The Toolbox (1-5)

Hello, Crixuz here with the first five skills compiled in one article.

Recognizing unusual behavior

When an opponent behaves unexpectedly, there is usually a very good reason.

A good signpost is when the opponent passes priority despite having lots of mana. A very common mistake in lower ranks is when players continue playing units despite the opponent playing Shadow Isles and having 9 mana, completely oblivious to the fact that the opponent is waiting to cast The Ruination.

In higher ranks, this play is obvious and we don’t fall for this trap so easily. But it is important to make a distinction between players who are ‘once bitten, twice shy’ and players who have actually developed the skills for detecting unusual activity from the opponent.

The former is just relying on experience - if a new context or card were to be introduced, these players would fall for the same trap again. We would say that these players have experience playing against The Ruination but we wouldn’t extend to say that these players understand the concept that their opponents are rational human beings looking to win. Therefore, any unusual behavior they perceive is likely not due to a misplay, but rather to a calculated plan. It is your job to guess what that plan is and not blindly allow it to follow through.

How to develop this skill

Instead of thinking “nice!”, “lucky!’, when your opponent suddenly stops casting things, you need to ask yourself “why are they not doing anything?” and “is there anything from this region that can completely shut down my strategy?”. Once you get out of your own head and sufficiently respect your opponent, you start to develop this skill.

Look out for signposts that this is happening, such as the opponent passing priority, or holding on to a large amount of mana. When this happens, start to play slower and think faster!

When you are ready to take it to the next level, try beginning to recognize suboptimal plays. Suboptimal plays in higher ranks usually mean that there may be a follow up to turn that suboptimal play into a devastating one for you.

Guessing your opponent’s cards

If you know what to look for, your opponent can often give you clues as to what they have in their hand.

Say you are playing against a midrange deck. What is a midrange deck designed to do? Play minions on curve of course. But what if they didn’t play any units for the first 3 turns? What are you supposed to think? That they don’t have any units to play, and they had an unlucky hand? Of course!! This one everybody knows. But let’s take it one step further. If their hand does not consist of any early turn units, then what does it consist of? Probably high-costed units, but what else?

I’ll tell you what else, Combat Tricks. Cards like Transfusion, Elixir of Iron, Single Combat.

Despite having a rough start, it is not impossible for your opponent to make a comeback, especially by connecting multiple combat tricks together. It is important for you to play in harmony with your knowledge of what cards they likely have in their hand. Also, you should always keep an eye on the remaining mana they have.

Let’s take Heimerdinger/Vi as another example. Say you are against them and on turn 3 they cast Deep Meditation. Deep Meditation is what I would call a “fishing“ card. It signals to you that they are looking for a core card, in this case probably Heimerdinger, or a way to protect Heimerdinger. Rummage is another such card, especially if used very early in the game. In these contexts, you can punish them by playing more aggressively than you otherwise would.

How to develop this skill

There are only two types of cards, units or spells. if your opponent is playing a midrange deck but plays nothing in the early game, you can be confident that they have lots of spells in their hand (or high-cost units, such as a Riptide Rex, Cithria the Bold, or Citrus Courier). Play accordingly, take advantage of the tempo - but when their board comes down, think how they can outmaneuver you.

Learn to recognize fishing cards like Deep Meditation or Rummage. Especially so for combo decks.

Playing conservatively

If in doubt, choose the less greedy play.

When I was playing Ezreal/Karma or Heimerdinger/Vi, a common decision I had to make was whether to play Ezreal or Heimerdinger early. That is, without a way to protect them. The idea is if I play Ezreal early, I can get in chip damage from his elusive ability and generate free Mystic Shots, giving me card advantage, as well as fulfilling Ezreal’s level up condition. In these decks, Ezreal and Heimerdinger are necessary core combo pieces. If I lose them, I may have lost my win condition.

In lower ranks, I find that players are much more risk-tolerant. Actually, I think it’s more correct to say that they are risk-oblivious. They are more likely to play whatever strong cards that are in their hands, regardless of the situation. “The opponent might have a Vengeance to remove my champion? I don’t care, I’m just gonna play it!”I lost a lot of games being greedy, especially playing a core card when I’m not supposed to. There is always a voice hoping for the satisfying easy/fast win. Never listen to that voice!!

How to develop this skill

An average player, say gold to platinum, will begin to become more aware of cards that can potentially cause their demise. Whenever your intuition tells you that your play may be negated by a card, it is important to listen to that voice and play more conservatively - UNLESS you are losing. Think about how you can play around that card.
Learn to be comfortable with letting a game drag. Learn to be patient - and more so than your opponent.

Minimizing “what-ifs” instead of maximizing value

This mistake I caught myself doing, pertains to Thermogenic Beam. Sejuani is prevalent on ladder right now and you often see a turn one Omen Hawk. I can decide to Thermo the Hawk, but it always feels bad for me to be using such a powerful spell on a 1/1 unit, especially given that Omen Hawk just added +1+1 to the next two units that my opponent will be dropping in the next couple of rounds.

