You have probably been hearing this question from the most versed competitive players to the inexperienced players; even you yourself might have asked it while playing Runeterra or any other game that involves some risk-taking. And I am here today to help you find the best answer to it, according to your situation, through a few tools.
As you already know, my name is Constantin “CastMin” Dumitru, caster for many community tournaments and peak Top 20 player on the EMEA server, known for popularizing Burn lists like Pirate Aggro utilizing Double Up in the Rising Tides season and Funsmith Burn.
My small presentation and my reputation for playing aggressive decks alone should tell you that I am constantly being pushed into situations where the decisions I have to take are not the most comfortable. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I am learning a lesson. Both are valuable experiences for both you and me.
Before we dive in let’s start as usual by defining a few terms we will be employing in this article:
Punish – to cause people who have done something wrong or committed a crime to suffer by making them do something they don’t want to do or sending them to prison (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021);
Of course, you will not be sent to prison for not queuing an Atrocity and kill your opponent, but pay very close attention to the words I have highlighted. “Doing something wrong” in our case refers to playing suboptimally and essentially leaving openings in your course of action. “Suffering” means losing the game because of this wrong decision.
Let’s take our Atrocity play as an example: you are down to a top deck war, 1 HP each, you both have one last card in hand and you decide to wait longer because you are evenly matched in terms of blockers. They topdeck Pokey Stick, which they use to respond to your Atrocity.
Risk – to do something or to enter a situation where there is a possibility of being hurt or of a loss or defeat (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021);
Now, why did I decide to highlight “possibility” here instead of “hurt” or “loss” or maybe “defeat”? The answer is very simple: all these results may happen – they are not a given. You already know you are in danger, but this danger is hypothetical until your opponent is revealing their last cards. If you are a Mathematics student you might contradict me on this one, but even if your chances of winning are let’s say 1% I would still rule it as fifty-fifty: they either have it or not.
Reward – something is given in exchange for good behavior or good work, etc. (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021);
Variable – a number, amount, or situation that can change (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021);
With those in mind, let’s answer the question.
“Already? But you said there’s going to be examples and tools and fairies granting wishes?”
In fact, yes. I can already tell you what the punishment is: LOSING THE GAME! Every situation when your risk assessment is wrong can award you with a loss. Now, you do not have to live in constant fear that this can happen at any moment, but rather be prepared for it.
Tools and Examples
Keep Track of Cards Played
One of the best tools you can employ to your advantage is keeping track of the cards being played – both yours and your opponent’s. You can have a great memory and do it that way, you can jump in a call with someone that can do it for you or you can simply use a deck tracker like the one Storm and FlyingFish are developing. The point is you must hold the information on this important variable: the number of certain cards your opponent has not drawn yet. This will help you make assumptions and decide if a play is riskier or safer. You can go even further and input that into a hypergeometric calculator like Swim’s and it will bring numbers and clarity to your decisions.
Keep Track of Spells Queued
A useful habit you can develop is keeping track of the spells queued on the stack, but not played. This is what I would like to call “a habit countering a habit”: most of your opponents will be used by now to check the Oracle Eye on their important actions. While that is helpful for them to determine certain outcomes it is also helpful for you. The thought process here is:
Opponent queues a spell before combat → The pool of cards is Slow and Fast spells → What spells are they (potentially, if you are on ladder) running? → Which ones would give them an advantage? → Do I have an answer in hand? → Do I need to keep an answer if I draw one? → What is the position of the spell in my opponent’s hand?
The same process can be applied to spells queued in combat – you will only have a pool of Fast spells in this case. And the next time your opponent hovers to play the same spell, your prediction can get better. That will happen because they will have played by then other spells that will narrow the pool of options.
Keep Track of Time
Time is of the essence. How much is your opponent thinking before taking an action? This in itself is an indicator that they are up to something. Most people are smart enough to understand by now that being called out on a bluff is more devastating than just playing their cards at the appropriate time. On top of that, most people on the ladder are not able to do it because it is not a habit they developed.
If your opponent is taking their sweet time before acting you can most certainly assume they have something up their sleeve. Proceed with caution.
“Am I playing to stall?” is another great question you should ask yourself. You need to understand your position in the game and if passing, being patient is giving you a better net result than committing to actions unnecessarily. The most common example is timing your Avalanche when playing against a deck that can go wide. Let’s say you are queuing it while your opponent has two 1 HP units down and another five cards in hand. Is killing these two units more important than preserving the threat of a board wipe that can even force your opponent to pass? No. Especially when you have more survivability tools in your deck and using an Avalanche can be postponed.
“Am I playing to win right now?” is the sister question of the previous one. If I would have to rephrase it a bit, I would choose this variant: “Can my situation get any better if I pass?”, because that is what you truly need to answer. Classic example: opponent on 4 HP playing SI Control, one card left in their hand that can be healing, Decimate in yours. Do you play Decimate or are you waiting? It might surprise you that this decision is a no-brainer: just fire that damned Decimate. If they have healing in hand they will survive the next turn as well as this one. If you pass next turn is their action and you are increasing their chance to draw another healing spell if they didn’t have one in the first place.
Last but not least, playing optimally will not always reward you with a win. At the end of the day you are playing a card game that is subject to randomness - the randomness people are drawing their cards and generating new ones through certain effects. Your opponent can draw the perfect hand to answer yours and the same can happen to you. The important part is to drill into your habits the things you have learned in this article, so you are prepared for the games that are not just a one-sided show.
Whatever the future may hold, I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful.
Don’t forget to check out my Twitter as I will keep you up to date there about my future articles and future interviews with top competitors that will also share tips towards improving your game.