Initial Technology – Full Speed Ahead!


With an Extended PTQ season looming on the horizon, talking about time management seems, well, timely. There are plenty of matchups that are hard to finish in the time allotted, even when both players know what they are doing and play at a decent pace, which is often not the case. Of course, this topic lends itself to any format, although it is more relevant to Constructed than Limited. Zendikar Limited is pretty insanely fast; you have to work hard to get a draw, so I’ll be focusing on Constructed.

The number one way to improve your pace of play is to test. Practice really does make perfect, and even though you can’t anticipate every situation during playtesting, with enough testing you can get pretty close. Plus, not only does testing increase your pace of play, it even makes your play better. Astounding!

So, let’s assume you do not have infinite time to play every matchup possible. First, you ideally want to figure out as soon as possible which deck you will be piloting at upcoming events. The whole point of practice is to familiarize yourself with the deck you will actually be using, so the quicker you get that figured out, the better. Still, don’t be afraid to switch decks if whichever deck you chose turns out to be a dud; there is no reason to cling to a sinking ship.

Now that you have a deck, you need to make sure you know how to play it. Obviously you should play against the decks you expect to face in a tournament, but learning how to play the deck at a reasonable pace goes beyond that. Even if you have practiced enough that you know how to play your deck quickly, or at least at an appropriate speed, there are always matchups that take longer. Identifying and practicing problem matchups is very important, especially if you are playing a slow deck or if your natural pace of play is on the more deliberate side. A relevant example of this would be the Tezzeret mirror in Extended.

Unless both players know what they are doing and are playing at a brisk pace, the Tezzeret mirror seems like it takes about an hour, possibly a bit more. Even under ideal conditions, sometimes going over time is nearly unavoidable in this matchup. That means if you are planning on playing Tezzeret at an upcoming PTQ, practicing the mirror is crucial. It is a matchup that is likely to occur, and unless you have practiced it and can play it rapidly, finishing three (or sometimes even two) games is going to be difficult. Practice will tell you what cards are important, what to fight over, when to make a move; in short, it will tell you not only how to play, but it allows you to do so faster. You should definitely avoid going on autopilot, but if you have practiced the matchup enough, you really should not need to think about everything for very long.

Sitting there and thinking about every variable anytime someone takes an action is not only detrimental to your overall strategy, since by trying to think about anything and everything you just distract yourself, but it will make it impossible to finish the match on time. This is true of any matchup, but since the Tezz mirror is such a slugfest, it is of greater importance than in the Zoo vs Zoo matchup. Practice will help you avoid that, since you should have encountered the vast majority of basic situations during your test games, letting you save your thinking time for the tough decisions.

Of course, practice isn’t the cure-all. Even if you are playing fast enough, it doesn’t guarantee that your opponent will. To make sure that everyone is playing at the right speed, call a judge as soon as you think it will be an issue. If my opponent is taking too long, I will usually try to hurry them up once gently, once perhaps a little less gently, then I call a judge to watch for slow play. Don’t feel that you are accusing them of cheating or even breaking the rules; the whole point of calling a judge is to make sure the match proceeds at an appropriate clip, which benefits both players. I am always courteous, and find that one reminder to play a little faster generally does the trick. I’m sure that most of you have heard this before, but getting over the fear of calling a judge is extremely important. The earlier the better too, since calling a judge about slow play with five minutes left in the round won’t really help matters, even if you inform the judge that the pace has been slow the entire match. The judge can’t do anything at that point, unlike if you had called the judge 10 minutes into the round when the slow play started. The length of time left in the round doesn’t excuse slow play, and nipping the problem in the bud will yield the best results.

