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Felipe Musco
Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2008 5:52 pm
Joined: 18 May 2006 Posts: 2434 Location: Florianópolis, SC, Brasil
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Check out what may be Musco’s last article ever!
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Ok, I’ve been absent from the Article Contest since, well, since the Contest ended with the end of Cobra Cards, but I return today to share some info about a very important part of the game, which are mind tricks. This article is based upon na article originally written by a fellow brazilian, who goes by the nickname of g3, but of course I’ll bea dding in some more oomph, since the original article ran in 2004, so, without further ado, let’s get to it, shall we?
NOTE: This article will not have a Table of Contents, since I didn’t really feel the need for one.


Magic: the Gathering, like any other card game, is essentially a strategy game. Because of this, playing solely with what you can see on the table is insane, since you’ll walk into so many tricks you’ll lose most matches. So, this means that the MtG player will not only look at the table, but will also be mentally visualizing the game unfold, so he can prepare for the situations to come, and he’ll do so based on the info he already gathered, be it from playing your deck before, be it for knowing the list roughly for it’s a netdeck. However, if both players are doing the same thing, and assuming no one is playing a rogue deck, then nothing would change, right? This is where mind tricks come in. A mind trick is something that you do, both in and/or out of the game, that’ll mess the mental visualization your opponent is making of the game, possibly netting you an edge you wouldn’t otherwise have. I’ll discuss mind tricks in three categories: gathering info, bluffing and mind tricks per say.

1. Gathering info

Gathering info is mostly done by watching your opponent’s body language closely. Of course, you could scout the tournament site looking for info on the deck your opponent is playing, but keep in mind this is considered unsporting behavior in most RELs, so keep a low profile when doing so. However, watching his body language and facial expressions is fair game, so keep this tips in mind, not only to gather info from opponents, but also for FAKING stuff, thus misleading your opponents in case they are also watching you.
Always talk with your opponent. Ask for how long he’s been playing the game, any achievments he might have, what decks he likes playing with/against, and what decks he doesn’t, etc. The best time to do this is while you’re shuffling up for the first game. Of course, he could just ommit information or plain lie to you, but most people ARE nice, and won’t do this. This might give you a hint on what he might or might not be playing in his deck. Of course, asking your opponent if he has a Counterspell in hand before trying to resolve a spell won’t prompt any answers, but then again, you CAN ask and watch him closely, and he may give you a hint of having it or not, like blinking more, or looking at a card in his hand. Notice that YOU can also do this when asked such things, as to mislead them. Another trick is, if they ask if you have a specific card, always say that you do, no matter what, specially if you have it. The first time this happens and they walk right into the card you TOLD them you had, they’ll be afraid when you say you’re holding a specific card from now on.
If your opponent has a strong opening hand, he’ll generally sit on the edge of the chair, almost over the table, eager to start the game. If he agonizes on deciding wether or not to keep the hand, chances are it’s either too slow or short on mana, and you can, if possible, attack his mana base or try and play a faster game to put him on a clock, punishing him for his decision. Always try and spend some time on deciding to keep or toss back an opening hand, even if it’s a God hand.
If an opponent looks at his library often, chances are he’s depending on drawing something, be it a crucial spell or a land (most likely when playing Limited). You can mislead your opponent by looking at your library when you know he’s considering playing a spell but is fearing removal, he might think you sensed it and is desperately praying for a removal spell while you hold it safely in your hand, just waiting.
Pay attention to how they organize their permanents, specially the lands. Most players will naturally move lands close to each other, for instance, he might rearrange the lands and leave a plains and a mountain close to the edge, making it easier to tap at EOT for the Lightning Helix he’s holding. Also, pay close attention when they draw a lot of cards (opening hands included), since most MtG players tend to naturally move the lands to the right edge of their hand of cards, giving you a hint on how much lands they have drawn.
Breathing patterns are also great, when an opponent starts breathing faster, it means they got excited, so be aware of what they might have drawn, or of a play they might have noticed.

