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By: CZML, Cassie Mulholland-London
Nov 07 2014 1:00pm
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 Hello, and welcome back to The Perfect Game. If last week's article seemed a bit too general for you, don't worry: today's has you covered. I'm still going to be discussing Relevance Theory, but we're going to delve into the details so you can use your ferocious Magic prowess to outlast you foes (sorry Mardu).
 
Levity aside, we're going to be focusing on how to use Relevance Theory to gain an advantage or deny your opponent an advantage, as well as how to convert an advantage into a game win.
 
Last week, we talked about Relevance Theory as it applies to broader strategic Magic gameplay: identifying which resources are important in a given game or matchup and making those your focus. Today we're going to talk about the tactical and positional aspects of Relevance Theory: how to make plays that generate a resource advantage and what to do when you have one.

 

You'll remember that I summarized Relevance Theory with this sentence: “The player who, over the course of the game, maintains the most significant relevant resource advantage is the player who will win the game.”

 

Now that you know what the sentence means, how do we get there?

 

There are two real ways to generate a significant relevant resource advantage over the course of the game: sharp tactical play and careful positional play. Whether you're focused on tactics or position depends entirely on which resources are relevant in the matchup. The more likely life totals are to be relevant—ie, the faster the matchup—the more tactical the game becomes. The more likely board presence and cards in hand are to be relevant—ie, the grindier the matchup—the more positional the game becomes. It's obviously a judgment call, because there are decks that want to play a more positional game even when they are in the beatdown role (tempo decks like Delver variants, slower aggressive decks like Mono Blue Devotion in last Standard, and interactive low-resource midrange decks like Abzan) and some decks that want to play a more tactical game even when they are the control role (proactive midrange decks like Green Devotion and combo decks like Storm). In general, though, the deck that is in the beatdown role is trying to make the game as tactical as possible and the deck that is in the control role is trying to make the game as positional as possible.

 

The texture of the game will usually become apparent when it starts. If a fast, minimally interactive aggressive deck—like RDW or White Weenie—is present, the first several turns will almost always be tactical. Likewise, if an interactive resource-management deck—like Abzan or UB Control—is present, the late game (if it gets there) will almost always be positional. Thus, in a tactical vs positional game, the more tactical decks are trying to end the game while things are still tactical while the positional decks are trying to draw the game out until their superior positioning wins out.

Fleecemane Lion

 

 

A tactical advantage is an advantage in early development. If you can get on the board before your opponent can start interacting, you have a tactical advantage. Generally in that situation, your game plan should be focused on staying ahead, forcing your opponent to make suboptimal plays, and converting your early resource advantage into a game win. Your overall goal should be to make the game happen on your terms, not your opponent's.

 

If you're playing for a tactical advantage, look for the plays that maximize your damage output and put the most pressure on your opponent's position. Sequencing is huge; the faster you can apply a significant amount of pressure, the more your opponent has to play a reactive game. This is why you should lead with cards that get bigger, like Monastery Swiftspear, Foundry Street Denizen, and Experiment One. This way your opponent's plan of blocking with Sylvan Caryatid or Courser of Kruphix and dragging the game out is much more difficult to execute.

 

A positional advantage is an advantage in the late game. If you have cards that, given enough time, create such a massive disparity in relevant resources—like Sorin, Solemn Visitor growing your team and giving lifelink against an aggro deck, or Rakshasa Deathdealer being immune to 80% of U/B Control's spot removal—then most of your game plan should revolve around giving those cards a window to take over. Mana development and maintaining a stable board position is huge. Positional decks usually rely on having more relevant topdecks in the mid and late game than their opponents.

