Leveling Up in Magic

Courtney RudigerStrategy

I have to admit that I’ve been in a bit of a Magic rut lately. I started out this year with my best GP finish ever at GP San Jose; then, I went to several PPTQ’s in the spring, but never even made top 8. I attended two more GP’s and didn’t even finish Day 1 with a winning record (2-4 at Richmond and 3-4 at Vegas).  Variance certainly played a role, but I still felt like I was “better” than the numbers showed.

After Vegas, I decided to take a break from playing Magic until Hour of Devastation released. I was getting very frustrated with the game, so it was clear that I needed to take some time to reset and reflect on what I really was looking for out of Magic. What were my goals? What could I realistically attain given my other time commitments? What could I work to improve?

While thinking about that last question, I tweeted the following:

“How have you gotten better at Magic? What one or two specific things have you done to improve or ‘level up’?”

The response I received was overwhelming, and the perspectives people shared were eye-opening. I want to highlight three of the responses here – they’re all items that I intend to focus on, and I think other players could benefit from taking this advice.

Surround yourself with people who are better than you and seek advice from them.

I’ve heard this idea a lot when people talk about getting better at Magic. If you don’t find people better at the game than you, then you won’t have anyone to learn from. It makes sense, but it’s also challenging: how do you know who’s better than you, and how do you find someone who is? When I look for people who are better at Magic than me, I tend to look for people who have more experience. When I was going to events regularly, this meant the people I recognized as the local PPTQ grinders.

But what if you can’t get out to events very often? The online Magic community, especially Twitter, has been instrumental in helping me along my Magic journey. The responses to my question about how to improve are a clear indicator of that. I’ve found countless people at different levels to talk to about Magic, whether we’re hypothesizing about new cards or evaluating Sealed pools. Many pro players are active on Twitter and you can sometimes engage with them and get their insight.

There are also multiple other resources out there, such as articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, and Twitch streams produced by talented Magic players that can help you improve your play. I find these articles and videos particularly helpful if I’m picking up a new deck. You can watch a pro player play some matches with the deck and watch them talk through their plays and sideboarding decisions. Reading tournament reports and deck techs can provide valuable information as well.

Focus on improving at one thing at a time.

One problem I have with goals is that while I’m good at setting big-picture goals, I’m bad at setting the smaller goals I need to get there. Without those in-between goals, the large goal feels unattainable, because you don’t have a good measure of your progress. You aren’t going to achieve your largest goal overnight. You need to have little steps along the way to get there. This concept really hit home for me in my recent weight loss journey: I have an overall weight loss target, but it doesn’t happen overnight and there are many little steps and goals to reach before I get there. Magic works the same way. Your goal is to reach the Pro Tour? That’s fantastic, but there are many steps to take before getting there, and you’ll be better off taking them one at a time.

Your goals don’t have to be long-term ones, either. For example, my goal for each GP I attend is to make Day 2. That’s the large overall goal, but what about the little specific things I need to do, or get better at, to get there? These smaller goals can be taken one match at a time – don’t rush your plays, communicate clearly, identify the best line of play. Without these smaller goals, it would be very difficult to achieve the overall goal of Day 2.

Let go of the “need to win” mentality.

This is a big one for me, as you could probably tell from the introduction to this article. I wasn’t meeting my own expectations, and my goals were often results-oriented. Results-oriented goals are easy to make because they are measurable; it’s clear when you’ve met them, and it’s also clear when you’ve fallen short.

I’ve failed to meet my Day 2 goal at my last two GP’s, but I’ve tried to remind myself that the events weren’t total losses. At each one, I felt I built the best deck I could given the cards I had in my Sealed pools and the knowledge I had of the formats. I didn’t make any gameplay errors requiring a judge call. I did make some sub-optimal plays, but I recognized them and worked to avoid repeating my mistakes. Those three items alone would make excellent goals for any Magic event.

I’m going to try to work to change my mentality and expectations from being win-based to being play-based. If I focus on optimizing and improving my play, the results will follow. But even if they don’t, I will still be accomplishing something with every event I play in.

I’ll be looking forward to my next events and am aiming to make the most of them, even if I don’t win. A fresh mindset is key to getting out of a rut, and I hope you find these suggestions just as useful as I did. If you find yourself getting frustrated with the game, try taking a break for a couple days, a week, or even a month. Take some time to step back and reflect on what you want out of your Magic experience and why you aren’t getting that anymore. It can help you find a new direction in Magic, and keep you moving forward.