The fourth one will surprise your entire family and may in fact totally change your life!!!
I have to admit from the start that the title of this article is meant as a parody of common titles on suspicious websites conceived to entice you to click so that they can get advertisement revenue. Of course, like any other random dude on the Internet, I enjoy your clicks as it feels like a concrete proof of my worth; however, my work ethic is such that as a moral duty I will try to give you, also, quality content.
Now that we have studied the fundamentals in my previous article, let’s look at these 5 sweet tricks to become a better Magic player that you came here for. Some may seem fairly obvious and you may wonder why I worked so hard to write something that could feel like I am reinventing the wheel, but the devil here is in the details. To make sure you feel thoroughly inspired I carefully chose, for each sweet trick, some uplifting motivational quotes on which you can meditate and they could help you to grow as a person.
1. “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” Seneca
Prepare yourself: The more time you have to prepare, and the more efficient you organize that time, the more likely you are to be ready to perform. Not having enough time to prepare should not, however, give you personal permission not to perform. All the experience you have accumulated in the past should allow you to quickly pick up new formats and figure out what is the best plan considering your lack of knowledge of that format. Time, though, can help a lot.
Let’s say you prepare for an event and you really want to put the time and effort to do well. Imagine you qualified for your first WMCQ or your first RPTQ. If it is Constructed, you could play countless games of the deck you intend to play, but then, what if the metagame changes and it is not well-positioned anymore? My advice: Play all the decks, so you can understand the deck mechanics from the inside as well as figuring out which one you like best. Moreover, it would be easier to switch last minute if you had already tried a deck and it feels better positioned or it gets new cards from a new set.
Back in the old days, I used to build proxy decks of all the main archetypes of a metagame and playtest with a good friend for hours, and it really helped me to win my first PTQ. A playtesting group is an efficient way to master a metagame too. If some are qualified for the Pro Tour and others are not, you could test a deck by going through the gauntlet, meaning playing against all the main archetypes of a given format. That would allow you to know your good and bad match-ups as well as how to play correctly versus each one. A word of advice, be critical of your evaluation of a match-up based only on a few games. The sample could be too small, or the skill level of the players testing too uneven.
I remember playtesting extended for Pro Tour Amsterdam with a group and Alexander Hayne was part of it. I already looked up to him and his undeniable skills. He did not have a Pro Point yet and was still waiting for his lucky break. I tried the match-up, several games, against him, before concluding that it was a bad match-up for the deck I was playing because Hayne kept on winning. Just for fun, we switched deck, and I carried on losing, realizing that my conclusions were on the nature of the match-up were too precocious and Hayne was my bad match-up, and not the deck he was playing.
Preparing can also happen when you are not in front of cardboards or a computer screen. Even when you are walking around or exercising, you can ponder about sideboard plans and card interactions to figure out great ideas that could come in handy at your next tournament. Watching Twitch.tv or listening to quality podcasts, as well as reading articles are sure ways to progress. Before important events, playing in smaller venues help you to get back into the live tournament mindset, especially if you usually play on Magic Online. Different sets of skills are required for live tournaments, and playing them often will make you feel at ease when you get to premium ones. Friday Night Magic is a perfect place to try out sideboard plans and different strategies.
To save time during tournaments, you should establish in advance general guidelines for your sideboard plans, so if you get tired or nervous you can always rely on what you prepared when you were totally rested. For Limited events, you can also identify which cards you want to side in versus what kind of threats, or even what different decks you could side in. For instance, against a deck with a high curve and a lot of high drops that are hard to beat, you may want to side in a very aggro deck with some counterspells.
To know if your Constructed deck is well-positioned, you could look at statistics on mtggoldfish.com so you can see its winning rate and match-up percentages over a thousand Magic Online matches.
Make friends with better players or players better at certain skills than you, so you can learn from them and profit from their accumulated knowledge. If people question your plays, do not take it personally and be open to their opinion. If you want to improve, you have to let your ego to the side and not get offended if someone believes you misplayed and back it up with solid arguments. To be right is not more important than the truth here.
Finally, try to get as much information as you can. Beside reading articles and watching videos, you can lurk on different discussion forums or follow Twitter feeds of renowned players. When a new set comes out, read set reviews and all the cards so you know what is there and what each card is doing.
So do not forget: “preparation is half the battle”.
