This entry is part 35 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)


By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

Last week I talked about the concept of my ‘library.’ My personal collection of Magic articles that have helped shaped me as a player and taught me important lessons about the game. I encourage everyone to read and learn as much as they can about the game; build your own library as you go. If you missed the first part you can check it out here. This article is just a continuation where I am going to share even more great articles by some of Magic’s brightest thinkers and writers.


“The Casual Competitive Magic Player and Deck Selection” by Arvin Uppal

Arvin Uppal is a skilled competitive Magic player and solid Magic author despite having only written two pieces (to my knowledge). He is also a 40-something doctor and a poker player, so we know that he is a brilliant analytical mind and excellent critical thinker. In this first of two articles that he wrote for, he goes in-depth about the differences between the playing and practice habits of pro-level Magic players and what he calls the ‘casual-competitive’ player. This article points out the limitations of thinking within this CCMP framework and  the insidious pitfalls that one can find themselves in if they misidentify themselves as having pro skills. To complement this analysis, he presents strategies that you can use to improve your game and also how to win match-ups where you have a disadvantage in play skill. A fascinating read for the 99.9% of us who are not in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.


“Introduction to G.I.F.T.S.: Gains Induced Through Time” by Arvin Uppal

In his second article, he dives even deeper into his practice routine preparing to play the Omniscience deck in Legacy. He asks the reader a series of questions about playing through key decision points in a game and uses this setting as a frame to teach us about how seemingly minor actions can gain importance over the course of a game. It’s one thing to acknowledge that early errors can greatly affect late-game outcomes, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to accurately trace those lines unbroken through a game, identifying key moments that have been impacted by our choices. Only by scrutinizing our play can we truly understand the gravity of our earlier decisions and learn to make more effective choices in the future.


“Beating Blue (8 vs. 7)” by Mike Flores

I promised that you would see more of Michael J. Flores. Take note of your utter lack of disappointment. This article is about a pioneering concept in the design and play of ‘anti-control’ decks in Magic. Flores details the pros and cons of ‘draw-go’ permission decks and present several strategies to effectively defeat them. For those of us who need specific help developing specific tools and strategies to combat counterspells, this is the place to find them.


The core topic is on trying to achieve and ‘8 vs. 7’ situation, wherein you have eight must-counter threats in hand and your opponent only has seven counters to try and stop you. This strategy of inactivity against control in the build-up phase of the game can lead to a game state where you effectively mitigate a control deck’s card advantage by pushing them up against the natural hand size limit.


Actually getting to and ‘8 vs. 7’ isn’t always necessary. The concept holds as long as you have access to a higher quantity of relevant cards that can all be used at once. By overloading an opponent’s defenses all at once, you can insure that their incremental card advantage doesn’t translate into being ahead on board. By the time they get a chance to reload their hand, you will be in a position to directly pressure their life total and force an appropriate response.


This article has important implications for many of my own deck building principles. Having fewer expensive cards and more cheap spells means that you can fire off a flurry of meaningful cards at a key moment, rather than just one. Designing a mana curve that interacts favorably with our opponent’s answers means we will be able to regularly stick threats when they aren’t prepared to offer an answer. Using more durable threats will prevent common types of answers like counters from being effective. For example, casting an uncounterable spell or sneaking an indestructible threat onto the battlefield while an opponent is tapped out.


Perhaps the most enduring advantage you can glean from incorporating Flores’ strategic principles from “Beating Blue” into your decks is that it will frustrate your opponent’s psychologically. It can be hard for them to identify that they have even done anything wrong. It seems like you just got lucky by catching them when they had one too few counterspells. Fixing this problem though, will require a dedicated and introspective look at the strategic flaws inherent in their own playstyle. It will often create a metagame-warping effect where they have to redesign portions of their deck to more effectively combat your ‘anti-control’ game plan.


“OBP and the Mulligan Decision” by Matt Sperling

The choice whether or not to mulligan is often the first decision you get to make inside of a game. Mulligan decisions are complex and often very difficult. So difficult, in fact, that there are LITERALLY THOUSANDS of articles about how to mulligan more effectively. This isn’t the first, ‘best,’ or most influential text on the topic, but it’s my favorite, mostly because it touches on topics that are keen interests of mine outside of Magic (namely, psychological biases and theories of rational thought). The meat of this article, though, is all about how to mulligan better. He evaluates several typical lines of thought and dismantles common heuristics with a logical, evidence-based approach.