2. Mind tricks

Mind tricks, per say, are ways of messing with your opponent’s head to force him into commiting errors, but is nto a bluff, as it doesn’t involve in-game situations. Be careful on using these, as it might anger some opponents deeply.
As said above, an opponent breathing faster is nervous and/or excited, to you can try and get him to be more nervous, either by mumbling stuff, singing annoying songs, politely hastening him, etc. If he tend sto blink a lot, that’s another sign of being nervous, help them with that!
A deep breath might indicate a need for focusing on a given situation, and you can try and use the above strategies to keep them from focusing, not letting them give the situation the adequate amount of thinking. Commenting on match-ups, asking about trivial stuff and ALSO singing annoying songs (this one is GREAT) are all good to disrupt them.
A less dirty mind trick comes when sideboarding. Most players simply set aside the cards that are coming in, search the ones that are coming out, and swap them. This gives them info you shouldn’t be handing for free. Instead, shuffle the whole sideboard in the deck and THEN search and remove 15 cards from it. This is going to leave them wondering, even if you didn’t actually side in anything.
As a rule of thumb on mind tricks, look for the top players in your area. Study the, watch them play, see what their reactions are, if any. This helps a lot (and it’s coming from someone who, whenever possible, watches Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Willy Edel play; if you don’t know who they are, I suggest reading World’s 2006 coverage, PV made Top 8).

3. Bluffing

Bluffing is a mind trick that is directly related to in game situations, and canmislead your opponent. For instance, blue mages will give some thinking before allowing any spell to resolve, even if they’re playing a blue aggro deck with no permission, to give their opponents the illusion that they DO have them. Another blue-mage trick is to leave a pair or trio of lands set aside, simulating a Cancel, Faerie Trickery, Counterspell, etc. When trying to churn out a pump spell from an opponent, you can also ask “Damage on the stack?”, since most players will only ever ask this if they have an effect they want to use.
But bluffing is better taught shown than explained in general terms, so let’s look at some bluffs that I recall reading or seeing in my 18 months playing MtG (it might hlep to search the Wizards website for some decklists or the coverage itself in some cases, to better grasp what was happening, how each deck played, etc).

3.1. Zvi X Tuomo, Worlds 2002, Psychatog Mirror
The game goes long (no time limit), and both players have a lot of lands out. Zvi casts Upheaval, floating 3 mana. Tuomo then got priority and went into the tank. He had Duress and Deep Analisis in his hand, which means, he had absolutely nothing to do, but he still went into the tank for 7 long minutes, the tension of the moment clearly showing on Zvi’s face. After 7 minutes thinking, he floated 8 mana to his pool. Zvi thought a bit, and floated 4 more to his, making it 7. Then, Tuomo “lets” Upheaval resolve, and the critical moment arrives, if Zvi’s Psychatog sticks, it’s game. However, if it’s countered, it’s game for Tuomo, since it was already the fourth Tog from Zvi, and both players needed this win to move on. Zvi agonized over the play for 2 more minutes, and then declared the attack phase, with a nod from Tuomo, ending on Zvi manaburning for 7 and Tuomo for 8. Tuomo then proceeded to win the game and the match.
What Tuomo did was using time in his favor. When players think too much, they start drifting away, and might end up screwing their play with the fear that it’ll get twarthed. When trying to do what Tuomo did, be careful not to drift away yourself. Pretend to be thinking, but DO NOT THINK that long. A good way to do this is paying close attention to the cards’’pictures and/or flavor text, you’ll appear to be thinking hard and analizing the correct play without actually doing anything.

3.2. GP Curitiba, Battle of Wits X Dumbo Drop
The Battle of Wits player had missed 2 land drops, and had 6 lands on the table against 8 from the Dumbo Drop player. He proceeded to play Abbeyance, which would leave him with 4 untapped lands, which prompted an ok from the opponent. After Abbeyance resolved, he simply played the land he was holding in his hand since the beggining of the match (he missed land drops on purpose) and dropped Battle of Wits, winning an otherwise already lost game, since the Dumbo Drop player then revealed his hand of 4 different counterspells. This was a risky bluff, since the Dumbo Drop player could’ve simply countered Abbeyance. However, the match was already lost for him, so he had a choice of either taking the risk, or scooping up.

