The Most Important Steps to Winning

In today’s article, we are going to recap on our goals from last week, dig deep into our mindset and go over the most important step to take if you want to win a Magic tournament.

Looking back on the path I laid out for myself last week, I was going to run five kilometers, five days a week, and practice Historic with my team and on stream. I ran all five days and posted some of my struggles on Twitter under the hashtag #MTGFit. I encourage you all to join me in your own quests for health and fitness. I felt great knowing I had accomplished this goal; however, I am already two days behind on this week’s runs and will have to run on the weekend to make up for it. I need to start running first thing in the morning so that I do not put it off or let other things take up my time.

Testing has gone well, and the team seems to be coming together now that we are in the last week of preparation before deck lists are due for the Invitational. After trying and losing with a lot of decks in Historic, I have finally started to find my footing in the format. I will post the deck that I am playing in the Zendikar Split Qualifier next Thursday.

Thought Reflection

With our goals checked off, I wanted to take a moment and talk about my mindset.  I think it’s important not to use excuses and to hold you yourself accountable.  If you aren’t winning or achieving your goals, you are the only one to blame; not your friends, family, or the auto shuffler. Own up to the fact that the onus is on you to make the changes in your life.

On the other side of this personal responsibility coin is logic. Be logical enough to let go of the things we cannot change. Opponent top decked for the win; okay, next game. Client crashed unexpectedly and lost you a match? Do what you can and move on. Every moment we spend being upset or emotionally compromised is another moment we don’t spend moving towards our goals. In fact, we can become so emotionally compromised we go on tilt and take many steps backwards. So, always strive to be focused, on task and not let things outside your control affect you more than they should.

Life and self-development are all about taking two steps forward, and inevitably one step back. Be okay with failing and getting back up. I used to hear motivational speakers talk about being “in love with the process” of reaching your goals, not the actual goal. This always sounded like being in love with working all the time to me, which also sounded terrible. I’ve recently realized that the “game” we call life is always being played. We wake up every day with seconds, minutes and hours to fill with mostly whatever we want.  Going anywhere where you can stay in life takes constant work; there is no elevator for success. So, since you want to achieve your goals and better all aspects of your life, you might as well learn to love falling down and getting back up: aka “the process”. This is how we learn.

Okay, enough with the feel-good mantras. I know why you are really here: you want to win that next tournament and the one after that. Well, here it is. The most important thing you can do to win a tournament is play the best deck. I bet that sentence gave you a flood of emotions, so let me explain.

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First, I don’t think everyone will agree. I think it’s an easy point to prove if you look at the reverse. Could any MPL member win a tournament with 56 forests and 4 Llanowar Elves? Obviously, playing your deck well is very important but choosing the cards that go into your deck is the most important part of winning a tournament.

Now, for the hard part. How do we find the “best deck”? What does “best” even mean? I think we can safely say that the “best deck” can be defined as the deck that has the highest win percentage versus the field of a specific tournament. Now we’ve entered another variable, how do we predict what the decks in a tournament will be before the tournament? We are going to leave predicting the metagame for another article and focus on deck selection for now.

The reason it is so hard to find the “best deck” for a tournament is because there are too many variables and not enough good information. But what do I mean by that? First, trying to predict what hundreds of other players are going to play is difficult. There are, however, ways to make some educated guesses. Second, once we do “know” what the other players are playing, how do we find out which cards make up the best performing deck?


Getting good information is very difficult. Even in the modern age, with websites and apps that will tell you the win percentages of one archetype versus another, this simply isn’t good enough because it doesn’t take into account each player’s exact deck list or their play skill. There is also variance to contend with. Due to the time it takes to play a match of Magic, we are never close to the number of games needed to determine the actual percentage of any match up.

As we talked about last week, “we can’t do everything ourselves”. So, finding a team or community is vital. Make this your number one focus if you don’t have one already. I started out the hard way. I tried looking for deck lists and a community on Reddit. I tried joining all of the Patreon teams and communities on Discord. I tried using some of the Analytics websites that track tournament results to find the deck that could beat the metagame. I do still use some of these tools, but for the most part, they were full of voices shouting into the void. Obviously, some are better than others and there is still a lot of use to be gained by them. I am just saying for my needs, they were inadequate.

I ended up slowly finding like-minded people and chatting them up. I started podcasting, then streaming and commentating. I slowly met more and more people until I had started to surround myself with a solid group of players I could collaborate with and bounce ideas off of. This ultimately led me to my current team. With names like Manfield, Dominguez, and Nelson, I am the low man on the totem pole when it comes to know-how. I try to make myself useful by doing some of the grunt work. I bring in deck lists from tournament results and Twitter. I try to put in hours to bring results back to the team and make myself available for testing as much as possible.

Training Grounds

Beyond reaching out to others, there are some things you can do to help yourself. The first is to adhere to K.I.S.S, aka “keep it simple, stupid”. I am always trying to “break” the format by finding that amazing deck or strategy that no one has thought of. In twenty years of playing Magic, it’s basically never happened. I have finally realized that I need to stop wasting time on brewing too much. You should be brewing but you need to know when to stop. Many PT Top 8 competitors have made it there by drafting well, then copying a deck and sideboard guide from the internet and piloting the deck well.

Just like we want to find the best deck, we also want to avoid the pitfalls of registering a bad deck. I have registered a bad deck or a deck I jumped to at the 11th hour in every major tournament I have played in. Learn from my mistakes and don’t do this.

It might surprise you to find out that a lot of pros will stop playing magic for weeks or months on end in between major tournaments. This allows them to avoid burn out and come back feeling fresh. When they do come back, they tend to have a plan in place for their 3-4 weeks before the tournament. The first couple of weeks are utilized to get to know the format. Two weeks out and you can start predicting the metagame and figuring out what the best decks are. Ten days out you can brew and try attacking the metagame from unique angles as it starts to shape. Around a week out, you can stop adding rogue strategies for the most part and zone in on a deck or two you want to play.

The final few days are often a mad rush of game, trying various cards, getting the last slots correct and putting a plan into place. These last few days are also usually the time when you will not make any sudden changes and will stay the course with your plan to fall back on. This is just a rough idea, and there are always exceptions to the rules I laid out in this article. Having a plan and sticking to it will undoubtedly pay dividends and help you avoid the pitfalls of being ill prepared at a tournament.

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