There are several types of competitive Magic the Gathering formats, some of which have regional, national and even international competitions. This article will focus on the Constructed format, more specifically Standard or Type II. However, most of the core principles behind advanced Magic the Gathering strategy are pertinent in other formats as well, such as Limited. The same strategy is applied in the online version.
As experienced online players know, Standard format entails that each player pre-constructs a deck of 60 cards or more, and may also include a 15 card sideboard. A Standard tournament typically consists of one-on-one matches, best of three, often in a round-robin format. The format also only allows the most recent core set and expansion sets to be used in deck construction, making the card pool the smallest of any of the Constructed formats, other than Block. This makes the gameplay much different from other formats, such as Extended or Vintage.
Constructing a well-balanced deck and sideboard is an essential element of a Standard Magic the Gathering game. A typical Standard deck consists of roughly 23-25 land and 35-37 non-land spells. No competitive deck plays more than 60 cards. Some deck strategies include playing powerful creatures and other spells to overwhelm the opponent with damage, sometimes referred to as “aggro.” Some decks play few or no creatures and focus more on destroying or countering the opponent’s creatures and spells. This is referred to as “control.” Other decks focus on milling an opponent’s deck or stalling until the opponent loses by running out of cards. Still other decks rely on a specific combination of cards to form a win condition, called a “combo deck.” As a general rule, creature-based aggro decks are slightly easier to play and less strategy intensive than control and combo decks.
Some decks play fast, low-costing spells and try to “outrace” their opponent, winning in the early game. Other decks play more powerful, high-costing spells, attempting to win in the mid to late game. A deck with a low mana curve plays more spells with a converted mana cost of one, two or three, and very few cards with a cost of four or more. This type of deck may only need 22 or 23 land, perhaps even less. A deck with a high mana curve plays more spells with a greater mana cost, and may require 25 or more land. In a best case scenario, a deck will be able to play one or more spells each turn, progressively playing more powerful spells. In order to do this, the proper land-to-spell ratio, or mana curve, is essential. There is no exact formula to determine mana curve, and most players have their own method of determining curve. The article Curving Out by Michael Clair explains mana curve in detail.
The Small Things Add Up
Even though it is fairly uncommon, some games can hinge on a single point of damage. Small mistakes, like a missed trigger, can potentially lead to a game loss. During an intense matchup, it is easy to forget this trigger when an opponent plays a creature. In a game where a few points of damage may mean the difference between a win and a loss, remembering every trigger can be crucial.
Knowing when an opponent makes a mistake is also important. If an opponent accidentally plays an additional land during his turn or tries to assign damage incorrectly, this can lead to an unfair advantage. It is well within every player’s right to question a potential play mistake, to call a judge over and to resolve it fairly. Most mistakes of this nature are unintentional, but nevertheless can lead to the loss of a game that might have been won.
The Importance of Phases
Another important part of competitive Magic the Gathering is following the phases of a turn. Not all beginning players are aware of the way phases work, particularly the Combat Phase. In order for both players to be on the same page during a game, both must be aware of the current phase and what is taking place during that phase. Some phases have multiple steps. Then the First Main Phase is followed by the Combat Phase, which consists of five steps: enter combat, declare attackers, declare blockers, assign damage and end combat. The Combat Phase is followed by the Second Main Phase. Finally the End Phase includes the end of turn step and cleanup step.
Thinking Things Through
During a tournament, if a player forgets to do something during a phase or before they end their turn, assuming it is not a mandatory action, they will not be allowed to go back to that phase until their next turn. This can result in a missed opportunity to play a land or cast a certain spell. There are no do-overs in a tournament. Every play should be considered carefully.
Bad Luck is Just Bad Luck
Luck and chance are unavoidable aspects of any gambling game including Magic the Gathering. Even if a player has a tournament-proven deck, shuffles thoroughly and makes zero play mistakes, she may still draw too few or too many land and lose the game. This is commonly referred to as being “mana shorted” or “mana flooded.” In addition, an opponent may appear to have luck on his side during a game, seeming to draw the perfect card turn after turn. While these circumstances are frustrating, they happen to every player, from the local shop to the pro tour.
One of the worst things a player can do is to become too frustrated or negative. This may not only cause the player to lose the current game, but could lead to a poor performance throughout the rest of a tournament. Frustration and negativity often lead to play mistakes, like forgetting to play a land for the turn, assigning blockers incorrectly or missing a trigger. Another common mistake is to prematurely concede a game loss, either to oneself or to an opponent. The state of the game can change dramatically within just a few turns. What may look like an impending loss could potentially turn around and become a victory. Experienced players know that the game isn’t over until it’s over. Some games are won with only a single life point, or a handful of cards in the deck.
A Few Final Tips for the Tournament
Create a detailed sideboard strategy, covering specific sideboard choices against the most common decks in the format. Bringing sideboard notes to a tournament is allowed, and referencing them can help a player sideboard more quickly and accurately.
When in doubt, call a judge or read 22 Bet Casino Review article. If either player is unsure about something during a tournament match, it is perfectly acceptable to call over judge to verify something, resolve a disagreement or correct a gameplay mistake.
Play the game at a comfortable pace. There is nothing wrong with thinking before making a decision, within reason of course. In a tournament, some players will try to make their opponents feel rushed. Similar to a poker game, some players will try to diminish their opponent’s confidence to throw off their game. Some even use subtle intimidation tactics to get inside an opponent’s head. This is poor sportsmanship, but is something many players must face in the tournament environment. Keeping a cool head is key.
Finally, testing a new deck before a tournament is an important part of keeping a competitive edge. Having another player or a group of players to test decks with is invaluable. Making proxies of other popular decks in the format to test against is another good way to flesh out any inadequacies. Consider the metagame when determining a sideboard.