I’ve just finished reading Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s excellent article about the information you can extract about your opponent’s opening hand based on which land they play on their first turn. This is a principle that can be applied to many different scenarios, where a seemingly innocuous action from your opponent is actually providing you with a ton of information; all you need to do is listen!
Here’s a sample scenario where it’s easy to draw a single conclusion and then move on without further thought, but careful consideration will actually allow you to make several highly educated guesses that there’s more to the story. The game has thus far played out as follows:
On the play, you cast a Deeproot Warrior on turn two. Your opponent followed up their turn-one Plains with a turn two Swamp, and then you bashed for two and played a Thrashing Brontodon. On their turn-three, they played a Legion Conquistador, got another one and then passed. You only have a Shaper’s Apprentice to deploy on your fourth turn, which you do and then attack for five. Your opponent simply plays a land and passes back.
On the surface, it seems fairly evident they must have Divine Verdict, but how can you be so confident in that assessment, and what else can you extrapolate from their line of play?
- If they had Moment of Craving, they would have cast it on your turn-three to kill the Deeproot Warrior. They were planning on casting Legion Conquistador, which can’t block it, and you added a 3/4 to the board, so they really can’t afford to not play it as they are already falling behind
- They do not have a one-mana combat trick. If they did, it would make far more sense to just play the second Conquistador and pass with one mana up. In theory, they could have one and just be worried about getting blown out by a bounce-spell, but with the way this game is shaping-up they are in pretty bad shape to a bounce-spell anyway and should just hope you don’t have it
- You know they have a castable card in their hand, and barring Moment of Craving, which you have determined they don’t have, they would have cast it. The only other logical conclusions would be something like Vanquish the Weak or Reaver Ambush, but they would cast those on their main phase to avoid losing on the spot to River Herald’s boon or Aggressive Urge.
Based on that simple play, we were able conclude that they don’t have Moment of Craving, any one-mana combat tricks, Vanquish or Ambush, and that they must have Divine Verdict. That’s already a lot of information, but we can even take this a few steps further. Keeping mana up in the hopes of casting your Verdict is still not a great line based on the circumstances. It’s not like you have a Colossal Dreadmaw in play so your opponent could just play Conquistador and try to double block your Thrashing Brontodon. Admittedly that’s a very risky play as it also concedes the game to River Herald’s Boon, so your opponent could just be playing around a combat trick, however it’s worth considering that they are trying to tell you even more.
These conclusions are nowhere near as rock solid as the ones above and as a result I would not allow them to warp my play in the same way, however they are certainly worth considering and may change the way I play in future turns.
- Your opponent is flooded or top-heavy. They didn’t play a two-drop, and they don’t have anything better to do on turn-four than pass and hope to get us with Verdict. Them being flooded won’t alter your play much as you should just be able to run them over, however the second notion is worth considering further, especially in conjunction with the following point.
- Consider that your opponent actually does have a quality four drop in their hand, and they aren’t forced into the Divine Verdict line but have actually selected it because they place a great deal of importance on getting that Thrashing Brontodon off the board. Maybe they have something like Profane Procession, The Immortal Sun or even Radiant Destiny that they think is their best way to get back in this game.
Based on the above, I would place a slightly higher importance on the Thrashing Brontodon than usual and try to avoid exposing it to the Verdict. In this case I would simply send with the Deeproot Warrior as it puts your opponent in the worst spot. If we send with both little guys, he can Verdict the Warrior and then block the Shaper’s Apprentice with the otherwise useless Conquistador. If we attack with everyone, we force through four damage, however we let our Brontodon get hit with the Verdict, which we’ve concluded is what our opponent wants and is therefore is something we should avoid if possible. This forces them to either Verdict our two-drop or take the damage, and then we can continue to develop our board while they are faced with the same scenario next turn. They probably just have to Verdict as we’ve told them we’re going to play around it, and leaving four-mana up for the rest of their life likely leads to their demise.
We can now play the rest of the game confident that they don’t have Moment of Craving or a one-mana combat trick and being wary of giving up our Dino so we don’t get ruined by one of their bombs.
Hopefully you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it, if you have a different take on the situation please chime in below in the comments!