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By: Tarmotog, Naoto Watabe
May 14 2008 1:20am
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After a period of absence, I return here and will be talking about tempo this time since V3 is slooowwwllllyyy getting more functions back and I want to talk about Singleton but I took a real long time to get used to the new deck editor or the game screen. I used to be able to see all my cards but it's more difficult now. This prevented me from actually wanting to go down to making a deck. I finally did and handpicked powerful cards and arranged them in a more coherent manner to be called a deck. Right now, I only have two Singleton decks to play around with. Far from being fully recovered. Anyway...

What is tempo? 

Explaining tempo is not easy. A long time ago, I read an article that used a deck filled with Repulse and a deck filled with Grizzly Bears to illustrate tempo but I'll focus on getting my whole explanation coherent so what I say might be in different wording from what you might have read elsewhere regarding the same topic.

The Repulse/Grizzly Bears example goes something like this:

Grizzly Bears.dec goes first

Turn 1, Forest go.
Turn 2, Island go.
Turn 3, Forest, Grizzly Bears.
Turn 4, Island go.
Turn 5, Forest, beat for 2, Grizzly Bears.
Turn 6, Island, Repulse.
Turn 7, Forest, beat for 2, 2x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 8, Island, Repulse.
Turn 9, Forest, beat for 4, 2x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 10, Island, Repulse.
Turn 11, Forest, beat for 6, 3x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 12, Island, 2x Repulse.
Turn 13, Forest, beat for 8. win.

Repulse.dec goes first

Turn 1, Island go.
Turn 2, Forest go.
Turn 3, Island go.
Turn 4, Forest, Grizzly Bears.
Turn 5, Island, Repulse.
Turn 6, Forest, Grizzly Bears.
Turn 7, Island, Repulse.
Turn 8, Forest, 2x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 9, Island, Repulse.
Turn 10, Forest, beat for 2, 2x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 11, Island, 2x Repulse.
Turn 12, Forest, beat for 2, 3x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 13, Island, 2x Repulse.
Turn 14, Forest, beat for 4, 3x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 15, Island, 2x Repulse.
Turn 16, Forest, beat for 6, 4x Grizzly Bears.
Turn 17, Island, 3x Repulse.
Turn 18, Forest, beat for 8, win.

Observation:

Looking at the series of event, we notice that Repulse.dec starts to leak* Grizzly Bears and gets beaten to death. Here we also see that there is a significant difference in the time taken for Grizzly Bears.dec to win. If it goes first, it wins on its seventh turn. If it goes second, it wins on its turn nine.

The main disadvantage of Repulse.dec in this game, besides speeding up death by replacing itself and not having an actual win condition, is that Repulse costs three mana as compared to Grizzly Bears that costs two mana. As the game proceeds, more and more Grizzly Bears will hit the table even eventually overcome the Repulses.

(IF Repulse had cost two mana instead, Repulse.dec would be able to keep bouncing every Grizzly Bears forever if it draws the right number of Repulse and Islands and end the game without taking a single point of damage.)

Knowing that going first allows Repulse.dec to stay alive two more turns is evidence that there is a significant factor in a Magic game which involves time and mana. There is a big advantage in going first because of the time factor involved.

(If the example is changed to Scathe Zombies and Grizzly Bears, there will be a similar outcome in the early game but because the cards can actually trade, Scathe Zombies.dec might have a chance to win if and only if Scathe Zombies.dec starts to draw considerably more creatures than Grizzly Bears.dec and is able to cast the creatures consistently. With such an extreme example, we can tell that simply by costing more mana, Scathe Zombies is significantly worse than Grizzly Bears. This again shows that mana costs matter.)

If we mix Grizzly Bears.dec and Repulse.dec, and goldfish, we get draws with Grizzly Bears and Repulse and will eventually need to choose which cards to cast in what combination when there are three or more mana available.