2. “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” Vince Lombardi
Improve your game play: Beside preparation, playing better during tournaments is a fairly obvious thing to do. Several things to keep in mind will help you to do better. For example, be patient and play around tricks and removal if you can afford it. In Limited, you should know all the combat tricks (and all the morph costs for Khans of Tarkir and Dragons of Tarkir) and you should try to memorize them at the beginning of the format; noting them down and answering small self-quizzes about them is a good way to go. For instance, what could my opponent have with GGR up?
For Constructed, you should know the decklists of the main archetypes, and what instant speed action could disrupt your plans. Play everything at the last moment possible unless you are playing around counterspells or other tricks. There is no point, for example, killing an opponent creature on your turn if the opponent has mana up and plays a deck with counterspells. You cannot get any advantage out of it now. Wait until their upkeep so they would have to tap mana during their own turn instead of using mana during your turn that they would not have used anyway. Maybe also you should wait for them to tap out. Also, it is often good to bait their removal spells with weaker creatures so your stronger creatures do not get easily destroyed. There are tons of little plays like these that can get you an advantage here and there. Make sure you carry on learning them.
At last, if you misplay, be slightly mad at yourself, playing like a noob is nothing to be proud of.
3. “It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.” Niccolo Machiavelli
Work on the psychological angle: Like for Texas Hold’em, technical play is fundamental, but the psychological aspect of a tournament should not be underestimated. A little bluff here and there can get you 1 or 2 more damage early and it could end up making a massive difference at the end of the game. You have to size up your opponent and determine if he is going to play around stuff or will block without wondering what you could have in your hand. Quite a few times I made some plays that only made sense if I had a certain instant combat trick in my hand and my opponent, taking that into account, took more damage than they should so they would not get blown up by a trick. Even if they suspect that you are bluffing, they may not want to risk losing their good rare creature blocking a puny dude of yours.
Another common trick is when you notice that your opponent missed one of his triggers or they are not doing an obvious action they should be doing. You can start to play faster, hoping he is going to follow your rhythm and not notice what he is obviously doing wrong. You can also strike a conversation and bring his attention to other details so his mind will not be where it should be.
How far are you ready to go in that department? Will you try to distract your opponent so they get a warning? Will you call a judge just to put your opponent on edge? Be careful here, these actions could be considered super scummy and may be counter-productive in the long run as a lot of people in your local community will come to hate you. Being the local villain is not a very useful badge of honour and you may miss out on the benefits of being an esteemed member of your community.
Another important question you should ask yourself is: are you intimidated when you sit in front of a well-known player? If that is the case, just take a deep breath, this guy is a human too (hopefully). I often act as if I was playing a random player so I do not give them the boost of confidence that comes with the awareness that they are a celebrity. Also, because I have managed to beat a few hall of famers and pro players in the past, it does not stress me out as much anymore. With time, you will get used to it, like everything else in life. Feature matches can be nerve-wracking, playing in front of a crowd, or on camera, can add another layer of stress.
I remember my last feature match at GP Ottawa 2014 on Twitch versus Sam Black. I was thinking, at first, everyone will complain in the chat if I make a mistake, or Marshall Sutcliffe and Brian-David Marshall will criticize some of my plays. However, while shuffling, pile-shuffling and counting my cards (my pre-game ritual), I started to relax, stopped thinking for a few minutes and did a mindless manual activity while breathing slowly. I was then able to focus on the game and forget about my surroundings, getting back to a wonderful place called “the zone”. There is a state of mind called the flow, where you are highly focused, joyful and energised and you can find almost effortlessly, the best play. This has extensively been studied and if you want to know more about it, read what professor of psychology Mihály Csíkszentmihályi has to say about it. What he calls the flow is considered an essential mental state for all competitive endeavours. You just need to pay attention and notice when you reach that state of mind and what causes you to leave it. Some opponents, by their attitude or their actions, will try to make you leave that state of pure bliss; make sure you do not fall for their vulgar mind games.
I often heard people describing Magic as a game in between chess and poker. Chess is a gentlemen’s game. You play, and then you wait patiently, silently, for your opponent to do the same. Poker can be quite the opposite, people trash talk and try to distract their opponents to get them off their best game. In Magic, you can see both behaviours and they are accepted as long as they are not taken too far.
