The Snapping Thragg Experiment

If you’ve ever lost a game and then thought to yourself:”I really feel like I should’ve won that game but I can’t pinpoint exactly what I did wrong. I’m sure if a better player like Kai was in my shoes, he would’ve succeeded where I failed”… .Well, believe me when I say that you’re not alone.

But what is the difference between a good player and a bad player? And so I set out to create two Limited decks, each stacked so we’d know what the cards were and what they’d draw, and give them to two sets of players. The results were surprising.

(Editor’s Note: Nick Eisel is currently suspended from playing in sanctioned tournaments. He has not been compensated for this article. The details of his writing arrangement can be found here.)

If you’ve ever lost a game and then thought to yourself:”I really feel like I should’ve won that game but I can’t pinpoint exactly what I did wrong. I’m sure if a better player like Kai was in my shoes, he would’ve succeeded where I failed”…

…Well, believe me when I say that you’re not alone.

Few articles have been written on the subject of duplicate experimentation in Magic. In fact, I doubt many people have even considered how valuable this process can be to anyone trying to improve their game. This is unfortunate because there is a significant amount of information that can be uncovered through the implementation of atypical thinking.

The formal definition of Duplicate Magic is best stated as an analyzation of the effects generated by the change of a singular variable. In short, a set of given circumstances is executed and the data recorded. Afterwards, one variable is changed and the experiment is run again. The real wealth of information is then gleaned from the comparison of the two trials and their place on the overall scale of correct play.

For those of you that think I’ve gone and drifted into the ozone, let me break this down for you. For this particular test I’ve created two Onslaught Block Limited decks which I believe to be relatively equal in power level. These decks are then set in a predetermined order (“stacked,” if you will) and a game is played by two competent players. The plays of the game are recorded and the decks are returned to their set order.

Now comes the interesting part: The same game is played by two well-known pro players. As you can imagine, it will be very interesting to see what happens differently and why.

Let’s back the train up for just a moment though as there are a number of decisions that have to be made before we can actually conduct the process. Since this is the first time it’s been done, I feel obligated to go over the choices it required and why I chose to do it the way I did.

Obviously, the first group of decisions involves creating the decks and the game that will take place. This in and of itself is a daunting task, considering that the possibilities are literally endless. I worked really hard on getting the decks as close as possible in power level and hopefully that will be evident when we get to the actual experiment. Creating the game is a delicate matter as you want to include as many debatable decisions while still trying to remove ambiguity and making sure not to overload the game with decisions. Since all of this is abstract, we can leave it at that, and all I ask is that you realize that this was not just thrown together, but rather the product of a couple weeks work.

After that, the next important determination I had to come to grips with was whether to shuffle or stack the decks. Shuffling is completely random game that may or may not have any depth worth discussing, but still retains the natural feel of any other game of Magic. Stacking, on the other hand, is where the game is generated entirely from scratch and is sure to have plenty of prudent decisions, but also removes the element of luck from the game.

Both of these techniques have their advantages and disadvantages, and I’m still not sure there is a definite right or wrong answer. I do, however, feel the need to delve more deeply into my explanations of the good and the bad that each technique brings to the table.

If you stack, you can assure that the game will be full of interactive decisions that we can then discuss in this column in hopes of finding valuable evidence in terms of finding the correct play. This doesn’t come without its down side, however, as it also takes a certain sense of reality away from the game. Anyone who wants to create a productive and interesting game is certainly going to remove annoying instances of manaflood and screw.

The opposite is true for Shuffling. You get a real game, with no guarantee of depth of information to analyze. There are a couple glaring problems that come with shuffling in terms of this experiment. The first of these is obviously is the Mulligan. Since the decks will not be in a predetermined order if they mulligan, it really erases the point of the whole process if a Mulligan occurs. Second, when you randomly shuffle, a good number of games offer a hand that is simply unbeatable – and that’s another thing we want to avoid here, because it is entirely devoid of data that we can investigate.

Since you can’t remove the element of luck from the game, you should just learn to accept that there will be games you cannot win and games you cannot lose. Once you’ve grasped this, you can concentrate on playing correctly so that the games that can go either way will go most often in your favor. This is the essence of this series of articles to begin with, and it only makes sense in this particular case.

