Tag Archives: strategy

What Ways are there to Win at Magic?

The goal of the game of Magic is obviously to win, right? But there are many ways to accomplish this goal. First and foremost is to make the opponent lose the game, because if you are the last one standing, you win. If there is only one player remaining, that player wins the game. This is important because most games end by causing your opponent to lose the game by reducing their life total to zero. The rules of the game tell us that unless an effect in play would prevent you from losing, if your life total is zero (or less) when state-based effects are checked, that is right before any player would receive priority, you are eliminated from the game.  Of course, this isn’t the only way a player can be eliminated from the game. The rules also tell us that if a player would be required to draw but cannot do so due to having zero cards in their library, they are eliminated. So what can we learn from this?

In both instances the game looks for the status of a vital resource in the game. When one of these resources, your life or your library, are exhausted you are out. Life total is your vitality and you must protect it from dipping under one. You can use and abuse it up till that point, and with the right application of effects, possibly beyond that point, but once the state in the rules is achieved, you lack the vitality to respond to the game. You can see it as being dead, being knocked unconscious, or whatever you like, but you are no longer a factor in the game. The case for being milled out seems a little more clear on this point. If you cannot draw any further spells to respond to the opponent’s actions and advance your own agenda, you are no longer a reasonable factor in the game, and the game removes you.

So, when you can’t respond anymore, and cannot advance your own agenda, you lose. This makes sense, but of course there are many ways of creating this situation for your opponent making it so that they’ve lost the game before the game actually kicks them out and declares you the winner. Let’s look at some strategies that do this as an overview of a type of ‘alternate’ win conditions that often crop up.

You can’t play the cards if you don’t get a turn. This may be the most obvious lockout, but if you are chaining together as many extra turns as you like, your opponent is dead in the water, unable to manipulate the gamestate beyond what few instant speed cards or abilities he has and what mana he has open. He simply waits for you to achieve one of the game ending states.

You can’t play the cards if you don’t have any mana. This is the goal of land disruption and destruction decks. If you need BRG to cast Sprouting Thrinax, and all you have is URG, thanks to Spreading Seas on your only source of B, you are locked out of that card. If you have none of the mana to cast the cards in your deck, either because they are the wrong colors thanks to your opponent or they keep getting sent to the graveyard or removed from game, you just sit with a full hand as your opponent kills you. You lose.

You can’t play the cards that leave your hand before you can play them. If you took your favorite deck and pulled out all the cards other than a handful of cheap instants, could you win a game by playing those cards one at a time? Most likely not, and that is why instant speed discard is a rare and powerful thing. With enough powerful discard, you can keep someone in topdeck mode. If you have instant speed discard, you can force them to play the card immediately after drawing it or lose it. Last I checked, unless you have great things on board already, you are not likely to win a game where nothing can ever come out of your hand.

You can’t play the cards if you can’t untap or are kept from casting. There has been and continues to be a plague that creeps through our beloved game on occasion. The ‘Lock’ type decks aim to ensure that you either never get to untap permanents, keeping you from having mana or other tap abilities to use, or they ensure that you are constantly under constraints that prevent you from casting. Of course, as we can see from above, if you can no longer interact with the gamestate, you’ve loss the game and are simply waiting for the game to declare your opponent the winner.

Due to the defacto state of win that the above deck archetypes can create, it is important to always look for ways to achieve one of these states when evaluating new cards and working to innovate a new strategy when deck building, Each strategy has a different weak point to exploit and a critical period in which to exploit it. Land destruction, for instance, must come online reliably on your turn three, because after that, too much is done buy three and four casting cost spells and too many lands are in play to stop most opponents plans. Discard should also come online as soon as possible, but is much more tolerant to creating a late game lock if there is instant speed discard in the format. In all of these cases, if your opponent can no longer effect the game, they’ve already loss and all you have to do is pluck away at their life or library until the game kicks them out.

Now, one quick note. There is another way of winning the game, and that’s with a rules modifying clause that creates a new winning condition other than being the last man standing. Mayael’s Aria, Helix Pinnacle, and Rise of the Eldrazi’s Near Death Experience are all ways of creating a change to the rules to declare yourself a winner. However, there is no inherent removal of your opponent in this strategy, so you opponent can actively attempt to keep you from succeeding up until the final moment. This separates these strategies from those above.

