Tag Archives: magic: the gathering

Play Like a Spider (No Spider-Sense Required)

Weird article title, right? What does it mean to “play like a spider,” anyway?

Well, if you play any games with me, it means to play like me–camp out, build up, and wait. Like web-building spiders, who weave a complicated web of sticky silk and then wait at one corner for a hapless insect to blunder into it, I construct my Magic decks and my HeroClix teams with the same long-term win in mind. I don’t rush aggressively forward; I wait for you to come to me, and get yourself hopelessly stuck with your own aggressive tactics. I may not win within 5 turns, but give me enough time, and I will succeed in at least immobilizing and tying down your force.

Why Bother with This Slow Strategy?

Spiders are not one of the most feared creepy-crawlies for no reason. They can bite, they get even humans stuck in webs (ugh, especially when it’s dark and all you can feel is the sticky silk across your face, hands, or arms)…and they seem pretty ruthless. But faced with a large boot heel or even a rolled-up magazine, they’re useless. In fact, their strategy works best against creatures similarly sized to them.

It may seem worthless to “play like a spider,” since most competitive gamers act as the boot heels and rolled-up magazines of the Magic and HeroClix world. But in a casual and/or multiplayer environment, spider-style play provides a new and creative way to interact. Instead of heavily focusing on “WIN WIN WIN within 5 turns,” you can sit back and socialize with your gaming friends for the first few turns, as you build up slowly. You then have time to observe how everyone else plays, compliment others on their strategy–generally create an atmosphere of camaraderie within your group.

It’s a little more laid-back style of gaming, and yet you still have your own strategy to build up, turn by turn, at an unhurried pace. Get enough of your defenses in place, and you can chat in relative peace. That is, until someone messes with you and disturbs your web.

The Steps of a Spider Gamer

  • Don’t mess with anybody unless they mess with you.

    This is of paramount importance–spiders who are actively building their webs aren’t seeking prey yet. They have to wait until their web is finished (or at least mostly finished) before they can catch anything. Likewise, your first turns are better spent building up your defenses, not making enemies. Identify your strongest opponents and observe their playstyles, yes. But do not provoke them. Time enough for that later.

  • Once they do mess with you, begin your offensive strategy.

    Sounds odd to only launch counterattacks, but it’s actually a very efficient strategy. Once the web is disturbed, spiders launch themselves at their prey and go after them relentlessly. As a spider gamer, you have to act similarly. You wait until they have extended themselves, and then start going after them, make them run scared for a few minutes. If you’re playing one-on-one, this is important to gain back some ground (especially if you didn’t have all your defenses in place yet); if you’re playing multi-player, this is an important show of force, so that everyone else at the table knows that you indeed can strike back, and hard.

  • Build in lots of support for yourself, and several ways to retreat if you have to.

    Like spiders, who build multiple ways to escape if their prey is too strong for them or is too big, spider gamers have to include lots of long-term support into their strategies. In Magic: the Gathering, life-gain, counterspells, graveyard recurrence, creature-kill spells, and high-toughness creatures are ways to keep yourself afloat in tough circumstances; in HeroClix, including lots of Probability Control, Support, Outwit, flying characters, and high defenses can help your team go the distance. Retreating into defensive mode (not attacking and building up your defenses again) is important if you’re facing a lot of aggression–you’ve got to keep yourself alive, even if it means losing the offensive advantage for a few turns.

  • If you have to retreat, make it very difficult for anybody to come after you.

    Spiders often retreat into trees, behind objects, or anywhere else that makes it hard to kill them. If you’re going to be a spider gamer, you have to think similarly when you need to build back up after a hard turn of battle. Make sure you’ve got enough things to defend you, and that it won’t do any good for anybody to come after you for a few turns, and then quietly put your strategy back together. (A strategy that falls apart at the slightest touch is not enough for a spider gamer–it’s got to be solid enough to hold up for the long-term.)

    I do this a lot by building in tons of life-gain and Support–people get done battering down my life total or my HeroClix figures, only for me to gain the life back or heal up my characters again so that all their work has been undone! It flusters your opponent(s) and can give you the time you need to build back up.

  • Rest, recharge, and wait for the others to combat themselves to exhaustion…

    This is my favorite part of spider strategy…waiting for the others to thrash themselves tired. Most often, especially in a multi-player game, the two most aggressive gamers at the table face off against each other and spend most of the time tearing at each other’s throats, leaving the rest of us alone. This is the perfect time for a spider gamer to build back up–do just a couple little things during your turn and be relatively unobtrusive, allowing the attention to focus on the more aggressive players. Like real spiders, who wait for their prey to get completely stuck before moving in on them, spider gamers can wait for their traps to spring on their opponent’s turn and not do a whole lot otherwise.

  • …then come in and mop, mop, mop.

