Mat Bimonte: Sweating the Small Stuff

How many times in life have you heard somebody say “don’t sweat the small stuff”?

While that adage may hold true among most things in life, the small stuff is incredibly pertinent in games of Magic. Small mistakes or sequencing errors typically lead to games snowballing into becoming unwinnable just based on small holes you’ve created for yourself.

How do we control these types of things? Being honest with yourself and holding yourself accountable for making small mistakes is the biggest part. We often look to cards we’ve drawn, or our opponents have drawn, to make conclusions about the outcome of a game. However, a lot of the time we have made many very small sequencing errors or choices that led us to a loss. Let’s go over a few of them here and try and figure out some ways to improve.

Order of Operations

What does this mean exactly? Remember those math classes you took in Junior High where your teachers drilled order of operations into your head? This isn’t that much different. Your results will end up wrong if you are doing them in the incorrect order more often than not, just like in math.

Let’s take a small example I watched this weekend at GP Porto Alegre. Let’s pretend we are the player in question. We have plenty of lands untapped, an active Saheeli, a Clue, and a Tireless Tracker in play.

What do you do? Think about it first before you go any further.

Here is what I would do:

First, I would draw with the Clue. But, what does this accomplish? Drawing cards before scrying is almost always correct. Drawing the cards gives you information about what is in your hand, therefore letting you know what you need to be scrying to the top or the bottom. Getting the most out of known information is a big way to snowball a game in your favor.

Sequencing Removal

Sequencing your removal is a huge part of Magic, especially in a format as diverse as something like Modern. A big part or sequencing your removal is familiarity with the format/decks you are playing, so do your homework! I am sure to be using my cards such as Fatal Push before things like Path to Exile. While Path is an excellent removal spell, it comes with a real drawback of ramping our opponents early. Push doesn’t deal with large threats later in the game, something to beware of.

This is also something to keep in mind when you’re playing with spells such as Lightning Bolt. If you have a Bolt and a Terminate in hand, it may be tempting to use the Terminate on an early threat while saving the Bolt to deal damage to your opponent. But if you Terminate a Birds of Paradise, that Bolt isn’t going to do much good against a Siege Rhino.

The Information Game

An often overlooked part of the game is concealing information. Holding onto lands is a big part of this. Not only is it almost always correct when you have cards like Searing Blaze or Tireless Tracker in your deck, but keeping your opponent guessing is always a strategic advantage given you have the necessary resources to be playing the game. The longer the game goes, you almost certainly don’t need to be playing a ton of lands, so your opponent playing around things is a big boon.

Speaking of playing around things, it is important to continue to conceal information if you are very far ahead or very far behind in a game. What I mean by this is that giving your opponent more information about the contents in your deck helps nobody but your opponent. I’ve conceded games I’m way behind in to a Thoughseize effect instead of revealing my hand to conceal things. There are also games where you are very far ahead on board and you might not want to reveal your one-ofs to your opponents. Play smart, and don’t overcommit just to put more things on the board if you are in no danger of losing.

Controlling the Control Deck

Control decks are often the hardest decks to play against in Magic. For starters, it is very frustrating getting your cards killed, or countered every turn. The other part that makes it hard is that typically your Control playing friends don’t want to playtest, as the games go very long. It is in your best interests to play against established control decks though to familiarize yourself with their answers and typical play patterns.

How do we control the control deck?

Against decks with sweepers, you want to prioritize sticking one to two threats and attacking until they are forced to deal with them. Overloading onto the board is a surefire way to lose the game against Supreme Verdict and other effects like that.

How do we get to that point?

Sticking threats can be tough. It’s even tougher when we stick the wrong one. You typically want to be throwing out “bait” cards against control decks to see if they bite and counter; if they don’t, you’re probably in the clear to commit your better threat to the table. Balancing out how to sequence your threats and not play into Wrath effects is a delicate balance that needs practice and talking through dialogue with a friend who is playtesting with you.

Minimizing Mistakes 

There is nobody on the planet who plays Magic perfectly. The best you can do is try and play to the best of your ability. Hopefully these small tips will help you in your quest to glory. I know that I wish when I started playing I had resources to sort out how I should be prioritizing cards and plays in general (been blown out by sweepers a lot). A lot of it comes from repetition, but repeating bad habits leads to worse habits. Break them now if you can.

On a side note, I’m super excited to be playing in the Team Constructed CTQ this coming weekend. I’ve yet to play in a team event, but I’ve heard nothing but awesome things about them, and to me, it’s the future of competitive Magic as we know it. Feel free to stop me to chat, say hi, etc. I hope to see all of you there!

Thanks for stopping by,

Mat Bimonte

Mat Bimonte first picked up the game during Theros block, but already has a Modern 5K championship under his belt, as well as a number of smaller Standard tournament wins. Based out of Bloomington, Ill., Mat is a regular on the SCG Tour, with future aspirations of qualifying for the Pro Tour.

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Mat Bimonte