Hey everyone it’s Tyler again, and before I start I just want to thank all of you who helped make my last article into the huge success it was. I hope that I can continue to provide more quality content for you all to enjoy. For right now I’m going to be writing strategy articles based on my experiences in high level competitive magic. My goal is to help new and experienced players alike to think about the game in new and exciting ways. I hope you enjoy this article as much as you have enjoyed the last. If you have any questions for me, or you want to suggest an idea for a future topic, feel free to email me at TylerHumphries@limitedmagic.com

So before we get onto today’s topic let’s look at another game, but this time not quite as high stakes. It’s game 3 of the finals of standard FNM with $70 store credit going to the winner. I’m playing RDW yet again (what can I say, Hellrider is too good not to play) and I’m going up against a direct copy of Sam Black’s The Aristocrats. On my side I’ve got 5 mountains and 2 Boros Reckoner and I’m at 10 life. My opponent has a 4/4 Champion of the Parish and a 5/1 Falkenrath Aristocrat  and is at 18 life. He has no cards in hand and swings with both for 9. Stop for a little bit and think about how you would react assuming you have no cards in hand. Most players at this point would block the champion with a reckoner to force the sacrifice and only take 6. While this may seem like the most logical play, after all you keep both your reckoners and take 3 less damage, in reality this play is wrong. If you said that you didn’t have enough information to make a proper decision than you are right. I declared no blocks to my opponent and declared that I am at 1. He gave me the most hilarious look of “are you stupid?” and passed the turn. I top deck blasphemous act and do 26 damage to his face off of double reckoners to win the match.

What I did in that match is called playing to your outs. The concept of playing to your outs is being able to identify a card or number of cards that can save you in a given situation, then setting up the board so if you happen to draw one of those cards you can use it to it’s fullest capability. The thing about playing to your outs is that it is never a situation you want to be in, but is a strategy that can save you games. There are 3 key steps to playing to your outs, and we are going to go over them one by one to learn how to properly play to your outs, but before we talk about how to play to your outs we need understand the most important part. The crucial first step is to accept the fact that you are probably not winning this game. When you are in this scenario where you need a specific card to win you need to understand that you are probably losing this game 90% of the time, but the key is not to let this cloud your judgement. If you lose all hope then you will lose the game 100% of the time. The key is to accept it, move on, and do whatever you can to capitalize on that 10% you have left.

Step 1: Knowing your deck

This may seem incredibly obvious but how can you play to your outs if you don’t know what your outs are? This is considerably harder to do when playing in a limited format, but in constructed it is inexcusable to forget cards in your deck. The key to knowing your deck well is to simple play magic, and play it a lot. If you have friends who play magic then meet up to play with them as often as possible (or do like I do and live with them). The key to playing with friends is to find friends who love the game as much as you do, you will have a great time and you will learn your deck well. If you are one of the few lucky rich folk you can buy your deck on magic online and play a bunch of games there. Magic online is probably the best resource for practicing magic. Sometimes your friends aren’t as competitive as you are and they usually only have one or two decks at most. Magic online allows you to play against people of equal skill level as well as play against a wide variety of decks, but of course this all comes at the cost of repurchasing your deck, which if you are a poor like I am you can’t really do. Finally if you can’t afford magic online and your friends don’t want to play (or you don’t have friends) solitaire your deck! One of my favorite pastimes is to watch Top Gear on Netflix while solitairing one of my decks. You would be amazed at how much this helps you to memorize everything about your deck.

Step 2: Seeing the play

Now that you know your deck you need to be able to see what you need. When you are in that down but not quite yet out situation the first thought that pops into your head should be “what card do I need right now to win?” It doesn’t necessarily have to make you win right at that moment, but it should be a card that puts you in a situation where you can win. Sometimes it could be one of four cards in your deck, and sometimes it might be that one of you threw in there. What’s important here is training yourself to think about more than just what’s on the table. I’ve heard before that the great chess players are always thinking a couple turns ahead, and the great magic players are too.

Step 3: Setting it up

Finally you now know what’s in your deck, and what you need to get out of this hole you are in. Now you need to set up the game so that if you were to draw what you need, you can use it to it’s fullest potential. This is the hardest step to do, but the most important. You need to act as if you just cast preordain and you know exactly what is on top of your deck, and then you need to set up the board state as if you knew you were drawing the card you need next. Like I said at the beginning of the article, you are losing this game 90% of the time, so 90% of the times you do all these steps you are still going to draw that umpteenth land in a row and lose, but this step is all about capitalizing on that 10% chance left to win. When you set up the board state for that 10% chance then you are going to win that game 10% of the time, and eeking out every advantage you can get is the mark of a truly great magic player.

Now that we know the process let’s go back to my FNM finals game. Here is my decklist from that FNM (note that this list is post-board, I had sided in 2 Volcanic Strength for 2 Lightning Mauler

Knowing my deck and knowing that I was playing against an exact, or atleast near exact, copy of Sam Black’s The Aristocrats this was my thought process. I knew he didn’t have any burn so I could go as low as I wanted. Zealous conscripts won’t save me because if I block and force the champion sacrifice I swing for only 15 of his 18 and I’m dead next turn, and even if he doesn’t sac the champ if I shoot him for 4 with reckoner I can only deal 12 as he will most likely block the conscripts, putting him at 2 and me still dead next turn. The only card that can save me at this point is blasphemous act, and if I block with a reckoner and he sacs his champion or I just lose my reckoner I won’t have enough mana to cast it and I still lose next turn. So I was forced to go to 1 and hope to draw a blasphemous act. I was lucky and got the card I needed to win, but if I didn’t know my deck, wasn’t able to see what card I needed, and didn’t know how to set it up, I would have lost that game and lost out on $70 of store credit.

Playing to your outs is a skill, a skill that separates mediocre players from good players. a skill that is sometimes the difference between having the store credit to finish your R/G tron deck and hoping your tie-breakers are good enough to net you second or third place prizes. Like I said before the mark of a good player is eeking out every advantage you possibly can, whether you are ahead or behind, and especially if you are behind. If you can learn to start playing to your outs, then you are well on your way to improving your game immensely. But remember, practice makes the player, so keep on shuffling.

-Tyler