The Human Condition: Magic Style!

The Human Condition: Magic Style!
By: [email=[email protected]]Will Farrington[/email]

Magic is a game that's based entirely on predictable concepts. Things like math, tendencies, and their ilk are commonplace and are generally easily calculated models that follow the progress of a game. But, what makes these concepts predictable to begin with? Why do we do the things we do?

And that's what it comes down to, folks. It's not the means that are important; it's the desired result. This idealism has existed for as long as Man has. We are in an eternal struggle to try and determine the totality of our experience in being alive and living as a human being. As logical and moral entities, we are all subject to similar and determined events, which shape the outcome of our lives. And there is a distinct parallel in this ideology in Magic.

Similar and Determined Events

In life, as human beings, there are a handful of absolute events that every one of us has already experienced or will experience. Birth, death, and physical maturity are examples of this. Where does this concept relate to Magic, though?

In Magic, we are all bound by the same absolute events as well. Each one of us has experienced playing a game or match in some form of another. Each of us has experienced a win and a loss. Each of us has experienced what occurs when using a badly built manabase. Of course, these are not the only examples of absolute events for a Magic player and as such, there are many that I am not going to note here simply due to time constraints and other matters. Still, it is essential that we observe such absolute and undeniable events for any Magic player and realize that no matter the surrounding environment, such experiences will not and do not change.

Under a related concept, each Magic player will experience similar events to every other (in most circumstances). It is generally safe to assume that most Magic players will, at one time or another in their Magic career, experience a gathering of multiple players in order to play a series of games. For some, the described is an FNM or other tournament. And for others, it is their first multiplayer casual game. And still for others, it's their first draft on MTGO. Still, regardless of the surrounding environment, the experiences are very similar and as such, also cause predictable patterns in the methods used to achieve an end.

Putting the Concept Together

So, the determined and similar events have been described, but what does it really amount to? The concept of the Human Condition states that as such events are inevitable or generally commonplace among every individual, then truly, as a result of these events, the behavior of every person is affected in directly the same way. Think of it as a large-scale version of "cause vs. effect." What that amounts to, is an examination of the whys of what human beings do. We don't care about the how in the least bit -- it's their reason for doing things that's important.

The same is, naturally, true in Magic.

You heard the ent, fellas!

Haste Isn't Just a Keyword

One of the most common practices of failure in Magic is simply being too hasty. The player rushes into a situation or action rather than calmly waiting for the best opportunity available. This is often a game-changing error that severely punishes the player and greatly rewards his opponent.

What this amounts to, is that Magic is a mind-game between you and your tendencies. Just as the saying, "One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" goes, the player is pursuing a logical thought pattern and assuming that acting now, while he has a definite opportunity to act, is better than taking the chance of snatching a bigger prize. However, it is also entirely possible -- and in most situations, likely -- that the opponent does have a bigger prize for the taking. These two ideologies are in direct conflict.

Either way, the player wishes to obtain card advantage by acting at the most opportune time; however, it can be a complicated process to derive when the most opportune time actually is. Though, of course, such opportune time is influenced and decided upon almost entirely by both the current state of the game and the opponent's own tendencies.

Still, the player’s decision on how to act is based off of his or her own tendencies. This is also commonly affected by the style of play that the player's deck requires. For example, if the player is using an aggressive Red deck, the average player has a tendency to rush into action headlong. However, skilled players often carefully plot out how and when they should and will act in response to the opponents' actions. How are they able to avoid rushing into a situation as the average player would? The skilled player has subconsciously determined that they are most often their own worst enemy, and as such, they have learned to ignore their tendencies, and rather attempt to evaluate possibilities and probabilities based on the state of the game, the tendencies of the opponent, and the opponent's deck. The best chess players use similar strategies as well.

Head Games - Aah!

I very briefly touched on this above (indirectly, for the most part), but as a conjugate to the hasty tendencies of some players, is the tendency to be your own worst enemy by overthinking decisions.

There is a common acronym that was first taught to me by a former art teacher - KISS. Keep it Simple, Stupid. While a player does need to carefully consider options rather than rushing headlong into a decision, that does not necessarily imply that your opponent should be on the verge of calling a judge because it appears as if the player is attempting to stall the game. Some decisions are pretty blatantly obvious because, after all, there will be plenty of circumstances where the simplest solution is outright the best. Whether this will entail a simple "Draw-Go", or swinging with your lone critter to put some pressure on the opponent, the reason for your actions can be easily derived by evaluating your options and selecting the simplest and most obvious solution available to you.

Of course, as nothing is foolproof, the skilled player must carefully balance this with his tendency to be hasty. Weigh your options carefully, but do so in a timely manner. At first, these sound like almost-exclusive actions; however, any skilled player can easily tell you that both can coexist.

Perhaps I Should . . .

No. Stop right now. Don't make me smack ye' upside the head now.

Perhaps you shouldn't be changing things left and right. Another common tendency among players (most often in the deckbuilding process) is that of over- and/or under-adjustment. Errors as a result of this are even more catastrophic than any other listed here, as the best tool you have going into a game of Magic is your deck itself.

Unlike the previously noted tendencies among players, under- and over-adjustment isn’t an error that can occur in only one area of Magic –- rather, it is present in several different areas crucial to any Magic player. It is possible for one to over-adjust when sideboarding, in the middle of a game, or even during the deckbuilding process. This is what makes this mistake such a crucial one to avoid.

All players are very aware that deckbuilding is quite vital to success. One must be able to look at their available cardpool and match this up against their own playskill and their own metagame in order to formulate a decklist capable of succeeding. However, some players suffer from a tendency to misadjust in the process of evaluating their metagame. While properly preparing the deck and its sideboard for your metagame is key to success, over-adjusting one’s deck by over-estimating the popularity of a deck and its relation to your deck’s inherent strengths or weaknesses can create vast margins for error, and as a result, weaken one’s deck to the metagame further than it had been. The same result occurs when a player underestimates a deck’s popularity and strength in a given metagame, and as a result, does not tune their deck and sideboard properly.

However, adjustment issues aren’t just a matter for deckbuilding; they are quite common when actually playing a game as well. Say, for example, you’ve heard that John, who happens to be the only person with the same amount of points you do (meaning, you will be paired next round), is playing a deck that has a huge advantage over your deck. Many players would automatically assume that game one is simply a formality, and that in order to beat John, they must bring in every tool they have in their sideboard to combat the threat he presents. However, this is merely setting yourself up for a huge fall. What if John had his deck tweaked to fight another deck, which opened up a hole you could exploit, possibly giving you the advantage? Or what if John is just a bad player who’s going to let himself make mistake after mistake? It’s all a matter of knowing what you’re up against, and making a general roadmap to success. Don’t overestimate a threat, and don’t underestimate it either.

Of course, some of these conclusions will become more developed during the actual course of playing a game. If you find that, for example, his deck is tweaked in a way that doesn't require you to bring X card from your sideboard in, then don't bring X card in. Simple, no?

Wrapping it All Up

As with all good (or bad) things, this article too must come to an end. I certainly enjoyed writing about this matter. While it simply isn’t anything terribly exciting or new to the seasoned veteran, it should prove to be helpful to some of the newer players in the crowd.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, and if you’ve got any feedback, there should be some lovely links up near the top to direct you to the site’s fine forums. I’ve always got an ear available. Alternatively, you can always email me [email=[email protected]]at this address[/email].


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