Overcoming Play Mistakes & New Brews

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Last week, I wrote about my amazing new Orzhov Army deck that I have been doing well with. I was excited to bring you a tournament report from the PTQ, but there is not much to say. On top of flooding out, being mana screwed, and generally drawing poorly, I made a number of play errors.

Instead of griping about another tournament I could chalk up to variance, I want to focus on what I can fix: overcoming play mistakes.

Play mistakes are commonplace in Magic. Often through the course of a match we are so engrossed that we fail to see where we went wrong. By noting the details of each game and even writing down your mistakes, you can grow from them rather than plateauing at the same level.

In my efforts to break through on the Pro Tour I have been employing strategies like this. Every aspect of the game is important.

1. Mulligan Mistakes

The hand you keep at the beginning of the game obviously shapes what you will and won't be able to do. If you keep a sketchy hand but don’t reflect after the game, you will miss the importance of the situation.

The art of the mulligan is something I have been specifically working on over this past year. Since I am a cautious person, I find myself taking a mulligan more than most other players. I would much rather have the certainty of a good mix of lands and spells than risk a low land count hand.

Regardless of your mentality, the decision to mulligan or not is quite important. Consider your options carefully and try to make the wisest decision.

2. Sloppy Mistakes

The play mistakes I made this past Saturday were not as ambiguous as mulligan decisions, but rather sloppy mistakes. Magic is a game of mental fortitude. This is one aspect of the game that outsiders drastically underestimate. You need to have a vast amount of concentration to play eight rounds or more of Magic in one day.

Every time I sit down to play on Day 2 of a Grand Prix, I always think how hard this game can be at times. When you are tired or not focused on the game, it’s easy to make dumb play mistakes. This is what happened to me this past weekend.

After winning a close round one against Mono-Red, I found myself in game three against Mono-Black Devotion splashing red for Mizzium Mortars as well as some other cards that I didn’t see. Early in the game my opponent cast Nightveil Specter and passed the turn back. A turn or so later I realized my Soldier of the Pantheon was in play and I should have gained a life.

That’s the type of mistake that is %100 under your control but never seems significant. Unfortunately for me, that one life cost me the match.

Not missing little aspects of the game like this is extremely important at high levels of play. Similarly, in the same game, at the end of my opponents turn, I cast Ultimate Price to kill his creature. After resolving the spell I noticed I tapped my mana incorrectly so that I couldn’t also cast my Hero's Downfall to kill his other creature.

This did not seem like a problem until I drew Brimaz, King of Oreskos for my turn and then I did not have enough mana to cast both. Not paying attention to the lands I was tapping cost me a full turn.

The fact that all of these mistakes and more happened in the same game proved disastrous. If I had drawn another removal spell, I would not have been punished for my misplays but I did not. The game was winnable and I threw away my opportunity. Based on how awful I drew in the next two rounds I doubt it mattered that I lost that round, but we’ll never know.

Sloppy play mistakes are always avoidable. They result from distractions or lack of attention to the game state. Even if you have been playing for a long time, every player is capable of making these types of mistakes if you are not careful. If you find yourself making these types of errors often, focus on tightening up your play before working on the other types of mistakes.

3. Wrong Line of Play

Magic is a game of decisions and everything you do during the course of the game can affect the outcome.

Do you play one of your creatures or kill one of theirs? Which creature do you play? Do you play all of the creatures in your hand or just some? These are just some of the decisions we face in our games, not to mention deciding on how to build your deck for the tournament.

If you determine it’s best to kill all of your opponent’s creatures and then play a threat of your own, that is one line of play that may win you the game in some situations. More often than not your main decision is which of your opponents threats to rid yourself of.

Against Mono-Blue Devotion their main threats are Nightveil Specter and Master of Waves. Normally you would save your removal for one of those two threats. However, if you think it’s better to kill their early Cloudfin Raptor so it doesn’t grow too large, that is a calculated risk you are taking.

One key factor to winning more games is identifying your game plan before the game starts. Your plan may change over the course of the game, but from the moment you see your opening hand, you should be developing your strategy.

Once the game is over, think through your strategy and figure out whether or not it worked. By identifying bad lines of play, you can prevent yourself from using them in the future. Each metagame will present you with different challenges to overcome and unique scenarios to work through. The more you play, the better you will be able to adapt to these new situations.

4. Incorrect Sideboarding

The topic of sideboarding has been covered by many authors, including myself. It is an essential part of the game and should not be neglected.

Don’t settle for copying someone else’s sideboard or even throwing the best fifteen cards in your colors in your deck box. Customize your own sideboard not only to fit your metagame but also according to your play style.

Every card taking up a slot in your board needs a solid justification for its inclusion. Think about it like you are on the debate team and your challenge is to defend each card choice. If you do not have multiple reasons for each card, then you should consider removing them.

The second tricky aspect of sideboarding is piecing the puzzle of your sideboard together card by card. What I mean by this is you need to determine which cards to remove in each matchup and have enough cards to bring in to fill that many slots. If there are six cards that are too slow or not quite as effective against aggro, then I want six strong cards to bring in from the sideboard.

