Playing Around: 5 Actionable Tips to Win the Information Game

Alejandro "Jano" Sepúlveda
22/01/2023 · 14 min read

What is this article about?

Hey everyone!

Today I will introduce you to a subject that’s very crucial when you are trying to move your game up to the next level, which is interacting with your opponent’s deck, threats and possible answers to your game plan.

In this article I will cover the basic things that you need to know about how to play the information game, or in other words how and when to play around in your matches.

To make it more actionable, I'll give you 5 tips and tricks that will help you do so more effectively in each matchup. But before going into them, let's learn the basics!

Must-Know #1: It's Crucial to Know Your Opponent's Plan

The other day I was in a coaching session with another player and something I noticed was that he always tried to push their opponent into “having it”, which is reasonable, they can’t always have it, can they?

I mean, my student knew that if he could resolve his game plan in the way he expected to it  happen, he was going to gain a good advantage, the problem is that although the “good” scenario was promising, It didn’t assured winning the game, on the other hand it was difficult for him to identify that in the case the opponent actually had it, the results of the exchange could be so devastating that might cost him the game on the spot.

Keep in mind that the result of the worst-case scenario can be so devastating that it might cost you the game

Don’t get me wrong, to be aware of the “This is how I win lines” that you might want to present is a very important skill in Magic. If you are a combo deck, be sure to know how to execute it from all the possible angles, if you are a control deck, be aware of how you get to the point in the game when you start presenting threats, if you are playing limited make yourself sure to position your bombs properly and so on, being good playing your own cards is the first thing that you need to know.

Must-Know #2: You're Not Playing Against Your Cat.

And this is the easy part; this is what you do when you 'goldfish' your deck against your cat: you draw seven, play Turn One Stitcher's Supplier and mill Greasefang and Parhelion II. Your cat proceeds to meow, showing evident disdain.

Stitcher's Supplier
0.29 Tix

You draw for Turn Two, you play your land and play Can't Stay Away on Greasefang. Your cat leaves, and later that day you find your deck in the litter box.

The road  is full of small “level up” moments

In my experience as a player, the road  is full of small “level up” moments , the game is full of moments where you do something awesome, but most of the time you don’t realize about it, and there is a fair chance that the next time you face a similar situation, you might not react in the same way, for me a level up moment is when I actually take notice of what I just did and proceed to internalize it and do it again in the future for similar results, this level up moments are going to show up from time to time as you gain experience and are quite relevant because they incorporate shortcuts to your game plans saving your mental energy for more complex situations.

Getting these “moments” for your own game plan is the easy part

Again, getting these “moments” for your own game plan is the easy part, even when we talk about decks that tend to take fairly complex lines like Lotus, Phoenix or MonoGreen, the problem is that 99% of the time you are not playing against your cat, you are playing against real people and real people in the same way as you do, have a game plan.

While there is a “This is how I win” way of looking at your deck, you must also be aware of the “This is how I lose” way. Obviously, the “This is how I lose” part is a little more complicated, since it will depend on your opponent's deck, the current situation, and the knowledge you have of the opposing deck.

There are decks like Rakdos Sacrifice where you know that if they can assemble Witch's Oven, Cauldron Familiar, and Mayhem Devil, bad things are going to happen.

Witch's Oven
0.03 Tix
Cauldron Familiar
0.03 Tix
Mayhem Devil
0.03 Tix

But if you don't have much experience playing against them, it can be tricky to determine the full extent of how bad those things are going to be. (Spoiler: Terrible things)

My 5 Tips To Level-up Your Game

1. Don’t Put Yourself in the “This is How I Lose” Lane.

Depending on the deck you are playing there will always be times when trying to go for your game plan is going to take you straight into “This is how I lose” lane.

The easiest way to determine if you are taking the right route is by trying to put yourself in your opponent's shoes. Ask yourself questions like, "What would I do in this situation with the best combination of cards if I were playing his deck against my deck?" From there, you can start analyzing and discarding options.

