The Time’s They Are A-Changin’

Huntmaster of the Fells is a perfect Magic card.

Huntmaster of the FellsRavager of the Fells

The numbers have such symmetry and all of the effects are powerful. For four mana you get four power spread over two bodies while gaining two life. When it flips, it has four power and four toughness and deals two damage to a creature and two damage to a player for a total of four damage. When a player plays two spells in the same turn, it flips back. It feels fair because it can be easy to answer, yet powerful because it can warp the entire game around it if it isn’t.

I love it.

Even with its undeniable power, I know that the days where others shared that sentiment are behind me. Simply put, it’s been outclassed, sidelined, and unsleeved. I know that there are better options, and yet every time I tweak my list I find myself staring at Huntmaster trying to convince myself it’s worth it. Why is it so hard for me to keep Huntmaster in my binder?

“Bloodbraid Elf” by Steve Argyle

Let’s take some time to address a tough topic for our community: properly judging new cards and, more importantly, the ability to let old ones go. There are a couple stereotypes in the G/B community you’ll often run into –

1.) They’re weirdly obsessed with how unattainable and unnecessarily expensive the deck is and

2.) They get very defensive when someone says that the cards they spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on, are actually not very good right now.

The discussion comes up with every spoiler season about what cards might make the cut for our deck. Usually cards are brought up in jest, as they are typically hilariously bad (looking at you Yargle), but every now and again there’s a card that actually makes us do a double-take.

This can be exciting but also kind of terrifying. We get so nostalgic and emotionally attached to our pet cards that it can be a detriment to our insight and ability to make rational comparisons.

When Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned people thought we were going to relive the glory days of Jund. Olivia, Huntmaster, Kalitas, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Chandra Torch of Defiance, and all other four drops were immediately cast aside to make way for Bloodbraid’s glorious return. Not me though. I was stubborn. I hate the RNG aspect of Bloodbraid and thought the card offered too little in light of the super aggressive format Modern had become.

People weren’t thinking straight and there was no way Jund was going to return to glory because of a four mana 3/2 with haste…..oh yeah, and Huntmaster of the Fells is my favorite card ever printed and YOU CAN’T MAKE ME UNSLEEVE THEM, I’LL NEVER DO IT!

While there may be merit to my stance on Bloodbraid, the card is great, but my love for my pet card kept me skeptical through the initial hype. It took me a long time to play the card when I should have tried it out immediately so I could make my judgments based on games played and not just initial bias.

I know I’m not alone in my biases regarding deckbuilding. This happens regularly throughout tougher seasons in Modern when it becomes so hostile we question whether Dark Confidant is too much of a liability or whether Lili’s abilities are efficient enough in the face of go-wide and graveyard strategies. If you ask these tough questions in a forum or Facebook post however, be prepared to be eaten alive by those who hold these cards close to their heart. Prepare for the onslaught of “Greatness at any cost” comments and people telling you that Lili is the heart of our strategy and should never be cut. Whether we like it or not though, the times are changing, and Modern Horizons has made us seriously consider every slot in our deck and its worth.

Wrenn and Six

First, let’s look about Wrenn and Six. This is a card that has caused plenty of controversy and is forcing us to reevaluate the core of our lists. Wrenn and Six, or W6 as she’s being dubbed, is no doubt a very powerful two drop that can help us curve out, continuously make our land drops, and even act as removal against smaller creatures. The emblem is nothing to scoff at either when you consider that a Bolt or Assassin’s Trophy in the graveyard can mean ending the game very quickly or answering quite literally anything our opponent does. Discarding a land to Liliana, only to buy it back with W6, has been one of my favorite things to do in recent games. We know it’s going to make the cut, so what’s being left behind?

Most have been trimming on Dark Confidants to make room for the powerful two-drop. This is understandable when you consider the fact that with more W6 running around, having a 2/1 that gains you no immediate value is a liability. Some have been trimming on Bloodbraid, a copy of Scavenging Ooze, Kolaghan’s Command, and even Maelstrom Pulse. If reading the names of any of those cards being on the chopping block made you cringe, you may find yourself falling behind the innovation that will push our archetype in the direction it needs to go to stay competitive. It’s important to understand that when new cards enter the format, no card is safe. Every card has to prove itself with every new set and nothing gets a free pass because they “earned” their stay from previous iterations and victories.

