[M:tG] Gaining advantage from Wasteland’s seemingly-symmetrical attrition

Andrea Mengucci is an expert Magic: the Gathering player known especially for his love for the Legacy format. One of the defining features of Legacy gameplay is the presence of very powerful nonbasic land cards. The format’s most important check on its nonbasics is Wasteland, which can sacrifice itself to destroy another nonbasic land. In this clip, Andrea is playing against a Wasteland deck and finds himself faced with one of the Legacy format’s classic forks in the road: should he spend his turn’s land drop on a more flexible/powerful nonbasic or a less-vulnerable basic land?

Lands are important because they typically produce mana, the resource used to cast spells. Sacrificing a Wasteland to destroy a nonbasic sets both players back on their mana development by a turn. When does activating Wasteland favor a Wasteland player? Andrea points out two long-recognized ways to profit from the mutual attrition.

The usual use of Wasteland is what Andrea calls here a “tempo Wasteland” that sets both players back on mana at a moment in which the Wastelander has a superior board presence (e.g. 1 creature against 0, as in the clip). The Wastelanding player seeks to preserve their advantaged board state as long as possible, as the onus is on opponent to find some relevant and castable spell to equalize. If they did not have a way to equalize with last turn’s mana, and one uses a Wasteland to set them back to that same mana, they probably will still be unable to equalize for at least another turn cycle.

The second type of Wateland is more brutal, hoping that the opponent does not have any more lands in hand to replace what was destroyed, leaving the player’s spells stranded in hand, uncastable until they draw lands from their deck.

In the video, Andrea recognizes that he is behind on board, as the opponent got to play first and has a Deathrite Shaman out while Andrea has nothing on the battlefield to oppose. Playing out a nonbasic land would open him up to being punished by a Wasteland that would preserve the imbalance of power. Andrea wisely chooses to play out a basic land to ensure that he will have two mana available on his second turn.

[All] Don’t position against a wall (without good reason)!

Today we return to the site’s roots, looking at a general strategic idea that exists across the gaming world: “Don’t position against a wall!” I’ve most recently remembered this idea from reviewing and playing Overwatch games, but it has cropped up many times before. Sometimes the wall is physical, sometimes it is metaphorical, but by definition it limits your available moves. This is a gift to the opponent! It makes their job easier. We want to do the opposite. As I’ve put it before, we want to “put the onus on the opponent.*” We want to make their job harder, to give them opportunities to misplay or guess wrong. Let’s look at some examples.

(11:54-12:18) First I’ll take a look at an Overwatch clip, though the ideas extend very naturally to games involving realtime movement prediction. It’s here that the concept of not positioning flush against a wall most recently returned to my thoughts. Here is a brief example that cropped up while I was reviewing and analyzing a set of replays from a player’s run to diamond rank. The Ana, by positioning right up against a wall, takes hits from all 3 of Genji’s shuriken. If she had a little more leeway to play with, she could force Genji to divine her movement, putting the onus on him to guess correctly in order to land his damage:

The example above has analogues in other FPS and also arena games, like League of Legends. For example, a Thresh chasing down a champion towards a wall will wait to hook until the enemy is up against the wall, reducing the directions they have for juking But you might be surprised to realize this idea comes up even outside of real time movement-prediction games. In chess they often say “A knight on the rim is dim,” referring to the weakness of the knight when on the edge of the board. A centralized knight could move to 8 squares, but on the edge will have only two options. It’s so bad that the rim knight can be completely “dominated” by a bishop, as presented by YouTube commentator MatoJelic in this clip:

(19:58-20:26) In the Overwatch example the wall was a physical wall. In the chess one, the wall is almost physical, consisting of the edge of the board. Now let’s look at a Magic: the Gathering example. In this clip from the recent Week 7 of Vintage Super League season 7, Rachel Agnes highlights a good example of a metaphorical wall restricting a player’s options. Rodrigo Togores has only 1 life left, making him unable to pay the alternate cost of Force of Will (card image below clip) without losing the game. Having even one more life would require his opponent to play around the possibility of a no-mana-cost counterspell, but as-is he’s against a wall. The opponent knows that if he does have the Force, he must pay the full 5 mana for it or not use it at all. Rachel goes on to share the amusing tale of a past an opponent of hers who threw away a winning game by needlessly paying their last point of life to counter a spell unnecessarily:

* Aside: In the past, I’ve used the phrase “put the onus on the opponent” to talk about minimizing risk while comfortably maintaining a gamestate where the opponent is disadvantaged, where if nothing changes the status quo will bring you more advantage or a win, forcing the opponent to take on risk in trying to “make something happen” that might upset this trajectory.