Let's Talk About Stops
A Short Tutorial
I was playing a league match last week against someone who told me he was new to Magic Online. He was a lapsed Magic player and was coming back because he could find people to play online. A familiar story to a lot of us.
During one of our games, he enchanted one of my creatures with Mistform Mask, and I patiently waited for whatever creature-type trickiness was to follow. Then, after I declared my attackers, he activated the Mask and changed my creature into a wall.
"That's not going to stop it," I said, "it's already declared."
"I know," he replied, "but it didn't give me a chance to activate it till now."
I explained how to set a stop for my beginning of combat step and he thanked me for the information (though a little late at that point). But it got me thinking about how many other players are out there who know the Magic game and slip up because of things they don't understand about the Magic Online interface. As any experienced Magic Online player will tell you, knowing how to correctly set your stops can be the difference between winning or losing.
In this article, I'll walk you through how your stops affect your game, and how to set them for what you need.
What Are Stops? The simplest way to describe stops is that they are what tell Magic Online where in your and your opponent's turns you always want to have the opportunity to play spells and abilities. In the Magic game, priority is always passed back and forth between players as a turn progresses. When you have priority in Magic Online, you have to click OK to continue. If you had to do this every time you were passed priority, it would get tedious and your index finger would wear down to the bone.
Unlike in a physical Magic game, you can't wait until your opponent is ready to declare attackers, then say "before you do, I'm going to do X." Unless it's a mana ability, there's no going back in Magic Online.
Another reason for not having stops set for every step is the game clock. When you have priority, your clock runs. Having to click OK every time will eat away at the time you have to beat your opponent.
To get around this, you can tell Magic Online when you always want the game to pause and when it's okay to roll on through unless your opponent plays a spell or ability. In general, you'll always have a chance to play spells or abilities if your opponent does something. There are times this isn't true, but we're not going to get into that in this article.
Setting Stops There are two places in Magic Online where you can set your stops: on the Game Play Settings window, and during a game on the Duel screen.
To get to the Game Play Settings window, click the Settings button on the Main screen. Then use the scroll arrows to move the tabs over until you see the Game Play tab and click it.
In the Game Play Settings window, stops for your and other players' turns are shown side by side. To set or remove a stop for any step, just click that step's icon. If it's highlighted, there's a stop set. If it's dimmed, there's no stop. When you're done setting your stops, click the green checkmark.
Setting stops on the Duel screen is a bit more complicated. If you look at the parts of the turn section of the screen (lower left corner), you'll see blue dots in the upper-left corner of some icons and red dots in the lower-right corner of others.
Red dots are where you have stops set for whoever's turn it is currently; blue dots are stops set for the other player's turn. In other words, if it's your turn, red dots are stops for your turn and blue dots are for other players' turns. If it's another player's turn, it's reversed.
To set a stop for the current player's turn, click the icon for the step you want. To remove a stop for the current player's turn, click the icon with the red dot you want to remove.
You can do the same for the other player's turn, just press SHIFT while you click the icon.
For example, if it's your turn and you want to set a stop for your end of turn step, click the end of turn step icon and a red dot will appear. If it's another player's turn and you want to set the stop for your end of turn step, hold SHIFT and click on the end of turn step icon and a blue dot will appear. Either way, the game will pause when you reach the end of turn step on your turn.
Something To Keep In Mind If you change your stops from the Duel screen, it's the same as changing them on the Game Play Settings screen. That means the next time you begin a game the stops will be set however they were at the end of the last game. So, unless you know that you're going to need the same stops, make sure you go to the Game Play Settings screen between games and change them back.
Where Do I Need Stops Set? There are three things that will considerably affect where you set stops: your style of play, the cards in your deck, and time left in a game.
Style of Play
How you play is probably the least critical of the three. Maybe you feel like you have less control unless you get to click OK every step. Maybe you play by the seat of your pants and don't want to worry about every tiny detail of the game. The more stops you set, the more you have to do to keep the game moving and the more time you'll use. The fewer stops you set, the quicker the turns will go by and the less chance you'll have to react to what's happening in the game.
Cards in Deck
The cards in your deck can mean needing stops where you might not usually have them set. As with the Mistform Mask example, or if you have ways to tap potential attacking creatures, you must have a stop set for your opponent's beginning of combat phase. Otherwise, your opponent declares attackers before you get priority and you'll have to make your plays early in your opponent's turn, losing the potential surprise factor.
A card that threw me off the first time I played it was Undead Gladiator. The return from graveyard ability says: "Play this ability only during your upkeep." I didn't have a stop set for my upkeep step, so the first time I had a Gladiator in the graveyard, I zipped right past my upkeep and didn't get to activate the ability.
Here's the key to this: an ability that triggers during a certain step will pop up a window and you'll have a chance to use it. An ability that may only be activated during a certain step doesn't remind you when you reach the step you can use it in.
Also keep in mind that reactionary cards, like Counterspell, are only going to be used when another player plays a spell or ability. You don't need to set stops for cards like these, as Magic Online almost always gives you a chance to respond.
One situation when it's critical to understand your stops is when your game clock is running out of time. For example, say you're in a situation where there's only a minute left on your clock, you and your opponent are locked in a stalemate, but you have the game-winning card somewhere in your deck. You're probably not going to care about doing anything but reacting to potential threats and drawing cards. Well, Magic Online will give you a chance to react to your opponent's plays, so you may want to clear all your stops to save precious seconds that may lead to drawing the winning card.
Again, the more stops you set, the more time will tick off your game clock while you click OK.
What Stops Do I Begin With? The default stops are a good starting place. During your turn, there are stops for both main phases and the declare blockers step. During other players' turns, there are stops for the declare blockers step and the end of turn step.
A good rule of thumb: when in doubt, add a stop. It may slow you down to begin with, but you'll quickly learn which steps you need the stops and which you don't. I've known some players who began with all stops set for both turns. As it became clear which stops were unnecessary (or just thoroughly annoying) they removed them.
After that, it's mostly a matter of playing games. Keep an eye out for times you wanted to play a card but didn't get a chance to. Look at the cards in your deck and think about when you're going to want to play them. Also, talk with other players and see what works for them.