Since this is the first time, and I haven’t figured out how I would deal with mulligans yet, I think the best course of action is to go along the path of Stacking.

Sadly, the decisions do not end there.

Another pressing judgment that arose was exactly how much information I wanted to analyze. I had to decide if both decks should be stacked in this way, or if I should have one deck essentially play itself. This may sound trivial but I assure you it’s a lot harder to monitor both board positions and hands than it looks. After a bit of debate I decided that I would try to make both sides of the game at least somewhat complex and just do the best I could in terms of analyzing hand states and play states.

Still more questions rose in terms of the actual card pool. Should I use rares? Uncommons? For this first trial, I chose to stray from the rares and use only a few uncommons if necessary. Rares in particular have a tendency to win the game on their own – and although they are a living, breathing factor in every game of Magic, I think we can forego them, at least for now. I also had to decide what format to use and what colors the decks would be. This wasn’t nearly as difficult as actually building the decks, and my basic design strategy was to use the best two archetypes from Onslaught block in a”final look” type of approach before the release of Mirrodin.

The options continued, as I had to determine what game it would be in the actual match (so that players may need to be informed of cards they had”seen” in previous games which could factor into a decision). There were also many other minute details, but I’m sure you’re thoroughly sick of my discussion of methods and are ready to see the actual experiment in action. I won’t keep you waiting any longer.

First I’ll list the decks in their stacked order from top to bottom. (If you’re still not following me, the first seven cards in the list would be your initial hand, and each card below it is your library from top to bottom. If you still don’t understand after that, talk to my secretary.)

The Competitors


Deftblade Elite

White Knight

Aven Liberator

Daru Stinger




Lonely Sandbar


Glory Seeker


Rush of Knowledge*

Swooping Talon

Frontline Strategist



Aven Farseer


Mistform Dreamer



Dragon Scales


Aven Redeemer


Ascending Aven


Choking Tethers

Wingbeat Warrior


Echo Tracer


Shoreline Ranger


Gustcloak Harrier


Mistform Seaswift



Daru Stinger


Festering Goblin

Goblin Turncoat


Skirk Commando




Snapping Thragg




Cruel Revival*

Smokespew Invoker

Goblin Turncoat

Skirk Marauder


Forgotten Cave

Chartooth Cougar

Twisted Abomination


Carrion Feeder




Clutch of Undeath


Dirge of Dread



Nantuko Husk

Gempalm Incinerator





Gempalm Polluter

Severed Legion



Shepherd of Rot


  • The spaces in the deck orders separate the opening hand from the rest of the deck to make it more clear

  • The * means that this is the end of the”Extremely Relevant” part of the stacking order. What this means is that all of the cards above and including the card with the asterisk are the most important in deciding the outcome of the game. I’m almost 100% sure that there is only one path of victory for the blue white deck in the given game – and the majority of the relevant decisions occur from the point of the asterisk and upward for both decks. The rest of the deck is also stacked with the game in mind, but not given nearly as much attention as the top fifteen or so cards (the ones at asterisk and above). Basically, in order for the Blue White deck to win the match, it has to follow an exact sequence of plays (of which there is only one correct answer). In every other instance, the Black Red deck will win (at least the incidences that I tried, anyway; there are a lot of variables and I could be wrong).

  • The Black/Red deck will always play first and Blue/White will always be on the draw (for this given game).

Phase One

For the commentary following each turn, try to put yourself in the position of the player playing the turn and ask yourself what you would do given the hand and board position listed before reading the analysis. Also, try to remember that even though you will be put in the position of both players, you should not use information that would not be available to the player during the game (such as his opponent’s hand).

Before I get into the actual games, I want to reiterate that the basic premise of the entire process was that barring a mistake from the Black/Red player, there should be only one course of action that the Blue/White deck can take in order to win the game. Keep that in mind as we go through the pair of trials and I’ll embellish on it at the end.

For the first game I recruited two willing, competent players who also happen to be regulars at our Tuesday night drafts at CMU. Nick Lynn chose to pilot the Blue/White deck and Jason opted for the Black/Red. We’ll go through on a turn by turn basis and make commentary as we go before finally comparing the results with that of the second iteration of the game.

