Your cards were designed with a vector in mind. Vector Theory will help you learn what it is, and stop you from fighting against your own creatures.
Welcome back to class! I recommend you check out a few prerequisite courses before we begin. Vector Theory 101 will introduce you to this mental model, and explain how Magic cards have "vectors." Similar to vectors in physics or mathematics, cards have both strength and direction. Consider
Mana Drain and
Counterspell. Both of these point in the exact same vector direction, but
Mana Drain has a longer vector. (For a fun review of the basics, consider other counterspells. How is
Swan Song's direction different than
Counterspell? What about
Disdainful Stroke?) Vector Theory 201 showed how this framework could be applied to draft picks. I received some great feedback about these articles, but also some feedback that revealed some gaps in our memory of Physics class (not all equal-strength, opposite-direction forces are 3rd Law pairs- define your system more carefully!).
We’ve taken a look at how cards and decks can have vectors, and how they can influence our drafting. I’d like to skip over deckbuilding for now and address gameplay, as I’ve been thinking a lot about how to incorporate this framework while playing flashback drafts on Arena instead of the recent Alchemy set (lol). For this installment of Vector Theory, we’re going to take a look at how players often fight against the vectors of their own cards, because they don’t know how to interpret them. We’ll see how this impacts everything from bluffing to chump blocking to alpha striking!
Let’s begin with a scenario. Imagine that your car is stuck in a ditch. Yikes! You call up some friends and ask them to help you "push your car." You, the reader, are a cool person with a lot of friends, so they arrive quickly. Five of you push from behind, and are making good progress. However, one friend decides to be “that guy,” runs up to the front of the car, and starts pushing back in the direction of the ditch, opposite you and the others! Not a very good friend. But, to be fair, they were doing what you had asked… just not in the right direction. You will still probably be able to push your car out of the ditch, but it will be harder than it needs to be. There are other assumptions to check here- maybe your “friend” is the strongest of the bunch, or others join them. By Newton's 2nd Law, it's definitely better to have your entire group work together and exert a force on the car in the same direction to maximize the resulting net force and acceleration.
I bet you know where this is going. Replace your “helpful friends” with “Magic cards,” and replace “getting your car out of the ditch” with “winning the game.” These are much more appealing stakes! The forces exerted by your friends on the car are vectors, as they have both strength and direction. Vector Theory can help us spot the “unhelpful friend” in your gameplay- plays where you are up against not only against your opponent, but some of your own cards! When your goal is to keep the vectors of your cards aligned with one another and your deck, you’ll find that decision-making becomes incredibly simple.
Let’s consider an extreme case. Analysis of extreme cases is often used in physics to get to know an equation or hypothesis. We'll use an extreme case to get to know our example scenario. Imagine you're playing a fast red-green werewolves deck in Crimson Vow draft. Your opponent never plays a second land, and you play a 2-drop, 3-drop, 4-drop, and turn them all sideways at every possible combat step. You win this extreme case easily, of course- this is about as easy of a win as your deck can get! The vector of red-green werewolves points in the aggressive direction, and you were allowed to do exactly what your vector wanted to do. Now, consider the other extreme: imagine that your opponent casts an imaginary 1-mana 10/10 Wall with “This creature can block any number of additional creatures each combat.” Now, you find your deck’s vector perfectly negated, and without access to hard removal, it will be virtually impossible for your vector to win. This is an extreme example of your cards being prevented from doing what they want to do.
Most games obviously play out somewhere in the middle. Realistically, maybe your opponent doesn’t play a two-drop, and you find yourself smiling because your two-drop and hasty 3-drop can now freely attack. Maybe your opponent plays a solid 5-drop, but it’s their only creature on board, and you know you have 3 combat tricks in your deck. This is a smaller roadblock than the aforementioned 10/10, but still acts against your vector.
Context of the card vectors now becomes key. Let’s keep playing that red-green deck. You’re in a mirror match, and entering the midgame. You tap out to play a
Hookhand Mariner, and control some smaller creatures. Your opponent untaps and swings in with a 2/2
HUngry Ridgewolf. Do you block with the Mariner? Or maybe even try to trade a smaller creature? Many players do! After all, a trade for their creature, a combat trick, or maybe even a combat trick plus their creature is pretty acceptable, according to most limited heuristics of card advantage. Vector Theory suggests something else. Take another look at the
Hookhand Mariner. What is this card's vector? What does it want to do? The back even gives you a hint- it has an ability relevant while attacking, as many cards in red and green do.
By blocking with a
Hookhand Mariner, you act against the card's inherent vector, and you essentially allow a friend to push against the rest of your team. Use your life total as a resource, take the 2 damage, note the surprise of your opponent as they realize that you did not fall for their
Sure Strike. Untap with a unified vector, a superior board presence, and, most importantly, a 4/4 that you likely wouldn't have otherwise.
Bluffing comes into play here. If your opponent plays a very strong 3-drop, and you feel as though they have some knowledge of limited and combat tricks, you can be pretty sure they will not block your 2-drop, as the potential for a trick would probably be a big blow against the vector of their deck. If your opponent did not have that Sure Strike, they just got in for some free damage, didn’t they?
Consider later on in the same game. You and your opponent are racing. Your opponent’s board is tapped down, and you have the ability to swing in and put your opponent to a very low life total, but if you attack with all of your creatures, you’ll die to your opponent’s full swing. Assuming your opponent doesn’t topdeck a removal spell, you have to choose one from the following creatures available to leave back to block:
I believe a lot of newer limited players would leave back the biggest blocker they have, as it feels “safe” (I myself fell victim to this trap for years). If I leave the
Hookhand Mariner back, there is a chance my opponent might not be able to attack without losing a creature. However, this gives your opponent a lot of control over the scenario, and the ability to decide if losing their best creature is worth getting in for the damage. If your opponent knows Vector Theory, they might even decide that their vector points towards losing a creature to get in for damage, hoping to draw their key pump or removal spell next turn for the maximum chance of winning the game. Maybe they simply topdeck the removal spell, but cannot swing for lethal, and you kick yourself for not having attacked with more power earlier.
Holding back your 4-power creature decreases the total amount of damage you’re able to deal this turn. Again, you must trust the vectors of your cards and your deck. In a scenario like this, you are forced to have one member of your team work against you- do not give this job to your strongest friend! Vector Theory suggests that we should leave back the
Sporeback Wolf, as at this point in the game,
Snarling Wolf and
Hookhand Mariner have the strongest vectors pointing towards dealing your opponent lethal damage. Many players would leave back the 4/4, as it is the best blocker. Vector Theory suggests you should not leave back the 4/4, as it is the best attacker. If you ever find yourself in a similar scenario, just ask the question: "What do my cards want to do?"
Our session is just about to wrap up for today, but Vector Theory is a great topic for debate outside of class. I have greatly enjoyed every single comment, tweet, and reddit thread full of feedback, and I'm excited to hear what you all think of this most recent iteration. If you have thoughts or ideas for future lesson plans, feel free to reach out! For more Vector Theory and limited nonsense, check out some of the recent episodes of the Draft Chaff Podcast. May all of your draft deck's vectors align, and see you next class!