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Here I Ruel – 10 Simple Tips to Play Better Magic

Improving your skill isn’t an easy thing. A good portion of that process requires a strong level of self-investment, but investing your time is not necessarily enough. Indeed, if time and a strong will are the best ways to improve your game, you need a strong methodology in order to optimize said time and will.

Today I’m going to tell you about 10 conditions which will make you a better player if you can fulfill them.

1) Be aware of your physical condition

Sane mind lives in a healthy body. Of course I’m not telling you must must necessarily be aware 24/7 what you’re eating, how much exercise you’re getting, how much you sleep at night, etc. You may not have the will or the time to care about such things in the everyday life, but try at least to pay attention to your body on the days before and during a tournament. You might be able to play your best in a FNM while you have only slept a couple of hours the night before, but in the case you play a ten hour long tournament (mostly Grand Prix and PTQs), your body won’t support your mind as much as you would have wanted and your plays will be affected. This is even more true if you consider the last rounds of a tournament are usually the most stressful ones, which contributes to pile on the fatigue.

Also, when playing in a tournament, you should make sure not to skip any meal, and to eat even if you’re not hungry when you start getting tired, so you can get some energy back.

In case you are traveling abroad for a tournament, you must take jetlag very seriously. In case you are facing 5 or more hours of jetlag, I would recommend to try and land at least 48 hours, if possible 72 hours before the tournament starts. Then, when you’re there, the first thing you should wonder is how to get your body used to the new time as fast as possible, which mostly means deciding in advance at what time you’ll go to bed, and not to go earlier if you’re tired, nor later if you’re not.

2) Organize your board correctly

When you are playing, you should be focusing on the game situation and not on anything else. In order to be inside your game from the very beginning, you should first always have a pen and a notepad, or anything you can write the life totals on. Then you should always try and have dice and/or tokens, so the counters are clearly indicated.

I’d also recommend to systematically sleeve your deck. It makes the card look better, and it makes them feel more comfortable to shuffles as well as to hold in hand. Then always put your deck, graveyard, and exile piles in the exact same place so you never have to wonder, not even for a second, where they are. You should also keep lands close to you and your other permanents closer to the opponent’s board, and tap them at 90% (or close to).

The better you organize your board, the easier the games situations will be to analyze.
All those little things may look like small details, but it is actually the care for every single detail which will end up making you progress.

3) Attend tournaments

Practicing is necessary in order to sharpen your skills, but nothing replaces the taste of competition. The experience you get in official tournaments is priceless. Indeed, you can face stronger players, new plays or strategies you had never thought of, play in front of spectators, play for prizes, and all those things a game at home can’t replace. Concerning the fact to have other players watching your games, I know how frightening it can be, but it is important not to let it get to you.
You can wonder if you have made a correct decision, and ask the spectators their opinion about it at the end of the game, but you should never let this kind of consideration get to you in the middle of a game. It pretty rare, even for a pro, to play a full match without making any mistake, so you don’t need to fill your mind with anything necessary. You should focus on your game and your opponent, and that’s about it.

4) Testing seriously

They don’t replace competitive games, but practice games are absolutely needed. If you don’t show up to tournaments with the right level of preparation, then you won’t gain as much experience. Therefore, it is important to be serious about your preparation. It concerns of course the decks you are practicing with, but more importantly the application you put in every game you play.
The more focused you are on every play you make in practicing, the more easily you will be able to play at your best level when you need it the most. If you can manage to put a lot of concentration in casual games, then you will grow faster and you will feel a lot less the effects of exhaustion in the late games of a tournament.

5) Question yourself

There is a huge random part in Magic. That’s sad, but that’s the way it is. Then what should you do when you lose several consecutive matches? Most players will notice how lucky (they consider) their opponents have been, how drawing a spell on the last turn would have made them win, or they will choose to focus on one supposed topdeck from the opponent which they consider was the turning point of the game. However, if you keep on thinking on what went wrong and not on what you could have done to make things go better, you’ll face huge problems. At first, you won’t enjoy the game anymore and you’ll enjoy it less when you win. Then, by not questioning yourself you put up a huge barrier between the current you and the better player you hope to become.

Realizing your mistakes and your imperfections as a player is the first step toward not making them again. Then, by wondering what you could have done in order to win, you will put more concentration into the next games and it will help your game.

People who have attended Pro Tours and Grands Prix may have noticed this, but the percentage of humble players is higher on the pro circuit than it is at PTQs. The reason for this is simply that the players who are the more aware of their own limits are those who can make the better use of their potential.

6) Never give up on a game

A game is never over until you’re at 0 life or you can’t draw from your library anymore. That’s pretty much the first thing you’re being taught when starting into the game, but you tend to forget it pretty fast. The more knowledge of the game and experience you pile up, the more you are able to know who has the upper hand, and when the game is nearly over.

