Pod's mana has been ragged at best but at least he has a couple of Geists too.
Here comes the squad.
Pod's blocks of Geist-on-Geist and Geist-on-Geist let the Splicer and his Golem in. Pod moves to adjust his life total.
One sec cautions G/W. Prior to damage... ACTIVATE MY GAVONY TOWNSHIP.
Daylight. Beautiful daylight. Pod can't even believe what happens as he gestures to his opponent's Geists. One side's creatures remain undying... The others? They just die.
G/W made a "perfectly understandable" error... Perfectly understandable if you aren't thinking about what's going on right now in this here game rather than playing automatic / unconscious Magic.
He activated his Gavony Township which resulted in his losing his Geists but Pod keeping his now beefier and bulkier Geists. Pod eventually stabilized and leveled up up and away to win with a certain Grand Cenobite.
Following are some—as the title says—mistakes (and opportunities for superior play) offered by some pretty commonly played cards. I've seen some of these mistakes coming a mile away while rail birding (or commentating as with the G/W vs. Pod example) and have made many of the mistakes myself.
Some come from unfamiliarity with cards others from fear of the unknown but most of all I think a notion of "automatic" unconscious play. Mental shortcuts are a wonderful thing. They let us actually finish matches inside of 50 minutes for one thing but I think you will have your best results if you can temper the "automatic" side of your play with an awareness of what's going on on the table right now.
All other things held equal you're supposed to tap your Island instead of your Glacial Fortress (U or W open being a better set of options than only U especially in a format with Swords to Plowshares); maybe not so in a game where the opponent might Choke.
That's what makes some of these mistakes so insidious. You can totally understand why someone makes one and can probably remember making more than one yourself.
In order of converted mana cost (and drama!)...
Perfectly Understandable Error: Win combat / force through damage / maximize mana.
Hey! I have untapped mana!
Doesn't Gavony Township make my dudes big? I'm totally going to win this combat and smash for an extra two...
First turn (on the play).
Pay two life / Probe you.
[draw a card]
Perfectly Understandable Error: Repeated action from similar but not identical games.
See if you can fill in the blanks...
1 2 3 4 _____
a b c d e f _____
Delver of _____
Huntmaster of the _____
I'm pretty sure most of you got most of those. There are lots of things we can do a "fill in the blanks" on but I didn't want to get too far afield on cultural references or song lyrics. Point being you know some of these things almost automatically due to repeated exposure.
Thus begins what I think might be the most common misplay in Standard especially against unknown opponents.
You might recall I made this play playing for Top 8 of the Baltimore Open and commented I had made the correct "actually tap U for my Gitaxian Probe" numerous times earlier in the tournament.
You are just used to paying two for the Probe then playing your Delver / Ponder. You play Delver you play lots of games this comes up you Probe—play land—play Delver (or Ponder) maybe four or five times in a given Swiss.
But if you don't have the one-drop? You should pay for the Gitaxian Probe.
Will you miss out on some number of missed Delver opportunities? Yes. With 53 cards in your deck you have 4/53 chance of drawing the card you want-want (Delver of Secrets) presuming you can cast it (and we can in our above description). 4/53 is a ludicrous 7.5%.
What if your opponent is an actual red deck?
If you're super aggressive and call three remaining Gitaxian Probes two Thought Scours four Ponders and the four future Insectile Aberrations of America all live cards for purposes of not tapping a mana you are still less than 1/4 to hit (and I think Gitaxian Probe itself is pretty thin).
Me? I didn't even play Thought Scour when I played so the number when I erred—and if you recall it was a tight game with a margin of two-to-three life points—would have been circa 1/5 even if we count the Probes (which we really shouldn't). So more like 15% of just hitting something.
3. Gut Shot
Every time I see someone not use the Gut Shot at the end of the opponent's turn untap and then use it on his own turn I smile a little.
Perfectly Understandable Error: It depends.
I can't think of a good reason generally to use Gut Shot on the end of the opponent's turn (unless there's some kind of Ethersworn Canonist or you need to prevent a Werewolf flip or whatever unusual case). Usually players use removal at the end of the opponent's turn to conserve mana; but Gut Shot doesn't cost any mana so doing it on your own turn gives you more options but generally not your opponent.
When you use free removal—even on your own upkeep prior to drawing—you have more resources yourself but your opponent will likely be consuming from the same pool. Like say he has two mana and a Mana Leak; on your turn you might be able to pay for it (if you want) when that wasn't true a minute ago.
You will still see players do stuff [and incorrectly as with this case] at the end of the opponent's turn.
