Method to the Madness: Percentages

Do you live your life on the results of coin flips? Do you lose games that you were sure you were destined to win? Did  you “accidentally” click on this article? Stick around and learn about the single most important aspect that players should focus on to level up their game play. That’s right, we are talking about how to think about each decision you make.

There is a 100% chance that this week’s Method to the Madness is about Percentages!

One thing that all Magic players have in common is that they want to improve their skill and they want to win! If you are reading this then you have probably indulged in consuming other forms of content with the intent of becoming a better player. More often than not players search for the “best deck” or a compilation of tips to give them the edge against their opponents. Even if you have a historically successful deck and a general idea of some tips to improve your game, the results of your matches will still come down to the decisions you make throughout your matches. You will often hear Pros refer to decisions as “the right” decision, what they mean is that it is the best decision you can make at the time with the given situation to best mitigate variance. This is determined through the percentages of potential outcomes with relation to each decision made. Getting a full understanding of all the math involved would take a very long time, so let’s keep it simple and discuss the concepts behind the math.

Percentage Chance of Winning

As each match ensues imagine a sliding scale that represents your current percent chance of winning. At each moment in the game the slide will either drift in your favor or the opponents until finally one of you dies and it sits at 100%. Your single job in a game of Magic is to make decisions, whenever you can, to increase your percent chance of winning and to minimize your opponent’s ability to increase his. If you focus solely on this concept while playing, your performance will improve drastically.

Cards Available to You

Improving your chance of winning is most affected by what cards you have at your disposal and how likely you are to acquire, resolve, or take action with them. Your initial percent chance of winning begins its existence the moment you decide to play a particular deck within a certain metagame. Picking your deck, its sideboard, and whether or not to mulligan your initial seven card hand are all decisions you make that affect your chances before you even begin to play.Once you begin taking your turns, try to make each and every choice based off of what places you in a position of advantage. Let’s look at a question that is very common in the current Standard environment. Should I sacrifice the Bomat Courier or keep the cards in my hand? Decisions like this can be easy or difficult. If you had no cards in hand, then of course maybe sacrificing the Bomat that has received lethal damage is a no-brainer. However, let’s say you are in a position where if you sacrifice the Bomat prior to combat you have a high likelihood of drawing an Ahn-Crop Crasher, or a Glorybringer to attack for lethal, but if you miss your opponent has lethal on board that you could block with the Bomat if you hadn’t sacrificed it. There are a ton of considerations you must make in a situation similar to this. Though the example is vague the one aspect you need to consider in addition to the cards available to yourself is what can your opponent do to ruin your plans.

Cards Available to Your Opponent

Knowing your opponent’s deck, and the cards in the format, is as important as knowing your own deck. You can think through decisions with regards to your likelihood of getting the cards you need from your deck but who is to say your opponent will let you resolve your spell? Your opponent has a vote in everything you do and is trying to increase their chances of winning just like yourself. Let’s go back to the Bomat situation. You know that there are only so many cards left in your deck and there is a decent chance of drawing and casting a lethal creature if you were to sacrifice the Bomat with, let’s say, five cards underneath it. You know your opponent has lethal on the board with a single big creature. Considering the cards your opponent has at their disposal is super important. Are they tapped out? Do they have creatures with haste? Do they have access to instant speed removal or counters? The Bomat situation can only be made intelligently knowing what the opponent can do to screw up your plans. Often you will see players “playing around” certain cards. It is important though that you sometimes play as if the opponent doesn’t have a potential card if it’s the only way you can win.

This is a down and dirty simple look at a single situation that definitely requires more information to answer. I encourage you to keep an eye out for situations like this that occur on coverage or streams and see what the Pros do when placed in these dilemmas. When you play keep the sliding scale in the back of your head and make your decisions based off of what gives you a better percentage chance of winning in the particular moment. Playing your games with this thought in mind will tighten up your play and you will see yourself making decisions in a more thought out and logical manner that will lead you to victory when victory is possible.

That wraps up this week’s Method to the Madness! Follow me on Twitter! Feel free to leave comments, and don’t forget to check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube.

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