 

If you're playing for a positional advantage, look for plays that incentivize your opponent to play into your cards. You aren't trying to make them play the game on your terms from the get-go, but you're trying to guide their play so that you can get to the late game safely and the power of your cards can take over. If you're playing a removal-heavy deck, as a lot of positional decks are, you want to sequence and time your interaction properly. For example, if you're playing against UW Heroic with Abzan Midrange and your opponent taps out on their turn for an Aura, you want to cast your Hero's Downfall in your main phase. If they leave up mana, however, you want to cast your removal spell in their upkeep (before they draw, to decrease their chances of actually having the protection spell, and on their turn, so their mana is constrained). You would be surprised how far timing your spells properly will get you.

 

Up until this point, I've focused mainly on tactical vs positional games, because usually one deck takes the tactical role (even if it's usually a more positional deck) and one deck takes the positional role. However, there are often certain matchups, especially mirrors, where both sides are trying to play tactically or both sides are trying to play positionally. This generally happens with two similar decks that have around the same level of interaction, but also occurs with aggro vs non-interactive midrange as well as interactive midrange vs control.

 

In purely tactical games, life totals and board presence are the most important resources. Entire games can hinge upon small life discrepancies or the difference between a Squire and a Grizzly Bears. The little details are tremendous, and a single imprecise play—casting Titan's Strength on the wrong creature, or even tapping a basic for colorless mana instead of a Caves of Koilos—can be the difference between victory and defeat. Be prepared to do a lot of math and be extremely focused with your analysis. In addition, knowing how to use burn spells and protection spells is very important: does the matchup reward keeping creatures in play or getting extra damage in? Who has the advantage going long? Even in purely tactical games, one player usually still has a slight positional advantage, which is worth keeping in mind if the game may go long.

 

In purely positional games, the threat of something is often more important than that thing connecting. This is because life totals are far less relevant than your threats matching up favorably against their answers or vice versa. The main goal in these games is to pull ahead on mana and translate that into an advantage in cards or board presence. Small stumbles aren't as punishing as in purely tactical games, and having a strong, executable plan is one of the most important things.

Squire

 

 

One of the best things you can do to win a purely positional game is to have trumps—cards that match up exceptionally well against your opponent's deck or that they have to spend an excessive amount of resources to answer. Nissa, Worldwaker is a trump against U/B Control, for example, because their best answer to her once she resolves (Perilous Vault) doesn't kill the Elementals she makes, and they need a progressively higher number of answers the longer she remains on the battlefield.

 

In positional games, you want to value your trumps extremely highly, only casting them when you know they will resolve and when you can get as much value out of them as possible. If you can make your opponent play into them (ie, committing a lot of big creatures into an Elspeth, Sun's Champion -3), you generally should. Keep your opponent's trumps in mind as well. Frequently situations will arise where you can either try to play around your opponent's trump or play into it. Often, even playing around your opponent's trump may not be enough to win, and you just have to make them have it by taking the line that beats everything else but is stone dead to their trump.

 

Overall, the best way to win a positional game is to create a more significant advantage in the most relevant resource than your opponent can. In post-sideboard games of the control mirror, for example, you want to generate a mana advantage by making all of your land drops and possibly denying your opponent the same opportunity. This is why taking Divination over Jace's Ingenuity with your Thoughtseize can be a valuable play: sure, Ingenuity nets an additional card, but Divination helps your opponent hit their land drops. Ingenuity is also much easier to counter, as it costs two more mana.

 

If you cannot generate a more significant advantage in the most relevant resource, try generating as significant of an advantage as possible in a slightly less relevant resource. For example, while your opponent in the Abzan Midrange mirror is pulling ahead on mana with Caryatid and Courser, get your Fleecemane Lion to connect a couple of times and try to get the game to a situation where they can't advance their board for fear of you killing their blocker and attacking for lethal. This approach is generally not the most reliable, but sometimes you have no other options, and it will often be better than you think.

 

So those are the basics of generating an advantage by using Relevance Theory. Next week, I'll be discussing how to incorporate the Complete 75 philosophy into Relevance Theory and how identifying your deck's most relevant resource(s) in each matchup can help you even before you sit down for a match.

 

Thanks for reading!