Playing Magic Makes You Worse at Magic

Now That I Have Your Attention

The title is a bit generalized and sounds a bit Doomsayer-ish. There is however truth in the statement that playing magic can often make you worse. This in particular applies to people that only play one or two formats and players that pick up bad habits. Any doubt of this is understandable…that is until we look at how many people play consistently with results dropping in proportion only to see them take a month off and suddenly they’re on fire. It may be a bit more complicated than simply taking a week off and then winning a Pro Tour, but it is likely the first place you should start.

I took a week off of Magic before Grand Prix Vancouver but only after I had played some Avacyn Restored limited. I had confidence in my ability to play the format and was well versed in the different combat tricks and their playability. That was until about four weeks into the format online where I suffered a string of losses that killed off my Limited Hero idea. After playing about triple the amount of events my starting budget would have allowed I found myself as a Bye in the format. How could this happen?

I realized I was picking up bad habits from beating people early in the format. I was a B+ Player when the average player was a C-. This was fine until everyone caught up to me while I had just settled. I didn’t try many different strategies. I was so focused on doing what had won me matches that I never picked up high variance cards to test. Other than when I played a [c]Somberwald Sage[/c] and [c]Griselbrand[/c] deck. Taking a week off before the Grand Prix was the best thing I could do.

Week of Wonder

I could easily make a Bare Naked Ladies –One Week joke about how I’d buy you a monkey, but I’d be overwhelmed on which line to turn into a pun. It is that sense of joy at things like puns or favorite songs that we may not notice lacking during our bad runs. Life Tilt has a real meaning when even listening to a song that played while you lost causes you to rage. That was close to where I was right before my break. Magic was almost worse than a job when I had a Grand Prix to worry about, and I’m not even a Pro yet.

After two days that had already changed. I missed Magic again. That is something you will always hear.

Durdle #1: “I’m quitting magic for a while!”
Durdle #2: “How long will it be this time?”

*Two days later*
Durdle #1: “Magic is so awesome!”

That’s pretty much what happened in my case. The only exception being that I made sure not to play Magic. I continued to study the format from a distance with the occasional article. That let me keep up on any discoveries about the format but not have to feel pressured with the possibility of losing. I also watched streams to see what other people were doing right. Streaming is worth a side note here.

Semi-Random Segment Interruption

Streaming is where Magic needs to be heading. It is a little more time consuming than watching edited videos but has a much higher reward. I know Jonathon Sukenik aka WatchWolf92 and Cedric Phillips are very good about involving the audience. Streaming helps both the streamer and the audience learn something new about the game. Cedric Phillips already credits his viewers as why he was able to win a Pro Tour Qualifier with a BantPod deck he played on stream.

One point I want to bring up is that people should let the ads play. That is financial support for the person that is providing you with information and entertainment. The least you can do is sit around for 30 seconds to help them cover cost. If you enjoy the content you should support these people when you can. I often have two or three streams playing, though most would be muted. I learned this lesson from League of Legends, and it is another reason playing other games is good. You learn how different gaming communities and tournament circuits function. Streaming is already a major part of Video Game cultures and has found people streaming full time. Just like video content it will be a slow start but an important advancement to make. I may cover more in the future and will link WatchWolf92, Cedric Phillips’ and my stream at the end.

Return of the Topic

With a whopping zero hours spent playing Magic during the week leading up to Grand Prix Vancouver I at least had the knowledge that I was not cold in the format. I had erased most of my bad habits with the format while learning a little more about card values. Grand Prix Vancouver ended up being my first Day Two. My losses to Paul Rietzl and Conley Woods on Day One lead me to an X-2 score. There was a fair bit of luck in going that far, but having a break to get back my interest in Avacyn Restored limited was crucial. Had I not taken that break I may still have found the format miserable. I also may have done worse in the draft portion. I came up a bit short of prizing in any case.

I may not be the biggest example of how taking a break often leads to a strong come back, since I still haven’t gotten to play too many big events. People you can see the evidence in are, shock of all shocks, Cedric Phillips and WatchWolf92. Cedric Phillips took a few months off and is not back on the Pro Tour and doing rather well with Magic. WatchWolf92 took a little time off only to return with a stream channel and now has many viewers. They knew they had lost that drive and took off the time until they got it back. They show there’s no exact time frame for coming back to the game with huge force.