From there, you must try and reach the next step, which is to know how to turn the tables in a complicated game. Of course, it is pretty complicated technique to see the small glimpse of hope and try and play in order to optimize this very small chance, but it doesn’t mean it is a technique which is out of reach. It does require skills, but these skills can be acquired through practicing, and they are not as important as having a strong spirit.

It takes a lot of concentration and as well as a lust for victory not to give up on games which are 99% over, and if you have those qualities, you will definitely improve.

7) Collect as much information as possible

Anytime you can have free information, you should take it and see if it’s relevant before taking any decision, no matter how obvious they would be.

Let’s say for instance you are playing a Scars of Mirrodin draft game, you have Panic Spellbomb and Hoard-Smelter Dragon in hand with eight lands on the table, while your opponent only has a pair of mana Myrs and one card in hand. Are you going to play the dragon this turn? Most likely, but it still shouldn’t be your fist play. You should play the bomb first, sacrifice it, and then make a decision. What will it change? 99% of the time nothing, but in case you draw another good creature maybe will you want to cast that second creature as a bait in case your opponent has an answer for it, so the dragon has better chance to survive and end up winning the game.

The first thing one must do before taking a decision is to take information where you can get it. Your opponent has searched for a Forest with Horizon Spellbomb? Then you’ll have to check when he plays a Forest if it’s the one with the same picture. Your opponent has conceded when you have played Worship? Then you will know for the next games (if he doesn’t sideboard) he probably has no enchant removal, bounce spell or mass removal in his deck.

A game of Magic can reveal a lot of information if you know what to look for, so try and not miss them.

8 ) Try to innovate

Net decking in Constructed and playing the more obvious archetypes in Limited is usually the best way to get the best results over a short-term period. However, what will make you grow as a deckbuilder and as a drafter is to be able to think of new archetypes and strategies. What is played in the Constructed format you’re interested in? Are some cards good against the best decks? Are they good in synergy with other cards efficient against those? What are the best cards existing in the format to take advantage of the cards you identified? How can you make your mana work? If you can answer those questions, then you can probably think of something interesting.

But while most players try this kind of thing in constructed, few are those who experiment new strategies in Limited. A Limited deck should be, just like a Constructed one, not seen as an collection of strong cards, but as the union of synergic cards. For instance, in Scars of Mirrodin draft, being innovative could be to try and make cards like Furnace Celebration, Throne of Geth, Golem Foundry or Genesis Wave work. I mean some of those cards can be good on their own (or very good in the case of the Wave), but you can’t exploit their true potential without picking the right cards to associate them with.

Building your deck doesn’t start at the moment you have drafted your 42 cards, but at the moment you have opened your very first pack.

9) Put your pride aside

Even though experimenting is good, the more you do it and the more you risk to end up making bad decisions. Playtesting a new constructed creation or refusing to draft an archetype because it’s not fun are understandable on the first hand, but if you can’t find anything better that those, you will have to go with the flow and run them. Even though it’s frustrating, it will help you save you from sacrificing tournaments.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is the best example I know of number 8 as well as the worst at number 9. He loves playing control all the time, and he’ll draft control decks all the time, (that being the decks that have the most possibilities and choices). This tendency to always go for the slow card advantage + removal decks made him a great drafter and deckbuilder when it comes to control, but on the other hand, Guillaume is sometimes so focused on his creations that he will stick to them even when pretty much any other deck in the format is better. To give you an example, Guillaume was the kind of person to try and draft control in Zendikar, and not wanting to play decks with no Island made him miss several good finishes.

10) Set goals for yourself

When investing time into Magic, it is important to set yourself goals in order to keep yourself motivated. It can go from how many hours or how many drafts you want to play a week, to something more mid-term or long-term, such as making a PTQ Top 8, getting 3 byes for a GP and attending it, or actually attending a Pro Tour. Every step you will reach will give you more motivation for the next one, and every step you won’t be able to reach will help you defining what you can do in order to get better.

Oli

39 thoughts on “Here I Ruel – 10 Simple Tips to Play Better Magic”

  1. I’m about as fat as they come and I literally never have had it come into play in terms of making me do something poor in a game of any type. Number 1 is foolish.

    The game is about brains, and nothing else.

  2. oh, and I almost never eat during tournaments. I’d rather grumble in the tummy than do so in the bathroom.

    If you have to eat something, make it something you’re SURE isn’t going to make you duece.

  3. @mark kelso (comment #1). never made you do anything poor in any game of any type…expect any sport right?

