Seven Ways to Better Conceal Information in Games of Magic | Article by Roman Fusco (2024)

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Seven Ways to Better Conceal Information in Games of Magic | Article by Roman Fusco (1)

By Roman Fusco

Posted on July 4, 2024

In reflecting on my discussion with Mike Flores at the Dallas Regional Championship about ways intermediate players can improve to make the Pro Tour, I thought about other ways newer players might leak information in games of Magic. While I still play competitive Magic, these days I spend a lot of time playing in my local Limited community. It's a diverse group, with both Pro Tour veterans and newcomers who have only been playing for a year or so.

The skill gap between players hanging out at our house drafts or even at FNM can be wide sometimes. In thinking on how to provide some good pointers for small improvements, I came up with a few tricks to prevent information leakage in a given match of Magic.

One of the biggest ways to flub a game of Limited is to leak information based on what might be in your pool. While on MTG Arena, you can sometimes clearly tell what a player might have in their hand based on the manual stops Arena puts in place when you have an instant-speed card. In paper, it's usually harder to get that accurate of a read. However, you can easily give away information when you're not conscious of it, sometimes in slight ways that actually give away percentage points. Whether it be mis-tapping your lands or having an unorganized graveyard, here are my seven ways you can better conceal information in games of Magic.

1. Keep an Organized Graveyard

One of the most impressive uses of memorization I've ever watched was the finals of SCG Providence back in 2015. Oliver Tomajko was piloting Abzan Whip, a midrange deck that gained value off activating Whip of Erebos every turn.

Abzan Reanimator | Standard | Oliver Tomajkop, SCG Standard Open Providence, 1st Place

  • Creatures (24)
  • 1 Reclamation Sage
  • 1 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
  • 2 Den Protector
  • 2 Doomwake Giant
  • 2 Hornet Queen
  • 4 Satyr Wayfinder
  • 4 Sylvan Caryatid
  • 4 Courser of Kruphix
  • 4 Siege Rhino
  • Instants (6)
  • 2 Hero's Downfall
  • 4 Murderous Cut
  • Sorceries (4)
  • 2 Commune with the Gods
  • 2 Thoughtseize
  • Enchantments (2)
  • 2 Whip of Erebos
  • Lands (24)
  • 4 Forest
  • 1 Plains
  • 1 Caves of Koilos
  • 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
  • 2 Temple of Silence
  • 3 Temple of Malady
  • 4 Llanowar Wastes
  • 4 Sandsteppe Citadel
  • 4 Windswept Heath
  • Sideboard (15)
  • 1 Thoughtseize
  • 2 Bile Blight
  • 4 Fleecemane Lion
  • 1 Glare of Heresy
  • 1 Mastery of the Unseen
  • 2 Ultimate Price
  • 1 Pharika, God of Affliction
  • 1 Utter End
  • 2 Arbor Colossus

Seven Ways to Better Conceal Information in Games of Magic | Article by Roman Fusco (2)

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Rather than keep his graveyard fanned out so he could view every individual card, Oliver kept his graveyard in one neat stack. I was waiting for Oliver to start flicking through his graveyard at a moment's notice, just to survey his options - but he never did! Oliver was able to commit to memory every card that entered his graveyard and knew at all times what his available reanimation targets were.

While this is an impressive skill in its own right, there are a couple of useful takeaways from it. By keeping his graveyard in one single pile, Oliver put mental pressure on his opponent to constantly be checking it to know what to play around. Oliver gave away no information by glancing or flicking through the cards because he was so confident in his memory and ability to make the right decision at the right time with Whip of Erebos.

Another important lesson to be learned from this is how information can be leaked when you pick up your graveyard and start fanning through it. For example, in a game of Outlaws of Thunder Junction Limited, if your opponent picks up their graveyard or starts picking through it, they might have drawn Back for More, Badlands Revival, or Mourner's Surprise - even more devastating if it's a Back for More they can cast at instant speed. However, if they do this, it may give you the right info to play around a card that might lose you the game, like Back for More. Regardless of what they drew, you can deduce they have some value way of interacting with their graveyard based on how they might be physically interacting with their cards. While you don't need to have the level of memory that Oliver displayed in that SCG finals, I'd keep your graveyard organized in an easily visible way so that when you do draw your Back for More, you don't give away that you have the backbreaking spell in hand.

2. Correct Use of Mana

Mana efficiency is a powerful skill to learn. It allows you to make sure you're always able to cast every spell you can cast without running the risk of mistapping your lands to deny yourself a source of mana. Even more so is organizing your lands in a way that doesn't give away information. For example, if I have Counterspell in my hand and a decent amount of lands in play, I wouldn't want to put both my untapped Islands next to each other. Rather, I'd keep them tucked behind other tapped lands at different points on my side of the battlefield. If I place both Islands next to each other before passing the turn, my opponent might read that as having Counterspell in hand and thus play around it.

Funny enough, you can do the opposite of my advice if you want to try and bluff a Counterspell! Ultimately, what's important in this lesson is knowing how to quickly and thoroughly tap your lands so that you can both cast all the spells you mean to cast while not giving away information based on what instant-speed interaction you might have. I cannot tell you how embarrassing it is to try and cast a spell in your hand, only to realize you mistapped your mana and missed out on huge value.

Tip: When paying for my spells, I tap my basic lands before any multicolored lands, and I try to keep mana creatures like Sylvan Caryatid untapped to better feign what trick I might have in my hand.

