Earlier this week, LSV posted a “What’s the Play” that sparked a lot of controversy. You can find the question here and the answer here. What didn’t seem controversial was the consensus among nearly every high-level Pro I saw that looting was 100% the right play. My initial reaction was that looting was wrong. The more I think about it and examine the arguments from both sides, the more I continue to believe that looting is wrong.
The reason is actually a lot simpler than you might think.
It’s illegal. It’s simply against the law and it’s morally reprehensible. Looting is stealing. You wouldn’t like it if someone came into your house and looted your belongings. Don’t do it. I’m disgusted at the community for supporting this kind of behavior. You should all be ashamed.
The other reason is a little more complex.
First of all, I want to state that my article is, in many ways, going against the spirit of LSV’s piece. The point he was trying to demonstrate, one that I generally agree with, is that trading your second-best card for your best card is still a good trade. Even though you’ve lost your second-best card for the rest of the game, you’ve still upgraded.
Generally speaking, if you don’t have your best card in hand, you should loot. That was the gist of LSV’s example, and I don’t want to take away from that. But the problem with generalities is that they are exactly that—generalities. There are a lot of situations in Magic, situations that come up frequently, where sticking to generalities leads to a loss. Sometimes you need both your best card and your second-best card to win a game and looting can cause you to have to discard one. Sometimes you need multiple pieces to win a game, and even though you currently have a lesser piece in hand, it’s still wrong to discard it to try to find a better piece because you need both the lesser and greater piece to win, and you have a limited supply of either to work with.
So, even though it may go against the spirit of the piece, here is a more practical explanation of why I wouldn’t loot.
To start with, I don’t think it’s clear that Control Magic is significantly better than Lightning Blast on the current board. I would obviously rather Control Magic the Serra Angel than Lightning Blast it, and I would discard Lightning Blast over Control Magic if forced to choose, but what I most want to do is to be able to Control Magic the Serra Angel and still have Lightning Blast in hand as backup in case something goes wrong, and as an extra turn on the clock in case things go right.
There are a number of possible ways that your opponent can deal with a stolen Serra Angel, such as a Disenchant effect or a bounce spell. While it is unlikely that your opponent has a lot of those kinds of cards in their deck, and you don’t even know anything about their deck, there is still a chance that you draw Control Magic off the loot, discard Lightning Blast, steal the Serra Angel, and then have it backfire against a Man-O’-War or Disenchant, leaving you in a lot of trouble.
Due to all of these worst-case scenarios, I actively don’t want to draw the Control Magic off of a Merfolk Looter activation. Doing so forces me to choose between Lightning Blast and Control Magic, and either choice could be the wrong choice depending on what cards are in the opposing deck and what they draw in subsequent turns. If I don’t want to draw Control Magic off my Looter activation, and if every other card in the deck is worse than Lightning Blast, then why would I even activate my Looter in the first place? All reasons at that point become marginal.
The current state of the game is that you’re at a healthy life total and you have an active Merfolk Looter against a hellbent opponent with one card in play that you have an answer for. Your chances to win this game are high. Every turn the game continues we become more and more likely to win, as we get to see two cards a turn to our opponent’s one. In situations where I have a huge advantage over my opponent, my mentality immediately becomes to reduce their outs of winning by as big of a percentage as I can each turn.
Since we are so far ahead, it seems greedy to loot specifically to find the Control Magic and discard our only other answer to Serra Angel in the process. If we find the Control Magic, it immediately lowers the amount of time our opponent has to draw good cards, which is a benefit, however it creates a significant immediate risk if they do draw one. There is the risk that they draw the Disenchant, or the bounce spell, or an even larger threat like Mahamoti Djinn that we would rather still have a Control Magic in our deck to be able to draw to.
I would rather untap, draw a card, and then reassess what to do. If the drawn card is Control Magic, then I would cast it on Serra Angel and choose not to loot with the Merfolk Looter. If the drawn card is anything other than Control Magic, I would loot. Looting gives you a chance to find the Control Magic to steal Serra Angel, and if you don’t find it, you can then just discard your worst card at no real drawback. Keep in mind that the drawback of failing to find the Control Magic is that you kill the Serra Angel, have an active Merfolk Looter, and still have Control Magic in your deck. That’s not too bad.
I want to point out that I’m not worried about running out of threats or running out of a library. Your deck is full of threats and even if you loot away 4 of them, you’re still going to find enough to win in nearly every reasonable game that plays out from this point. The only situation I’m worried about is the one where you discard your second-best card to draw your best card and you end up needing both to win.
I think if you weren’t facing down an empty board, or a hellbent opponent, or if you were at a lower life total, then I would be more interested in looting to find the Control Magic. As it stands, though, I tend to follow the philosophy of play aggressively when behind and more conservatively when ahead. Reduce the opponent’s outs at every turn of the game. Constrict their options to win until they have no more. Right now, their best option is for you to make a greedy play and get punished for it. I don’t intend on giving them that chance.