Ok, so you have practiced and practiced, and you can play pretty fast. You even are good about calling judges, so your opponents will at the very least be playing at a reasonable pace. Still, you can’t seem to reliably finish a particular matchup, or at least not when it goes to three games. This is a situation that has come up a few times over the years in Constructed, and it’s shaping up to look like it might again be the case in the Tezzeret mirror. Despite both players’ best efforts, some Tezz matches just take too long to finish. I think roughly half of the Tezz mirrors I have seen so far have gone to time, although I have managed to avoid doing so, even if just barely. If that’s the case, there are a few things to consider. Game one becomes extremely important, since if you win game one, you will escape with a draw at the very worst, and winning 1-0 is a definite possibility. That means you should practice game one until you know exactly what to do; there isn’t much of a margin for error with similar or identical lists, and I have found that you see almost every card in your deck at some point during the game.

The addition of even one card for the mirror could be enough to swing it, and if winning game one is that important, it may be worth it. I’m not saying that Tezzeret is necessarily going to be so common that you should specifically metagame against it, but any time you run into a matchup that takes a lot of time, that is one of the options available, whether the matchup is the Tezzeret mirror or anything else.

Another option to consider is setting up for faster post-board game. This is a decision you could make either when constructing your deck and sideboard or during individual matches. For example, you could decide that you want a faster kill available postboard, and put in Baneslayer Angels to fulfill that role specifically. On the other hand, you might have Baneslayers in your sideboard for other matchups entirely, but still side them in when there are only six minutes left in the round. Going back to Tezz, I like siding in Angels in the mirror and built my sideboard accordingly, but normally wouldn’t bring them in against something like Scapeshift unless I was concerned with the time left.

The last option is something that Josh Silvestri talked about extensively in his last article. Sometimes you just need to be realistic about how fast you are as a player or how much time you have to spend testing. If you either don’t have the time to really test a complicated deck as much as you need to in order to play it rapidly, or can’t play as fast as is needed to pilot the deck, your best option is to just pick a different deck. There is no shame in realizing that you aren’t going to play fast enough to finish most of your matches with Tezzeret, and picking a different deck instead. Similarly, if you just don’t have the time or desire to practice the amount you need to feel comfortable with the deck, play a deck that suits you or your schedule better. Playing a deck optimally is going to be vastly better than playing a more powerful deck less optimally, especially in a format like Extended where most decks are pretty close to each other in power level. Similarly, if you are naturally more comfortable with a certain kind of strategy (aggro, control, combo), look for decks that play to your strengths instead of fighting against them.

Efficient use of time in-game is also important to learn. Even a simple thing like thinking while your opponent is taking their turn can save a good amount of time. Sitting there blankly until your opponent makes an obvious attack, and then thinking about how to block is just wasteful, and even makes you lose focus. You should be considering how to respond to what they might do next while they are thinking about it, and if you don’t know what they are doing, at the very least try and think of what they might. In current Standard, you should be able to narrow down the opponent’s options pretty easily, and thinking of responses is a good use of your time. If you are playing UWR Control against Grixis, the only big threats they have on their turn are Sorin Markov, Cruel Ultimatum, and Sphinx of Jwar Isle. If they are in the tank during their turn in the middle of the game, you should know what your response to each of the above cards is going to be. This even has strategic value, since if you already know that Sphinx isn’t a threat, you won’t need to think about countering it, which will make it less obvious that you have a counterspell in your hand.

When to Concede

Sadly, sometimes the right play is to scoop’em up, but getting the timing right is tricky. This probably isn’t new information, but the strategic concession seems to be pretty misunderstood, so I see no reason not to mention it. There are only two reasons to concede a game in progress: to save time and to avoid revealing information.

Conceding games you can’t win to save time is crucial, but you never want to concede when you still have a reasonable shot at winning. Again, practice will help you figure out how far behind you can get and still have a shot, since if anything people seem to concede too quickly, but proper use of concessions will help your overall winning percentage. If the matchup isn’t one that takes a long time, like pretty much any match involving Jund, there isn’t really a reason to scoop under most circumstances, but if you are battling Turbo-Fog with a control deck and the situation changes. You might want to consider packing it up to a Jace on 7 and three Howling Mines if you don’t have a threat out, and you almost assuredly don’t want to let them mill you for 20 and see the contents of your deck, which also falls under the “revealing information” umbrella.

