The Art of War and Magic - Chapter 11



Hey howdy, hey! We're diving in to the meatiest goodness of Multiplayer theory in this latest section.

1. Sun Tzu said: The art of war recognizes nine varieties of ground: (1) Dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; (9) desperate ground.

After reading this, and re-reading my notes, I found myself asking "How is this not about Terrain?". Sun Tzu provides the answer: while the chapter on Terrain merely laid out the different ways that the terrain could be laid out, this chapter gives you the tools you need to approach each game situation effectively.

2. When a chieftain is fighting in his own territory, it is dispersive ground.

In other chapters, Sun Tzu refers to chieftains as being 'the enemy chieftains', which would suggest that he doesn't think this quote applies to his own generals. Dispersive ground means that the men believe they can return to their wives, and people believe they can still go home again and find everything unchanged. In game terms, this is any player who believes that they can rebuild, or come back from foolish gambits. Like Sun Tzu, I don't want this for you. In your own mind, you need to know that there is no turning back, to better motivate you to make the right decision the first time around. Be like unto the jumping child in Dark Knight Rises.

3. When he has penetrated into hostile territory, but to no great distance, it is facile ground.

The source text again discusses just how easy it is to turn around and run home even after you have already committed an act of war by leading an army into someone else's borders. This is reminiscent of the tragic cycle. In the structure of a tragedy, the hero is subjected to a malign version of "The Call" from the Hero's Journey. In the journey, the audience is certain that the hero must fulfil the call for the story to resolve properly. In the tragic cycle, we know that "The Call" is a siren. The hero is conflicted by their divided self; one part knows that this cannot end well, the other side wants to touch the sign saying 'wet paint'. In many tragedies, the hero's descent is littered with offers of redemption that they refuse to accept, even after crossing the border. Hence, in this scenario, the conflict is spread from one man to playing out across many thousands of soldiers. If a general cannot lead his men to make the same decision, there can be no war.

This diversion was brought to you by Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots. I really liked it.

In Magic terms, attacking for 2-5 damage in the early game is facile ground. Your opponent is mildly inconvenienced, but even on 35 life they're still going to be willing to cast Necropotence and you've done nothing that a humble Soul Warden couldn't fix before their next untap step. I believe you should avoid facile ground - unless you're attacking with Ninjas, or Specters, or Infect critters.

4. Ground the possession of which imports great advantage to either side, is contentious ground.

Contentious ground is anything that someone has that you can't afford to let them keep. Planeswalkers that tick towards a powerful ultimate, a Luminarch Ascension, Primordial Hydra, recurring life gain effects (even in a world without Felidar Sovereign, continuously gaining life behind some sturdy creatures gives you an amazing psychological edge).

5. Ground on which each side has liberty of movement is open ground.

This is the 'phase one' of multiplayer referred to earlier, and similar to the open terrain of the early game from Chapter 10A.

6. Ground which forms the key to three contiguous states, so that he who occupies it first has most of the Empire at his command, is a ground of intersecting highways.

When you're at ground of intersecting highways, you have access to any number of mutually exclusive pathways, all of which are 'good', none of which you can particularly double back on. The classic example is the first player to play a big creature after a wrath has cleared the board of threats and blockers. Player A has Rorix or a more hip, up to date version and everyone is sub-20 life with no creatures. The player atop the dragon mount is able to strike at Player B, C or D without fear of retribution this turn. This kind of advantage is fleeting: if Player B is planning to play a Wall of Denial and Player C has Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and Player A doesn't know this, he won't be able to ask for take-backsies if he attacks, kills or fails-to-kill the wrong player.

7. When an army has penetrated into the heart of a hostile country, leaving a number of fortified cities in its rear, it is serious ground.

This was a thing in Warlords II, a turn-based strategy I grew up playing. I've been waiting on it to be released in tablet form since seeing this. The game is about capturing cities, which allow you to produce new units. It was sometimes tempting to ignore a nearby city filled with packs of spiders or minotaurs and just cut across the plains to capture three or four completely undefended cities. But if you did that, the enemy could easily recapture everything you'd taken and a few other cities for their trouble. In practise, it was always a good idea to throw your troops at the heavily defended position, because if you could take that city you could take anything.

In Magic, getting into serious ground means attacking with cards like Pestilence Demon and Armada Wurm (and Armada Wurm's +1) when your opponent controls titans like Grave Titan, or Baneslayer Angel, Wurmcoil Engine, or Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. The cards in the former category would all win or trade in a straight-up fight with cards in the latter category, but Grave Titan provides an advantage each time it attacks, Baneslayer and Wurmcoil both regain lost life and Niv-Mizzet provides card advantage when it connects. So, in each case: you manage to achieve some fleeting advantage by knocking them from 40 to 24, but their counter-swing will deal a similar amount of damage and will actually strengthen their position.


