Knowing When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

Before I introduce the topic of this article, I want to make a quick announcement about Magic Celebration going on in Nagoya, Japan THIS SATURDAY. For those of you that don’t know about Magic Celebration, it’s a special event held by Wizards of the Coast where players can get free packs of cards by playing in a short event called “Mini Master”. Mini Master, or “Pack Wars” is simple. You get your free pack of cards, 15 mana (3 of each color), and then you open the cards and shuffle them together without looking at what you got. If by some miracle you make it past the first round, you get a 2nd free booster pack of cards, and from there on out it becomes a limited tournament where you can fool around with your deck by taking out cards and changing the mana (while keeping your deck size at 40 cards or more). You can win up to 3 times, and the winner will have received 4 packs of free cards! Not bad.

There are a few stores particpating in Nagoya. Most start at 11 AM, so get there 15-20 minutes early in case the crowds get out of control. Here are the names of the stores. The directions to these stores can be found in the “Magic the Gathering” tab on the top of my webpage.

  • Amenity Dream (Osu Kannon) (12:50 start time)
  • Big Magic (Yaba Cho)
  • Hobby Station La Vamo (Sasahima)
  • Phase (Chikusa)
  • Mishimaya (Ozone)
  • Omocha no Hayakawa (Rokuban-cho)

I plan on going to Amenity Dream on Saturday, so bring your decks if you want to play after the event! It probably won’t last more than an hour for most people.

Today’s article is from Chris Bradford, a fellow Magic player of mine who also lives in Nagoya, Japan. Lately he’s been noticing play mistakes during some of my games, and he said that if I learn to read my opponent I can reduce those play mistakes and improve my win percentage. I think he’s right. This short article is about what you can do when you play competitive Magic to help you read your opponent and react in a way that puts you in the best possible situation. Read it and let me know if you agree with him!

Knowing When to Hold ’em and When to Fold ’em

By Chris Bradford

Today I would like to talk a little bit about Poker and Magic. “How do these 2 different games relate to each other?” you may be asking. They are more similar then you would think and there is a reason why many great magic players excel at poker and why a great poker player excels at magic. Both require the same skill that increases your chances of winning. This skill is called reading your opponent.
Quite simply this skill is being able to tell what hidden information your opponent has that is influencing the way he is currently playing. Lets say we are in the finals of a Texas hold’em poker tournament, we are ahead on chips, and we are holding Ace Queen. The flop shows and it is Ace King 5. Our opponent checks, we bid half our stack, and they follow with a raise. What might this line of play tell us about what is in our opponents hand. Do you want to reraise, go all in, fold, or call. With his line of play I would be about 80% certain he is holding an Ace and 20% certain he is holding Ace King. He could be bluffing, but do you want to risk the rest of your chips on that holding only a pair of Aces? If we call we are taking a chance that might not play out well for us with the information our opponent just gave us. He could also be bluffing to see what our reaction is in this situation and to find out if we hold the nuts in this situation or if we have something lesser. The more time you take to make the decision gives him more information on what is in your hand.
These type of situations play out in every game of magic as well. Magic and poker play almost exactly the same with each draw forcing another situation where you can bluff your situation to a better position or find out what your opponent holds in their hand and use that to your advantage. If you watch professional players play online, you can see that they can almost guess what is in their opponent’s hands and make plays around those cards.
Imagine this board state against delver as red green agro. They are on turn 3 with a flipped Delver, a Gut Shot in graveyard, and a Ponder in graveyard, they untap attack and say go, with your board of Strangleroot Geist, and 2 lands. What line of play do you think that the delver player could be taking this turn? In this scenario I would be on him having either Snapcaster for Gutshot or Vapor Snag when you go for the attack. This line of play would be the correct play for them in this situation given your board state and knowledge of your deck. So with this knowledge in hand what are you to do. Obviously anything you do with that geist is going to end up with some form of tempo play happening to it so you have to play around it or force your opponent to play cards. Even if you hold nothing in hand that can deal with this type of play you need to make a decision to attack or to sit back. The correct play is to attack into that board state because you need to force cards out of your opponents hand. If you have the second geist in hand I would go all in and cast it and try and get some points of damage through. If not, I would attack in and force my opponent to use cards to prevent some damage. Either way sitting back in this situation is not an option.
Everytime you play Magic you run across situations where if you are paying attention to what plays your opponents make you can figure out what they have in their hands. Most players aren’t advanced enough to bluff their way out of a situation and make you play around spells that don’t exist in their hand. Even if you don’t know what is in a set of cards you can still determine what line of plays people are trying to make. Just watch for the signs. Is your opponent thinking too much then passing the turn without playing anything? It’s probably removal. Everytime you cast a spell does your opponent take time to think it through? He probably has a counter. Is your opponent just throwing creatures on the board and attacking? He’s probably gonna burn or pump up a creature to finish out a game. Each line of play has a specific motivation and if you can read those motivations then you can beat an opponent by playing around the knowledge you have. Now go out their and start getting that information to win you your matches.