The Format’s The Thing

Most of the time it isn’t even that you would need to quit playing any and all Magic. A lot of times card values become so warped within a format that we start to stumble over ourselves. This is what happens when people only play one format. Drew Levin and Caleb Durward both mentioned they had issues in most formats since they dedicated their time almost solely to Legacy. You will pretty often see people do well at Legacy events but mostly fall short when it comes to large events of other formats. This often true of players who play Standard and fall on their faces in Limited events or the reverse. You actually hamper your skills by limiting the number or formats you play since you learn different habits and concepts in each one.
Do you keep your duals or basics untapped? The answer may very well depend on whether you are playing Legacy or Standard.

In Standard there are few things that can punish you for leaving up a particular land. You often just leave up the lands best suited for the plays you can make. Leaving up dual lands is also the best way to try to bluff a spell as you can often bluff while taking no risks of not casting your actual answers. While in Legacy there is [card]Wasteland[/card] to punish you for leaving out your dual lands instead of basics. This makes it so that in Legacy you often have to leave out your basics while in Standard it is correct to leave out your dual lands and if you only play Standard you will often make a worse play with your mana in other formats.

The downside to only playing Legacy is that all your cards are stronger so you often make plays that are good only because your cards are strong. While in Standard you have to learn to make valuable plays because your cards can’t carry you to a victory individually. If you only play Legacy then you will fall short in other formats where card quality isn’t as strong.

Now people who play Limited only often don’t have as much experience with powerful cards or powerful strategies. This is due to the fact that they deal with such wide variety of decks. And rarely see the same deck twice. The benefit to playing Limited is that you improve your deck building skills and learn to deal with many varying situations.

There are other formats such as EDH, Vintage, and Modern. These promote different skills, so the more different kinds of magic you play the better your grasp on how to play any magic will be. That doesn’t always mean that playing every format makes you an expert. It only means that by branching out into various forms of Magic you will tune different skills.

Just Play Different Formats?

It’s not just different formats that develop your skills. Playing other card games will help your deck building and card evaluation skills. If you ever choose to play the free online demos of Kaijudo or Pokemon card games you will find it much easier than most people who just started with those games. This can be a major confidence boost as you will see that you do in fact know something about battling with cardboard. These games are much easier than Magic and often mocked for it. You will however lose many games and be forced to remember that variance is real.

The best reason I can give you for playing other Trading Card Games is actually based on a form of treatment for Alzheimer. In order to keep the brain functioning patients are encouraged and often forced into learning new things. These new experiences develop more pathways in the brain so that memories aren’t lost at a worse rate. In other words the best way to remember old memories is to constantly be learning. The issue as far as Magic goes is that we eventually know most things about it and begin to forget faster than we find things to learn about. By playing other TCG’s we keep ourselves focused on basics and make it easier to recall core concepts.

That is only covering why to play other Trading Card Games, let alone when we play games like League of Legends, Poker, Ascension, Chess, or many other games. Most games involve some skill that will translate over to your magic career. Poker makes percentages a common concern and a mandatory skill in playing to your outs in a regular game of magic. League of Legends plays out as requiring strategy and analysis within a time limit to help develop your ability to discover the correct course of action during a match of Magic.

Pro Tour winner Alexander Hayne and KYT, aka @InsayneHayne and @KYTmagic on twitter, have both been mocked over their praises for Chess. I would almost dare to say they don’t stress playing Chess enough. Chess isn’t even the hardest board game, and it is still much harder to master than Magic. The closest thing to luck is whether your opponent chooses the wrong play, so you can’t just win off the top of your deck and not your own skill. I would say Chess is likely the reason Alexander Hayne had the skills necessary to pilot the Miracle deck to a Pro Tour win in Barcelona. I am beginning to look into maybe playing Chess or Go* on Yahoo! Games again if not some other medium.

*Go is a game that became known in North America thanks to a popular manga called Hikaru No Go based on the game. It dates back about 2000 years before chess and is even older than that. It is worth looking up. Go for beginners

How to Use This Information

Simply put, you should play as many different formats and games as possible. It really is that simple to develop skills for you Magic career. As long as you have a purpose and become involved in learning the basics for other games you will strengthen your core skills within Magic. Seeing as how little Magic I get to play it is often nice to keep honing my abilities by playing 20-40 minutes of different games that I don’t even have to pay for.

While sometimes playing other formats in Magic is near impossible, there is no excuse for not playing free games. Pokemon, Kaijudo, League of Legends, and Yahoo! Games are all free options. Then there are still plenty of players on TwitchTV ready to show some gameplay and answer some questions.
We have so many opportunities for becoming better players that it is rather silly to skip out on every single one. I will look forward to people messaging me to join me in other games as I know I will be contacting other people.

Best of Luck
Luis Acosta

Twitch Streams
Jonathon Sukenik
Cedric Phillips