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Aburame Shino

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Aburame Shino's Corner

No Bridge of Death, but I do have some questions for you.
April 29, 2006

    I'm sure every single person has gone through this inner struggle at least once in his or her lifetime. It goes a little bit something like this: "Should I get this done now, or should I do it later?" Because humans have a tendency to either be really active or really lazy, it's easy for them to not know when they should do something. This also goes for Magic.

There are plenty of moments where I have kicked myself for playing a card sooner than I should have, whether it is prematurely using an Oxidize on a Frogmite when I knew he had a Cranial Plating in his hand, or simply having trouble deciding when to use that Mana Leak or Hinder. After a long amount of time studying my game play I have come to the conclusion that I am far from perfect when it comes to this issue. However, because there is no way anybody is perfect, I’d like to share my timing knowledge with you.

What should I do?!

Every player has a lot to think about when they’re playing a game of Magic. More times than not it's an inner struggle to decide whether or not they should be playing something to help accelerate into a game-winner, stop their opponent from smacking them in the face, or simply laying the smackdown themselves with a fat creature they can afford.

If the situation is looking bleak for me or I have to put a ton of thought into what my next decision is going to be, more times than not I will ask myself three questions. I find that by asking these I make much better choices and avoid making stupid mistakes, such as playing something when a card that will keep me from dying needs that mana too.

This first question does not need to stay on top of your mind if you are playing something like Maga Combo since that deck requires a long amount of time to assemble a victory. And the first question is...

1. Next turn, what will I gain from playing/doing this?

If I cannot answer that question, then I should not play that card or strategy yet. The answer to that question could be something as simple as "I can beat down the opponent," to something more difficult like "I can play Kodama's Reach, put a land into play tapped and into my hand, the opponent hits me for about 4 damage, then next turn I will be able to play the land from my Reach, play Heartbeat of Spring, then win the game."

Now when I say "gain", I don't mean getting something that can help in the later stages of the game. I mean something that should be able to help you next turn. If you're playing Black/Green Aggro, your field has a forest and a swamp in play, and you have a choice between playing either a Sakura-Tribe Elder or a Dark Confidant as your second turn drop, would you play the Sakura-Tribe Elder if the only other cards in your hand besides Dark Confidant were Shambling Shells and a Forest? Heck no! You know there’s nothing in your hand that helps you with the Elder’s land fetch, so why grab the land when you could be netting card advantage with Bob? I could see you playing in the Sakura-Tribe Elder if you had something like a Savra in your hand, but with the cards you have its unnecessary unless you plan on topdecking something like that.

You should always have a plan for what you’re going to do, what you’re not going to do, and how it effects you, otherwise you will fall flat on your face with no way of getting yourself out of the dirt. Always think about how your decisions are going to make an impact. If you’re not paying attention, you may as well go back to the strategies you used when you first began learning the game.

Most players when they first start the game, by habit, feel it completely necessary to put everything they've got into the early stages of the game and try and win before the battle even begins. So they’ll empty their hand trying to do this. However, in the late game, they will have very few cards in their hands and possibly be stuck in top deck mode while you will still have cards to win you the game or disrupt the opponent if they try to recover. That’s where this next question comes in. Because a game does not consist of only one person, remember to ask yourself…

2. If I play this card or perform this action, how will the opponent respond?

This second question is actually quite difficult if you don’t know what your opponent is playing. Even if you do perfect your ability to play cards when you need them, remember that you have another person in the game that will try and stop you. You could have the most fool-proof strategy on the planet and win with it every time you solitaire, but if you don't take into account what is in your opponent's deck it will not work. Let's look back at the before stated scenario. You went first, and your second turn looks like this:

Your field: Swamp, Forest
Your hand: Shambling Shell x2, Forest, Dark Confidant, Sakura-Tribe Elder
Your graveyard: Blackmail

Now, as I stated before, the best play in most situations would be to drop the Dark Confidant because you would not need the land from the Sakura-Tribe Elder. However, let’s throw an opponent into the mix with the following cards:

His field: Stomping Ground, Kird Ape
His hand: Scab-Clan Mauler x2 (revealed from Blackmail), rest unknown
His graveyard: Isamaru, Hound of Konda (discarded from Blackmail)

