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Expect Bad Play

The Betrayers of Kamigawa prerelease is coming up this weekend! Is everyone excited about the new set yet?! It has ninjas! How bad can it be?!?!

Well the real answer is it can be absolutely horrible, and ninjas could be seen as a horrible attempt for Wizards to try to get new players in by being cool with ninjas, not to mention the normal second set curse that happens in many Magic blocks. I personally am optimistic, not because I love ninjas, (although I do,) but because I think Champions was a great limited set, and have high hopes for cards to add on to the limited block. My biggest concern is the fact that Ninjitsu is not really a mechanic that seems like it plays well with the Champions mechanics. I prefer that the second set of a block adds to or provides depth for a limited block, not changes it completely, and right now it looks like Betrayers is set to do the latter.

But, yeah, I still like ninjas, and I still will enjoy every view of a new card during the prerelease.

Speaking of prereleases, let me whine for a minute about running prereleases under the new system. Now that we track every pack, the amount of back end time it takes to prepare for a prerelease can get enormous. We need to track every pack and where it goes. Does it go to flight one? Prize or event product? What packs do your judges get? For me I have the added bonus of being concerned about whether the product stays in San Diego or Arizona.
Lots of paperwork ahead for me this week.

Speaking of San Diego, I am immensely happy about San Diego this time around. While I had huge problems finding a site for San Diego, and in fact almost did not have a prerelease, we finally found one. It was an incredibly expensive site, but a site nonetheless. So why am I happy? Because for the first time since I took over San Diego, I have enough judges to work the event without shipping staff from Arizona. Miki Urban will be your amazing host for this event, who has helped or run most of my events for the past year in San Diego, and is doing a stunning job. In addition, Gen Con So Cal brought us a few new judges, and now we have enough to run the event without importing staff. Its great news from a cost perspective, from my AZ judges perspective, who like the people but hate the drive, and from the San Diego perspective, as now they can stand on their own with the big boys.

Anyone who goes to San Diego this weekend, let me know how it runs. We are always eager for feedback.

By now you are probably wondering what all of this has to do with the topic, and I'm getting there. It really has to do with me having yet another one of those realizations while playing poker that fits Magic strategic play, and how to apply it. I was sitting in a single table tournament, and had taken a big hit early. With less than half a stack left and the blinds raising steadily, every mediocre hand started looking like the time to go all in and try to double up, but I forced myself to be patient and wait past A4, K9, and such until finally pocket jacks came, which I hate, but have good odds.

But before me, someone had raised and someone else had re raised, and there was a caller. I felt like this was the time, so I called, to see what would happen. A flop of AQJ was golden for me, and with two other people duking it out over who had the better Ax draw, I silently sat there and tripled up, then went on to win.

What was the big secret? Was it patience? No, not really, but that helped.
The big secret was waiting on your opponent to make a mistake and capitalize on it. With two people with a pair of aces thought they were invincible and paid no attention to me as I quietly called and scooped up all their chips.

To say I first noticed this while playing poker is actually not true, but it is when it finally sunk in as a valid strategy. I remember quite clearly the first time I noticed it. In the top 8 of a Mirrodin Block PTQ, a player named Riad was playing the G/B deck full of artifact hate against the other player, playing Affinity of course. Despite the massive amount of hate Riad had, the other player had simply gotten the draw that just screams "I win."
Riad drew, and passed the turn, having nothing in hand to save him. I had already done the math, and knew that Riad was dead next turn, and was wondering why the heck he didn't just scoop it up.

Sure enough, the other player swung in with everything. Riad thought for a bit, then made a few blocks, and enough damage went through to leave Riad at a low score. Now all the player had to do was sacrifice his artifacts to the Ravager, and the Disciple of the Vault would finish Riad off.


I sat there, stunned but trying desperately to mask it since I was judging the event. For no apparent reason the other player decided to give Riad one extra turn to try to pull out a win, even though, near as I can tell, the only thing that would have saved Riad in any way would have been a Nourish in hand, which he did not have in his deck or sideboard.

Riad drew nothing next draw either, and the game was over shortly after that, but the memory stuck in my head. What really were the odds that the other player thought that Riad had a Nourish? In fact, Riad did not play Nourish. Did the Affinity player just miscount what was necessary to kill Riad? Who knows, but the reality is that his misplay gave Riad a chance to come back into the game and even possibly win it.

Even the best players make mistakes sometimes, and just because a player is a "winning player" does not necessarily mean they are a good player, especially come this weekend at a prerelease, when opening a broken sealed deck can often carry someone way beyond their skill level due to the surprise factor of new cards against their opponents.

It seems a simple suggestion, but the reality of it is quite powerful - wait for your opponent to make a mistake, then capitalize on it. Wait for them to tap out at the wrong time, or to leave themselves open to attack at the wrong point, or notice when they tap mana in such a way that shows you they don't have the card in hand you may have feared before. Maybe they'll tap all but one island, so you know they don't have the Counterspell, or tap out of green so you know they don't have the creature pump, or tap out of black so you know the creature kill spell can't be used that turn.

The mistakes your opponents make may be small or large, but your ability to notice when these mistakes have happened and to punish them for these mistakes is what will push you to the next level of play.

See you at the prerelease!

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