How Not To Lose – Playing To Your Outs

Welcome back, brewers. Today we are going to take a look at a fundamental of Magic that many new players overlook: it’s called playing to your outs. Playing to your outs involves understanding game state and figuring out what you need to do to win the game. Sometimes it’s easy to know what you need to do to win. Let’s say you have a bunch of dudes out and you need your opponent to not draw a removal spell in order to just attack and win. Often, it is much harder and requires you to make plays that may seem counter intuitive. Later in the article we will take a look at some examples of some situations where the outlook is starting to look dire, and what we need to do in order to win. But first, let’s take a look at some different levels of players. After all, we all started somewhere.

The New Player

The new player, as the name suggests, is new to the game. He understands that he needs to use mana to cast his spells. He can do math but doesn’t really understand the deep mechanics of the game and the subtle nuances that graduates one to the next level of play.

The Experienced Player

The experienced player has been playing for a while. He understands the concepts of card advantage and maximizing his mana every turn. The problem is that he often fails to realize that these concepts are guidelines and not rules.

The Plays-to-His-Outs Player

This player has also been playing for a while, but his understanding is different. He can decide in the context of the game what the best plan of attack is depending on the situation. He knows that even when he is losing, he needs to make certain plays in order to maximize his chances of winning. Often this comes from making plays that others would not make, if those plays give him a chance to draw that one card of the top that will save him.

That’s what it is all about. Making plays that put you in a position to win the game, even when there is still only a small chance to win. You need to recognize that someday you will be put into a losing situation. Instead of rolling over and dying, you need to sit up straight (optional) and figure out what you need to do to win. Maybe it’s a card you need to draw. Maybe it’s a card you hope your opponent doesn’t have. Figure out the path to victory and figure out what you need to do in the game to put you in a position to win. Don’t be a mindless drone preaching about card advantage or any Magic concept. You may need to make plays that are card disadvantage in order to win.


For each example, I will explain what the situation is and explain how each person reacts. I will exaggerate for the purpose of teaching you. I will also try to make these examples as simple as possible to prove the point. Let’s go.


The opponent’s board has three 4/4 creatures, one of them has flying and is tapped, and he has five cards. He’s playing green-black. He has no untapped mana. He is at six life.

Our board has three 3/3 creatures, we have no cards in hand, and have five untapped mountains. We are at 16 life.

Things don’t look good for us. With a hand full of cards, it’s likely he will keep playing creatures and beat us even if we are able to kill his current creatures. He probably also has a removal spell. Let’s take a look at what each of the different players will do.

Tyler – The New Player

“I don’t want to lose any of my awesome creatures so I better not attack. “ Tyler loses.

Steven – The Experienced Player

“Well… I could sit here and double block his guy and try to draw something better than all the cards in his hand.” Steven loses to his opponent playing lots of spells.

Billy – The Plays-to-His-Outs Player

“I’m probably not going to win this if I wait too long. I’ll attack with everything, knock my opponent down to three life, and hope to draw one of my burn spells. “ You know what happens? Billy attacks with everything and knocks his opponent down to three, his opponent attacks Billy to eight, then plays two more creatures. Billy draws [card]Lightning Strike[/card] and domes his opponent for the win. Way to go Billy! You the man!

deal with it

In this match, it is clear that we are going to lose based on card advantage alone, plus he has a flier to eat away at our life. He can also probably play more creatures. By attacking all out and losing some of our guys, we were able to have a turn to be able to draw the ability to win in an otherwise unwinnable position. You have to understand that even though we traded our board position for three damage, being able to ever attack was looking less and less likely. Figuring out what you can draw to win is key.


Our opponent is playing Esper Control. We are GW Aggro. He has one [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] in hand. We also have one card in hand, a creature. We both have lots of mana, and our opponent is at a low life total. You already have three creatures in play tapped after attacking. Should you play the last creature in hand?


Tyler – The New Player

“Of course I’m casting my creatures. I love creatures. [card]Craw Wurm[/card]. Go. “

Steven – The Experienced Player

“I don’t want to lose all my creatures if he has a [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. I better wait.”

Billy – The Plays-to-His-Outs Player

“If he draws the Verdict, I’m basically dead either way, so I’m just going to play this guy to try to maximize my outs. If he has a sweeper, I’m not in a good spot, but I wasn’t winning that game anyway. If he only draws a removal spell, I’ll be in much better shape.”

Your opponent draws six cards off the Revelation. He doesn’t hit a Verdict and dies shortly afterward, not drawing an answer to all four of your guys. Billy’s going to win a PTQ.


You and your opponent each have one card. Yours is a land. You’re pretty sure his is a combat trick. You know his next card is a removal spell (because you’re awesome). You have two 2/2 fliers and he has a 4/4 flier. If you can’t kill the flier you’re probably going to lose. He has more life so racing is not an option. He attacks with the flier. What do we do?

Tyler – The New Player

“I’m going to block with one of my fliers so that I don’t take damage. Plus I love mister birdsy (the other flier) and I don’t want him to die.”

Steven – The Experienced Player

“I’m not going to double block because I’m pretty sure he has a pump spell. I’ll take it.”

Billy – The Plays to His Outs Player

“I’m going to double block. If he has the pump spell, I’m not going to win anyway. I’m just going to have to hope he doesn’t have it.”(I don’t know why Billy is explaining his play when his opponent is right there.) You know what happens? His opponent had the combat trick and Billy lost. You know why? Because sometimes they are going to have it. Sorry, Billy. The point of playing to your outs is to give you the best chance of winning. Sometimes they are going to have the removal spell or the Verdict or the pump spell. Understanding what you need to do in each situation in order to win is key, especially when things are looking bad.

i Knew it

Have an example of a time you played to your outs and got there? Sound off in the comments. Thanks for reading.

About the Author
@RyanArcherMTG     -     Email     -     Articles Ryan Archer is a PTQ grinder and a Magic financier. When he's not making top eight in a tournament or looking for the next card to spike, he's playtesting as a member of Team RIW or writing articles for or

4 comments on How Not To Lose – Playing To Your Outs

  1. This situation came. Up twice, last week in the top 4 of my modern FNM. Game 1 & 2. I did win the match though, so that was cool, but anyway to the story. Both games my opponent has a shackels, has taken one of my creatures and has some blockers. Both games 1 & 2 my only out is to attack with everything, lose almost all of my guys, then he gets to take what few I have left with shackles and stop me from attacking, so my outs are drawing one or two burn spells. Game one this worked as I top decked electrolyze into lightning bolt, game 2 I drew steam vents into steam vents and lost. Guess this is an example of both winning and losing, I’m proud I’m at this level though. It’s taken me quite some time to get to this point of making these plays.

  2. Chris says:

    Nothing specific, but playing to your outs becomes incredibly important when playing aggro-control variant decks like Delver in various formats. Taking this one step further, if you can plan several turns in advance to how your deck might treat you, especially with deck manipulation spells like Brainstorm or Magma Jet, you really level up as a player and win many games you have no business winning otherwise.

  3. aaa says:

    Or ‘she’ or ‘they’ even. Fuck you.

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