Back in 2009, we spent a week in Kyoto preparing for Pro Tour Conflux. We came up with a very nice 5-color control list for Standard, featuring a colorful mana base of vivid lands, as well as Limited all-stars Plumeveil and Wall of Reverence. And since we quickly settled for a Standard deck, we had plenty of time left to visit monkey parks, do karaoke, have fun in the huge gaming centers and acquiring culinary highlights, among other things a big stock of sushi, which surely makes my top 5 in favorite food overall.
The evening before the Pro Tour started, after the player meeting, two of our crew members decided to play out the finals of the Draft they did at the players meeting. To get into serious PT mood, they tried to play a perfect game of Magic and asked us to watch the game and point out the tiny mistakes. Mat and I agreed, and in order not to actively disturb the game, we came up with the idea that we would stand behind a player each, have a box of sushi ready, and silently devour a sushi roll whenever the player in front of us would make even the tiniest mistake.
With a big grin and a full box, Mat and I looked at each other, eager to see whether our hunger would be satisfied soon. Chris, the player in front of me, shuffled his Esper deck, won the die roll, and chose to go first. As you might know, I’m a huge fan of going second with durdly decks, which Esper decks sometimes were, but playing against red-green aggro, he was absolutely right to be on the play. Chris was lucky enough to get the rainbow hand, featuring an Island, Plains, and Swamp, but the rest of his hand was’t very appealing, featuring another two Islands, Etherium Sculptor, and Angelic Benediction. Chris’s deck was pretty strong, but his hand wasn’t at all. He kept, and I got to take the first bite.
#1: Mulligan Bad Hands
There’s plenty to read about this one, and I’m sure you’ll find more than enough good articles here on ChannelFireball. Now that you even get rewarded with a scry for taking a mulligan, I would mulligan more aggressively than before the new rule. And maybe things even improve after PT London. Pretty obvious so far, right?
My rule of thumb is pretty simple: Add a random 3-drop and a colorless land (no, not something like a Mutavault, just a regular Wastes) to your hand, and figure out if the hand could do something without the help of extra cards. If it does, I usually keep. If it fails, I often ship it. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions. Consider the strength of your deck (I would gamble more with weak decks), the matchup (I would gamble more if I’m an underdog in the matchup), your game plan (I would gamble more if my deck is slow and doesn’t have much card draw, since it needs more cards to function), and so on.
Chris’s opponent also kept his hand. Meanwhile, Chris was busy moving his lands to the right side of his hand and his spells to the left side. Then Chris played his land.
Looking at Mat across from me, he nodded at me, showing me five fingers for five lands. He had a perfect read on Chris’s hand already. Good for me, I guess. Haumph!
#2: Disguise Your Hand
A Swiss player with thick glasses once played against a German player and sorted his hand. The German player saw that and confidently guessed the number of lands in his opponent’s hand, which was a huge bluff after all. After the Swiss player asked him how he knew, the German told him that he saw the reflection of his cards in his glasses. The Swiss player was shocked and took off his glasses for the rest of the game, playing the game half blind and making several tiny mistakes because of it.
It’s not a mistake to sort your hand for lands and nonlands, but be sure to shuffle your hand from time to time. You don’t have to do the full Kibler, but it doesn’t hurt to randomize your hand from time to time. If you don’t, a focused player can see where you put cards you draw and guess whether you drew a land.
Also, play basic lands with the same artwork. If you play your Skittering Surveyor and search for an Alara Forest but play the Dominaria one on the next turn, you just kind of revealed a card from your hand. Of course, you can also play with extra information—once I tried to slow roll a Fumigate. I drew my card, frowned, directly put the freshly drawn Plains onto the battlefield, and passed the turn. My opponent thought I was flooded like crazy, dumped his hand onto the battlefield, and walked right into my sweeper.
Chris played an Island and passed the turn. Mentally going over Chris’s deck, the contents I was aware of, I remembered him having Tidehollow Sculler, Deft Duelist, and Vedalken Outlander in his deck. He should have played the Plains in case he would drew the Sculler. My box started getting empty!
#3: Think About the Order of Your Land Drops
This one is as easy as it is important to remember. Keep track of the color requirements of your cards and play your early lands accordingly. If you have Dread Shade in your deck, don’t play those early Forests unless you have a good reason to.