  4. you guys are idiots if you dont realise that eating better and everything liek that makes you play better

  5. LOL, Mark Kelso, how do you think your brain works? it NEEDS good sleep and healthy food,
    being fat is only a way to people call you the “TCG player stereotype”

  6. Good advice mr ruel.
    Can’t play best on an empty stomach, and getting some exercise especially cardio will help you think clearer and improve memory. Also its just a sweet line of play in the game of life.

    G I Jooooe!

  7. @Mark Kelso

    First, how do you know that your fat hasn’t affected your play if you haven’t played skinny? Second, his focus was more on making sure you have some food in you and enough sleep. If you’re a healthy fat guy, the fat may not affect you much, but lack of sleep or food will eventually take its toll in a long tournament.

  8. Brad also says that if tournaments were every day, he’d be significantly lighter. He makes it a point to eat well in the days immediately before, during tournaments.

  9. Kelso,

    Mr. Ruel never mentioned weight or implied that weight had anything to do with a magic player’s capability. Your indignant response was unnecessary and foolish. Mr. Ruel was referring to taking care of your body before, during, and after tournaments. This does not mean going to the gym or running cross country. This means maintaining proper sleeping, drinking, and eating habits. Essentially, don’t get wasted, don’t pull all-nighters, and don’t starve yourself. Quit looking for insults and reasons to be indignant about your weight.

    In reference to your final comment, your brain is part of your body. Exhaust it by not sleeping, starve it by not eating, or abuse it with alcohol and your play will suffer. There are also several studies that link physical exercise to increased neural activity and reduced loss of brain matter due to aging. If you doubt me just google “exercise improves brain function” or read the article below:

    http://hdlighthouse.org/treatment-care/care/hdltriad/exercise/updates/0042exercise.php

    Please stop to think and make sure that you’re point is sound before criticizing another article. Multiple studies have provided strong evidence that physical exercise improves all aspects of brain function, even your magic game, by increasing focus and decision-making speed, reducing the effects of fatigue, and increasing blood and oxygen supply to the brain allowing for optimum cell function.

    Sincerely,

    —Kunrath

  10. THe best magic players have consistantly been smart, and safe with their bodies. Being fat is different from eating well before and during a tournament. THey arent nessacarily related.

    That said, Saito is a twig and actually wins, unlike Brad.

  11. LSV is obese and gassy, but continues to do well. He must do some sit ups before each event to get the blood flowing.

  12. Don’t take the health section as a personal insult to your physique. Oli is in good shape, and several decent players are as well, but obviously that doesn’t pertain to EVERYBODY.

    However, there is quite a bit of great information to be had in this article, and I’d like to thank you for bringing it out Oli. Very good writing, and another reason you are one of the more respected players in my list of guys to read.

    I can’t agree more that innovation is good, both in Limited and Constructed. For example, a friend of mine opened a Sealed pool at the Release that was very weak in terms of traditional approaches (ie: Metalcraft, UW, Red) so he went with maximizing the cards he did open, which were a pair of Tempered Steel alongside multiple Ichorclaw Myr and Corpse Cur. He was in contention for the win until round 4 (out of 5) when he misread the opponent’s most likely play and walked into a combat trick. But the deck was incredibly powerful, and has me interested in doing something similar in Constructed, which is another thing to consider. Some of these Limited archetypes can be fleshed out with a bit of work to be good Constructed decks. It doesn’t take much to turn that Red White Metalcraft deck you drafted into WR Holy Relic aggro, but there are others that take a bit more work.

  13. Just some points about “format” of your article.

    Maybe seperate it somehow better, with “fat” text or something, as you listed 1)2)3) etc.

    A bunch of extra pictures would be nice aswell, no matter what pictures actual, maybe one of yourself playing.

    The article is nice, i would just like if it gets some kind of “make up” to look and read better.

    Would be great.

  14. Didn’t bother digging the old articles up, but I’m pretty sure the same things have been said a thousand times by almost as many writers. Good stuff etc etc, it’s just getting a bit boring and repetetive.

  15. @instiqma
    not everyone is reading all the articles for the past 5 years nor plays for that much time.

  16. “The better you organize your board, the easier the games situations will be to analyze.”
    You should also mention that a less organized board makes it harder for your opponent to analyze the situation, especially when it comes down to the mount of mana that you still have available from your lands. Since it would be easier for the player to keep RUU (multiple tapped lands) next to each other instead of taping his lands so that you have UR (multiple tapped lands) U available for your opponent’s turn if you want to Cancel his next play.
    Just reorganizing your lands in a different way might tell your opponent that you are planning to cast (whether or not you have the card in your hand), like Cruel Ultimatum, or the separate Mountain that telegraphs “burn spell”.

  17. Just reorganizing your lands in a different way might tell your opponent that you are planning to cast (whether or not you have the card in your hand), like Cruel Ultimatum, or the separate Mountain that telegraphs “burn spell”.