3.3. Machine Head X Sushi Go
The Machine Head player had only 6 lands, against 8 from Sushi Go, having 3 cards in hand and 15 life each. Sushi Go had a Nether Spirit, against nothing from Machine Head, so he was clearly in control of the match. Machine head then tried for a Blazing Specter, which met foil, leaving him with only two lands untapped. He passed, to which Suchi Go responded with Fact or Fiction, revealing FIVE instants from his deck, Counterspell, Absorb, Repulse, Fact or Fiction and another Repulse. Machine Head player just lowered his head and said yeah, you’re lucky, I’m totally screwed. What the hey, I separate them 5 and 0, go ahead. Laughing, the Suhi Go player took the instants (and was tapped out), when he was suddenly shaken by a louder laugh from the Machine Head player, who then tapped his 2 lands, played Dark Ritual and then Blood Oath, choosing “instant” and proceeding to win the game and match.

3.4. 2006 Regionals, Gruul X Yosei.dec
Gruul player with 2 Burning-Tree Shamans and 1 Giant Solifuge, against a pair of Loxodon Hierarchs and 16 life points from the opponent. After drawing a card, the Gruul player saw the expression on his opponent’s face cheer, and mumbled “Damned Yosei”. His opponent didn’t even think, tapping his lands and dropping down Yosei, passing the turn. The Gruul player calmly untapped, drew a card, and played his trump: he was holding both a Threaten AND a Scorched Rusalka in his hand, waiting for this to happen. He dropped both, attacked with Yosei, and sacrificed it to the Rusalka’s ability, tapping down his opponent and proceeding to win.

3.5. PTQ Honolulu Finals, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa X Opponent playing Affinity
PV was piloting Gifts Rock, and with 4 lands down had to Living Wish for a Kataki, War’s Wage, while leaving open mana to play Smother. However, if he Wished for Kataki but didn’t play it, he’d tell his opponent he had the smother in his hand, ruining his plans. He did this really fast, though, including the thinking: he played Living Wish quickly, tapping his only source of white mana, and then proceed to play Kataki, stopping and seeing what he had done making a face of horror. His opponent walked right into the Smother. He proceeded to win that PTQ, which jump started his pro career.

3.6. 2007 Regionals, Hélio X Daniel
Hélio was piloting UR Dragonstorm, against a BW control deck featuring Wrath of God and some pinpoint discard like Castigate, in a 1X0 match in his favor,. He was manascrewed, but had 3 Lotus Bloom suspended, and when they came out of suspension he played almost his entire hand, leaving just one card, for a Dragonstorm with a storm count of close to 7, and began searching the Hellkites with a bored look of “Do I REALLY have to?” when his opponent scooped up. Thing is, the last card in his hand was the 4th Hellkite, and he had sided out the Hunted Dragons, he’d never be albe to win that match since his opponent indeed had the Wrath in his hand, and could then discard the last dragon earning a concession.

3.7. 2006 FNM, Rhodner X Melancio
Melancio had a 2/3 flying creature equipped with Umezawa’s Jitte and 4 life, and Rhodner, playing Gruul, had nothing and 6 life, the game was already lost. Melancio attacked and Rhodner began piling his lands in a typical scoop up gesture, but didn’t say anything, and Melancio removed both counters from the Jitte to properly seal the match instead of simply letting the opponent scoop up. When he did this, the Jitte had no more counters and combat damage still wasn’t on the stack, so Rhodner promptly tapped the whole pile of lands and played Char, targetting Melancio, winning the match (manaburn would only occur at the end of the combat phase, so he simply added all the mana)

3.8. PTQ Honolulu, Round 7, Astral Slide X Mirari’s Wake
Both players were at 5 x 1, needing the win to asure a Top 8 spot. The match was tied, and the Astral player was trying to rush using a Loxodon Hierarch and an Eternal Witness while the Wake player held the fort with Moment’s Peace when time was called. The Wake player had 5 untapped lands against 7 from the Astral player, when Astral said: “Well, if you Wrath now I’m doomed, no way I can win”, to which Wake prompted in playing Wrath of God, nearly tapping out. Astral then untapped, played the 8th land and played Rude Awakening for the win, aginast curses from the Wake player which DID have another Moment’s Peace in his hand to secure the tie.

