Playing Your Cards Right: Sequencing in Modern
- Hans Davidson
Looking to take your Modern game up a notch? In this week's article, Hans tackles the topic of sequencing with the goal of helping you improve using some practical examples. Find out what it means to understand proper sequencing by taking a look inside!
A countless number of games I've lost involved me looking back and thinking to myself, "If only I had sequenced my hand properly!" The margins in games of Magic can be so razor thin that the smallest error in which cards to play lead to disastrous results – and vice versa – and I thought that it would be fitting to devote this week's article to the topic of sequencing. In it, I'll cover what sequencing is, why it's so important, and why I want to talk about it in the context of Modern.
What Is Sequencing?
In every game of Magic, we make decisions about when we want to play the cards in our hands. This covers all the decisions that we make, from the lands we want to play in the first few turns to the first pump spell we cast on our Blighted Agent to go for the infect kill. Sequencing, in short, is the order in which we play our cards, and properly sequencing cards is one of the most important skills to master if our goal is to win a game of Magic.
Why Is Sequencing Important?
Every decision we make in a game of Magic leads to more decisions down the line, but these decisions can also eliminate the possibility to make certain decisions, as well. Let's take a look at a basic example of sequencing at the very beginning of a game.
Here's an opening hand from a standard list of UW Control, an archetype that saw a great deal of success at the top of the standings in GP Barcelona this past weekend. We have the usual suspects in the form of Celestial Colonnade, Field of Ruin, Flooded Strand, Serum Visions, Mana Leak, Spell Snare, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. We're on the play against an unknown opponent, and we're immediately faced with a question of sequencing: how do we play out this hand?
On one hand, the hand seems straight-forward in the things you want to do with it. We can play out our Flooded Strand, crack it for a basic island, and then cast our Serum Visions. Doing so lets us see three cards and perhaps find that fourth land for our Jace. On the other hand, casting Serum Visions here means that we lose the ability to look at three cards down the line. We don't know what we're playing against, so digging for that fourth land isn't as impactful of a play as casting the Serum Visions later to look for a form of interaction, perhaps a board wipe. Fetching a land with our Flooded Strand also means that we are dealing with one fewer land in our deck, and while that's not necessarily a concern, we do want to ensure that we do hit that fourth land for our impactful four-drops. If we don't see anything of relevance with our Serum Visions - and because we don't know which cards are "relevant" against an unknown opponent – we're priced into playing out a tapped Celestial Colonnade on the second turn to represent Spell Snare or to play the Field of Ruin and represent both a Mana Leak and Spell Snare.
Is this the kind of situation we want to find ourselves in? That's a difficult question to answer, especially for a control deck that's playing against an unidentified deck. We can, however, imagine what our board might look if we sequenced our cards differently.
Instead of playing the Flooded Stranded on the first turn, what if we play a Celestial Colonnade tapped? We would no longer have the option of playing a Serum Visions on turn one, but we would also be able to cast it and hold up Spell Snare by playing a Flooded Strand. We would also have a better idea of what we want to be digging for with our Serum Visions based on our opponent's turn-one play. Judging by the decisions that are available to us by going with this line of sequencing, is this the better way to sequence our plays? Again, that depends – if our opponent follows up with a couple of hasty one-drops, for example, we're going to be wishing we had held up at least the Mana Leak to answer one of the opponent's creatures and use our mana effectively.
This illustrates the importance of sequencing in the opening stages of the game: the order in which you play your cards has a tremendous influence on the possible decisions you can make several turns down the road. Proper sequencing, then, means playing the cards in our hand in such a way that we find ourselves in a position to be able to make the decisions we want to make in the future.
Sequencing in Modern
If you were to point out that sequencing is important in every format, you would be correct. However, the gravity of proper sequencing is particularly noticeable in Modern, where games can be decided in the first few turns. The mistake of not having Spell Snare up on turn two against Affinity for Arcbound Ravager or Steel Overseer can lead to an insurmountable board state for the blue control deck without the help of mass removal, for example. Games of Modern are also oftentimes decided by powerful hate cards that lock players out of the game, as is the case for cards such as Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, Stony Silence, and Rest in Peace. If you're a green-white deck that casts a Natural State instead of a Path to Exile on a Steel Overseer, that decision could cost you the game when your Affinity opponent plays a Blood Moon the following turn and your non-basic lands turn into useless basic Mountains.
Because of the wide range of viable decks in Modern, players have to be cognizant about which cards their opponents can play, and which of those cards are particularly dangerous. Imagine playing Grixis Delver on the draw against your opponent, who is playing Elves. She leads off with a basic forest and an Elvish Mystic, and you have the option of playing a Spirebluff Canal on your turn and immediately bolting the elf. In many situations, "bolting the bird" – a rule of thumb that calls for killing the turn-one mana dork – is correct, but this wouldn't be one of them. The elves that are much more potent are creatures such as Ezuri, Renegade Leader and Elvish Archdruid, and playing a Delver of Secrets or casting Serum Visions instead would probably be better sequencing in this given situation.
To wrap things up, here's a scenario in which you're on the draw playing Bant Eldrazi against a Hollow One opponent in the third game of the match. You've both mulligan'd down to five-card hands, and your hand looks like this:
You've also scry'd a Drowner of Hope to the bottom of your deck. Given what you know about the cards that Hollow One plays, especially in sideboard games, how would you sequence your next turns, and most importantly, why?
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