The Information Age

There is a simple principle that applies to Magic – and so many people ignore or forget this principle that I find it astounding. Remembering and following this principle will improve your Limited game a good deal – so what is it?

There is a simple principle that applies to Magic – and so many people ignore or forget this principle that I find it astounding. Remembering and following this principle will improve your game a good deal, so here it is:

If you can, without consequence, delay a decision until you have more information, then you should always delay the decision.

So what does this mean? I think a few examples will serve to describe the concept well.

A simple example would be: You have Wandering Eye in your hand, along with one other creature, and you have the mana to cast both of them. Which do you cast first?

Obviously, casting Wandering Eye first is best. There are a large number of cards your opponent could have in their hand that would make it a good play not to cast your other creature; scouting his hand first lets you make better decisions. But if you could only cast either the Wandering Eye or the other creature, then the above principal doesn’t apply. The reason for this is because there is a tangible cost for the information you are going to gain. If your other creature was an Air Elemental, then instead of a 4/4 flier you would be getting a 1/3 flier and a look at their hand.

The cost of information is often too high to take advantage of. Look at a card like Spy Network and compare it to Peek. Spy Network gives you more information than Peek for the same mana cost… But it costs you a card. You get to see the top card of your opponent’s library, all their morphs, and rearrange the top four cards of your library as well as look at your opponent’s hand. Peek only lets you look at your opponent’s hand. You can gain a lot more information with Spy Network, but Peek doesn’t cost you a card. Because Peek doesn’t cost you a card, it is so much better than Spy Network. The information you gain just isn’t worth the cost.

Okay, okay, I realize this is very high-level strategy and way over most of your heads. Who wouldn’t play Spy Network? But there are more complex scenarios that I see people play wrong a lot of the time.

I am always surprised when I am watching a game and a non-mana flooded player holds a land in their hand. I can appreciate the value of withholding information from your opponent, but the player often forgets that he doesn’t know what card (or cards) he is going to draw. I have seen a number of games lost simply because a player holds a land in their hand for no reason. Before you decide to bluff, make sure you aren’t restricting your possible options for the future.

It is your opponent’s end step. Both of you have no creatures out and each have only one card in your hand. You have out ten lands. The card in your hand is Akroma’s Blessing.

Do you:

Following the information principle, you should do B. Going to your turn costs you nothing, but you can gain the information of your draw step. Say you draw your best creature then you would be glad that you kept Akroma’s Blessing in your hand to protect it – and you can still cycle the Blessing for a new card if you would rather. Since you have so much mana available, holding the Blessing for one turn has no drawback.

Instead of a creature, say you draw another land. Besides cursing about being mana flooded, is it right to cycle the Blessing in this scenario?

Well, that depends. All of a sudden, the cost of information starts mounting. Now, holding the Blessing in your hand costs you the opportunity of being able to get to the next card in your library. Sometimes it would be right to hold the Blessing, but as long as you don’t think you really need to protect the creature you draw, cycling the Blessing is probably right.

As a side note, if you have a card like Read the Runes in your deck then cycling the Blessing on end step would probably be the right play, since your large amount of mana actually has more value than in a deck that doesn’t have a mana-intensive card drawer.

Properly balancing information versus cost is an important thing to accomplish if you are going to be successful at Magic. Morphs and Morph combat gives us some excellent examples of this.

Knowing how combat works is even more important now with Morphs around. Say your opponent has up two Forests and two Mountains and a morph creature. You have just played your fourth land and have a Skirk Marauder morphed. You have a reasonable hand. Do you attack or unmorph and then attack or not attack at all?

The problem is that this is a loaded question. There is no right answer, because I haven’t given you enough information. For one knowing what format you are playing effects the answer more than you would think. For instance if you were playing in a Rochester draft, then you would know exactly what morphs your opponent could possibly have out and what spells they could be holding in their hand. In a Booster draft, you would know what morphs you have seen and what tricks you have seen – but the position that your opponent was in affects how valuable this information really is. In Sealed Deck, you have the least amount of information. All you can determine when playing Sealed Deck is the information about the format. Likewise, in Team Sealed you only know what cards are in the format, plus the fact that Team Sealed Decks often have a higher power level.

