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Attention to Detail
by Jordan Kronick
November 8, 2005

Come out Swinging

Hello there, reader. Welcome to my first article here at Pojo. I’m going to give you a brief introduction so you know where my advice is coming from, and a bit of an overview of where these articles are likely to go in the future – so you know what kind of advice to expect.

Firstly, I started playing Magic in the misty bygone era known as “Beta”. Oh, it was a heady time. The world was thick with rules baggage and nobody really knew what tempo was. We really didn’t know how good we had it back them. Since that time I’ve continued to play the game steadily (with a brief period of rest towards the end of the Rath Cycle). I’ve won numerous small-fry tournaments, while keeping myself mostly away from large competition. I’ve always been the sort who appreciates building the deck as much as playing it, and I’ve helped create some real winners. I’ve also assisted in the running of events and even judged a little. I’m currently doing almost all of my Magic in the online world. Screenshots and replays are a huge boon to those of us who like to analyze our decisions and write about them.

In these articles I hope to give a view of the small things that matter. It is my aim that reading what I have to say will help people improve their game by paying attention to the details that decide the game. Winning a game of Magic is a big complicated proposition, and more goes on than just the big trampler swinging into the red zone. There’s a lot of decision making that happens first, and making the right decisions can decide which side of that big trampler you’re on.

As this is my first article here, I want to focus this week on things that come first. The first turn, more specifically. I suppose I should start with a big of talking about mulligans and when to take them, but that’s more of an issue #0. Comic book fans will know what I mean. In any case, I’m going to take a look at every possible thing that can happen on turn one in a Ravnica limited environment – that’s sealed deck and draft to those of you who aren’t big on that aspect of Magic. This also has great bearing for people who play a lot of Ravnica in your casual games, as many of these situations will come up. The first turn of the game goes by real fast, and most often you’ll be dropping your Grizzly Bears before you’ve had time to analyze what happened the turn before. So let’s take a moment and look around on turn one.

I’ll be sorting this into sections by color, starting with the assorted lands that can be used for that color (as Ravnica features some wonderful new dual lands, I’ll make sure to examine those between the color pairs that they exist in).

Mountain – When we’re talking about things that happen fast, red is a good color to start with. As with many environments, red has the most options on the first turn of the game. When your opponent leads with a mountain, you know a few things. First of all, in Ravnica-only (meaning, not Guildpact or Dissension which have yet to be released), you know that your opponent is utilizing the Boros guild. Red appears only in one of the four guild color combinations, so a mountain means that you can expect some Plains as well. It means you can expect that this game will be won or lost quickly by your opponent, and that a slow start on your part can be lethal. Here’s the kind of things that come out of the mountains right away in the City of Guilds.

Frenzied Goblin – It’s apt that I’m starting with this guy, as he is positively my favorite one-drop in the set. His ability may seem weak, but it can throw a slow player off balance for some crucial turns. If your opponent leads with this, there is a strong possibility that there are more one-drops in his or her hand. Often, if your opponent drops a very mediocre creature on the first turn, you can deduce that it is the best (or only) one-drop in their hand. If they had something better, they would have used it. The frenzied goblin is among the best first turn plays for a Boros deck, so it doesn’t tell us much except that your opponent probably knows what they are doing.

Torpid Moloch – And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. This creature is generally regarded as terrible, and I agree with that sentiment. As I mentioned, the Boros deck wants to win quickly. And while 3 power on a one-drop is usually great for this (Rogue Elephant comes to mind), a defender is just not going to get the job done. In the hundreds of Ravnica drafts I’ve played in, I’ve never seen this thing activated when it mattered. In fact, I’ve rarely seen it used at all. Everyone seems pretty quick to understand that he’s not so good. However, there are still a few deductions we can make about its presence on the first turn. Firstly, your opponent probably doesn’t have a very good deck. That’s good news. Secondly, it’s possible that your opponent is playing a slower red deck – which does exist in this environment. One possibility is a red/blue deck which breaks guild barriers to take advantage of the incredible synergy between Drake Familiar and Galvanic Arc. If your opponent got the right mix of cards to use that, it could be trouble for any deck. The third thing you know is that, regardless of what type of deck your opponent is playing, you’re in for a slow start. All of your cheap stuff is going to run into trouble with the Moloch on their side.

