LSV’s Play: The Looter Problem

I was really tempted to follow up part 1 of this column with just the following picture:


That would be more cruel and unusual than even I could stomach, so I decided to go a little deeper. The answer is that you should loot, but I’ll get there in due time.

The Situation


It’s the end of your opponent’s turn, you have Lightning Blast in hand, and your deck contains the following cards:

1 Control Magic
2 Sift
2 Hill Giant
2 Phantom Warrior
4 Wind Drake
4 Shock
6 Mountain
5 Island

Rummaging Through the Options

When you have anything but your best card in hand, looting can only make your hand better. Given the information I gave you, Lightning Blast is a clear second-best, with Control Magic being number one. By looting, you get 1 card closer to Control Magic, which is worth the small risk of it being the exact top card and making you discard Lightning Blast. It isn’t even a disaster if you do discard Blast, as the opponent will very likely lose to the now-stolen Serra Angel.

You can take this a step further and ignore the cards present: If you ever have the option to loot and you don’t have your best card in hand, looting is going to get you closer to the optimal hand. There are downsides, which I’ll delve into, but if you shortcut to “loot any time you have anything but your best card,” you will be right way more often than not.

Aside on hypotheticals:

While the cards chosen for the example were chosen intentionally, don’t read too much into them. People asking whether the opponent could have Disenchant or Cloudchaser Eagle, or wondering if this was a sideboard game, are missing the point. Imagine I didn’t give you any examples and just said “you have your second-best card in hand and your deck contains a much better card and a bunch of generic mediocre win conditions.”

End aside.

Given that looting does increase your hand’s card quality, what are the downsides?

Here are the valid arguments against looting:

1) You might get decked.

If you believe you might run out of cards, looting has a real cost. Part of that calculation involves win conditions—imagine a scenario where you need to draw 4 Lightning Bolts to kill your opponent, and if you have to discard one, you can’t win. There, looting has a real cost, even if there’s a theoretical card better than whatever you have in your hand. The example I gave has a lot of win conditions left, so this isn’t a concern here (nor is it for the vast majority of cases).

The common fallacy people run into is that by discarding a good card, you are making your deck weaker. The key is that if you don’t get decked, it doesn’t matter. Since you don’t know the order of cards, making the highest-value play is correct and in this case, trying to find Control Magic is higher value than not looting. If you knew Control Magic was the literal top card, you wouldn’t loot, but at any other position, it’s better to loot. It’s just as likely to be your third card down as your top card, and the reward for seeing it while Serra is in play is much higher than the punishment of discarding Lightning Blast when Control Magic is your top card.

You aren’t going to get decked here, so seeing as many cards as possible is good for you.

2) Control Magic isn’t your actual best card.

This goes back to the aside on hypothetical situations but is worth calling out. Make sure your best card really is your best card. If this was a post-board game against an opponent with multiple Disenchants, you might want Blast over Control Magic, in which case you already have your best card. Given the information I provided, this isn’t the case, and you should loot to find Control Magic.

3) What about opposing Mortivores/Visions of Beyond/Scavenging Oozes?

If you know they have these cards specifically, then sure, but that’s not a very common case at all.

That’s it—the only common argument against looting stems from a fear that your top card will be a good spell and that you will have to discard something good. That isn’t a rational fear unless the game goes so long that you need every spell in your deck, and that isn’t likely at all to occur here. I’m not saying it’s intuitive—the number of people who don’t want to loot demonstrate that (and I understand it), but it is better to loot if you aren’t going to get decked, even if some of the time you have to discard a good card.

Loot away, my friends.


2 thoughts on “LSV’s Play: The Looter Problem”

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