Deep Analysis – The Art of Bluffing

Did you find my previous article helpful?  Did the post article assignment also help?

Excellent!  There is more of these type of articles in the coming weeks.

Today we will be talking about an important technique in Magic (and in other CCG’s), bluffing.

Let’s start with a famous game in recent times between Pro Tour Hall of Famers Brian Kibler and Jon Finkel in the Semifinals of Pro Tour Dark Ascension:

What occurs at 1:47:00 in Game 5 is the first tactic we’re going to talk about, the bluff attack.

Jon Finkel has lethal on the board between 7 Spirit tokens (2 of which are untapped) and a tapped Snapcaster Mage.  Finkle is at 10 life and Kibler is at 4 life after Jon’s attack.


Kibler sits at 4 life and is going to die next turn.  Brian turns the Wolf token sideways and tries to sneak through some damage.  Jon has 2 untapped blockers.  Now, Jon knows about 1 copy of Galvanic Blast (and knows that Kibler can turn on Metalcraft with the 2 Inkmoth Nexus) and has left up mana for a Negate just in case Kibler has drawn a second copy.  Jon does not believe that Kibler can win the game from this position and takes the risk, choosing not to block.

Kibler then drops a second Sphere of the Suns, activates an Inkmoth Nexus (turns on Metalcraft) and then proceeds to play 3 Galvanic Blast.  Jon can only stop 1 of the Galvanic Blast, and since he didn’t block, his life total is at 8 meaning 2 Galvanic Blast finishes him off and gives Kibler the match.


Brian acted like the 2 points of damage from the Wolf token didn’t matter and as soon as Jon Finkel, possibly the greatest Magic player in history, decided that those 2 points of life didn’t matter, Brian Kibler had won.   Kibler had bluffed his way to a win.

Lesson #1: Being able to sneak in points of damage at any stage of the game can give you the opportunity to win.

This next one involves Kenji Tsumura and Antoine Ruel from Pro Tour LA :

What happens on the first turn of the game sets up the wonderful play here my Antonie Ruel.  This is the one we’ll call ‘the setup’.


This match was a mirror of Psychatog decks.  Most players on Turn 1 if they had a Duress or a Force Spike would play the Watery Grave untapped here.  Antonie had both cards but elected to play his land tapped here.


On Ruel’s turn 2, he plays a Duress into Tsumura’s open 2 mana.  This gives Tsumura information that he just drew the Duress and didn’t have it in his opening hand since the Watery Grave was played tapped.  When Tsumura plays a Mana Leak, Ruel goes ‘into the tank’ (Magic slang for ‘deeply thinking about what to do’) but decides to not play the Force Spike that was in his opening hand.


When Tsumura untaps, draws his card, plays his land, and then taps out for a Psychatog, he has no idea that Ruel had a Force Spike the whole time and just bluffed him straight on to a Pro Tour Championship.

Lesson #2: Playing differently in certain situations can give your opponent false information.  This bluff can be used to set your opponent up as Ruel did on Tsumura here.

Last one is Terry Soh vs Frank Karsten from Pro Tour Nagoya 2005:

Frank Karsten attacks with a Harsh DeceiverKitsune Blademaster, and a Moss Kami.

Terry Soh blocks with just a Gibbering Kami on a Kitsune Blademaster.


Terry says to Frank “I am at 9 life, right”?  Frank replied “No, you are at 8 life”.

Frank uses 2 mana open to use the Harsh Deceiver reveal ability to untap it and give it +1/+1.

First Strike damage kills Soh’s Gibbering Kami.

Frank takes a second to think now as has an untapped Kabuto Moth which can give 1 of his creatures +1/+2 which would deal a total of 8 damage to Soh.

The question here is: Did Terry Soh really forget his life total?

Terry knows that to win the game he has to get Frank to tap his Kabuto Moth down to make his attack on the next turn lethal.  Since Frank believes that he has Terry, he uses the Kabuto Moth to make the attack worth 8 damage.  Once damage goes on the stack (remember this is 2005), Terry plays the Soulless Revival returning the Gibbering Kami back to his hand and triggering the Thief of Hope that he has in play.  This raises Soh life total to 9 and drops Karsten life total to 8.  Since the creatures deal 8 damage to Soh, this brings his life total to 1.

On the following turn, Soh casts the Gibbering Kami triggering the Thief of Hope dropping Karsten to 7 and then Soh swings for lethal.

Note: Lying about your life total to be higher than it is can be ruled a game loss.  However, feigning that your life total is higher than it was in this instance the way Soh did is legal as it was confirmed that he did actually have 8 life.

Lesson #3: By acting as though you made a misplay, you can bait your opponent into making the move that you want them to make.  In this case, Soh baited Karsten into attempting to try and finish off Soh leaving Karsten unable to block on the swing back.

Lesson Plan:

Pull up recent GP, PT, or SCG Open and look for games where players attempt to bluff on camera.  Study what they do via body languages, statements, or even the way they hesitate to play cards or tap mana.  Obviously the ones where you can hear the players give you better information.

Once you have investigated several videos, begin to work these techniques into your game.

Until next week,


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