Ask yourself: “What would I do in this situation with the best combination of cards if I were playing his deck against my deck?”

An example

For example if you think that considering the current board state your opponent should have already played a certain card, let’s say a removal spell that requires certain conditions and they haven’t you can assume they either don’t have it or that they are waiting for a better threat to play it on.

Obviously knowing your opponent’s deck and having some experience both playing against and with your opponent’s archetype is going to help you a lot when making these types of calls, you don’t need to know the full 75, but having a good grasp of the possible situations.

Avoiding the putting yourself in losing situations is also a quite important in games 2-3 when the sideboarding comes in to play, specially when you know that the person in front of you might be playing a card that shuts you down on the spot.

Imagine that you are playing Greasefang with a hand full of graveyard filling cards like Grisly Savage and a Can’t Stay Away. This hand might be great game 1, but games 2-3 knowing that your opponent is playing Leyline of the Void, it might be better to mulligan that and try to find a hand that tries to pressure the board with greasefag and chariot or a way to solve the problem produced by Leyline instead of just going all-in hoping they don’t draw it in their opening hand.

2. Take the Initiative: Going on the Play vs. Going on the Draw.

This is quite simple and it’s one of the first things that you might want to take into account when planning your future turns, going first might give you a huge advantage, specially in eternal formats where landing and defending the first threat can immediately set the tone of who is the player with the initiative.

If you are going second most of the time means that you have to take the initiative away from your opponent and before proceeding to land your own threats.

There are several cards depending on the format you are playing that will allow you to do this, some of them are efficient one mana answers that will let you play 2 spells in your turn like fatal push, shock and spell pierce while other will take the form of cards that line up well against some specific situations.presented by your opponent like Liliana of the Veil, Ledger, Shredder, Old-Growth Troll and Loran of the third Path. These cards will trump your opponent's plan while giving you enough space to proceed with your own.

Not all cards can just sit there and win the game on their own like Esika’s Chariot or a powerful planeswalker like Nicol Bolas, but playing a string of cards that will solve a problem while providing a new one is a good way to take back the initiative.

I can’t move on without recommending everyone to sit and read Who’s the beatdown?  It's a very old article, but it is still a relevant piece of Magic theory that will provide you with some great insights in this specific matter.

3. Mulligan Efficiently

Mulligans are another important thing to pay attention to, sometimes a great hand on the play might be terrible on the draw, when you go on the draw you want some interaction, and in games 2-3 a sideboard card or two might be desirable, it useful to ask yourself if you can find a better 6 than this initial seven, don’t be afraid of taking mulligans, they are opportunities, not penalties.

Ask yourself if you can find a better 6 than this initial seven, don’t be afraid of taking mulligans, they are opportunities, not penalties

Remember to always consider your mulligan decisions in the context of the match that is being played, if you are not sure about a keep or mull decision, ask yourself “how does my hand interact with my opponent’s game plan?” and try to answer yourself by trying to play in your mind the first few turns and think about the cards you might need and what happens if you don’t draw them. It might me safe to proceed if even if you don’t get the specific card you are looking for you still have some options, for example, Let’s say I need to cast Fable of the mirror-breaker on turn 3, but I only kept 2 lands, but even if I don’t draw the third land I still have a couple of Bloodtithe harvesters and a Fatal Push to keep my opponent’s game plan at bay.

4. Your Opponent is a Smart Person.
It might be weird to say this, but I’ve seen enough people thinking that if their opponent takes a certain wrong line, they might win the game, to the extent of trying to do certain shenanigans like playing fast, not looking at a card or even trying to cover their graveyards to keep their opponents from remembering a certain game winning interaction, some of these might not be illegal, questionable of course, but not illegal, now… Don’t get me wrong, people make mistakes all the time, but please don’t count on it. People are smart, respect the person in front of you.

