Magic Duels: Tips to Dominate the Battlefield
So the newest digital incarnation of Magic: The Gathering has been released and unlike previous entries in the series, this one is free to play, encouraging newcomers to finally give the long-running card game a shot. If you are a newcomer, fret not. The game’s tutorial does a pretty good job in teaching you the basic mechanics of the game as well as some special abilities you will see in it as well. Since the tutorial does a decent job in explaining most things, this is more a general tips for newcomers from someone who has been playing the physical game for around four years now.
I am no expert, but I have seen some solid strategies in the time I have played. Dear reader, use this knowledge well to dominate your opposition!
Get a solid hand
Your opening hand can make or break your chances of winning. While you can draw into cards you need later in the game, you need a solid opening hand to tide you over until your clench cards or to keep your opposition at bay. So what makes a solid hand?
I generally have three mana in my opening hand for any deck. If you have ways to mana ramp (get more mana quickly) in your deck, you could maybe start with only two in your opening hand. I urge to try for three though. This gives you option to play spells early and provided you draw into more mana, have access to the expensive spells later.
Watch the mana
Always keep an eye on your open mana, as well as your opponent’s. Why? Well depending upon the color your enemy is using, you can save yourself a lot of grief. If your enemy is playing with blue mana, it is generally a safe bet to assume they have some counter spells in their deck. In order to avoid getting your ace cards countered, know the cost of the counter spells. If your enemy doesn’t have any open mana or a way to produce mana, you can probably get away with that amazing card you want to play without having to worry about a counter spell. If your enemy has all of their mana untapped, you might want to hold onto it.
The same principle goes for the other colors too. The less mana your enemy has open, the less trickery and shenanigans they can perform.
Know the colors
Each of the five colors in Magic has a central theme and spell uses. These are the general themes of each color.
Blue is about countering spells, trickery, drawing cards, and milling (causing cards from the top of your foe’s deck to go to their graveyard) the opposition.
Black is using about sacrificing creatures in order to devastate opponents, kill spells (which instantly remove creatures or other permanents), and reanimating cards in the graveyard.
White usually revolves around life gain, controlling the enemy’s creatures, and enchantments.
Red is all about burn spells (similar to kill spells but usually do a set amount of damage rather than instantly removing a creature), land destruction, and destroying anything your opposition cares to play.
Green is about mana ramp, large scary creatures, and creating token creatures.
While there are some variations and exceptions, the colors generally fall into this pattern. Knowing what each of the colors does can allow you to somewhat expect what your opponent will be playing, especially when they play color combos which you can read about here.
Study the board
Whenever your foe plays a card, read its effects and try to figure out their reason for playing the card. Are they setting up a combo? Is it just an awesome creature? Is it misdirection? If you can figure out what your adversary is up to or at least a general idea, you may be able to prevent them from further building up their forces necessary to win.
Keep up with all of the effects on the board as well. I have won plenty of games because my opponent forgot the effect one card had which swayed the tide of battle. When you play a card, you don’t want to be surprised by an effect triggering from a card which had already been played and you had knowledge of. Do your best to keep up with all that is going on with your board.
Know when to be aggressive and passive
One of the major keys to a successful Magic duel is using your creatures wisely. Sometimes it pays to go for blood and mercilessly swing away at your foe’s life. Other times till, you will be better off provoking an attack until you have a game plan or advantage. This especially applies when you are facing more than one adversary and aren’t sure what is being played. Bide your time, and do your best not to paint yourself as a target by plunging into combat.
Try to build combos
Combos are the bread and butter of Magic. A well-constructed deck will have a theme and synergy between cards in order to play off of each other and set up combos to demolish your enemy. Not only do you want build combos in your deck, you want to build them on the field too. Is the card you are playing going to compliment another card you’ve played or further your combo? Building a combo on the field will make you the bane of the opposition, which brings us to one of the most important points I can share.
Pay attention to the order you play cards
The order in which you play cards can turn the tides of battle in an instant. Whenever a card is played, it goes on the stack. Each additional card played before the initial card comes into effect or abilities triggered will go into play first before the first card comes into play.
For instance: You play a creature spell.
Your enemy taps mana to activate an ability on his creature which counters a spell.
In response, you play a card which sends the card back to your opponent’s hand.
Your card will resolve first. Since the counter spell was played by a creature no longer on the battlefield, you get to play your initial card and mess up your opponent in one fell swoop!
By playing your cards correctly, you came out ahead in the situation. However, this tip also applies to playing cards to trigger a combo. For instance, look at this card.
Notice the ability? Whenever this card or a creature enters the battlefield under my control, I get to tap an enemy’s creature, effectively removing a blocker or attacker. In order to make the most of this ability, I would be wise to play this card first, followed by any other creatures to ensure I can tap as many of my enemy’s creatures as possible. As I mentioned earlier, knowing your board will assist with cards reaching their maximum potential
Single out threats
I know this seems obvious, but people constantly glance over major threats without giving them a second thought. While a card may not be an initial threat, if there is the slightest potential for it to come back later and make you regret its existence, you want to remove that card as soon as you possibly can. Never allow a threat to linger unless you have a way to turn the tables or even steal the threat.
Know when to play your “Ace” cards
You’re in a bit of a pinch, and you just drew an awesome card. The great question now is to play or save for later? While it may be tempting to play the ace you drew, you might be better off playing it later. For example, look at this card "Psychic Spiral" below.
Great card right! You get to mill your enemy for however many cards are in your graveyard at Instant speed! If played correctly, this card can win you the game. However when I drew this card, I only had two cards in my graveyard.
It wouldn’t be of much use to me at the time, and I would be better off saving it. Three turns later, my graveyard was overflowing with 24 cards, and I had only one card from my deck to draw. At the end of my turn, I played “Pyschic Spiral” and caused my foe to mill 24 cards from their deck, milling him out. When they went to draw a card at the beginning of their next turn, they could not, and I won the game.
Knowing when to play your best cards is the difference between victory and defeat.
Don’t get cocky
Never assume you have won the game. As soon as you do, you will let your guard down. In a game of Magic, tables turn with no warning and comebacks are a possibility. I myself have won more than a few games while only having one life remaining. Never relax until the game is completed.
This is by far the most important thing to know. If nothing else sticks with you, I hope this does. Magic is a fantastic game, and it can lead to many stories and even friendships. Remember it is only a game and enjoy yourself.
Now go have some fun and please learn to play Commander (EDH) next!