    Once the more aggressive gamers have fought each other enough and overextended their resources (and their life points), it’s time for the spider gamer to step out and start mopping up the mess. Half-dead HeroClix figures and Magic players with no blockers to defend themselves are easy targets for the spider gamer, and it gets some of the threats off the board before they can start building themselves back up.

    Yes, I know, this strategy is often called “cherry-picking,” getting the last hit on somebody when someone else did all the work…but it’s about the only way for a spider gamer to stay alive. Waiting until the enemy is at half-strength or less is how a spider gamer survives, just like a real spider won’t mess with a hornet or a grasshopper until the insect is thoroughly entangled in its web.

The Point of Playing like a Spider

Those who practice spider-like gaming are allowed to be more talkative and sociable during gaming. Even if you’re not making the most kills or crushing the most people, you are surviving, which means you’re still in the game and you’re doing something right. I like the idea of actually talking to other players, hanging out with them as opposed to just beating them into the ground, and spider gaming lets me do that. Plus, I’m still using a deadly strategy, even if most people don’t recognize it. (The right attitude is key…never, never let on how dangerous you really are until it’s too late. XD)

I’d challenge any gamer who’s never tried playing slow, steady, and spiderish to try it. It’s a very different flavor and mindset from the typical “5-turn-win” aggressive or control-based strategy, and yet it can still win…if you have the patience and the support built in to succeed in the long term.

When Gaming Has Become Un-fun

It’s slowly been happening, over the course of the last year and a half. Gradually, my weekend trips to the gaming shop my boyfriend and I frequent have become more work and less play. At first, I thought I was just being annoyed by some of the people who go there, but it’s not that. Disturbingly, it seems I’ve lost interest in playing many of the games I used to enjoy.

When I had my laptop with me at the shop, I could use it as a “shield” from all the bothersome conversations; I didn’t have to sit there thinking, “Do we REALLY have to spend 5 hours doing nothing but discussing new Magic cards? Do we REALLY need a long and involved discussion over dinner about the new HeroClix set?” I could surf the Internet in relative peace, doing what I really wanted to do (blogging, Facebook, surfing sites I never get to see over dialup), instead of being immersed in this gaming culture that I increasingly felt outclassed in. Now that my laptop baby is in the shop (and has been for almost two months), the situation’s scabbed top layer has peeled back, revealing a deep resentment and no small amount of anger about it.

My frustration with gaming (and my apparent loss of interest in it) is frightening and strange to me. This is an activity I used to enjoy greatly with friends and my boyfriend–in fact, my boyfriend and I bonded over HeroClix and Magic. Now, I find it useless to even play anymore; I know what’s going to happen as soon as I choose one of my Magic decks and he chooses one of his. It seems pointless to play. Same with HeroClix…I feel like I don’t have enough mental energy for the strategy required anymore, and even if I did, everyone would be using all the new “hot” figures and I’d be swept off the board before 5 rounds had passed.

It’s like I’ve lost my gaming mojo. Pardon the Austin-Powers-ism, but there it is. This activity, which I used to take such pride in and such pleasure in, is now almost worthless to me. I’ve suffered depression enough times in my life to know that “loss of interest in favorite activities” is a hallmark, but I don’t feel depressed in any other aspect of my life. Just gaming.

Since I at least have a passing knowledge of psychology, I sought to delve into this problem, and I came up with a few possible explanations for this:

  • I am female and the rest of the gaming crew is male
  • The current gaming crew is more cutthroat and competitive than my old gaming crew
  • Every weekend, I have to “share” my boyfriend with these competitive guys and I get almost no quality time with him
  • The old gaming crew has splintered apart, with most of them becoming competitive jerks like the current crew
  • With all the new expansion sets coming out in both games, I feel beaten before I even begin a game
  • I don’t feel like I’m friends with anybody in the current gaming crew
  • I can’t be my whole self with any of the current gaming crew because no one there cares about my writing, my music, my church activities, etc.

Let’s delve into each of these reasons, just a bit.

I am female and the rest of the gaming crew is male

I am bewildered at how much this bugs me. It never used to–I always got along better with guys than girls when I was growing up, and I never was particularly “girly” in terms of fashion and gossip. But I am an adult woman now, an adult woman with very few female friends left in my home state, and I find myself suddenly more isolated from “girl talk” than I realized. Most of my female friends have already “grown up”; gotten married, had babies, gotten jobs, etc. And here I am, still playing in the sandbox with the boys. The boys might be okay with a girl in their midst, but I increasingly feel that it’s not “my place” anymore, as bad as I want it to be. What began as a great way to spend my Saturdays is now the worst day of the week because I don’t feel like I fit in.

