How Lucky

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It’s strange to me that people throw around the word “lucky” like it’s an insult. Telling your opponent what a sack they are when they miracle a Bonfire of the Damned doesn’t do anything to lessen their victory. Nobody is going to be offended by the fact that they have above-average fortune, and frankly it’s a bit short-sighted to resent somebody for this fact.

Before I say too much here, it’s important to discuss what exactly is meant by luck. For many, all instances of luck fall under the category of “dumb luck”. To be lucky is simply the act of being in the right place at the right time and those who get lucky do nothing to deserve it. I was raised to believe differently than this. There’s an old saying that my father taught me that paints luck in a very different light:

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity

Basically, one who is more prepared for more situations will get lucky more often, as the opportunities that they face will more often match the situations for which they are prepared.

So what the hell does this have to do with getting Bonfire’d for lethal? Does this make miracling a Bonfire any more than pure happenstance? I’d argue yes. Obviously you can’t cast any Bonfires that aren’t in your deck, so the mere inclusion of the card can be qualified as preparing to blow people out with it. But it goes much deeper than that.

Let’s talk about Bonfire in the context of Jund. Cards like Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells and Rakdos Keyrune play fantastically well with Bonfire of the Damned. Against aggressive decks they force the aggressor into committing more creatures to attack profitably (and later die to any miracle Bonfires), and against slower decks they apply pressure leaving the opponent at a more Bonfireable life total.

It might feel bad the moment that they turn their miracle over and wreck you with it, but the next time you get Bonfired consider how your opponent played the game leading up to this event and whether or not you could’ve played in a way to prevent getting wrecked. Also, consider whether your deck is even well-equipped to battle a Bonfire.

Did your opponent make plays that prepared themselves to win with Bonfire? Did you make plays that gave them the opportunity to do so? Thinking this way will remove those dangerous thoughts of “dumb luck” from your Magic experience.


Another area where I hear players complain about luck is in regard to the matchups that they played against in a given tournament.

Let’s say that you’re gearing up to play some Standard and you decided to play a deck with a phenomenal Zombies matchup, but with poor game against slower decks. Are you in the right to complain when you don’t play against Zombies all day?

Not really.

Sure, Zombies is going to be a substantial portion of the metagame, but it won’t likely boast more than 20-30% of a room. When you build to beat up on one deck you often leave yourself underprepared to win against the rest of the field. It is a form of under-preparation that will leave you likely to get unlucky.

Most of the time you can't build to beat everything, but that doesn't make building to beat just one thing right.

Playing Into It

One of my favorite pastimes is watching Phil Hellmuth videos on Youtube. Hellmuth will frequently find himself losing large pots and accusing his opponent of playing worse than he did. Sometimes he’s right, but mostly he fails to think on the same level of his opponent. That is not to say that he plays worse necessarily, but that he fails to read what his opponent is thinking and plays as if he was playing against himself.

What I’m getting at is that Hellmuth will put his opponent on what he would have in a given situation and applies that to his opponent rather than considering what outs his opponent has. As a result he ends up playing right into his opponent’s hand a lot of the time. If you can think of outs that your opponent has for your play then you’re not fooling anybody by pretending that your play is “genius” or unbeatable.

When you overcommit into a Bonfire that you don’t have to or play a deck that isn’t good against a reasonable percentage of the metagame, saying that there is something wrong with the game rather than your preparation is foolish behavior and it makes you look like this:

Not Mulliganing

Another favorite pastime of mine is chuckling at people that rage about drawing too many/few lands. This weekend at the TCG Player 5K I kept this hand on the play against Mono-Red:

To the surprise of nobody I drew four lands and died in not-so-dramatic fashion.

I had a deck full of Centaur Healer, Thragtusk and Sphinx's Revelation, and I kept this garbage. With this hand, I basically need a two drop and/or a Centaur Healer in my first three draws to not just die, especially considering that my Knight is AWFUL against Stromkirk Noble and Ash Zealot. My opponent even had the Noble! How Lucky!

Alternatively, if I mulligan I get to see six fresh cards which gives me considerably higher odds of having a turn three Centaur Healer. I didn't commit the actions available to me to help generate the opportunities that I wanted.

Another interesting thing about this game was that when I played my Restoration Angel my opponent Thunderbolted it. I wasn’t familiar with monored sideboards and I was not at all prepared for that to happen. Meanwhile my opponent was clearly prepared for me to be casting an Angel.

Was he lucky to have the Thunderbolt for the exact card that it’s good against in my deck? Sure, but it certainly wasn’t dumb luck. I kept a hand that was ice cold to Thunderbolt because I was underprepared and he found himself getting the opportunity for which he was prepared.


There’s quite a bit more to say on this topic and it is one that will likely be worth revisiting in the future, particularly with regard to constructing decks that are best suited to combat the greatest number of possible situations.

I realize that the brief mention of my Bant deck without a list is a bit of a tease, but I haven’t been able to compile all of my thoughts on the deck just yet. Expect a write-up about it for next week.

If you can’t wait that long I was streaming an 8-man with the deck last night and talked a bit about the list. The video for this can be found here:

Until next time, be prepared; high five!

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

One thought on “How Lucky

  1. Especially online you get harsh reactions from time to time, allthough i must say that improved over the years (I guess people were getting banned if they insisted on being too rude). Back when ratings were visible it was a habit of players with higher ratings to use the word ‘luck’ for every loss.

    I always admire players that can stay friendly in defeat; I try to be, but I’m not a good loser so normally i just stay quiet when i loose.

    Maybe wizards can monitor chats and reward friendly behaviour. It would help improve the play environment i feel.

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