Recently, Emma Handy and Jim Davis wrote articles and made videos that included Jund lists with no Dark Confidants in them. These players aren’t exactly known for their G/B prowess, so why would their opinions matter to us? For me, I always enjoy hearing an outsider’s take because of that previously mentioned bias that I know is constantly working against me. Sometimes seeing what others would do can give you a fresh perspective.

Players should soak up all the content they can for their archetype, whether that’s articles written by outsiders to the strategy or die-hard specialists like Reid Duke or Logan Nettles. Most importantly though, players should play the cards themselves and come to their own conclusions.

Mine have led me to the decision to cut down to two copies of Dark Confidant for now. I think there are still matches where your life total isn’t being pressured severely and drawing to relevant cards is really important, like against the Urza prison decks. Even so, I’ve had a ton of fun brewing with Jund lists that have no Dark Confidants at all and are looking to take advantage of that. No Dark Confidants in favor of W6 means we can take a second look at some cards that were otherwise bad flips like Tasigur, the Golden Fang. More consistent land drops from W6 might mean a second look at Tireless Tracker as the main card advantage engine. Some have already experimented with Seasoned Pyromancer, another new addition from Modern Horizons, and its ability to take lands redrawn by W6 and turn them into gas.

“Dark Confidant” by Scott M. Fischer

W6 and Seasoned Pyromancer aren’t the only cards making a splash in the G/B community. Hexdrinker, Unearth, Plague Engineer, Collector Ouphe, and a great cycle of new lands are all making their mark as well. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a large swath of cards from a single set affecting our archetype before.

Seasoned Pyromancer is an interesting one. The card has its fair share of awkward scenarios where we don’t want to lose the cards we have in hand and are forced to either not cast it or pitch relevant cards hoping to draw more.  The rummaging effect can be nice in certain matches though where you’re digging for specific cards and pitching irrelevant ones. The card shines its brightest in the top-deck late-game where it becomes a 2/2-draw two. Its ability to exile itself from the graveyard gives it even more late-game relevance as well as making it an okay pitch to Liliana earlier in the game when you don’t want to rummage.

Hexdrinker is giving G/B decks a more aggressive slant and can be incredibly difficult to deal with as it levels up. My experience with the card has led me to believe it’s probably not worth it though. As a 2/1, it has the same fragility that Dark Confidant has against W6 and level up being a sorcery speed ability can facilitate a lot of lost turns where you tap out to level it up, only for it to frustratingly die right before it becomes a 4/4. I have to admit though, it’s a terrifying top-deck late in the game when mana is abundant and most answers have been spent.

Unearth is by no means a 3-4 of, but is a fine utility spell that is never a dead card. Even if you have no targets for it, it can still cycle at a minimum. There’s no real need to rely on enter the battlefield triggers (ETB) to make this card good but cards that do have an ETB like Seasoned Pyromancer, Kitchen Finks, or Plague Engineer make the card even better.


Whenever Jund gains popularity, I always take a look at Abzan to see how things line up. Historically, Lingering Souls has put Abzan above and beyond other midrange decks in the mirror match. Plague Engineer has made that a null and void point in my opinion. Engineer is excellent in a lot of situations where Jund and G/B would normally struggle. Now there’s a clean answer to go-wide strategies like Mardu Pyromancer and the new Urza Thopter Foundry decks, as well as neutering tribal decks like Humans. Having deathtouch means that at a minimum it can trade with anything in combat that it doesn’t already kill with its ability. This card really feels like a sideboard card but it’s too soon to tell whether the hedge is worth having in the mainboard while there’s a possibility that the ETB isn’t relevant.