The current gaming crew is more cutthroat and competitive than my old gaming crew

When our old gaming shop closed, it seems, the old casual gaming crew went with it–we all went our separate ways for a few years. In the interim, we began attending a shop in another county, another city, with all new players. All was well and good for my boyfriend, who has a great love for games and blends in well with the other players because he knows rules better than anyone else. I, however, did not feel as though I had a place, because my casual style of play was simply outclassed by the competitive styles preferred by the “new” crew. I don’t like 5-turn defeats and alpha strikes, but I’m forced to play against these types of strategies just to ward off the painful boredom of sitting and watching.

Every weekend, I have to “share” my boyfriend with the new competitive crew and I get almost no quality time with him

This is a pretty big beef I have. We’ve been going out 3 1/2 years, and some Saturdays I feel more like a glorified taxi driving him up to the shop rather than an active participant once I get there. He tries to engage me in games, but more often than not he’s called away from our game to answer a rules question in another game, or he ends up talking strategy or new expansion sets with some of the other guys and it leaves me completely out. I feel like I have to “share” my boyfriend with everyone else on Saturdays, when I barely get any real quality time with him during his crazy-busy work week or on Sundays, and it leaves me feeling cheated. It’s hard to even bring this up with him because I feel like if I complain, then I’m being a typical whiny girlfriend and yanking him away from time with his friends, which I know he needs. But if I don’t complain, then it looks like I’m perfectly happy with the arrangement, which is not the case at all.

The old gaming crew has splintered apart, with most of them becoming competitive jerks like the current crew

I used to love playing with the old crew because we just HAD FUN–we weren’t trying to one-up each other all the time, or win money, or gain any kind of prestige. Now, at least 2 of our former number are always talking “best strategies to win tournaments” and playing like they’re in competitions all the time instead of playing against friends. There’s only one of the old crew I still even talk to like a friend anymore, because the others have become strangers to me. We all grew apart, I guess, and I find myself more nostalgic and wistful for what has been lost rather than trying to build anything new, because it just won’t compare.

With all the new expansion sets coming out in both games, I feel beaten before I even begin a game

I don’t play Standard format in Magic, and I don’t play Modern Age in HeroClix. Most of my cards and figures come from Vintage format and Golden Age…which singles me out among the players at the new shop. My strategies, therefore, don’t match up to a lot of the “new hotness” that is being produced by both game companies. I’m not drooling over the latest 13-attack Clix figure, nor do I care about the latest monstrous Infect creature that’s starring in all the Poison Counter Magic decks. I just want to play MY strategies, the ones I made up MYSELF, not something I got off the internet. But my strategies are not good enough to beat Tier 1 strategies, and like I said, I feel beaten before I even begin a game these days.

I don’t feel like I’m friends with anybody in the current gaming crew

Because I have withdrawn from the current crew’s gaming scene, I feel like I can’t get close to anyone. I desperately would like to make friends with them, even just to chat about random stuff, but no one seems to bother with talking about anything that doesn’t have to do with competitive Magic or HeroClix, etc. I feel hamstrung; I don’t always WANT to talk about gaming stuff because it’s become a smaller and smaller portion of my life, but what do I have in common with these guys otherwise?

I can’t be my whole self with any of the current gaming crew because no one there cares about my writing, my music, my church activities, etc.

I am much more than the sum of my games. But you’d never know that if you saw me at the gaming shop. I feel unable to talk about anything but games (see previous subheading), even though I have tentatively tried to broach other topics a few times. I have tried to share my poetry, my music, my church activities, the fact that I’m writing a novel, and tons more stuff about me, but no one seems interested. My forum threads are stillborn; no one is interested in me, and thus, I find myself less and less interested in them. How can I enjoy myself if I’m limited to talking about (or more often, listening to) stuff I don’t find interesting anymore?

A Kind of Summary

One thing’s for sure, this loss of interest in gaming goes much deeper than just hatred of a particular shop, a particular player, or how the games have evolved. It seems as if my very identity is shaken by this. I used to identify myself as a “gamer girl.” Now, I find myself wondering if I even want that label anymore. According to this very blog article, many things have changed in this situation, including myself, and…I am now at a crossroads. I’m sure I’m not the only female to find herself in this situation, but I am powerless to do much about it except write.

Perhaps, by writing this and getting some of these poisonous feelings out, I can find a way to either renew my interest in gaming or withdraw from it completely. After all, gaming is not life…at least, not for me anymore.

The Maddening Efficiency of Poison Counters

As a Magic player for several years (since 2004), I have made a name for myself among the local groups by playing a distinct “life-gain” style of play, also known as “stall.” I gain life and prevent damage in most of my decks, and do mainly combat damage as a win condition; this allows the other player to play their strategy, but most of the time they cannot actually do me any lasting damage. In my eyes, it’s a win-win, because I get to play my strategy without being overly worried about my life total, and they get to see how their deck plays in extreme long-game, with plenty of time for joking around and socializing in the process.

