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John Shultis on Magic
You have the game tied up, last few minutes of a big game, but it’s the other team’s turn. They are driving hard, but you come up with a huge play of your own, turning things in your favor. Now, it’s go time. It may be your last shot. If you don’t end things now, there is a good chance they will beat you. So, you go for it. You give it all you have in one final effort. You launch everything you have down field on a hail mary, and…
This particular description applies to two things that took place for me a few weekends ago. One involved Magic, the other involving the Jacksonville Jaguars from the NFL. I was amazed to see similarities between how a franchise builds a team, and how people build decks. I also was shocked at the outcome of both games earlier referred to.
So how do these two tie in, well, allow me to explain. In football, there are two sides of the team, an offense, and a defense. It’s the offenses job to score points. Kind of like how most creatures are meant to deal damage to your opponent. The defense is what is supposed to keep your opponent from scoring. This could be any number of things in a Magic deck, from defenders to spells.
The main person on any team is it’s quarterback. Without a quarterback, there is no point scoring, no leadership, no team. The quarterback for a Magic deck simply put is the deck’s strategy. Because without that, there is no deck, period. And just like if you get a bad quarterback, a bad strategy usually turns out the same way, you lose. Finding a good quarterback means your team will perform better over all. The same is true for a good strategy. If your strategy is too involved, you will be slow, and often not produce the same results as a deck that fires off faster. Slow quarterbacks get sacked, slow decks get trashed.
The second most important person for the offense is the Running back. He is the guy that grinds things out, and runs down the opponent. In Magic, this simply is the fodder that we put out early to chip our opponents life away. Notable the best running back is Raging Goblin, or anything else that hits early. Raging Goblin on turn one is a slow decks worst nightmare. One damage may not seem like a lot, but if you can’t get anything in the way quickly, you’ll be down several points before you know it, and if you can’t figure out how to recover quickly, you may not be able to. And that’s with one goblin. One component could mean so much. Most decks have that thing that is there early game, but by late game may not be as much of an influence. Honestly, turn seven, a dragon is scarier than a Raging Goblin. But, it’s making it the stretch.
Receivers are the big play guys, but don’t always see much action, because the opponents may know they are more dangerous than the goblin described above. Receivers can be dangerous, so they are more reminiscent of those “Big Spells” whether that be a creature or some other spell. It is your trump card of sorts. These are what the quarterbacks like, and get to as fast and often as possible. Once your receivers make an appearance, the defense has to stop them, or the big plays will follow. Large creatures, or problematic creatures are often the most likely for this role, such as the dragon above. Dealing with those big creatures requires effort, and if not dealt with can end a game.
The defense’s one job is don’t allow offenses to score, period. Your deck’s defenses need to be sound to end a game without taking much damage, or letting a game get out of hand. Spot removal and counter spells are the best defenses. Creatures are your other defenses. Just like in football, who you assign to what is the difference between winning and losing. Keeping removals for when the time is right is often the key between dealing with a bird, or staring down a colossus. Threat assessment makes all the difference in that situation. Maybe the bird is more of a threat. Your deck is not good against fliers, so you use that defensive play to eliminate the threat in the air. After all, maybe you can handle a colossus.
If designed solely for a fast hard hitting offense, you could find yourself defeated simply because the other team had a decent balance. Underestimating, or overestimating, could be disastrous. Keep a balance. Sure, a deck of forty Raging Goblins seems like it would win, but would it really? Eventually you’ll be top-decking, which means one good removal spell is disastrous to you. Imagine, a full team of 1/1 or even 2/2 hasty attackers, wiped out by one Volcanic Fallout, while your “Balanced” opponent’s creatures survive, because they took the slower path. Sure, they lose some health, and maybe some small creatures, but now you are wide open, with no hand.
The game I played this weekend went exactly like the paragraph. I was outmatched, had only one chance, so I took it. I was playing a snow based Aurochs deck. My opponent was running Vampires. I managed to keep the life gain down due to getting some early hits in, and I had creature advantage. I looked at my hand did my calculations. I needed to go all out. My health was down to two, Vampire Nighthawk hit me last turn with some pumps to get me to that point, boosting my opponent to twenty-nine. If my opponent didn’t block, I could instant up to twenty-nine, but if even one creature blocked, I would lose. So, I sent everything I had down range. My Auroch’s received their pumps from each other attacking creature, and I bluffed my opponent by casting a Path of Anger’s Flame, pumping them all by another two. This decision is what ultimately won it for me. With twenty-five damage coming their way, my opponent felt confident that was the extent of damage, and felt confident it was my last ditch attack. They declined blocking….
The football game went similarly. The Jaguars were tied with the Houston Texans. The Texans had been driving, but turned the ball over to the Jaguars with eight seconds left in the game. The Quarterback completed a small pass to one of his receivers, and then stopped the clock. Three seconds left in the game, it’s now or never. If the Jaguars don’t score points now, the game goes to overtime. It’s too far to try for a field goal, and the kicker missed two attempts already. So, they decide to go for it. Hail Mary time. One play, one shot to end the game. The quarterback drops back, lines up, and launches it down field at the end zone, the ball is up, and…
Now perhaps I should get to one more point about football and Magic. In football, the game is divided into two halves, and then has an overtime period in the event of a tie. The first half of a game is feeling out your opponent, exploiting weaknesses if any. Second half, you fix you game plan, adjust to what you’ve seen, and go in for the kill. In overtime, it’s whoever scores first wins. To me, a game of Magic also is structured like that. There is an early game, just setting up, getting mana, and staying alive. Then, there is a middle game, where you begin employing your strategies, combos, or building your attack force. And then, there’s the late game. The late game is to me the same as overtime. It’s the sudden death period. Whoever scores first, wins. Simple. This is where you make things happen, or you lose. Whoever’s late game is better strategized brings home the prize.
Now in the case of the football game, the ball is up, people crowding all over. The ball is knocked down by a Texan, but a Jaguar is waiting, grabs it, and leaps into the end zone….. TOUCHDOWN! Game over, Jaguars win.
In my game, my attack is off, twenty-five damage coming, opponent at twenty-nine. They decline blocking, confident that they will win on their next attack because I am only at two and cannot stop the Vampire Nighthawk. That’s when I go in for the kill, once blocking is declined, I cast Fists of the Anvil, pumping one of my attackers by four, dealing a total of twenty-nine, game over, I gambled and… TOUCHDOWN!!!!
Here is the decklist I used:
And there you have it. Let’s hope we see each other again soon for another article. Happy Gaming!
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