Turn One


Draw: N/A (Playing First)

Hand: Swamp, Mountain, Mountain, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat, Shock, Skirk Commando

The first distinction that had to be made was whether or not Jason”knew” that Nick was playing Blue/White, as playing Festering Goblin with that hand is very debatable if he had any inclination that Nick had mountains in his deck. This is obviously because of the potential two for one that could be easily achieved through red’s many common burn spells (with the Turncoat also in hand), something as simple as Spark Spray could end the game right then and there. I determined that Jason would know that Nick was Blue/White but not actually know any specific cards in his deck since the game was originally intended to be started this way, and it just makes more sense in this case. After that, it’s pretty obvious that Jason’s course of action is to drop the Festering Goblin.

J’s Play: Swamp, Festering Goblin


Draw: Lonely Sandbar

Hand: Plains, Plains, Island, Deftblade Elite, White Knight, Aven Liberator, Daru Stinger, Lonely Sandbar

Opp’s Board: Swamp, Festering Goblin

Here we have the first real decision in the game: Should Nick deploy the Deftblade Elite on his first turn? The important factor to look at in this situation is the Daru Stinger and White Knight also in Nick’s hand. The justifications for casting Deftblade here would be to create a turn two blocker with the fog ability, to trade with Festering Goblin, or in hopes of drawing the lone Dragon Scales on the next turn. The presence of White Knight and the second Plains already in hand completely negates all of these suggestions and makes it correct to hold the Elite in order to amplify the Stinger later in the game.

Although the impulse here is to play Deftblade since we’re constantly reminded to obtain board position before slow-rolling Soldiers in order to get a bigger Stinger, that Stinger could easily die to removal like Cruel Revival. It’s the”all eggs in one basket” principle I’m sure you’re familiar with; if you slow-roll the Soldiers and the Stinger dies, you’re too far behind on the board since you weren’t casting creatures to keep parity early on. Basically, you’re banking the entire game on your Stinger – and that’s a pretty big risk in most cases. This is one time, however, where it’s definitely correct to hold back the Deftblade – and Nick chooses correctly.

N’s Play: Plains

Turn Two


Draw: Snapping Thragg

Hand: Mountain, Mountain, Goblin Turncoat, Skirk Commando, Shock, Snapping Thragg

Board: Swamp, Festering Goblin

Opp’s Board: Plains

Play: Festering Goblin attacks for one

I think the Turncoat here is self-explanatory. Don’t worry; the interesting turns are coming soon.

J’s Play: Mountain, Turncoat

Nick (19 Life)

Draw: Willbender

Hand: Plains, Island, Lonely Sandbar, Deftblade Elite, White Knight, Aven Liberator, Daru Stinger, Willbender

Board: Plains

Opp’s Board: Mountain, Swamp, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat

This is the last self-explanatory turn, I promise. As you can see, these are necessary to build to a board position where decisions will be overflowing, and it also gives you some time to get used to the format I’m using for covering the game. I tried to include as many instances of board positions as possible so the picture would stay fresh in your mind as you’re reading. Hopefully it helps.

N’s Play: Plains, White Knight

Turn Three


Draw: Skinthinner

Hand: Mountain, Skirk Commando, Shock, Snapping Thragg, Skinthinner

Board: Mountain, Swamp, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat

Opp’s Board: Plains, Plains, White Knight

Finally! We have some issues we can tackle. The first problem that needs to be addressed is that damned White Knight. We have the perfect answer in Shock – except the question was never How to deal with him, but rather When to do it. Let’s look over the options, shall we?

The first inclination that comes to mind is to just Shock that Knight off the board right now. This, however, leaves us with two unused mana unless we want to”waste” our Skinthinner by playing it face-up. Since it’s turn 3, let’s first look at casting one of the three potential morphs in our hand in order to keep our curve smooth since if we play a morph this turn and then draw a land we can cast Shock next turn and play another morph.

