From time to time I like to mine my peripheral interests (A.K.A. non-Magic stuff) for concepts that can be applied to the Classic Pauper format.
One of the most universal strategic sentiments I've been able to identify is the importance of finding openings and necessarily seizing opportunities when they present themselves. This can be found not only in Magic: the Gathering but also in StarCraft: Brood War, Mixed Martial Arts and various facets of military strategy.
To better internalize this concept, we must first look briefly (and I mean very briefly) at the construction of Magic: the Gathering as a game. By doing this we'll start to notice that many aspects of its overall design strive towards bringing each individual duel to an ultimate and unambiguous conclusion. Each player, by making land drops, casting spells, setting up and making attacks, etc., is ideally working their way up to the respective conclusion that they want (triumph).
The setting in place of diminishing resources, creatures and spells that accomplish specific tasks, even a time limit on every competitive match, it's all there not just to facilitate an enjoyable gaming experience but also to facilitate one that ensures someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. This is preferable to a less-than-ideal alternate outcome in which the game reaches a stalemate and yet continues to plod along.
This is a long-winded way of declaring that most of what we will be doing when we play should relate to us carving out a path to victory. We should be developing and/or utilizing resources. We should be disrupting and/or pressuring the opponent, if not invalidating their entire game plan.
We should be finding openings. We should be abusing them.
So how do we go about doing this?
One of the preliminary steps is to understand that openings present themselves within spans of time. Since Magic is turn-based, with each of its turns containing phases and ping-ponging priority shifts, and since variance factors like missing land drops exist, players will typically find themselves exposed at critical points while both they and their opponents are attempting to realize their “Super Objective” of winning the game.
Here is an incomplete list of conceivable openings that a player might be presented with in their next game:
1. An opening to make attacks
2. An opening to resolve spells
3. An opening to remove permanents
These are three of the most common openings I can think of when it comes to games of Pauper. Each can present itself due to a number of factors, so it's important for us to be actively searching for future openings and thinking about how to immediately exploit them.
Openings that permit certain attacks can be caused by the opponent's “failure” to leave an adequate number of creatures back on defense, or their failure to resolve a blocking creature at all(because we countered it). Openings that permit spells to resolve or permanents to be removed can be caused by the opponent's failure to leave up a sufficient amount of permission or protection mana.
You'll notice that most of these openings are often highly dependent on certain things that the opponent did or didn't do immediately before they were bestowed. As you might also notice, the above openings tend to only present themselves for a single turn or less. This means that it's almost just as important for us to swiftly capitalize on such an opening as it is for us to identify the opening at all.
I don't think I can envision anything more cliche at this point than quoting Sun Tzu, but nevertheless that's exactly what I'm about to do. “The Art of War” is referred to often by writers and strategists, and for good reason. While its ideas are presented in a succinct, simplistic form, they can be pondered and implemented extensively.
Consider this quote from Sun Tzu in particular:
“He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.”
While we can certainly endeavor to play our games mistake-free, the likelihood of actually doing so on a regular basis is quite low. With that being said, aiming to make considerably less mistakes than our opponents do should definitely be included in our mission statement.
It's critical to realize that openings and mistakes are not necessarily synonymous. A mistake can present an opening, but it might not always present an opening that we can take advantage of. Moreover, an opening is not always caused by a player making a mistake.
In a sense we could rework Sun Tzu's quote and apply it to Pauper by saying leaving no openings “is what establishes the certainty of victory” in a high number of Classic Pauper contests.
Let's take the case of Mono Blue Delver and U/x Control decks in Classic Pauper. In order to deny the opponent openings, those decks often want to be leaving up UU (at the very least) during the opponent's turn. This helps when holding a Counterspell, Remove Soul, Spellstutter Sprite, etc., or when wanting to merely represent one or more of those cards.
In spite of this, situations will arise where these decks have no choice but to use up all of their mana. Maybe the Delver pilot feels the need to add additional pressure to the board or wants to make a critical land drop by first casting Ponder and/or Preordain. This is actually a useful detail to keep track of, because one of the surest methods of beating Delver involves abusing openings by flooding the board when they've tapped out.
As a product of playing around 17 lands only, Delver can certainly find itself missing land drops and subsequently leaving unwanted openings for opponents to jump through. This is a case of an opening being the result of a choice made during the deck construction phase.
I won't go into any more detail about Delver today, but if you're looking for related info please check out my “Defying Delver” articles if you get a chance!
In his DailyMTG piece “When to Cast Your Spells” Reid Duke emphasized the importance of timing when it comes to outplaying our opponents and outperforming their decks. To reiterate, openings will exist only for limited durations and therefore should be struck at swiftly and efficiently. The following from Reid Duke's article reinforces this notion:
“Timing is one aspect of sequencing, and information management is an important consideration for both. However, when it comes to timing, there's a lot more to consider. You also have to think about minimizing risk, maximizing opportunity, and making things as difficult and inconvenient as possible for your opponent.”
This declaration also points us towards another fact: we have the option of looking at openings from either an offensive or defensive point of view. When piloting a beatdown deck we can endeavor to force certain openings, and when piloting a control deck we can endeavor to deny certain openings.
So let's establish (and/or reestablish) some of the basic concepts about openings before wrapping things up:
1. Openings exist within limited spans of time.
2. The player who exploits the most openings while presenting the least has a decided advantage.
3. Certain decks (Delver, for instance) present openings as a result of their design characteristics.
4. Openings can be looked at from an offensive (opening instigation) or defensive (opening prevention) standpoint.
If you feel I've left something out or failed to accurately explain an idea related to this topic please let me know!
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Bye for now!