I have been playing more Magic Online recently than any other time in my life. I spend all my free hours grinding away at the M14 release queues and I’m loving every minute of it. I think the format is amazing for Limited, and it has a high reward for patient and observant play. This week I wanted to write an article that was basically a rundown of how to best play around various tricks in the format. It’s one thing to correctly identify that your opponent has a trick, but it can be quite another to determine what that trick is and minimize its effect.[draft]nephalia seakite[/draft]
Number one on the list has got to be [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card]. This card is a very high pick in the most powerful and deepest color, which means you will play against a blue deck more often than you will any other. If your opponent has seen a [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] in the draft he will be very likely to have taken it, and it’s a common, so there is a very high likelihood he will have at least one in his deck.
If you assume your opponent has 2 [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] in their deck and they pass with 4 lands in play on the draw (having seen 11 of 40 cards) then there is a 48.5% chance they have it in their hand, which is incredibly high when trying to decide if you should attack with that [card]Child of Night[/card]. There are other factors at play here. If your opponent hasn’t cast any meaningful spells up until that point in the game, then warning bells would go off for me. You have to take all these numbers and balance them in your head, that’s what Magic is all about. What are the odds my opponent has a [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card]? What are the odds my opponent would play the exact same way he has played without a [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card]? Did I see any [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] in the draft?
An overwhelmingly high percentage of the time I err on the side of caution here unless I have a strong reason not to. Of course, having something like a [card]Giant Growth[/card], [card]Essence Scatter[/card], or [card]Wring Flesh[/card] means you can just attack. If he has it you have a backup plan and if he doesn’t you get to deal some damage, which is great.
I just look at what would happen if he does have it. How important is the 2 damage I am trying to deal? How bad for me is it if he kills my 2/2 creature? Most of the time I decide that throwing my 2/2 in the graveyard is horrible for me, and I can live without dealing 2 points of damage. On top of all that, it’s the type of card that when I don’t attack you for one turn I now gain a wealth of information, because if you decide to do nothing and go straight to your turn then you either don’t have it or you’re continuing to try and play coy and disguise the fact that you have it in your hand, which is rare. Most people think, “well he’s playing around it so I might as well use my mana well this turn and deal some damage.” I have certainly lost some games that I would have won where my opponent played around [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] by not attacking with a 2/2, and I held it in my hand hoping he would attack me the next turn thinking that I didn’t have it last turn so I had to have topdecked it, but then they just don’t attack me next turn and I lost all my mana for multiple turns. I also have won some games playing like that too, so there is no clear correct play here. It should be largely based on your hand if the opponent doesn’t attack into it.
But wait, there’s more! I am much less willing to attack into four untapped lands like Island, Island, Forest, Forest, because not only do I have to worry about [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card], but now I also have to concern myself with [card]Briarpack Alpha[/card]. [card]Briarpack Alpha[/card] can sometimes be easier to read your opponent for because he probably will attack you in a way that telegraphs a trick. If I have an [card]Undead Minotaur[/card] and my opponent attacks me with a [card]Sliver Construct[/card] with RRGG open, I decide not to block for whatever reason, on my next turn attacking without a trick would be a disastrously bad play since I’ve already been tipped off to the possibility of a [card]Briarpack Alpha[/card].[draft]briarpack alpha[/draft]
The Alpha can sometimes be easier to figure out, but it has two things going for it. It’s uncommon so the situations where it’s a blowout come up less often because there are less of them in the packs, and when it does matter it is a total blowout. [card]Briarpack Alpha[/card] is just a better card than [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card], it can ambush bigger creatures like 4/4s, and it can ambush blocking creatures in combat by just giving +2/+2.
One way to play around [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] (and [card]Briarpack Alpha[/card] out of a blue deck) is simply to slam your best play before combat hoping it gets hit with a [card]Cancel[/card] so you can attack with impunity. That’s just part of the bind blue puts you in, and one of the reasons [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] is so amazing, If I’m playing blue and pass with four mana available I could very likely have [card]Essence Scatter[/card], [card]Cancel[/card], or [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card]. I could also have [card]Quicken[/card] + [card]Time Ebb[/card] (don’t laugh, I’ve done it).
