Tempo (Magic: The Gathering)

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Tempo is a term used in Magic: The Gathering to indicate the advantage gained when a player is able to play more or stronger cards in a shorter period of time due to efficient resource allocation.[1] A companion concept to card advantage, it is sometimes defined as the means by which a player gains additional options or decreases the options possessed by the opponent by means not directly pertaining to respective numbers of playable cards.

Forms of tempo[edit]

  • Mana acceleration - Players generally develop their mana rate of one per turn by playing lands; accelerants allow players to speed up this process and have quicker access to more mana. This may come in the form of additional lands put into play, other cards that remain in play and generate mana, or cards that generate a one-time boost in mana. Sometimes, costs can be reduced by effects such as Madness or the Miracle cards included in the Avacyn Restored set, effectively accelerating mana.[2]
  • Mana destruction - Conversely, mana denial cards cause opponents to lose tempo by setting back their mana development and thus limiting their options. Examples of mana denial cards include those that destroy lands or those that restrict mana expenditures, for example by raising the costs of spells played by opponents.[3]
  • Efficiency - Some cards have stronger effects than other cards costing the same amount of mana. For example, Savannah Lions has 2 power while Eager Cadet, despite costing the same amount of mana, has only 1. Playing efficient cards such as Savannah Lions can generate tempo if they render an opponent's weaker cards irrelevant or substandard, restricting the options available to that player.[4]
  • Mana Curve - By playing a deck with high concentration of cards that costs little mana, a player can usually have a greater influence on the board sooner. By the time the slower player starts to cast his own creatures or spells, the faster player might have already built an overwhelming board, and/or got the slower player down to a low life total. This is the concept of mana curve, the name of which originates from a plot of number of cards of mana cost 1, 2, and so on. A deck with a lower mana curve can generally take advantage of tempo; on the other hand, a player playing a deck with way too many cards costing 1 or 2 mana could often find his or her army outclassed when the opponent starts to drop 3-, 4-, and 5-costed creatures. Therefore a balance between tempo and card quality (often considered a subset of Card advantage) is essential for a well-built deck.
  • Extra turns - A few cards, such as Time Walk, actually allow a player to take additional turns. This generates tempo in many ways, usually by granting the ability to play extra lands, or attack and use mana twice in a row.
  • Punishing - In some situations, it is possible to counteract tempo generated by the opponent. This generates tempo if it makes the opponent's expenditures useless and therefore inefficient. For example, a player may pay a large amount of mana to attach a powerful equipment card to a creature. If that player's opponent responds by destroying the creature with a cheap spell, the player who paid the equip cost will have wasted the mana and lost tempo.[5]

Tempo and card advantage[edit]

Because both concepts are primarily concerned with the proliferation or limitation of options available to players, some theorists have suggested that they are actually aspects of the same central idea: namely, that play is driven by attempts by players to gain options for themselves and take them from opponents, an exchange that continues until one player is able to gain the option to win the game.[6] This is similar to the idea of tempo as it is used in chess, as well as to the chess concept of initiative, where a player can gain the advantage by setting the pace of the game. Some Magic players think of tempo in this way to better account for the quality of plays that generate both pure card advantage and a more abstract advantage in terms of position.[5]


  1. ^ Lippert, Ian (January 27, 2004). "Elements of Tempo". Star City Games. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  2. ^ Taylor, Eric (January 1, 1999). "Tempo and Card Advantage". Star City Games. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  3. ^ Menendian, Stephen (July 9, 2004). "Tempo IS Interesting". Star City Games. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  4. ^ Johns, Scott (May 15, 2006). "My System". Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  5. ^ a b Wills, Scott (February 28, 2005). "Tempo and You". Wizards of the Coast. Retrieved 2007-05-06. 
  6. ^ Keller, Scott. "Everything is a Time Walk". New Wave Games. Retrieved 2007-05-06.