However, a not-so-new mechanic that was revived in Scars of Mirrodin threatens this easy and relatively carefree way of playing. It’s called poison counters.

Poison Counters Before Scars of Mirrodin

In the 1994 Magic set Legends, the first cards dealing with the “poison counter” effect were printed. Poison counters were a new way to win or lose the game–if a player accumulated 10 poison counters, they automatically lost the game, no matter what their life total was. It was, in a way, a second type of life total, even though the creators of the game still refuse to acknowledge it as such.

From 1994 to 1997, Wizards of the Coast worked with poison counters in several of its sets. Expansions such as The Dark, 4th Edition, Chronicles, Homelands, Alliances, Mirage, Visions, and 5th Edition each had just a few cards sprinkled in that concerned poison counters. Within these sets, poison counters were generally dealt directly by creatures, usually with wording such as “When [card name] deals damage to a player, that player gets X amount of poison counters”, not always matching how much damage the creature dealt.

Because of the fairly scant number of cards dealing with poison counters, it was somewhat difficult to incorporate into an entire deck strategy. Thus, the mechanic did not see a whole lot of play after these sets faded into memory.

Poison Counters Since Scars of Mirrodin

Fast-forward thirteen years, to 2010–the release of Scars of Mirrodin, and the introduction of a very new and quite deadly mechanic: infect. This new mechanic combined the effects of two other fairly good mechanics, “poisonous” and “wither,” into one super-powered game-changer for any creature.

With the advent of infect, previously small one-drop, 1/1 creatures with very little prowess to their name could become killing machines in their own right. They could wither away the opponent’s creatures, but they could also give undefended players a poison counter. And once given one poison counter, opponents were then susceptible to a mechanic called “proliferate,” which allowed the proliferate-wielding player to “choose any number of permanents and/or players with counters on them, then give each another counter of a kind already there,” according to the official rules reminder text.

This substantially increased the playability of poison counter strategies. With so many new infect creatures and so many new proliferating spells and permanents, it was suddenly viable–and suddenly very deadly, not just to tournament players, but to the global Magic-playing population.

My Beef with Poison Counters

Even though most of Magic’s developers don’t want to believe that poison counters represent a second type of life total, they are. They represent a 10-turn clock in the background of the game, which is completely at the mercy of the other player, especially thanks to infect and proliferate. What’s more, they are a life total that to date, players have only two ways to change:

  • Leeches, a card from the much-maligned set Homelands, gets rid of all poison counters on a target player, and transfers it to damage to the regular life total instead;
  • Melira, Sylvok Outcast, from New Phyrexia, prevents its controller from getting poison counters, and directly counters the infect keyword and its -1/-1 effect on creatures.

Damage, I can deal with easily–it’s called Holy Day and Fog. Loss of life, I can spring back from; Life Burst and Beacon of Immortality for the win. Poison counters? With only two cards in the ENTIRE GAME to counter this strategy and take back control of my own poison counter total, it’s a very small chance that I have those cards and can make them work in one of my existing decks, or build a new deck with them in it that makes any kind of cohesive strategy.

Furthermore, poison counters are a death stroke to my typical gameplay style of “casual, slow and steady, more joking than playing.” I can’t have fun and be casual when I have an uncontrollable clock of counters going in the background the entire game. I’m forced into running scared the whole game, trying to outrun my typically Standard-format opponent with Vintage-format decks that just were not made to counter this kind of strategy. It feels like I’m taking a timed final exam that I didn’t study for. I hate being timed, especially when I don’t control the clock and don’t have the right resources or knowledge to finish the test of skill.

I thought Magic was supposed to be a game, but poison counters have changed the whole face of it. If the game developers are truly trying to make Magic into a purely competitive, cutthroat game, then they’re succeeding–they have just taken a major step toward stamping out Casual Play once and for all. Yes, it’s a great mechanic; it’s effective, and it forces people to play quickly and powerfully. But it’s far too competitive for those of us who use Magic and other GAMES to relax and have a good time with friends.

Warning, This Gamer’s Climbing onto Her Soapbox!

To me, poison counters represent everything that’s wrong with Magic these days. Yes, I know, I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, waving my proverbial cane about and muttering “Well, in MY day, WE didn’t HAVE no stinkin’ poison counters and tournaments!” But it’s true–Magic has grown exponentially more competitive as the mass of Standard-playing customers has increased in size, and the game developers seem to be pandering more toward this aggressive, tournament-winning style of play.

