Last week I wrote an article about improving your approach to playtesting and practice. An article on this particular topic could be hundreds of thousands of words long—there is simply so much to learn about the way we learn.
Keep Your Composure
I believe one of the biggest mistakes we make as players is how we react to losing. I’ve played countless matches on Magic Online in which my opponent rages about how lucky I got. It takes some serious self control to not fire back: “is it lucky that you made a game losing misplay?” It’s crazy how many games are decided by the plays you make, and how easy it is to miss what those plays were. I
In my attempts to produce video content or stream myself playing Magic Online, I will state flat-out the exact reason why I lost a game, and the most common response I receive is that I’m whining. That is terribly destructive to the learning process. Even something simple like “well he drew a third Siege Rhino so I couldn’t win no matter how I played” is helpful because you searched for an explanation of why you lost and you found it—sometimes it will be your opponent’s draws and sometimes it will be your own actions, but it’s important to always look.
When you win a game, try to quantify exactly what caused the win and you will learn more about your deck or your opponent’s deck. Even in a game that lasts only 5 or 6 turns, try removing one of the spells you cast from the game and see if you would have won as easily, or if had no chance to win, you can quantify the value of that card.
In the same vein, if you won a game and your opponent cast multiple spells that were not effective, you can learn from that as well. If you can accomplish multiple goals at once while you playtest simply by absorbing what’s happening, it’s huge.
Say I’m playing Burn against Dredge in Modern, and they never win a game in which they cast multiple Grisly Salvages and it rarely helps them stay in the game when they cast one. If I’m testing the matchup with the intention of playing Dredge myself, I can reasonably deduce that in game 1 I should be less willing to keep hands in which Grisly Salvage is an important aspect of my hand, or hands where I have multiple copies of that card.
Furthermore, I could even notice later when practicing with Dredge that I don’t want to draw it against a combo deck because it’s too slow, at which point I could just conclude that it isn’t a very good card at all. This isn’t because I’m just being negative, or I’m dead-set against a certain kind of card. Identifying when a card is just bad is hugely important, so that when you playtest with a new deck and someone suggests it, you know that it’s inferior and you shouldn’t put it in your deck. This is exactly what happened with Hangarback Walker.
Learn Card Value Identification
One technique that helps me most when I practice is that I search for games in which I play multiple copies of my best card and still lose. This is easier to detect, but still quite valuable.
Look at Abzan in the previous Standard: Siege Rhino was totally busted, and still is. It was no secret that Siege Rhino was one of the best cards in Standard, I almost felt invincible when I drew 2 copies of the card. I used to say that every matchup is easy when that happens.
That said, in the mirror it was significantly less impactful, and if you drew only 1 Siege Rhino it was only all right, and if you drew 2 you could run them over only if they didn’t have Elspeth.
Knowing the value of your cards is massively important because it helps you make close decisions in sideboarding, and even alleviates a lot of the stress of close mulligan decisions.
If you know you’re playing against Mono-Red and your opening hand has Courser Kruphix, Siege Rhino, and 5 lands, you can call it a slam-dunk keep because you know that when you have that curve, you almost always win. An inexperienced player might find a reason to dislike this hand because it has 5 lands and 2 spells.
In the same way, when I get a couple of good hands in a row drawing multiple Mantis Riders, one person might get frustrated and call me lucky while a more observant person would say that Mantis Rider was a very good card in the matchup. As I mentioned, you would already know to keep more hands with the card, but you’d also be more inclined to keep riskier hands with the card since you know the payoff is higher. This can be helpful in even more situations since, when you’re the one with the Mantis Rider, you can play more liberally with counterspells knowing you only need to press your advantage for so long before you can close out the game. This is not true in matchups where you’ve decided it isn’t that great of a card—if they tried to kill it in that context you might just let it die.
Lastly, if you decided to play a different deck you could sideboard in more removal if you felt you were weak to a card, or play differently with a card like Thoughtseize to prioritize making them discard that card more than you might have before. With the new scry mulligan rule, knowing the exact value of your cards will be huge.
Sure, Siege Rhino is a good card, but stopping at that conclusion is lazy. Gather information in a systematic manner, and come at the game with a pragmatic approach. Learn which cards are good. Learn why they’re good. Learn these things faster than other players.
This is how you get a big edge in a tournament.