Pre-Order Core Set 2020 Now!


November 25, 2016

Image Credit:

Going for the Gold: Your Opponent is Rational

After a week off of writing articles, I’m back to talk about a much understated aspect of your matches, watching what your opponent does. Yes I know, you already watch your opponent to make sure that they pay the right mana costs and that they aren’t doing anything that they aren’t supposed to be doing. However, they are giving you a lot of information with each of their plays, all of which you can easily ascertain once you realize that your opponent is a rational being. It doesn’t matter if they are relatively new or a seasoned pro. It doesn’t even matter if you think they are a really bad player. So take a leap of faith with me and let’s move forward.

The definition of rational is defined by Google as “having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense”. This makes sense, because when is the last time you did something without thinking about it? It stands to reason that even if your opponent is doing something wrong, they have a reason for thinking that it’s right. I’m going to start with an example from the Unified Modern Trios event that I played in two weekends ago.

In Round 5 with a team record of 3-1, I’m playing Grixis Control and my opponent is Andy Peters playing Abzan Midrange. I know Andy from testing with him for PT Madrid and he is one of Ontario’s top players. The matchup is pretty good for me and I have 1 Ancestral Vision on suspend (coming off in two turns). I have just played a Tasigur, the Golden Fang into his Liliana of the Veil (with 1 counter). He untapped, played an Inquisition of Kozilek and made me discard my Snapcaster Mage and then used Liliana’s plus ability to make me discard my last card (Lightning Bolt). On my turn, I untapped and drew another Ancestral Vision and suspended it. Andy then untaps and thinks for a few seconds before attacking with his 4/5 Tarmogoyf.

My Graveyard and Exile Zone:

Exile Zone: Ancestral Vision (suspended with 1 counter), Ancestral Vision (suspended with 4 counters)

Graveyard: Terminate, Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage

My Board: (0 cards in hand)

Steam Vents (untapped), Island (untapped), Creeping Tar Pit (tapped)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (untapped)

Opponent’s Graveyard and Exile Zone:

Nothing relevant.

Opponent’s Board: (1 cards in hand)

Overgrown Tomb (untapped), Godless Shrine (untapped), Forest (untapped), Swamp (untapped)

Tarmogoyf (tapped and attacking – 4/5 – creature, instant, land, sorcery in the graveyard)

Liliana of the Veil (2 counters – hasn’t been used this turn)

 

Would you block here? Think about it for a bit and answer, before you scroll down for the answer.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

The first thing I did was ask my opponent if I could go to blocks, as to prevent any potential miscommunication. When I got the go-ahead, I turned to my teammates and explained the situation before asking them what they would do. Seeing that the graveyard already had an instant, a land and a creature in it, they thought I should block because my opponent “obviously screwed up”. Now both of my teammates have played on the Pro Tour and they were both saying how “not blocking is just giving him 4 free damage”.

But here is my concern, Andy is not a scrub and there was no Planeswalker in the graveyard at the time. His line of play had 4 possible scenarios:

  • I do not block and he uses Liliana after combat.

In this scenario I would take 4 damage, and then post-combat my opponent would use the minus ability on Liliana to put it in the graveyard and force me to sacrifice my Tasigur.

  • I do not block and he plays a medium sized creature and ticks up Liliana.

This scenario would result in me taking 4 damage but his Liliana is exposed to any untapped land in the top 4 cards of the deck since Ancestral Vision would be resolving. I think as a result, this line doesn’t make much sense and can be ruled out.

  • I block with Tasigur and he uses Liliana after combat.

In this scenario I would take 0 damage, and then post-combat my opponent would use the minus ability on Liliana to put it in the graveyard and force me to sacrifice my Tasigur.

  • I block with Tasigur and he uses a card to kill it and keep Liliana around.

This would be the worst scenario for me and my opponent would deal 0 damage to me.

As you can see from the ways the scenarios played out, none of the scenarios made sense unless he did have a trick. He would get 0 damage if I blocked, and 4 damage if I didn’t. The only way he would deal 5 damage to me was if he used Liliana of the Veil first and he already had perfect information. That alone made me very uneasy to block. My teammates berated me when I refused to block and the Liliana was sacrificed post-combat to remove my Tasigur. However, due to the greatness that is Ancestral Vision, I drew a bunch of cards and through Kolaghan’s Command discard mode I was able to find out later that Andy had drawn Collective Brutality. It made total sense now why he attacked since it would have been used to kill the Tasigur after damage, but that card wasn’t even on my radar as I rarely play Modern. I ended up winning this game and the match but a bad decision could have put me in a spot where I would have had to take another turn off to kill Liliana with my Creeping Tar Pit (if I drew an untapped land) and allow him to tempo me out.

The next time your opponent does something “odd” ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why would they do this?

Every move that your opponent makes is based on information that they have. If they made an error, it is possible that it is due to either incorrect or lack of knowledge. But I have seen so many competitive players respond quickly without thinking and it has cost them. Usually there are obscure cards or a game plan that they are trying to achieve that is off the beaten path and while it may be suboptimal, it may catch you completely off guard if you aren’t prepared.

Here’s an example: In the finals of an 8-4, your opponent attacks with their Glint-Sleeve Artisan into your board of Glint-Sleeve Artisan, Ambitious Aetherborn (with a +1/+1 counter) and a Servo token. Some players will think their opponent made a big mistake and instantly block with their Ambitious Aetherborn (5/4), and then lose their entire board to a Demon of Dark Schemes. If they took a few more seconds to think about why their opponent would be motivated to make this attack, then they would realize that blocking with their own Glint-Sleeve Artisan is probably a better block.

  • What’s the downside and upside of their play?

As I showed in my Trios example, my opponent was willing to throw away between 1 to 4 points of damage for the chance that he got me to block. Unless this was a mistake, there had to be a significant upside to warrant giving up such an advantage in a game where he would need to reduce my life total to 0 as fast as possible. Try to branch out the decision tree in front of you and see what they are giving up with the play they are making and put yourself in their shoes.

  • What’s their body language telling you?

Does your opponent appear confident? A lot of players are not used to hiding the visual cues that their bodies are giving off. The ones that know better put on a show that is so see through, that they show their true feelings. However, remember that confidence can also be misplaced, since ignorance is bliss.

  • Is there anything you can do to counteract them?

Is your opponent trying to play you into a situation where their cards line up better? For example: a player with Hidetsugu’s Second Rite will try to get you to 10 life by making weird attacks to ensure that you don’t drop lower than 10 life. When you see an opponent making really odd moves, you should be thinking about what cards they could have.

Of course you won’t be able to figure out what your opponent is trying to do all the time, but as always you can adapt your strategy based on any information you’re able to ascertain. One small misstep is all it takes to lose a game of Magic, but if you take things slow and think through your opponent’s actions you will be able to prevent this. I hope you use these tips in your next tournament, and let me know in the comments how much you got out of it. Until next time,

Sammy T