    Could go both ways though, some people make it obvious that they have lands untapped to play a spell that in realiity they haven’t got because Magic players will always assume the worst.

  18. Offended fat people are offended.

    Seriously guys, I really doubt there was any intention to offend people who are fat or skinny, it was simply some friendly advice…

  19. It is actually scientifically proven that low blood sugar, poorly oxygenated blood and innadequate hydration have negative effects on cognitive processes. The first two things listed are solved by eating and it doesn’t have to be a meal. It can be a protein bar and/or a meal replacement drink or better yet, some sort of fruit…I like mandarin or blood oranges, personally because they are.clean and easy/fast to peel..tasty as hell too.

    The last bit is cured by good old water, which will also help mitigate the diarrhea that stimulants, like caffein, taurine etc will sometimes cause.

    Being ”overweight” also doesn’t necessarily indicate poor health either, nor is that particularly relevant to what he’s referring to. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean spending an hour at a gym, it is as easy as a ten minute stroll outside. It is also scientifically proven that exercise will produce endorphens, which go a long way in fighting mental fatigue.

  20. OOOOOOOOOOoooooooooh snap alot of burn directed at the Ruel man, was he DQ’d or banned for those offenses? I don’t keep up much with the infractions or suspensions, but I remember one of the Ruels (or both) got suspended for a while… And still made the Hall of Fame? Must be nice…

  21. I disagree with “6) Never give up on a game” in some cases.

    Yes, trying to optimize your record by putting your effort in winning every match is important, but oftentimes, the best way to win a MATCH is to give up on a GAME.

    There are a lot of soft-locks, which prevent you from winning, especially pre-board, but take a lot of time to actually kill you. In various matchups, scooping your cards up early when g1 is a lock, but will probably take up a ton more time before it finishes gives you additional time to play sideboarded games and not lose / draw to the time limit. Postboard your chances are likely to be higher, with hate for the soft locks and you can try to optimize your match result there…

    See Counter-Balance Lock + Jace / Enchantress Lock with Confinement / Lands with multiple Maze of Ith, a Tabernacle and Loam + Wasteland going against certain decks / Crucible Waste + Trinisphere / Early Bloodmoon locks etc. etc.

  22. I’m a pretty egregious offender of #4. I don’t test enough with new decks, then show up to tournaments, playing DDT or countertop thopter in legacy. Sometimes I do well, but toward the end of the day, my brain is exhausted because I have expended so much mental energy on plays that would have been second nature had I played with the deck a bit more.

  23. So in one string of comments, we have mark kelso who can’t wash his back, and another guy deciding this is a good place to put his own article because no one else wanted to publish it. Woof.

  24. Come on guys!

    Being overweight not necesary means unhealthy??!!? You unitedstatians are always funny when things get related to weight or food!!! Try eating like normal people for once then the next time you crush Calcano or Phillips during a pro tour you will feel like beating those guys twice…. What ??? beating Christian or Cedric is not a two headed giant win…

    Merci M. Ruel pour ce beau moment!

  25. I know one thing… you are fat if you eat in excess or you have some kind of metabolic problem in your body.

    That being said, is not about being a super model, it’s about being healthy physically and mentally. That, for sure, will improve your game, and your life.

  26. The top chess players have physical training as part of their tournament preparation. It’s just a biological fact, being in good shape helps you to focus and think better.

  27. “Come on guys!

    Being overweight not necesary means unhealthy??!!? You unitedstatians are always funny when things get related to weight or food!!! Try eating like normal people for once then the next time you crush Calcano or Phillips during a pro tour you will feel like beating those guys twice…. What ??? beating Christian or Cedric is not a two headed giant win…”

    Having lived in the United States, and overseas, I can tell you that many overweight Americans don’t eat any more than people in other first-world nations…it’s that the food we do eat is so much worse for us, being made of corn and chemicals, rather than being real food.

  28. “Having lived in the United States, and overseas, I can tell you that many overweight Americans don’t eat any more than people in other first-world nations…it’s that the food we do eat is so much worse for us, being made of corn and chemicals, rather than being real food.”

    LOL!!!!!!

    Have you ever heard of cooking ???

  29. @Mark Kelso and all other weight-challenged people: It it’s any consolation, I can run a half-marathon in less than two hours, but I still suck at Magic…

  30. I love how a MTG article turns into a Fat V Thin argument lol. Great article BTW. Ive played since ’94 and probably break most of those rules. U should also state that sometimes u just have to give up on a deck. No matter how hard u try, some things just dont work in standard. But always save these decks for casual play.

  31. #5 Question Yourself

    This is much better advice then the previous “You suck at Magic!” articles that were the rage earlier in the year. Thanks for that.

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