Time is finite. You only have so much of it, and how you spend the amount you have is one of the things that defines you as a person. Managing your time in all aspects of life is key, and watching the clock in Magic is no exception. In a competitive paper tournament, it might mean the difference between a win and a draw. On Magic Online, it might even be the difference between a win and a match loss. Running out of your clock with lethal on the stack is a special kind of torture, but it’s one that you should never have to face if you can manage your time correctly.
Keeping an Eye on the Round in Paper
Since the clock depends on both players in paper, pinpointing whose fault it is that the match is going long is difficult. Notably, it may not be either player’s fault; sometimes, games go long—that’s just part of the way Magic works. Other times, though, it is clear that one player is eating up the majority of the time. A good rule of thumb is if someone takes twenty or thirty seconds without any game action. This starts to bleed into the region of “slow play,” and the Tournament Rules don’t care how complicated the board state is:
If you believe your opponent is slow-playing, you are entitled to call a judge and have him or her watch your match. Repeated slow playing can land you game—and eventually match—losses. It is important to note that slow-playing is unintentional. Intentional time-wasting is known as stalling, and it is a more serious violation. Unfortunately, aside from asking your opponent to politely move on, there is not a whole lot else you can do to keep things moving smoothly in paper Magic. In terms of managing time on your end, just try to be conscious of how long you’re thinking and be sure to speed up if you receive a warning for slow play. The more you play Magic, the more your brain will let you shortcut simpler decisions and save time, but this is something you just have to get used to over time.
For the vast majority of players, the fifty-minute standard round time is sufficient to complete a match, and instances of slow play are rare enough that it’s not worth dwelling on for too long, but keeping a brisk pace of play is something that you should keep an eye on when playing in larger events.
Watching the Clock on Magic Online
The vast majority of time on Magic Online is spent telling the client that you don’t want to do anything. For those of you who don’t know, whenever anything that uses the stack happens in the game, each player is given “priority,” in which he or she can respond. Players also receive priority as the turn progresses through its various phases, except the “cleanup” and “untap” steps. The “active player” (whosever turn it is) is given priority first. If he or she chooses to do nothing, priority is passed to the “non-active player.” The game can only advance once the non-active player has said he or she doesn’t want to do anything. In paper, this is short-cutted ninety-nine percent of the time, but Magic Online is a serious rules lawyer and goes through the motions each time. If you’re going to be clicking “OK” every time you have to respond to anything, you’re going to eat up your clock in no time.
Fortunately, Magic Online gives us the glorious hotkeys. These are every Magic grinder’s best friend, and they’re listed and discussed below by their default bindings.
F3 — This is “remove auto-yields,” and it erases any conditions you have set up that tell the client you don’t want it to give you priority, This is useful if the situation changes and you suddenly want to revert back to being given priority every time.
F4 — This is “pass until you can respond,” and it lets Magic Online know that you are done but still want the opportunity to respond should something you can respond to arise.
F5 — Holding this lets you see all face-down cards that you are allowed to look at, and while this is useful in Khans of Tarkir block for morphs, manifests, and megamorphs, it’s pretty rarely used.
F6 — This is a big one. This says, “I am completely done until the end of the turn; don’t even bother asking me.” It’s a huge time-saver and a hotkey that I use a lot, but it comes with dangers. You have to be really sure you want to pass until the end of the turn—or have your finger hovering on that F3 key. It’s worth noting that even if you have pressed F6, you will still be asked to declare attackers and blockers during combat.
F7 — Abilities that you control go onto the stack in an order that you choose and can be very time-consuming. Pressing F7 will let the client put triggers that don’t target onto the stack itself until the end of the game, which is usually fine. There are times where you’ll want to change the order that things go in, and F3 is your best friend again.
F8 — This is the button that says, “I ain’t bluffing; go ahead,” and it passes priority whenever you’re unable to do anything until the end of the game. A lot of people press this at the start of every game, but I prefer to just F6 through turns as they come.
Steam Vents taps for ), and it can be useful if you have a lot of nonbasic lands and don’t care what color you’re tapping for. Finally, though not a time-saver, Magic Online automatically passes priority when you cast a spell, as it assumes you don’t want to respond to your own spell, and holding Control disables this. This doesn’t save time, but it can be a crucial game mistake in some situations. Alt + Y and Alt + N can also be used to say “Yes” and “No” respectively, but people rarely use these. You can bind any of these shortcuts, except the one for holding priority, to whatever keys you wish. I have F6 bound to Q, F2 bound to W, and F3 bound to E so that I can hold my fingers over those keys while I play.
I know this stuff is all boring, but trust me in that it is vital knowledge if you’re going to be playing Magic Online often. Initially, it seems like piloting the world’s least intuitive spacecraft, but you become used to the controls pretty quickly, and soon, you’ll be piloting only the world’s second least intuitive spacecraft (I can’t fix MTGO; I’m sorry). I’ve won countless matches that I would’ve lost as a result of playing faster than my opponent, so I really can’t overstate how important it is to pilot Magic Online efficiently. Sure, it only comes up maybe one in every fifty games, but when it does come up, you’ll be glad you were prepared for it.