Surely I need to save my Thermo for those buffed units, right? Well, every match that I chose not to Thermo the Hawk, I lost. I won’t go into a detailed discussion of why that is the case; rather, I want to focus more on the fact that it feels bad to use Thermo on a 1/1. I believe the reason has to do with the fact that I’m trying to maximize value.

The issue about trying to maximize the value of a card is that it relies heavily on “what-ifs”. You gain value only if certain conditions are met. In card games, you want to actively avoid situations that force you into obtaining too many conditionals because the likelihood of them happening becomes slimmer and slimmer.

How to develop this skill

Unless you have the cards in your hand to make a value play happen, it is risky to hope for some future condition to activate your play. This often results in losses. Learn to accept making slightly suboptimal plays, unless you are losing badly and thus forced to be as greedy as possible.


(a) Reactive Passes

A reactive pass is where you end a round "early" by passing after your opponent passes, often in a situation that surprises them. A reactive pass burns your enemy’s mana and can be an insane tempo "play".

It's turn 5, both players have full spell mana. You drop Vi. Your opponent passes (because they want to play Heimerdinger or some other small unit and not have Vi eat it. Instead of taking the 4-5 damage from a Vi attack into his open board, you pass too. The opponent burns 5 mana for saving 4-5 life. It may not be obvious, but the tempo loss here likely loses your opponent the game right there and then.

This happens all the time against decks that are waiting for attack declarations to use fast spells like Withering Wail. It takes some skill to know what amounts of damage are worth losing in order to burn mana, but once you know it, it will win you just as many games as playing out cards would. The key is to think "If I was playing my opponent's deck here, how bad would it be for me if the round ended right now?".Ask yourself this question and analyze it until it becomes second nature. Do this every single time your opponent passes.

(b) Proactive Passes

A proactive pass is passing first. Typically you'll take these at some point during your opponent's attack turn while you are threatening a nice open attack. The primary purpose of a proactive pass is information gathering.

You have a Swain and a Wolfrider on the board. You and your opponent have 9 mana and your opponent plays an Omen Hawk. You realize that this small play is not nearly enough of a commitment from the opponent. You threaten a 10 damage open attack of which they can only block 1 damage ! *You pass*. The opponent is forced to play another card, meaning you have both a mana and flexibility advantage for the rest of the turn, at little to no cost for yourself.

**A second example** where this comes up a lot is any time both you and your opponent have the burn to kill each other, but you have a board and they don't. You pass instead of going for lethal, open attack on the next turn and kill them after they threaten lethal on you (which they had to do because of your attack).

How to develop this skill

Be on the lookout for the words "end turn". If you see it, it means your opponent has decided to pass his priority back to you, allowing you to end your turn. Consider if it is beneficial to do so.

Skills I recommend learning first for each tier

Iron, Bronze, Silver - At this stage of the game, I think mileage is the most important factor. The more you play the game, the more knowledge you will obtain.

The second factor for success is playing an appropriate deck at your level. I would recommend Overwhelm decks (something with Lucian) and Deep decks because these decks are fairly linear. I would actively avoid aggro decks and control decks. The former requires you to create a plan on the fly while the latter requires a lot of knowledge of every deck in the meta.

Attempt the skill (5) Passing and just see where it leads you. Doing this will expose you to more different plays that you would never have encountered if you never pass to your opponent or prematurely end rounds.

Gold, Platinum - Give (1) Recognizing unusual behavior a shot. Remember it's more than just knowing how to play around certain cards; rather, it is knowing that your opponent's weird play is actually a set up for something that you need to be careful about. This can be as inconspicuous as attacking with a few of their weak units and leaving their strong units at the back (why? It's your job to find out!).

Diamond 4, Diamond 3 - Try (3) Playing conservatively. At this tier, most of your opponents are pretty good, so if you play recklessly as you did in Gold/Plat, you will be punished. In this stage, patience is very important.

Diamond 2 - Try (4) Minimising “what-ifs” instead of maximizing value. Consistency is your best friend here.

Diamond 1 - Can you read your opponent‘s mind? You have to. Try (2) Guessing your opponent’s cards. You also need to have a stronger sense of (1) Recognizing unusual behavior as your opponents are likely more clever and cunning than those you faced before.

I’ve seen many people being frustrated at being hard stuck over here. If you are stuck at Diamond 1, you are probably missing one more final ingredient. The ceiling between Diamond 1 and Masters is not the same as Diamond 2 and 1. Just because you are at Diamond 1 doesn’t mean you are entitled or currently skillful enough to hit Masters. But if you submit to the learning process and take honest looks at where you need to improve, you have a much better chance of getting there.

Cheers and I wish you all the best in your climb. -Crixuz

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