Chess Reaction Time and its Implications for Magic

I just came upon this article about chess and it has some interesting tidbits that are applicable to games of Magic:


  • Reaction time to make a move is the quickest at the very beginning and very end of games, longer in the middle
  • Stronger players had a longer reaction time (ie more think time) in the midgame than weaker players
  • The reasons for quicker RTs at the end of the game is not necessarily because of board complexity (apparently in the chess endgame the board is still quite complex?  I don’t think I would say it is in Magic), but because of the time clock running down.
I find this to ring pretty true for MTG – in the beginning of the game, particularly in limited, the board is not complex at all and your choices are constrained by the lack of mana.  Then there’s a logarithmic increase of time and calculation required as complexity grows (see Hick’s Law).


One thing recently that I’ve noticed that’s caused me to improve a little as a player definitely has been slowing down.  I used to play a lot more “intuitively” – just making gut decisions based on mana usage, but this is clearly not the best way to play.  So if there’s any takeaway I think it’s that if you have time available in the match, you will get a more optimal play by spending more time thinking through lines farther into the future (duh). But it takes discipline.


As far as the endgame, I’m not sure if the same principle holds or not.  I definitely think it does somewhere like MODO where you have a time clock.  My play decisions – and even the clicks themselves – are MUCH worse when the clock is flashing and reads < 2:00.  Other times, I think quick decisions do happen because maybe there were a bunch of trades after a huge combat and board complexity is reduced.  Or I drew a pump spell and have an evasion guy or burn in hand to finish them off.


Any tips for improving play you can divine in there?

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