Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Trigger Warning: Learning to live with Landfall

Fig. 1: A great card, if you remember it's there

When I first put Jaddi Offshoot into my Eldrazi Ramp standard deck (similar to this list), I knew, deep down, exactly what would happen. Unfortunately, it happened almost immediately upon bringing the deck to the Oath of the Gatewatch Game Day. . .

I missed a single Landfall trigger, and it cost me the game.

Staring down my opponent's board of angry dudes, I realized that he had precisely lethal damage on me, no matter what I did to defend myself. Sitting there with two copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger in hand and more than enough mana to cast one the following turn to stabilize, I had no choice but to concede the win to my opponent.

Fig. 2: A great card, if actually played before dying
Counting up my mana sources after the game compared to the number of times I gained 1 life, it became clear that I had missed at least 1 landfall trigger. The difference between gaining 10 life and gaining 11 life had cost me the chance to climb my way back into the game.

And this was entirely my fault.

There are limitations of a physical card game like Magic that aren't immediately apparent. Casual players of Magic will breeze right past rules violations, and if a player remembers something they missed after the moment has passed, there's always "Takebacksies", "rewindsies", and "I -forgot-that-card-was-in-playsies". In a digital card game, you literally cannot break the rules, so you don't have to worry about forgetting a triggered effect. Your Knife Juggler in Hearthstone will always remember to throw a knife when a minion enters play under your control.

In a competitive environment in a physical card game, an opponent has no obligation to respect your take-backs or slips of memory. In fact, the rules in most cases explicitly state that its your job to remember effects under your control (which may sometimes include things that don't even benefit you!). This is a generalization, but useful to remember.

The moral of the story is that if you go "oh, and I gained two life from my landfall triggers" any time besides directly after playing those lands, your opponent is fully within the rules to say "no, you missed your triggers. Tough luck." Hopefully, they're a bit friendlier about the phrasing.

That's why when I took that exact lethal damage to the face, I was thoroughly dead.

At first, coming from a mostly casual CCG (collectible card game) background and spending many of my formative years playing Magic Online, I felt something next to a grudge toward opponents that made my life difficult over missing a trigger.

Now, I recognize them as another opportunity for a player to express their total awareness of the game state and the elements of the board that work in their favor. When you leave room for player error in a game, that raises the skill ceiling and gives experienced players more ways to earn the win over less seasoned opponents.

Losing this way can be frustrating. Then again, so can losing a game to the opponent's 1-cost healing plant-wall, but I don't hear any complaints from my opponents about that. The solution to my problem was simply to be more attentive and focused the next time I play competitive Magic.