While I look to Flores when I need to learn the name and function of a particular theory in Magic, I go to Matt Sperling’s column on, “Rule of Law,” when I need a good chuckle. Because I share so many of the author’s sensibilities on issues like designing of regulation and administration of public policy, Sperling is my personal favorite author. I particularly enjoy his “Sperling’s Sick Of It” series where he delivers scathing rants about current events in the Magic world. What can I say? I can relate to a good soapbox tongue lashing.


“Keeping Cards, Not Hands” by Caleb Durward

Staying on the topic of mulligans, in yet another one of Durward’s more functional pieces, he explains some of the key considerations for how to gain extra advantage from mulligan decisions in known match-ups and post-sideboard situations. Detailing the importance of key cards in a given match up amidst his typical backdrop of competitive Legacy and Standard play, Caleb takes us through his own thought process for deciding when to mulligan, complete with examples from Caw-Blade-era standard!


“Pick A Better Deck” by Matt Sperling

It isn’t “Sperling’s Sick Of It,” but it’s still pretty great. This is a look behind the curtain about how a pro player makes his choice of deck for a competitive event. There are also a lot of articles on this topic, but in this case, I do actually think this is the best. It includes applications of game-theory and economic principles, which is the shortest distance between an article and my heart. It also features one of my favorite quotes in the history of the Magic blogosphere: “the true master has no preferences, only abilities.” This is the epitome of what I think and how I play. I’m not searching for an edge metagaming on my deck choices, I want a durable and bona fide competitive advantage through superior play skill. Being a more well-rounded player with a broader base of knowledge and experience opens up new decks, styles of play, and strategic lines that are not available to neophyte players. Seeing the hidden pathways is what planeswalking is all about, right?


“Playing Intuitively” by Luis Scott-Vargas

LSV was at one time considered to be the best player in the world by a wide margin. He also co-founded the preeminent strategy web site of the modern era, revolutionizing the coverage and dissemination of Magic content through innovative gameplay videos. Since then, he went 16-0 a Pro Tour and has been inducted to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. No biggie.


This article is all about how he learned to play better through playing by “feel.” I can most easily explain this as learning to make decisions that were evidence-based, but for which he didn’t have applicable current data. You don’t always need to know the exact probabilities involved in a decision to be able to know definitively which way to go, you just sort of have to be leaning in the right direction and go with your gut when you don’t know for sure. Drawing inspiration from Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink, of which I am a huge fan, LSV lays out a compelling case for learning to master your own thought process and shift it into automatic.


There are obvious pitfalls that can trap inexperienced players. As he notes, following an untrained intuition is likely to do more harm than good. If you are somewhere between your first game and top 8’ing the World Championships, consider this a starter guide to honing your instincts and harnessing the power of your subconscious to make better decisions.


“Who’s The Beatdown?” by Mike Flores

To say that every Magic player should read this is an understatement so dramatic that it must be rendered in black comedy. Every Magic player should have this tattooed on the inside of their eyelids so that they can brush up on the finer points while they sleep. WARNING: Kids, do NOT try that at home.


This is perhaps the most famous Magic strategy article in existence. It’s also perhaps the most important. It began a storied career for one of the game’s most prolific and most influential writers and paved the way for hundreds of other brilliant wordsmiths to do the same. Musing that I owe my current position on this blog in one way or another to the publishing of “Who’s The Beatdown?” is overselling my contribution to my own catalogue. This is the granddaddy of them all, ladies and gentlemen. The original. The best.


By the way, it’s about how to determine whether or not you should be trying to attack. The advice contained within is still just as applicable today as it was in 1999, but that fact pales in comparison to the myth and legend of how this article and “The Dojo” basically discovered Magic strategy.


I could rave on and on about Flores long into the night, but it’s high time to high-tail it back to the watering hole. Let me know in the comments what you think about “the library” and make sure you share your own favorite articles. Next week, I’m back with something completely different, but for now I will sign off in the traditional MJF style.





“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

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