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[Article] Striving to Improve

I’m sure I speak for many of us that as Magic: The Gathering players, whether you’re playing casually, competitively, or just starting out you always want to be improving. It may not even be about beating the person across from you. The feeling of accomplishment when you start to notice improvement in your play is extremely gratifying. I’ve just started having those feelings recently which makes me much more comfortable as a player.

Where I used to tilt, I re-analyze my play.

Where I used to believe most games are based on luck, I think of the different lines of plays that got me that loss/win.

Where I used to be stubborn in my card choices, I’ve acknowledged why certain cards are better than others.

Looking back on your Magic “career” I’m sure you’ll recognize where you’ve improved as well as where you should be looking to improve now. No matter what your skill level there is always something new to learn in Magic. In today’s article I’m going to spread some of my top tips that could help improve your play. These tips are a mixture of knowledge gained through reading articles, watching streams, and just my own experience playing. I’m sure most of them might seem like common knowledge but it is nice to be reminded of these things as I find they’re often overlooked. If these tips help you then that’s great and if not then please feel free to leave your own tips in the comment section below for others to see.

These are in no particular order nor are they applicable only to in-game strategies:

#1 – Play a deck that suits you

SUIT CARDBah dum tss….I’m so sorry

This may seem like an obvious thing to most but many (especially those new players looking to win) head to sites such as to hit up the latest decks winning the tournaments and expect their win percentage to go up right away. To their surprise they might lose more often than they did with their home brew. Of course this varies from person to person but overall, being comfortable with your deck is something I’ve learned experimenting with both my home brews, other rogue decks, and top tier decks. For example, I’ve never been to FNM before. Yes, pretty sad isn’t it. One of the main reasons I haven’t gone yet is not because I feel I lack in skill. It’s because until now, I didn’t have a deck I was comfortable playing with. I could easily have net decked something and participated but I don’t feel that would be as gratifying as with my own brew nor do I feel I would be capable of winning with someone else’s deck. Now this of course doesn’t apply to others but that’s my point; Whether it’s just a net deck, your brew, or even just a variant of someone else’s brew, being comfortable with what you’re playing with is paramount. Recently, I’ve finally settled on my “Dimir Beats” Deck as the deck I’ll be taking to my first FNM. Utilizing cards such as Herald of Torment and Duskmantle Seer and a nice removal suite to tempo my way to winning (hopefully). Some people are best at analyzing the flow of the game in order to control it. Some people are best with combat math and swinging with the right creatures. As for myself, I’m most comfortable with tempo type decks, able to remove/bounce threats while poking for damage here and there.  Figure out what kind of decks you play best with and start brewing/playing those decks more often and guaranteed you’ll start having a better time playing.

#2 – Take risks


Magic is a very skilful game and risk-taking is something I’ve noticed that can separate the good players from the great players. This is a difficult thing to give advice for as it is something that I think a Magic player never stops learning to do. With so many different variables to think about, they’ll result in different types of risks and risk taking. For example, one situation might have you bluff attack with that Elvish Mystic into that Polukranos, World Eater while your opponent’s tapped out, signaling a possible pump such as a Boon Satyr bestow just to get that extra 1 damage while another situation might call for not attacking at all. Recognizing these situations and knowing when to do them is incredibly hard to do when you’re thinking of so many other things going on in the game. However, those types of decisions can result in increasing/decreasing your chances of winning.

Now, taking risks doesn’t mean swing out every turn but I am saying learning to recognize the different types of risks and knowing how to handle them is a positive skill of a Magic player. THIS article goes a bit more in-depth about chump attacking/blocking but remember that’s only one type of risk. Scrying certain cards to the bottom can be a risk, casting spells in certain orders can be a risk, and even playing X land over Y land can be considered a risk in certain situations. Risk taking is probably one of the hardest things newer players learn to recognize but it can also be the most rewarding. This is also related to my first tip in that knowing your deck and being comfortable with it can help you properly determine where it’s advantageous to take a risk or not.

#3 – Deciding to Mulligan


Now this is very similar to my last tip however I think it deserves its own section. Mulligans are probably one of the most impactful types of risks you can take in Magic and it starts right from the get-go, possibly setting up the pace of the entire game. No one likes being down in cards right away but sometimes it’s required to have the best chance in winning. Of course there are tons of things that affect the decision to mulligan (Presence of good threats, mana dorks, or relevant stuff to do for 2-3 turns, etc.) or not but here are two things I keep in mind that might help you with your own mulligan decisions.

