So I learned something last FNM.
It's the end of the night, and I've had a good time testing out a new deck. I'm playing a game for fun against a tricky G/W token deck, and I'm pretty sure the game is lost. Just then, though, one of the more experienced players there wanders over and starts to give me advice over my shoulder. (we all know I'm there to learn, noone minds) Over five or ten minutes I go from "I've lost this game" to "Ye gods, I won and it wasn't even close."
I've known in my head all along that deck-building is only half the battle, but that put things into rather stark relief.
So I want to work on becoming a better pilot. I got some good advice on habits that night - play non-instant cards in your second main phase unless they will affect combat, always play instants during your opponent's turn if you have the chance. But I'm looking for more adjustments to make, and I'm not sure where to start.
So I'm throwing it open to the forums. Can any of you give me advice on the habits/mindsets of a good pilot?
It depends a lot on how you deck stacks up against the other deck, and your knowledge of what that deck might be running.
Some odd quirks I have:
Every copy of a card in my deck must be in the same condition/expansion as every other card that shares the same name. Why? Because if some one hits me with something that lets them see my hand, and I later top deck a new one, they won't nesisarily know I have a second one in hand.
If some one has seen my hand once, shuffle my hand after every card I draw. Why? See above. May seem weird but there are people (myself included) that memorize what they see, and mentally tick off card by card until they once more are back to not knowing anything about your hand.
Always look at your hand before passing priority. Why? Because it makes it seem like you might have an answer in hand, and you're deciding on wether or not it merits an immediate response.
Other pieces of advice:
Don't be afraid of counters, learn how to bait them. This is just a good piece of advice. If you think your opponent has a counterspell, don't play that bomb in your hand. Play something a little weaker, but something that still makes the have to respond. If they have the counter, they might use it on the weaker play. If they do, that's one less they have in hand and you might be able to slip your bigger threat in. If they don't do anything, you just got a threat into play. That's enough of a win right there.
Kill manadorks on sight. Why? Because they look at you funny. Also, nothing good ever happens when an opponent has more mana avaliable to them on turns 2, 3, and 4 than they should.
Run removal. Removal is your friend. Why? Creatures often die to removal.
Don't overplay your hand. Why? You're just asking for a board wipe if you dump all of your guys in hand onto the field. If that happens, you're left to top deck another, which gives the other deck time to rebound.
Invest in a strong manabase. Why? Its the most important part of the deck, don't skimp on it.
I'm going to second everything Anubuss said, plus:
1. Be aware of what your opponent is playing - This extends to understanding how everything on the board interacts, as well as know what they could potentially have in hand. This is more relevant in games 2&3, unless you know the deck before hand. One of the biggest pitfalls I see a lot of new players fall into is that they don't really pay attention to something until it's bit them.
2. Never Overextend - This is probably the easiest to fix but the hardest to do. Before you commit anything to the board, ask yourself if it is neccessary. This is especially relevant if your opponent is playing any mass removal. Only commit to the board that which you need to maintain reasonable pressure on your opponent. Keeping creatures in your hand ensure that you have a board prescense post-wipe, or that you can respond to removal in combat with another creature in your second main phase.
3. Whatever you do, don't tilt - This is hard. really, really hard. Getting countered four turns in a row is frustrating. Having everything you play destroyed can make you angry. You have to learn that this is how the game goes. If you get beat by these strategies, consider it an indicator that you may need to adjust your deck or sideboard. I see so many people just flip out when their stuff gets countered, and it becomes very easy to keep them off their game. Likewise, remaining calm when someone expects you to tilt from counters/removal can be jarring to them. Magic is part Pyschological Warfare.
4. Use removal and counters wisely - its tempting to use your removal or counters as soon as you can, but that isn't always the right answer. Evaluate each threat wisely and ask yourself if it is worth one of your cards. Knowing what threats each card in your deck can handle goes a long way to efficient card use. As Anubuss said, also learn how to bait counters/removal from your opponent.
5. Don't be afraid to take damage - Another hard one to learn, since it goes against human nature. This goes hand in hand with using counters/removal wisely and knowing what's in your deck and your opponents deck. If you have lots of 3/3's, you can leave that 2/x alone, since you'll have a permanent blocker soon enough. There are no bonuses for a perfect.