Now, I’ll freely admit, I don’t think I’ve ever won a Magic tournament, because the deck styles that I most enjoy playing are meant more for multi-player games and extreme-long-game setups. (In multi-player games, I’m liable to win without anybody realizing how powerful I’ve become until it’s too late. In one-on-one games, I am wiped off the map before my first combo piece is on the board.) But I LIKED playing casually and playing multi-player. I LIKED just playing silly combos that only affect me and create a hilarious situation, like being able to gain 64 life off a single Life Burst because of Boon Reflection and having 3 Life Bursts in the graveyard. Gaining astronomical amounts of life doesn’t hurt anybody else, and it’s hysterical to watch.

But with most of the local gamers I know going over to the “dark side” of strictly tournament play, my favorite style of playing is nearly extinct. Everyone is either playing the more aggressive mechanics and more recent formats, playing me one-on-one and wiping the floor with me, or taking me down with poison counters that I can’t control. As my blog title says, poison counters (and mechanics like it) are maddeningly efficient. They’re maddeningly efficient at making me and other casual players like me quit the game entirely, because it’s no longer fun–it’s a gun fight, and I came equipped with a butter knife.

How Can We Defend Against Poison Counters?

Well, now that I’ve said my piece about how Magic seems to be going all uber-competitive, how can players work around these annoying little poison counters?

Besides using Leeches or Melira, Sylvok Outcast, there ARE ways to defend against getting poison counters, as listed below:

  1. Blocking any and all Infect creatures. Make sure the creature you block with has a larger toughness so that it can survive the -1/-1 hit!
  2. Removing or destroying Infect creatures and Proliferating permanents. Disenchant, Naturalize, Doom Blade, Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, Shock, Lightning Bolt, and Shriekmaw are just a few cards off the top of my head that can help this cause.
  3. Countering Infect creature spells and Proliferating permanent spells. Blue always has an answer for everything.

Even a primarily Vintage player like me can find ways to use the above strategies to protect myself from poison counters. After all, I play big-toughness creatures as a rule of thumb, and I also enjoy pumping my little creatures to stronger power and toughness to overcome my opponent, so I do have at least the ability to block the infect creatures. I also run a good deal of creature removal and enchantment/artifact destruction in most of my decks, so I can get rid of permanents that could proliferate what poison counters I have. And while I don’t run a lot of Red, Blue, or Black, I can occasionally Shock and Bolt some of the smaller infect creatures if I have to.

It is important to note, however, that not every deck can encompass these strategies. For those of us who build decks and rarely change them because they work so well, it’s annoying to have to change out some parts to a well-oiled machine just because of one mechanic. But if you want to survive in today’s Magic: the Gathering, you sometimes have to sacrifice the beauty of a well-designed Vintage- or Legacy-format strategy in order to build “what works” against the mechanic flavor of the month. “What works” may not be exactly your cup of tea, but it will give you a better chance to win, and perhaps a chance to have that fleeting, mythical experience called “fun” again.

More About Poison Counters and Player Discussions of Strategy

From wiki.mtgsalvation.com:

Ways to Remove Poison Counters? @ TappedOut.net
Need Help Preventing/Removing Poison Counters @ MTGFanatic.com
Complete list of cards that directly deal with poison counters @ Gatherer

Mana Base: The Literal Foundation of a Magic Deck

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m generally terrible at building a mana base for my decks, even though I’ve been playing Magic since 2005. When I start building a new deck, I’m usually focusing on the awesome cards I’m going to put in, rather than the mana I’m going to use to play said cards. Usually, I end up with way too many cards I want to put in and no room for mana!

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, either. I theorize that the reason Standard Magic (or Type II) has so many netdecks (copied strategies from pro and semi-pro players) is because most of us have a hard time building the right mana base. (Check DeckCheck, EssentialMagic, and the Standard General section of the Wizards of the Coast forums if you don’t believe me about copied strategies.) And, since mana bases are the foundation of any deck, when your mana base isn’t right, the deck doesn’t work.

So, how does a Magic player go about making a mana base that works? Here are some tips I’ve recently started to follow, with success:

#1: Determine what types of mana you need.

Sounds too simplistic, but this is the very first step to building a working mana base for your deck.

If you’ve got a mono-colored deck, for instance, you don’t need dual-color lands. And if you have dual-colored cards in your deck, you’re going to need both colors of mana to support them unless they are hybrid-mana cards (which means they could be played with either color).

How you choose to provide mana for your deck from color determination on is really based on what kinds of cards you have in your deck. For example, if you have a creature like Leonin Elder that gains life whenever an artifact comes into play, you will want artifact lands (like Ancient Den, at right) in your deck so that you have more artifacts to trigger that life-gain.
You also might have a creature that costs less to play for each certain type of land in play (this is called the “affinity” mechanic, seen on Tangle Golem at right). Playing this kind of ability means you’d want more of that land type in your deck than anything else.
Branching off the affinity concept, you could also use artifact lands to pump up a creature like Broodstar, who gets bigger for every artifact in play:
Other lands could support your deck in other ways, like lands that turn into creatures when a certain condition is fulfilled, or lands that can do other things besides give mana. Urza’s Factory, for instance, can put a 2/2 creature into play.
Strip Mine can get rid of an opponent’s land…
And Mutavault can become a 2/2 creature until end of turn.

