April 14, 2017

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Going for the Gold – 10 Changes You Can Make To Become A Better Magic Player

Last time we talked about how to build your sideboard. If you missed that article, please click here.

Getting better at Magic is one of the reasons that many players read articles. Most of the time it requires a lasting change whose benefits you’ll only notice over time. However, magic players are just like everyone else and want to see that change fast. So today we’re going to look at 10 immediate changes that you can make in your game to become a better magic player overnight!

1. Go into every game trying to learn something 

You aren’t going to win every game of magic that you play, but every game, whether it’s a win or a loss, will give you something to take away for the future. Some of my biggest lessons have been the result of game losing mistakes. I remember playing an original Mirrodin draft where I moved an equipment to another creature after my opponent blocked, and my opponent was all too happy to inform me that my previously equipped creature was now dead as it took lethal.

No one likes to make mistakes, but the only thing you can do is learn from them.


 2. Understand your role in each game

You’ve probably heard of the phrase, “role misalignment will lead you to lose a game”. Every game of Magic has one person playing more controlling and one person playing more aggressive. Even between two unique “control” decks, one deck has more inevitability than the other. If both players choose to play the long game, eventually the player with inevitability will take over and it won’t even be that difficult. Go into every game trying to define what role you’re playing, and don’t be afraid to change it once you have more information. For example, Faeries was great because it functioned as a control deck that could switch to hyper aggressive with ease.


3. Take your time

“Slowplaying” is an atypical offense that has been crucified by media coverage and judges alike. However, most of the time you’re thinking of making a decision, you’ll tend to overestimate how much time you’re taking. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and thinking a play through, and most opponents will let you do this as long as you aren’t doing it the entire match. Due to the absence of chess clocks in Paper Magic, it’s pretty unfair for one person to be monopolizing time.

Make sure that you take the time when it’s needed because most games/matches of Magic are decided by one crucial decision that was done incorrectly.


4. Think during your opponent’s turns too

Your opponent’s turn can also be a good time to think and plan out your actions. You should always have a set plan in motion, and adapt it as you get new information. For example, you should already know what you’ll do if your opponent attacks you with their team, so stop looking around. This will keep you from being surprised when it happens and you’ll have already spent time thinking about this decision.

Say they choose not to do something, will you cast a spell at the end of their turn? Don’t wait to decide this at the last minute as this will give an astute player a lot of information if you choose not to use your spell.


5. Always play to your outs

No matter how bad a game looks, there are often still ways to win them. Most players tend to get disheartened when they’re down and out and tend to just give up. Next time you’re in that position, take a breather and just calculate your outs. Your outs in these situations usually involve your opponent making mistakes while certain cards come off the top of your deck. As unlikely as it seems, you have nothing else to lose. There have been so many games where I always wanted to give up, but somehow I ended up getting there in the end because of this.

Note: The exception to this rule is if you are a massive favourite to win the match and your outs involve dragging the game out so long that you may not finish the match in time.


6. Don’t just play ABC Magic (auto-pilot)

The first thing you learn when you play Magic is that you should be spending all of your mana whenever you can and also ensuring that your untapped mana can cast all of your spells. However, as you start to move up into the higher stakes of competition, you’ll need to play differently to avoid giving away information.

If you’re playing Limited and know you won’t cast a spell, it doesn’t hurt you to leave less mana up because this will make your opponent believe that you don’t have the card. They’ll think, “If they had that card, they would have left the mana up.”

You can see a great example of this is during Pro Tour Los Angeles in 2005. Antoine Ruel was playing a Psychatog mirror match, where he was the more aggressive build, and was playing against the best player in the world at that time, Kenji Tsumura. Antoine had a Force Spike in his opening hand but chose to play his Watery Grave tapped and didn’t even protect his Duress with a Force Spike on turn two. He correctly identified that the key to winning the mirror was fighting over Psychatog and by choosing this weird play pattern, Kenji ran his Psychatog out on turn three into the Force Spike, and Antoine Ruel went on to win this Pro Tour.

You can watch the replay of that sequence here.


7. Allocate your resources effectively

Whether you’re playing Limited or Constructed, you’ll often have to make a decision to trade a limited resource with your opponent. Before you make that trade, ask yourself if the exchange is profitable for your opponent if the game goes long. Sometimes your hand will be forced as you’ll just lose the game otherwise, but I would try to extend making that decision for as long as possible.

Say you only have 4 Counterspells in your deck and you’re facing a combo deck, you’ll want to make sure you save them for your opponent’s most pressing threats. On the flip side, if you’re playing against an aggressive deck, you’d be happy to make that trade whenever you can.

If you’re playing Limited and only have 2 removal spells, you shouldn’t be casting them unless you really need to. In situations like this, I typically won’t even take a 2 for 1 advantage if my removal is very limited . There are many must answer threats out there, and card advantage alone will not help you beat them.


8. Think about how you can lose

This is the opposite of thinking about your outs. When you’re so far ahead of your opponent in a game, how can they come back to beat you?

  • Does a Wrath effect get your opponent back in the game? If so, maybe you should hold onto those extra creatures.
  • Does a hasty attack allow your opponent to play a trick that can blow you out? If so, maybe you should wait before going all-in.
  • Are you at a low enough life total that your opponent can burn you out? Think about how you can minimize their draw steps.

Even when you are 95% to winning a game, there is still that 5% left for your opponent to retrieve the win. Make sure you don’t give them that opportunity!


9. Watch your opponent

No, no. I’m not saying that your opponent is a cheater. Of course that’s definitely a positive of this change, in that you can protect yourself from being cheated. But what you should be looking for is reactions from your opponents. Magic players give a lot of information away, not just by the way they play but also in the way they look at things.

Is your opponent looking at your creature at the end of turn? They’ve most likely drawn an instant speed removal spell.

Does your opponent draw then instantly glance at his graveyard in a way that’s clearly genuine? He has most likely drawn a Gravedigger effect (in limited) or a Snapcaster Mage (in modern).


10. Do your research

Are you about to play in a tournament for a certain format? It would be a big help to read up on articles or load up everyone’s favorite application, Twitch.tv, and watch what other players are doing in those formats. I always make time to watch previously recorded coverage on Twitch so that I don’t need to have that many reps in a format before playing it. You can also find the top constructed decklists on websites such as “MTGTop8” or on Magic Online’s “What’s Happening” page.


Anyways, how do you feel about the change in pace of these articles? Did you like it, hate it, or are you indifferent? Either way, I’d love to hear from you.

Post in the comments below or tweet at me (@SammyTMTG). And, if you want to keep up with my articles and happenings, please make sure you hit the follow button for Twitter @ SammyTMTG. I’ll see you next week for another article on improving your magical skills!

Until then,

Sammy T