Magic is a complicated game, and no one plays it perfectly. Everyone has their own set of recurring mistakes that come up time and time again in their gameplay, but there are a few that are far more common than others. I thought I’d break down what they are and how to combat them so that you can make sure they’re not dragging your gameplay down.
This is a mistake I would say well over half of Magic players make, and is perhaps the most common issue I come across when coaching. Variance is undeniably a large part of Magic, and I’m not trying to deny that. However, many players at basically every level of play tend to use it as a tool to avoid accepting when losses were genuinely within their ability to prevent. Specifically, players will find themselves in a situation where they need to get quite unlucky to lose (for example, their opponent needs to top-deck a specific one-of to win), and when that happens, chalk that loss up to variance. However, what they’re ignoring is ways they could have insured themselves against that variance. In the example above, maybe there was a line to take that prevented their opponent having that one out.
The best tool for combating this is approaching variance as something that can and should be defeated. Trying to think through how you could win in spite of variance, rather than just accepting it is a good first step for this approach. Along the same lines, in games where you felt variance decided the winner, look back at them and think about whether there was any way you could have prevented that. Perhaps a more conservative line a few turns earlier may have helped, or choosing to mulligan a hand that is unlikely to pan out. The moment this really clicked for me personally was watching Chris Botelho’s stream, where he lost a game on around turn 11 against Mono-Red, and recognized immediately that this was likely influenced by a turn two play. In the early turns of that game, he had opted to avoid Stomping his own Edgewall Innkeeper in response to his opponent casting Stomp on it, since he valued tempo over resources, and in a protracted long game, this ended up hurting him. While you’re not going to remember every turn of every game immediately after, keeping track of important decisions (and possibly going over replays) can help you recognize places where you could have avoided or won through variance.
It’s important when doing this to make sure you recognize which plays would have been correct, regardless of the result they would have. It’s easy to fall into the trap of only zeroing in on winning plays, even though those plays may have been worse or less likely to succeed than others. Similarly, it’s possible plays from games you won may actually have been incorrect, regardless of outcome. In both cases, the best outlook is to try and figure out what the plays most likely to succeed were. Doing this regularly will prevent leaning on variance as an excuse too much, and lead to you winning more through variance in the future.