Well, 2016 has been one hell of a year. Regardless of whether you thought it was a good year (wrong opinion) or a bad year (correct opinion), with just under two weeks left, it’s time to start focusing on the next year: 2017.
For me, personally, one place where 2016 wasn’t that bad was in Magic. I stepped up my competitive game to new heights and achieved my first Grand Prix Day 2. If you, like me, are aiming for new Magic achievements in the coming year, here are 5 New Year’s resolutions that can help you play smarter, tighter, and better in any Magic setting.
Make sure you look at every card in the pack before you make your pick.
Imagine this situation: You’re drafting Kaladesh, and things are looking up. Going into pack 3, you’ve got a great aggressive red-green deck brewing, with goodies like Longtusk Cub, Renegade Freighter, and multiple copies of Arborback Stomper. Fingers twitching with excitement, you peel open your third pack and see- a Combustible Gearhulk! Without a second thought, you windmill slam the mythic fatty onto the table and pass the rest of the pile. Unfortunately, your eyes never even crossed paths with the Harnessed Lightning you passed, which would’ve gone great with all the energy synergies in your deck. On top of that, your deck ends up worse because your curve is more top-heavy than you would like, and you’re short on removal.
Don’t be too embarrassed. This mistake happens to everyone at some point, and the important thing is to learn from it. If you make a habit of looking at every card in the pack, even if you think you’re already set on your pick, you can avoid overlooking cards that would turn your deck from a B- to a B+. At every decision point, make sure you think about what your deck needs, what it’s already good at, and what each candidate pick would add to your deck.
In the example above, Combustible Gearhulk is an exciting card, and is certainly a great addition to your deck as a beefy finisher. However, with multiple Arborback Stomper, you’re already stocked up in the beefy finisher department. What you really need is more ways to interact with what your opponent is doing, and Harnessed Lightning fits the bill. If you start out 2017 by giving every card in the pack its due consideration, you’ll make the correct pick a higher percentage of the time next year.
Remember what’s in your deck!
You’re playing in a Vintage Cube event on Magic: Online and you’ve managed to build a sweet mono-green ramp deck. It’s turn 4 in the mirror match, and you’re feeling good with a few mana dorks out and some finishers lined up. That is, until your opponent taps out to cast an 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulk, which will run you over in a few turns if you don’t find an answer to it.
You topdeck Green Sun’s Zenith. Yes! You go to cast it, but then you realize you don’t know what you have to grab with it. Did you ever pick up a Reclamation Sage? Just to be safe, you cast Green Sun’s Zenith for 6 so you can grab Conclave Naturalists. Disoriented, you realize that you never drafted either, and you’re forced to put out Oracle of Mul Daya, a suboptimal card in this situation.
It’s easy to get so excited about your limited deck that you forget what’s in it, but this puts you at a disadvantage when you’re considering tutoring options, or even when you’re just trying to play to your outs.
Luckily, there are easy habits you can pick up to make sure you always know what’s lurking in your library. If you’re playing online, I recommend taking a quick screenshot with something like the Snipping Tool in Windows before you submit your deck. This can come in handy in any match, but is especially useful when you have search effects. In paper events, you don’t have the luxury of conferring with outside notes from before you started your match, and you certainly can’t look through your deck randomly in the middle of a game. If you’re at a paper Limited event and you have time, I would suggest making a quick note of cards that can find things in your deck, and what each of them is able to find. If you can, it is even a good idea to roughly remember the entire contents of your decklist. These are practices that I haven’t implemented often enough in 2016, but I plan to perform them more habitually next year.
Bluff consistently, not just when it’s necessary.
You’re in another Kaladesh draft, and by game 2 you’ve already caught on that your opponent is trying to pull off the Electrostatic Pummeler combo deck. On turn 5, your opponent drops Electrostatic Pummeler on the table, and passes the turn. You suspect that she has multiple Built to Smash in hand, meaning you need to draw an answer this turn or it’s game over. You peek at your topdeck, and it’s a land. Uh oh. Desperate for an out, you think you might be able to trick your opponent into thinking you have Appetite for the Unnatural in hand. So, you cast an irrelevant spell, making a point of leaving up 2G. Despite your efforts, your opponent sees through your bluff and swings for lethal.
How did she know? Last turn, she noticed that you tapped all your green mana even though you didn’t need to. If you had had Appetite for the Unnatural in hand then, it would’ve been correct to hold up green so you would have the option to kill a problematic artifact in case she played one. As a result, she determined that if you had Appetite in hand, it must be the card you drew this turn, which makes the event much less likely. In situations like this one, you can tighten your play by bluffing a card even before it becomes relevant. That way, your bluff is more convincing when you need it to work.
Slow down, in general.
It’s common for players to get nervous at competitive events, which leads them to make sloppy plays and leave the table unsatisfied with their performance. It is important to remember to take a few deep breaths before every match, and that the ultimate goal is to focus on what you’re doing. If you start to feel overwhelmed in the middle of a match, have a few sips of water and try to refocus after you clear your thoughts.
Additionally, feelings of nervousness are often exacerbated by a rude or impatient opponent. Some opponents may even go out of their way to be rude in hopes that you’ll get tilted. If you end up in a situation like this, try to remind yourself that you have the same right to take your time making decisions that everyone else does.
Take care of yourself.
Traveling to events like Grand Prix can be taxing, and if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll perform worse in the event. I cannot overstate the importance of being relaxed, comfortable, and focused on the day of a tournament; it will make or break your chances every single time. When you’re investing that much time and money into an event, it’s important to give yourself the best chance at doing well, and it’s also important to give yourself the best chance at enjoying yourself. Fortunately, both goals are achieved in the same way. Below is a list of tips you can use to treat yourself better at all GPs you attend in 2017:
- Arrange your travel and accommodations in advance. When you plan earlier, you have more options to choose from, so you make the best choices for you.
- Get a good night’s sleep on Friday and Saturday night.
- Eat breakfast. Trust me, it’s underrated.
- Make sure you have enough snacks and water to get you through the day. Water is especially important to have available in the middle of a match, as taking a few sips can help you clear your head and focus on making the right plays.
- Acquire your sleeves before the event, and sleeve up some basic lands (around 12 of each color). While it may seem counterintuitive to sleeve cards you might not end up using, it cuts the sleeving you have to do before round 1 in half, giving you more time to relax and decide what you’re playing. An added benefit is that you get to pick and use your favorite basic lands to use, instead of awkwardly grabbing a random fistful from the bin at the front of the room.
These are my resolutions for improving my Magic game in 2017. Have any more? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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