Magic is a game of strategy and resource management. Every play made in the game is an attempt to maximize the resources available. While I will not break any new ground, or blow anyone’s mind with the following assertion, I believe it holds very true: the player who maximizes use of their resources is most likely to win the game. Many writers have stated this in the past, but the main thing that differs is what each person defines as a resource, and how each person evaluates that resource. In this article, I will do my best to define how I evaluate and assess resources.
Resources are relatively finite. Each player starts with seven cards in hand, and twenty life. Each player begins their turn with an additional card in hand. These are known quantities and cannot be changed without a player making a conscious effort to change these (i.e. Mind Spring adds additional cards to a player’s hand, Rest for the Weary adds to a player’s Life). However, there are also variable resources that are not finite and can change within the context of the game.
Mana. In early stages of the game, this is the most important resource, and becomes steadily less valuable as the game progresses. In its normal context, mana is acquired at +1 per turn for (on average) the first four or five turns. However, this resource also differs from the others in that the resource completely renews itself each turn, and any unused resources are wasted. “Tapping out,” or using all of the mana available to you during the first few turns allows you to establish pressure that the opponent must deal with. Early mana acceleration works in a similar way by allowing you to play spells that outclass the opponent’s spells in the early stages of the game. In both situations, players lose their finite resources in the process of dealing with the early plays. As the game progresses, this resource becomes less and less finite, and maximizing it is typically not feasible.
Life Points. A player’s life total works in the opposite way as mana. In the early stages of the game, loss of life is negligible; however, as the game progresses, each life point becomes more and more valuable. When a player’s life total becomes zero, that player runs out of options, and has literally no way to win the game.
Cards. Cards are by far the most important resource in the game. Each player starts the game with seven cards and draws a card at the beginning of each turn. Each of these cards is, in theory, a blank resource that can be traded in for creatures, spells, other resources (including more cards), and for a new hand at the beginning of a game. As a player uses up their cards, they also narrow their options over the course of a game – the player who maximizes their use of cards is most likely to win a game.
As stated before, the player who maximizes every resource has a better chance of winning the game. But how do we manage our resources effectively? Juggling mana use, cards available, and your life total may be difficult to do well at first, but, with practice, it will become second nature.
Mana. Managing mana use is one of the more difficult things to do in the early stages of the game, because you are at the mercy of the cards in your hand. While building your deck to maximize how often you tap out in the first few stages of the game, some slower decks simply have to waste their first few turns of mana production, with hopes of dealing with an aggressive deck’s early threats using other, more finite resources. The best way to maximize mana, however, is to tap out as often as possible in the early stages of the game. Spells get exponentially better as their mana cost goes up, so using all of your mana in the early turns allows you to attack an opponent’s finite resources.
Advantages to gaining this resource: early mana acceleration allows you to not only maximize your mana use in the early stages of the game (most mana accelerants cost 1-2 mana), but also allows you to maximize your use of mana in the mid-game, by playing better spells than your opponents have access to. It also makes it easier to play around cards such as Force Spike and Mana Leak.
Disadvantages of gaining this resource: In the later stages of the game, mana becomes less and less important because the tools are generally not available to use all available mana in a single turn-cycle. Building a deck that revolves around mana-acceleration can leave you with a bunch of mana, and nothing worthwhile to use it all on. Using too much mana acceleration can lead to games where a player can’t apply pressure, and loses to a player who can.
Deprivation of this resource: a player who is deprived of mana cannot deploy threats effectively, being forced to play spells of two or three casting cost, while their opponent casts spells the likes of Baneslayer Angel and Cruel Ultimatum. Being deprived of this resource in the early game is routinely referred to as “mana screw,” and is the bane of many players’ existence. Being deprived of this resource early will almost surely cost a player the game.