3.9. 2008 FNM, BG Elves X Monogreen Aggro.
The BG player opened with tapped Treetop Village, passing to the monogreen played who played a creature. Then, he played another tapped Treetop Village, passing the turn and seeing another creature drop on the monogreen’s side. The final stab, he played a forest and na elf, and passed the turn, to which the monogreen player played out his entire hand, already savoring victory. However, the BG player actually tricked his opponent into thinking it was a monogreen mirror with the land drops, and then player Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and then Damnation, crushing the opponent.

3.10. Extended PT, Antoine Ruel X Kenji Tsumura, Psychatog Mirror
Ruel led with a tapped Watery Grave, to Tsumura’s first turn Island, which then turned into second turn Island as well. Then, he played an Island and tried for Duress, which met Mana Leak, and passed. Now, this was the cool play, Tsumura tried to fake a mana screw while testing Ruel for Force Spike (he could have Force Spiked the Mana Leak, resolving Duress). Since he didn’t have it (tapped dual and letting Duress be countered), he played Watery Grave (giving access to black mana) and tapped out for Psychatog, to which Ruel responded with... FORCE SPIKE! Ruel actually made his whole game to try and churn out an early Psychatog! Since Tsumura obviously didn’t have Duress from his opening, Ruel assumed he probably had some countermagic and possibly a Psychatog already in hand, and lead him into playing it right into his Force Spike. This kind of finesse is what makes the Ruel brothers so amazing, Antoine actually outbluffed a bluff by Kenji Tsumura himself!

3.11. Legacy Champs, 2006, UG Threshold X IGGy Pop
UG player opens with a pair of Nimble Mongoose when his opponent playes Polluted Delta into Lion’s Eye Diamond. At that moment, Threashold player realized he was probably up against IGGy Pop, and the Pithing Needle in his hand was useless. He thought for a bit, and played the Needle, to which the opponent responded sacrificing the Delta, and then, the stab, he named “Lion’s Eye Diamond”, making his friends shriek in horror while watching. He proceeded to win the game and after his opponent said “Damned Needle, stopped me from going off”. Problem is, LED’s is a mana ability, so Needle doesn’t do squat about it. However, you CAN name a card with Pithing Needle even if the Needle will be useless, and because of this, he won what would be a very bad match-up.

4. General tips for using mind tricks

- Do no try to bluff agianst bad players, they do not give the game proper thinking, it WILL backfire (this is the Golden Rule of Bluffing, only do it against good players). The same goes for passing the turn and letting damage on the stack during the combat phase;
- Always spend a little time at least thinking before letting a spell resolve, so your opponent might think you have some kind of response, be it a counter, be it a response to destroy some of his permanents, etc;
- Pretend to be afraid of stuff that do not threaten you. If an opponent plays Fact or Fiction flipping up 5 good cards including a Corpse Dance and he has a Psychatog on his graveayard to which you CAN respond, split the pile in 4 spells VS. Corpse Dance. He might think you’re afraid of his Tog and toss out 4 good spells only to see his plans twarthed;
- Before bluffing, always consider what you might lose if they don’t buy it, and what you might win if they do, do not bluff just for the sake of it;
- Kids and women also bluff.

Well, this is farewell for now, as I don’t think I’ll be writing again without prize support, I hope I could share some good information with you, and feel free to ask any questions on the forums, I’ll be glad to answer them!

Cheers, Felipe R. Musco.
I don't like YOU.
Posted: Tue Feb 12, 2008 7:49 pm
Joined: 28 Dec 2006 Posts: 5468 Location: I don't know...
Nice article, reminds me of CG’s Iocaine article for LotR.

I only play MtG online, so this wouldn’t help me that much, but I play enough TCGs to know the importance of bluffing. My favorite trick is counting up the twilight and then passing on a hand full of FP to stop a double.

Great article, liked the examples. Sing annoying songs...I think I could do that. Twisted Evil
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