Browse > Home / Strategy / Articles / Hints and Tells for the Intermediate

Hints and Tells for the Intermediate

I think that one of the reasons that I love Magic so much today is that I was on my high school's chess team my senior year. Part of this developed love was the psychological side of competition. I am not exactly sure what the Buddhists mean by "nirvana," but I am sure it included getting your opponent to stumble into checkmate without them having the slightest inkling as to how they got there. Now, I am sure you can imagine the dismay I felt when I learned of Magic's high level of variance. I thought this was the end of the good book that was my opponent. But, like most of my assertions, I was wrong. I have come to realize that there are plenty of information-grabbing opportunities in Magic, and I'm here to share them with you!

The Sit Down

As soon as you sit down, information can be gathered. Ask your opponent how they are doing or how their day has gone. Not only does this relax your opponent and start a friendly conversation that makes you look like a human being, but it may yield information. You would be surprised at how many times an opponent accidentally gives up what they are playing. For instance: say an opponent says "Yeah, I just lost to mono-red. They just had a ton of removal." In this case one should ask the question "when is mono-red's removal back-breaking?" You could safely deduce that he/she is not playing control or an average midrange deck due to mono-red's inconsistent ability to deal with x/3 and above, so you could deduce that your opponent's creatures are mostly x/1s or x/2s, implying that they are on some sort of aggro deck. You could then keep or mulligan with this bias in mind. 

Another thing to look out for is your opponent's basic mannerisms. Does your opponent seem cocky, experienced, inexperienced, easily frustrated, calm, obnoxious? All of these traits can tell you something about your opponent. This is going to make me sound like all kinds of scum but I'd like to share it with you. For those who know me well, you know that I do not like when people complain too much about bad luck. So whenever I face a known complainer, I like to fake good luck. For example, on a mull to six, I would declare "I can't keep a one lander," tank for a bit, then decide to keep. I would then proceed to pretend I was top-decking land after land after land in attempt to tilt my opponent. I am not saying that you should try and tilt your opponent or be disrespectful in any sort of manner, but taking advantage of their own shortcomings can lead to a frustrated opponent and poor plays that can turn the game in your favor.

On the other hand, you could be playing an opponent that is calm, in which case tilting them would probably involve something obnoxious that wouldn't be done in good taste or sportsmanship. However, telegraphing and bluffing can be handy against analytical opponents. Those that pay attention know how backbreaking X card you are representing can be and may play around it out of respect.

Tone of Voice

Sphinx's Revelation [RTR] Negate [M10]

This is probably going to be the hardest to explain, but when understood it will probably be one of the most powerful tells. Long story short, if your opponent sounds confident, then they have the card they need. If their tone sounds shaky, they do not. I started picking up on this when playing with the card sphinx's revelation. Unlike most people, I found the control mirror match to be fun and intriguing so I paid attention to it more than other matchups. One thing that I noticed is that my opponent would sound shaky when trying to resolve it if he didn't have counter magic. This shakiness of voice often carries over to other similarly scripted interactions.

Open Mana

Gods Willing [THS] Bile Blight [BNG]

On the subject of counter magic, let us talk about representing it and the likes. I am sure you all know that holding open certain mana can represent certain things. If U/W Heroic is holding open one white every turn, then they probably have a protection spell. If U/B Control is holding open two black every turn, then they probably have the bile blight. What I want to talk about is the complication of inconsistent mana-tells. This is another subject that is hard to describe in brief detail, but I will try to warn you and urge you to look for that tell twice if the card is not immediately used. Many times I will see players leave these representations up in the early stages of the game, stop representing them when they have actual cards to play, and immediately stop representing them. Just make sure that you stop taking note of the represented card as soon as your opponent stops taking note of the same card. 

On the other hand, make sure that you are ready to play around the card if the times they do tap out are justified. If your opponent curves out with favored hoplite on turn two with a white mana up, then a hero of iroas on turn three with a white mana up, and just starts tapping out on turn three for a heliod's pilgrim and an ordeal of heloid, you may want to take the gods willing off your radar if you are holding up mana for removal. This is of course a whole different story if you start tapping out for siege rhino and the following turn the player continues to hold up gods willing mana. 

Now be ready to throw all of this out the window

This is all well and good when you are facing the completely ignorant, but the truth is that most people will have common sense enough to avoid some of these pitfalls. The trick is to decipher your opponent's skill level and next-level appropriately. The highly skilled will be intentional with most things that they do, the intermediate are liable to err on some points, and the unskilled unable to read anything you represent. I would also just like to highlight that this is just a small portion of the game we play. Nothing beats playing tight and logical in the first place. 


Until next time, 

-Stephen Garcia


Follow Stephen on Twitter @apex_simplex
Say hi if you see him at your local Colorado tournament! 

p.s. Feel free to comment with constructive criticism and whether or not you would be interested on reading pro-player profiles every Thursday. 

More on MTGGoldfish ...

Image for The Fish Tank: Sweet and Spicy Viewer Submitted Decks (November 29-December 4, 2021) fish tank
The Fish Tank: Sweet and Spicy Viewer Submitted Decks (November 29-December 4, 2021)

What sweet decks did viewers submit this week? Let's find out!

Dec 4 | by SaffronOlive
Image for Single Scoop: Boros Aggro (Historic) single scoop
Single Scoop: Boros Aggro (Historic)

Some of the sweetest new cards from Crimson Vow for Crim .....are the aggro cards? Find out which ones TheAsianAvenger is taking to the Historic ladder!

Dec 4 | by TheAsianAvenger
Image for Alchemy Spoilers — December 3 | White and Blue daily spoilers
Alchemy Spoilers — December 3 | White and Blue

New Magic Arena exclusive White and Blue cards!

Dec 3 | by mtggoldfish
Image for Innistrad: Crimson Vow II | Olivia vs. Torens vs. Runo vs. Halana & Alena |  Commander Clash S11E17 commander clash
Innistrad: Crimson Vow II | Olivia vs. Torens vs. Runo vs. Halana & Alena | Commander Clash S11E17

Innistrad: Crimson Vow has so many sweet legends that we couldn't resist featuring the set for a second week!

Dec 3 | by SaffronOlive

Layout Footer

Never miss important MTG news again!

All emails include an unsubscribe link. You may opt-out at any time. See our privacy policy.

Follow Us

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Twitch
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • RSS
  • Email
  • Discord
  • YouTube

Price Preference

Default Price Switcher