Never Give Up.

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I’ve seen a lot of scoops during my Magic life. People tend to give up left and right, at FNMs and at Pro Tours, for a reason and without it. It is common among the beginners and not that uncommon among the best of the best. Let me convince you that giving a concession to your opponent is not what you should do.

A chance is better than no chance

In general, it is very simple. When you face an extremely unfavorable game stage that makes you believe there’s no way to get out of it, you naturally want to give up and move on to the next game, or the next match, or to that wonderful dinner that always happens after a long day of Magic when everyone complains how and why they lost so badly. It is a very natural reaction of a human brain; it wants to save resources for further battles. If you want to win more, it is time to control that and not let that happen.

Here’s the math. When you scoop, chances of winning that particular match are equal to 0%. When you don’t, it is always more than that. Sometimes it is just right above 0, sometimes it is way above. By giving up, you’re essentially subtracting some percent from your overall winning percentage. That percent could be a difference between making day 2 of GP and being just right below that. That percent could be a difference between 1st and 2nd places at PPTQ, and being second on PTQ/PPTQ is the worst feeling ever. If you can decrease your chances of being second and tearing your hair out, then why not do it?

I want to go over some of the most common scenarios of how people get to the “scooping mode” and give some examples why it should be avoided.

Mentally scooping in the middle of the game

There are games where at some point you know that it is very unlikely for you to win. Maybe you mulliganed to oblivion and are behind from the very beginning. Maybe you’re playing an aggro deck and your opponent just left you with no resources by playing a Wrath effect that you didn’t play around. Maybe it is a classic “Turn 1 Sensei’s Divining Top, Turn 2 Counterbalance” play that makes 70% of your cards blanks. It is very difficult to get out of these situations, no doubts. What you should remember, however, that it is all possible. You may draw perfectly and your opponent may draw 10 lands in a row. And then you will win under the soft lock, or with very limited resources or whatever else situation you can imagine. And you will also get a cool story for that dinner of complaints! How cool it would be to tell everyone how you won after your opponent played 4 Siege Rhinos or how you managed to survive against Modern Burn on 1 life for 7 turns and eventually won.

On my last “old” PTQ that happened in December 2014, I managed to make top 8 with a UW Heroic deck. In my first top 8 match, I played against Austin Bach and his GB Constellation deck. The matchup was favorable, but I lost first game to good draw of Austin’s deck. On the second game I mulled down to 5 and had to keep a very bad hand that can’t ever beat even the best matchups. I was about to plan my drive back home and how I would tell anyone that I lost to my bad luck again, but instead I slapped my face and started playing. It turned out that Austin kept 1-lander that only needed 1 extra land to beat my deck with ease. However, he drew his second land just late enough. I managed my resources carefully and used Austin’s loss of tempo to steal the game. Then I won the match. Then I won the PTQ and went to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.

Scooping in a winning position

Sometimes the battlefield is getting complicated enough that you may fail to find a clear way to victory and simply scoop because you’re dead on the opponent’s next turn. It does happen so often, and it unfortunately happens to almost everyone. Sometimes you play Affinity and don’t see that you have an all-in Inkmoth Nexus kill (aka sacrifice everything to Arcbound Ravager, put counters to Nexus and hope there’s no removal for it). Sometimes you forget that Elvish Champion in your Modern Elves deck gives Forestwalk to the team and allows ignoring the blockers. Sometimes your Abzan Midrange opponent is so focused on surviving that he doesn’t see an option of using Abzan Charm to put 2 +1/+1 counters on Den Protector and making it lethal. This list is very long.

If you are in such a position, please take your time to re-evaluate the board. Every turn you should first evaluate how you can kill your opponent, even if you spent last 5 turns in tough uphill battle and your only goal was not to lose. If there are no winning plays, continue the survival. And even if there are no winning plays, there is still no reason to scoop even if it’s clear you’ll die the next turn. Act like you’re not about to die, play you creatures and spells, you may actually realize a winning strategy just by doing that!

Scooping while having outs

It is one of the last turns of the game and things look horrible for you. Your life total is low; you’re behind on the card advantage and tempo. You don’t see a way to get out of there. It is clear that you cannot win and you’re definitely losing very soon. You think you see everything but there’s one unknown part of the equation here: the top card of your library.