Collector Ouphe is a great addition to both Jund and G/B who now have access to an attacking Stony Silence. Being a creature means it will dodge cards like Nature’s Claim but die to Aether Grid. Jund’s normal go-to artifact hate is Ancient Grudge and G/B usually has to rely on having multiple spells like Trophy, Decay, and Pulse. Now there’s an option to attack artifact decks from another angle. Ouphe will probably fall in and out of favor depending on what you want it for. When KCI and Lantern was popular, Shatter effects weren’t enough and Stony Silence was at a premium. While traditional Affinity is on the downswing, I always liked shatter effects more than Stony. Against decks like Tron, we’re probably happy with a split between them. Either way, having options that don’t involve you completely switching decks or adding other colors is nice. It’s probably also worth mentioning Shenanigans while we’re talking about artifacts since I think it’s a neat piece of recurring artifact hate. It’s biggest downside of course is that it’s a sorcery.

Horizon Canopy has been the envy of every non-W/G deck since its printing. With the enemy cycle printed in Horizons, almost every deck in Modern now has access to a Canopy in their colors. While some have pushed W6 as hard as they can by testing Barren Moor and Ghost Quarter, the safest synergy and inclusion is Nurturing Peatland. As an untapped G/B land, it’s much more reliable as a mana source than Barren Moor and has a similar effect. I think the safe cut for these lands in Jund are copies of Raging Ravine. There’s no need to run 3-4 creature lands when W6 has the ability to buy them back and recur them if they die. In G/B and Abzan, lands like Twilight Mire and a fourth fastland can be cut to make room.

Jund and G/B have a ton of new cards to play with, and the biggest loser after Modern Horizons is poor Abzan. Not only did Abzan not get any new cards but Plague Engineer and Ouphe actually hurt it, since you no longer need white to have access to Stony Silence and have a clean answer to Lingering Souls. Abzan really needed something like Vindicate or Gerrard’s Verdict to pique interest. Sorry Kaya’s Guile, but you’re just not exciting enough in light of Jund’s upgrades.

“Abzan Ascendancy” by Mark Winters

This isn’t the end for Abzan though. More sets are going to continue to get printed and eventually Abzan will find favor again. The question is, will we recognize it when it comes? Let’s not forget that in July 2018, only a year ago, Leonardo Gucci got second place at Grand Prix Sao Paulo piloting Abzan Traverse, the go-to G/Bx strategy of the time. Since then, we’ve seen the printing of Assassin’s Trophy and a ton of new tools for Jund and G/B. It’s important to remember that it wasn’t that long ago when Abzan was considered the better choice. It’s hard to imagine how the tables could turn once again in as little as another year, but hundreds of cards pour into Modern every set, and change happens fast.

So how can we properly evaluate these new cards when they’re spoiled?

No, I’m not talking about those “will it Jund” jokes. I’m talking about cards that truly seem like they may lend our deck something it doesn’t have or provide a better version of something it already does.

The first question you have to ask yourself is

How does a new card compare in function and mana cost to the cards in our deck?

Then you’ll have to debate the less straightforward question of

Is it better?

Fatal PushDisfigure

Fatal Push was considered a no-brainer. The wide range of powerful creatures it killed for the very efficient cost of one black mana was way too good to ignore. This was especially true for Abzan and G/B who didn’t have access to a good turn one removal spell like Lightning Bolt. For these decks, the trade was easy. They shaved some Abrupt Decays and no longer needed to run cards like Disfigure, Dismember, or Smother. This was a pretty specific scenario where there was a large need and gap that Fatal Push filled, but finding space for new cards won’t always be so easy.

Liliana, the Last HopeKolaghan's Command

When Liliana, the Last Hope was spoiled critiques ranged from lukewarm to bad. This criticism was due to it being a Liliana planeswalker with an identical mana cost to Liliana of the Veil, causing people to compare the cards side by side. This was a failure in card assessment. Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope are two very different cards with different functions, even though their cost and planeswalker type are the same. The card more closely resembles something like Kolaghan’s Command since it can pick off small creatures and buy back threats. It trades out the Shatter and discard effect for repeatable activations of the other modes and a game-winning emblem.

Once people started playing with the card they came to this realization and found room for her where appropriate.

Unlike Fatal Push and Disfigure, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Liliana, the Last Hope is better than Kolaghan’s Command, or vice versa. This is because their modes become more or less relevant depending on the meta. This is why card evaluation and comparison is not always so straight forward and is often a muddled debate. The lesson here is to make sure that when you are comparing new cards, you’re doing it appropriately.

