Mistakes Were Made

Posted in Beyond the Basics on December 22, 2016

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

You look over the board. The coast seems clear—time to get in for 2 easy points of damage.

You lay your hands off your creature. You look up. Your opponent looks at you, a little confused, thinks for a second, and then activates his Simic Ragworm.

Oops.

He blocks. You have a Titanic Growth in your hand that you just drew. What do you do?

What's your answer? Hold that thought.

Today, we're going to talk about mistakes.

Like it or not, we all make mistakes in Magic. Even the best players to ever touch a Magic card have made mistakes at the highest level of the game. Sending in a bad attack. Trying to counter an uncounterable spell. Casting a one-mana spell into a Chalice of the Void on one. Forgetting to play your second land after Thoughtseizing on turn two. I've seen great players do all of these. I've done some of them myself. And no matter how good you are, you are not immune.

Let me repeat that: you are going to make mistakes.

And, really, it's understandable. Magic is a complex game. And sometimes, in Round 7 of a long day playing Magic, it's easy to have just a momentary lapse of judgment for just a second that causes you to try and Mana Leak your opponent when they have that third mana available from a Llanowar Elves just off to the side.

It happens.

Now, obviously, none of us are going to try to make mistakes. We all strive to make the best plays we can! But once again, it's going to happen. We are all going to make mistakes.

But here's the important thing. It's not as much about how we make mistakes but about how we react to them.

This isn't just true in Magic—it's true in life.

Maybe you said something hurtful to someone you care a lot about. Maybe you missed your flight because you lost track of time and left too late. Maybe you moved away from somewhere that you wished you had never left. These are all mistakes.

But what matters most, in the spinning haze of a post-mistake situation? It's what you do next.

You could let hurt feelings linger and make things worse—or you could apologize and try and make things better. You could scream at the airline staff about how this is an outrage—or you could try and run to the nearest desk and calmly ask if there's another flight you could catch. You could mope about and think of the good old times—or you could find ways to make your current situation even better.

It's your call.

And in Magic? It's more your call than ever. The situation is right there in front of you. You will explicitly win or lose this game. So then—how are you going to get out from under this mistake?

Where Do You Go from Here?

When you make a mistake in Magic, it's happened—so you have to evaluate the game from its present state and go forward.

Let's go back to the situation at hand.

You have that Titanic Growth. Do you pull the trigger?

Human instinct is to not make mistakes. Human instinct generally leans toward saving face and firing off that Titanic Growth. You don't want to lose your creature for nothing. There's probably even a part of you that doesn't want your opponent to see you just made a blunder.

Well, I'm here to be that voice that tells you to swallow your pride.

Look at the board state. That Simic Ragworm is trumped by your Angelic Wall. It's not doing anything. The thing you're most likely to lose to, though, is that Air Elemental. You can only take two more hits from it. Your opponent is likely to keep attacking you; they're not going to play around you ripping the perfect trick off the top of your library. On your opponent's next turn, they're going to attack—and you can block and eat that Air Elemental alive. (Or as alive as an Air Elemental ever is, anyway.)

But all of that is predicated on something important: that you still have your Titanic Growth!

If you blow the Growth here, you have nothing to deal with that Air Elemental. And as much as it sucks to throw away your Runeclaw Bear, you have to be careful to not throw good mana after bad.

In general, whenever you've identified that you've made a mistake, pause and re-evaluate before doing anything more. You need to look at your game plan and make sure your current plan is still correct. You also need to make sure whatever your gut reaction is to do is, in fact the right play. You can't afford to let your next play just be making another misplay to try and correct for your first misplay—because that just leads to misplays all the way down.

Correct Corrections

Now, that's not to say that you should never adjust for a mistake you made. What's important is that you adjust for the reality of the current board state.

In the first example, if you evaluate the board state snapshot in that moment, it's absolutely correct to hold up the Titanic Growth. (And some players might even argue that attacking there is a reasonable bluff to convince them to attack with Air Elemental—though I don't personally agree, since your opponent is almost certain to attack with it regardless.) But there are times when it is correct to adjust for the reality of the situation.

Here's a scenario for you to look at:

Regardless of why this happened, it did. You attacked and then immediately realized you made a mistake. You're about to lose your Enormous Baloth to that Typhoid Rats!

Looking at the board, of course now you realize that if you just fired off the Prey Upon between the Rats and the Elf you could have swung in and won. But now, you're going to have to spend both of your cards to do that!

So, should you just let the Baloth trade with the Rats?

Absolutely not!

Your Baloth is still the ticket to winning this game. And though you just missed your on-board kill, it is still most likely to be how you win the game. You should cast the Fog, then Prey Upon the Rats to get them out of the way. Hopefully, you still win next turn. Maybe they draw a way to deal with your Baloth. But either way, you want that Baloth to survive!

It really all depends on how the game looks the moment you make the mistake and making the right decisions from that point forward. Imagine a robot (or perhaps Emrakul) took over your mind and temporarily had you do something incorrect in the game. Now, you've snapped out of it and have to make the right plays from there.

What you do next is always up to you.

Tilting the Correct Direction

As a Magic player, there's a good chance you've heard the word "tilt" used. Tilt refers to one of the most dangerous things you can have happen in a competitive game; it's when your emotions, positive or negative, start influencing your plays more than your strategy does. It can happen when you're way ahead and feel so happy that you can't lose that you start making errors—and perhaps more generally focused on, it can happen when you make mistakes.

Being stunned by emotional tilt is how you end up casting Titanic Growth on your Runeclaw Bear.

Being stunned by emotional tilt is how you end up letting your Enormous Baloth die.

Don't let tilt get the best of you. And by evaluating each situation in the new post-mistake world, you can avoid letting exactly that happen. Take a breath. Evaluate the game state. And get ready to hop right back into it, make the right plays, and battle at your best.

And from there? Go on and win.

I hope you enjoyed this week's look at mistakes in Magic! If you have any thoughts or feedback, you're always welcome to send them my way. You can reach me on Twitter and Tumblr, as well as email at BeyondBasicsMagic@Gmail.com.

Talk with you again next week. Have fun—and may you find ways to adjust for any mistakes you make.

Gavin
@GavinVerhey
GavInsight

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