"Shoulda played around it."
-Unknown

Woof.

It's tough to put the pieces together after a tough loss. The higher the stakes, the harder the game is to think about, but neglecting hindsight just because looking back is too painful isn't conducive to self-improvement. And then there's the question of variance.

One of Magic's defining characteristics is how well it hides variance. This sentiment feels more hollow to someone coming off of a long string of games with mana issues, but Magic's variance remains preferable to the naked RNG of Hearthstone or the lack thereof featured in games like VS System. The degree to which Magic disguises variance is a blessing and a curse; not all losses hold equal weight or require correction. Awareness of variance in conjunction with placing too much weight on heuristics results in dismissing losses as aberrations rather than seeing in-game decisions for what they are.

Don't be results-oriented until it's time to be results-oriented.

Ultimately, whether you loot or not isn't likely to impact any real games of Magic you play. Your approach to learning/thinking about it is.

— Luis Scott-Vargas (@lsv) June 7, 2016

Most players looking to improve at Magic ask the broad question, "how do I get better?" are mostly looking for simply heuristics to follow; like being results-oriented, heuristics are only useful until they're not. Getting better at anything is hard, but here's the secret to Magic: trial-and-erroring the way through Magic's gray areas, where heuristics fail, is the best way to improve. The process is more important than the outcome, but don't use that as an excuse to ignore outcomes wholesale.

Knowing what to do after a loss is the hard part. It's tempting to dismiss losses as variance or overcorrect after correctly keeping a two-lander, never hitting a third land, and losing. As a general rule it's better to overcorrect, to reflexively reflect, but the best way of navigating the pain of any loss to actively think through the events that led to it, doing your best to supress whatever biases may occur. It's like Luis said: what you do matters way less than why you do it.

Honorable Mentions

Thraben Inspector's still rocking the rim as one of the best Squires ever printed. Concealed Courtyard and Servant of the Conduit are still way above Kaladesh Standard's replacement level in terms of power. Servant of the Conduit is an especially interesting case; its closest point of reference is probably Sylvan Caryatid, a card that ramped, provided a body, and fixed mana. Servant of the Conduit is noticeably more proactive than Sylvan Caryatid, trading in hexproof and defender for two power, which comes with its own tradeoffs. I'm always in favor of proactive cards, so, yeah, I dig Servant of the Conduit a lot.

#10: Blessed Alliance

Blessed Alliance doesn't do one thing particularly well, but it's really versatile, making it especially useful in Kaladesh Standard. On its face, all of its modes appear defensive, but they're deceptively aggressive: The ability to untap two creatures allows you to attack freely, and gaining four life can swing a race.

#9: Panharmonicon

I've come to the conclusion that my brain doesn't quite work right for Panharmonicon. The card is the bane of my existence. So I open the floor to you: sign off in the comments with your best infinite Panharmonicon combo. Three rules:

-It has to use at least five unique cards
-One has to be from Ice Age
-One has to be from Mirage

Those are the rules, and they are unyielding. GLHF.

#8: Blossoming Defense

This card'll never stop selling well, which is only a bummer because I've run out of nice things to say about it. Blossoming Defense is great, and I hope to cast one soon. It's probably the card that's most often in the back of my head during a game of Limited, mostly because I'll attack in some way where if they have Blossoming Defnese, I'll just lose the game on the spot. Luckily for me, they never have it.

#7: Harnessed Lightning

The more I play with Harnessed Lightning, the more embarrassed I am to report my skepticism that the card would be good as the only energy card in a deck. Harnessed Lightning is awesome; at the very worst, it exists as an argument that the energy mechanic adds a lot of value to Magic.

#6: Aether Hub

Card's good! Aether Hub's been a top ten seller since Kaladesh's release, so there's not much left to say about it.

#5: Commander 2016 Island: Rebecca Guay

#4: Commander 2016 Plains: Rebecca Guay

#3: Commander 2016 Mountain: Rebecca Guay

#2: Commander 2016 Forest: Rebecca Guay

#1: Commander 2016 Swamp: Rebecca Guay

It seems as though WotC struck a nerve with the Commander 2016 basic lands, and by featuring Rebecca Guay in particular. The last expansion to feature her art was Eventide (you could maybe count From the Vault: Angels as an expansion, but I see it as a supplementary product), so the scarcity principle plays here. Which is not to say that these lands aren't gorgeous! Depending on who you listen to, Magic's art direction as of late has been languishing solidly in the world of pulp — cartoony, rote, stale archetypes that evoke comic books' worst tendencies — so a blast from the past like Rebecca Guay comes in looking more like a breath of fresh air. I guess the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Hopefully WotC's paying attention to how much attention these lands are getting (they certainly are), and their success heralds card flavor that can't be summed up in "[GOOD GUY CHARACTER] TRIUMPHS OVER [MONSTER MADE OF HELL SPAGHETTI]."

Fingers crossed!

Jon Corpora
Pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st