Now this completely chances what your plan does. If you take damage, you’re probably going to have to worry about a 3/3 trampling Scab-Clan Mauler, and possibly two the turn after that. In this situation, it would actually be best for you to play the Sakura-Tribe Elder. “But Shino, you just said not to because I won’t get any benefit for it next turn.” While that may appear so on pen and paper, think about it again. Your opponent attacks with his 2/3 Kird Ape, and you block with your 1/1 Sakura-Tribe Elder. With damage on the stack, you sacrifice the Elder and gain a land of your choice. Even though the land didn’t give you any field advantage, it also didn’t give the opponent an advantage, which is important. Remember that your opponent is attempting to get the best out of the situation too. Because he wasn’t able to trigger his Bloodthirst with Kird Ape, you do not have to worry about a Scab-Clan Mauler right away, and then you can destroy the Kird Ape next turn with one of your two Shambling Shells.

Let’s say, however, that you did decide to play the Dark Confidant. Because you wanted to gain card advantage, you would obviously not block with your Dark Confidant and take two damage from the opposing Kird Ape. Your opponent, of course, plays a land and puts a Scab-Clan Mauler into play with two +1/+1 counters on it, to make it a 3/3. Your turn comes, and let’s says you get nothing usable off of your Dark Confidant and draw for the turn. You play your Forest and play a Shambling Shell. You can’t attack with Bob because he’ll die to the Scab-Clan, so you end your turn. The opponent attacks with Kird Ape and Mauler, and you block either the Scab-Clan with Shambling Shell to get rid of the bigger creature, or Kird Ape to get dealt less damage. With damage on the stack, you put a +1/+1 counter on your Dark Confidant. You take 3 or 4, and the opponent’s whatever dies. Then your opponent plays another Scab-Clan, just as big as the previous one. You just gained absolutely nothing from playing your Dark Confidant, and you’re starting to kick yourself for going with that first.

Of course, you could always throw yourself to the top of your deck and try to pull a Putrefy out of your butt, but letting your fate go to a completely random assortment of draws would give you a huge disadvantage against an opponent who has his stuff put together and ready to go. Try and play cards that give the opponent as much of a disadvantage as possible and give you a huge advantage at the same time.

This final question is probably for more sophisticated players who are planning on doing something incredibly difficult to win the turn, such as combo out. Typically this doesn’t matter so much if you’re playing a deck like Zoo, but I feel it is necessary that you ask yourself…

3. Can I manipulate the stack to my advantage?

The stack is fun to screw around with, and if you understand it backwards and forwards you'll be able to grasp concepts and strategies that you didn't think were possible before. Remember that everything uses the stack at one point or the other (except for mana abilities), so you get away with doing a lot of things.

The main thing that people don't realize is that you can pass priority in the game, wait to see what the opponent does, and then adjust your strategy accordingly. Is the opponent feeding all his creatures to his attacking Nantuko Husk? Just as he's about to put damage on the stack, respond by saying "Before damage is on the stack, I will Putrefy it." Because you decided to abuse the shifting in phases and wait for all abilities on the stack to resolve, you managed to make the opponent waste a lot of time feeding his Husk. Now let's say you're playing Heartbeat Maga and you currently have one Swamp, four Forests (two tapped), three Islands (one tapped), and a Heartbeat of Spring in play with an Early Harvest and a Maga in your hand. You’re playing in the Mirror Match, and you know the only counter in his deck is Muddle the Mixture. You don’t want to tap out your lands to play Early Harvest, because you’re afraid if you do it’ll get countered and you’ll be forced to burn for a ton.

However, because of the tricks that you can perform with the stack, you can play the Early Harvest, and if it gets countered, you won’t take as much of a mana burn. First, tap your two remaining forests in order to play Early Harvest, floating one Green in your mana pool. Before you tap the rest of your lands, pass priority to your opponent. If the opponent plays a Muddle the Mixture, then you take one point of mana burn because you have nothing to use the mana on. However, let’s say the opponent cannot counter it. He passes priority back to you. With priority now in your court, tap all of your untapped lands for mana, which leaves you with two black, one green, and four blue in your mana pool. Because these are mana abilities, the opponent cannot respond to them by using Muddle the Mixture on your Early Harvest. Then you can untap your lands with Early Harvest, tap them all again to give yourself four black, nine green, and ten blue, allowing you to deal exactly 20 damage to your opponent with Maga.

