Play to Win the Game, Not the Turn

The more I play, the more I recognize the complexity of the games in front of me. Every decision, not matter how small, plays a role in determining the outcome of games, matches, and tournaments.

Recently, I played a match that I felt was wild enough that it was worth sharing.

It was the finals of my first Core Set 2019 MTGO Draft, and it was a doozy. Let me preface with a little bit of information about the deck I drafted.

I’m a giant fan of Limited, especially before the major archetypes become known. I love evaluating new cards and trying new strategies for myself. I love the first week or so before everyone has drafted a million times and read a half-dozen Draft guides. I appreciate exploring new formats for myself and enjoying the ride.

The first deck I drafted was a nice one.

Core Set 2019 Bant Control

Brian DeMars

The deck was a puzzle. I ended up with nifty value cards but low on powerful finishers. I could extend the game, but didn’t have a ton of ways to really blow it open. I was all jab, punches, and blocks, but low on finishing moves.

In case you were curious as to how I got into this deck, my first four picks were:

They were all controlling and had influence over the rest of my Draft, as they incentivized a slower, defensive deck. I typically try to force aggressive decks, especially on MTGO since players are paired against opponents from different pods. Too many times I’ve been undefeated in a Draft with a decent control deck, only to lose to a mirror match with way better rares. When your deck is more aggressive, you can end the game more quickly before the opponent has time to draw those rares.

Overall, it was a decent Draft. I felt like I had a pretty average deck, but it was a cool average deck. I described it to a friend as “two Greenseekers, a wrath, a Wand, a Skyrider on the splash, and 35 ham sandwiches.”

The finals was the exact scenario that I tried to avoid: a Bant Control mirror against an opponent with mythic Arcades, Ajani, Chaos Wand, Divination, and a fantastic control mirror breaker—main-deck Millstones!

I lost badly in the first game. My Take Vengeances did nothing to stop Arcades from brickwalling my attacks, while Millstone grinded me away.

My sideboard wasn’t stacked, but it gave me some better options than Auras and Take Vengeances.

The Chaos Wand Game

I was lucky that my opponent didn’t have Arcades in game 2 but revealed another absurdly busted control breaker rare:

The game arrived at a point where I had more creatures than my opponent had Walls. Millstone was deployed, but I was still chipping damage through.

I was fortunate to have started the game with Make a Stand in my hand.

I was even luckier that I died with Make a Stand in my hand game 1, so despite being milled it was one of the few cards my opponent did not know was in my deck.

I had ample opportunities to get value from Make a Stand. I could have used it and eaten both of the Walls that were blocking my path. I had a different plan…

My opponent did know that I had a Wrath in my deck that they could hit with the Chaos Wand. I decided the line was simply to overcommit to the board and incentivize my opponent to dig for my Cleansing Nova. Make a Stand would protect my team and the Nova would blow up my opponent’s board.

It played out exactly like I drew it up. It was a little awkward—it was the last spell Wand hit, but when the payoff is so dramatic it’s well worth it! The moral is to play a line that wins the game, rather than a line that wins the turn. I could have used Make a Stand to plow through the two Walls or counter a removal spell earlier, but then what would have been the plan against the inevitable Cleansing Nova?

My Opponent Thought I Totally Lost but I Actually Totally Won

Game 3 was also crazy. My opponent’s Walls and removal slowed my clock to a crawl in the midgame and by the time I had established a sustained attack Millstone had put me in a precarious position.

On what my opponent thought would be the game ending play, they used Millstone to leave me with 0 cards in my library and passed the turn.

Fortunately, I had a nifty backup plan to buy myself an extra turn of attacks to seal the game:

The oft overlooked “Time Ebb myself!”

The key was that Totally Lost is an instant, which means that I was able to use it on one of my own permanents. It put a card into my library and allowed me to not deck myself for a turn. I was then able to send in a lethal attack on the last turn with less than a minute on my game clock.

The last thing I want to stress about these plays is that they were not random things I noticed when they came up, but rather tactics I actively set up and played toward many turns in advance. These plays also required that I give up something now in order for a bigger, more important payoff later on.

One of the most satisfying feelings in Magic, or any game, is seeing a plan you put into motion several turns earlier play out just the way you drew it up. Especially when the plan is outside the box.

I’m not sure which of the following things I’m proudest of: drafting a super fun control deck in my first attempt, finding some wild ways to win a difficult match up against a superior deck, or simply not timing out in a Millstone control mirror on MTGO for once in my life… I’m assuming that anyone who has ever watched me play MTGO would be most surprised by that!

The takeaway from all of these silly stories about my first Core Set 2019 Draft of the season is that strategy and tactics, and executing them well, is a genuine way to snag some tough wins. These types of decisions, along with keeping an open mind about different lines of play, is a big part of playing Magic whether you are exploring a new Limited format, playing with or against an unfamiliar Constructed deck, or having some casual fun with a Cube, Battlebox, or Commander.

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