1) Play or Draw? Being on the play or draw is the first thing I remind myself when looking at my hand. For example, let’s say I’m playing a tri-colour deck. Being on the draw might affect my decision keep a risky two lander that’s off colour for my early drops because if I draw into that third colour my hand turns to gold. Having that extra draw over your opponent can greatly influence keeping a risky hand and even more so with scry lands as it allows you to dig a bit for that last colour. Now being on the play it is very likely I’ll mulligan if I feel I can have a better opener. This is especially important if you know you’re playing something such as an aggro deck where you need to be explosive out of the gate even if you have some great mid-late game cards in your opening hand.

2) Take your worst card out of the equation. What I mean by this is once you get your opening hand see how it looks. If it’s a tough call, take the worst card out of your hand and re-analyze your hand. Would you keep it? If yes than it’s more likely a keep, even if it’s risky. If not, then you might consider shipping it. Now, remember taking point #1 into account ties into this decision. Being on the draw allows you to take certain hands than if you were on the play. This isn’t a fool proof formula for success when determining mulligans but it has definitely helped me judge my hands when it comes down to it.

Side note: If game one shows lots of hand disruption, make sure you take into account possibly getting Turn 1 Thoughtseized! Sometimes it’s better to keep a looser hand in those cases.

#4 – Knowledge is Power!


Information is incredibly strong and knowing what to look for can give you incremental advantages over the course of a match/game. Since there are many, many different things you could look for I’ll just go over a couple general things that can be overlooked:

1) Keeping track of lands. This is actually sometimes quite easy to miss after the first few turns when stuff actually starts happening but knowing if your opponent missed a land drop can cause you to take different plays. Where you might be a bit more passive, you might see your opponent miss a land drop enabling you to shift to a more aggressive line of play. This also lets you know they possibly have a ton of action in their hand but not enough land to support it. For example sometimes you’ll want to save that Doom Blade for that potential Stormbreath Dragon but seeing your opponent miss their land drop on turn 3 might make you consider hitting that Elvish Mystic instead to slow them down even further. In addition, keeping track of the right colours of lands for important cards is important too. If I’m playing an aggro deck and I see my opponent miss his double white for Supreme Verdict I might consider not holding back and playing that extra Ash Zealot for the possibility of extra damage/pressure.

2) Go gravedigging. It’s legal to look at your opponent’s graveyard! It’s something that over the course of the game people don’t think about but it gives you a refresher of how many of X spell they’ve played so far which really helps if you’re trying to play around certain cards and are trying to judge the chance of them having another copy of X spell. In addition, asking them how many cards they have left in hand helps for the same reasons. Less cards in hand = less things to think about.

3) Reduce the amount of information you give. This is less knowing what to look for and more knowing what not to do. This can be done in a variety of ways but to touch on one specific example; in the SCG open this past weekend, there was a player who was playing a Jund Monsters deck against a Naya Hexproof deck. In the first game, the Jund player had a Dreadbore in hand but lacked the black mana to cast it. The Naya player had a quick start with a Selesnya Charm token to be his choice of target for enchanting. He quickly threw Unflinching Courage and Madcap Skills on it and the Jund player lost the game due to the lack of the black mana for theDreadbore sitting in his hand. However, after scooping he jokingly showed the Naya player the Dreadbore that he couldn’t cast. Now, this may seem small but the Naya player had some copies of Mending Touch in the sideboard and that showing of Dreadbore may have influenced his decision to bring them in which could be game breaking for the Jund player. Of course showing your hand after a game is perfectly fine in a casual setting among friends, but in a tournament where you’re generally looking to have the best chance of winning it means not doing careless things like that.

#5 – Hard work pays off


Part of improving is not just playing or grinding games out. That of course is one part of improving. Another part is outside of games. In your spare time, maybe a few times a week watch a stream or two, read some articles, or build some decks. Playing is an important part of learning but the extra things you do outside of playing transfer over. Especially if you’re new, soaking up the information and being an observer can help in many situations such as remember a line of play someone else took that’s available to you or just learning more cards and the decks they’re most commonly played in. Like I said, I’m not the most experienced player but for the past few months I’ve been doing things such as watching streams while working on other non-Magic related things or reading articles and I can tell you it helps speed up the learning process immensely and it shows, even in the little time I’ve played.

Well that’s all I have for now! I hope you got something out of this and if not, please leave your own tips and tricks in the comment section. Part of being a community is helping each other so feel free to lend a hand where you can :) Have a great day everyone.

– Michael Y

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