Jan. 18th, 2019

Sun Tzu and the Art of Magic

Opinion Pieces
Sun Tzu and the Art of Magic

Bit of a silly one today, but hey, it’s Friday. I was recently talking to a friend about the best resources on competition in games, and at some point we were talking about a “Sun Tzu’s Art of War” for a Magic: The Gathering. I decided to go through some of it and take some of its nuggets of wisdom, and try to pertain it to playing our favorite card game. Full disclosure, I didn’t read the whole thing, so armchair dissection is what you get.

Know thy Enemy, and Know Thyself

We’re going to start off with an easy one. In Competitive Magic, you’re almost guaranteed to have a deck that you took from online, and that you’ve played a good amount with. You like the deck, and you think it can win. But liking the list is not enough, you need to have it memorized. You need to know interactions that may be unintuitive but are crucial to how your deck operates. If you’re running Amulet Titan, for example, you should know the exact makeup of your lands, so you know what you’ll be fetching with . But knowing your own list is not enough. You’re going to need to know what your opponent is doing as quickly as possible.

In competitive formats, information is critical to success. You need to obtain as much information as possible during a match, while revealing as little as possible. Your opponent plays a Raging Ravine, you should know they’re on Jund. But what if it’s Treetop Village? Could still be Jund or could be BG Rock. Is their and Land indicative of Spirits, or Humans. How are they planning on disrupting me? Discard through Freebooter? Or countering through . In Legacy, a means , so you better be playing around .

What is Important is to Attack the Enemy’s Strategy

Magic Decks are built with specific game plans in mind. There’s obviously the more linear strategies in Modern and Legacy, where their strategy is the one and only thing. But there’s also non-linear decks, and you should know how they’re going to win. And once you know, you need to know how to combat it. In a game against UW Control, an early naming Jace can be the match winner. Waiting to pop on a against Jund, until they put in the mana to crew it up, can sometimes act like a timewalk.

Now obviously sideboards are built with strategies in mind. You’ll be hard pressed to find a sideboard for a deck that doesn’t include a good amount of graveyard hate. But knowing what to bring in against the less direct decks can be what brings you a W. Playing discard decks requires this heavily, since you need to know what to grab with . Even more skill intense is knowing what to name with . But if you are able to nail the first half of Therapy, you’ll see just how useful knowing your opponent’s strategy can be.

Opportunities Multiply As They Are Seized

I assume this is speaking to . But really, I think this is true in Magic. If you play to not lose, sometimes you’re just slowly constructing yourself out of the game. By playing to opportunities, you increase your odds of drawing into more and more to win the game. Is removing this creature really that beneficial, or is it better to Bolt your opponent and try and draw into lethal?

Pretend Inferiorty and Encourage His Arrogance

This falls under the side of bluffing opponents out I think. There are many times where playing the second or third best line in a turn can be more beneficial, because it may make your opponent think you don’t have an answer. They have two creatures and you have a board wipe in hand. You can take the hits for a turn in hopes that your opponent plays into the Wrath.

Though there also is some merit into acting like a worse player than you are, to put your opponent on tilt, but I’d say use that at your own risk.

Victory Usually Goes to the Better Trained

Competitive Magic has a lot of decks that can consistently do their job when piloted right. And it shows. With , a deck that is notoriously difficult to play, Matt Nass has something like a 90% win rate. He knows the deck better than anyone, and that shows in his matches. If you end up in a mirror, you’ll be in a much better position if you have more experience and skill with your stack of cardboard than they do.

Wrapping Up

Overall, this was just a fun little exercise that I thought of while talking about competition with some friends. War never changes, and I guess in some ways, Magic doesn’t either.

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