So, next time you are looking for a strategy outside of just attacking with many big guys, you can consider some of these winning game states and see if you can lock your opponent out of the game. Also, if you sit down across from one of these strategies, understand that they are trying to stop you from interacting with the game, and while annoying that is one of the most powerful ways to win as it is implied right in the rules: make your opponent irrelevant.

Why The Internet Will Always Build a Better Deck.

This is my first article written for the MTG community, and I’m pleased to be writing for the awesome folks at Power 9 Pro. Today I’m going to talk about net decks and using the power of community to create a better deck, but first I’m going to say a word about what you can expect most often from my articles.

Now, you’ve obviously turned to the internet to research Magic and maybe get some fresh perspectives on the game we all love. I can tell because that is where this post is located and you have chosen to read it. You are seeking to improve your game. For some you simply want to beat Jund, Affinity, or MUD. You may want to know what to do about Blightning, Baneslayer Angel, or Tarmagoyf. I am going to do better than tell you how to make those worries go away. I’m going to strive to develop reasoning and tools that will drive your game, my game, and the game to new levels. I deal in cognitive and practical tools. Please, step into my shop.

What to do? What to do?

A lot of players fresh to the tournament scene or who have gotten slightly more competitive within their casual group become frustrated at so called ‘net decks’. The internet is always going to build a better deck, and you shouldn’t begrudge that, because you can be part of the process and you can reap the benefits. Besides, odds are you already do ‘net deck’, but you’ll see what I mean a little later.

All decks begin with selecting a goal. The obvious goal of the game is to win, but there are a number of ways to do so. Commonly the goal will be to reduce the opponent’s life total to zero, so we will work with this most common objective. Combos aside, an opponent’s life total is usually reduced to zero through attacking with creatures or using direct damage sources.

There are 1,118 cards in standard as of the launch of Worldwake. There will be 1,575 cards in standard with the release of M11 in July. How many do you know? Ok, perhaps that is unfair, so lets say that only 20% of the cards in the environment are constructed playable. That brings the number down to 315 cards. Now, do you know all of them? Maybe you do, but do you remember them all at once? Of course you don’t. We can only remember 5-9 different units of information at any one time, and that is something that you need to think about when you are deck building. You do not, and can not remember all the cards, all the time. You need help.

Help comes in many different forms. Some rouge deck builders sit down and flip back and forth between the cards in their collection, or the cards legal to the format on Gatherer or Magiccards.info, an idea in mind, scribbling down notes. They are helping themselves, extending there mental capacity to deck build by using the images to store the details of the cards and the notes to store the fleeting thoughts they are having about interactions. This is good, but still limited. Let’s find more help.

Our deck builder constructs his deck and takes it over to his Magic playing friend’s house. They sit down and play a couple games and our hero asks his buddy what he thinks. Now here is where things get interesting. The buddy has played games that our hero hasn’t. The buddy has his own criteria on what cards are good and just how good they are, and they aren’t all the same as our hero’s. The buddy suggests a few changes, Our hero likes some, as a good case has been made, and he makes a few adjustments. Here we have doubled up on the brain power and experience involved in the deck’s creation, but we can do better.

Our hero and the buddy go to the card store to play a few game with friends. After each match-up, our hero surrenders his deck for inspection and comment. The deck is interesting to some, doesn’t work well enough according to others. Discussion breaks out and cases are made for more efficient card choices, different variations that can be tried, and the addition of an more obscure card to serve a special purpose in the deck. Our hero couldn’t have come up with all these different opinions by himself. He may be quite smart, but the power of, lets say five, other brains working on the same problem as he is, in addition to the variety in styles, experiences and preferences, dwarfs the effort that he could bring to bear on it.

Our hero, without ever looking at a deck list or browsing a forum has just net decked. In this case, the net was not the internet, but the network of players around him. The MTG community online is doing this same thing, but we are taking advantage of the gifts of technology to bring the raw power and vastly varied experiences of hundreds, if not thousands of minds to bear on the same problems.