This not-really animated head represented most of my weekends and all of my holidays in the 90's while all the kids with MS-DOS were playing Commander Keen. His eyes blinked. He seemed to know how the game was going, and he told you how he felt about you. It was awesome.

8. Mountain forests, rugged steeps, marshes and fens--all country that is hard to traverse: this is difficult ground.

This 'difficult ground' is the same as the entangling ground of yester-article. Entangling ground is when every turn means you lose some sort of resource - be it a permanent, a card in hand, or even your 'tempo'. Moving forward in difficult ground requires an awful lot of effort.

9. Ground which is reached through narrow gorges, and from which we can only retire by tortuous paths, so that a small number of the enemy would suffice to crush a large body of our men: this is hemmed in ground.

See also: the narrow pass from Chapter 10A.

10. Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.

This is similar to the 'I'm winning!' terrain discussed in Chapter 10A. Whenever a player is close to winning or losing, the ground is considered desperate.

11. On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not.

This is revisited in verse 41 and onwards, so I'll cover it in-depth there.

12. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy's way. On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies.

In general, it is ineffective to interfere with the initial 'ramp up and play walls' action of phase one. It is so, because you lack the ability to move beyond the kind of damage associated with facile ground. In general, the two points dealt to me in the early game do nothing but provide flimsy justification for five damage later on in the game.

When you are the aggressor in intersecting highways, press home your advantage by ensuring that your team-mates are focused on the prize that you've offered them, not the prize to be had from efficient backstabbing. When you're the victim of aggression by a much more powerful player, you need to unite with the other players low on the totem pole and defang the aggressor.

13. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march.

Serious ground means that you're likely to suffer a counter-attack. Serious ground means that you and your opponent are probably going to lose life. Your job is to make sure that you walk away with some tangible benefit for your aggression. You need to benefit from the activation triggers of attacking Titans, or the benefits of a huge life-linker, or even the humble Hypnotic Specter chipping away.

In difficult ground: Don't commit resources to the board if they'll die without any beneficial effect. If you can weather it out, just pass your turns until the effect goes away. If for some reason you have to keep playing cards, find ways to get more lands and try to generate raw card advantage to make up for the loss of tempo.

14. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground, fight.

We covered the chapter on Stratagem in 2010. Those were halcyon days filled with puns and impromptu games of balderdash. I'll summarise briefly: in hemmed-in ground, try to stay under the radar, get other people to do your work. Never attack into blockers. Be wary of the guy on the next table over Radiating a Wrath of God.

Hemmed-in ground that gets worse instead of better becomes desperate ground. When you're on desperate ground, you attack if it will cause them to lose even one point of life, and you block as long as it protects you against even one point of damage.

15. Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive a wedge between the enemy's front and rear; to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions; to hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad, the officers from rallying their men.

Nicol Bolas taught me the best time to play Diabolic Edict. Nicol Bolas is the boss at the end of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. He has a deck with four of every Mox in his colours, all the best removal, and some weird utility creatures (I'm looking at you, Igneous Pouncer).

Sometimes, when I play against him, I'm tempted to be a bit lazy. After all, he's just a series of 1's and 0's and a smiling golden face on the screen. Nicol Bolas isn't the Pro Tour. He's not even an FNM. I know I should play my creature in my second main phase, but I also know that waiting until the second main phase is for squares. I want to play my creature now, and then I can work out how to attack. I play my creature.

And every time, he responds with a Diabolic Edict while my new creature is on the stack. I lose one of my good beaters, and he gets another turn of not-taking damage.

Playing an edict while the card is on the stack means that your opponent can only choose creatures that would otherwise be able to attack this turn and reduces the number of choices they are able to make, increasing the likelihood that you'll hit something relevant. Quotes like this are about more than just 'you can play Diabolic Edict at the same time as you would play Counterspell', but this is a good way to start thinking about how to divide your opponent's attackers without needing to go straight to the very literal interpretation of playing Do or Die.

16. When the enemy's men were united, they managed to keep them in disorder.

Let us say that you have reached a situation in which your opponent has managed to commit troops to the board, and for some reason there is no wrath in the near future. Perhaps they have Stalking Vengeance, perhaps they're using Darksteel Colossus as the base line for their army. Our aim now must be to ensure that his creatures cannot simply make an all-out assault against us. Whether this means that he attacks another player all-out, or he attacks us with a portion of his force, or he does not attack is an exercise left up to your judgement as you reach your scenario in real-life. How do we do this? We can give someone else a Curse of Tastiness or Curse of Bloodletting. We can maintain blockers with Deathtouch, we can use Fog Bank (which is in M13!), we can use our precious instant-speed removal to shoot holes in another player's defenders, we can casually reveal our Wing Shards with the grace and flirtatiousness of a nip slip, we can be thankful that we have Ghostly Prison and they don't have enough mana to pay for everything.

17. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still.

Sun Tzu brings this up a lot. It is a wonder that it is so very hard to act on its wisdom. I have encountered a theory that may explain why: Ego Depletion Theory, which posits that willpower is a finite resource and the act of restraining your impulses spends this resource. There is no word on whether or not you can build up your willpower through repeated exercise. My gut suggests that if you devote your energy to stopping yourself from eating a Twinkie each week, you're setting yourself up for a Twinkie binge in a month, a Twinkie-related homicide in ten years, or you'll drop the ball and take up smoking again. I'd elaborate, but now I feel like I need a Twinkie.

18. If asked how to cope with a great host of the enemy in orderly array and on the point of marching to the attack, I should say: "Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will."

He is definitely talking about testicles.

It should be noted: Sun Tzu is explicitly not talking about Mind Control. When you use that kind of effect, you have seized something your opponent held dear, but not in a way that makes them think that they should listen to you. The guy who uses Mind Control is a guy who steals your girlfriend by being a better listener and a more engaging lover. He has your girlfriend now. She won't come back. Why listen?

Instead, you need to show them that their future is in their hands, and you are a simple creature who responds to stimuli. Yes, you're holding a removal spell that will destroy the permanents they most hold dear, but if they can only co-operate with you, you won't need to pull the trigger. This is the guy who takes a family hostage. You like him even less than the first guy and you don't trust him, but now you're actually caught in a vice, because there's a non-zero chance that you might get to keep your valuables.

19. Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy's unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.

In a deck construction sense, Rapidity would be the variable that tracks how quickly and efficiently you can enact your game plan. In-game, being able to deploy hasty creatures is paramount if you want to recover from the wraths that get bandied about. Being able to tutor reactively to respond to new pressures is huge, while being able to tutor aggressively into your win conditions is what takes a deck from merely very good to the terrifying.

When you take advantage of an enemy's unreadiness, you're looking for the kind of mechanics that are hard to counter outside of the block they were spawned in.

20. The following are the principles to be observed by an invading force: The further you penetrate into a country, the greater will be the solidarity of your troops, and thus the defenders will not prevail against you.

This principle contributes heavily to my mantra of 'forgive anyone once, but punish the second time'. After the first attack, your opponent is in facile ground. They can be repelled, or they can be convinced to retreat in favour of more easily conquered ground. But don't just think of this as anything that causes you to lose life points: the longer a person is allowed to go unimpeded, the harder it is to uproot them - for example, if someone plays Privileged Position but has nothing worth blasting, that card needs to die before they can Moat. If someone so much as plays Divination, they need to be disrupted before they can play something truly nefarious, like Tidings.

As long as we're on the subject of forgiveness, let's talk about Diplomacy, which I mentioned a few months back. The theory behind the game devotes sizeable real estate to talking about 'stabs', which is a slang term meaning a large attack that simultaneously strengthens your position by dramatically weakening the position of an unsuspecting ally. Stabs need to be done all in one turn to prevent your victim from mounting a defence. There are differences between Diplomacy and Magic, but it informs my belief that it costs you nothing to forgive you once: if you're still in the game they made a mistake by attacking you, and if you're wrong about offering forgiveness it's because you died and it's a moot point. It still pays to be wary of your erstwhile ally post-forgiveness-offering. You read strategy articles and you're not a fool.

On the other hand, if an aggressive player loses steam and is forced to leave a defending player on a single-digit life total, that person will bear the scars of the attack for the next couple of turns. There is a chance that someone else may well finish off the job. I'm not a huge fan of doing other people's dirty work, but at the same time, the enemy of my enemy is still not my friend. Their death may be hollow and costly, but it makes my combat math easier.

21. Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with food.

As long as your Thieving Magpie is the only flier and you don't need the three toughness to block someone's way, you should always attack with it to increase your hand size at the cost of your political capital. The same goes for Titans and anything with lifelink.

22. Carefully study the well-being of your men, and do not overtax them. Concentrate your energy and hoard your strength. Keep your army continually on the move, and devise unfathomable plans.

This verse suffers from its transmission into the logic of a card game, where things like morale and food aren't a problem.

You should study the strengths of your deck and not make assumptions about what it can and can't handle. You can't say that the single Thieving Magpie makes your deck a 'blue skies' deck focusing on benefiting from the attack step while simultaneously dragging your opponents down.

You should hold back a dude from attacking if you're going to need a blocker, but where Sun Tzu would berate you for wasting the fighting spirit of good men, I see a Vampire Nighthawk who isn't going to suffer PTSD from overexposure to combat. Although you can run out of cards and tempo, the 'hoard your strength' notion seems similar to the kind of game play engendered by Vampire: the Eternal Struggle, where your life points and mana are one and the same.