You have to determine what you want your mana base to do for you before you proceed!

#2: Determine how much of each type you need.

Mono-colored decks get off easy in this regard. You simply put in enough mana sources of the color of your choice to constitute at least a third of your deck (so you’re drawing land about 33% of the time with a good shuffle), and you’re pretty much done.

However, if you’ve got a deck with more than one color, you need to balance things more carefully. Some things to consider include:

Casting costs of each spell.

Example: If you have a Green/White deck together, but all your Green spells have two Forests in the required casting costs, you’re probably not going to get away with an even split of Plains and Forests in your mana base. Instead, you’ll have to put in twice the number of Forests as Plains, so that you’ll more likely have the mana to play those double-green spells.

How many cards of each color you have.

Example: If you have a Green/White/Blue deck together, but you only have a few Blue cards, you won’t need many true Islands in the deck–you could possibly get away with just having a couple of dual- or tri-color lands. (I have such a deck together, and I’m only running 3 Islands, but I actually have enough access to Blue mana with the tri-color lands and land fetch I included in the deck.)

The land fetch you have included in your deck build.

Especially if you’re playing mono-Green or you’ve splashed Green into your deck, land fetch will help offset a troubled mana base. Land fetch, or the ability to retrieve another source of mana from your deck, is often necessary to offset turns where you have no land to play.

If you’re playing a lot of land fetch, you may not need as much of each color as you might have otherwise. If you’re not playing any at all, you will probably need to boost the amount of each type of mana you need for your deck.

#3: Determine how much of the deck you want to devote to your mana base.

I said earlier that about a third of most decks is dedicated to land. However, there are times when you don’t need 20 lands in a 60-card deck. You might need 24, or you might need 16. 20 is a good place to start, but depending on the type of deck you’re running, you may need to adjust that land count as you play the deck.

The only way to tell how much you’ll truly need for the deck’s best play is to test-play it quite a bit, either in a virtual environment or a real-life environment. I’ve had times where I built a 20-land mana base and got so consistently flooded with land it was unimaginable; I’ve also had times where a similar 20-land mana base got me stuck mid-game because I could not consistently draw enough land to support the cards I wanted to play.

Decks that discard a lot of their hands might have to ratchet up their land count to offset the cards they might lose in the process, for instance. Decks that need lots of mana to play super-high-costing stuff (such as Angels, Elementals, etc.), also generally need higher land counts. By contrast, decks that have lower-costed spells or creatures that tap for mana might not need as many lands. This is the most difficult part of refining a mana base, but it is necessary!


By taking into account your particular deck’s casting costs, spell types, colors, and abilities, you can be more informed about creating a good mana base the first (or thirty-first) time around. Research and consideration, plus a good dose of trial and error, is the best way!

Competitive Magic is for Plagiarists

I might be kicking a hornet’s nest with this post, but I feel this ought to be said. Competitive Magic: the Gathering, the kind played in tournaments, is usually a bunch of players copying and winning with strategies that someone else thought up, commonly called “netdecking.” When you go to tournaments, you can just about expect to see the same 5 decks over and over again. And it really makes me angry, to be honest.

Netdecking: Plagiarism by Another Name

Considering my background in English literature and composition, the idea of stealing an idea from someone else and claiming personal winnings from it is anathema. Where I come from, that kind of thing gets you kicked out of college, not 1st place in a Magic tournament. Any idiot can steal a term paper off the Internet, or copy from Wikipedia and the like; it doesn’t necessarily mean that they themselves have gotten any wiser from the copying. The same goes for Magic decks–just because you can copy a deck doesn’t mean you’re suddenly a star player.

I view each of my Magic decks as an original work of art. Maybe it’s not an optimized game-winning machine, but I thought of it and it’s mine–it represents my creativity and my thoughts. Running someone else’s deck feels wrong somehow, as if I’m trying to take credit for the work they did in putting the original concept together. I would rather lose with a deck I created than win with something I didn’t have the slightest hand in shaping.

Yet most tournament players these days win with decks they pulled off the internet, just like the player next to them did. Instead of introducing new ideas to the Magic: the Gathering community, they’re content to just take a “deck that wins” and profit from it. How does that express individuality and creativity? How does that prove anybody’s smarts? IT DOESN’T!