One of the best ways I’ve found to play around [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] is simply to not put 2/2 creatures in my deck. This workaround isn’t particularly clever but it is effective, and the downside of being weaker in the early game is nonexistent against blue, with the exception of [card]Scroll Thief[/card]. I have also found this format to be quite slow, and only green decks can run you over before you get a chance to develop and play the game. Cards like [card]Child of Night[/card] and [card]Goblin Shortcutter[/card], which were all-stars in other core sets or Zendikar draft are now mediocre at best, and if I can find a good reason to cut them, I will.[draft]giant growth
ranger’s guile[/draft] [card]Giant Growth[/card] and [card]Ranger’s Guile[/card] are both very good cards that I would try to watch out for but not bend over backwards trying to play around. I would if it was convenient too, if you play around a [card]Cancel[/card] and they have it, then they don’t get to use three of their mana and to use it later they have to leave three up again, and this can be quite effective. With a [card]Giant Growth[/card], they only have to keep 1 available and they only have to worry about having that 1 Forest up later if they think they might want to cast a [card]Giant Growth[/card]. The lesson here is play around something only if you can and only if playing around it is effective. I have seen a large number of games where someone claims to be playing around a [card]Giant Growth[/card] only for it to either kill that player or to still get value later in the game. [draft]show of valor
When playing against white, their two largest tricks are [card]Show of Valor[/card] and [card]Celestial Flare[/card]. [card]Show of Valor[/card] is not usually a card I worry about, because I don’t play against white as often as the other colors and because if you’re white you don’t always play [card]Show of Valor[/card]. I say I don’t play against white because it’s the consensus worst color in the format and people try to avoid it. I have slowly been changing my tune on this one, and have found white to be a very good support color for blue. [card]Show of Valor[/card] can be a very good sideboard card against red/green decks to counter [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card] and [card]Shock[/card] while also trading 1-for-1 with [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card].[card]Celestial Flare[/card] is also a trick to keep an eye out for. This one is easier to spot because of its restrictive mana cost but it is still a very good card. Avoid using your own combat trick like [card]Wring Flesh[/card], [card]Giant Growth[/card], or [card]Thunder Strike[/card] if you think your opponent might have [card]Celestial Flare[/card]. It’s really bad to attack a 2/2 into a 3/3 and WW open if you only have one trick, it’s just asking for trouble. One thing I usually look out for is the ability to cast [card]Celestial Flare[/card] at the end of combat, if I am being attacked by a 7/7 and a 1/1 and I have just a 2/2 in play, it is a legal play for me to block the 1/1, take 7 damage, and cast [card]Celestial Flare[/card] at the end of combat after damage has occurred, killing the 1/1 while the other creature is still considered attacking. So just be aware that if it’s not a lethal attack, suicide-attacking with one other creature won’t always be the best way to play around [card]Celestial Flare[/card]. [draft]wring flesh[/draft] [card]Wring Flesh[/card] is the last and most common combat trick that you will come across. One of the reasons for this is because it’s black, and if your opponent is blue/black he now has a combat trick you need to be aware of that none of his colors would normally be able to provide. If you play against a black/green deck (wretched color combination, but just using this as an example) if an opponent attacks a 2/2 into your 3/3 it could be either [card]Giant Growth[/card] or [card]Wring Flesh[/card], but you would already be considering [card]Giant Growth[/card] as the most likely option, so being aware of [card]Wring Flesh[/card] doesn’t help you nearly as much.
Now, when you play against a color combination like black/white things get more interesting. [card]Wring Flesh[/card] is a decent card that I usually maindeck because it works well with [card]Child of Night[/card] and acts as a cheap play to protect from losing quick games to [card]Manaweft Sliver[/card], [card]Elvish Mystic[/card], [card]Academy Raider[/card], or [card]Regathan Firecat[/card]. I also quite like [card]Shrivel[/card], which I sometimes maindeck when I get no [card]Wring Flesh[/card].
I didn’t get to cover every trick here today, but I think I got to the most important ones, and if there is one thing to be learned from this it’s that there is no hard and fast rules about when to cast your tricks or when to play around them. You need to be very observant, and it is valuable to identify when they have a trick and want to cast it and deprive them of that, but it is almost equally bad to give your opponent extra time when they have no trick. That’s part of the game though, and why it is so interesting. I hope this article was helpful in giving you insights into my thought process when situations like this come up. I talked a lot about [card]Nephalia Seakite[/card] today and how good it can be but also keep in mind that if people play around it all day everyday then it is much worse, we’re talking about the difference between a comes into play give target creature -2/-2 and comes into play gain 2 life, which is massive.