6. Know your turn steps/phases - This is a big one. Know what steps/phases comprise a turn, what you can do during them, and how that affects gameplay. Good example: Many players don't know that having a first striker and a normal attacker creates an extra first-strike damage step, after which you can play instants/activate abilities. Double-strike does the same thing.
7. Take your time - don't slow-play, but don't feel rushed. evaluate everything, even if its simple. understand how your opponent could react to what you do, and what you can do in response to that. Look at what mana they have, how many cards they have, what they are playing, and really understand the extent of your actions.
There are tons more things, I'm sure, but thats what I've got.
Anubuss makes some good points, but there are some minor corrections I'd like to make:
First of all, based on how many other mana sources your opponent has available, and how many cards they have in hand, sometimes it's not worth it to kill manadorks. If they have lots of mana already, or if they've dumped their entire hand, it's probably not worth killing it.
Second, overplaying your hand is something you only have to be worried about in certain matchups. If you're playing against g/w aggro, dump your hand as quickly as possible. Against bant control, not so much. It's all about whether their deck is running sweeps or not. Keep in mind that some red midrange decks will run bonfire of the damned or mizzium mortars , but also keep in mind that, against those decks, you really need to get as much of a board presence as possible, so it's best not to play around those cards unless you've seen a copy of them in that deck already, or if you have enough of a superior board position that nothing else can beat you.
I did preface everything by saying piloting varies based on how your deck stacks up against the other players. And I also secifically mentioned the early turns.
But all that boils down to there really isn't a list of tips you can follow and be a great pilot of a deck in every match up. Magic is an interactive game (ideally). There are some things, like over extending, that are good in some match ups and horrible ideas in others. For every 1 piece of advice we could give, someone will be able to provided at least 1 situation where that advice is the last thing you should follow.
For example, you'd generally think you'd want to play a creature with haste before combat, so it can attack along side your others. But I had a game where the other guy was playing Goblin Assault (old example, but it's what jumps to my mind), I really needed a blocker but all I had was Boggart Ram-Gang in hand, as he was going to getting a bunch of tokens, mostly from Bitterblosom s. I HAD to block his guy he was going to sac his tokens to. Combat came and went, and hen I cast Ram-Gang. He couldn't attack, and thus I had my blocker. He drew his card, and the offered his hand because he didn't have removal. All I needed to do was chump the guy who was going to get big because when he next untapped, his Blossoms were going to kill him.
VRdragoon's first point is VERY important to remember. As is the 3rd.
Once you get good at playing your game, learn how to present misinformation to your opponent. This is how you put your opponents into 'tilt'. When someone makes the correct decision based on an assumption that you set up on the board so they'd leap to it... pure win.
Greed is good but greed is also bad. Know when to tap out for big spells or hold back mana to represent something. Learning how to sequence is also really important and ties into this. Knowing which lands to play in what order is extremely important if you want to be able to cast certain spells on specific turns as well as being able to represent something that you may or may not have.
Don't assume your opponent is going to make the right play. Even the best players make mistakes. I've seen a lot of players lose games by playing aggressively when they shouldn't or playing too conservatively. People will lose games they should have easily won by bad playing.
Not every card has to be used for maximum value. There will be times when you should Supreme Verdict with one creature out on the field. There are times when you shouldn't play that bonfire of the damned that you miracled. You shouldn't always wait for landfall for Searing Blaze . Angel of Serenity can be useful as a vanilla 5/6 flyer for 7 mana. Playing cards for minimal value can be better than holding on to a card for a later use. These situations might not be common, but they do occur.
Not gonna read all these tips, but the best way to get better is to just play more. There's going to be a lot of things people tell you that, while they are true/correct, doesn't mean that you can just blindly say "X is the optimal play, every time." For example, "Supreme Verdict to kill 2 creatures is the best play, every time." Obviously not the best example, but I'm too lazy to think of a better one.
Also, you don't need to always play your land in your main phase. Swing into your opponents 1/3 with your 2/1 first striker on turn 3 without playing your 3rd land, and it is a pretty good way to slip by some free damage you wouldn't normally get if you just played the land out. Having more cards in hand gives you a higher likelihood of having a trick (from opponent's perspective)
And even that tip isn't something that is always true. Sometimes you need to play your 5th land to be able to activate Gavony Township before you attack. Or you want to wait to play that land to make your opponent think that he has advantage during the combat, then cast some nice little Selsnya Charms to kill their dudes.
