July 17, 2018

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The Art of Magic: Bluffing

There has been a lot of discussion over what makes someone a good player in Magic. Some say that the deck makes the player, some say it’s how the deck is played. Others go as far as to say that dedication to the brand and flavour is the way to go. It’s all subjective because the fun of the game comes from so many things. I can’t tell you how to enjoy the game. What I can do is give you some tips on how to improve your game and be the best player that you can be!

Welcome to “The Art of Magic”! Today we’re going to talk about one of the most basic and, in my opinion, most overlooked “lost arts” of Magic, despite being vital to most card games in existance: The art of the bluff.

Picture, if you will, getting a nice hand right off the top. We’ll say that you’re playing an Orzhov deck heavily featuring vampires, but your win condition is Felidar Sovereign or a similar card that focuses more on life gain than hurting your opponent. You have cards like Exquisite Blood in hand that would suggest to your opponent that you’re going to combo out with a matching piece. In this case, something like Sanguine Bond.

However, Bond isn’t coming. It’s one of the most well known combos in Orzhov, and probably one of the easier ones to activate and keep on the board since they’re both enchantments. What you’re doing here is laying down cards that imply you’re playing vampire tribal with an Exquisite Blood combo with, let’s say, Arguel’s Blood Fast along with some life loss cards like Ambition’s Cost and Live Fast. Drop some easy to play vampires like Gifted Aetherborn and Vampire Nighthawk. By the time this happens, you’ve established to your opponents that you’re likely playing vampire tribal and that you’re looking to play with life totals.

The bombshell really lies in a complete surprise. Something like Lone Rider or Felidar Sovereign. One moment your opponent thinks they know your plan, then suddenly you’re on the crux of victory by strictly focusing on life gain. Your opponent then needs to change gears, putitng them on the defensive long enough for you to either quickly wrap up the game, or control the pace of the game until you do win.

While the above example is really only viable in a format such as Commander, it still displays the value of a good bluff and how it starts right from the ground level. You start at the build of your deck and continue all the way through your play style for it.

Building a good bluff deck is something of an art form in and of itself after all. You really have to know what you want; what kind of reaction you want, what kind of plays you want to make, and how to dig for that reaction without giving away the surprise.

That last one can range all the way from multiple win conditions with different approaches – something that’s certainly helpful in a multicolour deck – to multiple ways of approaching the same win condition. For example, you could also win pretty quickly with the deck above using cards like Celestial Convergence or Approach of the Second Sun. You could even find room for a card like Mortal Combat if you want to get saucy about the idea of making an opponent think you’re playing vampire tribal.

Playing the bluff out is a little bit trickier. Circumstances change from game to game after all. Between the decks you’re playing against, the people you’re playing against, or how the turns play out, you’ll have to adapt quite well to play our a good bluff. Which is something you might not always get to opportunity to do.

Let’s keep Mortal Combat in mind. An opponent may choose to exile all of your creatures with something like Settle the Wreckage. That’s why playing the bluff out in a certain way, having a plan, knowing your deck, and having circumstances come together the right way are all important pieces of the puzzle. The most important part of playing a bluff out is knowing how to lead your opponent on, then blindsiding them with something out of nowhere.

There is always body language, table talk, and those sorts of things. But in the end, there’s nothing about those that’s specific to Magic. Plus, it’s not something that’s really necessary in a game that has more cards available to watch that regular playing cards have, even if you were to mark them all individually. However, if you feel like trying to distract your opponent outside of the game will help, feel free. But as a topic that has probably been discussed in greater length and depth elsewhere, I won’t be talking about it here.

How have you attempted to bluff your opponent in Magic? Leave some examples down below, I’d love to hear about it! Maybe I’ll even feature some in a future article.