Free Information

Free information is important in Magic. When you can eliminate certain cards from your opponents hand, you gain an immediate advantage. I use as much of the information that my opponent gives me during our games. I am already a chatty person, which makes it much easier to get information. On the other hand, you must be able to decode the information. I will go through the processes that occur in my head in a typical game when it comes to observing my opponent and what they say and do.

Before Match

The first opportunity to get free information is before the match begins. If it is after round 1, I often ask my opponent what they played versus and give them an opportunity to tell me. Most people will not lie about what they played versus. They will either tell you, or they will say nothing.

I wish that I could tell you that I am amazing at scouting the top tables when I am X-0. But the truth is, I could sit next to someone the round 3 and watch them win, and I will not remember what they are playing the very next round. I applaud those who can remember people and what deck they are playing. Knowing your opponents deck gives you an advantage during mulligans and the start of the 1st game.


The information you can gather during mulligans can also give you an advantage. I try to get information that may not even be relevant, but information is information. For example, when my opponent mulligans, I quietly ask,”Oh, no lands? or all lands?”. The information may not be relevant, but if their next hand is something similar, people often make small remarks that allow you to conclude that they just mulled a 5 land hand and now have a 4 land hand. Knowing anything about your opponents hand, will help you set up an appropriate game plan.

Other information gained is how fast or slow they are with their mulligan. A slow mulligan often means the hand is missing something like a 2nd land or they have the lands but no pressure. Then once they miss a land drop, you should be able to come to the conclusion that they will be playing a bunch of good spells as soon as they start hitting lands.

Always A Reason

Any decent player has a reason for everything they do. If you can figure out why they played card X, then you can start putting the pieces together about cards in their hand.

An example for this would be while playing versus control decks. If you are pretty sure they have a counterspell, you do not run your best card out there. On the other hand, you do not always run out your worst card. There is a middle ground spell that you do not mind being countered, but if your opponent does not counter it, you are in a good position.

This works the other way around too. If you are playing control and your opponent knows you have a removal, they typically will not run their best creature out. It is up to you to determine if the threat is big enough and must be dealt with immediately. Factors that are in play here are if it has a recurring ability, such as a Planeswalker or Primeval Titan equivalent.

Top Decks

Gathering information about cards that your opponents draw isĀ  extremely important. It really is not as difficult as it may seem if you know most of your opponents deck. For example, if your opponent is looking for an answer to a card, most people give some sort of reaction when they draw a beneficial card. That card may not be the answer they needed and would result in them likely not being able to cast it. From that, you can usually rule out all but 2-3 cards. Since you know it is not these X cards, or else they would have cast it, and it is likely not one of their dead cards, such as an Island when they have plenty of lands.

An example of how to use this to your advantage is with cards like Celestial Flare. This is a good card, but cannot be cast when your opponent draws it. If you are able to determine that your opponent drew Celestial Flare, you can play around it very easily, even if it means not attacking with your 1 creature until you find a 2nd creature. Then they are forced to keep leaving mana open on your turn rather than using their mana to advance their game state.


Do not do stuff just because you can. This goes for anything from playing your 12th land for no reason, to playing an extra creature into Supreme Verdict. Think about why you are making each play and if it makes sense. The biggest step up that a new player can make is when they stop attacking just because they can and start having reasons for each of their plays.

I will use an example from the last SCG LA that I played Esper in for Standard. One specific game I had 2 Mutavaults and 2-3 other land and I Thoughtseize’d my opponent. He had multiple removal spells, including 2 Heroes Downfall. If my opponent passes with 3 mana open, there is no reason for me to attack with my Mutavaults.

When you think about the results of whether to attack or not, it is very clear that you do not attack. By simply playing a land and passing the turn with counterspells and removal, you are gaining more of an advantage than they are. Instead of them using their mana to kill a Mutavault, they waste their entire turn and if they try to drop something like Desecration Demon, you have all your mana open to either counter it or kill it on their end step. The 2 damage is not worth tapping 4 mana and losing a Mutavault.


Remember that your opponent can always lie to you, but their natural reactions are what you want to pick up on and use to your advantage. Try to figure out what plan your opponent is on and do what you can to disrupt that plan. This is often better than doing your own thing and ignoring your opponent. Very few decks have absolutely no care for what their opponent is doing. The majority of decks will interact with one another.

I hope that you are able to take something from this article and it will help you in your next tournament.

Alex Tamblyn

Twitter – @Ctalbus

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