Method to the Madness: Checks

Do you find yourself forgetting triggers? Do you often get surprised by combat tricks when you should have seen them coming? Do you find that you are all too often surprised by something on the board you should have noticed? Did you get to work and not remember if you turned the stove off? All of these problems can be prevented by double checking.

If you didn’t look at the title, this week’s Method to the Madness is about Checks!

In the words of IceCube “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self”, and the same goes during a game of Magic. I have had countless people explain situations in which they had “punted” games to their opponent. After the situations had been explained the people always state how they missed something they should have noticed, remembered, or looked for before committing to a decision or line of play. Today I’d like to present a number of techniques that could help you make sure that you aren’t making any heedless mistakes.

First tip is to slow down your play. There is something about slapping down cards and announcing spells quickly and crisply that just feels great. It’s even fun to watch Pros during event coverage bounce their turns back forth at a rapid pace while simultaneously making complex decisions. However, these are professionals who have been playing the game for years upon years and have reduced the seemingly complex decisions into muscle memory. Speed should not be a focus for your play but a positive consequence of refined play through practice. If you slow down and deliberately think about your decisions and go through the following checks you will see improvement and less mistakes.

Second tip is to find a pattern for making checks. I like to break down my checks in a method called In-Out. Each phase that has potential for a need for decisions I look at the cards closest to me to the cards farthest away. For example, I move to combat and double check the cards in my hand, the lands I have untapped, my creatures and other permanents, my opponents permanents and creatures, the amount of land they have untapped, and the number of cards available in their hand and the my best guess of cards they may have that can be used with the untapped mana available to them. This method sounds like a lot but it goes quickly and ensures that I don’t miss anything that could put me in a position where I regret making a certain decision. It also forces me to slow down my play just enough to take in all of the available information.

Third tip is to not forget that you are allowed to use aids. It isn’t uncommon for people to use other materials to ensure that they aren’t missing crucial events during their games. One example that is very common is when people place a die on top of their library to remind them of an upkeep trigger or anything they may need to remember before they draw from the top of their deck. Another example is the use of a notepad in the event of an opponent revealing their hand. It may be easy to just memorize the cards displayed by your opponent, and if you play on Magic Arena you may get yourself in the bad habit of having that information available to you at all times. The use of a notepad can give you better understanding of cards that have been played by your opponent and when doing your In-Out method can provide you with a reference to their hand. It can also allow you to keep track of how many cards your opponent has drawn if you are aware of a card that has been placed a certain amount of cards down from the top, such as Approach of the Second Sun.

Fourth tip is the use of a sideboard guide. Many decks that are popular have guides online that accompany them. If you brew up your own deck it is helpful to justify the cards you put into your sideboard by writing down which cards you want to replace during particular match-ups by deck or deck type. Since most of your games will occur after sideboarding it is great to have a reference that you can double check against when reshaping your deck to play optimally against a particular opponent.

Fifth and final tip is to use a judge if needed. Rules issues come up all of the time. Magic is a complicated game that can create countless situations that are not intuitive to the average player. If there is ever an instance where you are either unsure about the legality of an action conducted by an opponent or an action you are thinking about taking, ask a judge. There is never anything wrong with making sure you are not only remembering everything that’s taking place in the moment of the game, but that it’s happening correctly.

Hopefully some of these tips get your brain juices flowing and prevent future mistakes from happening. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with your play and you just lose, but nothing feels worse than punting an important game that you would have otherwise won if you were just more deliberate. This concludes this week’s Method to the Madness, let me know if you have any other methods to ensure you are playing as tight as possible or other thoughts about preventing punting.

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