Honestly, it's just an experience thing If you're receptive and honest you'll pick up things very quickly. Game awareness only comes with experience, but there are a few simpler concepts to be aware of.
! Don't tilt- Magic is a paper game and often you can "BS" your way through a game if you keep your opponent on their toe. Many games dissolve into formality and early submissions occur. Many players get the "it wouldn't have mattered" attitude and blame the variance of the game for their defeat instead of simply accepting the gamestate at hand and trying to move forward in the best way.
! Know when to step away from some sweet tech. There are lots of cool and capable cards in Magic, but when they are playing suboptimally, you need to cut them.
! Look for subgames to discover what is important. Often your card selection is done with a particular subgame in mind, be it playing and attacking with creatures for 20 damage, or plowing the field and pushing your opponent into a crumple-state. Magic is made up of subgames wherein what matters changes, the capacity to shift your priorities will allow you to overcome obstacles.
! Don't be afraid to admit when you are wrong and learn rules- It's a complex game.
! Learn how and when to play passively. Often it's better to just not cast a spell even when you have the capability to do so, or to take damage from a creature you will probably remove later anyways (to bait more board presence for a wipe.) Learning when not to act is absolutely integral in knowing when to act. If this confuses you, try cards that behave similarly to Impulse , some cards are designed to support passive play and through experience with them, you learn how to avoid knee-jerk reaction.
! Own your role, but don't be owned by it. Many players (self included) like a particular "style" of deck that is designed to play a specific role (aggro vs. control usually)- but learning multiple roles is important to growing as a competitive player. Often, players who are finally comfortable playing the passive game begin to look down upon "aggro" and "midrange" decks as being "less skilled" than durdly do-nothing control decks. The only granule of truth to this is that super aggressive decks are slightly more forgiving, but the level of awareness and skill IS important to playing all roles. Don't let comfort with a role become a crutch.
! Know when to take some time away from the game. Ruts happen. And distance is often the best way to return to the game and have fun.
I would like to chime in. Practice your deck as often as possible, against as many decks as possible. One of your best and only guarantees for advantage is knowing exactly what you could draw. How many clifftop retreats do you run, how many have you drawn? What cards haven't you drawn? Be as familiar with your own deck as possible, and know its weaknesses. Then, design your sideboard to deal with these weaknesses. For example, I have a very good match-up against other aggro decks. I went to Star City Open a couple weeks ago, and my sideboard was built 10/15 cards for control games. Round 1 I lost because I was so nervous. My opponent saw that and leaned against it, and made me misplay. Afterward, I was kicking myself because I had a good match up against his Jund Midrange build. Later, I was 5-2-1, and I'm going into the last round. My opponent is playing Jund Midrange again, but now I'm much more relaxed and comfortable, because I've been doing well, had lots of 2-0 wins. I'm not nervous. I play my deck right, and I win my games quickly. My opponent shakes my hand.
I also like to use a card or two that aren't seen even marginally in the meta. I run human aggro, and nobody expects Rally the Peasants. I have three red sources in my deck, and I had some opponents asking all games one and two, "What is the red for?" Then game three, I have Rally in my hand, six lands open, including a red source. I attack with three 1/1 tokens, a 2/2 soulbonded Silverblade and the 4/4 Champion of the Parish he's soulbonded to. He chumps the Champion, being at 13, and willing to take 7. I cast and then flashback Rally before damage, turning seven into 27. He said, "Oh, that's what the red is for." The advantage of using cards your opponent doesn't expect can be huge.
learn all the (important) cards in standard and what you can (generally) expect in any given matchup.
Muligan often. If you aren't mulliganing at least once a match, you're most likely not doing it enough.
Don't block. Crack back.
What Islands just meant to say was 'Don't trade creatures by blocking til it makes you dead to not block.'
This applies in particular during early stages of play. As the game progresses and creatures get larger you might be more compelled to block with less important creatures (when your opponent casts 5/5s and you've got a 2/2.... unless your opponent is at 2 and you're at 5.... do the math).
Know the rules. It sounds obvious, but learn them as well as you can. Aside from experience, nothing helps you play better than really understanding how everything works.
In particular, learn how the stack (and priority) works and learn the phases of the turn, especially combat. Knowing how to use those to your advantage give you the most opportunity to play all kinds of tricks.
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