One Play

Recently I played a game in an 8-4 draft on MTGO that was not remarkable in any way, but I had a strategic decision that resonated with me. This was game one, and the second turn of the game looked like this:

I already had a big decision to make. I’ve included this poorly drawn graph to help illustrate possible outcomes that result from either using the dash ability on my Mardu Scout or simply passing turn.


There are some things to consider that this graph does not cover.

  • Am I willing to trade a high pick/good card like Mardu Scout for a weaker, replacement-level card like Aven Skirmisher?
  • Is this a trade that will happen inevitably anyway?
  • Is there a good chance I will be attacked by Aven Skirmisher and have my opponent pass the turn with no followup, letting me dash for free on the following turn.
  • What % of games do I win in which my best play is to dash for damage instead of playing a land and a face-down Canyon Lurkers?
  • How good is trading?

That last question is the biggest one. Clearly trading a 3/1 for a 1/1 isn’t where you want to be, but ultimately I decided to dash, and here’s why: In each scenario of me choosing to dash there’s a clear upside and a clear downside, but when I choose not to dash I get only the downside of both. I’m already willing to make plays for this reason, but in this instance there is even more to consider:

• Putting Mardu Scout into the graveyard isn’t as bad as it would normally be, as I have a Sultai Scavenger which can make use of the delve later in the game.

• Some argument can be made here about not wanting to trade since I have a 3/3 that can neutralize the 1/1 but that’s too far down the line to consider.

• Making it so I don’t get attacked for 1 in the air every turn reduces the drawback of “pay 2 life” on my Bitter Revelation.

• Preserving my life total and prolonging the game is a great plan when I don’t have lands—the longer the game goes the less likely I am to lose as a result of not being able to play my spells.

• Saving Mardu Scout for when I draw a Mountain so I can cast it is weaker since I have a play every turn anyway.

In cases like this, I like to defer to making the more aggressive action since you can never know when your opponent might choose to not block because they have a Mardu Skullhunter or Raiders’ Spoils in hand and they want to keep their creature around. A huge percentage of the time they just take it, even when it might appear to you that trading would benefit them.

In general I have a strong distaste for the logic of “if he makes play X I’m happy and if he makes play Y I’m happy as well” since in a game as complex as Magic there is clearly a play you would prefer him to make. You get more value out of one outcome versus another, but in this instance my opponent taking 3 damage and my opponent choosing to block are both far better than not doing anything at all, so it’s correct to dash.

For some this is a fairly obvious play, but despite that I found it interesting to think about why it was the correct play and to examine all possible outcomes. If you want to improve, make sure to put all your important decisions under a microscope and figure out why you’re doing exactly what you’re doing, as opposed to just making “obvious” plays without thinking and hoping for the best.

Owen Turtenwald
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on Magic Online

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