"How can I improve? How do I get better? What am I doing wrong?" These are just some of the questions you should always be asking yourself if you're trying to improve your Magic game. Today we are taking a break from new decks and what's going on in the Magic world. Instead we are going to discuss a much more important topic. How you can improve your Magic game. I'm no master, but I've done pretty well for myself and I'll teach you what I know from playing and from many years of experience. In order to get better, you need to understand what Magic: the Gathering really is. You need to know the basic rules of the game. You need to understand your deck and the metagame. And you need to not go on tilt.


What is Magic?

We usually say it's a game of Chess and Poker. And that does explain it to some extent, the game is skill-based and there is luck involved as well. When someone asks me though, I tell them, "Imagine you're this extremely powerful wizard called a planeswalker. You can cast spells, summon monsters, and travel anywhere you can dream of. You can wield any of these powers in any combination. The magical power of justice, wisdom, ambition, chaos, and/or nature. You fight against others like yourself and your goal is to make them planeswalk back to their mommies.

YOU ARE THE BEST, LIKE ASH KETCHUM!
YOUR POWER LEVEL IS OVER 9000!
NOT EVEN REPTAR CAN HALT YOU!"
(By the way, this is the best way to pick up ladies, trust me.)

After that. They are hooked for life as I'm sure you are. So next time you sit down for your round of Magic I want you to say, "Hi my name is _________, and I'm a very powerful planeswalker, do you wish to concede and spare yourself the humiliation?" Nine times out of three it works 57% of the time and they'll concede.


Variance

Now let's be serious for a second. You need to understand that the game has variance. You will win and lose to said variance. Believe or not, you actually play this game because of its variance, it's why you love the game and continue to play it, because if you didn't like variance, you'd be playing a much more strategical game like chess. Variance allows you to beat opponents you should have no business beating. It allows for epic top decks that everyone goes wild over and remembers for years to come. It allows you to win against a very bad matchup. It makes the game fun and at times it can make the game stressful.



You want to know what keeps a lot players down and doesn't give them room to improve? The phrase, "I lost to variance." Some games are unwinnable, sure, but that number is much lower than most people think. It's so easy to chalk games up to, "No way I could have won, my opponent got super lucky, I mulliganed to five / six both games and had no chance." Don't be so blind, open your eyes. Chances are you did not play that game perfectly. Maybe you played the wrong land or fetched the wrong color, discarded the wrong card to Liliana of the Veil, could've played your spells in the wrong order, didn't play around that Spell Pierce, played around the Spell Pierce too much, did you overextend, or maybe you made the mistake many, many players make of sideboarding incorrectly? Identifying these mistakes and not getting hung up on variance is a crucial step to improving your Magic game. You can then recognize your mistakes and make strides to improve them. You want to get to the point where you're very good at this, so good at recognizing your mistakes, that you recognize how truly awful you are at Magic. When you get to that point, ironically, you'll actually be pretty good at Magic. And those rare games where you can't find any mistakes that you made, you'll feel okay, because you did all that you could and the stars just weren't aligned for you.

Another thing you need to learn to accept is that variance is part of the game. Don't let it get to you. Especially to the point where you do lose to variance and just go on a crazy losing streak because you're upset or frustrated and you're no longer thinking clearly. That's not place you want to be. Embrace variance, because if you're going to play Magic for a while, you're also going to be playing a game of variance. They are a packaged deal. Variance is part of the game, deal with it, accept it, or have it Crush your soul. Magic ultimately rewards skill. The pro players continually rise to the top because they're skilled, not lucky. But variance means it's not always the pros winning, and some "random" is able to take down an event. There's a certain thrill in a lower skilled player winning, it also inspires that player and other players to continue to play and improve themselves.


Skill

Aw skill, something most people think they have a ton of, yet they still can't break through into a top eight, or can't win a tournament. Skill comes from playing the game and learning, watching professional magic players play, reading articles, and being able to read your opponents. I feel like I improved the most by just playing a lot of Magic against good players or players of equal caliber. Having an open mind and being able to handle constructive criticism is essential to improvement. Knowing the decks of the format is very good too. You need to do if you can keep certain hands against certain decks. A hand full of removal is great against an aggressive strategy, but not so great against a control player. If you know what your opponent is playing you know what he or she needs to draw an order to get back in the game or beat you. Don't overextend! Except… Sometimes you have to win. I know very contradicting, but let me give you a simple example.

