Ah yes, the Pro Tour; the Promised Land; home to the elite card-slingers, top magicians, and up-and-coming stars. There’s a problem though; you aren’t there. The closest you’ve gotten to playing to the Pro Tour is losing to the guy in round 2 who won the PTQ. You can’t really explain why you’re so unlucky. All that you really know is that you’re not winning and that your opponents got super lucky every time. Curses! Unfortunately for you, you haven’t developed a clear understanding of this incredible game and its complexity. Together, we’re going to take a step back and look at the pitfalls of mediocrity, ways to avoid them, and the roads to ultimately improving your game.
Refusing to claim responsibility for a bad situation is a trait that applies to much more than just Magic. The simple truth is that people don’t like to look bad to themselves or in the eyes of their peers. People don’t want to accept that their shortfalls of skill were the cause of a loss. Denial is one of the biggest problems that people can have. By shifting the blame from their sloppy play or other deficiency to their repeated poor draws or opponent’s lucky draws, a player creates an escape clause. Now they don’t have to mentally look at their match and ask what happened. People who refuse to analyze a scenario will not learn from it.
The first step to avoid blaming your loss on something irrelevant is pretty simple: ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY. The least that you can do is to be open the likelihood that you probably could have played the game differently. Depending on how far you are into your development as a Magic player, you may have a problem identifying the parts of the game where you went down the wrong path. If you don’t know where you went astray, it helps to ask someone, a friend, peer, or just someone whom is better than you, where you made a bad play and what the better alternatives were. The place to get the best mileage out of constructive criticism is at casual events such as Friday Night Magic, other weekly store-run events, or private play sessions. People will be more inclined to help in a relaxed environment. Once you know where your mistakes were made, you can attempt to deconstruct the logic behind the alternative play, compare it with the play that you made, and incorporate the improved methods of thinking into your future plays.
Magic is a mental game on multiple levels. There is the physical game where you’re playing against an opponent. There is also the mental game played within your own thoughts. Controlling your emotions is an important part of maintaining tournament longevity for multiple reasons. It’s easier to evaluate a problem rationally. It helps prevent an opponent get a read on how much of an impact their plays are having on the game. Everyone is going to lose games and it’s important to not let your emotions get the best of you because of those lost games. If your emotions are allowed to run wild and compromise your ability to win, then you’ll be out of the tournament in no time.
Being too emotionally invested in a game of Magic is bad. Why? The answer is simple: emotions make us act irrationally, and therefore, play poorly. There are a few methods to help alleviate falling into this trap:
1. Breath. As simple as it sounds, deep breaths will help calm you down and keep your mind clear.
2. Don’t fidget with your hand. I’ve seen countless people shuffle their hand rapidly while playing. While it helps to a minor extent at some levels to hide what card was drawn each turn, constantly shuffling your hand isn’t going to help you focus. Being forced to think about an action, whether it is consciously or subconsciously is going to make you less effective as a player. You’ll end up making mistakes.
It’s important to avoid putting yourself into a situation where you could potentially be disappointed with yourself.
Being motivated is an important quality. Any person can say to their self, “I want to play on the Pro Tour!” It’s another thing to actually enable and put your self in enough positions to capitalize on being motivated. People who go to only one of the local PTQs for a specific qualifier season and also say, “I want to get on the gravy train and PT all year” don’t really understand the commitment required to being successful. The simple truth is that winning large tournaments is hard. Sure, there are always a handful of familiar names that fill out half of the top 8 list. The people who got there generally had a few things go their way. Not going to every event possible is a disservice to your ambitions as a Magic player.
Testing is another area where a person’s lack of motivation really shines. For some people, testing a deck isn’t going to be as much of a necessity as for others because they may be good enough to be able to infer and use theory regarding how a deck or specific match-up should play out. They may also have prior experience with a similar deck which is applicable with their current one. Assuming that you aren’t one of those people, it’s crucial to realize the importance of familiarizing yourself with a deck before an event. Common symptoms of a lack of understanding of your deck include: not knowing when to mulligan, not understanding how to sideboard and taking more time than necessary to sideboard/play.