An entirely different time is on your opponent's upkeep before his draw. Doing this is when you are still happy to see the Gut Shot resolve (as you would if you did it on your own turn) but you want to potentially get him to tap mana and react before he has seen his card.
Ever Faithless Looting when you had no cards in hand? I have.
Perfectly Understandable Error: "card advantage"
Before I ever actually played Faithless Looting I had this generic idea of it in my head. "It's 'card disadvantage' like Careful Study but you get paid back with 'card advantage' on the flashback. Cool!"
Turns out this isn't exactly how it goes.
You actually just tap lands and put two cards from the top of your deck into your graveyard. Now sometimes that's gas but other times you might want to actually have some control or filter your cards rather than randomly Thought Scouring yourself.
For sure this can be the right play sometimes (especially if you have a lot of mana and flashback spells but no action); but at the very least you should be aware of what you're doing. I wasn't in this case.
Ponder is one of the six best cards in Standard and probably the most skill testing card overall.
For Ponder I have two scenarios to discuss:
#1 Ponder into land land whatever I want.
I saw this happen on camera while I was working SCGLive this weekend and knew immediately when he kept the game was going to be over. Ever really want say a Vapor Snag? Yay! I found a Vapor Snag! Snag you!
Did you kill him?
If you did you probably kept great.
If you didn't though...
You now know you're going to top deck blanks for the next two turns.
Obviously a lot of stuff depends on everything else going on in the game but in a close game top decking two lands can be lethal. So it's certainly not always wrong to shuffle a land / land / spell Ponder (especially if you got what you imagined you wanted or think you can win ASAP) but it's a pattern you should be aware of as a potential issue before you snap-keep.
#2 Ponder into 2-3 "good cards" that don't beat the board.
Gotta beat the board.
Most players over-value what their decks do. Just because you got "what you wanted" doesn't mean it's good enough to win the game.
I always use the example of the guy who was surprised I didn't concede to his Dragon Mask + Nekrataal "combination." "But this is what my deck's supposed to do! I got my combo!" (Over the course of lots of turns I locked down all his mana with Winter Orb and beat him in the sky.)
The absolute first thing you have to assess is whether your Ponder cards can beat the board. Because if they can't you're just ensuring you won't.
Perfectly Understandable Error 1: I got what I wanted!
Again not "wrong" 100% of the time; you just have to ask what's next. If the answer is "The rest of my cards have got this" or "He's dead anyway" your one spell could be golden. If not you're locking yourself into two essentially dead top decks...not good in a close one. Identify the pattern and use it for a tool in the future!
Perfectly Understandable Error 2: My cards are good!
Hmmm...possibly [Dragon Mask + Nekrataal guy!]
But if they don't beat the board they aren't good enough.
Play a land attack.
Perfectly Understandable Error: Bad habits.
I don't know how many times I've made this one. It is neck-in-neck with bad Probes on turn 1 though. I see people do this all the time.
Should be obvious you're just missing a point when you do this (unless you need the land or whatever in which case it's not a mistake).
You're not a bad person on errors like this; it's just a brain fart. Brain farts are hard to avoid sadly.
Yeah I have too. Once!
Perfectly Understandable Error: I got what I wanted / playing too quickly.
In many games one Timely Reinforcements is a breaker; this can especially be true in Delver variant mirrors. So what's even gassier than a Timely Reinforcements? A super card advantageous miser-Mage Timely Reinforcements flashback (dot com)!
You see this you get this... You screw this up.
Tiago hitting the battlefield changes how many creatures are in play on your side.
One of the biggest things that improved my daughter's chess tournament performance was when she started notating every match; ostensibly this was so she could recreate games for later study but the immediate thing that gets done is that she had to slow down. The biggest problem for kids playing chess? They get excited and play too fast.
Do you think you would ever make the Snapcaster-into-Timely-nada mistake if you had completely thought out the ramifications of that five mana?
7.5. Thrun the Last Troll
Is there any unluckier guy than Thrun the Last Troll?
When he first came out everyone (well not me) was saying you had to figure out how to deal with it. It's so hard to deal with! You can't counter it! You can't Day it!
Turns out you can block it with 1/1 birds just fine.
And 1/1 Spirits.
Also it turns out that a 6/6 creature (whatever kind) or even 4/6 is plenty big enough to "block" it (who blocks?).
I've never played a Thrun this year that didn't die to a Tribute to Hunger. Not one!
Okay maybe one was raced by a Grave Titan.
And now Terminus?
Just recognizing the plight of this final Troll. Sorry brah.
Perfectly Understandable Error: Playing green.
