Want to Win a Magic Tournament? Start Here!

This is the first article in a series where we will explore the larger picture of skills transferable from one tournament or season to another. You can call this the macro game or the big picture. We will go over goal setting, mindset, how to pick a deck, mental/physical health, predicting metagames, how to prepare for a tournament, how to work in a team and a never ending list of ways we can improve as players and people. I’ll share what I have tried, what worked for me, what didn’t and also tips I have found along the way

So, how do you win a magic tournament? Do you win by having the best deck, playing perfect or just getting lucky? It turns out this simple question is a giant tree of information and questions.

One of the things that makes magic so hard to master is that it is constantly changing. Finding a good deck for a tournament and learning to play it competently is already difficult. What do you do when the format changes and you have to start over? All of your hard work and time has been relegated to very little use once cards rotate in and out.

Since I started to take magic seriously, I have won two Grand Prixs. My younger self would have thought this to be a great achievement. Yet, I am still at the bottom of the competitive mountain when it comes to levelling up to the highest caliber of players.

First, a little about how I got here. In the last few years, I have been on a self-improvement journey. It started with wanting to learn more about physical health. Shortly after turning thirty, I realized I was putting on weight and had a hard time getting rid of it. I was still eating and living the same, but something had changed. My metabolism had started to decrease, as it does to most people when they age.

The first step in my journey was being dragged to personal training sessions by my longtime friend and MTG master Aeo Paquette. At the time, I could barely do lunges back and forth across his small studio gym without feeling like I would collapse. I would go once a week and wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. An hour a week of weak output obviously wasn’t enough. I decided to add another class and joined a Muay Thai gym (Thai Kickboxing).

I was spotty about attending both and saw little results. I decided if I wanted real change, I needed to go “all in”. I found an all in one gym and fitness centre in Thailand and headed West. I lived at the camp for two months, learning from world class martial artists and dieticians. I came out with a strong understanding of what I should and should not be putting in my body and sported abs I had never seen before.

Alas my newly gained knowledge went out the window once I was back home, I went back to my old habits. Keeping this routine going was a lot harder when I wasn’t somewhere where everything was tailored for me and I had to do all the work myself.

Even though I loved the results I had gotten, I couldn’t seem to keep myself on this path of health. My mind would come up with excuses for not eating healthy or going to the gym, like “I don’t like cooking and eating out is expensive” or “I don’t know how to work out properly without an instructor and they are also expensive”. I struggled to get myself to do the things I knew were good for me and lost the battles. It was time to go to war with myself.

I read a quote from a self-help book called “No Excuses” that has stuck with me, which was “self-discipline is self-love”. This sounds strange, but it makes sense. It’s the same reason we give children boundaries to make them grow for the better.

I learned that the voice inside your head is not your friend. Our brains are programmed to keep us comfortable and safe. They don’t want us in high intensity stressful situations. Our minds will actively seek to get us out of these situations. They will tell us to stop running because we are in discomfort. They will tell us to get out of a high-pressure game because our adrenaline and stress levels are spiking, leading to potential self-sabotage. This is a struggle we will always have, but the more we are aware of it and practice, the easier it will be.

I took these newfound skills and applied them to competive MTG. I decided to go all in on this endeavor and hired Seth Manfield for some one-on-one coaching sessions. This is where I learned how hard it is to “level up” at Magic.

Most of the things I needed to learn were hard for Seth to teach me in a single hours’ time. What makes the great ones great is their experience in certain situations and pattern recognition from past decks, formats and metagames. They have good instincts because they have been there before.

There were some nuggets of information that I gleaned, however, such as I couldn’t do all the work on my own, as well as approaching the game with an open mind and trying not to always shoehorn decks or plays into good or bad.

Oftentimes, magic falls into the category of “it depends”, so we need to be fluid in our thinking and understanding of the game. A deck, card or play is not always strictly better than another; it depends on many other variables at the time.

This is something that I can struggle with at times; being someone who tends to learn more by process of elimination. I want to check off a list of this deck beats this one and this card should go in my deck over another. But that is almost never how it works in real life.

Now, to some of the more practical things you can start with today. The first is goal setting. We are going to keep these simple, but this is a topic you can dig into if you wish.

Historically, I am terrible at goal setting and have lacked the self-discipline to stay with goals I wanted to achieve. Did you know you are 40% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down? It’s amazing to think this simple task can make you so much more likely to succeed. Easy, right? Let’s start there.

Jason’s Goals:

  • To make it into the MPL
  • To make the best MTG Content possible
  • Make enough money to keep chasing goals 1 and 2
  • Run 5 Kilometers a day 5 days a week


For today’s article, we are going to focus on the first goal. We need to break the goal down into bite size actions. You should do this until you have an action plan with a scheduled path from where you are to your goal.

To get into the MPL, I need to qualify for the Zendikar Championship. I have identified the monthly Arena qualifiers and the SCG Championship as the ones I will target. I will need to qualify for each by being top 1200 mythic for the first and getting 150 SCG points for the second.

The first Arena qualifier happening on Sept 12-13th is probably the best opportunity: there is a large number of participants and the format will be historic which just added new cards and bans. In addition, many players will have qualified from playing limited or standard and will not have a lot of historic experience.

Now, how do I prepare for success at the Arena qualifier? I have been fortunate enough to finally find a very good team for this tournament. This will not only help me to prepare, but also avoid the pitfalls of picking a poor deck list that I have fallen into at previous PTs.

The tournament will also be closed deck list in a very open metagame on arena. This means playing games on the ladder will be beneficial rather than being detrimental when preparing for an open deck list and smaller sized tournament.

I have my path laid out for the next week: run a 5k in the morning, test and help my team during the day, grind games on the ladder and play in tournaments on stream in the evening.

Next week, I will update you on how I did, and delve deeper into more specifics on winning consistently at magic tournaments.

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