This is why I get angry when I’m in a tournament full of nothing but copycat decks. I resent it when my playing skill and deckcrafting ability is judged to be of poorer quality because my lovingly crafted strategy didn’t win against a netdeck. And I hate it when these punks act so smug about winning with their netdecks, as if their win proves they’re somehow “smarter” than I am, when all they did was search Google for a few minutes. I feel like shouting, “Go home and build your own blasted deck instead of copying from everyone else, and then we’ll see who wins!”


I’d like to have fun again in Magic. And right now, the competitive tournament mentality is absolutely WRECKING the Casual Magic scene that I used to enjoy so much. Most people just bring in their netdecks now for CASUAL games, instead of working on deck ideas they actually thought of and want to test out. And you just can’t test a new deck against a netdeck that’s designed to win in 5 turns or less–it’s not even a contest, just a foregone conclusion.

Maybe for everyone else, “fun” equals “beating the crap out of someone’s copied Tier 1 deck with your copied Tier 1 deck,” but it’s not fun for me, and it’s not fun for most of the Casual Magic players I’ve talked to, either. Competitive Magic definitely has its place, but I don’t want it in my living room, and I don’t want it in my casual games. Just for once, can we all just build our OWN strategies and actually have FUN?

Life Gain…It’s Not Just a Stall Tactic Anymore!

In my other posts on Magic the Gathering and casual gaming versus competitive gaming, I’ve often touched on the fact that there are many ways to play a game like Magic. Many competitive strategies involve lots of aggression or opponent control, and certainly these are faster ways to win than the style I’m about to describe. But just because a strategy doesn’t win quickly doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking at.

Life-gain in M:TG has often been characterized as nothing but a stall tactic, a way to keep yourself in the game while you build up slowly over turns. But choosing to keep your life total high can be much more important. The following are 3 ways you can use life-gain in your own decks: as a stabilizer, as opponent deterrent, and even–GASP!–a win condition!

Dipping Your Toe Into Life-Gain: Life-Gain as Stabilizer

Most times, life-gain is the net that opens below you as you fall from the tightrope. Many of the instant life-gain spells (see a fairly complete list here) give you the ability to partially or fully recover from a hit on your opponent’s turn, leaving you open to gain more life on your turn. (Remember, you have to live through the damage your opponent has dealt to you before you can gain the life off the instant spell.)

This kind of life-gain can be fitted into your existing strategy without making your deck too life-gain-based–it adds just a touch of resiliency. If you find that your super-aggressive deck isn’t staying around long enough when games go beyond 5 or 6 turns, you can put in a bit of life-gain (often combined with other control-based game effects like removing a creature or land, countering a spell, etc). Also, if your control or combo deck is having trouble staying stable in the first few turns before it can really build up, life-gain can give you a little cushion against high-damage decks while you’re searching up your combo pieces.

Partial Devotion to Life-Gain: Life-Gain as Opponent Deterrent

Sometimes, though, life-gain can be a way to discourage your opponent from attacking, especially in a group game. If all you’re doing is gaining life, and no damage your opponent deals really sticks, then they are likely to go for an easier target, or instead just build up their own strategy and leave you alone. Even in a one-on-one game, a good bit of life-gain can work as a mind game on your opponent, making them despair of ever taking your life total down permanently.

You don’t have to have tons of life-gain cards to make this work–just a playset each of Life Burst and Rest for the Weary can be enough for some decks, as well as some good lifelink creatures to block with. With a partial devotion to life-gain, there will be enough life-gain to shield you AND to keep your opponent guessing about how hard they’ll have to hit you for any damage to stick!

Total Devotion to Life-Gain: Life-Gain as Win Condition

Now, when I think of the concept of life-gain as a win condition, two cards come to mind: Test of Endurance and Felidar Sovereign. Both of these cards have a “You win if your life total is at or above this level at the beginning of your upkeep;” one is an enchantment, one is a creature. It is an unusual way to win, but it is actually quite effective; I have a deck based around Test of Endurance, visible here, which incorporates both damage prevention and steady life-gain off of everything one can possibly gain life off.

Building a deck like this means that you’re largely hunkering down and waiting to win–you’re not going to be doing a whole lot to the other player, unless you choose to use Lifelink creatures to do combat damage, or unless you build in a bit of opponent control into your own deck. Since I’m a more reactive, defensive player, I like this hunkered-down style of playing–the other person gets to play what they want, and they can TRY to attack me, but it’s not going to do much good, since I can bounce back pretty easily from any hit.


If you’ve never tried life-gain before, remember that you don’t have to devote 40 out of 60 cards to gaining life–you can add as few as 8 to give your deck a little more rebound from the depths of single-digit life totals. And it’s definitely not a weak strategy; indeed, if used correctly, it can blindside your opponent and bring you an unexpected win!

Competitive or Casual?

This is one of the most salient questions in all kinds of gaming, not just the nerdy kind with dice, but even video games and sports: do you play competitively or casually?

