Why Do the Pros Win More Than You?

“The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question, by questioning we arrive at the truth.” – Peter Abelard

Today we are going to talk a lot about the why and what of Magic. This is the foundation that any great Magic player has based their strategies on. This basis for logic in Magic can not be overstated. If you are not doing this you will not be able to even come close to ascending to the highest levels of competitive Magic. If you do begin down this path you will see that your understanding of the game will quickly begin to deepen and your results will show.

Running up that Hill

First though, an important update on tracking my goals and looking forward. Again, you should be writing down your goals and tracking them to help you maintain your focus long term. Last week I fell off my physical goals in a big way. I could make excuses like having a massive workload or that the weather here in Vancouver has been mostly torrential rain. But the reality is that I just didn’t want to and didn’t force myself to make it happen. I had some good weeks of results and started to see some benefits to my body and this made my enthusiasm wane. Self improvement is a constant struggle and setbacks will always happen. The important part is that you keep moving forward, while learning and improving. As of this writing I still don’t want to get after it this week and that tells me it’s exactly what I need to be doing. I have to remind myself WHY I need to be working out and how it’s going to help me achieve my goals. Just the simple process of reminding myself what I am chasing and how the larger goal is important to me makes me want to dig deep and get back to work.

This next month of Magic is jam packed with high level tournaments. There are two Zendikar Championship Qualifiers, Channelfireball Clash and the Week of Wings Redbull Tournaments. If you are looking to get in some tournament practice for the Championship Qualifiers, Seth Manfield, DanyTlaw and myself will be hosting two $500 prizepool prep tournaments the weekend before the Qualifiers for all of our Patrons. My ultimate goal is to get to the professional MTG Leagues of Rivals and the MPL. Thus I am going to schedule the next month of my life around these two very important Qualifier tournaments. I will be scaling back on content creation and putting in more hours preparing for them alongside Seth, Dany, and the rest of the team. I feel like I have been hanging on to a lot of bias when it comes to my deck selection recently and I am going to try my best to let go of that and make sure I am making sound choices. I am going to try and get others to “check my work” and justify the reasons I am choosing a particular deck to others that I trust as well as myself.

Autopilot is a silent killer

If you are just going through the motions without asking yourself WHY you are choosing this deck or why you are making the plays you are then you have already lost. We are all guilty of throwing cards onto the battlefield and assuming that we will win or that we are playing the only card in our hand on curve and that there is not much else to be done. There is something to be learned from almost every single game of Magic. Gabriel Nassif, one of the best players of all time, maintains that he makes at least a few misplays every game. So if you think you played a game perfectly realize that you are just missing the misplays. “There was nothing I could do” is a common saying in magic and it really translates into “I made mistakes that I couldn’t see”. These mistakes may have come from deck building before you even choose to play or draw. Once your game does begin you should be asking yourself questions like “What are my opponents paths to victory and how will they most likely try to achieve them?” and right after that “What are my paths to victory and what is my general strategy?”.

Choosing to keep or mulligan and which cards to put back on a mulligan can decide the outcome of a game with one single decision. Taking your time and asking “Why am I keeping this hand?” or “Why am I putting this card back over the other six?” and really justify your actions logically will immediately help you start winning more and will set you off on the right foot for the rest of the match.

After you have decided to keep, you should already be laying out your plan/s for the upcoming turns. Which lands will you play and in what sequence? Why are you playing this land first, this land second and this land third? How will the cards that you are likely to draw or the cards your opponent is likely to play in the early game affect your decisions?

Remember that your opponent will be doing this too. As you progress up the competitive Magic ladder, your opponents will improve and they will be making more intelligent decisions and picking up clues from the plays you are making or not making. You, in kind, should be paying close attention to the plays your opponent is making or again, not making. If your opponent did not play a spell they always would have on a certain turn you now know they most likely do not have it in their hand. Over the course of multiple turns you can now begin to deduce what your opponent is likely holding in their hand and use this information to form your strategy. For example, if your Mono Red opponent had no plays on turn one or two and play an Anax on turn three then you can extrapolate that they most likely don’t have Fervent Champion, Robber of the Rich, or Akoum Hellhound. Their hand is most likely made up of some combination of removal, land, and spells that cost more than three or had no use yet like Torbran, Embercleave and direct damage spells.

WHY did you win or lose

One of the biggest mistakes we all make is only looking back at games we lost and assuming that we played great in games that we won. It’s easier to point out the mistakes when you lose, though still difficult. I think reviewing your gameplay is going to be the cornerstone of what separates the top players from the rest very soon in competitive Magic. Reviewing with another person is even better, as they will be able to offer different perspectives that you may not have considered.  Not long ago, I was speaking with Aaron Gertler about a feature match I had lost where I didn’t think I could have done anything different and he immediately suggested we take a look. I was a bit taken back by this sudden offer and was almost resistant thinking it would be a bit of a waste of time. By turn three, he had already pinpointed a mistake I had made by ramping with a turn three Fertile Footsteps into a turn four Escape to the Wilds. Instead, I should have played a Bonecrusher on turn three because I needed to be aggressive in this matchup and had I done so I probably would have won given my control opponents slow start. “Watching tape” is already currently instrumental in Poker, Esports, and Professional Sports. I recommend watching recordings on a slightly higher playback speed to be able to get through more footage faster, just make sure you can still process what is happening in the game.

This seems like a lot of work and it is. But learning to love the process of self improvement is one of the keys to achieving greatness at anything we do in life. It can also be fun if you have a good team around you. If time is a factor as it is for most of us, I am working on a way to automatically cut out the dead time in games. If we are able to boil down a gameplay video to only the actions being taken and remove all the time nothing is happening then we can review more games faster. I just came up with this idea last week and am still in the early stages, but I will be sure to share this process with you once I have figured it out.


Until next time if you have any tips on fighting autopilot or ways that you track or learn from game play I would love to hear them!


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