I've been doing coverage for a bit more than three years now. It's an enriching and totally different Magic experience. When you're in the booth, you're trying to play both sides of the games every round at the same time. It's not quite like watching a game, where you can just sit down and relax — you're a little more involved in the action when you're trying to analyze the plays.
It's another way to stay in Magic without actually playing. It's perfect for when you need to take a break from the table but still want to learn about the metagame and new tech. But you don't have to be a commentator for a live stream to do that, you could just be watching a random stream at home or just "bird" over a game and discuss the plays with the other spectators.
Last weekend, I was involved in the coverage of the first Bazaar of Moxen stop of the season in Madrid where I covered the two days of action of the tournament alongside Riley Knight and Joel Larsson. Day one was Standard and Legacy, day two was Modern with a Sealed deck RPTQ.
During the games, you of course talk about the plays, present the situation of both players (score in the tournament, their history, what they need to Top 8), but also get to talk about some deeper and more interesting strategy topics. The discussions don't last for too long on stream as you still have to cover the live action, but they are good themes for articles.
Today I'm bringing you a couple of topics that came up during last weekend's coverage. They could each deserve an article, but we'll keep it short this time.
I don't know if covering Magic made me a better player, but it helped me to pinpoint why my opponents made specific mistakes.
When I realize I've make a mistake, I just tell myself "geez, you're stupid/so bad/an idiot" and (try to) move on. There's no real reason to try to understand why I made a mistake while I'm still playing. What's good about doing coverage is that you can analyze why a player made a mistake. Sometimes it could come from other factors than the lines a player is taking. It could be because of the way the cards are placed on the table, the way your opponent plays his cards, or acts towards you. The smallest things like moving a creature WAY forward when it's attacking sometimes triggers something in some players' minds like "this creature is attacking me and it looks very angry, I have to block", much more than a timid attack by just tapping the creature and moving it slightly forward.
During the semi-finals of the Modern event, Eliott Boussaud played against Alberto Colomo in a W/U Eldrazi mirror. On his turn, Colomo played a Drowner of Hope and triggered his Eldrazi Mimic. In response, Boussaud played Dismember on the Drowner of Hope. He then pointed out with a lot of confidence that Eldrazi Mimic should be dead; using the last-known information, Eldrazi Mimic would become a 0/0 and die. Colomo then put Eldrazi Mimic in his graveyard.
Huh, wait, what? I have to say, I was confused in the booth. Since I hadn't played Eldrazi that much, I hadn't seen that interaction before; but I could see why it would work. The only question was: when do you have to decide if you want to use Eldrazi Mimic's ability? I was pretty sure it was on resolution, but Boussaud showed so much confidence that his opponent didn't even think he could be wrong. Boussaud's play made sense, as Eldrazi Mimic would not become a 5/5, but he also tried to induce his opponent's mistake, and it worked.
You choose whether or not to use the Eldrazi Mimic trigger on resolution, so Colomo could have kept it as a 2/1, but binning it was a legal play (he decided to have it become a 0/0, which wasn't very good, as you can imagine).
Even though it was a pretty bad mistake, I could totally see why this happened, and why it wouldn't have happened against someone who had been less convincing than Boussaud.
Affinity was playing against Eldrazi in Modern. The Affinity player launched an attack with four creatures, most of them with +1/+1 counters (from a Steel Overseer), and a battle cry trigger from a Signal Pest on the stack. There were a couple of blocks possible, but the attack was lethal overall.
It took a while for the Eldrazi player to realize he was dead. Not that I doubt that he was trying to check every possible block to see if he could survive, but it did take him a while. In the booth, as soon as he launched the attack, I told Joel and the stream: "yup, that's 10 damage, game over". Joel replied with something like, "let's see what his opponent does and how much he would take." After a minute, both Joel and the Eldrazi player realize it's indeed 10 damage coming through.
I'm not questioning Joel's ability to count or do math quickly; he may not have been paying enough attention to the game or was a little tired at the time. I just realized in that moment that counting fast is probably a key to either becoming a better player, or just being a good player.
There's just so much time you can spend on a given situation. In the above example, it was the last turn, and there was nothing the Eldrazi player could do. But in a more "casual" attack step, counting the damage can take some time. Then you have to double check. Then you have to check other lines of play, and how much damage you'd take. Then you have to compare with the lines you already thought of. Your gut will tell you what to do, in accordance with your math. However, the more time it takes you to count, the more chances you have to make a mistake, in addition to the pressure of your time running out and your opponent asking you to make a decision.