War-Torch Goblin – This one falls in the middle between the Moloch and Mr. Frenzied. His ability can be very strong, or it can fall extremely flat. At the very least, War-Torch provides us with the same clues as Frenzied Goblin, when it comes to colors. The War-Torch fits very well into a Boros deck, where it’s speed and ability can make First Strike creatures extra good. War Torch Goblin appears in decks of all qualities. It’s rarity (common) means that there will be plenty of them floating around, and nobody’s going to have to pick them early just to get one. War-Torch’s effectiveness is based mostly on what you do to stop it, in the next couple turns. If your first play is a small expendable creature that you don’t mind trading for a 1/1, then the War-Torch is going to be just that – a simple trade. However, if the first thing you can muster is a creature you’d rather not lose right away, you might take some damage before you can bring out something large enough to live or small enough to throw away. War-Torch goblin is an excellent reason to play an ineffective creature on the first turn, rather than a good one. For instance, if my opponent way playing first and put this into play and I had a War-Torch of my own and a Frenzied Goblin in my hand, I would almost certainly play the War-Torch first, intending to trade them, so my Frenzied Goblin can go to work.

Boros Recruit – The fourth red one-drop, and the only multicolored card you’ll be seeing in play on the first turn. Boros Recruit is just behind Frenzied Goblin in terms of its quick offensive ability, and clearly the defensive powerhouse of the group, on the first turn. Boros Recruit may have a strong defensive tilt, but I would never take its presence to mean that my opponent is playing a slow deck – as long as it’s played with red mana. The real tricky bit of the Recruit is that it is a hybrid card. There are 4 different lands it could be cast with on turn one (counting the red/white and white/green dual lands). Assuming your opponent casts it with a mountain, you can apply much of the same reasoning as with the cards above – your opponent is likely playing a fast deck, and almost certainly playing Boros. If your opponent uses a Plains to cast it, things are a bit hazier. While it is a staple of red/white decks, its strong defensive ability to hold back early attackers is much valued by the Selenya – not to mention the early bonus to Convoke spells. You probably won’t find out which color pair your opponent is playing until the second turn. That’s almost always plenty of time, but when you’re trying to decide whether to play a more defensive or aggressive card, knowing what your opponent is playing matters a lot.

Sacred Foundry – The first of our dual lands. Obviously, the foundry is a clear sign that your opponent is playing Boros. For one thing, the value of dual lands means that your opponent almost certainly picked this card first out of a pack, if this is a draft. It wasn’t picked up late to help fix mana, but more likely just happened to be the right colors for the deck. If your opponent lets the Foundry come into play tapped, that’s a very good sign. It means that your opponent doesn’t have any of the aggressive one-drops mentioned above, so you may have time to mount a solid defense against the Boros assault.

Plains – After red, white is the clear master of one drops in constructed circles. But how well does that pan out in limited? White is split between the Boros and the Selesnya. A first turn Plains isn’t going to give you much knowledge of what kind of deck to expect, without a one-drop to back up the theory. It does tell you what not to expect though. A first turn plains means you’re not going to have to worry about getting decked by a Dimir force, which is an important consideration. Deciding whether or not to use a Darkblast or similar spell early can depend on whether or not you’ll want to use the Dredge ability later. This kind of thinking is important, and applies very much in Ravnica, where colors mix easily, but guild strategies don’t.

Caregiver – Well, it turns out that white isn’t so hot in the one-drops. In Kamigawa we had things like Isamaru to contend with on the first turn. This guy is no Hound of Konda. It does mean something, though. Caregiver is a much better card (still not a good card, but better for sure) if you have a lot of creatures to back it up. This lends a lot of credence to the theory that your opponent is playing a Selesnya deck rather than a Boros deck. Red/white doesn’t have a lot of excess creatures to use, so unless they were struggling for a 23rd card, saprolings may very well be in your future.

Votary of the Conclave – Pretty much the same things can be said about the Votary as the Caregiver. Both are much more effective in Selesnya decks, and both are extremely ineffective in Boros decks. The green mana requirement of Votary’s ability is an almost sure sign that your opponent is playing green as well. If not, they are playing the absolute last card in their colors, and you could have an easy ride through the games.

