generally) the harder a card is to cast, the bigger the threat it is, and often harder to deal with.
Eager Cadet is easy to cast and easily dealt with. Cromat’s pretty tough, but next to impossible to cast. A big goal of deckbuilding is to achieve equilibrium between threat power and ease of casting. There’s a reason why Wild Mongrel is popular; it’s easy to cast and powerful.
A card can also be a threat if it prevents your opponent from winning. For example, let’s say a Tinker deck can beat anything but auto-loses to Null Rod. Null Rod is the threat card.
Threats also change depending on what deck you’re playing. To a creature-heavy R/G deck, a Wake deck’s threats are Wrath of God and maybe Moment’s Peace. To a creature-light but Counterspell-heavy Tog deck, Wake’s threats are Compulsion or Mirari.
Identifying your deck’s threats and your opponent’s is very important for determining the correct play. It’s not absolute; what card is most threatening can change from turn to turn. Flamewave Invoker is a lot more dangerous on turn 9 than turn 4.
Trick: A term used mostly in Limited, a trick is in essence a combat modifier. Almost always an instant, a trick doesn’t directly remove a creature – but in conjunction with another creature, you can take something out and often keep your guy alive.
Because tricks are worthless without something else going on, they’re often priced quite cheaply. Green and White generally have the most, with Blue having some. Red and Black have very few, but have lots of actual removal to compensate.
Some examples of quality tricks include Shelter, Giant Growth, Snap, Frontline Strategist, and Vitality Charm. A trick is usually worse than straight removal, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
- Aggression/Control: Mike Flores‘ Who’s the Beatdown?
- Tempo and Card Advantage: EDT’s Tempo And Card Advantage
- Mana Curve: Michael LaLonde’s Deckbuilding: The Mana Curve
Any questions, comments, or suggestions for future articles? Please write.
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