Now, I believe the thing that people actually are disturbed by is when a player completely turns their brains off and simply selects the winning-est deck that they can assemble without serious consideration to improving on it or an alternative to it. Honestly, if you are simply a Magic playing computer, running iterated decision trees and card-counting probability algorithms, then this approach is probably fine. If you have been cramming for exams, or working overtime and you just need something to play in a tourney without much thought, I can understand grabbing the latest Red-Deck-Wins list and running with it. However, if you have any creative impulse or opinion about Magic, and if you love this game you must, you will be a part of the network and contribute back to the development of others’ decks.

With the processing power of the human brain at approximately 100 million computer

A network of brain power making awesome!
A network of brain power making awesome!

instructions per second, and hundreds of people playing a game with hundreds of cards, hundreds of rules and millions of possible interactions, I believe that I can make two assertions. The first assertion is that the only way to create a deck and make it an optimal winner is to bring the power of as many human brains as possible to it, using whatever network possible, including the internet. I think that most can agree to that, but my second assertion will probably be a bit more controversial. I believe that there can always be a better deck made than whatever is ‘best’ given enough brain power applied to the problem.

New EDH Generals from Worldwake

Elder Dragon Highlander is one of my favorite formats to play.  The rules of this format allow for some very exciting interactions with cards that would be rarely played in any other format.  The most important aspect of EDH is the General.  Any Legendary Creature can be the General for your EDH deck with very few exceptions ( Braids, Cabal Minion is banned for example), and with the release of Worldwake some new potential Generals join the fray.

Anowon, the Ruin Sage is a strong new General for mono-black EDH decks.

Anowon has an ability that reminds us of the Abyss.   Mono-black is a strong color in EDH and with the addition of Anowon, vampire themed decks get a power boost.  There are plenty of Vampires running around in Magic but the fact that their creature type lets them dodge a bullet from Anowon makes them really shine.  Vamps that work well on team Anowon include Ascendant Evincar which can destroy token strategies; Repentant Vampire shines against other decks running swamps; Mephidross Vampire is a house when you start turning your opponents team with Krovikan Vampire and Soul Collector.  Anowon’s Worldwake friends are also welcome additions to the army: Bloodhusk Ritualist, Butcher of Malakir and Kalastria Highborn.

The next addition to the EDH world is Thada Adel, Acquisitor.

Thada Adel will give any opposing player fits as most decks run very powerful artifacts.  Thada will see play not only as a General just for the chance to steal things like Mindslaver, Nevinyrrals Disk, Rings of Brighthearth, and Oblivion Stone.  Even nabbing a Sol Ring can be devastating.

Next up is Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs

Kazuul is not quite as impressive as an EDH General as Anowon and Thada but it’s ability can be good.  Red has access to Land destroying effects that can make it more likely for Kazuul’s ability to resolve.  I like the idea of adding Pandemonium to prevent people from attacking you with swarms.  If you wanted to try an Ogre themed deck pick up Deathforge ShamanRustmouth Ogre, Initiate of Blood and Heartless Hidetsugu (who makes a good General himself).

Representing Green we have Omnath, Locus of Mana

The great thing about this General is that its low casting cost ensures that it will hit the battlefield early and often.  Cards like Early Harvest, Extraplanar Lens and Gauntlet of Power make this Elemental a beatstick.  Omnath’s best friend is Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary.  Mana ramp is a must when playing Omnath, so be sure to have Staff of Domination and Helix Pinnacle for alternate win conditions.

Last on our list of new EDH Generals we have the killer Kraken Wrexial, the Risen Deep

Big body, evasion and a relevant ability makes sure that Wrexial wrecks stuff.  Using a semi-mill strategy can ensure plenty of juicy targets for our sea monster friend.  Glimpse the Unthinkable, Mind Funeral and the other deep-sea threat Nemesis of Reason go perfectly with Wrexial.  Other graveyard loving cards that can go along with our General are Beacon of Unrest, Memory Plunder and Puppeteer Clique. Sexy Wrexy definitely has a lot going for it.

EDH just got more exciting with these new Generals.  I wish there was a new white Legend to round out the list.  Out of all of these newcomers I feel that Anowon and Thada will have the biggest impact, but that won’t stop me from putting Wrexial in my Szadek, Lord of Secrets deck.