Lastly, it's very difficult to devise unfathomable plans. The best you can hope for is what the fine folk at TV Tropes refer to as Xanatos Speed Chess: In real life, your unfathomable plans can be something as splashy as setting fire to the battlefield, or revealing that the valley your opponents are standing in is actually a dammed-up river. In Magic, it is unsporting to send assassins to kill your opponents the night before the game. Thus, we're limited to lying about the plans for our deck, attacking people who were hoping not to be attacked and packing instant-speed removal.

23. Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve. Officers and men alike will put forth their uttermost strength.

As a strategist, is it better to play aggressively, fighting your way into positions where you will need to use tactics to fight your way back out again? Can you rely on adrenalin rushes?

For my money - no. Your brain will build up a resistance to the adrenalin surges if you continually drive yourself into the same hopeless fights. Experiential thought is not a good substitute for rational thought. A well-executed game of Magic doesn't mean that you spend the last turn trying to solve your own personal rendition of "Magic: the Puzzling". A well-executed game is as follows:

Your opponent is on 1 life with no untapped permanents and no cards in hand. You control a Wandering Ones. It is your pre-combat main phase. Win by the end of your turn.

24. Soldiers when in desperate straits lose the sense of fear. If there is no place of refuge, they will stand firm. If they are in hostile country, they will show a stubborn front. If there is no help for it, they will fight hard.

People should never be made to feel cornered. A person who is cornered knows that the only way out is through the person that's cornered them. Consequently, when we play games, people should never have the emotional sensation that they are cornered, and the should never have enough time to develop the tactical opinion that killing you is the only way out of a difficult situation.

25. Thus, without waiting to be marshalled, the soldiers will be constantly on the qui vive; without waiting to be asked, they will do your will; without restrictions, they will be faithful; without giving orders, they can be trusted.

Qui vive is defined as a sentinel's challenge. The French is literally "whose side are you on?".

26. Prohibit the taking of omens, and do away with superstitious doubts. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared.

Never look at the top card of your library until you play Future Sight or Oracle of Mul Daya. Never roll a dice. Never question your decisions.

27. If our soldiers are not overburdened with money, it is not because they have a distaste for riches; if their lives are not unduly long, it is not because they are disinclined to longevity.

Sun Tzu was one of the 99%. Although in earlier passages he talks about how we don't make nails out of good iron (referring to the fact that the largest parts of historical armies are generally from the lower classes, not the landed gentry), I think he recognises that given a different accident of birth, the same person could have lived a richer and longer life.

Is there a Magic parallel? Maybe. A player might not have expensive rare cards, but it's not because they don't care about the game. They may think it's the greatest thing ever, but they have to pay their rent so that their family can sleep under a roof every night. Your opponent might not have been playing for long, but that doesn't make them a 'noob'. Magic players have access to the combined intellect of the hive-mind to give them advice on deck construction. They have archives on every format at their fingertips. It's amazing!

28. On the day they are ordered out to battle, your soldiers may weep, those sitting up bedewing their garments, and those lying down letting the tears run down their cheeks. But let them once be brought to bay, and they will display the courage of a Chu or a Kuei.

This is an interesting piece of imagery that jars with our contemporary image of the general infantry. My experiences with media lead me to see the modern day soldier as being perpetually 'in the zone', ready for any combat eventuality. On the surface, it would seem that Sun Tzu doesn't see his contemporary soldier as being very resolute at all.

After writing this paragraph, I got the distinct impression that I wasn't doing this passage justice. I referenced my real-life source, and from it I learned that this passage actually refers to men who aren't afraid, just resolved to either kill or be killed and coming to terms with it. These are manly tears we're talking about.

Well, from Sun Tzu we learn that the only real way to go out is with a stiff upper lip and slightly rheumy eyes. Remember this, gentlemen.

29. The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the ChUng mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.

You should refer to dbuel's "What I know about Magic: the Gathering" and his discussion on the metagame clock. You'll find it here, under the heading "Tick-Tock".

The take-home point is that you can build a deck that contains within it the choice to occupy the role of the midrange or the combo deck. If your opponent wants to win fast, your disruption can be sufficient to draw out the game until they lose steam. If they want to make the game go long, you can throw them off-balance long enough to steal the win. If the game is passively stalling out, you can combo out for the win.

In addition to this, at any given point you need to be vaguely aware of where the design pendulum has been pushing in the last two years, because this will tell you what random players are packing in their decks. For example: between and 2009 and 2010 the answer was "they are playing Alara shards generals". Between 2010 and 2011 the answer was "they are playing with Titans". Since 2011, they have been playing with Commander pre-con generals. As of the end of 2012, they are playing with Return to Ravnica cards.

30. Asked if an army can be made to imitate the shuai-jan, I should answer, Yes. For the men of Wu and the men of Yueh are enemies; yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come to each other's assistance just as the left hand helps the right.

