A good rule of thumb in Magic is to maximize your mana and to cast your most powerful spell every turn. But there are exceptions to this rule. An important one comes up when you suspect your opponent is holding one or more removal spells. To illustrate this, check out this clip from the New Capenna Championship and put yourself in Hisamichi Yoshigoe’s shoes.
Yet how can you know that Nielsen has that removal spell? It’s not like you’ve cast Duress, and the probability that Nielsen has drawn at least one copy of a four-of in his first nine cards is merely 49 percent. However, there are several additional clues: Nielsen kept his opening hand, thought for a bit before playing an untapped land on turn two and did not cast a two-mana creature. Meanwhile, Nielsen would have mulliganed many opening hands without a play on turn two, which narrows the range of possibilities further. All things considered, you can never be sure that Nielsen is holding Vanishing Verse, but certainly looks quite likely.
Hence, Yoshigoe decided to play his weaker threat on turn two, and judging by his facial expression in his end step, he was happy with his decision. Simon did indeed have Vanishing Verse, and Yoshigoe got to cast Wedding Announcement on turn six.
Sequencing Your Weaker Threats First
Similar decisions also come up against decks filled with countermagic. If you suspect your opponent has a counter, for example because they’re playing a control deck and are clearly keeping Absorb mana up, you can lead with your weaker threats as well. If they don’t counter, then that’s great – you’ve added something relevant to the battlefield. And if they do, then they may not have countermagic remaining for the more powerful planeswalkers that you will be casting on subsequent turns.
Likewise, it’s often wise to save your bomb rares for last in Limited. Since many Limited decks run three to four removal spells, it’s generally safe to assume that your opponent has exactly one removal spell in their top 10 to 13 cards (that’s a very rough estimation, but it helps to imagine the most likely combination of cards your opponent may be holding in the midgame). With that in mind, it’s often better to cast a random 4/4 or 5/5 on turn four or five to try and draw out a removal spell instead of your running out your mythic Dragon as quickly as possible.
It takes a bit of practice to recognize these situations, but when they come up, ask yourself three questions:
- Given the way my opponent has played the game so far, how likely is it that they are holding a removal or counterspell?
- If they are, what’s the worst threat that they would answer?
- Does playing around a removal spell substantially hamper my ability to curve out on subsequent turns?
If the answers to these questions encourage you to play a weaker threat, then sequence that one first!