Playing to Win: Missed Triggers in Tournament Magic

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Legacy

Back at the SCV Legacy Open I had an interesting match during the last round of swiss. If you managed to catch my tournament report you might remember the scenario. My opponent had only an Engineered Plague and some lands in play. My board consisted of some lands, a Tuktuk Scrapper and a Goblin Ringleader. My opponent cast Shardless Agent, cascading into Abrupt Decay. When my opponent leaned over to have a closer look at my cards I asked him “Do you want to cast it?” My opponent said yes, and the judge ruled that he in fact had confirmed his decision to do so, and he had to blow up his own Engineered Plague as a result.

This victory was very important to me, for several reasons. For one, I made top 8 because of it, but it also held a deeper meaning. I had managed to win a game where it had seemed as if all hope was lost. Being able to think on the fly and figure out what you need to do to win after plan A has failed is a trait I have admired in many of the players I look up to. While this had more to do with me seizing an opportunity than careful planning, I had proved to myself once again that I too was capable of this. A fair amount of the time there is going to be a play that is mathematically and intuitively correct, and I often feel that (aside from variance) most games come down to who makes fewer mistakes. So when I manage to go beyond the obvious and play at a higher level, I usually feel an immense sense of accomplishment. It is the same feeling I get when I intuitively know the contents of my opponent’s hand. It is the feeling of flow, and the reason for my love for Cabal Therapy. I’d like to further explore this topic in detail in the future. But until then, I have included some of my best magic stories at the bottom of this article. For now though, there is a related topic I would like to touch upon. It is the topic of…

Missed Triggers

As players we have different expectations when we sit down to play magic. When those expectations aren’t met, it is easy to feel cheated. When you lose a game because of something you deem to be a form of rules lawyering, that game likely didn’t match up very well with your expectations. After all, you didn’t lose as a result of strategic decisions or in-game variance. You lost because you missed a trigger, or something else along those lines.

Players bring different attitudes to the table. Some enjoy a more relaxed environment while others are more serious in nature, with a preference for the highly competitive approach. Personally I appreciate both sides very much, and deem one to be as valid as the other. The problem isn’t with either attitude, but with what happens players have different understandings of what type of game they are playing. More specifically, when the person sitting across from you is the one with the more serious, competitive and unforgiving approach, it is not uncommon for feelings of confusion to occur. This doesn’t happen as much the other way around. You could make the case that if as a competitive minded player your opponent reminds you of a beneficial trigger, you certainly don’t mind! While I think that is often true, it also misses a very important point. When you bring that serious, focused attitude to the game you won’t miss those triggers. At least I know I don’t. When you travel the path of a spike, you put as much discipline on yourself as you do on your opponents. When you make it a point to strive for perfect play, all those missed triggers are just another area in which to improve. They’re part of the game.

I realized this very much when I first started thinking about the subject, and my own approach to the game. I’ve won countless games against Burn because my opponents forgot their Eidolon of the Great Revel triggers. The same goes for many other cards as well. To me, it’s about what mindset you choose to embrace. I play my best magic when I’m focused and determined. In that moment – when I’m in the zone – I’m attuned to all aspects of the game. Not only does my technical play improve, but I start seeing the underlying and interconnected patterns more clearly. I pay attention to the mental aspect of the game; my opponent’s body language, and even my own nonverbal communication.

A while back I was playing a legacy side event at GP Stockholm, and my Burn opponent had an Eidolon of the Great Revel in play. I knew I wanted to preserve my life total as much as possible, but I still needed to cast some of my spells. I chose to play to my outs. I played as if we were just going through the motions, playing it out. A lot of players will pause when they expect their opponent to react. But by doing this you also signal to your opponent that there is something they should react to, when you’d much rather have them sitting passively. This goes way beyond missed triggers. You know your deck and which cards matter, but your opponent might not. If you’ve played all of your spells expecting them to resolve, but then pause and look up at your opponent when playing an important card, as if asking “do you have it?”, that is a pretty clear sign for them that now is probably a good time to use that Force of Will. Back to that side event at GP Stockholm. I had to close out the game quickly and advance my board position in order to assure having enough blockers left. I thought for a minute, then played my land and attacked. When my opponent declared no blockers I tanked for a bit, and then announced “damage? Then it’s your turn after I Goblin Matron for a Mogg War Marshal, as if it was any minor action, like an end of turn fetch in modern. I put the Goblin Matron from my hand onto the battlefield and started searching through my library, while my opponent untapped for their turn. None of this was done in a rushing manner. There was no effort to hide any of my plays from my opponent. My opponent missed six points of damage in total, and I won the game with even less life left.

