I’ve noticed one big difference between the way I play magic and the way I see other people play Magic: I never scoop. If you’re my opponent, I’m going to make you put lethal damage on me every time. If you’re playing a combo deck, I’m going to need to see all the pieces and you’re going to have to go through the loop. Scooping is for chumps. Never give up, never surrender.
Before I tell you all the reasons you shouldn’t scoop, I should probably go over the reasons you should scoop.
This is easily the biggest reason to scoop. Time is often a big factor for certain matchups, like control mirrors. Let’s say your opponent gets significantly far ahead, they just haven’t found a way to kill you yet. That or the way they plan on killing you is with a Mulldrifter, or by decking you with Mistveil Plains. It could take them another five minutes to actually kill you, but you still need to win two games this match, so you scoop.
Another reason to scoop is to hide information. To use this example again, your opponent is playing Martyr of Sands and they’ve got Proclamation of Rebirth going. You could keep playing spells to try to break through their ridiculous life total, but you know it’s futile. Why show them more cards in your deck? This happens a lot with Cranial Extraction, or a Brainbite in limited. You’re so far behind already you probably can’t win, so why show them the trick in your hand?
There was a time during the Extended season where I was seriously considering playing a deck that planned on scooping game one as soon as you knew the opponent was playing Wizards/Faeries. Turn one Riptide Laboratory and I would literally scoop. The version I was testing at the time had almost no chance of winning game one, but you could sideboard into a decent matchup. You also had the added bonus of your opponent not being able to sideboard for game two. This plan seemed too sketchy, so we tuned the maindeck to be able to beat Faeries (with Roiling Horror!), but the idea has stuck with me. I’m not sure where this is applicable, but I wanted to tell the story.
Now I’ll tell you how I really feel.
I learned this lesson the hard way, but I’m glad I learned it.
I was playing in a PTQ against Martin Goldman-Kirst. It was Time Spiral Sealed, and I had just come off of a PTQ Top 8 the month before. I really wanted to win this one. In one of the games against Martin, I was beating him down with a Castle Raptor he couldn’t stop. At five life, Martin drew and played Jolrael, Empress of Beasts. I drew my card, did the math, and decided that Martin could activate Jolrael next turn, attack me with all his creatures, and I would lose. I scooped, a little frustrated. After the match Martin pointed out that he couldn’t actually activate Jolrael’s ability on the next turn, and was surprised when I scooped. It turns out Jolrael is a spellshaper that requires you to discard two full cards, and Martin had no hand when he played her.
It was at this moment that I decided never to scoop; I was always going to make my opponent kill me. I realized that Magic is a complicated game, and I can’t always assume I can see everything. I could easily be missing the fact that my opponent can’t kill me, or my opponent could easily be missing the fact that they could. As soon as you scoop you take away all chance you have. Scooping is the easiest way to lose a game. Even though I had made the choice never to scoop again, I didn’t come to understand its benefits until much later.
The first step is to not get emotional when you’re losing. It took me a long time to get past that completely, but if you let yourself get angry you won’t be thinking correctly. It looks to me like anger is one of the top causes of premature concessions. By just deciding not to scoop I’ve cut myself off from one of the downsides of emotion.
When you actually make your opponent go through the motions, funny things can happen. My favorite part is the look they give you. You say go with a Cylian Elf on the table and one card in hand against your opponent’s overwhelming forces, and they give you a look. Usually they’ll even go so far as to say “what could you have?” Usually it doesn’t amount to much, but it’s worth it for the times where it does. Maybe your opponent will show you a Magma Spray before they attack, or a creature with haste. Your opponent is still there, willing to give information, and by scooping you take away their chance to give it to you.
One of the situations that inspired me to write this article happened in Grand Prix Seattle last weekend. I was playing Five-Color Control against BW Tokens, and I had just been the victim of Identity Crisis, so I was pretty far behind. Eventually my opponent played an Ajani Goldmane, pumped his team, and beat me from 19 to 10. My only outs at this point were Volcanic Fallout and Hallowed Burial, but I drew a Tidings. I had five land in play, so I could cast my Tidings, but I knew that would leave me with no outs. I knew I couldn’t draw a land and a one mana spell to get out of this, so I looked for other outs. My only other option was to pass the turn, so that’s what I did. My opponent drew his card, looked at his board, looked at my board, looked at his board again, and eventually attacked for nine, choosing not to pump with his Ajani and go for lethal. This got me another draw step, but I didn’t get to the Hallowed Burial, so I lost.