The key to putting your sideboard puzzle together is discovering cards that can function well in multiple matchups. Take Lifebane Zombie for example. You want to board it in not only against White Weenie, but also against Green-Red Monsters--even Blue-White Control often has creatures post-board.

Your sideboarding decisions often come up before the event even starts, but inevitably there will be situations where you must sideboard on the fly. If you are playing against Mono-Black Devotion splashing a card you have never seen in that deck before, when the time comes, think about how that will change your sideboarding decisions.

Playing against a new deck is the perfect example. You will need to determine which cards are ineffective and which you might be better off using. Don’t fall prey to over-sideboarding though. If you dilute your deck too much with sideboard cards, your deck may lose it potency. Most importantly, think through your decisions as much as possible and have good reasons for everything you do.

A New Direction in Standard

After spending so much time working on the Orzhov Army, I think it needs some tweaks. While I’m deciding what they should be, I’ve been thinking about a couple of other decks.

The first one came up quite often this past weekend. In between rounds of the PTQ, my friend Josh kept telling me how much he was winning. Once each round was concluded, he would come back and tell me how he crushed his last opponent. He didn’t stop winning until he was in the Top 8.

The thing is, he wasn’t playing a real deck. It was a complete unknown quantity. If you have read any of my articles, you know that this is the exact type of deck I am looking for.

The deck he was playing was not much different from some other archetypes that are played in Standard, but the card choices will floor you. Feast your eyes on Mono-Green Aggro, which Josh dubbed Beast Wars.

Beast Wars
By Josh Milliken

When I looked over this deck, it seemed like mere draft leftovers, but top-eighting back to back events with the deck are results that speak for themselves.

Certainly this deck is aggressive, but there is virtually no way of disrupting your opponent at all. That goes against everything I believe about the metagame right now. Josh boasts great matchups against everything accept Blue White Control. If true, that is certainly a feat not normally attained.

One powerful aspect of this deck is that Nylea should be a creature often. The fact that she gives all your other creatures trample seems quite relevant as well. The power of Aspect of Hydra and Reverent Hunter should not be undervalued in this mono-green deck either. Staying with one color does provide a plethora of green mana symbols with which to create giant monsters with.

This is definitely a ‘see it to believe it’ type of deck, so I will probably take it for a spin sometime soon. You probably should too.

Next up, we have a Born of the Gods-inspired deck list.

R/W Burn
By Mike Lanigan

A couple underused cards from BNG have turned out to be much stronger than anticipated. Both Satyr Firedancer and Searing Blood have shown themselves as potent weapons when played against me. I've seen many decks playing these cards but they lacked something to push them over the top.

The first weakness was not including Young Pyromancer as your Firedancers numbers 5-8. Obviously nothing can replace the Firedancer or the impact it can have on other decks with creatures, but Pyromancer is a powerful weapon in a deck full of spells.

The white mana is extremely important as well because this deck drastically needs access to Chained to the Rocks. Creatures like Master of Waves and Desecration Demon can overwhelm you quickly unless you chain them down. This deck needs more testing and probably some tweaking, but I think it does something powerful in the metagame.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

12 thoughts on “Overcoming Play Mistakes & New Brews

    1. Probably, but if you beat every other deck and lose one round to uw, you still top 8 the event. Obviously you want to be able to beat every deck but having one weak matchup is not a terrible thing. Josh even beat the one uw deck he played against, so it’s winnable, just a bit hard.

  1. I played this exact list last night in a 5 round event and took 3rd. I lost in the 4th round because I mulled to 4 before I drew my first forest in game 1 then flooded in game two…but they were still both close games.

    After playing it, the double enlarge seemed awkward. I see it’s potential and it was useful, but when I drew 2 (more than should happen with a 2 of) I would have a hard time just not losing before they won me the game. I felt like I was a mana short on a lot of draws that didn’t include Mystic and I was wishing for something like Gyre Sage who aside from the mana accelleration, seems like he’d do a decent Goyf impression in this list. Reverent Hunter was awesome, but frequently felt like it was bad when I was behind and win more when I was ahead. Polukranos was always amazing at the top end and Polukranos + Bow is always a blowout.
    After playing about a dozen matches last night, I’m making a few changes for tonight. I know a dozen matches is nothing compared to what Josh has put in, but it is what feels right to me.

    -1 Swordwise Centaur / +1 Gyre Sage
    -1 Reverent Hunter / +1 Witchstalker
    -1 Enlarge / +1 Polukranos
    -1 Mutavault / +1 Nykthos

    ??? Considering changing a plummet for a mistcutter. skyreaping also seems interesting, but maybe just so I can say I am playing all of the green devotion cards. Not sure that I like 3 Pithing needle, considering dropping that to 2. I felt like bringing in 3 pithing needle plus any other non-creature cards diluted the deck too much. Hunter’s Prowess seems like a card that I should be playing 2 of in the 75.

    Anyway, love the deck. Best moment was racing a 5/5 lifelink flyer with bow + Nylea and dealing exactly 20 for the win with Aspect of Hydra.

    Josh, I’d appreciate any feedback. Maybe let me know why you didn’t make the changes that I did. Sideboard plan against Gruul monsters. I feel like the deck is solid there already and bringing in all of the plummet plus pithing needles dilutes it too much.

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