So let’s come full circle and test ourselves with a difficult question.

Dark Confidant or W6?

Dark ConfidantWrenn and Six

First, is this a fair comparison? Are we comparing W6 to the right card in our attempt make room for her?

If we look at mana cost and functionality comparisons, I think there’s no doubt that Dark Confidant is her closest cousin. If we compare it to everything else in the two drop slot, from Assassin’s Trophy to Tarmogoyf, it’s not even close. While on the face of things these cards are very different, their similarity is their card advantage. W6’s card advantage comes in the form of buying back lands, which doubles as a way to make sure we continue to curve out. Confidant draws fresh cards every turn, which could be more impactful than lands, but at the cost of life loss. So even their one crossover quality is vastly different and better or worse depending on the scenario, making the comparison even harder. It sort of feels like a toss up if we stop here, but now we have to look at their differences.

Their biggest differences are their versatility and durability. Versatility can often be meta dependent, like the case between K-Command and Liliana the Last Hope, but durability is usually pretty straight forward. When we get to this point of the comparisons it becomes pretty easy to find yourself in W6’s camp. Planeswalkers are much more difficult to deal with than 2/1 creatures and the versatility in her abilities also out paces Dark Confidant. While Confidant can attack and block, it’s usually outmatched on the battlefield whereas W6’s multiple abilities and immediate value make her the better draw in most scenarios. All of this also gets thrown on top of the fact that Dark Confidant’s life loss can be a pretty big liability.

Still, while it seems like this debate goes in W6’s favor, I find myself conjuring scenarios where Confidant is infinitely better and is still a card we lean on to get ahead in certain matches.

Is this my bias and love for Confidant speaking, or a rational argument? 

I think the only way to answer this question is by playing without it. Once you do, you can reflect.

How much am I missing/in need of it?

Am I winning more games without it?

It’s truly the only way to know. The cards are comparable, but not close enough to confidently say one can directly replace the other in the same way Fatal Push replaced other less efficient removal.

When W6 was spoiled, I didn’t see anyone say “Hey, this card should replace Dark Confidant in our lists.” In fact, I think the only reason we’re talking about this comparison is because people have already begun doing just that and had moderate success.

While it seems that W6 is the future and Confidant is the past, I’m going to continue to split my time between lists with Dark Confidants and ones without Dark Confidants to make sure I’m putting both to the test. I suggest others do the same and see if they come to the same conclusions. This way we’re making decisions based on results and statistics, not just our love for Confidant. The same should be applied to all future candidates as well.

“New Perspectives” by Darek Zabrocki

Change is hard. Especially when it comes to unsleeving old friends that we’ve won so many games with.

Trust me, I know.

I still register multiple maindeck Huntmasters every now and again and nothing makes me more happy than resolving them and having multiple on the battlefield at the same time. Is it as good as other Jund lists? No, and that’s okay. I know this and have no delusions about it either. But for casual tournaments, sometimes I just want to play the cards I love and have some fun. In competitive tournaments though, I want to play the deck I love while also playing the cards that are going to give me the best chance of winning. This usually means Huntmaster is just a one-of in my sideboard or nowhere to be seen at all.

Whatever you decide to do with W6, Dark Confidant, or any other card, don’t write anything off unless you’ve tried it yourself. You can use a plethora of resources, to include this article, to help you evaluate your own list, but nothing is going to help you form your own opinion like your own experiences. The more personal experience with cards you can share with others, the more our community can tweak and perfect our strategy in light of new additions.

Don’t be afraid to abandon what’s familiar or what’s been good in the past to experiment. Don’t let your love for favorites be the cause for poor competitive records, but also don’t forget to play the cards you love and have some fun when the stakes are low. Don’t allow your love for pet cards to overshadow the power of new ones that may take their place. Don’t get defensive about the cards you love while harshly criticizing new cards you haven’t tried.

Magic is an ever-evolving game, and new cards are constantly changing the landscape. We can adapt and grow with it, or fall victim to our reluctance.

Bluffing, Angle Shooting, and Ethics

The strategy of chess and the variance of poker, all wrapped up in a fantasy medium.