Always remember that the stack’s rules are meant to be broken to give advantage to the people who are aware of what it can do. While I’m still trying to figure out if there’s a way to destroy Maga with either the +1/+1 counter or damage abilities on the stack (I’m pretty sure there isn’t), it doesn’t mean that you can’t try and figure out something for your own situations. It doesn’t have to be anything difficult. The easiest trick involving the stack is blocking with a Sakura-Tribe Elder, putting Damage on the Stack, sacrificing it, grabbing a land, and still having the 1-damage from the Elder go to the creature it blocked. Everybody knows that, because it’s the easiest way to manipulate the stack.

Another situation where you have to watch your step is when you’re playing against a Control Player. Since they tend to counter all your threats, you have a large disadvantage against them in the long run. However, this can be flip-flopped if that player doesn’t know what he’s doing.

The Ill-Knowledged Permission Player

I’m not talking about the control-player who knows that your Kokusho is a threat, or that tapping out for a Meloku is a bad idea when they’ve got a hand full of counters. I’m talking about the people who will counter the most insignificant cards that you try to play against them for no real reason, and tap out to play cards like Gifts Ungiven on their own turn.

It’s not that the people are bad players. Most of the time it’s because that player doesn’t realize how good a card can be if used properly and just throws it in the deck because everybody else does. The prime-example of this type of card is Remand. Sure you can use it to counter a Sakura-Tribe Elder when the opponent has four lands in play, but there’s no real reason for it. You could just as easily use the same Remand to counter a card that the opponent tapped out to play such as a Yosei the Morning Star, and you would essentially get a Time Walk effect because the opponent won’t have enough mana to do anything else.

Ill-Knowledge people who use Permission decks also don’t realize what cards in the opponent’s deck are threats, and what is there to help get that threat into play. Let’s go back to the latest Extended Pro Tour Qualifier season, when Psychatog was considered the best thing since sliced bread. I was playing a homebrew build of Black/Green Turbo-dredge, built specifically to beat Psychatog and all the counters it ran. The deck was similar to Ichorid in construction but without as high a level of brokenness or the Ichorids. I believe all but three of my matches were against Psychatog, and they looked at my deck like they never saw it before, because they never did (This was before Friggorid burst onto the Extended scene).

I was continuously playing cards that dredged. And because the opponent didn’t know what I was doing, he kept wasting Counterspells on them. My first opponent looked at me like “Are you crazy?” when I played a Life from the Loam with no cards in my graveyard, just so I could dredge it. Eventually I got a Golgari Grave-Troll into my graveyard alongside a Brawn, dredged back Golgari Grave-Troll, and because they wasted all their counters on my weaker cards, let me resolve a nice-sized 11/11 trampling regenerator on turn 6. Or was it turn 7? I can’t remember. But I’m rambling, let’s get back to what I was talking about before.

In some cases, the reason that they are choosing poor cards to counter is because they don’t know what the heck the opponent is using in the deck and are just going off a whim. But in the second and third games of the match, there should be no excuse for the opponent countering the wrong cards. They should know that Sakura-Tribe Elder isn’t going to win the opponent the game; it’s going to be the big flying dragon that the Elder’s mana is going into. While less sophisticated players may run into this problem of “I don’t know what to counter”, more competitive players will not make this mistake as often because they’ll have seen the opposing deck a million times, and they’ll know what will make them lose the game if it stays around. Of course competitive players will still have their occasional bump in the road such as the rogue deck that is built to beat the metagame.

---

By learning when to time your plays just right, you will hopefully exclude the need for Fancy Play Syndrome, which is thinking you have to impress your opponent when you don’t need to. Don’t try and do something super fantastic when something shorter will work just as easily. I don’t care if you can cast Early Harvest four times, float 123 mana, and use it all to feed a Maga. Doing so is completely pointless, and just tells the opponent that you like to waste your time burning through spells which in the long run will give them an edge in the later games.

Just play the cards the way you need to play them, when you need to play them, and to the best of your ability, and you will win.

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