The Merits of a Discarded Theory

The Merits of a Discarded Theory

If you read Counterarguments, than you know that I may have overstepped my bounds a bit in my attempt to redefine Tempo. Let’s take a look at the good parts of my theory, you know, so I don’t feel too bad.

The Merits of a Discarded Theory on a Discard… Card

Contrary to what I may have demonstrated in the last article, I do not think my attempt at defining tempo unconventionally was all bad.

Of course, any time when you offer a fraught definition when a perfectly serviceable one is available on Wikipedia… well, let’s just say it wasn’t my proudest moment.

But I wouldn’t be revisiting it if I felt there wasn’t some insight to be gained

Insight into “Who’s the Beatdown?”

In Counterarguments I brought up how the interpretive nature of my theory of tempo brings it quite close to “who’s the beatdown?”

“Who’s the Beatdown” is a quintessential magic article by Mike Flores (if you haven’t read it yet, you probably should). It talks about how players are forced to reevaluate their role in each game contextually, and offers tools to help figure out if you should be playing as the beatdown, the player who is pressuring the opponent, or the control, the player who is attempting to disrupt or delay the beatdown.

This is quite similar to the process of deciding whether you’re gaining or losing tempo by thinking about whether you’re “in the driver’s seat of the game,” vs. “feeling on the backfoot.” Eerily similar.

And why shouldn’t it be?

In Counterarguments I postured the similar interpretive nature as an invalidating feature of my theory, but in fact, I think it sheds a little light on the nature of the beatdown.

This is because, in nearly all cases, the player with time on their side is also going to be the beatdown.

So, if the player who is in the beatdown role is the same as the player who is ahead on tempo, it would make perfect sense that the thought processes we go through in figuring out one or the other would be quite similar.

The Divination Problem

In Counterarguments we talked about how casting a card like Divination was giving away time, quite contrary to classic definitions of gaining tempo, in order to gain card advantage, and how in many ways Divination was a paradigmatic example of a non-tempo card.

However, there are cases where the card advantage that Divination offers can lead to a swing in tempo, and my theory can help make sense of this, without any sort of internal contradiction.

The classic tempo theory is fixated on time, and rightfully so, given what the word tempo actually means. However, this emphasis on time leads the classically defined tempo to become quite irrelevant once we’ve entered the late game. The fact of the matter is this: tempo as classically defined is fixated on the early game, and aggressive decks in particular, and when it comes to more non-linear (for example, control) decks, the term as classically defined isn’t really applicable.

The tempo classicist would say: “so what? Control decks just aren’t doing what I’m interested in, they don’t do tempo.”

My theory of tempo, instead, is able to say: “okay, control decks aren’t built to maximize tempo, but they still utilize tempo in their games.”

A turn three Divination, for example, is never going to be a tempo play. I can’t justify that.

But control decks often maneuver to a point where they have a lot of mana, and so it’s perfectly reasonable that a situation like this pops up: Opponent has two threats on the board, were both topdecked and I’m playing control. I topdeck a divination, and cast it, using 3 of my 8 mana. I draw a

and a

and now my opponents board is clear of threats! This was a massive swing in tempo, while still not being a classic tempo play. My theory helps makes sense of such instances.

Card Advantage Does Not Equal Tempo

A lot of the commenters on my first post we’re very stuck on this exact point, and as you can see in my last article it’s not without merit.

That being said, even those that felt very staunchly against this equating card advantage and tempo had a lot of difficulty with the following example.

It’s Red Deck Wins vs. UB Control.

T1: Red player plays a one drop, UB player plays a tap land.

T2: Red player swings in, plays a two drop, UB player plays a tap land.

T3: Red player swings in, plays a three drop. UB player plays

killing all of the red player’s creatures.

The card advantage generated simultaneously generates an undeniably huge tempo swing.

“But wait,” the tempo classicist chimes in, “it’s not the card advantage but the timing! The card advantage is irrelevant, what’s really important is that the RDW player’s time was invalidated.”

To which I respond, isn’t that a little bit of a “chicken or the egg” kind of thing? I agree that the RDW player’s time was invalidated, but wasn’t it the card advantage that did that? Can we not accept that tempo swings often happen as a direct result of card advantage?

Does it matter how the tempo swing is accomplished in whether or not we can call it tempo?

Tempo Deck Does Not Equal Tempo

Let’s get this out of the way, Tempo decks are called just that because they seek to maximize tempo. They are the tempo-iest of all the decks.

But that doesn’t mean they are the alpha and omega of the bounds of what can be considered tempo. Too often when I’ve engaged people in conversation about this topic, have people pointed towards tempo decks and said, “tempo is what this deck does.”

Tempo is what tempo decks do, and tempo decks are the perfect example of tempo… its all a bit recursive.

The fact is tempo decks are far from the only decks that generate tempo, and if we become too fixated on how

is the way that decks like UR Delver or Merfolk maximize tempo, than we can easily lose sight of how cards like

can also generate tempo!

This is the big point for my theory, I think. It takes the focus away from tempo being strictly what tempo decks do, and instead guides our focus to complex game states and how tempo can be generated by a lot of different decks with different game plans.

The tempo classicist might want to emphasize here, “but dude, you’re driving my crazy, I thought you we’re on our side! The thing is it’s all about the timing, and if you’re not trying to kill your opponent fast than how can you say you’re generating tempo?” The classicist is really frustrated with me.

But for my theory, different tempo advantages are more relevant to some decks than others. For example, a mono black aggro list really isn’t interested in the tempo offered by Drown in Sorrow, or in an empty board, where the control deck (since it’s got greater inevitability) is very interested in an empty board.

In this way, my theory helps the concept tempo stretch beyond itself, and apply itself to non-tempo decks, and I think that makes it very useful.


So what do you think?

Are you into the utility of the theory I put forward?

Or shaking your head at my attempt to redefine a term that works just fine as it is?

Myself, I think I’m more of a tempo classicist these days, and mainly use the term as I conveyed it in Counterarguments, but I do think there’s a lot to be gained from my earlier interpretive definition, and use a synthesis when applicable.

May time be on your side!

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