Look for a second at Jace Memory Adept.
What do you see?
Personally I've never activated his ultimate.
Mostly I see a personal Howling Mine or—if the coast is clear—a nearly inexorable route to smashing my opponent's library ten cards at a time.
The game went forever and over the course of it I activated Jace an epic six times. Draw one Millstone myself...
Somehow it was lands or bricks every time both ways.
After the game my opponent said "Close game man. If you had ever gotten your Moorland Haunt online I was just dead."
Perfectly Understandable Error: Inflexible thinking.
What did I say again? Smashing my opponent's library ten cards at a time?
Had I just Millstoned myself for ten I'm sure I would've been able to get the Haunt online in order to win a close game and match.
I won't run through it all again but back in "Cards 'Facts" Mentors Multipliers and Using Every Part of the Buffalo" I showcased a couple different pictures and visual cues.
Just be on the lookout for when you can turn your five Hello Kitty pencils into a star rather than the typical pentagon.
Play it front-side more often.
Perfectly Understandable Error: Inflexible thinking.
If you've done enough Forbidden Alchemy-into-Unburial Rites-and-a-fatty you've probably just dumped the Rites and gone straight to four. Your thinking? This flashback is free anyway.
Well "free card" doesn't always equate to optimal. Just be open to the spots where you can do something else with your fourth turn mana. You might rather hold the Unburial Rites for the five mana version getting an actual two uses out of it.
Before I wrote some of these responses to Zac Hill preview articles on Tibalt the Fiend-Blooded [here] and Cavern of Souls [here] far and away the most popular feature on my blog was "You Make the Play" (so obviously the most recent of these was October 24 2011).
Here's a hypothetical based on an actual game I played a few weeks ago.
You are Delver. Obviously.
Opponent is Solar Flare.
You're a stone miser so obviously you have the Vapor Snag in hand already and smash the Phantasmal Image-fake-Consecrated Sphinx on upkeep avoiding a Trade Secrets scenario draw and play your seventh land. Obviously you have to deal with the Sun Titan or the Phantasmal Image is going to ruin you. You get in with the Sphinx and pass.
He attacks with the Titan unsurprisingly returning the Image/Sphinx to the battlefield. No problem you figure; you have the Gut Shot.
He plays an Oblivion Ring and you're pretty sure you know where this is headed.
YOU MAKE THE PLAY!
Have fun with that?
I can tell you what I did and then later what I should've done.
This is what I did: I responded to the Oblivion Ring by pointing the Gut Shot at his Phantasmal Image let him put the Image in the graveyard then played the Thought Scour to see if I could get a permission spell; I didn't. My theory was that at least he wouldn't have my Sphinx.
He of course covered my Sphinx up and the game went a few more turns with me clocking a bit with an Insectile Aberration but losing a very tight one on life totals; I eventually got to the point of the "Ponder for Vapor Snag Island Island" that co-inspired the "Ponder" hypothetical (way above) and I lost with him on one measly life.
Perfectly Understandable Error: Risk aversion based on the unknown.
I have played a lot of Consecrated Sphinx but believe it or not I've never been in a Sphinx-on-Sphinx situation before. I've walked by more than one but walked away. They just seemed miserable to me.
My error in this spot was having blinders on. MUST. AVOID. SPHINX-ON-SPHINX FIGHT.
The reality was I had six or seven lands open whereas my opponent had maybe four lands open and a spell on the stack that hadn't resolved yet. We all know I eventually lost a super tight one.
I think it would've been better to respond to the Oblivion Ring with Thought Scour rather than Gut Shot daring my opponent to draw two; at which point I should've drawn four and so on as long as my opponent would have let me...at least until which point I had two Mana Leaks.
Then I should've Leaked / double-Leaked the Oblivion Ring as necessary. It was game 3 actually so maybe I could've Dissipated it. Point being I should've put my opponent in a seemingly-attractive Wheel of Fortune position that I could've in actuality steered to my advantage. My opponent would've had to discard down to seven whereas I could've done all kinds of stuff based on how much mana I had left.
I could've still Gut Shot / Vapor Snagged his squad and maybe even Vapor Snagged his Sun Titan so he would've been even further behind. Then I would've untapped with the only Sphinx and probably been able to set up from a commanding position; even if I also had to discard down to seven (after probably playing a bunch of Delvers or something) I would've still drawn two on his upkeep and all that good stuff.
And if he didn't bite (I mean who here believes he wouldn't have bit?) I wouldn't have been much worse off than I actually ended up.
I hope my decisions (and to be fair assorted others) are helpful to you in avoiding some mistakes in the future.