We can cast at:

2 mana => Grizzly Bears
3 mana => Grizzly Bears/Repulse
4 mana=> 2x Grizzly Bears / Repulse
5 mana=> 2x Grizzly Bears / Repulse + Grizzly Bears
6 mana=> 3x Grizzly Bears / 2x Repulse / Repulse + Grizzly Bears

We will choose what to cast depending on what is happening in play but most of the time, according to what is going on in the game, there would better and worse choices depending on what you want to achieve.

Tempo is the focus on short run on-the-board advantage, utilizing the fact that the game is based on time and mana.

Why does tempo exist?

Tempo exists because the main focus of the game is actually winning. No matter how much long run advantage you have, losing nullifies that.

When is tempo most valuable?

Tempo is most valuable during the natural occurrence of the "mana-screw". When a player is mana-screwed, his options become even more limited than usual. If you force your opponent to make inefficient plays, it becomes much easier to win.

In other times, your opponent need not be mana-screwed but just simply not having as many lands as he would want to is a good enough opportunity to use tempo plays to put yourself way ahead in the game.

In fact, tempo is the basis of the mana curve. The mana curve is designed with consistency and efficiency in mind. Hitting the correct drops on the correct turn is the basic idea of a mana curve. The mana curve aims to minimize mana wastage and aims to trade cheap cards for equal or more expensive cards (casting cost-wise) while constantly beating for points to get the opponent's life as low as possible.

Tempo is an advantage directly influenced by the mana costs of cards. Before we can understand this, we must look at the concept of mana wastage.

Concept of Mana Wastage

If you have five mana available and you can't cast anything, you essentially waste 5 mana by the end of your opponent's turn.

If you have a one mana card like Shock and it is the only spell you cast with five mana available, you waste four mana by the end of your opponent's turn.

Simple? Let's carry on.

Four casting cost cards are best cast when four mana is available. When you draw a four casting cost card with five mana out and are only able to cast it on that turn, it's the same as casting it at five mana. 

Tempo is mostly associated with bounce. Why? Bounce cards don't remove the card but let players recast those cards. While it seems worst than basic removal on paper, bounce cards have the advantage of being able to force your opponent to consider recasting the same card which can become more inefficient due to mana wastage. The amount of mana is a restriction to the number of spells you can cast in a turn. Bounce attempts to clutter the hand with spells that need to be cast be cannot all be cast together because there isn't enough mana to cast everything. In many cases, people lose because they fail to choose the right cards to cast when their permanents get bounced. Bounce may possibly be more powerful than straight up removals in some cases due to this occurrence. Experience helps a good deal in this area.

In other cases, simply destroying cards at the right timing can be rather devastating. So even a seemingly harmless Shock might be able to help you gain tempo.

Knowing when and how to make your opponent waste mana is a skill required to make good tempo based plays.

What does it mean to gain tempo?

Remand is the most powerful tempo buying card because while it does not actually counter the spell your opponent casts, it allows you to disrupt your opponent when he is trying his best to maximize the efficiency of his mana. If we assume that your opponent has a significantly large amount of mana, we can safely say that Remand becomes nothing more than "draw a card". However, it is solely because of the limited amount of mana a person has that makes tempo a more than relevant concept.

Using Remand as an example, you have four mana and cast Grizzly Bears (because you don't have better alternatives) and have Remandin hand with mana to cast it. Your opponent casts Serra Angel and you Remand it.

You have successfully "bought" a turn because no relevant threats came into play and you have your Grizzly Bears in play which will deal two damage next turn. This is called gaining tempo.
 

Remand

More than meets the eye.

Gaining tempo is being ahead in terms of threats while successfully neutralizing the opponent's threats in a way that puts you in a favorable position in the short run.

In this scenario with the Grizzly Bears and Serra Angel, you may be ahead in the game but it is inevitable that next turn your opponent will cast Serra Angel again and two damage is probably the maximum damage Grizzly Bears will deal for the rest of the game if unaided. Therefore, you need to follow up with more cards to actually maintain the advantage gained from the Remand play.

You could counter the Serra Angel next turn, you could cast a removal spell on it the following turn or you could simply beef up the Grizzly Bears with an enchantment so that it would become unlikely that Serra Angel would block a bigger Grizzly Bears.

