About a year ago, I attended my first Grand Prix. I knew before that that I wanted to take competitive Magic seriously, but I had never before attended such a large tournament, and I was lucky to have it be a team tournament and go with two of my best friends. We didn’t do very well, but the experience made me realize how much I had to work to reach my goal, and throughout the year I tried to do as much as possible to achieve it.
However, I didn’t start having a go at grinding until the end of last year. I had a tournament every weekend, whether it was a PPTQ or a GPT (good riddance). Every few tournaments, I felt like a much stronger player than in the past, and I think my game has easily doubled at least since December of last year. Here are the 3 steps I used to greatly improve my game in no time at all:
1. Commitment & Networking
The first step to improving at Magic is to find people to play with. A crucial aspect of getting better at the game is to actually just play the game. While getting together with friends is a great starting point, if you really want to improve, it’s not enough. This was the first challenge I had to overcome to start putting up better results. Early last year, I had teamed up with 5 of my good friends, and we all shared the same goal: to improve our game and start putting up good competitive results. However, we are all still in high school, and many of them were often bogged down with homework or other school-related obligations, so we never got in enough practice, and I often skipped tournaments if no one else in that group could go.
Finally, I decided that I had to go to tournaments, even if no one else could come with me. In doing this, I improved significantly faster than everyone else. I was glad to be able to test with them and help them when I could, but I found myself not learning much from our testing sessions, as their other obligations simply did not allow them to play as much, which overall lowered their rate of improvement. Testing with them was still useful, but did not actively help me improve. The main mistake I made here is I did not try to find other people to test with, mainly out of fear of talking to people I thought were better than me, which set me back significantly.
Once I finally started communicating with people who were better, my game improved drastically. Playing with people who understand the game on a deeper level than you is crucial if you want to improve, because these people can explain to you why certain plays or deck choices are better, and by playing with them, your skill level will also rise. It is very important to ask for feedback when playing, as that will improve your game much faster than just playing without asking anything.
A crucial aspect of Magic if you want to improve is watching coverage and reading articles. Watching professional players play is very important in getting better, as they will often utilize tools that you didn’t even realize existed to gain small advantages. The most important part of watching pros play is to constantly ask yourself questions such like “why did they make that play?”, “what is their plan and how are they going about fulfilling it?”, “how do they plan to counter their opponent’s plan, if at all?” Asking yourself these questions is very important, as it is not useful at all to just watch people play if you don’t understand why they are playing the way they do.
Remember this moment?
Oftentimes, it’s useful to watch playbacks of tournaments and pause the game when something happens that is crucial to the game. Often times, these pivotal moments did not just happen out of thin air, and one or both payers played in a way in the previous turns that would allow them to get to a certain position or cause a pivotal event to happen. I learned the most out of any video I have ever seen from this match below, and I had to watch it three times to understand perfectly why Steve maneuvers the game the way he does. Every single play he makes is made to lead the game into a specific position, and the commentators only pick up on it a few turns earlier, leaving you to figure out how it happened.
Watch this video here and specifically pay attention to how Steve sculpts this game.
This one is undoubtedly the simplest point of advice I have for you. Just play the game! Play in every tournament you can and you will get better. Certain formats like Modern reward experience, and this is especially relevant if you don’t have much time to devote to testing outside of tournaments, because the knowledge you gain about the format stays the same across many tournaments. There will of course be changes in the format, but if you master a deck, like several people have with Ad Nauseam (including Spellsnare.com’s own Jonah Gaynor), or Corey Burkhart did with Grixis Control, you will do well, because Modern is a format that rewards experience. This is also relevant for certain Standard formats, especially near the end of the season, when the most powerful decks have emerged into a cohesive metagame, as well as all of the eternal formats.
Looking at the metagame below, it’s clear that experience against Infect, Affinity, and Burn are all very important.
These three points of focus are very important if you want to become a better Magic player, and they have helped me massively. They may seem obvious, but a dedication to each will yield great results for you. One more thing to remember is that no matter who you are, you are not yet at your goal, so don’t get overconfident when you know you’re the best player in the room. All three of these factors are equally important when you’re playing in your first Pro Tour as when you’re going to a 20 person PPTQ. On a similar note, try to stay confident in a room full of people better than you, and try to absorb as much information as possible in order to do better over the course of the tournament and future tournaments.
There is no shame in losing to people better than you, but there is shame in chalking it up to luck and not to the gap in playskill. Why did that person beat you? What lines of play did they take that caused the match to go one way over the other? The last thing I want to leave you with is the important idea that losing is not a “net negative.” Most of the learning you do (in Magic and in life) is by losing, and then analyzing what your opponent did right, and what you did wrong. Some people let losing effect them negatively and refuse to learn from it, but you have to remember that losing is just another opportunity to learn, and not just a failure.
As always, thanks for reading, and check back next week for another article.
Have you had a chance to read our Deck of the Day column? Each day we feature a different Standard, Modern, or Legacy deck that deserves its moment in the spotlight. You can read the most recent one here.
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