People make mistakes all the time, but please don’t count on it. People are smart, respect the person in front of you

If they make a mistake, good for you, but if you see the potential for a mistake don’t count on it as a potential way to win the game, sometimes it might even be your opponent baiting you onto taking a certain line that it is beneficial for him, I remember at the regionals I was playing an extremely close game against Rakdos Mid, I lead him to attack just to flash in Sokenzan tokens as blockers, going down to 1 and winning the game on the backswing.

I’m pretty sure that if you are reading this article it is because you want to get better, a good way to get better is to always think that you are playing Jon Finkel, because you want to beat Jon Finkel.

5. Play Around your Opponent’s Threats

When I was a kid, there was this Friday night TV program in which the presenters would show some funny videos with some crazy dubbing, before going to the commercial break they used to do a segment called “”What’s gonna happen?” They show a video and cut it in the middle leaving that question to the audience, after the commercial break the presenters will tell you their theories and the full clip will be played, usually with unexpected results.

After you draw your card for your turn, you will be presented with a full grip of possible things to do, and all of them might be relevant depending on the situation, even the most trivial things like making a land drop, might give away valuable information.

Even the most trivial things like making a land drop, might give away valuable information.

It is not the same to go to combat into an opponent with open mana and 0 cards in hand, than to go to combat into someone with a bunch of untapped lands and a full grip, and this is the point in which you have to learn to make wise decisions, a  common example of this is the Settle the Wreckage situation, when Ixalan was in standard attacking into 2WW was kind of a challenge, but learning how to do it properly was a lesson that still follows me to this day in similar situations.

An example

Imagine you are against a potential Settle the Wreckage, the first thing that you want to do is to check how many copies have been played up to that point, if you know the meta, you might have a grasp of the number of copies that your opponent might be playing, if you know your opponent's deck plays only one copy, and they already played it and if other cards that share the same mana value aren’t a problem, it might be safe to just go all in if you have lethal.

Now, if you think they might have it, count how many turns you need to close the game with your full board, now try to set an attack with enough creatures to finish the game as soon as possible, but without getting deleted by Settle the Wreckage, avoid attacking immediately with your best creatures and try to find a way to use the extra lands that might find in your next turn.

You just did what is called “playing around”, you played around Settle the Wreckage by minimizing the potential damage that this card would have made to your chances of winning the game.

You can play around many different situations, you can play around a counter by playing a worse creature as a bait, you can play around a removal spell by making sure your creature doesn’t die to it, you can play around a difficult to deal threat by keeping a specific removal spell for it in your hand. Sometimes it is correct to just sit there and do nothing just because you don’t have enough mana to offer a decent back up plan in  case your opponent actually has whatever you are playing around.

Keep in mind that offering a threat with no impact on the board that your opponent can resolve with an instant at the end of your turn and then have all the mana in the world to do whatever they want in their own turn is how you get behind in this game, it is how you lose the initiative and if you can’t regroup quickly enough, it is also the way you lose the game.

Final words

To sum up, while trying to push your game plan, try to keep in mind the possible plays that your opponent might have at their disposal so you avoid putting yourself in the worst possible situation.

As I said in my last article, you are not rushing, you are waiting . Take your time, look around and try to win more games, and remember that one beautiful thing about this game is that even when you do everything right and you make all the right decisions, your opponent can always draw what they need to draw and win the game anyway, and when that happens there is nothing left to do but to offer a handshake and wish them good luck in the next round. You can learn more about that in this article about tilt.

Winning on turn seven counts exactly the same as winning on turn ten, just try to maximize your chances of winning.

This is all for today folks, I really hope this article was useful and helped you get a better perspective on how to play around opposing threats and answers, remember that you can find me in my socials bellow if you want to ask me anything related to this article or Magic in general,

I love this game as much as you do and I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned.

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Alejandro "Jano" Sepúlveda
I've lost count of how many Selfless Spirits I've won!
Alejandro "Jano" Sepúlveda is grinder from Chile. You will usually see him posing for the top8 photos of the Santiago RCQ circuit and he is the season 1 South America Regional Champion.


Published: 2023-01-22 00:00:00

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