If you get to this situation, you need to play to your outs. Many articles are written on this topic, I just want to summarize. If your only way to win is if you draw a specific card, then go for it! That strategy typically involves different line of play that’s far from optimal in a given situation. A classic example is the “OH MY GOD IT IS LIGHTNING HELIX”:

Scooping when there are no outs

Ok, let’s say you have carefully evaluated all your potential draws and ensured there are no outs, you’re gonna die anyways. Is it time to scoop? Definitely no. It is time to brace yourself, pray and wait for a miracle. Chances that it will happen are low, but it is still better than nothing.

Here’s what may happen:

  • You’re dead on board, but your opponent may not see it. He/she is a human that may make a mistake and not notice the winning position. Let them have a chance to make the mistake.
  • You’re dead on board, but you have open mana and cards in the hand. In this situation, your opponent should evaluate all the outs you may possibly have. For instance, your Atarka Red opponent may not attack with all creatures for lethal damage just because he is afraid of Surge of Resurgence that may allow you to survive the attack and strike back and win the very next turn. You may make it more likely to happen by acting in a proper way, but that’s a good topic for another article.
  • You’re dead on board and your opponent knows you don’t have anything and clearly sees the kill. This is tough, you’d better just scoop, right? No and no. Let your opponent kill you. In fact, anything may happen before the kill. If you’re in Magic Online, they may get disconnected at any moment. That’s terrible experience for the opponent, but we all know how many bugs Magic Online has and how bad some Internet providers are. If it is a real-life tournament, there’s still a chance, and here’s a good story. At Grand Prix San Jose one year ago, team LSV-Cheon-Froelich played the last match of day 1. In a deciding match, Eric Froelich was about to die. He was facing a lethal dragon on the other side of the table and had neither removal/blocker for it nor a way to win on his turn. He passed the turn hopelessly, and right at that moment a judge appeared and issued a game loss to opposing team for a rule violation that happened earlier that game. By not scooping, EFro allowed the miracle to happen.

Scooping to mind tricks

When your opponent says you’re dead, never believe, even when it’s clear you are. Always say “Then just kill me” and do not scoop. Most of the times they will have the kill, but sometimes they won’t. For instance, when your opponent casts Rally the Ancestors with Nantuko Husks and Zulaport Cutthroats in the graveyard, make him/her go through the motions. It may not be enough to kill and it may appear that you’re actually alive.

Another kind of mind tricks is when your opponent tries to convince that they have cards in the library that executes the kill. When you hear “I play Scapeshift, I have 7 lands and you’re at 15, scoop?”, do not reply positively. They may not have enough mountains in their deck to kill you, some of them may get stuck in their hand. Let them go through motions and kill you.

When to scoop

Ok, actually, never say never. Sometimes by giving up at the right moment you increase your chances to win the match. There are a couple of scenarios that I can think of:

  • Consider scooping against a slow control deck if it is clear that they took control over the game and you’re afraid that you may not have enough time to finish the match in time. Such decks may easily spend extra 5-7 minutes to execute the kill, you may need these minutes to win the remaining games. This is a good reason to scoop, but first make sure that you actually have no outs.
  • Consider scooping in order not to show extra information to your opponent. The most common scenario is when you mulliganed a few times with the deck that’s easy to hate out with sideboard cards (for instance, Affinity or Dregde). If you’re very unlikely to win with your hand, you may simply not play anything for the rest of the game, see what your opponent plays and then start the next game. By doing that, you’ll have one extra game without playing against hate cards.

Scooping when playing casually

All of the above is definitely applicable to the competitive tournaments like a PPTQ, Grand Prix or Pro Tour. But what about FMNs, casual drafts and playtesting games? I think, if you want to win more in high-stakes tournaments, then you should never scoop in casual games as well. Such behavior creates a good habit that will be easy for you to follow at bigger tournaments. Not scooping also contributes to your skills of playing from behind and playing to your outs. It is even rewarding in playtesting, for instance, I think, you should not scoop to your friend that started going off with a combo deck during playtesting. Making him go through motions creates a habit for him/her to execute the kill and also tests fizzle ratio of the combo deck.

Never give up!

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Denis Ulanov

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