Also, the very general information about your hand doesn’t give you enough information to determine anything. Say you have a Keeneye Aven in your hand that you could cast this turn if you don’t bother unmorphing. Well, that is much different situation than having no other castable spells.

So, assuming you are playing in Sealed Deck, there are a number of things you need to think about in this scenario. Let us look at the options to determine what the right play is.


If you decide to attack there are lots of things you need to worry about. First, is it worth it to unmorph the Marauder before blockers?

The advantage of this is that if they have a small or unmorphable creature, then you get to go up a card and have an okay board position as well as hit them for two damage.

However, if their creature is a Snarling Undorak, Broodhatch Nantuko, Serpentine Basilisk, Hystrodon, Patron of the Wild, Tribal Forcemage, Skirk Marauder, or Warbreak Trumpeter, then you have a problem: All of these morph creatures make your play look bad. Your opponent has just spent mana he probably would have used anyhow or wasted, while you have spent valuable mana that could have been used to cast another spell or used to unmorph the Marauder at a better time. Also, there was the chance that your opponent was going to block with their creature, allowing you a better chance to kill their creature. Since you unmorphed prematurely, you have wasted a good Shock opportunity and now let your opponent have an unmorphed good creature.

So say you decide not to unmorph before blockers. Now your opponent must decide whether or not to block. Since you decided to play your fourth land before attacking, they are faced with additional morph creatures that they need to worry about. Usually playing the land before attacking is the right thing to do, because it reduces the amount of information your opponent gains about the morph creature. A morph’s identity is better hidden when he has the potential to be more possible creatures.

In the scenario where your opponent doesn’t block, the attack has been a success. You have successfully pushed through two damage and have concealed your morph’s true identity.

If you opponent decides to block, what is your next move?

Simple. Learn and love this phrase:”Damage on the stack?”

Since you are the attacking player, it is best to realize that even though you have the first opportunity to move, it is often best to pass priority. All priority really does is allow you to reveal information first – and since we want to gather information for no cost, passing priority accomplishes this because passing priority costs us nothing but gives valuable information. This is our goal.

What if their creature is Battering Craghorn? Then, when you pass them priority, they will waste three mana to unmorph the Craghorn, and you will still be able to get the card advantage.

Assuming damage has been placed on the stack, it will be best to pass priority once again. Now if your opponent has a creature that can live through morph combat (Morphbat!), then they will be forced to spend their mana to show their creature. At this point, since you decided to attack you might as well unmorph your Marauder and trade creatures. If they don’t unmorph, then you will have the opportunity to cast creatures in your second main phase while the creatures still trade.

So does it make sense to attack in this scenario? Probably not. There are a large number of morph creatures that they can have that make it a bad attack – and since they chose not to attack the turn before, even though the advantage in morph combat goes to the person with more mana available (which would have been them on their turn), it is unlikely that their creature is as good as an Undorak. Instead, you are more likely to run into a combat with a weak creature they left back on defense because they had a slow hand. There is always the chance that you miss out on two points of damage, but having the Shock ability available later plus being able to cast more creatures is pretty good. The attack really depends on the scenario a great deal. Many times attacking or unmorphing then attacking really is the right move, but the key to the decision is the information you have available.

One of the most intriguing parts about Magic is the hidden information aspect. Whenever you can gain information about your opponent and their cards without sacrifice, it is always a good idea to do so. Looking at simple scenarios such as these may seem like a tedious task but the ability to comprehend different situations in a tournament will result in greater success. Understanding how to use combat, morphs, and the stack properly will result in match wins. Comparing Peek to Spy Network may not be a complicated to analyze, but it is just the beginning of the information battle that takes place during every game of Magic.

Thanks for reading,

Mike Turian

Team CMU