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By: DimeCollectoR, Jason Moore
Jul 24 2017 12:00pm
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Hi folks!

Put on your thinking caps.


Every so often I like to branch out from format and archetype specifics and venture into the realm of general strategy. In fact, today's concept is so general that it extends even beyond the game of Magic itself.


This means that if you're a Pauper veteran, a newbie, don't even play Pauper, are about to get into a fight, want your landlord to give you a few more days to make rent, etc., then you will hopefully be able to internalize and utilize the principles described in today's article to your benefit.


I'm not quite sure why, but my brain appears to be wired in such a way that I'm often fascinated by the interwoven threads of strategy and contest. Hopefully you're either like me, or at the least willing to indulge me, because today we're going to be tackling a strategic concept I'm calling “The Two Ways to Win.”


So let's do it.


The notion of there being two clear and observable paths to victory is most certainly not mine. As it turns out, I was introduced to the concept years ago when listening to the audiobook version of Carl von Clausewitz' benchmark military work, “On War.”


While Clausewitz, like Sun Tzu, has been analyzed and referenced nearly to the point of exhaustion, I find that there are still revelations to be had, extrapolations to be performed, and a deal more to be mined, intellectually, from their writings.


Specifically I'm referring to Clausewitz' notion, set forth in Chapter 2 of “On War.”


The military power must be destroyed, that is, reduced to such a state as not to be able to prosecute the war...the hostile feeling and action of hostile agencies, cannot be considered as at an end as long as the will of the enemy is not subdued also;”


To rephrase, Clausewitz (and for that matter later strategists like Fuller – no really, check him out, he's brilliant -) has identified the two ways to achieve victory over an opponent. The first involves diminishing the opponent's means of resisting us, and the second involves diminishing their will to resist us.


Joseph McCallion reinforces this concept in the abstract of “Achieving Total War Goals With a Limited War Force: Convincing the Enemy to Accept Defeat.” Here is his explanation.


Destroying an enemy’s means to resist is quantifiable and can be done through superiority in numbers, firepower and attrition. However, defeating an enemy’s will to resist is not measurable and cannot be guaranteed through superior firepower or strength.”


Fuller shares this sentiment, as the following quote on pg. 284 of “The Foundations of the Science of War” illustrates.


"To apply the principle of offensive action is to break down this unit by disorganizing the enemy, which may be accomplished by attacking the physical or moral foundations of his army."


Don't worry, we are going to get more clear on these ideas and how they pertain to Magic in just a second.


Before we do that though, allow me to emphasize the significance of clearly interpreting these strategic considerations and putting them into practice.


The Two ways to Win” is an overarching concept that, as far as I can tell, applies to absolutely any scenario in which two entities are opposed and one side wants the other to submit to their will. Things like war, negotiation, sales, unarmed combat, debate, the list truly goes on.




Jumping back to the first of the Two Ways, let's talk about how diminishing the opponent's means of resisting actually comes about in a game of Magic.


Well, the fact of the matter is you already know how it comes about. If an opponent's life total will certainly be reduced to 0, then the opponent's means of resisting us is similarly reduced to 0. The same goes for an opponent who has 0 cards left in library and will be made to draw a card. The same goes, naturally, for a player who will be made to receive 10 poison counters.



Temur Battle Rage, seen in the popular decks Affinity and Izzet Fiend, is a card that demolishes the opponent's means of resisting. If cast targeting a large enough creature (think Atog, Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops), Temur Battle Rage will satisfy Fuller's “principle of offensive action” and win the war via Mccallion's “superior firepower.”


As Patrick Chapin stated in his article “The Theory of Everything,” a game of Magic reaches its intended conclusion when a player runs out of options. This gradual depletion of options is synonymous with the depletion of a player's means to resist. Here is a quote from Chapin's article to explain.


The most important of these like a King on the Chess board is the option to continue playing the game. The object of a game of Magic is to take away this option from your opponent. The way you do this is by manipulating your resources to get more and better options while denying your opponent the same in an effort to eventually take away their option to continue to play.”


Specifically, how do we identify and/or “take away” options from the opponent? What are some in-game examples of a player possessing the means to resist? Like the theories themselves, the examples are quite simple as a whole: the means to block an attack, the means to counter a spell or remove a threat, the means break up a combination, the means to prevent being “locked out,” and on and on.


Again we return to Temur Battle Rage. The Fate Reforged instant takes away the opponent's means of successfully blocking because it grants our creature trample. After sideboard, our inclusion of Pyroblast may take away our opponent's means of countering our most relevant spells.


