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Feature: Professional Mistakes

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The letter E!veryone knows that Magic is a complex game. But when you're sitting at home, reading coverage about a Pro Tour that you failed to qualify for, it's easy to get down on yourself and think that the pros must be so much better than you. Well, okay, they probably are much better than you. That's why they're here.

But I'm here to make you feel better, because the pros are far from perfect. In fact, the idea of a "perfect game" used to be a popular debate topic of Team CMU. Given the huge number of decisions that a player needs to make in a given game of Magic, is it even possible to make every single one of them correctly? Maybe, but certainly not consistently.

On a related note, here's a quick quiz to test your rules knowledge of cards in this format, since not knowing the rules is one of the easiest ways to make mistakes:

Neurok Spy

1. Your opponent (we'll call him Tyler) has a Neurok Spy with Skullclamp attached to it. You target the Spy the Murderous Spoils, killing the creature and stealing the equipment. Who draws two cards, if anyone?

2. Tyler has played out another Neurok Spy and Skullclamp and attached the new one. You play a hypothetical Red card that reads, "Deal two damage to target creature. You gain control of all equipment attached to it." Both the equipment and the creature head to the graveyard. Who draws the cards?

3. Tyler controls a Wirewood Herald and two Elvish Champions. You entwine a Solar Tide to wipe the board. What happens?

(The answers are at the bottom of the article.)

So back to the pros. There are all sorts of mistakes a player can make in the course of a game, so here are some examples of the various types:

Paul Rietzl, who's sitting at 7-3, ended his first turn without thinking and then looked down at his hand and saw a Viridian Longbow staring up at him. He then had a turn two Myr and, when his opponent played a Pteron Ghost, wasn't able to play, equip and shoot with the Longbow even though he had his third land.

Osyp Lebedowicz was in what seemed to be a great position with a board of Fangren Firstborn (with two +1/+1 counters), Juggernaut (with a counter), Tel-Jilad Archers and Leonin Sun-Standard. His opponent had a Tel-Jilad Outrider, a Tel-Jilad Archers of his own, an Elf Replica with Skullclamp, and a Spawning Pit. On his main phase Osyp entwined a Blinding Beam and chose to tap the Archers and the Elf Replica, figuring that he was in such a good position that he didn't want to let the Replica block and trade itself in for two cards.

The problem was, he forgot that the Spawning Pit would let his opponent trade the Elf Replica in for free at any point regardless, so he wasn't denying any extra cards. The untapped Outrider was able to block his Juggernaut over the next two turns and Osyp ended up losing the game when two Blinding Beams showed up for his opponent.

Andrew Cuneo, in his round ten Feature Match, took two damage from a Clockwork Condor that dropped him to five life. When he attempted to Pulse of Fields on Raphael Levy's end step, a Shrapnel Blast killed him in response. If he had simply used the Pulse before damage (Levy was still at a high life total), he would have survived the turn.

Mike Turian, currently at 8-2, had three creatures and an Icy Manipulator in play with his opponent on three life and seven mana. Earlier in the match he had seen a Reiver Demon in his opponent's deck, but missed an opportunity to tap a mana source on upkeep. His opponent did indeed have the Demon in his hand, but didn't topdeck the land he needed, and Mike took the game regardless.

When I asked Alex Melnikow (7-3) to give me a game play mistake from the weekend, he looked at me and asked, "Just one?" He then told me about a situation where he had a Skyhunter Cub with Mask of Memory, a Razor Golem with Leonin Bola, and a Skyhunter Patrol on the board. His opponent had a Wirefly Hive, some ground creatures, and four mana available. He made the mistake of assuming that his opponent would activate the Wirefly Hive so he played to win that situation, but didn't think about the possibility of a Shatter on the Mask of Memory. His Cub fell to the ground, got killed in combat, and no damage was dealt to his opponent. If he had played a Banshee's Blade from his hand and equipped it to the Cub before sending, Shatter wouldn't have been enough.

Solar Tide

These are just a few stories, but there are hundreds of mistakes being made on the Pro Tour in any given round. All you can do is listen when people point them out, and do your best to never repeat them yourelf.

Well, and learn the rules. Here are the answers to the quiz:

1. Tyler draws two cards. You execute the statements in the order that they're listed on the card. Since the first one is "Destroy target nonblack creature," the Skullclamp is still attached (and under Tyler's control) when the creature dies a grisly death, so Tyler draws the cards. If the card said to gain control of the equipment and then said to destroy the creature, you would draw the cards instead.

2. You draw the cards. Damage doesn't kill creatures until state based effects are checked, which is after the spell has completely resolved. At that point, the Skullclamp is happily under your control, even though that part of the spell was after the part that dealt the damage.

3. An entwined Solar Tide always kills all the creatures on the board, right? Wrong. First the Tide kills all creatures with power of two or less, so both Elvish Champions bite the dust. Next the Tide kills creatures with power of three or more. The Herald, which managed to jump over the first wave of the Tide, suddenly ducks under the second wave as it's now back to its lowly 1/1 status, and it stays alive. Weird, huh?

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