I also love to disguise my second color as long as I can. For example, if I have only red cards that cost a single red mana to play in my red-green deck, I don’t show my opponent that I’m playing red until I have to. Some might think you’re color screwed and play their value cards without a kicker in order to apply pressure and punish your screw, and some might not guess your game plan and make strange plays. In some formats, players will also overextend into something like a Pyroclasm if you don’t show them you’re playing red. Just keep in mind they could run Mind Rot-type cards if they run black.
Chris played his Etherium Sculptor, his opponent played Goblin Deathraiders. After drawing Deft Duelist, Chris sent in the Sculptor and traded for the Deathraiders. I had to ponder a moment, but then I ate some more delicious sushi. Chris’s deck had two Esperzoas, and without the Sculptor, he would lack a way to keep them going.
#4: Don’t Offer Creatures Trades Without Reason
Even if it feels ordinary, sometimes you don’t want to trade creatures actively. If you play cards with aggressive abilities (such as raid), pump spells, overrun or anthem effects, Equipment, and so on, you might just want to assemble a large army instead of keeping the battlefield clean. Try to guess who benefits more from early trades and play accordingly.
Sometimes, you really do want to trade your early 2/2s if you can follow them up with a 3/2 and continue to attack. Sometimes, you play a 2/3 and keep your 2/2 back to double block their 4/4 in the later stages of the game. Or to draw a card off your Thallid Soothsayer.
The game went on and both players developed their board. Deft Duelist nullified most threats on the other side of the battlefield, but a little flyer kept pecking in. After drawing his Vedalken Outlander, Chris felt like the time had come to start racing. He played a land, entered combat, and tapped down a creature with Angelic Benediction. But wait, why had he played his land before combat?
#5: Think About the Timing of Your Land Drops
This falls into the same camp of not giving away free information. The rule of thumb here is to keep your land drop for your second main phase unless you want to represent a combat trick or instant removal.
I once raced Pack Rat on the draw by playing a 2-drop into a turn-3 Temple Garden before combat and taking 2 damage off of it before attacking. My opponent was worried about Common Bond, which he saw in game 1, and played around it for the rest of the game. I didn’t have the Bond, but I had to play the Temple Garden anyway in order to play my 3-drop after combat, but the effect my play had on the opponent probably won me the game, since he continued to play around the trick I didn’t have.
After some more trading, there was a strange interaction with Ethersworn Canonist that I don’t remember exactly. In the end, I think it was about reanimating the Canonist with a nonartifact spell before combat. In the end, Chris attacked and tried to play Agony Warp, but his own Canonist prevented him from doing so. After asking about the attack, Chris admitted that he was unsure about the interaction.
#6: Ask a Judge if You’re Not Sure About a Rule Interaction
Always ask if you’re not sure about a rule interaction. Judges are there to help, so don’t let your pride prevent you from asking for explanations. If you’re still not convinced, even ask for Judge Norris (a.k.a. the head judge).
Usually, you can ask a judge in a manner where your opponent will not automatically know what you intend to play, so you won’t even give away information. Or, you can ask to step away from the table.
Game 1 came to an end, and even though the game state was still pretty complicated, Chris was dead on board as he failed to draw an answer. He picked up his card and reached for his sideboard. While he removed Angelic Benediction from his deck, I removed the last roll from my box.
#7: Don’t Concede Too Early
If you’re short on time and play a durdly matchup, it can be absolutely right to concede early in order to save time. But most of the time, you should play a game to its end.
People expect you to concede if you’re dead on board. If you don’t, they get insecure. Did you just rip the removal that saves you? Or even worse—something like a Settle the Wreckage?! Just confidently passing your turn while dead on board can set their imagination running wild.
Sometimes, they want to play it safe and give you another draw step that can save you. I even saw someone concede a game in which he had his opponent dead on board, but didn’t see it and thought he was dead in the following turn. Play your last turn as if it isn’t your last, and sometimes you will get rewarded for it.
Also, you give away free info on your deck if you concede before drawing your last card. If your deck lacks cards that can save you (like a Wrath or Fireball or whatever), don’t let your opponents know you don’t have that type of card. If you concede game 1 before drawing your last card, I will not play around mass removal in game 2. Also, your opponent might play additional cards that give you extra info for sideboarding.
I slept well that night and played a good tournament, finishing in 23rd place. To celebrate, we searched for a great restaurant, and ended with 23 more slices of sushi.