First off the plate is Skinthinner as a potential face-down. With no additional lands in hand, it seems unwise to play the ‘thinner this turn. The hope should be to draw a land next turn and morph him then along with Shocking the White Knight so that whenever we draw the fifth land we’ll be able to flip him up and keep the pressure on.

That leaves Skirk Commando and Snapping Thragg as prospective morphs for our third turn. The Commando has his benefits if he gets through, and will take down a larger creature that blocks one of our other attackers or simply take down anything that doesn’t block and die already. Snapping Thragg seems far too slow for this hand, considering that we already have Skinthinner and other things to do once we reach that amount of mana, so by playing him you essentially treat him as an off-color morph and then can trick someone with Skirk Commando on the next turn if you fail to draw that crucial fourth land.

So which Morph do you play?

The answer is in fact none of them. Well, not face-down at least. Let’s revert back to the first option of Shocking the White Knight and playing Skinthinner face-up and discern why it’s the correct play for this turn given the board and what’s in our hand.

The crucial point you have to determine is whether you’re the Offense or Defense in the current game state. This seems rather easy to determine when you look at the board and if you sit down and do the combat damage math, as it’s much more effective to Shock the Knight now and play the ‘Thinner face up than to play a morph and play for power instead of speed. If you’re worried about eventually unmorphing Skinthinner, you’re clearly playing the wrong game.

J’s Play: Mountain, Shock the White Knight, face up Skinthinner, attack with Fester and Turncoat for three damage.

Jason makes the correct play here, doing exactly as I advised above and putting himself completely in the drivers seat.

Nick (16 Life)

Draw: Glory Seeker

Hand: Island, Lonely Sandbar, Deftblade Elite, Aven Liberator, Daru Stinger, Willbender, Glory Seeker

Board: Plains, Plains

Opp’s Board: Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat, Skinthinner

If you thought Jason’s turn was difficult, step into Nick’s shoes for just a moment. The options here span as far as the eye can see, and promise to be one of the most important turns in such a tight game. The easiest way to get to the heart of a problem like this is to begin to break it down one step at a time.

The first relevant decision we have to make is which land to play. Obviously, each land carries with it a unique set of options, which must also be examined in the search for the correct play.

We’ll start with Lonely Sandbar, as that’s likely the easier of the two to diagnose. If we play the Sandbar we are doing so because we feel that casting the Stinger next turn is absolutely imperative if we have any hopes of winning this game. We are not willing to risk the chance of not drawing that elusive fourth land off the top next turn. Playing Lonely Sandbar here is basically a contradiction: By saying that you need to play Daru Stinger on the next turn, you are also saying that you’re willing to compromise its size by playing Glory Seeker on the same turn as the Sandbar. To me, this doesn’t make much sense, as you have other potential plays that either keep the Stinger large or give it a lesser value in the overall equation. What I’m trying to say is that if you need to cast it on turn four, you also need it to be as large as possible in order to stave off the onslaught of creatures pouring into the Red Zone. So, if you need to cast it so badly, I feel you also need to take the risk of drawing that fourth land off the top in order to keep the Stinger at its maximum capacity.

With the playing of Lonely Sandbar only coming equipped with one possible play, we can move on to the options you have when you play the Island.

If you’re paranoid about drawing the fourth land, may I suggest another avenue of approach? Cycling Lonely Sandbar and then casting Glory Seeker serves to potentially keep your Soldier count up while giving a better chance to draw the land. The other options you have when you decide to play the Island are as follows:

Let’s handle them in the order listed above for organization’s sake. Playing Elite and Seeker here says that you could care less about the Daru Stinger you could set up next turn and you are only concerned with staving off the beats. This is all well and good – except for the fact that if your 4/4 Stinger lives, you have very little chance of losing the game. Simply put, we held off the Elite on turn 1 for the Stinger, it doesn’t make sense to go and blow our patience now on turn 3. The possibility of such a huge Stinger against an army of small men is nothing to sneeze at in this case.

Next, we have two potential morphs. The Liberator doesn’t make sense at all and seems strictly worse than playing Lonely Sandbar and Glory Seeker, so we can discard that right away.

