Magic the Gathering and the Clock
So I was playing a few games of Magic today with colleagues and a particular situation came up that made me want to talk strategy. I’m not a professional magic player and the advice I’m about to give might not even be good. This is just how I think and it rarely fails me, it might not even be unique to me and may just be the conventional strategy that I finally figured out. Regardless I totally made an image for it that will blow you away.
This is the turn clock and the fundamental underpinning to my modern magic strategy. The actual idea of being “on a clock” is not my idea, you’ll hear it constantly on professional magic matches. But I’m trying to give a visual because I don’t have reasons to use Photoshop much.
Whenever I’m looking at the field and my hand I think about the clock, the basic idea of the clock is you are asking yourself how many turns at minimum do you need to win this match assuming your opponent finds no answer. You want this clock to be very small, hopefully 4 or less. The higher the time on your clock the lower the likelihood that you will win, the only exception is if you are playing a heavy control deck where a long clock might not matter because of the lock down you’ve achieved. But lets save that for later, maybe another post.
Just for now remember that lower is better and you want to build your decks so that you can achieve a low clock with a low amount of turns. This seems to be the fundamental idea of magic and is why so many people use these low cost high power creatures like Garruk’s Companion.
So what do we know when this creature hits the table, presuming we have no way to stop or kill it we have 7 turns before the game is over. This is assuming no other creature will be hitting the table for either of us, if they play another one of these the following turn that means we only have 3 more turns.
What I want to do when I see something like this is look at my hand in the following order. Do I have something to just negate this damage? Perhaps a Wall of Omens? Do I have something that could trade with it? Ideally I’m going to want a permanent on the table, especially if it looks like they won’t have something to support it. Because once it is dealt with I will then be able to put the heat on them.
What if I don’t have permanents that can help me? I then look to instants, why instants? Presumably for most decks you can use these to ruin their tempo. You get rid of the creature and break their perfect plan, their clock suddenly needs to readjust and this is jarring. But where those are lacking you can look at your sorcery spells, do you have a Cruel Edict? You’ll want to cast that immediately then because they might have another creature next turn they’d be more willing to lose.
If none of these really are viable right now you want to think about the next few turns. Are you sitting on a mass removal spell like Day of Judgment? If so you may want to see how you can best delay your death while bluffing them into overstretching. The wonderful thing about Magic is that even the best people can get too lost in the moment, it might not be likely, but it certainly happens.
In the case of Day of Judgment you want to think deeply about the clock, what will you be doing on turn 3? You already know that without mana generators you will be casting it no sooner than turn 4. If this is a person you routinely play they also know this. When they play their next spell there are two possible outcomes (at least the likely most two worth talking about), either they are playing something because they know you are going to kill it (perhaps to reanimate it later or as part of an effect) or they are gambling you don’t have an answer.
You are hoping that the reality is the latter. Regardless check your hand, plan out ahead.
What about if we are on the other side of the table? You just played the Companion and your opponent has a full hand and nothing but lands on the table. You know you can kill him in 7 turns minimum right now, what do you have in your hand? My suggestion would be to use something that is low on the expense, if you go all in you are likely to get bit. Certain cards like Rancor are fantastic for this because you are likely to get them back if something goes wrong.
If you are sitting on giant growth or perhaps another creature you might want to wait it out. Does this creature have hexproof? Do you have an answer to mass removal if you start over extending? Golgari Charm is a fantastic option if you placed a hexproof creature on turn 3. You’ve just increased your damage output to 6, they have 3 turns to answer this. But you already know that turn 4 is covered if they are not using older cards.
Why do I mention Hexproof? Creatures with hexproof cannot be targeted by your opponent, this means the only real ways they can kill it are with mass removal of one kind or another. I’m a bit tired and just noticed that you’ll want the mana open to actually use the charm, with that in mind you may want to play a noncreature that buffs yours. Perhaps a Rancor as mentioned earlier to create a 5/3!
As a 5/2 you’ve lowered their time to respond from 7 (6 turns now) to 4 turns. On turn 4 they will either play DoJ (or something similar), place a creature, or perhaps spot removal. Regardless chances are good that you will be getting your Rancor back. But if they do remove your rancor you are still sitting on that Dungrove Elder and Charm, you can play the Elder to put the heat back on and have a backup if they draw DoJ the turn following.
It seems like a lot of thought, or maybe I’m overstating, but basically the idea is very simple. You just need to ask yourself how many turns you need to win, then think about statistically what are you likely to draw in that many turns, what are they likely to draw in that many turns, and what do you need to do to statistically come out on top the most.
This doesn’t mean you’ll always win, I fail spectacularly quite often, but you’ll still find that your wins are very clean and surgical most times. This becomes easier if you are playing casually because you will find yourself playing with people you know, learning their styles and thought processes, and even their decks. Try not to do what I do and tell them what they are about to do, honestly it’s a dick thing to do and I’m trying to stop myself. I only do it because I’m so excited that I think I know, its not so much “you are predictable” as “omg! I think I know whats next!” similar to that kid who was excited in school that everyone hated because they thought he was a showoff, he just didn’t know how to best express his passion without being obnoxious, I’m unfortunately one of those kinds of people : (.
But I digress, this is the idea of the Clock and can even be important for your mulligans. When you draw you hand you want to see if you have enough lands to play what is in your hand, ask yourself then if you DO play your hand how quickly will you kill them, you’ll draw a minimum of 1 card a turn (usually) which means that clock is also how many new cards you’ll get. Ask yourself then what do you think those cards will be?
If it seems like you’ll be doing well then go for it! Keep the hand! But if you see gaps you may want to mulligan, but be sure to shuffle at least 7 times or you’ll likely end up quite unhappy with the new hand you draw.
Thanks and hope this helps, if it doesn’t I blame exhaustion.