Here I will examine some of the more glaring criticisms of the idea of tempo in my last article. I’m not going to defend myself in this one, hopefully by the end of this article you’ll be convinced that what I said before was entirely wrong.

True Tempo

In the previous article, I set forward, rather casually, a definition of tempo that can be further divided into two positive statements about what tempo is.

1. A Vague Mixture

I say, firstly, that tempo is a synthesis of card advantage, mana advantage, and mana efficiency.

Let’s unpack these terms a bit.

Card Advantage is when you generate more cards out of a single card. So what we call 2-for-1’s, removing two threats with one answer.

It can come in other more direct forms

or more subtle forms

The idea here is that you can generate massive tempo swings with two for one removal. This concept really falls apart when you consider a card like Divination, which really isn’t going a very effective card in the sense of timing. My definition would want to claim that Divination could gain you tempo in that a deck playing it can suddenly be “behind the driver’s seat” of the game via the card advantage Divination provides.

Mana Advantage is best explained by the concept of “whoever spends the most mana wins the game.” This is why most players look to curve out in nearly any situation. Very often you will see experienced players avoid playing what may seem like a better, cheaper card for the situation in favor of one that “maximizes their mana.” Likely, they’re freeing themselves up to cast that cheaper card on a turn when they can cast that card and another.

Mana efficiency is the about the quality of effect you’re getting for the mana you spend. We can both curve out but if I have a

for every one of your

I’m going to win.

This is the form of tempo that attempts to explain why Disdainful Stroking an Ugin, The Spirit Dragon feels like such a massive tempo shift.

2.”I’ll Know It When I See It”

Seeing as the vague mixture about just didn’t really have much you could sink your teeth into, I offered an alternative, an understanding that’s a bit more interpretive.

This was the idea that tempo was really a kind of feeling, that of “being in the driver’s seat of the game.” Contrariwise, when you lost tempo, you felt “on the back foot.”

I can’t really explain this much further to you due to the interpretive nature of the definition…

What a mess!


Let’s go through some of the big weak points of the theory.

Where’s the Timing in Your Tempo?

Plain and simple, this criticism states, tempo should be about timing. The ambiguity that I seem to find necessary in my definition is simply there because I have extended the term beyond it’s bounds.

I believe that this criticism would likely assert that if you had to try to define tempo via the terms I gave above, that mana efficiency would be the closes to true tempo.

However, they would argue, this is not really necessary as tempo as a Magic term already has a pre-established definition.

“Tempo is a term used to indicate the advantage gained when a players able to play more or stronger cards in a shorter period of time due to efficient resource allocation.” Straight from the Magic the Gathering wikipedia.

This is less of a distinct criticism and more of an overarching one, and you will see threads of it throughout the other criticisms.

The Divination Problem

Why does my definition want to say that in certain situations Divination is a tempo gain, while common knowledge says otherwise? Because it’s wrong!

This criticism wants to say that Divination is emphatically not a tempo play, it is the opposite of tempo, they would say.

By casting Divination you give up time, you are wasting that three mana on something that will not directly effect the board. You are giving this time up in exchange for card advantage, but that does not excuse the time advantage that you are giving away.

Further, this criticism would point to the fact that decks that care about tempo would never run Divination due to the time they give up, when they’d rather be applying pressure to their opponents and using their resources as efficiently as possible.

Card Advantage Does Not Equal Tempo

This is really an extension of the Divination problem, but this criticism would seek to point out that the whole reason my original definition probably went astray was due to conflating card advantage with tempo. Once I got hooked onto that notion, that opened the door for the Divination problem.

They might point to a card like Vapor Snag in order to demonstrate their point. It is inherently card disadvantage since you’re using a card that doesn’t actually answer a threat. But it is considered a paradigmatic tempo card since it leverages timing.

Vague, Too Vague

Lastly, they might point out that even if they we’re to grant some of the other concepts my theory of tempo puts forward, there is simply no room for interpretation.

Tempo, they’d argue, should be something quantifiable, something that we can really explain. The tempo you describe requires that you know everyone’s hand.

Or, for example, you could feel in the driver’s seat of the game, and then get blown out by a card you didn’t expect.

“Perhaps,” they’d offer, “you are confusing your idea of tempo with ‘who’s the beatdown.'”

Perhaps, I am.

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