TESL Academy: Understanding and Utilizing Tempo

Hey Everybody, WaitThisIsntMTG back again to help provide some basic level insight on TES:L. Today I want to focus on Tempo, what it is, how to influence it, and how to maintain it. Tempo can be a very tricky thing to explain, so hopefully this article paints a decent picture!

So What is Tempo?

In music, tempo refers to the pace of a song, in TES:L it refers to the rate at which a deck nears its kill condition. Tempo usually refers to the game on the board, and is another resource to consider along with card advantage and your health; tempo can often be gained at the cost of card advantage and/or health. In that regard, it is most often used to convey building your board larger while denying your opponents growth at the same time. Even if you’ve never heard of this term before this article, you’ve been using tempo to defeat your opponents.

To try to make this clearer, let’s look at a basic example of a high tempo play. Let’s say you’re playing a midrange Warrior deck against a Mage opponent. Your board is a Windkeep Spellsword without ward, and a Young Mammoth in the field lane. Your opponent just played a Hive Defender in front of them for their turn 3 using a ring charge. If your turn is something like Steel Scimitar on Young Mammoth to trade with the Hive Defender, followed by playing Haunted Spirit, you have just made a high-tempo play! Now, in order to take the tempo back in that lane, your opponent will have to kill all three of your creatures and get something on board, which will be very difficult in many cases with that type of board state, especially so early.

Now, a low tempo example: Let’s say you’re playing midrange Battlemage and facing a control Tribunal. They’ve killed a couple of your cards and now the board is empty on your turn 4. In order to try to get card advantage, you play a Daggerfall Mage, and Rapid Shot it to draw the Tome of Alteration. This is a low tempo play, because it doesn’t establish much of a threat nor hinder your opponent’s gameplan. It’s worth showing because there are plenty of times where that could be the right move, especially if you are planning to go into the late game.

How to Influence Tempo

Now that we’ve covered what tempo is on a basic level, let’s discuss how to influence tempo.

Tempo is largely restricted by magicka early game, and early game is key for gaining tempo long-term if you are trying to snowball into a victory. Because of this, one of the keys to gaining tempo is magicka efficiency. If you use all of your magicka every turn, whether on one well-statted creature or multiple smaller ones, you will have an advantage over an opponent who only uses a portion of their magicka most turns. Because of this, it is vital that you plan ahead on your turns to try to always maximize your magicka use over the next few turns when playing for tempo. This sometimes means saving some low cost cards to combine together, and other times will just mean playing on curve.

Any time you can make a high-tempo play like we explored earlier, these will help you build tempo, if you can continue to make high tempo plays for several turns, they will usually end up with a large board advantage, and thus, usually the win. However, it is worth noting that high tempo plays are not always what you want to do. As shown in the second example above, low tempo plays can bring much more value, so you need to be prepared to make them when you get a window where you don’t need to boost your tempo much. What you want to do with your opportunities to develop tempo depends on your gameplan in each specific matchup, and these decisions are part of what makes managing tempo difficult for some.

Ways to Gain or Neutralize Tempo

  • Mass Removal: Things like Ice Storm or Dawn’s Wrath are great ways to neutralize tempo. Since they are rather expensive, they usually will not enable you to take tempo fully (as that would require building your board as well), but only to stop your opponent’s tempo. This can, however, often be enough to get a control deck enough time to begin really taking over the match.
  • Items: If you are able to keep a creature alive, perhaps because your opponent was not very threatened by it, an item will often help you make tempo-positive trades where they otherwise were not possible. Because of this they are very useful for gaining tempo. Items like Sentinel Battlemace or Gavel of the Ordinator create even more tempo for you, as they protect your creature and help it make trades.
  • Charge Creatures: Because they can attack right away, charge creatures can often help you make positive trades which your opponent will have difficulty playing around. Cards like Nord Firebrand can be used in conjunction with some other small creatures, items or increase attack effects like Orc Clan Captain to take down some of your opponent’s largest threats. Alternatively, cards like Wood Orc HeadHunter can be used as a 5 damage removal spell that can often stay alive, giving lots of tempo to your side.
  • Summon Effects: Creatures with summon effects that hurt or otherwise slow your opponent’s creatures can help take the tempo quickly. Even when facing down lots of power, something like a Giant Snake or Ancano can absolutely change the game.
  • “Bounce” Effects: These refer to return to hand mechanics like Cast Out or Belligerent Giant. They can allow you to bounce your opponent’s best or most expensive creature while building your board. These effects are best when already racing your opponent as value-wise they aren’t always great, especially if you bounce something with a good summon effect.
  • Shackle Effects: These provide the highest tempo when on a creature like Shrieking Harpy or Giant Snake, but spells like Corpse Curse and Winter’s Grasp can have large effects on tempo as well when used correctly.
  • “Mind Control” effects: This refers to effects that let you move an opponent’s creature to your side of the board, and they can be great for giving you tempo or just neutralizing your opponent’s. Cards like Miraak can give huge swings to the game, and even arrest or mecinar’s will can be great to kill off your opponent’s tempo (though they don’t see much constructed play for various reasons).

Maintaining Your Tempo

In order to maintain tempo, you’ll need to protect yourself from the types of things listed above that effect tempo. This means knowing which decks play things like Ice Storm, as well as the other common effects they will have to impact your plan. This is another reason tempo can be difficult to utilize, as knowledge like this comes mainly with experience. If you read through the meta report that was recently posted here on Team Rankstar you’ll be able to look at many of the best decks in the game. Try to examine the decks for the ways they plan to effect the game’s tempo, then when you face them, remember to setup board states that punish those situations. If you expect Ice Storm, do your best to keep your creatures above 3 health or put a ward on them. If you expect charge creatures, you can play into the shadow lane to temporarily hide your creatures, or use guards to protect them in field.

This can also be where cards like Garnag, Withered Hand Cultist, or Nahagliiv come in handy. If you expect a turn 6 ice storm, you can continue your tempo by playing a withered hand cultist on turn 5. This will force your opponent to either answer the cultist directly or choose a non-creature method to stop your tempo (which they often won’t have if they are leaning on that ice storm to stop you). If you expect a big threat or board clear on turn 8, Garnag will cut off that plan for at least a turn, possibly cutting off their best play that next turn and giving you a greater tempo advantage. These are the types of plays you’ll want to keep in mind to help give you that extra increase in your win percentages.

That’s all for today. I hope you have learned a bit about tempo and how you can use it to earn more wins. As usual please leave comments with any questions or feedback!