Today’s article is going a little deeper than my usual ones. Most of my articles have been about statistical analysis of formats, history of the game, or detailed deck information. This article is going to ask you a deeper, more thought provoking question.
What do you fight over?
This is always a difficult question in terms of game play during a match. Every decision you make changes the dynamic of the game and can push you closer to winning or absolutely losing a game on the spot. Knowing what card(s) to fight over and when to fight over them it a critical skill to winning in competitive Magic.
Take a look at this match between Reid Duke (Jeskai Miracles) Vs. Tom Ross (Infect) from 2014 SCG Invitational Finals. You’ll notice in this best of 5 set that each player goes through several fights over specific cards in an attempt to turn games around. Below is the entire match:
The first one you’ll notice is Game 1 at 11:41 where Tom Ross plays a Blighted Agent, which Reid declines to counter even though he has a Counterspell in hand. Reid uses the Sensei’s Divining Top and then draws for his turn. When Reid activates Jace, the Mind Sculptor to bounce the Blighted Agent, Tom decides that in the current board state (Reid has 2 4/4 flying Angel tokens in play nullifying Tom’s Inkmoth Nexus) he has to fight over keeping the unblockable Infect creature in play (12:22). Reid understands that the only creature that can currently beat him is the Blighted Agent, so Reid correctly attempts to fight over it. Tom does a good job of trying to set up another scenario where he can fight to keep the Agent in play but Reid hits another Entreat the Angels to lock up game one.
In Game 2, another sequence determines the game, this time for Tom Ross (time stamped at 27:41).
Reid believes that the Blood Moon gives him a significant advantage in this game. Looking at the board state, you see that there are no other permanents out and Tom only has an Inkmoth Nexus is his only route to victory. Tom knows that he has an out in his hand that can’t be countered (Krosan Grip) but he acts like he has no way of stopping the Blood Moon other than countermagic.
Why does Tom take this line?
Simple. Tom wants Reid to exhaust his resources (counterspells, mana, cards in hand) over a card that Tom can kill anyway. This is done to reduce Reid’s interaction during the next few turns, essentially handing Tom Ross game 2.
Game 3 is another brilliant play by Tom Ross and a not so great choice by Reid Duke (time stamped at 41:28).
Reid leads in with a Counterbalance leaving up 2 mana. Tom responds with a Spell Pierce taunting Reid to pay the 2 mana or use more countermagic. Tom already knows that Reid has burned 2 Force of Will earlier (1 cast, 1 exiled). Reid ends up paying the 2 mana and wastes no more cards in hand. When Tom untaps and draws, he activates the Inkmoth Nexus and swings in with it triggering Noble Hierarch exalted trigger and casts an Invigorate. After Reid triggers the Counterbalance and sees a 1 on top of the deck, Tom casts the 2nd Invigorate poisoning Reid out in game 3.
Game 4 drops another question for us…Should Reid have played the Jace (time stamped at 53:15).
It may not have mattered here but playing the Jace, the Mind Sculptor with no open mana and no countermagic was clearly the wrong play here. Tom plays Gitaxian Probe to make sure the coast is clear and then casually defeats Reid 3-1.
So now that you understand the question, go back and review other recorded matches and see how players made the right or wrong call based on the information they had available.
Once you have done so, try to apply some of the information from Tom Ross and Reid Duke match as well as the other matches you watch in your gameplay.
This should help you begin to grow by understanding what card(s) and when to fight over a card.
Until next week,