The strategic implications of Magic are intricate and complicated. The fantasy medium we all love is woven into the fabric of the game with its amazing art, lore, and role-playing. The variance aspect of the game however, can be somewhat polarizing. It means that even the worst player in the world with an intro deck has a chance to beat the best player in the world with a tier-one deck. For some, this is part of what makes Magic great; for others, this can be the most frustrating part of the game. But Magic and poker have more in common than just variance and statistics. Sometimes the way we execute the game in person can also be borrowed from poker, as Magic often does, through bluffing and angle shooting.


Everyone bluffs in Magic. If you’ve ever held onto a land as your only card in hand, you’ve bluffed. If you’ve ever glanced at an irrelevant card in your hand just before saying “it resolves,” you’ve bluffed. You attempted to communicate to your opponent that you have interaction when you don’t and you did it intentionally to deceive them.

Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Bluffing is an important part of the game and it can come in many forms, to include body language, words, speed of play, and concealed information (like the land you kept in hand). Even though bluffing comes about through misleading your opponent and deceiving behavior, it isn’t frowned upon or scrutinized for damaging the game’s integrity. This is because no rules are being broken and it’s ultimately up to the opponent to decide how much they want to rely on information derived from your cues. They can ignore it, or they can draw drastic conclusions based on it.

Games can be won and lost on a bluff, all based on information that we’re collecting from our opponent’s, or false information we’re trying to convey. At the end of the day, it’s hard to ignore that there’s a human element to a game that involves an opponent sitting directly across from you.

Spike, Tournament Grinder

Blue mages separating their mana into groups of two and four (the four showing their ability to pay for Cryptic),  players picking up their graveyard after a draw to imply they drew a Snapcaster, and seemingly bad attacks that suggest combat tricks are all examples of bluffing. These are all very small actions that are meant to subconsciously lead you to draw conclusions based on unreliable information.

I’d like to go over a couple more examples of bluffing and the variety of ways they can express themselves and be implemented that I’ve experienced personally, and perhaps you have as well.

In a recent SCG Regionals I had an Affinity opponent that had a pretty intimidating board to include a Ravager, an Inkmoth Nexus, and more than enough artifacts to sacrifice for the Inkmoth combo kill. I had two lands in hand, that’s it. I was of course holding onto them so that I could try and convince my opponent that I had interaction, that I could disrupt the combo and punish him if he went for it.

He fired up the Inkmoth, attacked, and waited for me to pass priority.

I fervently studied my cards, let out a quizzical, “Hmmm…” as I pondered my options.

Put my fingers through my hair, deep in thought.

I sat up, began to tap my lands, then slouched again and untapped the lands, redacting my previous thought.

Again, I analyzed the board and then passed priority.

My opponent thought for a moment and then allowed for damage to happen; only one infect damage. On my upkeep, Dark Confidant reveals a Bolt.

I bluffed my way out of a deadly situation and lived long enough to find the interaction I desperately needed.

The most important thing about this bluff was that it didn’t break any rules. I was very clear in communicating what phase we were in, what I was doing, and in the end my opponent chose to use that information to make an educated guess about what I was capable of.


Bluffing is usually more subtle than the theatrics I pulled against my Affinity opponent but the cues are still there for you to notice. I once had a Scapeshift player play the namesake card and waited patiently for me to scoop, but I had already Fulminator‘d two mountains and there were many on board so I said, “Okay, show me the mountains.” He searched through his deck, and conceded.

The “Are you really going to make me go through the motions of my combo?” bluff is nothing new. Players have been doing this one since combos have existed. Usually this means they don’t have access to their win condition and are looking to shortcut, a common courtesy we give combo players sometimes, to convince the concession. In Competitive REL (Rules Enforcement Level) , always make opponents show you the combo before you scoop. You never know when it’s all just a bluff. The exception to this is if they have demonstrated a loop.

“The Pen Trick” is another common bluff. This is when your opponent is looking to declare attackers and you go to pick up your pen to record the impending damage as if you are accepting whatever comes your way. Your opponent may attack incorrectly or poorly based on this only to have you put down the pen and interact with their board.

