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Polishing Yourself Clean Without Having to Scrub 1
By Andrew Emmott
As arrogant as it may seem, I am taking it upon myself to write a series of strategy articles. This series, (“Polishing Yourself Clean Without Having to Scrub”), is intended for everyone at the CPA, (Professionals need not waste there time J), and should be updated about every two weeks. I will make an effort to write these articles in a fashion such that both beginners and veterans will benefit from it. Of course, some of you may be asking why the CPA needs a strategy series in the first place. Well, I’m not the sort to diminish the merits of building an elephant deck, or a squirrel nest / aura shards deck, or a sleeper agent / paralyze deck, or whatever random foof you can come up with. I love these sorts of decks; they make the world go ‘round. See, while I would like to foster a casual, (and by “casual” I mean “kooky, fun and without broomsticks up the hoo-hah”), I would also like to improve the quality of casual play. Perhaps the sleek, spoiled teens of Friday-Night Magic would mock the idea of an elephant deck because most folk who would build an elephant deck would not take the time to make it a GOOD elephant deck. What I’m aim to remind everyone is that “casual” and “good” can be used in the same sentence. Am I the right person for the job? Perhaps not, but I’m still gonna give it my best shot. Anyway, enough apologia. On with the first lesson!

LESSON #1: KNOW THE GAME

This lesson is pretty simple, and really pales in comparison to the things I plan to write about. It works more as a point of advice, but I will extrapolate as much useful information out of it as I can. Essentially, the better you know the game, the more informed your in-game decisions will be. “Knowing the game” essentially breaks down into two categories: knowing the rules and knowing the cards. Many might argue that a third category exists: knowing your meta. Yes, knowing your meta is important, but A) knowing the meta is in a sense just a narrow-minded way of saying “Know the cards” and B) Metas change not only with time, but from format to format and from city to city, and I am trying to write a more general article on play strategy. This is the CPA after all, not www.SpoiledBratTournyEnthusiasts.org.

Part I – Know the Rules

I am a rules monger for sure, but I also know that it’s nothing short of obnoxious to claim to discuss strategy and then just proceed to break down the rules for beginners. There are other online sources that will prove better resources for learning the rules than any mere article anybody ever on any website ever could ever write ever. Instead I would rather point out the strategic advantages of knowing the rules and what rules in particular people should make it a point to educate themselves on.
So why is it so important to know the rules? Because you need to know your capabilities as well as your limits. What good would Superman be if he didn’t know he had his superpowers? Conversely, how easily might he be tricked and defeated if he didn’t know that Kryptonite was his weakness? Ignorance is your enemy. The more you educate yourself on the workings of the game the more combos you’ll come up with, the more synergy you’ll put in your deck, and the less likely you are to be surprised by your opponent when he stacks something in an unusual way.

The Rooser’s List of Essential Game Rules For Newbies

Since I am trying to keep this series comprehensive and yet trying to avoid the pitfall of detailing all the specifics of the rules, what I am doing for the newbies is offering a list of rules that you should make it a point to educate yourself on elsewhere. I am of course excluding the most basic of game concepts from this list. Even the newbiest of newbies understands concepts like how to play creatures and how to turn them sideways for the purposes of killing your opponent. Anyway, if you learn the nuances of everything on this list, consider yourself an ex-newbie.

1. Know what the stack is and how it works.
2. Know the steps/phases of the turn and what can be done during them. Two basic things that newbies usually miss are: A) You have a second main phase after your attack phase. B) You decide the order that upkeep effects stack. (P.S. to nitpickers: I’m aware of the change from “phases” to “steps”; I’m just talking to old-school talk for funs.)
3. Understand the differences between all the card types. Newbies don’t often appreciate the difference between instants and sorceries until it’s too late.
4. Know what a fast-effect is and what it can do.
5. Understand the concepts of protection, regeneration, sacrificing, targeting, and not targeting.
6. Understand how non-mana components of casting costs work, (If you are an ambitious newbie, a more thorough way of approaching this is to learn the differences between mana cost, activation cost, and casting cost. Veterans, if you don’t know this either it would behoove you to look it up a well, though it will likely prove to be one of those things that “you knew, but you didn’t know you knew.”)

Of course, there are more rules that any player should familiarize themselves with, but rather than make your brain explode, it might be best to “learn them as you need them.” Throughout this series I will simply bring up rules nuances when they are relevant to my subject matter. If you veterans feel like you need some more rulings homework, then make sure you understand all of the mechanics ever printed. Most of these will be block mechanics, (Phasing, Cycling, Threshold, etc.), but also don’t forget the old-school mechanics, (Flying, First Strike, Trample, etc.)

(Note: www.crystalkeep.com has the most extensive Magic rules database online. I recommend it to anybody who has a rulings question of any degree).

