Tempo in Magic the Gathering is what two or more players enter in while attempting to gain control of the game. It is a race that revolves around who can play better cards or more cards faster. Basically it is a race about gaining the upper hand. In other words the player who is winning the race usually sets the tempo of the game. The reality of it though is the tempo of a game can be one sided, balanced, or up and down like a roller coaster.
The player who shows the most control over the board is often the player who is in control of the tempo. Sometimes this can be seen by looking at the battlefield. Especially if one player is playing a weenie deck. On the flip side of our example, if a control player has a handful of cards he just might be the one in control.
So what is the difference between board control and tempo? It is really quite simple – tempo is about speed or pace. A good weenie draw will come out of the gates just screaming with speed that keeps your opponent back peddling, struggling to do anything to keep themselves alive. While board presence, in relation to tempo, is about slowing or controlling the tempo of the game. Board presence is about maintaining tempo if you control it.
There are four main types of tempo in Magic the Gathering: mana acceleration, mana curve, mana destruction, and power efficiency.
Mana acceleration is often referred to as ramp. It is where a player uses cards like Dark Ritual or Exploration to increase his mana curve. There are other ways to influence your mana curve like Madness or Phyrexian mana. Basically, mana acceleration is anything that allows a player to move faster than the standard one land drop per turn.
Mana curve is all about playing a bunch of low cost spells and cards. This form of tempo is all about gaining control of the board and wiping out the opponent before they have a chance to do anything. This is the classic weenie deck. This style often includes cards with a high degree of card quality.
Mana destruction is rarely played as a form of tempo anymore. It is kind of the nemesis of tempo that gives you tempo. By destroying your opponent’s lands you gain the advantage and therefore have the tempo in your favor.
Power efficiency is almost card quality but not quite. Power efficiency is playing cards that boast being under-costed. A couple really good examples would be Savannah Lion and Accorder Paladin. Both of these have a power greater than their mana cost which accelerates the damage race in your favor.
It can be argued that extra turns gives you tempo, but I kind of disagree. Sure, it gains you the extra land, but it also gains you an extra card. Somehow to me it is just not tempo.
We have finished our race, and we know now that tempo is the pace that two or more players set in battling for control of a game.
I do believe we will be looking at Card Quality next.