Now, let’s imagine a scenario where a player names Krark-Clan Ironworks with Pithing Needle.

Does it accomplish anything? No.

Pithing Needle doesn’t stop mana abilities, but maybe the opponent doesn’t know that. KCI is still a legal card you can name with Pithing Needle even though it won’t stop the ability. This bluff is testing the opponent’s knowledge of how Pithing Needle works in the hopes to trick the opponent into not using the KCI. Bluffing is defined as misleading by a display of strength and confidence, and this certainly fits the bill. Cheating on the other hand is an act of dishonesty as a means to gain an advantage. This becomes cheating only when the KCI player goes to use the KCI and is stopped by the Pithing Needle player. In that situation the Needle player is trying to break the rules by claiming that Pithing Needle achieves something it cannot.

Pithing Needle

Rystic Studies has a great video showcasing a scenario with Pithing Needle. In the video, the opponent has tons of countermagic in hand, with a Dark Confidant, and three uncracked Polluted Deltas on the battlefield. The Pithing Needle player calls over a judge and asks, in front of his opponent, if Dark Confidant is a card they can name with Pithing Needle. The judge says yes, and the player casts the Pithing Needle. The opponent lets it resolve assuming they’ll name Dark Confidant and the player names Polluted Delta instead. This bluff reverses the role of the last example, playing as if they didn’t understand how the Needle worked to trick the opponent into letting it resolve. The Pithing Needle player mislead with a display of apparent ignorance rather than strength.

Mulligan body language can be another excellent opportunity to bluff. You can snap keep when the cards are horrible or you can ponder the hand meticulously when if fact the hand is easily keep-able. If you’re on the play and get to resolve your mulligan decision first, you can sometimes affect your opponent’s decisions. If you act as though it’s very strong, they may reevaluate the strength of their own hand. If you act as though the hand is close or not very good, they may keep a mediocre hand for the sake of keeping seven.

There are many more examples that I could list, but I think you get the point of what a good bluff can look like and the many different forms it can present itself in. The common theme among all of these examples of bluffing is that despite the intention to deceive or mislead the opponents, no rules were broken and the integrity of the game was upheld.

In Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, Luis Scott Vargas made one of the most amazing bluffs we’ve seen on camera at the top level of competitive play. Jeremy Dezani is trying to figure out how he wants to attack and is obviously struggling to find the best line. LSV motions for a lifelink token which goes hand in hand with the bluff he’s already set up with his mana. By separating three of his lands from the Andanto, the First Fort, he’s already communicating the possibility of activating to gain an additional blocker. Dezani ignores it at first but then reaches for the token himself to aid in his combat math. After Dezani makes his attacks, LSV throws the token aside, knowing full well he never intended on activating the Fort, and plays Settle the Wreckage to wipe Dezani’s board.


The interaction was widely controversial, and LSV was criticized by some for fooling Dezani with false intentions, but it was really Dezani’s decision to allow the bluff to affect his actions that lost him the game. This is an honest bluff, and a card like Settle the Wreckage requires a certain amount of bluffing to play to its full potential. How does this example compare to a scenario where the equity of the game is actually being degraded?

Let’s say Dezani turns all of his creatures sideways, doesn’t say anything, and rests his hands under his chin. Then, LSV plays a Settle the Wreckage. Dezani could then say, “Woah, woah, wait. I’m still thinking about my attacks and I haven’t passed priority.”

In this example, Dezani has purposefully created an ambiguous situation where we are unsure what phase we’re in and who has priority as a means to gain an advantage. Now he knows LSV has a Settle and can play around it for the rest of the game. In this instance, Dezani has demonstrated what we know as angle shooting. Through underhanded methods, angle shooters can take advantage of unclear situations in order to deceive the opponent into breaking the rules or revealing information they normally wouldn’t.

“Phenax, God of Deception” by Ryan Barger

In poker, rules have been put in place to punish certain ways of angle shooting. In Magic, we have no such rules, so opportunities for angle shooting can often be taken advantage of without punishment. Good angle shooting will often be so ambiguous that it can be impossible for a judge to prove malicious intent, especially if the angle shooter is a good actor.