Deviating from pure theory here, we may now see how applying the above concepts might be accomplished.


While sideboarding with our Affinity deck we might say to ourselves: My opponent already lacks the means of resisting (successfully combating) my superior creatures, so I am okay boarding out my Galvanic Blast removal. Even better, my opponent has no means of resisting my most threatening creature, Atog, unless he counters it. Therefore, boarding in my Pyroblasts can help me nullify his counters, and consequently take away my opponent's only means of resisting my superior firepower and strength.




I've spent the majority of this article focusing on the first of the Two Ways because the second is admittedly more nebulous and harder to summarize. Taking away an opponent's will to resist is also a rather infrequent activity when it comes to games of Magic.


Nevertheless, it is most easily identified through the act of prompting an early concession. An early concession involves a player forfeiting the game before his defeat is guaranteed. It results from that player's desire to no longer continue playing, regardless of the in-game options he still possesses. An early concession is the product of a player's will to resist reaching 0.


Typical examples of early concessions stem from a mage being either discouraged, embarrassed or frustrated by the current state of the game, or by prior events witnessed within said game.



Capsize, sometimes seen in Pauper Tron decks, is an example of a card that can take away an opponent's will to resist long before it takes away their means of resisting. Ghostly Flicker can work in a similar fashion. Both cards can chip away at an opponent's will by offering up repeated utility and ever-increasing resources to their controllers. Ever-increasing options. Ever-increasing adversity.


The will to resist might also be lost when a player “punts” or makes a significant error during the game. Following such an error, a player might “rage quit” out of sheer annoyance.


Therefore, choosing decks and making plays that increase the opponent's opportunities to make errors can be very beneficial in that they also potentially affect the opponent's will to resist. Think Blue Delver and Izzet Delver.


Using a “Jedi mind trick” on the opponent can serve as another manner of prompting an early concession. Again, as an Affinity pilot, with Atog on the board and cards in hand, we might begin sacrificing all of the permanents on our board. Tapping mana. Growing our Atog. The opponent concedes, anticipating our lethal Fling. But we don't even have one. I would suggest only attempting such a trick during the most desperate of times.


We may even achieve victory by simply asking our opponent to concede to us. Rhetoric, social savvy and diplomacy should not be completely foreign concepts to mages entering a duel.


My point here is to get creative. Explore as many possibilities as you can when it comes to diminishing an opponent's will to resist. I can only explore so many within the span of this article, and sadly, I am out of time.


My option to continue writing has been exhausted.


Dime's Up


How well did the above theories come across? Do you think you can apply them to Pauper? Feel free to let me know!


You can also follow me on Twitter (@DimecollectorSC) for MTG-related updates and info!


Bye for now! 


A gem. by deluxeicoff at Wed, 07/26/2017 - 10:52
deluxeicoff's picture

A gem.

While I agree that being by Paul Leicht at Wed, 07/26/2017 - 12:40
Paul Leicht's picture

While I agree that being jerkish to your opponent may be efficacious, it is certainly not very ethical. All is NOT fair in (love &) war. That's just a saying used as an excuse for atrocities. That said, my assumption is what you mean is to demoralize your opponent without being a jerk about it. Which is not only OK but certainly should be expected. In particular I am not fond of the "Jedi Mind Trick" method as it indicates a level of dishonesty that sullies the game (ala George Baxter who wrote at some length about the uses of it.) But I think we mean different things so I am going to assume you mean in an ethical manner, causing the lack of full information to deceive your opponent (such as the clever if desperate Atog trick above.) rather than out and out lying to them.

An excellent read. I have a by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/26/2017 - 14:03
AJ_Impy's picture

An excellent read. I have a fondness for applying great works of strategy to my gameplay (Sun Tzu's "The pinnacle of military deployment approaches the formless: if it is formless, then even the deepest spy cannot discern it nor the wise make plans against it." is one of the reasons why I run a different deck nearly every week at my favourite player run event, for example) and I found this enlightening and informative. Thank you.

deluxeicoff - Thanks again, by DimeCollectoR at Wed, 07/26/2017 - 18:26
DimeCollectoR's picture

deluxeicoff - Thanks again, I'm glad you liked it!

Paul Leicht - I appreciate your time and your opinions. Yes, my intention is for readers to consider applying these ideas in an ethical manner. While there is certainly a level of subjectivity as to what is ethical and what isn't, I did not write this piece to encourage players to blatantly cross boundaries and/or disrespect others. Thanks for sharing your concern!

AJ_Impy - Great to hear from you. That's a fantastic quote! I like how you've implemented it as well. Thanks to you for the response.