Willbender, however, has potential. When we play Willbender here, we not only keep up some defense, but we also keep all of the Soldiers in our hand in hopes of the large Stinger next turn. If you ask me, this is the correct way to play this turn, simply based on how far behind we are on the board at this point. When you’re down three creatures to none against a deck that’s sure to have a good amount of removal, you have to be willing to take risks if you ever hope to win.

N’s Play: Sandbar, Glory Seeker

Nick goes along the”safe” route and runs the Seeker here, and I’m pretty confident in my statement that this is not the correct play for this turn. You’re compromising the same thing you’re setting up for by casting the Seeker here, and you really need to take that leap of faith and hope the land is on top in this case.

Turn Four


Draw: Swamp

Hand: Swamp, Snapping Thragg, Skirk Commando

Board: Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat, Skinthinner

Opp’s Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Glory Seeker

Play: Attack with all three guys, Seeker blocks Skinthinner

Attacking with the team here seemed pretty apparent after our discussion about the whole deal with casting Skinthinner face up. The rest of Jason’s turn consists of morphing either the Skirk or the Thragg. Hopefully, you can see that playing the Skirk here is correct, simply because he will have an immediate impact on the game while the Thragg is better served to be cast face up whenever the fifth land arrives. There is a slight decision about whether to play Skirk face up or down, but the surprise factor really is more important than being able to regenerate against a Blue/White deck in its main phase.

J’s Play: Swamp, Morph Skirk Commando

Nick (13 Life)

Draw: Island

Hand: Island, Island, Willbender, Deftblade Elite, Aven Liberator, Daru Stinger

Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar

Opp’s Board: Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat, Morph

There are only three real plays here: Stinger, Elite + either Morph, or face-up Liberator. Unfortunately for Nick, the fourth land did come off the top and really made his play of Glory Seeker last turn look bad. Now the decision is whether or not to stick with the Stinger or instead to just try to stave off the beats and stabilize.

The best avenue of approach for staving off the beats would certainly be morphed-down Willbender and Deftblade Elite. This play is actually of some merit, considering the constant pressure being applied by Jason. The only problem here is that it’s very likely that Jason’s morph could survive combat with the Willbender and put Nick in a position from which he is highly unlikely to recover.

The Stinger play assures at least that if it survives the turn, there is some hope of stabilizing the small army that Jason has amassed in the first four turns of the game. Liberator face up again seems worse than just casting the Stinger so we can easily discard that option. Here, I would just cross my fingers and go with the Stinger.

N’s Play: Island, Daru Stinger amplified twice (3/3)

Turn Five


Draw: Mountain

Hand: Mountain, Snapping Thragg

Board: Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Festering Goblin, Goblin Turncoat, Morphed Skirk Commando

Opp’s Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Island, 3/3 Daru Stinger

Play: Play the Mountain, Attack with the team, Stinger blocks Festering Goblin and is finished off by Skirk Commando getting flipped up.

Jason’s attack here is well-grounded in that there is no way the Stinger will survive if it blocks. Worst-case scenario is if Nick blocks the morph and Jason has to trade the Skirk and his Festering Goblin to take down the Stinger. This is highly unlikely, because Jason has five untapped lands inside his attack step and there are a number of creatures that could easily destroy the Stinger on their own.

Let’s jump to Nick for a minute to see if it was even correct for him to block here. I think we can all agree that if he is going to block, the only possible block would be the Festering Goblin, since it’s the only chance his Stinger has of surviving (because he doesn’t know about the Skirk). If he doesn’t block he goes down to eight, but then has an active Stinger.

I think it’s really a question of how likely you think Jason is to kill that Stinger before you can deploy the rest of your hand and hold off his team. One fact that’s easy to neglect here since we’re so busy searching for the correct block and trying to figure out what Jason’s morph could potentially be is that by blocking the Festering Goblin, Nick only prevents one point of damage. Granted, it is good to get the Goblin off the board, as he serves as regeneration for the Turncoat as well as removal for the Deftblade waiting in hand. If it weren’t for the potential removal later, I’d say that Nick should just take the damage here – but in this case, I’ll have to lean a little towards the side of blocking the Festering Goblin.

