Alex Hamilton: Tactical Retreat

After watching tables at various magic events, I’ve seen something that I felt needed to be addressed in an article:
“When is it the right time to concede?”

The obvious answer to this question is when you are dead with no outs, but how about when you are at 20 life and your opponent has a True-Name Nemesis in play with a Umezawa’s Jitte equipped to it? Realistically you aren’t dead yet, but do you have any outs? If your answer is “Yes”, then go ahead and play. If your answer is “No”, it might be time pack it in and go to the next game.

In this article, I’ll go over two of the most common times to take a tactical retreat. When you need to hide some info and when you need to conserve the clock. As a note, there are many factors involved in these types of decisions. While I touch upon a few reasons to concede, I will not give you an exhaustive list of every minute situation. This article is more of a suggestion and you should ultimately use your own discretion when you decide to concede.

Concession to Hide Information

Sometimes, right before your opponent is going to attack you with lethal damage, they will Thoughtseize you in order to gain additional information on your deck before sideboarding. You have two options here:

  1. Show them a potentially important card for free
  2. Scoop to the lethal they already have on board and show them nothing

It is always good to hide the secrets of your deck if you can. I saw this to the extreme during coverage of a Pro Tour a while back. In Game 1, the control player mulliganed to 4 and only had one land. The player did not play his land and proceeded to draw and pass several times before conceding when he had to discard to hand size. This is a pretty gutsy move, but the player who conceded did two great things here. First, he did not give away any info about what deck he was playing to his opponent after he knew the game was probably lost. Second, he gained information on his opponent’s deck so that he could sideboard correctly.

Concession to Preserve Time

When you sit down to play a game of Magic at a tournament, how many opponents do you have?

If you answered one, then you are incorrect. While you only play Magic against one other person, you both are fighting against that eternal enemy of mortals, time. The game of Magic is all about managing your resources, and resource that many players don’t think about is the clock. Anyone who has played Magic Online for long enough knows that managing the clock is one of the most important skills associated with playing the program. While a chess clock is different than the round clock at a real-life event, it is still important to make sure you are aware of the time.

Especially for newer players, the round clock can be your biggest enemy. Taking too much time for a small decision could give you less time to make an important one farther down the road.

Scenario: It’s game one. You just found out you are playing the control mirror. Your opponent just resolved a threat that your deck has no answer to. You play for a few turns and realize that you might only be able to beat this if you grind the game down. Then you look at the clock and see you have about 25 minutes left. Do you concede or try and grind it out?

This is a very situational decision. It all depends if you are better post-board against the control mirror. If you do not feel like you could win the game and feel your sideboard would make the matchup better for you, then I say it is time to pack it in.

Conserving the clock is not just something you should do in Game 1 but it can also be important for Game 2 as well. If you are in a losing position and you think the match is very likely going to a Game 3, double-check the clock and see how much time you have. If it is under 15 minutes, then you probably want to concede so you can have the most time possible to win the match. If you are looking at around 20 minutes, then you should take a draw step or two to determine if you really have no outs.

There is another substantial reason to concede when you know a game is lost: to give yourself a chance to recover from the match. There have been plenty of times where my opponent had the game locked up and I had no chance of getting out from under them and I decided to concede to go find my friends and play Type 4 or grab some food before the next round. Sometimes, just ask yourself the question, “Is there something else I could be doing rather than watch my opponent grind me down for 20 turns?”

Soap Box Time

When I say “be aware of the time while playing”, that is not condoning slow play. There are too many people I have seen through the years who are “very thorough” or “meticulous”. These are nice words those doing coverage use to say someone is playing slow. While Magic is a hard game and it requires complex decisions at many points in a game, you need to play at an appropriate speed. If you think your opponent is taking too long, then say something like, “Could you please make a play?”. If they get aggressive with you, just call a judge and ask them to watch your match for pace of play.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions, feel free to put them in the comments and I will try to get to them or if you see me at a CT then stop by and ask them in person. Until next time, have fun slingin’ some spells!

Alexander Hamilton is a grinder from Chicago who is well-known for his love of Legacy. However, if there is a competitive event in any format in the Chicagoland area, expect him to be there playing Magic and making terrible puns, and not necessarily in that order.

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Alexander Hamilton