Full Force drafting is a series dedicated to forcing archetypes in draft formats. Join me every Thursday as we learn the ins and outs of the most recent Magic draft formats.
I’m subverting the theme of the regular Full Force article today to talk about something besides draft strategy. If you haven’t watched the video yet this week, go now, because I’m about to spoil the ending.
We’re going to talk about angle-shooting and timeouts.
In the match today I timed out with an overwhelming advantage, losing the match. Timeouts are something I’ve always struggled with on Magic Online. On one hand, there is an impetus on you and your opponent to play the game in a timely manner. There can be no judge to rule on slow play like in real life Magic, so the clock is the next best system and by and large it works. I have no problem with winning a game by the clock either. If my opponent can’t finish the game within their allotted time, I generally won’t concede, even if I’m losing.
There’s still the other side to this, the angle-shooting side to the clock, which we saw on display today. Before we go any further I don’t want to demonize my opponent. I don’t think they’re a bad person or that they deserve ill-treatment. This is ultimately just a game and it’s a fairly minor ethics issue on even that scale, so if you’ve done this to opponents don’t feel too bad.
With that being said, I’m about to get preachy.
I would like to convince you of a better path. First, let’s lay the groundwork for what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about continuing to play a game you’d normally scoop because your opponent is on a minute of clock and you expect them to finish the game. That’s a strict adherence to the rules, but doesn’t bend them. I’m talking about a game with fairly close times, where one player spams unnecessary abilities (using Weldfast Monitor on defense, activating flying on Peafowl at end of turn) to try and force an opponent that’s lower on time to deal with nuisance triggers and lose.
What’s the difference? Why is one acceptable and the other looked down on? It goes to the letter of the law vs the spirit of the law. Yes, the clock is a win-condition. If it goes to 0, then you win. But why is that rule there? To keep matches going. You can’t have one player leave for an hour and come back expecting to finish the game. The spirit of the law, the reason it exists, is to promote timely play. When you continue to play a normal game, even if you are almost certain to lose and your opponent then times out, you’ve played to the spirit of that law, the reason it exists. You both played a normal game of Magic, but only one of you managed time effectively.
The other scenario, where you decide to spam abilities or other triggers, or delay your responses to catch your opponent when they’re not paying attention and waste precious seconds, you’re playing to the letter of the law. You’re using the rule in an unintended way to force a concession. Now, instead of the rule promoting timely play it promotes the opposite, it’s causing a slowdown of gameplay as one player tries to game the system and waste time. I had someone ask me about this, stating (correctly), that it is the onus of your opponent to manage their time and you feel fine sabotaging that by spamming these abilities. I agree that it’s your opponent’s job to play within time, but if they can complete the game without dealing with unnecessary triggers, didn’t they meet that requirement? If you believe they mismanaged their time then they shouldn’t need your help to time out.
This argument might not win over everyone. If you’re someone who wants to win the game at all costs, or are in the finals of a big tournament and justify it because of the high stakes, you might not care that it makes your opponent feel bad to lose this way or that it bends the rules. So why should you bother? What’s in it for you?
First there’s practice. I assume that if you care enough to read articles like this, then you want to try and be the best player you can. But you don’t get to time an opponent out at a GP. You can’t activate a Weldfast Monitor three times a turn in a PTQ and then stand up triumphantly. If your ultimate goal is to play the best Magic you can, to become a truly great player, I’m telling you that you’re doing yourself a disservice.
It’s not that it doesn’t translate to play outside of Magic Online though; it bleeds bad habits into real life as well. If you twist the rules on Magic Online to win, why not do it in real life? I asked on Twitter who would angle-shoot in real life and who would try to time-out opponents with unnecessary triggers and came away with very similar numbers for each group.
Why is that a problem? There’s a great blog post by Jeff Hoogland last week about some of these angle-shooting scenarios and while the article itself is great (seriously, read it), the part I found the most interesting was the discussion around it. I one specific instance, someone commented that tapping extra mana and not announcing it, then using that mana to counter a Mana Leak was a smart play and a great way to trap an opponent. The one problem? This person didn’t understand that doing this is actually illegal and could be construed as cheating.
Again, I’m not trying to demonize anyone who is trying to gain advantage. Magic is competitive and there’s a lot of grey area here. My point is that if you try to constantly stay in the grey sometimes you just might trip into the black. It only takes one allegation of cheating to ruin your reputation and it’s hard to explain it away as being unaware of specific rules while trying to gain advantage by being unclear, or other angle-shooting.
Last, but not least, you’ll hear all the time from pros about how they improved by playing with better players, listening to them and learning from them. This isn’t meant to sound like a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” scenario, but human dynamics are obviously a big part of Magic. Who wants to playtest with the guy or gal who you have to constantly clarify boardstates with? Who you have to sit and think about each question they ask – each answer they give – to see if it’s a trick?
Lack of clarity and purposeful slow play in instances like the above scenarios makes the game tedious and frustrating to play. Magic is meant to be fun even at the highest levels of competition and your behavior, like it or not, will effect who wants to play with you.
Thanks for listening to me on this very different Full Force and remember to vote in our poll for next week’s Full Force video!