You're playing an aggro/midrange deck that basically just wins with creatures against a control opponent that plays three sweepers. So let's say Abzan Aggro against Dimir Control. You've mulliganed to five this game and you have a Fleecemain Lion out. You just have Abzan Charm in your hand and you fire it off at end of turn. You now have five mana, Anafenza, the Foremost and Fleecemain Lion in your hand with one in play. You know that your opponent doesn't have Crux of Fate from the previous turn because you thoughtseized him, however he does have a Jace's Inegnuity. Your opponent is currently at 16. So do you just attack him and play out all your guys and hope he doesn't draw a Crux of Fate? Or do you just attack him for three and hold up monstrous? Well if he doesn't do anything and says go, do you then monstrous your cat? If he has Bile Blight in response to it then you're very far behind, but if you keep holding monstrous up you could just die from all the card advantage because of how much time you are giving him. Honestly in this scenario, I would dump my hand and hope he doesn't draw Crux of Fate. That way I can keep pressuring him and even if he draws Crux of Fate I can just monstrous one of the cats in response and kill him the following turn. I've mulliganed to five and I don't want to give him anymore time.

Same thing can be said about playing around Counterspells when you've mullignaed or are just very far behind. Sometimes you can't afford to play around that Spell Pierce or Mana Leak. If they have it you might lose, if they don't you're back in the game. You gotta know when to gamble and when to just wait and know the difference.

To make decisions like this though you need to know your deck and your opponent's deck. You don't need to know the full 75, but you need to know the majority of it, it's even better if you've had practice with all the decks. Then you'll have even more knowledge on the matchup.

I could go on and on with scenarios like this, but the best way to learn is to just play yourself. I'll end this topic with this, being a skilled player can vary day to day. Did you eat breakfast? Did you and your partner just break up? Maybe you think you're about to lose your job and can't stop thinking about? All those things can affect how you play the game. On the contrary maybe things are going awesome! You're talking to someone, things are going great and they are cheering you on, you ate Chick Fil-A for breakfast, or you had that coffee and you're pumped! Some people play better under pressure, some play worse. I don't know, that depends on the person. Just know yourself and how you react to certain things, master yourself and go from there.


The Decks

This topic isn't talked about much, but it should be. Play the deck you like or feel the most comfortable with. Let's say your deck is Tier 1.5 or even Tier 2. If it's the deck you enjoy playing and you know the decks matchups, for the love of Ugin, play it! It's so much better playing in an eight round tournament and enjoying every round you play. You play better when you're enjoying yourself. Try to not make it the insane grind that it can be. Again you need to know your deck and you need to know how to sideboard with it. Have a sideboarding guide for each matchup. Know what you are taking out and what you are putting in. This is paramount! You play more sideboarded game then you do games without sideboards. So don't be afraid of your sideboard and when you test, test sideboarded games. I don't understand this unrational fear of the sideboard, it's there to help you and help you it does (thank you Yoda.) So learn how to use it effectively and correctly.

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When you know your deck you can play to your outs. You can make some questionable plays or blocks because you are playing to your outs. Knowing your opponent's deck is huge too! When you're winning, you can then think to yourself, "Hummm, how do I lose this game? What card can they draw to get back into this game and how do I play around that?" It could be as simple as you have three guys in play and they're dead next turn to your attack so don't play any more creatures because if they draw a wrath, you're screwed.


Be Sportsmanlike

This one is simple, basically just don't be a jerk. Don't get upset losing to someone that's new, when they are so happy to win, don't ruin that for them by saying things like, "Wow, you got so lucky, you're so bad at this game." Instead if you know they made some mistakes you can just say something like, "Hey thanks for the games and good luck in your next rounds, I noticed some questionable plays you made, mind if I tell you so you don't make them in the future?" Is that so hard? One day you might have a son or daughter that wants to play Magic, don't you want them treated this way when they first start playing? Some people get so ecstatic when they beat the best player at FNM, the player that usually wins these tournaments, if that's you, let them enjoy that victory. You should be happy someone is so proud to beat you, it means you're a pretty good player, try not take offense to something like that. Everyone remembers what it's like when you're just starting out and you keep getting crushed. If you never win, the game is never fun, and you'll probably just quit. You don't want that for the game you love, you want it to grow and prosper. The bigger the game gets, the better it is for you and everyone else who loves Magic.

Before I go I also want to say have fun and be happy playing Magic. When you travel to big events, I know some of you just want to win and that's all you can see, but I promise you the trip with friends is what you'll remember in the long run. I've meet and made many great friends through Magic and now, not being able to travel as much I realize I miss my friends the most. So just enjoy yourself. Explore the city you're in, play some cube after events, or just have a nice dinner with friends. These are the best moments, at least for me.

And remember, a true master is an eternal student.

Until next time,
Ali