Part II – Know the Cards

When I say, “know the cards”, I mean lots of things:

1. Know the cards in your deck: You should understand every nuance of every mechanic and ability on the cards that you are personally playing with. The advantage of this is the same as knowing the rules: you will have a better understand of your capabilities and limits. Further, don’t just know each card, but know your deck as a whole. The quicker you can assess the possibility of your deck managing to remove a particular threat, the smarter you will play.
2. Know the cards in play: Live in the now. Make sure you understand what’s going on. Read each card that comes into play if you aren’t sure what it does. If you still have specific questions, go ahead and ask your opponent. If your opponent is the sort not to answer you, you probably don’t want to be playing Magic with them anyway.
3. Know the cards that exist: Okay, it is impractical for most of us to memorize every card ever, but the more you know, the less surprised you will be when card X with capability Y hits the table. For an example of why this is useful, let’s look at this example:
It is a Type II match and it is Player A’s turn. Player A is at 3 life, has five untapped mountains and no creatures in play, and has 3 cards in hand. The opponent, Player B, is at 9 life, has no untapped land, no cards in hand, but owns the table with a 3/3 Elephant token and a Phantom Centaur. Also, Player B has one Call of the Herd in the graveyard.
Player A taps three mountains and casts Breaking Point. Two cards remain in hand. Player B is left with a choice: Lose their creatures, or go down to 3 life.
Player B is unaware that the card Volcanic Hammer exists, and therefore takes the 6 damage. Player A Volcanic Hammers Player B out of the game.
A more educated Player B might have lost their creatures, especially considering their opponent was only at three and they could have easily played Call of the Herd from the graveyard next turn. In this scenario, if Player A was bluffing – they had no Volcanic Hammer in their hand – then the 3/3 Elephant would win the game for Player B anyway. If Player A really had the hammer then sure, they might blast the elephant away, but better it than Player B, eh?
My point is, the mere existence of cards should affect your play style. Maybe you can’t plan for every card in every match-up, but shooting for the stars will often land you on the moon.
4. Know the cards that are popular: Yes, this is essentially, “knowing your meta” but while being aware of all the cards ever has its advantages, knowing what you are likely to face is a simpler and more practical approach. Even if you can somehow store the exact text of every card ever in your brain, knowing what cards are liable to be seen and what cards are liable to defeat you can help both your deck building and your play style. Also, I want to stress that this technique is more than just “knowing your meta”, because I think you can apply it to your casual environment as well. What I mean is, whip out your dorky green stompy in a fun two-player match-up, and pull out the more “diplomatic” deck for the seven-player free-for-all.
5. Know your errata: Don’t become a bitter, old curmudgeon and take personal offense to every errata and rule change. If you’d like to continue to have fun with this game, you’re going to have to change with it. Make sure you are up to date on what you can do and what you can’t. Despite what some of you might think, this game would have become stale had they stopped printing cards after “The Dark.” The game has lasting value because it’s dynamic. Embrace this and stay up to date on your rules and errata.

Your homework assignment: Play mental magic.
Like my lists of rules–to-know, I figured I should give you all something to do to hone your skills. Aside from just staring at a spoiler list for every set in the game, the best way to teach yourself the cards of the game would be to play Mental Magic. This is an obscure play variant that isn’t for everybody, (It’s definitely NOT for beginners), but it is a great mental exercise and can really teach you to think outside the box. The rules and guidelines are as follows:
1. Unless otherwise noted here, play proceeds as normal.
2. First and foremost know that the only relevant attribute on a card is its mana cost.
3. Secondly, each player should be playing with a random pile of cards. I mean that quite literally. It is best if players aren’t even sure what cards they got. Keep in mind that by random, I mostly mean something that represents a wide variety of casting costs.
4. Okay I lied. There is one concrete rule for these random piles of cards: they must contain no lands.
5. Players play cards in hand in two ways:
a. They place them face down as lands. These lands count neither as basic nor non-basic. They produce any color of mana, (including colorless).
b. They cast them as normal, but instead of playing the cards as printed, they name a spell that shares the same mana cost. Example: I pay three mana and play Repulse from my hand, but it’s not a Repulse, it’s any other 2U spell I can think of. In this case I name Timetwister and we all shuffle our hands, graveyards and libraries together and draw seven cards. I could have named Rhystic Study if I wanted, in which case the Repulse card would have stayed in play as an enchantment that acted the same as a Rhystic Study.
6. Non-mana costs still apply. If I have a spell that costs 1B in my hand I can still play it as a Diabolic Intent, but I am still required to pay the additional cost of sacrificing a creature if I do. Conversely, if I am holding a Diabolic Intent, I don’t have to sacrifice a creature in order to play it as a Terror.
7. Additionally, alternate casting costs work the same way. If I am holding a 3UU spell I can remove a blue card in my hand from the game and pay 1 life in order to cast it as a Force of Will. Conversely, if I am holding a Force of Will, I can’t use to alternate casting cost to play it as a Morphling.
8. Spells can only be cast once per game. The actual cards, if they bounce around zones, can be played as many times as legally possible. In other words, if I cast a 1RR spell as a Skirk Commando and then some ting happen that bounces the 1RR spell back to my hand I can’t play it, or any other 1RR card, as a Skirk Commando, but I can play it as a Pillage.
9. While not in play, spells count as typeless and textless. I cannot reanimate a 4GG card as a Multani in other words. However, if somebody targets me with Void and names 6, I would still have to discard the 4GG card. Additionally, Duress can get any card in hand because they all count as non-creatures and non-lands because they have no type at all, so they are non-anything.

This game is very fun, but it requires that you have a large database of cards memorized. You are liable to learn obscure new spells as your opponents cast them, as well as become motivated to learn plenty of obscure new spells yourself. I’ll leave the strategy of the game to you to figure out, but I can say first hand that it fosters learning of all the cards ever.

This is where I conclude this article. I won’t be insulted if you found this one in particular to be brief and unhelpful, it was rather basic and general. Future articles should be more interesting, but I figured I had to start somewhere. Even mansions have boring foundations, no? If you think I left anything important out of this article, don’t berate me for it, just post what I missed in your reply to this article for the good of the community. Thanks for reading!

Read More Articles by Andrew Emmott!

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