Back to Jason now, and what I thought was a pretty evident turn. Since he had the requisite five lands in play, it seems relatively simple to just cast the Snapping Thragg face-up. Morphing him in hopes of a surprise factor isn’t really going to do anything at all at this point since every creature Nick plays is going to block right away in hopes of stabilizing. We know that Nick has Liberator in hand from it being revealed for the Stinger, so if we morph the Thragg it can’t even attack next turn if we don’t draw the sixth land (since we assume Nick will cast Liberator face up if necessary).

Apparently Jason had other ideas.

J’s Play: Morph Snapping Thragg

It’s a sad thing to watch, as Nick had already strayed from the”correct” path that I’d outlined in building this game and it seemed almost impossible for Jason to lose at this point. Sometimes we over-think things though and try to get too tricky, and it ends up costing us the game – just like it did here.

Nick (9 Life)

Draw: Rush of Knowledge

Hand: Island, Willbender, Deftblade Elite, Aven Liberator, Rush of Knowledge

Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Island

Opp’s Board: Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Goblin Turncoat, Skirk Commando, Morph

Unfortunately, we don’t have the needed third Plains here to make it a simple turn of Liberator face up + Deftblade. Instead, we have to settle for morphing the ‘Bender and casting Deftblade. Hopefully, by this point you can see how awful it would be to morph Liberator here as he is so much better face-up for our purposes.

N’s Play: Island, Morph Willbender, Deftblade, leaving a White untapped to represent Frontline Strategist

Turn Six


Draw: Cruel Revival

Hand: Cruel Revival

Board: Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Goblin Turncoat, Skirk Commando, Morphed Snapping Thragg

Opp’s Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Island, Island, Morph, Deftblade Elite

Well, we didn’t peel the needed sixth land to erase Jason’s costly mistake from the last turn, but we did draw some semblance of hope in Cruel Revival. The play here seems to be to Revival the Morph and get back Skinthinner for some added punch in a few turns.

J’s Play: Revival Willbender getting back Skinthinner

Play: After this, Jason swung with the team and Skirk Commando was blocked by Deftblade Elite

Nick (5 Life)

Draw: Swooping Talon

Hand: Aven Liberator, Rush of Knowledge, Swooping Talon

Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Island, Island

Opp’s Board: Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Goblin Turncoat, Morphed Snapping Thragg

Isn’t it interesting when there’s only one possible play for the turn?

N’s Play: Aven Liberator face up

Turn Seven


Draw: Smokespew Invoker

Hand: Skinthinner, Smokespew Invoker

Board: Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Goblin Turncoat, Morphed Snapping Thragg

Opp’s Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Island, Island, Aven Liberator

As you can see, that play a few turns ago of morphing the Thragg is really coming back to haunt us – as this game should’ve been long over if he was face up. There is no possible way that Nick could still be in the game if the Thragg was cast face up. He would require a chump block every turn, which wouldn’t last long since Nick is already at low life.

Here we have to decide whether to play Skinthinner, Smokespew Invoker, or both (Thinner face up again). Morphing the Thinner should allow us to break through the Liberator on the following turn by flipping him up. Playing Smokepew alone seems terrible since we are still at five lands and nowhere near the activation.

This leaves the option of playing both creatures. Take into account that Nick is at five life here and only has one creature to our four if we play both guys. This alone should prove that it is correct to play both creatures out in hopes of erasing our mistake earlier with the Thragg as Nick’s back is against the wall.

Oh, and obviously we can’t attack into the Liberator here.

J’s Play: Smokespew Invoker, face up Skinthinner

Nick (5 Life)

Draw: Frontline Strategist

Hand: Frontline Strategist, Rush of Knowledge, Swooping Talon

Board: Plains, Plains, Lonely Sandbar, Island, Island, Aven Liberator

Opp’s Board: Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Swamp, Swamp, Goblin Turncoat, Morphed Snapping Thragg, Smokespew Invoker, Skinthinner

How. Lucky. I guess you could say it was deserved based on the whole Thragg issue, but I assume it’s fairly evident that the play this turn is to morph Frontline and trash Jason’s hopes of winning.

Using the deck orders above, you should be able to see that there’s no way Jason can come back after he is savaged on the next attack step by Frontline Strategist. Nick ends up stabilizing at five and builds up a substantial air force after Rushing up some cards to finish the job.