Now that I think of it, it totally makes sense. What makes a computer more powerful than another one? Its capacity to make more calculations faster. Isn't it the same for humans? If you can analyze a situation faster and find an appropriate response faster, doesn't it make you a better player? What about players known for their slowness (Frank Karsten from the Netherlands or Guillaume Wafo-Tapa from France come to mind)? Is it because they take more time to find the right solution, or is it because they think of way more lines than "normal" people would (or just triple check everytime)?
Fortunately for you (and people in general), there are ways to improve the speed you're thinking at. You can train your brain chip with specific exercises. That's usually what I advise people to do when they're on a break from Magic but don't want to come back rusty: keep your brains active, tease it with other games, chess or memory challenges. Maybe that's what you're missing to improve your game.
At Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, Eldrazi took the tournament by storm. Soon after (if not during), players around the world looked for answers. The first two cards I heard of were Ensnaring Bridge and Worship.
Worship had been in a few sideboards before being called the "ultimate" card versus Eldrazi, and now pretty much all decks running white have at least one or two Worships in their sideboard. While the efficiency of Worship against burn is undeniable (although sometimes they'll be sideboarding Destructive Revelry to destroy it), there are other, cheaper cards that would not only be good against red but against Eldrazi as well. Players now have two to three Worships to board in against Eldrazi and we've seen most of the Eldrazi players boarding them in against each other.
When Eldrazi decks were running no answers to the white enchantment, it made sense, but now, Eldrazi decks have evolved — they have Disenchants out of the sideboard, they run World Breaker if they play green, they play Stubborn Denial, or they can simply take it out of your hand with Thought-Knot Seer. We'll just forget about the last argument as it would be the same about any card in the game.
Worship is an enchantment that's only powerful when you can rely on it 100%. Relying 90% on it is not enough. To rely on it 100%, you have to be sure that your opponent has no way to interact with it. That means no Disenchants or no way to make you lose life (some Eldrazi decks are now running Essence Depleter).
So you're going to spend four mana to cast it, hoping it will single-handedly win the game . So until the end of the game, you'll play as if you'll never go under one life. Unless you're playing a super-defensive deck (are there any in the format?), Worship is not helping your strategy, or in other words, it's not a proactive card. You can't change your strategy during the game and decide to block what would be a lethal attack (if you didn't have Worship).
Cards like Worship are excellent when no one expects them. Once people know about them, it makes them that much worse.
A silver bullet is a card that if played, can single-handedly win the game. It's usually matchup dependent, and decks like Hate Bears try to pack a variety of these.
We just talked about how Worship used to be a silver bullet against Eldrazi, but there are better examples of this.
During the single-elimination part of the Legacy tournament, Shardless Sultai (a deck relying on Shardless Agent and spells like Ancestral Visions and Hymn to Tourach) was paired up against a Sultai deck with Delver of Secrets.
After winning game one, the Shardless Sultai player sideboarded in Golgari Charm, which is quite frankly, not too good against Sultai Delver. We tried to figure out a reason why he could have boarded it in, and the answer that we came up with was that it was to deal with True-Name Nemesis.
He didn't have his opponent's decklist and didn't know if he had True-Name Nemesis at all in his deck. Turns out he didn't and the card was a blank every time he drew it.
The topic we brought up then was: should you bring answers to potential silver bullets, when you don't know if they play them?
The answer depends on how likely you're going to need your answer if your opponent runs his silver bullets. It involves integrating the following elements before making your decision:
You won game one, and you don't know whether or not your opponent is running a silver bullet against you. Let's say you're playing Loam against a white deck and you don't know if they're running Rest in Peace or not and you wonder if you should board in Ray of Revelation .
I'd say don't board them in. Or maybe board one, as it's not that much of a dead card in Loam as you'll just be milling it. Don't board in the full three Ray of Revelation. The logic behind this is that:
The most important clause is the second one, and especially a word in it. You'll probably be losing game two. That means you have a chance to sideboard correctly in game three. Your round isn't over if you sideboard wrong in game two. Game two will give you crucial information for your sideboarding options for game three. If you see a Rest in Peace, then you'll definitely board in more Rays of Revelation.
If I don't know whether or not my opponent is running a silver bullet against me for game three, or in game two if I lost game one, I'd tend to play at least one answer to it, just so I'm not drawing dead.
Some say that it doesn't matter if it's game two or three, that you should be prepared either way. Well, being prepared is a thing, but using all the information to make the best decision is better. You can be prepared and not board in enchantment removal in game two — not because you didn't know your opponent was running the back-breaking silver bullet, but just because you had a better chance of winning the game without bringing in your answer (and potentially drawing a dead card).
That will be it for today. I know a lot of you were looking for a decklist, but I hope you learned a thing or two. If you like these kinds of articles, please let me know, otherwise, I'll just stick to decklists and decktechs!