Life Points. Life is one of the trickiest things to manage, because while the number of life points you have is definite, the value is up to the judgment of the player. There has been a lot of discussion of the value of an individual life point, and the general consensus is that each life point is worth slightly more than the last life point. Each point gets steadily more valuable until the point where a player is at one life, which is infinitely important. However, exactly how much more each life point is worth is up to each player.
Advantages to gaining this resource: as stated before, the value of each point becomes significantly higher as the game progresses. As such, gaining life when a player is at 1 life is infinitely more valuable than gaining the same amount of life while that player is at 20 life.
Disadvantages of gaining this resource: in the same vein of mana acceleration, a player who focuses a significant number of other resources to gaining life or preserving a high life total will often end up staring down more pressure than they fended off with the life they gained, especially if the player doesn’t only start to focus on gaining life while their life total is low.
Deprivation of the resource: a player who is low on life is in significant danger of losing the game, and a player at one life can lose the game by the simple circumstance of an opponent having more untapped creatures, or by the opponent drawing a spell that can deal direct damage. Preserving this resource as it begins to dwindle is of high importance, as even falling to three life can leave a player withing range of a Lightning Bolt.
Cards. While this may seem like the most straightforward resource to manage, it’s actually one that requires the most thought. Every card in your hand, every card on the battlefield, and every card you will draw for the rest of the game is a resource, and has inherent value. Effectively managing this resource is one of the deciding factors of who will win or lose a match, and can best be described with the concept of “card advantage.”
Advantages to gaining this resource: every card in your hand are potential spells, creatures, or resources. The simple fact that this resource generates other resources makes this the most powerful resource at your disposal. Even cards with no value can still be kept in your hand, and influence an opponent’s style of play, just by the simple fact that you are holding several potential spells.
Disadvantages of gaining this resource: while there are several ways to gain advantage over an opponent on this resource (which is explained in the concept of “card advantage”), the most literal interpretation of gaining this resource would be drawing cards. As cards from the top of your deck are only potential spells, there is no guarantee that the cards will be helpful or even relevant. Additionally, spells that draw cards are typically expensive in regards to their mana cost. If they have an effect in addition to drawing cards (These spells are typically referred to as cantrips), they will also cost significantly more mana (or other resources) than the spell that did not draw cards would cost.
Deprivation of this resource: a player with no cards in hand is considered “topdecking” or, playing the game from the top of their deck. This has the same disadvantages of spells that draw cards in addition to most of the disadvantages of being tapped out on mana. A player with no cards in hand will typically have no answers to anything an opponent does on their turn (barring abilities of permanents in play), and will have to trust the card on top of their deck to be relevant to the current game state. While a player who is deprived of this resource does not automatically lose the game, as would be the case with the other two resources, the game becomes significantly more difficult when a player is deprived.
Managing the Future.
That’s it for this week, folks! Unfortunately, due to length issues, I had to cut this article into two halves. In the next edition of Rhythmik Study, I will be delving deeper into resource management by tackling the concept of card advantage. Starting this week, I will also be appearing in a judging column on 02drop.com, so I would love for players to send any of their ruling questions to me on facebook (www.facebook.com/Rhythmik), twitter (www.twitter.com/Rhythmik), or email me at Rhythmik@02drop.com. So, until next time, keep playing tight, and I’ll see you in Amsterdam!
Jeph “Rhythmik” Foster
This may appear on the next half of your article, but just thought I’d give my two cents.
One very important resource in any game of Magic is information. Knowing your own deck thoroughly allows you to play to your outs and conserve another resource (in competitive magic): time. Knowing what is in your opponents’ decks greatly dictate your actions, as you mention a bit in your mana section. For example, while it is good to try and maximize the use of your mana especially during the early turns of a game, playing against an opponent who you know is using spells such as force spike and mana leak require you to play around them or think about the consequences of not playing around them.
Also, in your cards section, you don’t mention mulligans and I thought it would be helpful if you talk about that in your next section!
Interesting and helpful read for those who may not think about the game in this way.
Good article, glad to see you tackle the opportunity costs associated with aspects of the game.