All because of a simple error in trying to play tricks with a morphed Snapping Thragg.

Phase Two

Phew! Now that that’s over we can move on to the actual findings of the experiment after the second trial run. After all of that detail involving the game, hopefully you can relate the details I give back to it and the deck orders listed above so that I don’t have to bore you to death with another set of play by play analysis for what is basically the same game.

The players this time are from our professional quadrant. Mike Turian will be piloting the Black/Red deck, while Andrew Cuneo will navigate the Blue/White construction.

The first three turns were played exactly the same as outlined in the game between Jason and Nick above – except that Cuneo makes the correct play in morphing Willbender on turn 3 as opposed to Nick’s play of Glory Seeker.

Cuneo then goes on to amplify up a 4/4 Stinger, which blocks the Festering Goblin on the next attack and is again shot down by the Skirk Commando. After this, there’s not much Cuneo can do since Turian plays his side of the game perfectly and soon Turian finishes him off.

So what happened? I thought you told me that correct play in difficult situations will most often yield victory?

In most cases, this is true – but this time, we have a special lesson to be learned, which will hopefully lift all of our spirits a little. It proves yet again that Luck is not as big a factor as we all often say it is.

As I mentioned before we went into the experiment itself, my test games had shown only one possible path of victory for the Blue/White player (barring a crucial mistake from the Black/Red deck). I think it’ll be helpful if I summarize that path below in a chart to prove my point before we go on.






Plains, Knight


Morph Bender (DON’T BLOCK)


Stinger (4/4), Blocks Morphed Skirk


Seeker, Morph up Bender on Revival to the Thragg (No Zombies in yard)



This plan will stabilize you at six life with no chance of losing given the order of the decks. This is of course, based on the overall design of the game, and therein lie its flaws. Upon reflection to the actual decisions involved in the game, you will notice the defect in its eventual solution: It’s not actually the correct way to play!

If you want particular instances, it is really risky to block the Morph with the Daru Stinger, as the Black/Red player has five lands untapped and could have anything from Charging Slateback to Fallen Cleric to Aphetto Exterminator to a number of others. This play is simply unreasonable – but I was blind to that fact at the time of the construction of the game, because I was so concerned with making sure there was only one correct set of plays that would allow the Blue White deck to win. The other unreasonable plays include potentially the not blocking with Willbender and the Glory Seeker play on turn 5, but I’ll let you do your own research into it through the use of the deck orders above.

When I initially constructed the game, I was extremely concerned with getting a good amount of decisions involved while still keeping the balance between the decks to create a sort of yo-yo effect back and forth to keep it exciting. Apparently, I took it too far. In trying to create this complex and interesting set of turns, I actually overdid it and made the solution too obscure to actually work out for the given game of Magic. Simply, it didn’t follow the formulas for correct play that we all know and abide by.

My original expectations going into this project were to create a game where a competent player would make a mistake in a situation where a professional would find the correct play. After actually implementing the experiment, I ended up learning something completely different than my primary objectives would suggest.

Andrew Cuneo piloted the Blue/White deck along the most reasonable path in terms of”correctness” and still lost. There is a more interesting piece of knowledge than how to play correctly that we can learn from this experiment: Even when you play correctly and lose and you’re absolutely sure your draw could never beat your opponents, you’re likely to be mistaken. There’s always a way, whether”correct” by our thought processes or not, the overwhelming majority of games can be won by either player.

One of the most important things I learned for future processes and articles like this one is to always expect the unexpected because the variables in the game of Magic are far too wide for simple comprehension. You can’t just design a closed experiment and assume everything will go exactly as you’ve planned. You’ll end up without any veritable data and scratching your head wondering what the hell happened. It’s certainly a fun ride, though, and I encourage anyone who has the interest in terms of putting in the large amount of prep work to do one of their own and write about it.

The last thing I’d like to reinforce is that this is another case of factual evidence as to why you should never whine about the tiny element of luck in Magic. Both of the opening hands in this experiment were top notch to the next time you lose to the”God Draw” and run off whining to everyone, just think! If you played something differently, you probably could’ve won.

Nick Eisel

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