3. Playing Lands As You Draw Them

This is a habit I see new players display the most. The way you play your lands in a game of Sylvan Caryatid can leak information to your opponent on the contents of your hand. By playing a land right after you draw it, for example, you tell your opponent that you did not draw anything of value and that the information they had the previous turn cycle is still the same. By keeping the land in your hand (assuming you don't need it to cast an expensive spell you might draw or activate an ability), you can feign a trick and force your opponent to consider what you might have access to.

I think as a more competitive player with a somewhat quiet demeanor, I have the benefit of bluffing better against newer players, especially since I have a reputation for playing more Blue and Black-based Control decks. Physical movement and pace of play can both conceal or leak information, so be careful how you sequence your land drops.

Seven Ways to Better Conceal Information in Games of Magic | Article by Roman Fusco (3)

4. Know What Your Cards Do

One of the most embarrassing mistakes I've ever made in a tournament was at a Pioneer event where I cast my Japanese copy of Farewell. Not realizing the order of the modes, I chose to exile both enchantments and creatures because I thought I would be able to exile all enchantments first, then creatures. Not realizing that Farewell resolves so that it exiles creatures, then enchantments, I proceeded to exile my opponent's Wolfwillow Haven but in turn exiled my Detention Sphere, unlocking the creature under it.

Lesson learned: Don't play with foreign cards unless you know exactly what they do.

In the same vein, a mistake you can make early on in your Magic career when not understanding how a card works is to ask your opponent or a judge in close proximity to your opponent. Say you have a question about how a card in your hand interacts with your opponent's creature on the battlefield - if you ask a judge while at the table, your opponent may be able to decipher what trick you have up your sleeve. Always talk to a judge away from the table when discussing rules and card interactions.

5. Overextending

Another mistake you can make that might leak information to your opponent is the act of overextending. While this is more relevant to Limited Magic, it applies to Constructed as well. Overextending can be defined as showing your opponent more information about your deck than needed in a game. For example, if you're vastly ahead in a game of Modern Horizons 3 Limited, it's probably unwise to overplay into the board and show off a trick your opponent might not know about yet, like a Hope-Ender Coatl or a Ghostfire Slice. In Limited especially, you're constantly reforming your idea of what cards may or may not be in your opponent's deck as the match progresses. While you may lose to a bomb in Game 3 you didn't see in games one or two, knowing about it in Game 1 will help you sequence your cards around it.

In a team draft match, I knew my opponent had Bonny Pall, Clearcutter in their deck. Knowing this, I made sure to sequence a counterspell in my hand around the possibility my opponent could tap out for Bonny and end the game on the spot. I was able to sequence my counter in a way where it ended up countering a different card, but only when I knew I had enough resources at my disposal to deal with a Bonny Pall at that point in the game. In another team draft match, I also had a Bonny Pall but chose not to play it in a three-game match because the chance I would win those games was so high, I didn't want the opposing team knowing that I had one of the best OTJ bombs in my deck. Sadly, the only game I resolved Bonny Pall in that draft I lost...but the lesson still rings true here.

You don't want to make the mistake of showing off a card to your opponent you don't have to cast, thus giving them the information to play around it in a future game. Your opponent might sideboard, mulligan their opening hand, or even sequence their cards entirely differently with knowledge they might have from information you leaked for free.

6. Showing Frustration

Keeping composure is one of the best ways to conceal information in a game of Magic. One of the greatest things about paper Magic, regardless of what format you play, is how information is given and received based on the tiniest actions. The way you react to your opponent's cards can give away information about your draw at any point in a game.

If you audibly sigh and complain about whatever luck your opponent has as they resolve some bomb against you, chances are you don't have the removal spell in your hand to deal with it - giving your opponent all the more reason to charge full steam ahead. Putting one hand in your hair as the other counts all the lands on your battlefield and graveyard might just happen to be a dead giveaway that your hand is also full of land and that you're "oh so unlucky" to be flooding out in this spot.

Everyone loses to flood. Everyone loses to screw. Everyone loses to whatever bomb is the highest-ranked rare in the newest draftable set. Get over it. A hard lesson to learn, and one I still struggle with at times, but a necessary lesson all the same. In these situations where your back is up against the wall, even if there's only a small percent chance you escape this game by the skin of your teeth, you should do so calmly and collectively. A poker face goes a long way and could be the difference in your opponent attacking for lethal or perhaps giving you one more turn to topdeck the card you so desperately hope to draw.

All in all, showing frustration not only leaks information but is just bad sportsmanship if done excessively. Games of Magic mean different things to different people, but good sportsmanship and being a positive force in your community outrank getting topdecked in whatever FNM game you're playing.

It takes a lot of skills to be able to master paper Magic: The Gathering. So many factors go into the best way you can position yourself to win a tournament, outside of just deck choice. At the heart of paper play is a constant mental battle between you and your opponent, a war of information. While the lessons in this article may seem small in stature compared to skills like technical play and deck design, they do factor into your overall win percentage. I implore you to reflect upon what ways you might be leaking information in your own games of Magic and what ways you might better approach your next event. I'm hopeful the answers will lead to some more game wins in your favor.

Thanks for reading!

-Roman Fusco

TAGS articles, magic, advice, theory, constructed, competitive, roman fusco, seo, 07042024, gameplay advice

Seven Ways to Better Conceal Information in Games of Magic | Article by Roman Fusco (2024)


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