What does it mean to lose tempo? (It's just the opposite really.)

Let's say you drew Vulshok Morningstar, cast it and equipped the Grizzly Bears. Your opponent did not cast Serra Angel the previous turn (you don't understand why) and casts Shock targeting Grizzly Bears with the equip ability on the stack. Now you have tapped out all of your mana with no real positive outcome. In the same way you gained tempo, you have just lost tempo and it seems that this situation is able to offset your little tempo gain from the previous turn. This play becomes crucial to the game because your opponent has not only managed to stop you from dealing your 2 damage but to also catch you with your mana all gone. In this case, despite casting a Shock at equivalent to 5 mana because of no other relevant plays, your opponent still has the advantage of being able to cast his Serra Angel first and being able to attack you before you get to attack back.

In this situation, Vulshok Morningstar was used because you don't actually lose another card but in the case of an enchantment like Blanchwood Armor, you actually lose the enchantment as well. This contributes to both a loss in tempo and in card advantage which is the main reason why people do not like to play with creature enchantments in constructed decks.

How do you maximize the advantage gained from tempo and what are the ways to protect yourself from getting out tempoed?

1) Play cost efficient cards.

If you play cost efficient cards, you prevent yourself from getting into situations whereby your plays are compromised when they don't have to be. For example, see below. (The top row represents the cards in play and bottom row represents the cards for your information.)

Scenario 1

Scenario 2

The difference between the two scenarios are very obvious, with one having a dilemma on which to cast and the other with a more straight forward course of action.

While this example is rather extreme, real life examples like the playing of Unsummon in some decks that are mana and tempo conscious because those decks are probably very tight on mana and cannot afford to pay more than one mana to pull of an Unsummon effect without damaging the flow of the game.

Blue Green madness is an example of such a deck.

Having too many clunky cards is very risky if you are being attacked by a tempo based deck. By playing cost efficient cards, it is more difficult to attack you from this angle.

2) Do not put all your eggs in a basket.

Try not to put yourself in a situation whereby your opponent can get ahead of you simply by dealing with one card. 

For example, Sword of Fire and Ice which seems really good, has the risk of you falling into a trap because casting and equipping it involves a considerable amount of mana.

It is really difficult to judge when to do which type of play when mana is involved, especially when no two games of Magic are the same. Which is why the safer play is to play a variety of threats and slowly try to equip the equipment. While actually safer, it may not be the optimal play.

3) Play more cards on your opponent's turn.

By playing cards on your opponent's turn, you essentially put yourself in a position whereby you can use your mana for two consecutive turns. The big plus is that you get to pull of plays that can give you a big tempo swing if you play cards on your opponent's turn like removing the creature which is going to get equipped by Sword of Fire and Ice which saves you from getting hit once which would not be possible if you only had sorcery speed removals.

4) Play spells to maximize mana usage with the next turn in mind

Usually, people cast spells not realizing whether or not they can cast spells in a more efficient manner. Most of the time, you want to cast spells to use up as much mana as possible. Doing so will allow you to cast more cards in a span of a few turns. This is usually the rule of thumb when it comes down to casting spells.

For example, you have creature A that costs four mana and Counsel of the Soratami (both in your hand) and have four mana out. You almost always should cast creature A.

While I say this, we must take into account that there might be other plays that don't favor you actually maximizing your mana. For example, you have creature A and Counsel of the Soratami again. However, it is more important to resolve creaure B (also in hand) that costs five mana. Therefore, it might become a better choice to actually cast the Counsel of the Soratami to draw into land number five.

5) Know how to make use of life totals as a gauge of what to do.

The life total is a valuable resource that allows you to be in the game if you know how to manage it wisely. Always keep track of both players life totals closely because you may miss the opportunity to actually change the style of play to a more aggressive or more conservative style to actually win. Once people said life is not important till the very last point. While it is true to a large extent, we should not put ourselves at risk of losing if we don't have to. Sometimes it's all or nothing. Other times, it is nothing and nothing. Try to anticipate what might be coming next to determine what line of action to take but do not expect your opponent to play exactly the way you hope for. I tried to catch an opponent with his own card but it didn't work and I ended up paying for that high risk play.

