Since ages past great warriors of feudal Japan and ancient China have sought to perfect their techniques of combat and bring themselves spiritual enlightenment. This great tradition carries into modern day as practitioners of these theories and masters of the martial arts strive to reach these same goals. The philosophy they practice and live by is called Budo, "the Way of brave and enlightened activity." As Iíve studied the philosophies of Japan, China, and other eastern countries I have found this to be on of the most interesting because it has been adapted by so many different people from valorous martial arts warriors to humble traveling monks. Though all of them have adapted it to themselves and their ideas the basic tenants stay the same amongst all of them. Upon reading several different views on the subject it started to dawn on me that it wasnít unlike many of the things we undertake in life and could be applied to all of them, including the different aspects of Magic. One of the key things to remember with many philosophies is that they require personal interpretation for an individual to understand them in any degree. When applied to Magic however you need to reword what it is that the articles and precepts are saying so that they can be not only understood, but also followed.
For instance, in the ďearthĒ chapter of the Book of Five Rings (yes, the same the L5R ccg was based off of,) an ancient swordsman Miyamoto Musashi lists Nine Articles for those who wished to follow his strategy of the solitary path. They were:
1. Do not think dishonestly.
In magic terms its very simple. DONíT CHEAT.
2. Constantly forge mind and body.
Now we all know that magic isnít a particularly physical hobby, however it can exercise the mind very well. To constantly forge the mind you must do only one thing, practice. With more practice we gain more experience and thus more knowledge. With more knowledge less surprises us and thus less will catch us off guard helping to ensure victory.
3. Become acquainted with all the arts.
To a martial artist this means to learn all fighting styles, however in magic terms I interpret it to mean that you should know all the colors. You can be the greatest green user in the world, you can be so good that no one will ever beat you with green because you know it so well, but if thatís all you know, then you have 5 other colors, (artifacts count) that will walk all over you. By learning the subtleties of every color you can be prepared for what they dish out in battle.
4. Know something about every craft.
At first glance this is like repeating the 3rd article, however this one takes a different angle on the subject. You can know every color, but now you need to know all the varying styles of deck and their inner workings. Everything from Stasis to Sligh to Counterpost to Trix. By understanding the beast you can defeat it.
5. Learn to gauge the merits and demerits of things.
Simply make sure that you fully understand each move you make, whether itís to play the forest of the mountain first or to terror the dragon or the angel. By knowing the merits and demerits of any situation, you can guide yourself to the most advantageous outcome.
6. Develop understanding of all matters.
Once again it sounds as if the 3rd and 4th articles are repeating. However this covers the third critical area of knowledge you must have to be a successful magic player, rules knowledge. Magic as we all know is full of strange interaction, odd to bad timing, and enough errata to dwarf the NYC phone directory. The more in depth your knowledge of the rules and interactions between cards, the less someone will try to blow one by you and the greater your own skills will become.
7. Perceive things that are not obvious.
Ok, your opponent has a Blastoderm in play and is going to smack you with it, thatís obvious. However magic has many subtleties that are not obvious. Many combo style decks can go from nothing to victory in a single turn. So when you look at your opponents side of the board and you see a Savannah Lion just sitting there doing nothing even though you have no blockers or your opponent has a Treasure Trove in play they havenít been using make sure you consider what they could be doing just so you donít get snuck up on and killed.
8. Pay attention to the smallest details.
This is one of the more difficult of the articles to apply to magic because it doesnít so much apply to the cards or whatís in play, but what your opponent is doing. Itís about reading body language and studying your opponentís patterns. Do they have a habit of stroking a certain card in their hand or in play, do they tap their front teeth with a finger. By learning body language a quick observer can learn many of their opponents "signs" in the first game of a duel. This way you wonít get bluffed by the blue player who has 6 untapped islands in play and 5 more in his 5 card hand and you can use the knowledge you gain from observing others to find your own "signs" and obscure them.
9. Do not waste time on nonessentials.
Ever met the player who insists on playing with only black backed sleeves or must have their life dice at a certain location on the table? How about the one who has to wear his "lucky" jersey to every tournament, the one he got from some NFL football player 4 years ago and still hasnít washed. These are the kinds of players who often worry so much about everything around the game and their environment they are to distracted to play properly and will make errors due to it. By eliminating your own nonessentials you have more energy and thought to use on your game so that you make fewer errors and become that much more difficult to beat.
By following these articles the idea is to hopefully become a greater warrior with increased prowess and insight.
Yagyu Renya, one of the illustrious swordsmen of the famous Yagyu clan, listed another interesting principle in his writings. This is actually the third of a list of seven, but this one I find has the most significant application to magic.
Ever heard the term "win more"? Or seen people write about why you shouldnít over extend yourself? This third principal of Yagyu Renya covers just that topic. It is referred to as ďCut off self (do not attack your opponent.)Ē Now Iím sure your thinking something along the lines of ďwhat the hell does that mean?Ē or ďHow can I win without attacking?Ē Itís very simple actually, though not at first glance. Renya explains and as soon as the desire to win emerges, one looses perspective of the situation at hand and attempts to force the issue. This can result in defeat. Although there are certain deck types that can gain more from this ideal then others, its holds true for even the most aggressive Sligh and Stompy decks. With Stompy if youíre pounding your enemy white player into the dirt with a Rogue Elephant, 2 Llanowar Elves, and an Albino Troll with Rancor on it you probably donít want to play the pouncing jaguars and other elves in your hand. Why you ask? It comes down to the what ifs and tempo of the game. At the current rate of damage dealing youíll kill the opponent in two turns, without the elves its 3 turns, so you have them on the clock. They must do something to swing the balance or die in the next two turns. Right now the only thing that can really help is something like a Wrath of God. Say they get it and kill what you have in play. No big deal, you get the rancor back and just slap out the guys you were saving in your hand and finish the job. Now if you have played them all out your opponent would have caught all of them in the Wrath and youíd have nothing. That means your opponent is back on equal footing with you and thatís not something you want.
Think of it like a rock and water. If you have a large rock and you drop a million gallons of water on it your going to have a very wet rock that may be wobbling. If you take that million gallons of water and pour it steadily onto the same part of the rock over the course of a year or two, you eventually erode a hole in the rock. Steady control and precision is more successful and success then a quick burst into nothingness. The soft controls the hard.
The final common ideal that I havenít mentioned yet is one that is commonly known by almost everyone, but not often enough practiced. It is the simple ideal of honor and respect.
Many of the masters teach that you should always welcome your opponents openly and respectfully as they are your equals, otherwise they wouldnít be your opponents. Some even suggest offering your opponent refreshment or tea before doing battle so that you may be on equal footing, though that doesnít mean you should buy everyone you play a coke. When you treat people with respect and honor then you are not only helping to make them feel it has been a worthwhile experience regardless of result, but also you are enhancing yourself and your perceptions become more positive.
Positive minds equal positive results.
Cheers and adieu
Nick "Ura" Saviskoff
Some guy who thinks heís a cat and is going on a journey