Our source text makes note that if two enemies can be relied on to save each other in a time of crisis, how much better will two allies do when they're up against the wall?

Thus, when you sit down to build your deck, everything needs to flow together to construct one single unified vision in which you win the game.

Consider Kaalia. She has an appealing ability - with every attack, you could drop a seven-mana fattie into play! So you build a deck with 40 land, 58 Angels, Demons and Dragons and 1 Armageddon, because you're a really innovative deck-builder and it's not jerkish if it wins you the game.

I'm exaggerating. My Kaalia deck only has 30 Angels/Demons/Dragons, very little support and the rest is a sub-par Stax package.

What do I need to do to make Kaalia 'good'? I need to play the game until I can Armageddon. I need to have ways of protecting myself until I can drop a Kaalia into play. I need ways to play the game if Kaalia eats a Spin into Myth. When I can do these things, Kaalia won't just be a flimsy general, she will be a cog in a vicious machine. Maybe I will need other ways to drop big guys into play. All of these developments will mean that instead of playing 30 over costed fatties, I'll play maybe 15-20, but all of those cards will be capable of winning the game when they hit the board.

31. Hence it is not enough to put one's trust in the tethering of horses, and the burying of chariot wheels in the ground.

This is still on the subject of the Shuai Jan 'parable'. Our source text describes historic generals who would make the grandiose gesture of anchoring themselves to the ground before battle, using an actual anchor. Someone else presumably carried the anchor in peace-time. But why use an anchor instead of proven motivational techniques? Well, because it's an anchor. It anchors things.

But what if that guy needed to dodge a runaway horse? What if he needed to give chase? What if he realised he actually needed to retreat? No, sayeth our source - sayeth me! It's not enough to 'not lose'. We need plans that end in us winning.

32. The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach.

When you build a deck, you should have some idea of a 'base' card.
This card is the card that every other card works with. In most cases, it's your general. In some cases, it will be a splashy card like Omniscience or a family of cards like Meekstone.
Each card you include in your deck should interact favorably with that base card.
The base card should make cards in your deck better.

33. How to make the best of both strong and weak--that is a question involving the proper use of ground.

Is the answer to only play strong cards? No.

Multiplayer theory is based on the understanding that permanents and cards that threaten your opponents are fundamentally strong, and reactive cards (instant speed removal, artifact and enchantment destruction) are fundamentally weak.

With that said, your threat cards are only useful if they have a chance to perform their intended function. Similarly, your opponent's threats are necessarily threatening, so the loss of momentum from playing removal on their threats is preferable to dying without any interaction at all.

34. Thus the skillful general conducts his army just as though he were leading a single man, willy-nilly, by the hand.

If you're skillful, you don't take fifteen minutes to finish your turn. 15-minute turns are the hallmark of someone trying to remember the synergies they built into their deck. 30-second turns mean that you were able to make your decisions during your opponent's turn. If you have a super-complicated turn, announce the final outcome ("I win", "My creatures are infinite/infinite", "I draw my deck") and explain the motions you take to get there. You can explain it with gestures, but only if someone actually challenges you on that front.

35. It is the business of a general to be quiet and thus ensure secrecy; upright and just, and thus maintain order.

It was the philosopher Gaga who said, "can't read my poker face". Don't give away your plans at the drop of a hat. Never resort to villainous monologuing. Being upright and just means not backstabbing people just because they were open. It means backstabbing people because it wins you the game.

36. He must be able to mystify his officers and men by false reports and appearances, and thus keep them in total ignorance.


Until September 21, 2012, Kokusho got a
direct reference in this passage.
Welcome back, buddy!
"I am a 400 ft. tall purple platypus-bear with pink horns and silver wings."
-Azula always lies.

"Don't attack me. I'll be able to get you back next turn."
"Why? What's in your hand?"
"Primeval Titan, Emrakul, Griselbrand and Protean Hulk."
"Groovy."
- You, lying effectively.

When you tell lies, make them ludicrous lies. People know on a subliminal level when you're lying, and this will gradually sour them against you over time. Tell lies that make the listener brutally aware that the truth is not available to them at this moment. Experimenting with half-truths will earn you a worse reputation than being an unbelievable liar.

37. By altering his arrangements and changing his plans, he keeps the enemy without definite knowledge. By shifting his camp and taking circuitous routes, he prevents the enemy from anticipating his purpose.

Do not deceive yourself into believing that you've built your deck to serve the purpose of being aggro-control-combo with the ability to switch gears multiple times at will. If you truly want to engage in lies and chicanery, focus it on other people. Embrace theatricality and deception, build three decks around one versatile Commander, identically sleeved, boxed and with a similar basic land package. Switch between these decks each week. Your opponents will know that you're playing your "deck", that does "that thing", but they won't be able to elaborate further beyond pointing out that it's really suspect how your removal package changes after every play session.

