After a long day of battling, you find yourself in the finals of your local PPTQ up against another Bant Company player. This is your first time playing the mirror this tournament, but you tested it a good deal in preparation and have identified Duskwatch Recruiter as the most important card, especially game one. The board stalled out in virtually all of your test games, and the player with Duskwatch Recruiter always pulled ahead and ended up winning the game. Knowing this, you feel pretty good about your chances when you stare down at a functional seven with not one but two copies of Duskwatch Recruiter.
Your opponent is on the play and leads on turn two with her own Duskwatch Recruiter. You do the same, and it turns out your draws are very similar as priority passes from there until your next end step, when she flashes in her turn three Bounding Krasis. You could follow suit with your own Bounding Krasis, but you elect instead to use a Dromoka's Command to remove her Krallenhorde Howler and thus pull ahead in the Duskwatch Recruiter war. Things are looking pretty peachy, right?
This game, the board never stalls. The tempo is firmly in her favor and she has good attacks every turn for the rest of the game until you find your life total to be below zero. You never activate Duskwatch Recruiter — you never get the chance.
Taking turn three off of playing a creature in your haste to pull ahead on the axis you had identified as pivotal gave up so much tempo that the game didn't stall like it was supposed to. You should have kept playing out creatures, let the board stall, and then gone ahead and made use of your knowledge that Duskwatch Recruiter was the key by killing her copy. C'est la vie. Better battle back in games two and three.
For those unaware, ASAP is an acronym for As Soon As Possible. Commonly known as one of the scariest things to see in an email from a boss, it's also my name for one of the common traps Magic players fall into.
A player picking up a deck for the first time is never going to have this problem, because they won't have enough knowledge to be able to. You become at risk of falling into this trap when you start playtesting, when you think you have learned something. Magic is complex, and it's only natural to want to Simplify it whenever possible. Often this desire for simplification leads players to rush to implement playtesting knowledge as soon as possible — and that's a huge mistake.
Often, as in the example above, this trap manifests itself as pulling the trigger on removing an opponent's card too soon. One of the easiest things to find in testing is the permanents of your opponent's that matter the most; the permanents that need to be dealt with for you to win the game. When you identify a card like this, take the time to think about what stage of the game it is important in. Then when playing, attempt to remove it only right before entering that stage of the game. Doing this still makes use of your hard-won knowledge, but does so in a way that gives you as much information as possible about the unique game of Magic you are in. Maybe the game will develop in a way that makes the card not important. Maybe you will draw a removal spell that can handle it much more efficiently than your original plan. Trade ASAP for ALAP (As Late As Possible), and your results will improve.
That last bit is where the ASAP trap is. The idea that control wins late so you have to win early sounds reasonable, but is somewhat flawed. The fact that control wins the late game means that you have to win before reaching that point, but it doesn't inherently mean you have to win as early as possible. For a midrange deck, trying to jam an early game win is working against the strategy of your deck. Most midrange decks are simply not capable of a consistent aggro impersonation. To win early in a matchup like this a midrange deck just plays all its spells as soon as possible and hopes its control opponent has a slightly nonfunctional draw. This is playing into control's hands.
Instead of casting Duress on turn one to try and squeak in a win, cast it on turn five to create a hole for your four drop and craft a game plan. Your Sylvan Advocates might as well cost six mana, as a two-mana, two-power creature that dies to Languish won't accomplish anything, but a wrath-proof ⅘ on turn six is phenomenal.
Don't sideboard to minimize your curve and try and be the best aggro deck you can; find the ways you have to delay the late game and create time for your deck to win before being outclassed. Instead of casting your three drop into their open mana, pass the turn and try and play it later when they have used mana to gain a tempo advantage. This is The Art of Doing Nothing territory so I won't go further, but remember that the goal isn't to win ASAP, it's to manipulate the tempo of the matchup to ensure the natural speed of your deck falls outside the control deck dominated late game.
ASAP mentality can also do large amounts of damage to a Magic player's mental game. This trap has special significance to me, as I spent years within its confines. When you're trying to break through in Magic, to post your first big result and prove your merit to the world (and yourself), there is this intense urgency to every tournament you attend. This week you have some piece of technology no one else has and you feel you need to convert that edge before you lose it. Another tournament is the last one of the format and you feel really practiced with the deck you're on and need to use that skill before it's irrelevant. On and on it goes, with every tournament somehow feeling more urgent and important than the one before, every tournament feeling like your last chance.
The details change from week to week but the underlying cause of this perpetual urgency is a feeling that the Magic world is passing you by. You watch coverage of the Pro Tour and you so badly want to be there. You read articles every week and realize your competition is constantly improving while you're stuck in the starting block, waiting for the gun to sound. You work at the game, but you can't feel yourself getting better and your results never seem to improve. It's not just urgency you feel, it's desperate urgency. If not now, then when?
If this description of the urgency of the grind resonated with you, the key lies in remembering that Magic isn't as urgent as it seems. No matter what the doomsdayers might cry, Magic is not on its deathbed. The top levels of the competitive scene will still be there when you're ready to make your breakthrough. Focus on getting better, on improving your game, and the results will come. My personal mantra is "there's always another tournament." For me, it's a powerful reminder that even if something goes wrong this week, I'll have another chance next week. There's a fine line to draw between ridding yourself of undue stress and ridding yourself of motivation, but reminding yourself there's another chance after this one goes a long way towards removing the desperation from your urgency. Urgency can be a powerful motivator, but when it becomes tinged with desperation it's almost impossible to play well, let alone at your best.
Thanks for reading,