Here’s another example: I was playtesting drafting Modern Master 2015 with Alexander Hayne and Jacob Wilson, helping them to prepare for the World Championship (this is NOT namedropping, it is a relevant anecdote). I saw on one of Wilson’s deck boxes a picture of Justin Bieber. I admit, it may take psychological warfare a bit too far, but if it can get you an edge, why not push the limits of good manners and decency and do it. Some players have their own designed tokens, scantily-clad anime schoolgirls, old and rare versions of cards like beta mountains or judge foil promos or even playmats revealing their commitment to Magic with names of exotic cities (like Detroit) or titles of great virtues (like Game Day Champion). Some have rainbows and unicorns on their playmats, showing their complete disregard for social norms, other dress up like manga characters or planeswalkers, some suit up, wear funny hats or weird, flashy glasses. Show your worth and your general attitude with accessories! It is all fair game and clean fun.
At last, once you get to your seat, show confidence. Some would even add: talk as if you own the place. Show to your opponent and the audience that you clearly consider yourself the alpha male in the room and you have no fears. In the highly technical jargon, it is called being AAF (alpha as f*ck).
4. “It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.” Douglas MacArthur
Have a raw and undeterred will to win: Going to a Magic tournament is like getting into an arena. Think like you are a gladiator, getting on the burning sand tainted with blood of the innocent, in a massive Roman coliseum, aware of the violence and the dangers awaiting you inside. You know a bit what to expect, the usual, well-known combatants, like the ones with a glaive, the half-plate and the weird helmet, or again, the dude with his trident, trying to catch you from afar with his wide net. There could also be more exotic stuff, more unexpected, like a squadron of squirrels, lions, bears or tigers. Knowing you are destined for the arena, would you spend your days faffing around, doing other, lesser activities, than to prepare yourself for what really counts, your time to come and shine in the arena. I do not think so. So you need to see that as a metaphor of what Magic can be for competitive players named Spikes by Wizards. A tournament is not a relaxing social event. It is judgment time. It is where hopes and dreams get fulfilled or crushed.
When you really, desperately, without question want to win, you will be ready to go the extra mile to get there. That reminds me of when I managed to get on the national team in 2010 when the old format of the Canadian national tournament was how you qualified for it. The top 3 of Canadian Nationals would form the Canadian team. I had just drawn in my last round to lock up top 8. Because of that, I didn’t have to play and had time to kill. I knew that I had an opportunity to finally realize my dream of making the national team. I was afraid I would start to get tired and lack energy. I was also feeling my will to win wavering a bit. I had my bicycle near the venue so I went cycling for 45 minutes, giving all I had. Coming back, I was totally energized, high on endorphins and feeling relaxed and confident. I got to the finals and made the team.
5. “By strictly observing Botvinnik’s rule regarding the thorough analysis of one’s own games, with the years I have come to realize that this provides the foundation for the continuous development of chess mastery.” Garry Kasparov
Reflect upon what happened: To improve, once a tournament is over, you have to look back and be as critical as you can. In chess, post-game analysis is the key, but it is true for any activity. What did I do wrong? What could I do to improve? Was I too tired? Did I eat too much? Did I side badly? Did I give too much information? Did I play the right build? Did I choose the right deck? Was my sideboarding well-tuned? Did I get warnings for being sloppy? Did I not know some rules I should have known? Was I afraid? Was my expectation of the metagame correct?
Did I get intimidated or nervous when I played under the camera? Did I get distracted? Here, the important thing is to have a good, long and merciless look at ourselves and really try to find out what you could have done better. Once you have identified your weaknesses, you could try to do something about them. The problem is that, to preserve a positive self-image, we tend to recoil from putting ourselves into question as it can feel destabilizing. We have some unconscious defense mechanisms that, to maintain a peaceful state of mind, tend to deflect real criticism of our gameplay or way of being and we look for exterior factors on which we have no hold, like variance, so we do not have to work on ourselves and try to change. Changing is hard and can be demanding and stressful. Simply, when we win we tend to believe it is because of our excellent skill, but when we lose, we often blame it on bad luck so we avoid the pain resulting in putting ourselves back in question. Obviously, we have to get out of this mindset if we want to have a chance to improve.
Well, good luck for your next endeavour, be excellent, be ruthless, be alert, be alpha, and show your mastery of this beautiful art that we call spell-slinging. One last motivational quote, from the venerable master Confucius, should help you to get there:
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”