When prepping my article for this week I initially thought about writing a retrospect on my Magic 2021 accomplishments and shortcomings. 2021 was definitely an…unconvential year of Magic for me, to put it lightly. While we still haven’t returned to the gathering as we knew it pre-2020, we saw the return of paper play in stores and also the return of a few large-scale events.
While it was a strange year of a soft return to the game we all love, I actually was able to reach one of my all-time Magic dreams, Top 8’ing a major event. My Top 8 at MTG Vegas was definitely a huge milestone for me to accomplish in my Magic career, and it got me thinking. I’ve been playing competitive Magic for about half a decade now, and while I’ve never actually hit my goal of qualifying for the Pro Tour (if we can even call it by that name anymore), Top 8’ing a major event was definitely an acceptable consolation prize. What does that mean for my future in competitive Magic as the game continues to change? What does it mean for other people in similar positions as me hoping to play at the highest level of the game?
While I pondered these questions I happened to stumble across an interesting thread on Twitter. For those of you who don’t know, my life outside of Magic is very heavily invested in the film and video game professional world. I’ve worked as an audio editor on various film, podcast, and commercial projects over the last few years in Los Angeles, and most recently have been aiming to break into the world of audio for video games. This is what one game sound designer that tried to reach a certain set of goals in 2021 had to say:
I’d suggest taking a quick read of the whole thread, but overall it’s a fantastic analysis of what can go wrong when you focus too heavily on expectations and outcomes rather than the practices you can put in place to achieve your goals. Instead of trying to achieve a quantifiable goal, such as “hitting 4186 followers across all social media platforms” as ZW Buckley tried to go, figure out a practical way to reach that goal instead, like “creating consistent posting schedules for social media platforms.”
It’s good to have goals to work towards, but you run the risk of burning yourself by setting goals that will be difficult to achieve if you lack the right fundamentals. I struggled for years to achieve my dream of qualifying for the Pro Tour, but my issue was I had my priorities messed up. I tried to grasp something out of my control while at times ignoring the aspects about my life that I could take control of.
One major change between my mindsets from 2019 to 2021 was that I focused more on how to improve as a player overall without setting specific goals for myself. It was hard enough with the pandemic and the cancellations of every major paper event to continue my dream playing on the Pro Tour, but I still wanted to play at a competitive level. I focused more on improving my Limited game, and by proxy I sort of just stumbled into my Top 8 at Vegas. I must have done something right in the time leading up to the event to make it that far!
Instead of aiming for specific Magic goals in 2022, brainstorm some practices that will overall help you to become a better player. Lucky for you, here are five of my top ways that you can achieve the Magic goals of your dreams in 2022:
- Do Your Homework!
One skill you can actively put into practice to better prepare yourself for your Magic 2022 goals is to be as prepared as possible when learning a certain deck, metagame, or Limited/Constructed format. Knowledge is power!
Since MTG Las Vegas was the paper release weekend of Innistrad: Crimson Vow, I made it my goal to know every card in Vow by heart. While I had some dedicated prep time alloted for the event, the week before Vegas was incredibly hectic work-wise, so I had little free time to practice drafting and analyzing sealed pools. However, I made sure to review the Vow spoiler and familiarize myself with cards and general interactions so I wouldn’t have to devote as much energy during the event to reading what my opponents’ cards did.
In my Top 8 match against eventual winner Nathan Holiday, he attacked his 3/3 flyer into my Bramble Wurm. After I went to blocks, Nathan immediately snatched up my Bramble Wurm to give it a closer read. “Why does this card have reach??” “Beats me,” I replied. “Damage?” While I did get crushed by Nathan’s expertly-drafted deck, even the best of the best can make errors that can lead to disastrous situations.
No matter what level of player you are you can still give up percentage points by leaving gaps in your knowledge. Know what tools your opponents will have ahead of time and learn how you can be one step ahead, even before sitting down for a match. Memorizing lines of text can get tedious, but it can sometimes be the difference in winning and losing a game.
- Set Dedicated Time to Practice During the Week
The best thing you can do to actively stay sharp and improve your Magic skill set is to set dedicated time every week to practice. Whether this be prepping for an upcoming sealed event or Modern 1k, you should be actively practicing your craft.
The biggest mistake you can make, however, is to confuse this with playing Magic for fun. It’s much better to focus on a few matches of Magic a day with your deck of choice rather than to play a few mindless hours on Arena ladder. While it’s fun to draft a janky deck or brew your next midrange pile, ultimately you have to take your work seriously. Hey, it’s always fun to crack open a cold one with the pals and draft your best friend’s Legacy cube. At the end of the day Magic is a game, and you should do what makes you happy. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to really improve your game you should take scheduled time out of your week to either work on your skills or at least do some research.
I’d recommend watching some old Pro Tour coverage or reaching out to that good player you know to jam some matches on Arena to prep for your next event. With Magic as accessible as ever make sure to keep your priorities in check and focus on what really matters.