If you're not keen on theatricality and deception, embrace the possibilities that owning multiple Commander decks affords you. Make each deck do a single thing, and make that thing 'different'. Your removal can have similarities, but your exciting, 'build-around-me' cards should be unique to each deck. This makes you a better, more rounded person, and it means your opponents can't plan to destroy you by packing specific answers in a single deck.

38. At the critical moment, the leader of an army acts like one who has climbed up a height and then kicks away the ladder behind him. He carries his men deep into hostile territory before he shows his hand.

If you want to end the game in glorious combat or a beautiful display of pyrotechnics (but not with a combo), you can't afford to hold back. No player can be allowed a 'safe haven', not even yourself. Blow up the lands, ban life gain, stop people from sandbagging cards in hand. But do whatever it takes to end the game.

39. He burns his boats and breaks his cooking-pots; like a shepherd driving a flock of sheep, he drives his men this way and that, and nothing knows whither he is going.

The final rounds need to be a gamble for everyone - after you've committed to ending the game, even you won't be able to stop it.

40. To muster his host and bring it into danger:--this may be termed the business of the general.

When I first started writing this series, I made reference to the concept of having three phases of gameplay and having a plan for each.
I also noted that if you're planning to end the game with combat, you're planning for an uncertain outcome.
This notion of mounting tension towards an uncertain objective is the pinnacle of good games design, because it's a fair conflict that could favour either player.

So, in conclusion, mustering your host, bringing it into danger and committing to kill-or-be-killed is a way of playing multiplayer. It is at cross-purposes to the combo-esque approach brought up in earlier chapters, but it is equally valid. I believe most people focus on the 'mustering your host' part at the expense of the 'bringing it into danger' part, which is why Armageddon is such an unpopular card.

41. The different measures suited to the nine varieties of ground; the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics; and the fundamental laws of human nature: these are things that must most certainly be studied.

From verse 41 onwards, Sun Tzu is training us to recognise what kind of territory we're in and how to react to it. These verses make frequent reference to the very first verses, so we're forming a sort of palindrome of themes.

42. When invading hostile territory, the general principle is, that penetrating deeply brings cohesion; penetrating but a short way means dispersion.

This makes no reference of your enemy's response to your invasion, so clearly everything hinges on you. In general, the more you risk, the more creatures you commit, the more saboteur abilities that trigger as a result of your action, the better the chances of success.

The following decisions are all associated with failure and dispersion:
1) Keeping a creature back 'for defence'.
2) Attacking a second player.
3) Listening to the defender's claim that you've already hit them 'enough'.
4) Aggravating an opponent without disabling that opponent.
5) Becoming caught in entangling or temporising ground.

43. When you leave your own country behind, and take your army across neighborhood territory, you find yourself on critical ground. When there are means of communication on all four sides, the ground is one of intersecting highways.

If you no longer have trustworthy allies, it's because you've pulled out enough of a lead that the rest of the table is forced to align against you. The act of pulling ahead aggravates the opponent you're attacking most successfully, which aggravates his allies. Your success separates your interests from the interests of your allies, who now recognise you as an individual rather than a member of a functioning team, which weakens your connection to them. In this way we see that all individual success in conflict is essentially an act of sociopathy: you separate yourself from every other entity by eventually being the only person left alive.

44. When you penetrate deeply into a country, it is serious ground. When you penetrate but a little way, it is facile ground.

As mentioned by Sun Tzu thirty-seven verses ago, serious ground refers to the opponent's ability to respond to your aggression. If you've committed the majority of your forces to your successful attack, your troops are too far removed from the enemy's position to counter their reprisal. However, if you've attacked with a few guys and still have a vigilant creature left on defense, you've successfully gained ground without risking your opponent doing the same.

45. When you have the enemy's strongholds on your rear, and narrow passes in front, it is hemmed-in ground. When there is no place of refuge at all, it is desperate ground.

We established earlier that a narrow pass was anything that gave your opponent a strong defensive advantage. This could be a Ghostly Prison effect. It could also be a wall or a few untapped fatties. Hemmed-in ground means that your attempts to kill an opponent by marching through Serious ground have failed. It is time to wrath if at all possible.

Desperate ground is exactly the same as above, but you're unable to wrath. Sue for peace, attack with everything, or die.

46. Therefore, on dispersive ground, I would inspire my men with unity of purpose. On facile ground, I would see that there is close connection between all parts of my army.

In the context of dispersive ground, we're seeking to unite a gang of disparate players with the intention of achieving some great objective that is of benefit to all parties. This is probably 'kill the scariest player at the table', but could also be as simple as two players co-ordinating their removal and/or counterspells to ensure that a Primeval Titan is not given the opportunity to attack.

When fighting in facile ground, we've just made an aggressive move against an opponent but we can't commit fully to killing them on that turn. This means we need to keep defenders available for the counter-attack and avoid over-extending.