The less information you give the opponent the better, and sometimes it is even worth enough that you should concede to avoid giving them more. If you are playing UWR and don’t draw a Red source until you are almost dead, you should give serious thought to whether you should even show them that you are playing Red. If you are facing down a Broodmate Dragon and two Thrinaxes, playing an Ajani isn’t going to save you, so you might as well let them think you are UW control. More important is hiding sideboard cards/strategies. If you won game 1 and have a semi-transformational sideboard, sometimes conceding game two when you are really far behind is better than showing them that you boarded in Tombstalker and Tarmogoyf in your Dredge deck.

There is actually one more reason to concede: when the match is going to be a draw and that would hurt both players. Asking for and receiving concessions is a tricky business, but there are definitely times when a draw is basically a loss for both players, like when playing for Day Two of a Grand Prix or Top 8 of a PTQ. If the situation is such that a draw causes both players to lose, I think good etiquette is for the losing player to concede. If it is the last round of Day 1 of a GP, and a draw will knock both players out, if you are at 1 life vs their six creatures on the last turn, I personally think you should concede. I have conceded in losing situations before, and would prefer to see at least some good come out of the situations. Bear in mind that this is just my opinion, and I by no means think anyone is required to adhere to it. One of the other things that I believe is that nobody is under an obligation to concede or draw a match; I just think that being kind in situations like what I outlined above is going to serve you better overall. This is the least important part of my article, so hopefully the comments don’t dwell on this section. These are my personal beliefs and I’m not particularly interested in debating them, but I figured I would share them since they seemed relevant to the topic.

I play pretty fast, and it has always been that way. My “natural” speed of play is pretty rapid, so I have rarely had problems finishing my matches on time. I know that isn’t the case for everyone, and I think if you follow what I’ve outlined here you should be able to finish the vast majority of your matches without incident. If you practice enough, know your deck, think at the right times, and make sure your opponents play fast enough, that should handle things. In the event that it doesn’t, try adjusting your decklist or even switching decks completely, and consider conceding games you have little chance of winning. If all of that doesn’t work (and you are being honest about practicing enough), well, can I interest you in a Zendikar Booster draft? I hear they have this neat card called Plated Geopede


41 thoughts on “Initial Technology – Full Speed Ahead!”

  1. Very nice article. Time management is one of the most important things, especially at PTQs where the you dont get a lunch break. if you’re playing a slow deck slowly odds are you wont get anything to eat and it will impact your ability to play later in the day.

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  3. I got a 1-1 draw in Zen draft once. I was playing U/G Gomazoa.dec. I had both the ground and air gummed up for about 20 minutes in game 1 before my opponent broke through, and then time got called about 3 minutes into game 3. So yes, it can be done. It’s not easy though.

  4. Definitely like this article. As simple as these suggestions are they are sure to be helpful to me. My style of play is, as you say, a bit on the “deliberate” side

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  6. Good article. Time management can seriously affect whether you top8 or not. It is an overlooked aspect of the game.

  7. Good advice for Tezzerator players. I’m still considering whether or not I want to dish out the cash for a Tezz deck since it’s rotating out in the fall.

  8. I saw a Zen draft finish 0-0 before, one guy drafted allies.dec with 5 ondu clerics, and the other was playing UG. Allies deck was at 90 odd life before UG was even beginning to attack

  9. Great article! It’s good advice in general not only for speeding up your play. I once played FNM with a friends deck I thought I knew. Long story short, I didn’t do so well. It’s a good idea to practice your decks to know the ends and outs of them just to be able to play them!
    Thanks for the article. Keep up the good work!

  10. I never really understood how concessions work, though I guess that would be better discussed for a different article. I don’t want to introduce my own bias, I just don’t understand why people think it’s good for the game, but I’d be happy to learn why.

    Can you imagine if the Oakland Raiders conceded to the Baltimore Ravens just so the Ravens didn’t have to “earn” their playoff spot, forcing the Houston Texans out? Certainly the Ravens “earned” it by winning games earlier in the season, but not everyone plays their hardest opponent in the same order (okay, the Raiders suck, but this is an analogy =P ). Sure it’s different since tournament Magic is not a multi-billion dollar spectator sport, but how does the level of competition stay high with concessions?