Temple Garden – The second dual land is the green/white one. This one, like the Foundry before it, has strong implications on what your opponent is playing, with one small difference. I have noticed a trend that it is far more common for a Green/White deck to splash red than it is for a Red/White deck to splash green. So, if your opponent drops a Temple Garden, and uses it to cast a Boros Recruit, I would say that it’s more likely than usual that your opponent is playing a red/white deck, with just a dash of green. If they use it to cast another white or green spell, well we knew they were playing those colors anyway.

Birds of Paradise – obviously this is the one drop everyone wants to have right away. Besides the great number of meanings it could have for the rest of the game, it is incredibly useful – and valuable. If your opponent has a first turn BoP, the first thing you should do is mutter about how lucky they are. This is customary in most places. Secondly, if you have a way of dealing with it immediately, it is very reasonable to do so. Don’t worry that you’re wasting your Darkblast or Sparkmage Apprentice’s ability to kill a lowly mana producer. What you’re doing is stunting their development, which could otherwise be very rapid. BoP provides us no hints to what color your opponent is play, or the quality of other possible one-drops. For any deck that has green mana, BoP is the optimal first turn play nearly every single time.

Elves of Deep Shadow – A lot of the same things can be said about this set’s mana elf. EoDS has some telling signs about what to expect, but maybe not as many as you think. The usefulness of an early mana producer is so strong that your opponent may very well not be playing black, and still make use of the Elves. However, it does put a vote into the column for Golgari. The same things can be said about early removal and Elves of Deep Shadow. Nobody wants to see their opponent accelerating quickly, even if it is at the cost of one life.

Elvish Skysweeper – of all of the one drops in Ravnica, there is none that is quick so useful in the late game as this one. The one failing of every one drop is that as the game progresses, a small body becomes less and less useful. Eventually, every card listed may have to step in front of the Root-Kin Ally that’s hurtling at you. Skysweeper, however, is extremely good against almost any deck. Normally, only blue and white decks have any abundance of fliers, but in Ravnica the blue and white are split amongst 3 of the 4 guilds. And black has some of the more effective fliers! So you it’s a good guess that no matter what else your opponent is using, they’ve got a flying creature. Even if it’s just a Stinkweed Imp. If you’re playing a deck that is more heavily rooted in fliers, it’s an extremely good idea to kill this thing before the opponent knows it. I’ve made some bad trades early just to kill a Skysweeper because I knew it would be a pain later on. Skysweeper is nearly as effective in Golgari Decks as it is in Selesnya decks. While the latter will have more creatures to throw with the elf, the Golgari will probably have more of a problem with flying creatures. And they’re no slouches when it comes to making Saprolings, either.

Gather Courage – This is the only spell that you can expect to see on the first turn, but not quite right away. If your opponent casts one of the green creatures listed above, they can cast this for free using Convoke. So, if they do have one of those great green one-drops, and you decide to swing into it with one of your goblins or whatever, don’t be surprised if it blocks, taps itself and gets big enough to kill your guy. I’ve lost more Boros Recruits to very large Skysweepers than I’d care to talk about. Gather Courage is used as much in Golgari decks as it is in Selesnya decks, but the combination of the convoke ability (minimal as it is) with what the one drop is (a Skysweeper for instance) can be telling about a Selesnya deck, but by no means is it certain. What it does tell you is that your opponent just used 2 of their starting cards. While it may have killed one of yours, at least that’s 2 large creatures they don’t have.

Overgrown Tomb – The third dual land has many of the same issues as the Temple Garden. Green and black each have another guild which they could be allied with rather than the Golgari, so you’re never sure when this drops. If they use it to cast a Bird of Paradise (and if they do, mutter extra hard), their mana production ability is as good as it can be on the first turn. However, even that has a good side. If they have these two cards right away, it means they almost certainly opened both of the rares. That means they didn’t open one of the other incredible rares available to the Golgari – like Vulturous Zombie. Of course, there’s always a third pack. And sometimes people can be very lucky.