47. On contentious ground, I would hurry up my rear.


Hurry up!
Contentious ground is anything we can't let our opponents keep. If they have a Planeswalker with a threatening ultimate, start attacking it now instead of the turn before they get a shiny new emblem. You don't want to find out they have a Fog on your crucial turn.

48. On open ground, I would keep a vigilant eye on my defences. On ground of intersecting highways, I would consolidate my alliances.

When the game is just starting up, you're in open ground by default. Wraths tend to return people to open ground. In both cases, a good wall is a good play. (Post-wrath, a hasty dragon is the best play)

When you're at a crossroads with several other players, agree to make the series of choices that maximise the amount of time you travel together. When the time comes to part, do so without animosity.

49. On serious ground, I would try to ensure a continuous stream of supplies. On difficult ground, I would keep pushing on along the road.

Supplies has a three-fold meaning: you need creatures worth attacking with, a good engine for mana development and some sort of ace in the hole that helps you keep up during the late game.

So: Rafiq and Kaalia are good examples of things to attack with in the early game.
For maintaining a flow of resources even while you're on the attack, Journeyer's Kite is pretty great. One with Nature is a fine looking card, even if it is an aura. Sword of Feast and Famine and friends are pricey but effective.
As an ace-in-the-hole, consider things like Righteous Cause, Coastal Piracy, Wheel of Fortune, or Exquisite Blood. These all keep you from falling too far behind.

50. On hemmed-in ground, I would block any way of retreat. On desperate ground, I would proclaim to my soldiers the hopelessness of saving their lives.

51. For it is the soldier's disposition to offer an obstinate resistance when surrounded, to fight hard when he cannot help himself, and to obey promptly when he has fallen into danger.

I believe that when Sun Tzu talks about blocking any way of retreat, he's still blocking your way of retreating, not the opponent's. We've already established that when you corner someone, you just make them mad. When you're caught in a rock and a hard place, make it so that your only way out is through the other guy's spleen. The same goes for desperate ground.

52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.

I feel as though we've covered this previously, but it bears saying again: a deck with Black Vise can't make friends with a deck that wants to use The Rack to punish opponents.

In terms of making use of local guides, stay temporally grounded by reading new strategy guides as they get released. When you make new friends, learn about their decklists and learn about their feelings on what strategies are good in Magic. Do this because paying attention to other people makes you a good person and because it will help you take part in their competitions more effectively. This series has never made a practice of providing decklists or up-to-the-minute cards because they become dated in less than three months time, so you'll need to keep reading.

53. To be ignored of any one of the following four or five principles does not befit a warlike prince.
54. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy's forces. He overawes his opponents, and their allies are prevented from joining against him.

Remember this simple catch-cry: "(S)he's the threat!". Anyone who defends them is letting them win. Anyone who fails to attack has bad threat assessment. When that becomes too transparent, learn new tactics.

55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does he foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his antagonists in awe. Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms.

See? Written in a text that is hundreds of years old is a reminder that you shouldn't be friends with everyone. Acknowledge the possibility that someone at the table is your enemy. Don't feel the need to publish your hit list for the rest of the table to dissect at their leisure.

56. Bestow rewards without regard to rule, issue orders without regard to previous arrangements; and you will be able to handle a whole army as though you had to do with but a single man.

Be prepared to dispense with useless traditions! There is no conventional wisdom that is worth following in the face of certain defeat.

57. Confront your soldiers with the deed itself; never let them know your design. When the outlook is bright, bring it before their eyes; but tell them nothing when the situation is gloomy.

When you're doing well, admit to it. When you're losing the game, do nothing and say nothing until it is time for you to play a card capable of a stunning reversal of fortune.

58. Place your army in deadly peril, and it will survive; plunge it into desperate straits, and it will come off in safety.
59. For it is precisely when a force has fallen into harm's way that is capable of striking a blow for victory.

Every good and wise thing I've read has hinged on understanding that risks are meant to be taken and that gambits are trading your X for a much better Y. Asking that guy/girl out? Risky. Applying for that really good job? Risky. Me publishing my awesome card game? It's gonna be risky.

In Magic, attacking is risky. Playing cards when anyone has untapped lands is also risky. The only non-risky play is to play 99 plains in your Tobias Andrion deck - you're at no risk of being seen as a threat and you're at no risk of winning. This state of deadly peril is a sort of quantum illusion - by being prepared for the worst and charging forward, we become worthy of the very best results.

60. Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose.

Essentially, you should seek to a) work out what your opponent wants to do through base cunning and ingenuity while b) feigning stupidity so that he keeps doing whatever it is he was doing in the first place. If your opponent likes to play creatures, encourage him to play all of his creatures, so that you can wrath them. If they like graveyard shenanigans, encourage them to follow that instinct until you can use a Rest in Peace.