Knowing exactly what you’re trying to get out of Magic is helpful in determining what you should do in order to meet your goals. Some people play purely for the social aspect of the game. A small group plays mainly for the money. Others play to pass the time because it’s just a fun hobby. Whatever reason you currently have for playing, make sure you know it. If you’re seeking a higher level of competition, you’re going to need to make a larger commitment to pursuing that goal. Otherwise, you’re doing yourself a disservice and will not really end up much more than a grumpy mediocre PTQ player.
When people test for an event, what unfortunately happens sometimes is that they don’t actually learn anything. You’d think that everyone would be able to correct a mistake about as often and quickly as if they had placed their hand on a hot stove burner; sadly, this is not the case. Some people lack the ability to process the information from their testing games. People will play a game without really asking themselves why they are making the choices that they are. When a person plays in such a vegetative state of mind, no amount of game play will help improve their understanding of a particular format, match-up, or deck archetype.
One way to determine if you’re one of those slower learners is to ask your friends. You don’t have to put it so bluntly; you can merely ask whether or not they notice you making similar plays and losing because of it. Your best asset in fixing your problem is the help of your friends and peers. Asking for advice is the best thing that you can do. Nobody is going to hold it against you that you don’t know everything. As long as you’re receptive to their constructive criticism, you’ll have no trouble getting back on track to becoming a better player.
Once you’ve figured out that you need a bit of help, consider ways to improve your testing with friends. A testing team isn’t going to be very productive if one of the people on it is significantly worse than the other. Taking that into consideration, it’s easy to see why people would be quick to help you improve your game. Furthermore, people generally want to be helpful so it’s not going to be difficult to find people to aid you. A good method of improving critical thinking skills is for both players to play with their hands face up and play each side of the game together while asking each other their reasoning for various plays.
Some people believe that they are a product of their environment; they believe that the people and events around them shape who they are. There is a similarity between that saying and how Magic players develop. In any environment (Magic shop), the level of talent is going to rely on the skill level of the better players. The better players in an area help the weaker players develop by example during game play. Larger areas are prone to having a higher level of player simply because there are more people. Unfortunately, some areas just don’t have any good players at all which causes the average skill to level off at a below average point.
If you were stuck in one of the locations unfortunate enough to have very few highly-skilled players, it’s very likely that you have a low chance of developing to your desired potential there. The best place to look for salvation is on Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO/Magic Online). Magic Online offers what no physical store can: the ability to play against the best players in the world. Granted, you won’t be playing against world champions every round; however, the skill level of Magic Online is much higher than the average physical store. Magic Online is a great resource. I highly recommend using it.
Magic Online is one of the best assets that you as a player will have access to. In order to take full advantage of MTGO, here is a list of events which will be helpful:
-Constructed Queues: This is where the money is made by the players. The most popular queues are Standard, Extended/Block, Pauper, and Classic. There are currently three queue structures: 2-player, 4-player, and 8-player. All queues are single elimination.
-Draft Queues: The most popular format on MTGO is 8-player drafting. There are currently three payout methods: 8-4, 4-3-2-2, and 1-pack-per-win.
-Daily Events: Formerly called Premier Events (PE’s), these are larger tournaments run in the Swiss format with a top 8 structure.
*I’m going to write with the assumption that you, the average reader, are not made of money. The tips I have are for those people trying to sustain themselves on MTGO with little investment.
When looking at the constructed queues, you must realize that there is usually a significant cost to obtain all the necessary cards for a competitive deck for each format. This can be a serious deterrent for someone who doesn’t have much disposable income. Fortunately, there is a solution: Pauper. Pauper is a format where only commons are legal. This greatly reduces the entry barrier and allows for a reasonable source of profit. The allure of the format due to its low cost makes it quite popular.
Draft queues are hard to make money in. You have to draft rares aggressively and win also in order to profit. If you’re in that position, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. It is better to draft and not have your picks change because you need to take a card that’s worth some money. The 8-4 draft queue has the highest quality of players but is hardest to break even for cost.
The development of a Magic player is usually a long endeavor. Most people don’t get as good as they’d like to be. Most people aren’t as good as they think they are. Most people don’t realize that they can start to improve themselves without much effort. Many people just don’t know how to see the signs of mediocrity or where to start working on becoming a better player. Perhaps now, it will be a bit easier for you. Good Luck.