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What We Mean When We Say . . .


I write a lot of words about Magic. Like, a lot. Especially during Grand Prix coverage, where we churn out articles at a pace that could make Buzzfeed envious. Just this past weekend, I wrote around two dozen articles ranging from around six hundred words to one mammoth piece of about four thousand words.

And that doesn’t even count the work done by coverage partner and this site’s esteemed editor Adam Styborski, who, while far less verbose than I (because no one likes the sound of his or her own written word more than I do), has a knack for knocking out pieces as well.

The point is that, over the course of a Grand Prix, Pro Tour, or normal weekly writing, Magic writers churn out a lot of words, and as a result, they take some shortcuts in phrasing. We can’t, for example, stop and explain what we mean by “exiled” every time, and we often find ourselves slipping into generally-accepted nomenclature (mise, Forced, Bob) without even realizing it.

Even worse, we sometimes say something that means something in normal English or even normal Magic English that means something different in high-level-tournament-Magic English or yet something else in Zac-Hill-high-level-tournament-Magic English.

For example, while writing deck techs this past weekend, I used the following:

Bad matchup


e.g. MUD is a bad matchup for Elves

Except I did so in a context where Elves actually beat MUD. Newer players would certainly see that and think, “Well, it can’t be bad; Elves won!” Mid-level players would see that and think Andrew Cuneo (the Elves pilot) might have been exceptionally lucky if the matchup was so bad. More experienced players might read it and think there was a skill gap or that I meant the matchup favored MUD by only a few percentage points.

Three different readers come to three different conclusions, all valid from their points of view. That’s not great.

So today, I’m going to go through a bunch of phrases, words, and lingo that are common in Magic writing and tell you what writers typically mean. Sure, some writers will use some differently, but a lot of these things are universal among coverage writers and regular contributors to major Magic websites. It’s not meant to be exhaustive because, well, because Adam won’t let me write eight-thousand-word articles. But it’s also because we’re Magic players, and Magic players are constantly making up new, idiotic terms for things. But, hey, mise.

Bad matchup


e.g. MUD is a bad matchup for Elves

In this, we just mean generally unfavorable or difficult. “Bad matchup” often means anything from something that’s slightly unfavorable (the favored deck wins fifty-five percent of the time) to something that’s very unfavorable (seventy percent versus thirty percent).

Also see Unlosable



e.g. Brad Nelson was the ultimate grinder before making the Pro Tour and winning Player of the Year.

If it sounds exhausting, that’s because it is. These are the players willing to drive six hours to a Pro Tour Qualifier every other weekend, who fly to GPs despite not being on the Pro Tour, and who just keep playing as much as humanly possible to earn prizes and, they hope, an invite to the Pro Tour. It can also refer to a Magic Online player who plays a lot (a lot a lot) of Magic Online.

We often use it to describe the phrase, “Hey, I know who that guy is, but it’s a bit disingenuous to call him a pro.”

Go off

(vaguely dirty sounding)

e.g. He didn’t even have to go off to win that game.

This usually means the same as “comboing off” or unlocking some sort of achievement. In dedicated combo decks, it’s usually the same as winning the game. In noncombo decks, it often means completing a game plan quickly and with a ton of moving parts, such as when one says, “Nykthos allowed him to go off, overloading Cyclonic Rift, casting Bident of Thassa, and animating eighteen Mutavaults.”

It has nothing to do with that guy in the Twitch chat is talking about.



e.g Aware of the hate lofted at him, he boarded in Leyline of Sanctity.

“Hate” and “hate cards” generally refer to specific cards that are aimed precisely at a deck or strategy, such as Tormod's Crypt at Dredge or Ethersworn Canonist at Storm. No one actually hates anyone—well, at least not publicly . . . unless a microphone is accidentally left on and catches a certain individual’s anti-Twitter rant in the middle of a Grand Prix.

You can also use it as a verb, as in, “Affinity was hated out by all of the Stony Silences in the room.”


(adj., adv.)

e.g. He went infinite with Staff of Domination and Metalworker.

Infinite doesn’t technically exist in Magic. Repeatable loops are required to stop somewhere, so you can’t say, “I have infinite life,” from your cool combo. You have to pick a number. However, in most situations 2,435,263,246,122 life might as well be infinite as far as gameplay is concerned. So, we sometimes still use the shortcut in much the same way we use “go off” (see Go off). You do, too, so it works out for everyone.


(highly desirable n.)

e.g. He didn’t really care what happened in the rest of the Top 8; as all he really wanted was the invite.

This is as in, “Invitation to compete on the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour.” Or you could say, “Pro Tour invite.” But I like words, so I use the longer version.