    Please show me what I’m missing, I’ll listen! =)

  11. whoops! Too many Josh’s post on this site =) The above post is random fan Josh G, not affiliated with any other Josh’s you may have heard of.

  12. Well, Josh, nobody buys tickets to watch a single Magic match at the Pro Tour. Nobody airs it on ESPN for multi-millions of advertisement money, either. That’s the important difference. If the Raiders concede, the sport loses a lot of money. If LSV concedes, Wizards just needs to find another feature match.

  13. LSV is talking about conceding to avoid a draw in which neither player advances to the next part of a tournament. If you need to be x-1 advance to the next round and both you and your opponent are x-1, a draw would knock you both out, but if someone concedes, at least one of you makes it.

  14. Nice article..

    I was wondering how you personally ask the opponent to play faster in your initial “gentle warning”…

    I personally feel that I come off abrasive at times when I’m asking… All I say is something like, “I don’t mean to be rude…” or “I don’t mean to be a jerk.. but could you play a little bit faster? I just don’t want to go to time..” but even then people scoff or roll their eyes and say a sarcastic “ok”

    I would usually do it regardless of the matchup, because I usually play fast decks but sometimes I take a long time thinking too.. I only ever say anything if my opponent is taking an especially long time though, so I don’t think it’s uncalled for.

    Anyway, what do you usually say and how do you say it? I figure this could help later in the game in the event that you’d need them to concede to you if you were winning also =p Thanks.

  15. @Mark Conkle:

    I agree with you about the financial angle, which is why I specifically mentioned that in my comment.

    I’m more concerned about the integrity of the tourney structure (which is NOT about the integrity of the game of Magic). What I DON’T understand is, how do I deserve to say I earned a spot in the top 8 when I got a freebie against someone that would have given me a tough match?


    The issue LSV brings up in this article makes sense to me. If an opponent would have had you dead w/ 1 more minute on the clock, it is right to concede. I was thinking more along the lines of “oh, if I scoop to you, you make top 8, so I should do it.” I know my thoughts here aren’t really in line with the article, it’s just something I think about any time someone mentions the role of conceding in Magic.

    As for the rest of the article, I’ve enjoyed the several articles that have come out recently about the importance of getting “in the zone” without ending up on autopilot. I play almost exclusively online which is a real crutch when you go back to real cards, and I enjoy reading how dedicated players deal with the complexity of the game.

  16. i like that you went into detail on these topics, and all of your points are valid. however, it seems that these issues are obvious, and if one doesn’t understand these principles they shouldn’t be playing the game competitively.
    maybe this is an unfair view, as you could be expecting your audience to be newcomers… i was just hoping to read something relatively enlightening.
    thanks. i like your articles.

  17. @josh

    Professional sports are mired in a lot of things that aren’t involved in Magic (like endorsements, home team cheering sections, that whole lot) to really make that analogy.

    That said, I feel like the intentional scoop is one of those things that’s just part of the game. It happens, and it’s more beneficial on an individual basis to recognize that it’s happening and deal with it accordingly.

  18. @josh
    i’m not sure if i understand your football analogy (not into sports), nor am i sure if this is what lsv meant in any way regarding conceding when a draw will benefit neither player, but:
    i know from experience that respect can be an important tool in competitive magic. your opponent may lose respect for you if he/she would’ve won on turn six of time, you had no outs, a draw will force both of you out of the top 8 (or whatever the cut may be,) and you still refuse to lay down. this is especially true if you didn’t play with the greatest expediency.
    while this might not make sense at first, because why would you care if your opponent makes top 8? well, the roles may be reversed the next time you sit across the table from him/her or even one of his/her buddies.
    word spreads, and the great players are often known not just for their skill but for their sportsmanship.