I found this situation interesting because the best chance I had at getting to my Hallowed Burial was not casting Tidings. Open mana is scary, and my opponent wasn’t sure what to do. Instead of going for the kill, he played cautiously, and I got to draw another card.
The funny thing is, I think I still might have made the wrong play. I think I should have cast the Tidings and hoped that my opponent didn’t know he could kill me. I was fairly certain that my opponent knew how to activate Ajani, he had just done it the previous turn, and it looked like he know my life total, as well as the total power he had on the board. I knew that if I tapped out for Tidings chances were my opponent would activate his Ajani, free from fear, and kill me, so that’s why I chose not to cast my Tidings. The problem is that I wasn’t weighing my options correctly.
The situation I really need to look at was what the board looked like after I got the miracle out. By not casting the Tidings I have a better chance of seeing an extra card. The problem is that I’m still at one life if I draw the Hallowed Burial, and my opponent has a lot of cards in his hand. Chances are he has another creature that can kill me, so I’ll still need to draw an out and be unable to cast my Tidings. If I cast Tidings there is a greater chance that my opponent will kill me. However, if my opponent doesn’t kill me, maybe by doing the math wrong or forgetting about Ajani, however unlikely, my chances of winning the game after that are much higher because I have a lot more cards in my hand.
My point is, by scooping you take away any chance of winning. Again, the best way to lose is to scoop!
Make a Plan
Since I’ve stopped scooping I’ve really had to pay more attention to my outs. Even when you’re dead on the board, like the Tidings situation above, there are different decisions you can make. You should constantly be asking yourself “what has to happen for me to win this game?” no matter what stage of the game you’re in. I like to take a moment and think on my final turn before I pass the turn to my opponent, ready to swing with a lethal attack. I ask myself “How can I convince them not to attack? What could I possibly scare them with? Can I make them think it isn’t lethal?” You should always be thinking about how you’re going to win the game.
The inspiration for this section came from the last round of Regionals, playing against Josh and his GW Token deck for Top 8. Josh played an early Eyes of the Wisent in game three, and backed it up with lots of creatures. Eventually I was forced to use Cryptic Command to tap his team, giving his Eyes of the Wisent food. I was convinced my only out was to draw a Hollowed Burial, and I was mad that I hadn’t really seen that card the entire match, so I kept tapping his team and drawing a card.
When I used my third and last Cryptic Command, I failed to reevaluate the situation. Now my opponent had two Treetop Villages, and I was at five. If I drew Hallowed Burial like I wanted to, I was still dead. There was a Runed Halo on the table from earlier in the game, but it was on some random creature so I could stay alive. I should have used my last Cryptic Command to tap his team and bounce my Runed Halo, so if I actually did draw my Hallowed Burial, I could still live. I was too caught up in needing to dig for Hallowed Burial that I automatically chose to draw a card with Cryptic Command. I stopped asking myself what I needed to win the game, so I was stuck on the wrong plan.
When I first realized my mistake I didn’t think it mattered anyway, because I drew Esper Charm instead of hallowed Burial. Even if I bounced my Runed Halo I wouldn’t have enough mana to cast it, Esper Charm, and the Hallowed Burial that I drew all in the same turn. In reality, my first Cryptic Command should have bounced the Runed Halo. This would let me play Runed Halo and use Cryptic Command the next turn, and then I could have Runed Halo in play when I drew the Esper Charm that drew into Hallowed Burial.
My downfall was trying to solve only one problem at a time. I kept thinking that I’d get to a Hallowed Burial first, then decide how to answer his Treetop Villages. That’s not how Magic works, and I wasn’t setting myself up to actually win the game.
What I’m trying to emphasize is the importance of a solid plan. Conceding isn’t a plan, it’s giving up, and when you give up your take away your opponent’s chance of throwing the game away. Scooping is just so much more satisfying emotionally, but it’s suboptimal if you want every percentage point you can get.
So if you ever find yourself sitting across from me, and I pass the turn with nothing but open mana, you’ll probably attack me for the win, knowing that I don’t scoop and probably have nothing. Unfortunately for you, that’s exactly when I will have it.
What can I say, I’ve got The Aura.
Thanks for reading.
Loucksj at gmail