A couple of weeks ago I was playing in the Scandinavian Open Legacy Tournament. I had managed to sneak into top 8 as the only player on fifteen points to do so. I was up against Patriot Delver in the semifinals, and I had deployed two copies of Chalice of the Void, each with one counter on them. My opponent tested the waters at first, and I caught a Ponder and a Lightning Bolt. A few turns later however, my opponent casually landed a Delver of Secrets, and I realized my mistake right after having said “okay”. A turn later the same thing happened with a Brainstorm. We laughed about it, and I mentioned how skillfully I thought my opponent had executed his act, and how I recognized it because of how many times in the past I have done the same thing. One could argue that this was different from the Eidolon of the Great Revel scenario, because I still won that game. I know I certainly would have been angry with myself if I had lost that game. But while I know I would have felt upset, I take comfort in knowing that I wouldn’t have felt cheated.

If you’re looking to improve your game, realizing the importance of the mental aspect can be very helpful. Just remember that far more games are won with tight technical play. If you are more like the Burn player in this scenario, I hope seeing things from the other player’s perspective will make things easier. It’s still going to suck when you find out that you weren’t really playing on the same terms as you thought you were. I know. But it gets easier when you realize that what cost you the game wasn’t some technicality, but very much a part of the game, just a different aspect of it.

I have explained why I think these plays are perfectly fine. Still, not everyone will agree with me on this, and I think it’s important to also be aware of how our own actions affect other people’s tournament experiences. I don’t have any definite rule on how to go about this, but in my experience a little empathy can go a long way. When I first started getting into legacy, I had some opponents who were nicer on me, who would help me improve my plays. I am very grateful for that. I also had opponents who would be harder on me, forcing me to learn from my mistakes, and I am very grateful for that as well.

Bonus Content: My Best Magic Stories

R/B Goblins vs Enchantress

It was a weekly legacy tournament at my local game store, and I was paired against a friend piloting Enchantress. We were in game two, and I had used a Cabal Therapy to get rid of my opponent’s Sigil of the Empty Throne. I had a strong board presence of well above lethal, thanks to Krenko, Mob Boss. My opponent had managed to stay alive with some protective enchantments when he finally assembled the lock; Rest in Peace + Energy Field. I had no enchantment removal in my list. There were no Pyroblasts.  I was not going to be able to deal my opponent anymore damage for the rest of that game. Normally, not being able to deal damage would spell game over for Goblins, but not this time. I already had some copies of Chalice of the Void in hand, so I played Goblin Matron for Skirk Prospector, giving me access to a lot of mana. Soon thereafter I managed to draw yet another chalice. By using Chalice of the Void I was able to lock out all of my opponent’s victory conditions. After having counted our libraries my opponent conceded and we moved on to the next game. I had outprisoned Enchantress, and won the game because of it.

R/B Goblins vs Reanimator

It was Grand Prix New Jersey and we were in game one. My plan had been to outrace my opponent before he could go off, as the case often is versus combo decks in legacy. When my opponent cast Show and Tell I put a Goblin Matron into play, and while my board was cleared by his Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite I got to search up a Warren Weirding to deal with it and slowly start to rebuild my board. A turn or two later my opponent cast Exhume. My hand at this point was Gempalm Incinerator and Tarfire. I didn’t have very high hopes as I had no more weirdings or Stingscourgers, but we had a lot of time left in the round, so I returned my Goblin Matron to fetch the second Tarfire. I knew if I drew the third one and my one-of Krenko I could kill Elesh Norn and get back in the game. I didn’t do that, but shortly thereafter my opponent cast Reanimate on his Griselbrand, going from 14 to 6 life. At the end of his turn I cycled my Gempalm Incinerator, which found me a Goblin Ringleader. I vialed it in and found a matron. On my turn I played the matron, fetching my third and last Tarfire. It was six damage right to my opponent’s face, and exactly lethal. Somehow I had miraculously won that game, and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was.

If you liked these stories, be sure to let me know, and there will be more of them in articles to come. Until then, I’m Sandro Rajalin, and you can get in touch with me on Facebook and Twitter, email me at RajalinSandroMTG@Gmail.com or hit me up in the comment section.

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