61. By persistently hanging on the enemy's flank, we shall succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief.

Don't believe it. This is a theory of incremental gains. If it's you versus one bad guy, then on the first day you kill their advance scouts, then on the second you ambush a few columns of infantry, then you deal whoever is sent in pursuit, until finally you can crack the heavily armoured honour guards and kill the enemy general, ending the war once and for all. It works because you have the time to think of each player's board as being a series of individual units, and you can take care of those units in individual stages.

If it's you versus several bad guys, then on the first day you kill their advance scouts and when you return to your base you find that a dragon has devoured the rest of your camp. Your strategy fails because you have so much more to do in a single game, so you can't assess each player's permanents on their merits as individual units and deal with them over multiple turns. Instead of working out which single creature to hit with a Doom Blade, you need to work which player is close enough to taking over the game that you should Bonfire of the Damned their entire board. (Plague Wind and Flame Wave serve a similar purpose for 2% of the price)

62. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning.

I'm not really sure that 'cunning' is the right word for it. Dogged persistence works in some cases, but that's just the law of averages. Somebody, somewhere, has made their Eager Cadet go all the way in Commander, but it's not a strategy. Don't do this. If you do do this, don't credit me.

63. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier passes, destroy the official tallies, and stop the passage of all emissaries.

When the time comes to attack people, don't tell anyone what your nefarious plans for world domination are and don't respond to questions. Just attack and kill and attack and kill.

64. Be stern in the council-chamber, so that you may control the situation.

There is a time and a place for being open and inclusive, for making room for everyone's emotions and opinions, for using peace and harmony to establish a deep spiritual connection between all parties that transcends your short term goals and stretches on to infinity. That place is not a war room and that time is not at university in a group-work setting. When you need something done, just tell people what they're doing and when they're going to have it done by.

Need a turn to develop your mana and play down some walls, brah? No, brah. Play the removal now.

65. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in.

I've been winning Planechase games I had no right to win because the AI doesn't attack me for lethal for some reason.

Whenever any player becomes vulnerable to an instant kill, you need to ask yourself: Were they really that good an ally? If I kill them, can I parley that into a new alliance with people who are willing to overlook the fate of my last friend? Have I strayed into the realm of the superjerk, wherein even other jerks think I should tone it down?

If a player is tapped out and you can attack their planeswalker, you need to do it. If they have access to lifegaining effects, you need to hurt them.

66. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear, and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground.

I think I've already summarised a few key effects that are good cards and capable of stealing different permanent types.

But it's not enough to simply steal a card. We need to seize their strategy and deny them their game plan. Do they draw cards? Play Spiteful Visions. Are they interested in ramping? Play Ankh of Mishra. Do they like recursion? Leyline of the Void. Don't just Bojuka Bog and assume your one-off effect is worthwhile. Use their greed to feed your Void Maw.

The second half of the verse talks about timing your opponent's progression through the game. There's the very obvious ways of timing your opponent's game play - Liliana of the Veil does it with one piece of cardboard. The symmetrical discard forces both players to commit to the board, which makes the other abilities more potent. Braids, Conjurer Adept into Sower of Temptation or Gilded Drake does it in mono-blue, Cunning Lethemancer into Barter in Blood does it inexpensively, Tempting Wurm into Akroma's Vengeance does it all at once. But these aren't subtle. I lack the surgical expertise necessary to recommend a combination of cards that covers every conceivable color combination, general and play group.

67. Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle.

People like to believe that they're special, and they like to believe that they are the only one experiencing the rich tapestry of life to its fullest. Consequently, in a situation where you're sitting down with three other beautiful and unique snowflakes, you should do your best *not* to trigger the realisation that we are all beautiful and precious, or that connectedness is the apex of human experience. It's way better to be seen as a simple creature who follows a simple pattern. Be seen to have rules. The exact nature of the rules turns out to not be all that important. Maybe you always attack the guy playing counters. Maybe you always attack people on very low life totals, or always strive to keep people from having *too much* life. In any case, the end result is simple: people like rules and they will be comfortable with your presence if they believe they have you all figured out. Only uncomfortable people will make the Sense Motive checks necessary to see that you're actually up to something as nefarious as 'winning the game'.

For more on the importance of being seen to 'play the game', I refer you to the character arc of one 'Belkar Bitterleaf', which reaches a key point here.

68. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.

Once you've assembled your inconspicuous doomsday plot and everyone else has seen you play the game, it is time to strike with the full force of a thousand suns in a way that accepts no answers. It is at these times that you cast Armageddon if you can live with your reflection in the mirror, or something symmetrical like Living Death if you're trying to hold on to your humanity.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this has been an epic chapter in the Art of War and Magic. There are just two more chapters remaining! After those chapters? The Future.

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