  19. What the heck beats Thopter? I have been testing for about a month now and Thopter is just running over everything. It does not matter how a Zoo deck is built, or All-In Red, or Dark Depths or Hypergenesis even, really. If other people are coming to the same playtesting conclusions as I am, there is going to be A LOT of Thopter on Thopter crime…

  20. @Riki
    I was SO thinking that as I was reading the comments. 😀

    If there were any attempt to put rules in place that prevented concessions, they could still be conducted much as the Colts did. Sloppy play, bad attacks, no blocks, etc.
    Impossible to enforce.

    Great article Luis

  21. Haha great comment about the Colts =)

    I think what I was missing was the “respect” angle. Again, in the example regarding running out of time, I see how it would be disrespectful to not scoop when you were way far behind.

    In the situation where you scoop before you even start the game, it seemed like you were being disrespectful to the person across the room that you just stomped out of the top 8 b/c you refused to play your hardest, but I can see how it can also be seen as a sign of respect for the opponent you are face to face with, as that person will actually know who you are =)

  22. Magic tournaments are not individual happenings. Tournament players often go to many tournaments, or they play many tournaments on MODO. Your deck is too likely to crap out on you for you to base your entire measure of whether you succeeded or failed on one tournament. Sometimes (and in fact a lot of the time), you can play your best and it doesn’t matter because the cards are just not there.

    The way to measure success in such an environment is from the overall value you get from every choice you make – and then this gets measured across tournaments, months, seasons and years, when you can then show how good a player you are (and not just a “sack.”).

    If you are in a position where you gain no value from winning a given game or match, then maybe winning that game or match in the context of the game of Magic isn’t what you need to do to maximize your overall value — the value by which you will eventually be measured.

    I think one of the things you see with concessions is that the really great players are much more comfortable with them than average players. I do not think this is because of collusion — I think this is because great players intuitively understand the idea of incrementally accumulating value through every decision you make as you play Magic. It’s been so ingrained into what they do as a habit that deviating from it just doesn’t make sense.

    So, take a situation where you are about to draw a match, which is the same as a loss for you, and you can’t get anything valuable from winning the match (thus there’s no reason to want the person to concede to you). How do you get value out of this situation?

    The only choice you have that matters is whether you draw the match or concede. In this case, drawing the match means you lose, the other guy loses, and somebody who is not related to your playing in this tournament makes top 8 or what have you. Conceding means that you are responsible for putting somebody in the top 8.

    That latter scenario seems like value to me. Doing that is a positive thing. Now, it doesn’t set up the requirement or expectation that you are going to get that yourself someday, but it is _something_, as opposed to nothing, which is what you get if you just draw.

    You turn a zero into a marginal, marginal plus, because you are then associated with something positive, and maybe you have scored social points with the other player, which matters in a game like Magic which is played largely by consensus. In paper magic, both players have to cooperate to an extent for the game to exist at all — thus the responsibility for both players to maintain game state. Having a good relationship with other good players will help, marginally, as you try to play matches with them. There may be fewer disagreements. There may be less of a likelihood of fraud. Communication might be clearer or easier.

    These are all very very marginal benefits of collegiality, which is really what we’re talking about here – a very very marginal, virtually nil, sacrifice of one’s own benefits to foster a good relationship with your opponents. Yes, somebody else suffers a bit, but in Magic, the person across the table from you matters more than anybody else in the room.

    If you are just hostile with absolutely everybody, you are going to find it very hard to play a smooth tournament. So, somewhere there has to be collegiality if you want to succeed. It turns out these concessions on the margins are a big part of how that collegiality is offered and exchanged.

    Getting that, however small, is better than getting nothing if it’s something you value over many tournaments.

    You may not want to do it, and you don’t have to, but I don’t think it’s impossible to understand why somebody else might. It’s all about turning things that have zero value into things that have very very little value, which matters more to the best players than to everybody else.

  23. Also, if you want to see what happens when people play out every game, never concede for somebody else’s benefit, and never collaborate with the person across the table and what a train wreck it can create, there’s probably a train, plane or bus to Washington D.C. that can show you it in action.