- Know When to Give Yourself a Break
This is an important one. Tournament Magic has changed drastically over the course of the pandemic, and it may never return to what we knew it as in the “before times.” At the start of 2020 I was prepped to travel to a Grand Prix at least once a month and was aiming to carve a name for myself on the Pro Tour circuit with the introduction of the fractional invite system. A few months later the entire Grand Prix schedule was scrapped, along with fractional invites, and I was left unsure of how to continue my relationship with competitive Magic.
Fact is, we’re living in unprecedented times. While major tournament organizers have begun to announce the return of large competitive Magic events don’t let yourself succumb to the pressure of having to attend or prove your worth. Success isn’t made overnight.
When MTG Arena was first released I was stoked to climb to Mythic on the ranked ladder and share my success. Ultimately, I found that the ladder system wasn’t a match for me. I found the endless matches on my computer screen draining on my mental health. It’s important to understand what does and doesn’t work for you as a player. And look, if grinding ladder is your thing, more power to you.
Life is stressful enough as it is already. The pandemic has affected us all on a deeply personal level and it’s not worth it to put pressure on yourself to achieve certain results. If you’re frustrated that you’re not where you want to be – take a break! Sometimes stepping away from the game will be way more useful to you than forcing yourself to play a game that’s making you miserable.
Would you consider Magic: the Gathering a sport? I’m not sure I’d call chaos drafting at your local FNM a sport per say, but when it comes to long competitions that can take place over multiple days, then yeah it’s a sport alright. Heyk if Chess can be considered a sport so can MTG! The real question is, how many times have you prepared for a Magic tournament as you would for a physical competition like a marathon?
One of the biggest mistakes that I made for years playing tournament Magic was that I never treated events as serious physical competitions. It’s far too easy to relax and go out the night before a GP with your friends or inadvertently purchase some convention center chicken fingers and fries. While I can contribute my success at MTG Vegas and other events to my years of experience and new found love of Limited, there was one major change in my life that occurred between my last major paper event and Vegas: I started working out with a physical trainer.
I’m definitely not in the best physical shape that I could be, nor do I eat the healthiest. However, making changes to my diet as well as keeping myself active weekly has made an impact on my life, and I believe that it has kept me more focused and disciplined. I remember talking about these concepts years ago with my Magic mentor, Mike Flores. He pointed out something critical that I think many players would fail to understand. No matter how prepared you are for a given event, no matter how good your deck may be, you might be primed to 0-2 an event simply based on your diet, lack of exercise, and lack of sleep.
For 2022, whether you’re looking to Top 8 a SCG Con event or win your first FNM, make it your goal to keep yourself in the best physical and mental shape possible. With balanced exercise, sleep, and nutrition, you can keep your cognitive thinking at a high level while making sure your body can sustain itself through long tournaments.
- Take Your Losses in Stride
One of the hardest things I’ve had to endure as a player is dealing with losses, especially in important events where I’ve been close to a cash prize or an invite. I’d much rather be remembered in the Magic community as a force for good and a mediocre player than a jerk and an exceptional player (although I’d really like to be remembered as both a good player and person haha).
One piece of advice I heard about Sam Black’s perspective on match wins and losses is to think about each match as its own isolated event. While you can take a look at your tournament as a whole, it’s also important to look at each match you played and how you conducted yourself through it. Did you really play that game the best you could have? Did you get enough sleep? Did you sideboard correctly? No one ever plays a perfect match of Magic.
I was ecstatic to make Top 8 of MTG Las Vegas. At the same time however, I realized that I made A TON of mistakes throughout the tournament. I built my day 1 sealed pool incorrectly, and even though I went 8-0, I found myself sideboarding into better options after every single game one. On day 2 I punted my first draft by not keeping myself dedicated to a two-color combination, and was left with a three-color pile of a deck when I could have assembled something way more consistent. I ended that draft 1-2. While I was lucky enough to open well in the second draft, 2-0, and then draw myself into Top 8, I ultimately made some unfortunate errors that could have cost me the tournament. The point of all of this is to make sure you can analyze when you make mistakes not just when you lose, but when you win as well. Keep yourself humble and always be open to learning.
In conclusion, always extend the hand whether you win or lose, think about what you could’ve done differently after every match, and pat yourself on the back when you make the correct lines. Don’t beat yourself up over any given game, but face your mistakes head on.
In all honesty, 2022 is going to be another interesting year for tournament Magic. With no official announcement about paper competitive play from Wizards of the Coast, competitive Magic as we knew it pre-2020 is all but gone. At the same time, individual tournament organizers are announcing their own large-scale events boasting high prize pools. While our own individual goals may be wildly different from each other’s, we can practice healthy ways to achieve those goals and overall improve ourselves as players. Before setting your Magic goals for 2022 ask yourself what you have control over and what you don’t. Heck, I’m not even sure what my Magic 2022 goals are yet, but I know for a fact that I want to continue playing at the highest level I can achieve and meet even more amazing people in this game I’ve grown to love so dearly.
No matter what may come our way in 2022 let’s sure to give it our all!