When you play a game of Magic: the Gathering you need a plan for the early game to get ahead, keep pace, or catch up.

While it’s important to have a plan for the midgame and late game, some games never get there. Many games see victory or defeat decided in the first few turns of the game.

If you can survive and advance through the early game, then you can consider the mid and late game. So every deck needs an early game plan.

Getting Ahead

It’s nice to get ahead during the early game. If you play first and land a great creature to start the game, you’re immediately ahead and it’s now on the opponent to keep pace, catch up, or die.

Getting ahead in the early game is the hallmark of an aggro deck but even mid- or late-game decks can benefit from starting the game ahead.

Spells that give you a mana advantage also put you ahead in the early game. Any time you use a 1-mana Spell Snare or a Lightning Bolt to dispatch a 2-plus-mana spell you cement your early game lead.

Ideally you play cards that are great to start the game and also solid late game topdecks to finish the opponent off. Even the best 1-drop won’t have the kind of impact that an expensive finisher will, though, so you have to choose.

When building your deck are you interested in getting ahead to start the game? How much of your strategy do you want to invest in cards like these?

Keeping Pace

If you’re not planning on getting ahead during the early game you should be prepared to at least keep pace.

If you can disrupt the opponent and keep the board clear in the early game, you at least still have your life as a resource to help you move into the midgame and late game.

Keeping pace in the early game is a good call for any strategy–aggro or control. Pace-keeping spells can be used in the early game to push a lead or keep you from falling behind.

Ideally the cards that help you match pace also can serve as good late game topdecks. But again, sacrifices need to be made in one way or the other.

If you’re not interested in rushing out the gates from turn 1, are you still prepared to keep pace with opponents who are? How many early game cards are you dedicating to keeping the pace against fast opponents? How can you make these cards useful in progressing toward the mid and late game?

Setting Up, Then Catching Up

If you’re not planning on getting ahead or even keeping pace in the early game, you know that you are likely to fall behind and you need a plan to catch up.

Falling behind in the early game is necessary for certain strategies to develop. Multicolor nonbasic lands often come into play tapped, and card filtering or midgame setup requires time.

Using the early game to develop for later is a common strategy of many Magic decks, though it leaves you vulnerable to aggressive strategies looking to get ahead.

If the opponent starts with a great creature and you start with a tapped land or a set-up spell, your life total is going to get eaten up and you need to stabilize by the midgame.

Having access to catch-up cards to stabilize after falling behind is often enough to survive to the midgame and beat aggressive strategies in the late game.

Ideal catch-up cards gain life, make multiple creatures, or kill multiple creatures. Siege Rhino in Standard is a great example, and historically Wrath of God has been the ultimate card for catching up.

If you’re using the early game to develop, how are you going to catch up after falling behind? How many catch-up cards are you going to put in your deck?

Sideboarding for the Early Game

In a competitive match of Magic you have sideboarded games to adjust your strategy against early game, midgame, and late game strategies.

Every deck should be prepared for fast early game strategies in the sideboard. All it takes is cards that get ahead, keep pace, or catch up.

When sideboarding for the early game, catch-up spells are a great go-to, but just playing 1- and 2-mana spells to keep pace or turn the tables with a rush is a great way to go.

Surviving the Early Game

Every game of Magic starts with the early game, and only by surviving the early game can you cast sweet midgame and late game spells.

So you should be prepared for the early game with cards to get ahead, keep pace, or catch up. Any of these strategies could work, and it all depends on your preference for your deck.

How do you plan for the early game?

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