6) Tap your lands carefully

Sometimes, players are trapped when they tap their lands without expecting their cards to come back to their hands. When such a thing happens, let's say you have GGRR and you cast Grizzly Bears with GG and it gets Remanded. Ouch. Tapping lands carefully can help reduce such problems.

Why are tempo based plays difficult to master?

Tempo based plays usually involve losing card advantage, a more long run advantage, for an advantage that lasts for only a short period of time.

While this may not be true all the time, it is very unobvious to the inexperienced player when to or when not to cast spells after they are influenced by theories that favor the long run games. For example, "don't play your Unsummon unless you really have to." which makes perfect sense but this advice if strictly followed, would force players to forgo possible short run strategies that might actually be better than long run strategies.

To illustrate this, let's say your have Unsummon in your hand and you have a Grizzly Bears in play while your opponent has this 4 mana 2/2 creature which you assume your opponent might choose to block with because both of you had mana problems and both you and your opponent have just reached 4 mana and your opponent is down to 6 life.

The good long run plan goes like this: Attack with your Grizzly Bears, Unsummon it with lethal damage on the stack and cast again.

The good short run plan goes like this: Bounce the opposing 2/2 and attack for 2 damage. Your opponent will most likely recast the 4 mana 2/2 or cast a 5 mana card next turn.

Other plays include attack, block , both die, done.

All the scenarios are not seriously flawed depending on what you have in your hand and deck.

Many players lose flexibility when they like one style of play over the other. Mastering tempo means to be able to correctly judge when you can give up the long run for the short run and vice-versa.

And most of the time, playing the tempo game mindlessly is the easiest way to lose because it usually involves you giving up valuable resources for short term gains which can lead to you ultimately losing because you lost too many resources doing nothing significant.

--End---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

While I didn't say anything particularly special, I hope to show that there are many ways to approach a game and I do hope we picked up something from it.

Before I go, I'll have a simple contest. (since I've never had one before)

Design a deck with any number of basic lands and any number of 1 card like in the first example.

Something like this:

10x Mountain
50x Raging Goblin

Rules:

-The card must be available on Magic Online.
-The deck must have 60 cards. (To prevent people from trying to gain life and decking people out)
-The deck must be able to win games.
-The deck can only one card name that is not a basic land. (You can play combinations of basic lands)
-EDIT (before anyone thinks about it) : no ripple (just thought of turn 2 kill with Surging Flame

The first person to come up with the most powerful deck (capable of winning the most games) idea wins a Lorwyn Booster (Online booster by the way) from me.

Hint: While the focus may be on the non land card, having a better mana base would mean have a different effect on how it would play. (marginally different configurations (1 card) will be ignored and priority would go to the first person unless there is concrete evidence that running 5 lands or something like that is actually better)

Send your entry to tarmotog@hotmail.com with your MTGO handle and your simple decklist and also include a few words to describe the deck with information like how many turns it takes to win or anything that makes it easier to understand why you chose the card. The contest lasts 5 days from the time this article goes up.  

So until next time, (please pray that V3 gets better soon !) hope to see you hanging around the lobbies of V3. (Do I dislike V3??)

*to leak means to let stuff through like the word suggests. I first came across it in Tower Defense where people were screaming at each other for leaking. Anyway, if you go to www.gleemax.com/games you can find a Flash based Tower Defense game if you don't feel like playing MTGO. There are other games there too including a link to download MTGO.

13 Comments

by patsch (Unregistered) 80.138.246.40 (not verified) at Sat, 05/17/2008 - 19:50
patsch (Unregistered) 80.138.246.40's picture

22 x forest

38 x imperious perfect

Contest by MechtaK at Fri, 05/16/2008 - 01:59
MechtaK's picture

20x Island

40x Krovikan Mist 

by Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 17:19
Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132's picture

My apologies for the double post. I got a few ASP errors while posting. Something about "an URL is required".