The question may seem to be a no-brainer for some people–of course you play competitively. What other reason would there be to play, except to win and learn how to win more? Once you remove the competition aspect from a game, a lot of the fun of it leaches out, and it becomes a mere distraction instead of something you can rationalize spending time on.

But, for others, the competitive angle actually eats away at the heart of what made the game popular in the first place: it’s fun. You know, fun? What we used to have playing this game before it became a nail-biting, tooth-grinding, money-gobbling event? For that matter, when a game is not played casually anymore, is it even a game anymore?

Where I’m Coming From

I’m mainly coming from a background of collectible card gaming and miniatures gaming with this article, but you can see elements of these same two schools of thought clashing in the worlds of sports, races, card games like poker, etc. In any type of game, it seems, you are always going to have the people who absolutely have to be the best at every game they play, and the people who play it to have fun with friends and socialize rather than win.

But sadly, the competitive type tends to quash out the casual type when they are brought together, like hunters shooting bald eagles–the casual players are already endangered due to everything in life having to be a competition in this day and age. Once the competitive players start sucking the life and fun out of a game by making it all serious, the casual players eventually stop trying to play. It’s no fun sitting across the table or standing across the court or field from someone who acts like every missed roll or every missed play is a nail in their coffin.

Yes, You Can Be TOO Competitive

I personally am competitive in my heart, but I hate the way that competitiveness transforms me when I play a game. Suddenly, I have to win, I have to be the best, because I’m such a perfectionist I can’t stand to lose. It really drains the fun out of the game for me, and it’s not fun for my opponent to watch me disintegrate into wordless anger every time the dice don’t roll my way. Thus, I’ve largely gone toward casual gaming, to take some of the intense pressure off and to try to train myself to have fun again.

One thing I’ve noticed, however, in my odyssey away from competitive gaming, is how much competitive gamers look down on casual gamers. To them, we are an inferior breed, weaker players, not really even worth “real” players’ time, because we don’t take the game as seriously. Having been very competitive before, I understand why they get like this–sometimes, it feels like the whole world is staked on your next card, your next shot at the basket. But when a game becomes that important to you, hasn’t it become less of a hobby and more of an addiction?

When Games Are No Longer Fun…Re-Examine Yourself

I don’t intend to solve this quandary in one blog post, but I did want to bring this to people’s attention. Whether you play games just to have fun or you play them to win, if you’re happy doing it, then you’re doing something right. The only time I worry is when it seems that games are no longer fun and they are instead things that you have to win at to be happy. Then, I believe, competition has crossed the line into obsession.

Magic: the Gathering

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible, fantasy-based card game, involving decks of at least 60 cards that you construct yourself. The basic premise is that you and your opponent are each given 20 life points to start. In a two-player game, the one who runs out of those 20 life points first loses. The game is about finding ways to protect your own life points while devising ways to take down the other player’s life points.

To Start: Find Your Preferred Way to Win

There are five basic “colors” of cards you can use to build your deck: White, Red, Green, Blue, and Black. Each color has a different philosophy of how to win:

There are also Artifact cards (which can be used with any color) and Hybrid/Multicolor (blends of two or more colors). Some philosophies of winning work well together (Blue and Black, for instance, or White and Green), and some philosophies have a harder time working together (like Red and Blue, or White and Black).

Literally endless strategies are available to be explored–there’s something for every personality. If you like to win by simply blocking anything your opponent tries to do, there’s a strategy for you (Blue and sometimes White). If you like to steamroll your opponent with huge creatures that trample across the field, there’s a strategy for you, too (Green all the way). And if you just like to blow your opponent’s stuff up, there’s a strategy for you, too (Red and sometimes Black).

Modes of Play: It’s Not Just a Two-Player Duel!

Magic: the Gathering does involve one-on-one games, but that’s not the only way you can play. Multiplayer (three or more players) games are allowed–in these situations, the last player left standing wins. Also, there’s alternative forms of the game as well, generally meant for casual play:

  • Two-Headed Giant (teams of two playing off against each other)
  • Archenemy (one player is the “villain” while a team of three players are the “heroes”)
  • Vanguard (special large-size cards with various characters from Magic lore are used to change up the rules of the game slightly)
  • Elder Dragon Highlander/Commander (choose a Legendary creature as your “general” and build a deck around him/her)
  • Mental Magic (pick up a card off a stack of random cards. You cannot play the card as itself–rather, you must play it as another card with the exact same cost. Requires lots of knowledge of various cards!)

For More Information

Visit MagicTheGathering.com for official product updates and informative articles; MTGSalvation.com also has lots of information on the history and lore of the game. I also have a website called The Gamer’s Repose, which has a fairly large Magic: the Gathering section featuring tips for beginners, and gameplay advice.