Keeping the Lay of the Land

In last week’s article I brought up a point about playing Control in a format that does not rotate versus one that does. I’m going to take this week to not only open up the discussion about learning a new format, but also understanding how to abuse people who have grown accustomed to certain standards in their respective format.

In Magic, as in all things, time equals ability. That does not mean that all players will continuously grow forever, rather that all people will progressively get better throughout their extraneous engagement in whichever activity they so choose, up until their potential.  Often times, you will see players in the top tables of older formats who have been playing Magic since it was released, and even more that have been since Modern was created and embraced.  These players typically do well not only due to their potential as a player, but also because of their understanding of the interaction of Magic cards because of their ability to play with them when they were released.

My biggest awareness of this underlying effect came to me when Modern Masters 2017 spoilers were beginning.  I started playing in Dark Ascension.  This meant that the cutoff of Return to Ravnica exists as basically my homebase.  As well, with most others, this was my absolute favorite point Standard has ever been in.  It is also, arguably, the greatest point Standard has been in since I started playing.  While the powerful, expensive cards were getting spoiled, I was looking at the common and uncommon cards that they’d decide to flavor the limited format of MM17 with.  As each day progressed, I just got further entranced by how much nostalgia was washing over me.  I felt like I had such an innate advantage going into the draft that I was able to compete in.  Obviously, I did not.  Many of these players had been playing just as long, if not longer than I had. However, now I know what they had felt when the original Modern Masters, or even Modern Masters 2015 were released.  I didn’t feel like I needed to really look over the spoilers.  There were a few cards here and there that I needed to read up on.  However, for the most part, I already knew what all the cards did and for the most part remembered how they worked in unison.

I try to keep it under my best ability to not go into a draft thinking about what I want to draft. There is no sense in forcing a specific deck, just because that’s what you feel like playing. I feel like this is also something that can be transferred over to constructed formats. Just because you have a deck that you really want to play, and do well, does not mean that it will get the results you also are looking for. For example, I had gone into the draft wanting to play some form of white aggro deck. My pack one did not agree with this, and instead decided to present me with wonderful Grixis opportunities. I was able to finish the small draft in 2nd place.

Let’s return now to the original topic of this week’s article.

Not only do long time players understand the specific card interactions to a more refined point, but they also have had more time to witness decks perform in a format. They know how the sequencing is supposed to work for each deck, or at least, if a line is being taken they know earlier than someone who is newer to the format and/or matchup. This is where we can find a small weakness to exploit. This works better at larger tournaments, where you’re not playing against repeat opponents.

This week, I’ll be focusing on why paying attention to your opponent’s land choice on turns 1 and 2.  This can be very important to being able to determine what deck they are on.  I’m going to try and explain why using strange mana bases can trick your opponent. This has more effect on opponents playing mono color and double color deck, meanwhile tri-color decks typically can’t mess around with their mana base.

Below is an example of how to determine what deck your opponent is on based on their Turn 1 land decision/Line of play, how a player might intentionally misrepresent lands to make you think they are playing a deck that they aren’t, and an example of why it’s not always correct to make what might seem like the most obvious line of play.


You are piloting Grixis Delver, a deck with a lot of different lines of play depending on what deck you’re facing.  It is imperative when piloting this deck to have a great understanding of the format so you can determine what deck your opponent is on earlier rather than later.  You sit down against 3 different opponents, and by some act of RNGesus, you draw the same opener game one against all 3 opponents.

Your Hand: Bloodstained Mire, Blood Crypt, Island, Spell Snare, Terminate, Thought Scour, Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Opponent A plays T1 Scalding Tarn > Pass Turn > Crack Opponent’s EoT > Gets Mountain > Casts Lightning Bolt
Opponent B plays T1 Scalding Tarn > Crack Get Blood Crypt > Faithless Looting without discarding any dredge cards.
Opponent C plays T1 Arid Mesa > Gets Sacred Foundry > Suspends Rift Bolt > Pass Turn

When the turn passes to us, we make our play with the knowledge that we have gained thus far:

  • Opponent A has an uncracked Scalding Tarn > We play our Bloodstained Mire and pass turn
  • Opponent B has no untapped mana, but is on a Goryo’s Vengeance so we know that we need to be prepared to fight that > We play the island to protect ourselves against Goryo’s Vengeance by leaving open Spell Snare
  • Opponent C has showed us that they are playing Burn by suspending a rift bolt, rather than playing a creature and attacking > We play the island to set up Thought Scour into Tasigur to present an early threat. As well as a sizeable blocker should they draw a creature

At this point in the example we can immediately tell that our Player B is on some sort of graveyard centric deck, as he is running faithless looting.  Upon not seeing any dredgers in the graveyard and if they kept at 7, it’s easy to put them off of Dredge.  If they are on Dredge, you’re winning that game. The only other graveyard based deck in those colors at the moment is the Goryo’s Vengeance decks, so we can decide to play accordingly.

We can also tell that our opponent C is on Burn because of the suspended Rift Bolt.
Opponent A has left open the most potential possibilities by the end of the complete Turn 1. While on paper you’d assume since I mentioned that they were 3 different opponents that they would be on 3 different decklists. That is not the case.

Opponent A, and Opponent C are both on Burn. However, Opponent A has sequenced to where he gives himself an ability to learn what his opponent is on, without giving away any damage in the process. He will still have dealt 3 damage to his opponent, while also still proposing a possibility of being on at least 3 different archetypes. He also has enabled his land base to try and disguise the deck as much as possible in the early turns, in order to entertain the idea that his opponent might sequence incorrectly.

These are little mind games that you can easily dismiss as extra work for no reward. I, however, disagree in the argument that there is no reward. The number one thing I attempt to study when getting into an older format is: “What decks make what land drops on Turn 1 and Turn 2?”

While there are many other things that you can do to work on in game interaction, I’d advise taking the time to learn the formats Turn 1, and Turn 2 mana plays. It is less complex in Modern than it is in Legacy. That aside, it is useful in both formats.

Next week we will be back on track with a normal deck tech. Hopefully including video gameplay!


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