Meddling Mage by Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 17:18
Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132's picture

There are two problems with the Meddling Mage deck:

  1. You need to know which card to name. If this is game 1, you won't know until your opponent actually plays it, which could be too late, if he or she casts a bomb (say Cranial Extraction).
  2. You need to reliably draw Island + Plains. Without dual lands, your chances of hitting both are reduced, though aggresive mulligans will get you there.

Otherwise, it's definitely a contender, format-warping to say the least. One Selesnya Guildmage might get through, but that's hardly enough to deal with an evergrowing army of Mages reliably, and it'll only get through on the draw and in game 1.  

by Klutz (Unregistered) 12.40.253.154 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 19:19
Klutz (Unregistered) 12.40.253.154's picture

60 Mishra's Factory

by Tarmotog at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 20:56
Tarmotog's picture

um.. sorry for those who posted here but please take note of the rules of the contest that state to e-mail ur entries which would help figuring who submitted which idea first and please put everything that's required as in the rules. i need mtgo handle (if you have), decklist and some short notes. I currently received only one repeat of a card idea which isn't up here so you can still send your entries to the mail. thanx loads.

by Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 17:18
Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132's picture

There are two problems with the Meddling Mage deck:

  1. You need to know which card to name. If this is game 1, you won't know until your opponent actually plays it, which could be too late, if he or she casts a bomb (say Cranial Extraction).
  2. You need to reliably draw Island + Plains. Without dual lands, your chances of hitting both are reduced, though aggresive mulligans will get you there.

Otherwise, it's definitely a contender, format-warping to say the least. One Selesnya Guildmage might get through, but that's hardly enough to deal with an evergrowing army of Mages reliably, and it'll only get through on the draw and in game 1.  

Meddling Mage by Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 17:18
Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132's picture

There are two problems with the Meddling Mage deck:

  1. You need to know which card to name. If this is game 1, you won't know until your opponent actually plays it, which could be too late, if he or she casts a bomb (say Cranial Extraction).
  2. You need to reliably draw Island + Plains. Without dual lands, your chances of hitting both are reduced, though aggresive mulligans will get you there.

Otherwise, it's definitely a contender, format-warping to say the least. One Selesnya Guildmage might get through, but that's hardly enough to deal with an evergrowing army of Mages reliably, and it'll only get through on the draw and in game 1.  

by Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 17:17
Haploid (Unregistered) 85.223.50.132's picture

There are two problems with the Meddling Mage deck:

  1. You need to know which card to name. If this is game 1, you won't know until your opponent actually plays it, which could be too late, if he or she casts a bomb (say Cranial Extraction).
  2. You need to reliably draw Island + Plains. Without dual lands, your chances of hitting both are reduced, though aggresive mulligans will get you there.

Otherwise, it's definitely a contender, format-warping to say the least. One Selesnya Guildmage might get through, but that's hardly enough to deal with an evergrowing army of Mages reliably, and it'll only get through on the draw and in game 1.  

Contest by Massimo (Unregistered) 85.178.68.137 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 14:19
Massimo (Unregistered) 85.178.68.137's picture

15*Plains

15*Forest

30*Selesnya Guildmage

wins against Meddling Mage when you start playing. The other problem with Meddling Mage is that he needs 1 Plains and 1 Island. This could be a problem. Selesnya Guildmage could be played without any restriction in the mana cost, and can win with the new constelation of mana (lands) with saprolings and the pumpeffect of the gulidmage.

Contest by folcojp (Unregistered) 166.38.141.31 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 09:29
folcojp (Unregistered) 166.38.141.31's picture

10*Plains

10*Island

40*Meddling Mage 

Contest by folcojp (Unregistered) 166.38.141.31 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 09:30
folcojp (Unregistered) 166.38.141.31's picture

10*Plains

10*Island

40*Meddling Mage

Contest by Massimo (Unregistered) 85.178.68.137 (not verified) at Wed, 05/14/2008 - 04:38
Massimo (Unregistered) 85.178.68.137's picture

10*Plains

10*Forest

40* Selesnya Guildmage