Another perfect example of this can be seen in plays involving Vendilion Clique.

A Vendilion Clique player cast their Clique and waits patiently remaining silent. The popular Clique target is of course the opponent, to get information and trade out their best card. While targeting yourself may be the less popular play, the Clique player is still a legal target. The opponent may assume that, as in most Clique scenarios, the target is them and the Clique player is simply waiting for them to reveal their hand.

Vendilion Clique

The opponent reveals their hand and then the Clique player explains that the Clique hasn’t resolved yet and is just waiting for the opponent to respond to it if necessary. Unfortunately, the opponent has already revealed their hand and given away important information, something that cannot be undone. Now the Clique player can decide to either target themselves or the opponent with perfect information. The Clique player wanted their opponent to be confused about whether the Clique had resolved and/or targeted them so they could take advantage of their opponent’s assumptions.

We can also see angle shooting in action when people try to go for the “Fake Scoop.” This is when an opponent, who is dead on board, scoops up their lands as if they are conceding the match without verbally communicating it. You assume that your opponent is throwing in the towel since they are dead on board and you begin to scoop up your permanents as well. Your opponent then claims that they are just rearranging their lands and try to make it appear as though you are in fact the one scooping to them. Again, the person faking the scoop is creating a confusing situation that takes advantage of the opponent’s assumption that by picking up their lands they are conceding when in fact they’re not.

I do my best to uphold the equity of the game, but even I’ve angle shot someone before. It was an accident, but that doesn’t mean the integrity of the game wasn’t damaged.

I had cast a Bloodbraid Elf and cascaded into a Thoughtseize. My opponent only had one card in hand and I knew it either had to be a Collected Company, a Path to Exile, or a land. Nothing else made sense as they would have simply played it on their turn otherwise. As I’m putting these pieces together in my head and coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t cast it, my opponent waves a Path to Exile over the board. I quickly looked away and held out my hands trying to keep my opponent from saying or doing anything more. I explained that I was still considering whether or not I would cast the Thoughtseize and hadn’t put it on the stack yet. The damage was done though, I knew what they had in hand, and put the Thoughtseize on the bottom.

I had accidentally created an ambiguous situation where my opponent was unsure if the Thoughtseize had been cast or not and whether they had priority or not. We had an incredible game up to that point and I felt terrible that I had not communicated better with my opponent. He was thankfully very understanding as we talked about it more afterward.

Malicious Intent

I don’t think I can touch on every aspect of angle shooting without mentioning rules lawyering. Rules lawyering can be another ethical grey area and depending on your moral compass, some rules lawyering is fair game while others are frowned upon.

Did you know that Rest in Peace has a triggered ability when it enters the battlefield? Most of us associate the card with its static ability but the initial exiling of cards currently in the graveyard only happens when the ETB resolves. If you don’t announce it, you may run into a situation where the cards currently in graveyards aren’t removed from play on a technicality. This is a trigger that can be missed, and simply moving your graveyard to exile assuming the trigger has resolved is not the same as announcing the trigger when it happens.

“Chalice Checking” – referring of course to Chalice of the Void – involves the opponent of the Chalice player casting a spell into it to see if the Chalice player will remember the trigger that counters it. We all know how Chalice should work, but it’s still the controller’s responsibility to remember and announce the triggers. This is one of those plays that people proclaim to be straight up cheating, especially since on MtGO it does it automatically as a trigger that cannot be missed. There are a lot of triggers that do not say ‘may’ that can still be missed in paper, to include Noble Hierarch’s Exalted trigger and Dark Confidant’s reveal trigger. Just because it happens automatically online doesn’t mean it can’t be missed in paper. I’d be surprised if the same people saying Chalice checking is cheating would remind their Dredge opponent of their Prized Amalgam triggers. Chalice checking is not cheating, it’s rules lawyering. The only time this becomes cheating is when the Chalice owner tries to cast into their own Chalice. In that scenario, the owner of the Chalice is purposely ignoring their own trigger to make way for a play that would otherwise be countered.