    Collegiality matters. It can be very mutually beneficial over time to offer symbolic gestures of cooperation and trivial sacrifices to your rivals and enemies.

  24. And for the t-t-t-triple post, I’ll add that if you only play in a Magic tournament once in a while, then scooping somebody into the Top 8 doesn’t really make a lot of sense for you. You’re not playing the aggregate value game. And it would be good for people who are playing that game to understand that and in turn to be courteous to you in their tournament reports.

  25. The colts “scooping” was the equivalant to playing a combo deck with all the pieces in place and then scooping because it would be “too much work” to do it.

  26. Jake’s comment is insightful. The time during a tournament that a player does not spend playing Magic is important. Going to the bathroom, using full spatial freedom to stretch, getting food, and a variety of other actions are luxuries that a player denies himself while he is playing a match. This is a topic – maximization of non-playing time during tournaments – that relates heavily to the article and is rarely written about.

  27. @GyantSpyder

    Thank you so much for your comments! They should be parsed into their own article =). That’s by far the most satisfactory explanation I’ve heard, and I especially like the idea of how playing the game is actually a partnership of the game state and how that matters over both the individual battle and the long term.

    Thanks for not discounting my awkward questions and for investing a great answer!

  28. One very important thing to consider when comparing Magic tournaments to Football is that they use completely different means of determining matchups before the cut. Football uses a round-robin format, whereas Magic uses Swiss. That alone means that the dynamics are going to be completely different.

    That being said, I think there are really two circumstances where you _ought to_ concede (and making no statement about other circumstances):
    1. When you are out of the ‘money’, and your opponent is not out yet (for example, if you’re x-2, and your opponent is x-1)
    2. When time is out, and a draw would mean both you and your opponent are going to get cut, and a win for your either of you means that you will not get cut.

    Both can be described by game theory (the mathematical kind). The first case, is a game with a payout of:

    concede | 0, +X
    win | 0, 0

    And the second:

    Concede Draw
    Concede —- 0, +X
    Draw +X, 0 0, 0

    I apologize if the ascii art doesn’t work. In the long term, it is beneficial for both parties involved to enter into the “concede” path of the table. The most obvious way for this to pay out is that in the tournament you concede at, the person you concede to wins some prize. That person might give you some of their prize for conceding to them. For any probability > 0, then that move has a positive expected value.

    The indirect way that this benefits you, is that you realize that your opponents are rational (generally), and that the situation should occur roughly 50% of the time either way. This is where the game theory comes into play. The most expected value can be gained by at least one person cooperating. This means that 50% of the time, you will be the one being conceded to, and gaining the value.

    Of course, like someone else mentioned, this only matters if you play (or plan to play) a lot, and are good enough to get close to the bubble frequently. If you don’t play often, then it doesn’t necessarily make sense to cooperate in this game (although your opponents will appreciate it).

  29. I guess I’m kind of in the middle on this one. I have no problem scooping a game that’s effectively decided, rather than drag it out and burn time, but I’d never offer nor ask for a concession based on standings.

    I really don’t care about the person that thinks they deserve top8 because they’re “really close.” The person that earned it through actual wins is the one that deserves the spot, and bumping them to ingratiate yourself is pretty scummy. Of course, that’s all based on the situation of them not being able to show that they will win, barring time restrictions.

  30. If you defeat your opponent and knock him out of Top 8 contention and help this “other guy” get into the Top 8, is “other guy” going to come over and say “thanks for playing and knocking out your opponent. That helped me get into the Top 8. I owe you one in the future. I look forward to the opportunity to make this up to you.”

  31. adam mcconnaughey

    seems to me that the real reason people concede isn’t because of the expected positive value to themselves, it’s because they would rather not be face to face with the person they are knocking out of top 8 contention.

    hurting people is easier if they don’t know it’s you that’s doing it.

  32. This site has become infintely worse since they got rid of the LSV Live feature at the bottom. Now how will I know that LSV lost to Kithkin and that X-2 is a strecth???

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