Everything You Wanted to Know About Magic But Were Afraid to Ask

Below is a collection of some things I’ve learned over the years as a Pro Tour Magic player. I’ve tried to exclude things I jotted down solely for the purpose of appearing witty, but the format kind of lends itself to these items and some of that no doubt survived. My goal with this piece is to open these items up for discussion, which will help me add to and refine the list – a list I’ve been cultivating for a while. When it comes to this complex game we love, we all have more to learn than we have to teach. Hopefully I can teach you all a little, and from your responses learn a lot.

  1. Trust everyone, but cut the cards. (Not mine, but too important to exclude). Sailors’ corollary: “Pray to God, but row to shore.”
  2. According to Paul Rietzl, the wisdom of the crowd is usually this about draft formats: During the first two weeks of a new draft format, it is “The best format ever.” Week 3, the format is “Tempo based.” Week 4 it is “Bomb dependent.” In Week 5, it is “Unplayable.”
  3. When your friend who always plays control picks aggro, trust her and avoid control, but don’t trust her aggro list.
  4. a) When underprepared, play Rock. b) Poll your friends before playing Paper (are they actually playing Rock, or just scared of it?)
  5. If you always follow a recipe as close as you can when cooking, don’t use a sideboard guide. (Unless novice or very underprepared).
  6. “Next Week’s Deck” (Scissors) is better than “Last Week’s Deck” (Rock)—consider the top table metagame—but you’ll have to tune it yourself.
  7. Specific: If you spend Saturday on Magic Online, spend Sunday outside. (General: “Arbitrary” commitments to avoid inertia and obtain balance are not arbitrary.)
  8. The person playing only one deck in testing will have a tuned list. Whether to play the deck is your question. Which 75 cards to put in the deck is mostly theirs.
  9. Your significant other (assuming he or she is a muggle) sharing your PT vacation with you should be scheduled to arrive on Sunday morning—to watch you in top 8 or to start the non-Magic phase of the trip, but not earlier. The same reasoning as: 2 hours of work and then a 2-hour movie is better than 4 hours of movie and work, as long as you care about focusing on the work or the movie.
  10. When someone thinks of an idea you already thought of a week ago, explore where they are headed and why before pointing out that you thought of it first. The two of you may be holding connecting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, rather than the same piece.
  11. They count losing the last round to make Top 16 or Top 25 the same as winning the last 3 rounds to make Top 16 or Top 25. But the former is harder and ought to count for more, in the same way a sports team’s strength of schedule ought to matter but is hard to measure. (Put another way, tiebreakers tell us something about strength of schedule and performance under pressure, but that information is not persistent).
  12. If you ignore the worst card in your opening hand and the remaining N cards make a hand you would WANT to see if you mulled to N, you should usually keep. Master this and you won’t be mulliganning too much.
  13. If your 7-card hand needs multiple things to get going, not just one thing, you should probably mulligan. The most common bad-keep involves a hand that needs one thing badly and isn’t even that strong if it gets it.
  14. When a deck is about evenly split between two categories like creatures and spells, consider what happens when you only draw one and not the other. If one of those scenarios is particularly scary, you should probably skew your split toward the one you need.
  15. While you are complaining about which cards they banned or printed, Craig Wescoe and Brad Nelson are playing games of the new format.
  16. Performing almost any mathematical transformation on a set of playtesting results (aggregation, ranking, conversion to percentages, etc.) hides more than it reveals.
  17. When a bad player wins a tournament, their deck is usually better than it looks.
  18. Asking questions to signal intelligence (to hear the sound of your own voice) leads to extremely long discussions with no useful result.
  19. The fastest path to becoming great at something cuts straight through the rest of your life. It’s okay to walk it, but just be honest about the tradeoffs you make.

Let me know what you think about version 1.0 of this collection below or on Twitter @mtg_law_etc.

-Matt Sperling


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