I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason”, at least not in the mystical sense. Things, stuff and other things are a result of a cause and effect as far as my tiny, fallible brain can ascertain. And so long as no quantum physicists and philosophers are reading this I should avoid backlash; hopefully we’re all in agreement that stuff happens due to a cause, then we observe the effect.
Last time I talked about not playing spells, the effect of which is having more answers more of the time. Answering questions that have not been asked can be a waste of breath, similarly answering creatures that are not a threat is a waste of a card. Perhaps even more incredible is the not uncommon occurrence when a creature is incorrectly answered:
“So, why did you kill that creature?”
“Ummmmm…. because it was attacking me?”
“You don’t really know why you killed that creature do you?”
Don’t answer a question with a question
If someone answers a question with a question, it’s a good indicator that they don’t really have an answer. Now, I’m not here to judge, this guy was me! When there’s nothing on the line, when it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is not imperative. Very often, when it comes to playing Magic casually, the answer is “I’m playing for fun” and honestly that’s fine. However, if you’re the person playing a draft or a constructed tournament lamenting over yet another loss, firstly life is too short. Secondly ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you did what you did. If you can’t answer those questions what hope do you have of improving?
Like not playing your spells, there is a whole spectrum of decisions to be made from the downright obvious to the obscure. I don’t, for a second, think there is a player out there that literally plays randomly without any regard for any element of the game as we know it (Tag a Friend?!). But deciding what your line is, understanding that there are other lines, is fundamental to improving your decision making in a game of Magic.
What is a “line”?
What is the benefit of having a line?
You know there are two players in this game, right?
You may be able to correct me if I’m wrong. But the word “line” in Magic is borrowed from Poker. Raising in poker is not a line, it is an action. If I were to ask a player why they raised in a game of Poker they might answer, “to make my opponent fold” or “because I think they have a very good hand but I have the nuts!” (the best possible hand). Well if you have the best possible hand, congratulations, all you have to worry about now is extracting the most money from your opponents. But if you don’t have the best hand you should have a line or you are likely to leak money.
Now, you decide on your line based on the information you have available to you, these things are never set in stone and there are no hard and fast rules. So, you raise an opponent in Poker to make them fold, you think they’ve missed with their hand, they’re weak. Solid plan. They Re-raise you…
“Whoops” we weren’t expecting that were we? Well we’ve got top pair…. “C… Call I guess?”
You’re answering a question with a question again, Uh Oh!
Believe it or not, there is an autonomous player opposite you. They might do something to prevent you from winning (unless you are Dave Wilcox, he might do something to prevent your bowels from functioning correctly -that’s super secret tech)
What is a “line”?
Now the issue here isn’t whether calling is the correct play or not; that will come down to experience and we all make incorrect plays (except correct play dog, of course – Arf Arf!) and that’s fine. Here’s the issue:
What if? What if they Re-raise me? What if they have a counter spell? What if they want me to counter that spell?
Here’s the remedy. “Raise-Call”. Now that’s a line a can get behind! This is saying I will raise, and then if I get re-raised I will call. I have decided my hand is solid so I cannot afford to fold to a re-raise. No difficult decisions, no unexpected curve-balls, because we have already considered what our opponent’s next move might be! Simple? Of course it is. Ignored? Often.
Things don’t stop when you’ve passed priority to your opponent, your line could cover several turns based on what you know about a particular match-up. It could be designed to achieve a specific goal, such as getting to the late game if you’re a control player.
A line is a play directive that allows you to achieve what you want to achieve and, crucially, takes into account what your opponent might be doing to stop you.
What is the benefit of having a line?
I’ve discussed that there are fewer surprises and difficult decisions. How about in play testing? Play testing usually involves pitching your deck against opposing decks that represent the pertinent scope of the format at the time. The first action might be choosing a different deck based on what you know.
Okay, so now you’ve brewed a deck you think will exploit the format. During play testing your friend asks a simple and very sensible question:
“Why did you do that?”
Presumably they have other ideas. For starters if you don’t know, it makes things a little awkward – where do you begin?
Well let’s say you have been thinking about your plays and you exclaim:
“Oh, it’s because I think he has a Mana Leak, I figured playing this spell first might make him pull the trigger because that creature is important to him. But look I’ve got this wrath which kills his other two creatures to boot!”
Your friend might say
“Oh, right yeah that makes sense!” Or “I disagree and here’s why”.
But having a line in the first place makes for better discussion. A good exercise is to re-wind the game and to consider each of the different lines of play and think about the possible outcomes. Perhaps the most valuable thing about having a line is that you are more likely to consider the alternatives and this gives you the ability to change your line if necessary; it often is.
So next time you’re playing a game and you care about winning, consider if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s the first action in a line of thinking that will enable you to make winning decisions.