Good to Great – “Jedi Mind Trick: The Bluff”
Being a casual player means quite a lot. One thing it means is that Magic isn’t your sole source of income and therefore probably isn’t something that you typically spend a significant portion of your income on. In the coming weeks we’ll have some great posts on budget Magic, but for now I’d like to offer one quick bit of advice on how to save yourself a buck.
Buying two or three boxes is probably not the easiest (or most financially efficient) way to improve your enjoyment of the game and your win record. Heck, if you’re only buying three (big timers frequently buy multiple cases, packages of six boxes, for each set), your return on investment probably isn’t going to be great.
There are lots of ways to improve on the “buy, crack, repeat” model. One easy way to draft. If you’re hanging out with one friend or ten, drafting WILL result in your getting better, or at least more cohesive, cards. Cardpooling within a playgroup is an even better way to go, but to do this takes a lot of trust and a real consensus that what is best for the group is best for everyone.
The easiest way and cheapest way to make Magic a more enjoyable experience, however, is to improve your own game.Just because you’re a self-proclaimed casual player, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t always be seeking to learn from your mistakes. Being willing to learn is the foundation of becoming a good, and even great, player. An easy way to improve your game quickly is to read our FREE booklet on Deckbuilding.
If you’ve got a regular playgroup, you know what spells are most likely to be in your opponents hand most of the time. You know that you’re racing to get out a Goblin horde before he top decks a Damnation
Damnationor a Day of Judgment
Day of Judgment. One way to turn this awareness into a serious asset is to begin watching your opponents mana – seeing what he leaves open at the end of his turn and acting accordingly.
Good players, casual or otherwise, take advantage of the power of Instants, learning to hold back their Mana Leak or Go For The Throat
Go For The Throat until the last possible moment, giving them the greatest chance of playing it effectively.
There’s nothing worse than Bolting someone’s Corpse Cur
Corpse Cur at the end of your turn, only to have him top deck and play a Putrefax
Putrefax. In this situation patience would have paid off almost immediately and likely changed the outcome of the game.
Once you’ve mastered the art of effectively employing the games most powerful (and often most common) Instants, you can begin to incorporate an additional strategy that will give you an even greater advantage in your playgroup: The Bluff. MTG is typically considered a social game in a way that highly competitive games like poker are not, but any psychological strategy that applies to Texas Hold ‘Em (or even physical team sports) can be effectively applied to Magic.
Just as you (and your opponents) begin to look for and anticipate any recurring combo or strategy in your playgroup, the broader Magic world from your local FNM to the Pro-Tour has built-in expectations regarding the most universally used cards.
Cards like Mana Leak, Giant Growth
Giant Growth, Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade
Doom Blade, and Day of Judgment
Day of Judgment appear in almost every deck with the appropriate mana to play them. This means that your opponent, if he is a player of any skill, will expect you to have access to these spells, even if you don’t. This fact will allow you to effectively bluff your way through a turn in which you really DON’T have an answer to your opponent’s play.
To put it directly: It is almost always more worthwhile to hold back two Islands, or a Mountain, or two Swamps, in order to make your opponent fear you have the answer to their play than to tap out on your turn and prove to them that they are entirely in the clear.
One way to make this bluff even more effective is to go out of your way to make it look like you’re saving the mana. In my Phyrexian Mana-based deck I will pay the two life to play a Porcelain Legionnaire
Porcelain Legionnaire on turn three in order to keep a Mountain untapped even if I don’t have the Lightning Bolt in my hand.
Of course, there are two sides to every bluff. The great thing about poker is that you can use your bluffs more effectively in situations where you won’t have to reveal your cards if your opponent calls. In Magic, however, only in a “scoop” situation are you actually going to get away without showing your opponent that you had no fitting response, so your opponents are likely to catch on if you repeatedly make bad bluffs.
One great way to continue to shake things up is to throw some one-cost Phyrexian mana Instants into your deck. Cards like Marrow Shards, Mutagenic Growth
Mutagenic Growth, and Gut Shot
Gut Shot are well worth the two life when your opponent sincerely thought he was going to cast a spell/attack/block while you were tapped out.
I hope this post got you thinking. Keep innovating and keep improving. Playing casual is a ton of fun, but if your playgroup or your playstyle becomes stagnant, your enjoyment of the game may suffer.