Essential Magic Articles

Playing the cards, not the game

by Alexander James

So you've read a lot of guides on tournament strategy. You know tempo, you know card advantage. You know to mulligan on a two-land hand no matter how good it looks. You've put your deck together, and practiced with it repeatedly. So off you head to your first tournament.

And you finish mid-to-low table, and angry. You got tricked into making bad plays. You got a game loss for accidentally drawing too many cards. You had opponents who played the whole game super-fast and you tried to keep up and you made mistakes, and you come home thinking you'll never go to another tournament again.

That was my first tournament, about 7 years ago. But it wasn't my last, and since then I've found that there are two types of players out to win at tournaments- players out to beat their opponent and players out to beat their opponent's deck. The latter are more fun to play against and more rewarding to play as, and this article should teach you a few tricks to ignore the mind-games and smack-talk you'll get as you play through your tournament. So let’s enter the tournament of people who play mind-games, and see how to beat them.

Round 1: The Lightning Round

So you sit, and you're shuffling up. Your opponent shuffles his deck really fast, and then rolls a die for first turn. He's practically vibrating as you draw up, and without waiting for you to declare a mulligan or not he slams down his first land and drops a Llanowar elves into play.

Everyone's played against Lightning before. There are two tricks to making this match-up tolerable: first, let him play at his speed, and secondly, let yourself play at yours. His turn is going to be faster than yours. Let it be. Maybe he has a reason for playing quickly, but that's his reason. You've got an hour or 40 minutes for your round- don't be afraid to use it all. So why is he playing so quickly? Maybe it's just his natural speed of play. Maybe he's goldfished his combo deck so often he knows all the decisions he'll ever need to make. Whatever that reason is, you'll do yourself no favours by playing at his speed, so just take a breath every time you make a decision. That little pause will slow down your game and give you room to play tactically.

Round 2: The Tortoise

This time it's taken your opponent 5 full minutes to shuffle her deck. She seems incapable of making a decision in under a full minute, and her first turn was only to drop a mountain and say go! She slurps on their soda and rearranges her hand constantly, and you find yourself playing faster and faster.

Much like Lightning, the Tortoise's game is to make you play too fast and make mistakes. But rather than going too fast to try and keep up, this time you're doing it to shift the game into a higher gear, and... You can't. She's never going to speed up, so don't do it for her. Sometimes you just have to accept that you're only going to get one game finished due to slow play against a slow deck, so take your time and play at your normal speed; and feel free to use that extra time to think about your next play.

Round 3: The Advice-giver

While you shuffle up, your opponent will suggest to you the right way to pile-shuffle. By the third turn he's suggested a target for every single spell you've cast and critiqued your deck choices, providing imaginative options. He's also talked up one of his more unimpressive cards, practically drawing a target on it. Then comes the moment of truth:
"I cast Boomerang, -"
"Targeting my Grizzly Bears, huh. Fair enough, I guess I had that coming."
"Yeah. Yeah, that's the target."
And then you realise you've just aimed a spell at the wrong target.

Last edited 4/7/2009 10:03:30 AM Page 1 of 2  Prev  Next  Go to page:

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