Coming back to Pithing Needle (isn’t it such a fun card?), most will remember when Brad Carpenter named Borborygmos to turn off Bob Huangs Grishoalbrand combo. The problem was that even though we all know that Carpenter meant Borborygmos Enraged, the integral piece of Bob’s combo, a judge ruled that since an actual Magic the Gathering card was named in Borborygmos, that Borborygmos Enraged could still activate its abilities.

The difference between rules lawyering and angle shooting is that the intent is very clear when you are trying to win through technicalities. The motive in trying to gain these kinds of advantages cannot be misinterpreted and are very deliberate. The crossover comes simply by trying to manipulate the rules to your advantage, whether that’s based on ambiguity or on technicalities.

Rules Lawyer

Both bluffing and angle shooting are achieved through deception, so why is one frowned upon and the other okay? The answer is simply ethics; the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity. Gaining advantages at the cost of our opponents misunderstanding of board states is pretty unsporting. Trying to corral opponents into a situation where they are breaking the rules by playing cards when they don’t have priority or skipping phases is pretty unethical.

But, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to win?

Of course, but only up to a certain point. After that, upholding the integrity of the game becomes more important than winning. Obviously, this is a point that is lost on people who cheat, but it’s up to the rest of us to defend the game’s honor. Without it, you’re tipping the scales to a disadvantage for those who play fairly and pushing them out of the game. That will eventually foster a hostile environment that will end with Magic’s decline in popularity and ultimately its demise.

When both players sit down to face each other at a tournament, it’s with a mutual understanding of what the rules are and what’s considered acceptable behavior. Deviating from that will earn you a less than an ideal reputation in the community with little to show for it.

“Marked by Honor” by David Palumbo

The best way to keep yourself from accidentally angle shooting, being the victim of angle shooting, or even some rules lawyering, is to have impeccable communication. These confusing situations can only be misinterpreted if you allow them to be. Make sure you announce everything you’re doing as you’re doing it so that both players are on the same page. Just as you are communicating your own actions, be sure to reiterate what your opponent is doing if it’s unclear.

I still announce my discard targets and Liliana of the Veil edict targets even though it’s obvious what my intentions are when I play them. I don’t want there to be any possible way my opponent can misinterpret what I’m saying, doing, or take advantage of a situation. Don’t assume anything but instead be sure you know exactly what is happening.

I always offer my deck after shuffling and never proceed until they say they are good with the deck otherwise. I once had an opponent abstain from cutting after an end step shuffle when I motioned the deck towards the end of the playmat in his direction and then call a judge when I slammed a Siege Rhino off the top for the win. The judge ruled that because I didn’t explicitly present my deck and verbally ask him to cut, that I had shortcut past his opportunity to do so. I had to shuffle the Siege Rhino in and take a fresh draw step. I doubt he would have fussed if I had drawn a land.

The same goes for effects like Bloodbraid’s Cascade that puts cards on the bottom of the library randomly. Even if it’s two cards, I randomize the best I can and then ask my opponent if they are content with my shuffling. I usually get some scoffs and laughs at that, but I take this kind of player to player communication very seriously as to not taint the honesty of the game.

It’s worth analyzing how you’re playing the game and becoming more self aware. Think about how you are appearing to your opponent and the signals you may be sending, because every little thing you’re doing or not doing is being digested by your opponent and being used against you.

Of course all of this information requires a little bit of context as well. At FNM, I think it’s extremely important to allow for learning opportunities. This means talking through lines of play while we’re playing, allowing take-backs within reason, and having constructive conversations afterward. Bluffing is still a part of the game that you can practice and talk about at FNM but people should really avoid rules lawyering and under no circumstances should you ever angle shoot.


Magic is a fantastic game with deep and complex strategies paired with immersive fantasy components. The human element allows us to bluff and bend the variance of the game in our favor when we draw the short straw. It allows us to get inside our opponent’s mind and play this secondary game beyond what’s happening on the table. If you’re not using it, you’re missing out on the opportunity to gain small advantages throughout your matches.

Bluffing is as much a part of Magic as it is of poker, a tool for us to use and importantly doesn’t hurt the integrity of the game. You can’t always have the best opening hands or run hot every draw. Sometimes, you gotta take something mediocre, or even slightly bad, and turn it into a win.

“[It’s] not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” ― Jack London