Thoughtpicker Witch – Black only has one creature to throw out on the first turn, but it’s a very good creature. The witch is quickly becoming a staple of every black deck out there. Whether it’s being used to facilitate a milling strategy in a Dimir deck or use excess Saprolings to ensure bad draws in a Golgari deck, Thoughtpicker Witch is very effective at its job. However, the one thing that you can expect it not to do is block early. Unless you’ve got something they really need to get rid of (like an Elvish Skysweeper against a Dimir deck), Thoughtpicker Witch is likely to hang out until it can be of some use, rather than blocking quickly just for a trade.

Darkblast – Definitely the best black card on the first turn, and probably right in contention for best thing to do with your first mana of the game. Darkblast can kill any one-drop there is, except for Torpid Moloch. It can be used and reused as the game continues. It can even be used twice in the same turn to kill a 2-toughness creature. I pick Darkblast very high, and play it with equal zeal in both Golgari and Dimir decks. If you lose a creature to a Darkblast right away, you could be in trouble if you’re relying heavily on 1-toughness creatures. However, if you’re playing a Dimir deck, they may be playing right into your hands. See if you can’t get them to Dredge it before you prove that milling is the order of the day.

Watery Grave – The first thing you should ask your opponent when they play this on turn one is “hey, did you know that one of the columnists over at Pojo needs a few of those?” Now I’m going to get trade spammed on Magic Online with people wanting to sell me their Watery Graves. Oh well, I accept tips. Anyway, Watery Grave is probably the most likely of all of the dual lands to mean that your opponent is playing the colors of the land. Blue splashes somewhat well with the Golgari, but not nearly enough to be a constant sight. If they drop a Grave, they’re almost certainly playing Dimir. And you can almost certainly expect to get some cards milled off your deck, this game. So hold back on dredging!

Grayscale Gharial – Yes, that’s as good as blue gets on turn one, anymore. Pretty sad sight. Unless you’re playing blue, you can feel free to chuckle a little. The Gharial shouldn’t be much of a problem for you, and it means your opponent is really stretching to fill every available slot. Assuming they also had a swamp in hand, this also means that they probably don’t have a Thoughtpicker Witch to drop down right away. So that’s good. Obviously, if they play a Gharial, you know they’re using Dimir. No other guild has a blue portion.

Dizzy Spell – Certainly the most unlikely card on turn one. If you play a creature on turn one and swing with it right away, you might see this. If you do, it is much the same as the Gharial. Laugh a bit. Dizzy Spell is no Unsummon, that’s for sure. Unless you somehow managed to get a 3 power creature attacking on the second turn, a Dizzy Spell right away means your opponent is not too good. Sorry if I offended anyone, but that is never the right play. If they play this, not only do you know they’re using Dimir, but probably not using it very well.

Mark of Eviction – of all the non-creature spells that can be used on turn one, this is the most effective. The Mark is a free play, most of the time. Unless your opponent can sacrifice their creature before their next turn, the Mark is just going to bounce it. It’s a slow defense, but it keeps happening. And someone getting the Mark right away can seriously stunt your ability to generate a force. Clearly the best blue card on turn one.

There are four other lands that can see play on turn one;

Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion

Duskmantle, House of Shadow

Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

Svogthos, the Restless Tomb

Each of these lands has some things in common. First of all, it is a very clear signal about what colors your opponent is playing. Secondly, it is a good sign that something is wrong with either your opponent’s mana or their playing ability. None of these cards is capable of casting anything on the first turn in Ravnica, and none of them have an ability that can be used until the third turn at least. It’s highly unlikely that anyone would keep a hand that didn’t have any colored mana sources, so the more likely deduction is that your opponent has one of the new common multicolor lands. Playing that on the second turn and bouncing one of these is still a pretty decent way to get your mana. However, it means the first two turns are going to be unused by your opponent, so if you can capitalize on that, you’ll be in good shape.

That’s it for one drops. There are other cards that can be played on the first turn (such as Wojek Siren or the above-mentioned multicolor lands) but all are useless if not suicidal strategies for winning the game. I hope that this look at the kinds of things that happen on turn one will help people slow down and take account for what’s happening when there’s only one land on the table – it might be more than you think.
 

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