Invites to the Pro Tour are pretty big prizes and are pretty well coveted by anyone who’s not yet invited to all of them (see The Train), so they often are short-handed. But all they mean is an invite to one or more Pro Tours.



e.g. The metagame was heavily skewed toward mono-black devotion.



e.g. He metagamed heavily against fast red decks.

Metagame actually refers to “the game above or about the game” or, in reference to Magic, the game of determining what the tournament field will be playing. Someone who plays a “metagame deck” might not be playing the best deck objectively, but he or she is playing a deck he or she thinks is good against the expected field (see Woods, Conley). But we also use it interchangeably with “the tournament field,” “decks the player has faced,” and “all of the decks still playing,” which is slightly different than its original meaning. If you read the word “metagame,” it probably means one of these things, but it is always referring to deck archetypes and the interactions between those archetypes and specific decks or card choices.

Next Level

(however people feel like using it)

e.g. This article is so next level that it’s referencing itself in what is essentially a parenthetical.

Honestly, this used to actually sort of mean something thanks to Patrick Chapin. Unfortunately, it now means pretty much whatever you want it to mean, also thanks to Patrick Chapin.

Originally, “next level”’s use was popularized as a way to describe a deck that attempted to stay ahead of the metagame by going to the “next level.” It was, in essence, describing being one step ahead of the game (in this case, the metagame).

Now people kind of use it to mean any time someone did something smart or any time there’s an additional layer to the thing referenced after the phrase. So the “Next Level Credit Card Game” involves all of the same rules as the credit card game, plus one more. “Next leveling” an opponent (yes, you can verb it . . . I guess) involves thinking ahead of him or her thinking ahead. Sometimes. Other times, it just means thinking ahead.

I tend to read this like I read “very.” In other words, you can mostly ignore this phrase’s existence at this point.



e.g. That guy is a ringer from the Midwest.

“Ringer,” in traditional English, means someone with exceptional talent brought in to a lesser competition. In Magic, it actually kind of means the opposite. We typically use it to describe players who are very good or whom we recognize but who haven’t achieved something noteworthy enough to use as a descriptor in its place.

See also Grinder.



e.g. “Robots” is a bad name and will never replace "Affinity,” even if the deck no longer has any cards with actually affinity for anything.

Sometimes, we use it to generically mean “artifact creatures.” Sometimes, we mean the decks with Arcbound Ravagers. Sometimes, we’re just doing it to tick people off who care about these kinds of things.



e.g. He was playing a stock Esper list.

“Stock” just means the list is pretty close to the commonly-accepted or -played version of the deck with little tweaking and few changes. Some might sneeringly call this “net-decking,” but once they crawl out from under their stacks of Inquest and realize that the Internet is a sharing tool meant to spread communication and ideas—up to and including deck ideas for card games—they’ll realize that playing a stock list isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Train


e.g. By finishing ninth at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, he was officially on the train.

By chaining together high finishes at Pro Tours, players can earn invitations to more Pro Tours without having to earn invites (see Invite) at Pro Tour Qualifiers or a Grand Prix. Being “on the train” implies that players play in and are invited to multiple Pro Tours. This includes Gold- and Platinum-level pros or Hall of Famers, and the phrase sometimes is used to reference players who earn their invites with Top 25 finishes at the previous Pro Tour.



e.g. The mono-red matchup is unlosable for blue devotion.

No matchup is ever unlosable. A careful Esper player might have trouble losing to G/W, and a resolved Master of Waves might be very, very difficult for a mono-red deck to defeat, but there’s no such thing as a matchup that skews 100% to 0%. When we say “unlosable,” we typically mean it’s a very unfavorable or favorable matchup in one direction.



e.g. Sam Black is X–0 and looking like he’s in good shape for yet another Top 8.

Look, tournaments are long. There were several points over the course of last weekend when I forgot what round it was. I tweeted at least once that it was Round 8 when it was Round 7, and I consistently mess up rounds on Day 2, when the first round of the day is Round 10 and the third round is Round 12.

And writers aren’t the only ones. Players talk about being “X–1” or “X–3” all the time. The reason is that the number of rounds in a tournament is variable, and the measure of how well you’re doing is mostly a function of how many losses you’ve avoided, not how many wins you have, even though they sound like the same thing and I sound like a pedantic idiot when I write that.

But the point is that losses are the landmarks for tournament success—the fewer the better. In a tournament with the appropriate number of rounds, “X–1” should pretty much always make the Top 8 while “X–4” almost never should. In a four-round tournament, 3–1 is a good record. In a fifteen-round tournament, 3–12 is very bad, so speaking about your number of wins isn’t quite as good a barometer.

Basically, this is just a way of gauging how well someone is doing while still being able to forget what round it is.

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