A Lesson on When Not to Concede
There is a general consensus floating around that players should concede "unwinnable" games in order to save precious time. This article covers the benefits of playing "unwinnable" games out and how I've won a game with a mulligan to one card while my opponent had a full grip.
Unintentional Draws in tournaments are an unfortunate and too frequent side effect of Magic's high variance. While conceding games does save valuable time, it's important to think the decision to concede through as you could lose matches or even your place in the tournament to unnecessary concessions. This article will show that concession is something you probably do too often and that playing games out can often lead to surprising results, even when you might think all is lost.
Do People Really Concede To Save Time?
In some cases, this may be the actual reason and a correct choice in order to maximize your chance at winning a tournament. I believe, however, that players frequently concede not because they think they've already lost, but actually because they simply can't stand playing this game from behind for an extended period, when a loss is likely, but not definite.
So, if you come to the conclusion that the game you're currently losing is worth the time it needs to play it out, what are the actual benefits of playing it out if you will still lose it most of the time.
Seeing More Cards
One important reason, though more relevant in limited than it is in constructed, is for plain and simple information. I used to write down and memorize all spells my opponent is casting in a match of limited in order to play around his instants, make profitable trades in creature combat and bring in the right cards from my sideboard for games two and three.
If my opponent has to play a few more turns to earn his game win, I can get a look at more of his cards and will have a better idea of his deck, which is quite relevant in games of Draft and Sealed. A smart opponent will certainly not show any cards they don't have to in order to win a game, but sometimes they end up having to show at least a few more cards to secure the win to and a good amount of players will choose poorly and play out all their spells before winning in order to show you that they "still had all Deez", so go ahead and punish them for that.
In constructed, it's not as relevant since its relatively clear what cards are in which decks when you've figured out the archetypes and know the common decklists well. It still can give you a clue about their sideboard plan for the third game. For example, I always play on if I can draw something like Surgical Extraction just to cast it before I lose to search my opponent's library and have a look at his cards.
Studying Your Opponent's Behavior
Another good reason to play out the final turns of an almost lost game is to see how your opponent is playing around unknown information. If I'm dead on board, I like to keep some unknown cards in hand, have a bunch of lands untapped and watch my opponent declare his lethal attack. Maybe they are afraid of me having a certain card I haven't thought of yet that leads to them making an awkward attack, which in turn, gives me an actual chance of winning the game? Maybe they clearly set me on something like Settle the Wreckage and I can sell them in the upcoming games that I'm holding this card and thus force them to play around cards that aren't in my deck.
Pascal Vieren's recent UR Pyromancer list at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan shows the power of unknown information exceptionally well. It ran snow-covered islands and regular islands to bluff that it was a storm deck, potentially forcing players to play around a non-existent combo and, in addition, elected not to play Blood Moon, because the fear of Blood Moon was nearly as effective as having Blood Moons in the deck. These are deck-building choices, but you can create these mind-games simply by playing a few more turns with untapped mana, creating a beneficial environment for you in later games.
It's also possible that they haven't realized yet that you're dead on board. It may be quite obvious to you, but you don't have to tell them that. This may cause your opponent to stop attacking for a turn, which increases your chance of topdecking your way out and winning the game eventually, which leads me to the next and most fun point.
Games You Can Still Win
These games aren’t the main reason to play your games out since a ~1 % chance of winning a certain game is most likely not worth the investment of let's say 5-10 minutes (which is effectively 10-20 % of your match time). Just consider them a bonus to the above-mentioned benefits when you find an almost lost game and decide that the time needed is worth the information gained and the chance to win it.
If you manage to win a game you've all but lost, it's always a great story and feels much better than the game where you start ahead and your opponent does nothing to come back. My personal favorite example of this was a Vintage game that completely changed my outlook on concession in Magic: The Gathering.
In 2013, I played my beloved Vintage Dredge Deck in the Bazaar of Moxen Vintage Main Event.
|4Bazaar of Baghdad||4Bloodghast||1Ancient Grudge|
|4City of Brass||4Golgari Grave-Troll||2Darkblast|
|4Petrified Field||2Golgari Thug||4Cabal Therapy|
|4Ingot Chewer||4Serum Powder|
|4Narcomoeba||4Bridge from Below|
|4Chain of Vapor||4Leyline of the Void||4Nature's Claim|
The deck basically requires Bazaar of Baghdad in its opening hand in order to keep up with a format as fast as Vintage, and thus, the deck uses all available mulligan options and four Serum Powders to get a Bazaar of Baghdad in its opening hand. In approximately 94 % of your games, you manage to find Bazaar of Baghdad before you are left with one card in hand that is not the one you need.
I was leading 1-0 with 40 minutes on the clock against a Workshop-Stax Deck when my opponent confidently kept 7 cards and I was desperately looking for a playable hand until my mulligan to one left me with City of Brass. At this point, I could have just conceded the game since I basically needed to topdeck Bazaar of Baghdad immediately and, in addition, my opponent had to do a whole lot of nothing with his seven cards, and that would have only given me a chance. I could not imagine any combination of events that would've led to me winning that game.
Anyways, I decided to play some turns because there was plenty of time and I wanted to gain information about the content of his deck and the way he plays. My opponent started the game with Mishra's Workshop, cast Metalworker and passed. I drew a blank card and passed the turn. My opponent revealed 6 artifacts, generating 12 mana and cast two Grafdigger's Cage, Thorn of Amethyst, two Relic of Progenitus and Trinisphere. My already small hopes were wiped away by this battlefield full of hate that essentially shuts down every play my deck has to offer. What happened then is just crazy.
My poor opponent didn't manage to draw another source of damage and attacked me every turn for one life point with his lonely Metalworker while he played useless cards like Wasteland, Sphere of Resistance, more Mana sources like Black Lotus, Mox Ruby and so on onto his stacked battlefield while I hadn't even played a land yet. He seemed frustrated and started to cycle his Relics in order to find a threat that would win him the game.
I had assembled a playset of Bridge from Below and some Ingot Chewer in my hand that I could even evoke through all the taxing artifacts if I would manage to get enough mana sources into play. Suddenly a path to victory showed itself since Grafdigger's Cage would not prevent Ingot Chewer from dying and creating Zombie Tokens off of my Bridges from Below. Patiently I started to play out land cards in order to pay for the taxing effects of Trinisphere and others.
When I finally deployed enough mana sources I used a Bazaar of Baghdad to discard three Bridges at once and evoked Ingot Chewer to create three Zombie Tokens and destroy the first Grafdigger's Cage. My shocked opponent finally drew Lodestone Golem but the writing was on the wall. I discarded the last Bridge and evoked another Ingot Chewer in order to create four more Zombies and freeing my Ichorids and Bloodghasts. My life total was reduced to a small single-digit number, but a single Zombie Token chump blocked the Golem, and on my turn, I was able to summon hordes of undead and my opponent scooped up his cards in tilt, agony and loudly expressed anger.
What a game of magic!
Surely, I would've lost if my opponent hadn't cycled both Relics or if he had managed to draw a Lodestone Golem, Mishra's Factory or Triskelion earlier, but it happened and boy it was awesome! This memory of this one match is, in and of itself, worth hundreds of hours I've "wasted" playing out games I would lose in like 99/100 cases and I learned a way to play through sideboard cards I hadn't known up to that point.
The next time you are sitting in a game of Magic with your back against the wall consider the available time and if there is something to be gained from this game before scooping up your cards on tilt.
Let me know in the comments if you have similar stories about awesome comebacks or what you think about early concessions and playing lost games out.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.