Understanding Gaming Strategy Through Magic: The Gathering (Part 2)

For those just tuning in, we continue this discussion of basic gaming strategy from the previous article, here.

In this part we will be looking at reading situations, timing your moves, as well as metagames, playtesting, and more!

Perfecting Timing

One of the biggest hard differences between most game genres is speed. Turn based games, like Magic, are in essence the opposite of real-time games. But no matter the speed at which you play the game, though, all games are based on timing.

The right time to use that healing item, the right time to use the “special ammo”, the right time to take cover from an incoming attack. Every game that gives you any sort of agency (that is, the thing that defines video games) uses timing to some extent.

The question is, when do you use it?

In Magic: The Gathering, there are many different card types. Some of the most direct and potent effects come in the form of Sorceries and Instants. Because they are one time use effects, these cards often pack a bit more punch than others of their kind.

The big difference between Sorceries and Instants is that Sorceries can only be played on your turn, while Instants can be played at any time. This puts Instants at a massive advantage because, as we just said, timing is everything. The extra cost to most Instants over their Sorcery counterparts is made up for in their freedom of use.

When your opponent has declared their attacking creatures, no Sorcery at your disposal will help you. Now, you could have used a Sorcery to deal with their threats on your turn, but if they put down an even more dangerous threat with Haste (that is, it can attack right away!) then you will be in more trouble than you were before!

But with an instant kill spell, that Hasty monster will die before it can even touch you, because you had the right timing to deal with it right away.

Keeping the timing restrictions of each and every ability in mind, you need to realize and remember the scenarios that each ability you have access to excels in.

When in doubt, always wait till the very last moment to use an ability. This can help bait out an opponent’s actions, as well as giving you a better outlook on what all is going on. A better target for your ability may have come up in the meantime!

Metagames and Matchups

In competitive Magic, there are metagames that shift and change as new cards are introduced and other cards rotate or are banned. This is similar to how patches and new seasons can change other game’s dynamics.

For the uninitiated, metagames are the host of popular strategies that are common in the tournament scene. For Magic, they are the variety of decks that come from the card pool that end up dominating tournaments.

The way metagames flow is based on matchups. While there are always bizarre exceptions, most metagames work into a “Rock-Paper-Scissors” dynamic. Magic has these as Aggro, Midrange, and Control.

Aggro is the fast decks that blaze through, Control is methodical and seeks to counter the opponent’s plans, and midrange uses potent value to straddle the middle of the road and works for the bigger, slower plays.

For the most part, Aggro beats Control before Control can set up their game plan, Control beats Midrange because Midrange focuses on less quantity and more quality, but Midrange beats Aggro due to putting up such nasty threats in comparison to the fast but small ones.

This dynamic can be seen in all kinds of games and this dynamic is vital to understanding how competitive games work. If a big lumbering playstyle is susceptible to crowd control and delaying tactics, that is Control beating Midrange. If a fast playstyle wipes out a delay tactic before it even works, that is Aggro beating Control. So on, and so forth.

Playtesting and Tuning

When you are a dedicated, professional Magic player, you need to stay on top of the game. That means paying attention to all these tips and tricks and putting in hours and hours of practice.

Aggro only beats control if it is fast enough. That speed needs to be tested against the best Control has to offer. Some times, it comes up short. That is found out in Playtesting.

Often competitive gamers, both in Magic and otherwise, will have groups that will get together and grind out these scenarios over and over and over.

Do we have the speed to be the delaying tactics? Do we have the strength to hold up against early assaults? How well do we do in the mid and late game? Can we beat someone else’s late game explosive plays?

All of these ideas get thrown at every playstyle and strategy idea imaginable until a few solid cores of strategy remain. This is called tuning. You will almost never start with a perfect strategy, deck, or playstyle. But alongside practice, tuning, and understanding of the metagame, you can gain the perfect one.

Tips and Tricks of the Gaming Professionals

From Magic: The Gathering to League of Legends and beyond, the games that drive competition all funnel around the core aspects that we’ve gone over in this two parter.

Did all of this make sense? Did things feel too easy, or are you looking for more in-depth explanations? The wide world of gaming, both competitive and otherwise, has so much overlap in its design and concepts that there is so much to be learned from any genre.

Whether you play Magic: The Gathering or not, I hope these little ideas have helped shape how you understand gaming and your gaming future as a whole. Happy gaming!


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