Valuable MTG Tips to Become a Better Player – Deep Dive

As a writer, I love going deep on a topic. At the same time, sometimes the most helpful thing for a reader is a short, easily-digestible nugget of advice. 

As I write, I like to ask myself, What will my readers remember a week, a month, or a year from now? Will it be the 15th sideboard swap in Mono-White vs. Esper Planeswalkers? Or will it be something simple and timeless, that they can apply to all of their future MTG endeavors?

In this Deep Dive, I’ve compiled a list of the most valuable, most crucial short MTG tips that I could come up with. I’ll present each one, followed by some short explanation, commentary or anecdotes. To an individual reader, they’ll probably span the spectrum from feeling obvious to profound. Either way, I encourage you to read them all, because even obvious things can become more helpful when expressed in concrete terms. 

All of these are tips I wish I’d gotten early in my MTG career, as they would’ve made things much easier. 



Header - Deckbuilding

You don’t need to do something special in order to win

This is one that I learned from Hall of Famer Ben Stark. Known as a Limited expert, Ben has spoken and written a lot about Sealed Deck play, and I believe this is something everyone needs to hear.

(As an aside, when I say that I “learned from” someone, I don’t mean to imply that it’s a direct quote. Instead, it’s more of a concept or lesson that I’ve boiled down from listening to them and watching them play).

It’s common to feel discouraged as you’re building or playing sealed deck. “My opponents have bomb rares and I don’t, so I’m going to lose.” Wrong! Matches of Magic aren’t decided by comparing the best cards in one deck to the best cards in the other. You shuffle up, mulligan, play complex games, sideboard and repeat the process. Along the way, there’s plenty of room for someone to get lucky or unlucky or for the accumulated advantages of tight deckbuilding and gameplay to add up. 

In other words, you don’t need to splash a bomb because “your deck isn’t powerful enough.” That two-color deck with a solid mana base and curve of creatures can do just fine. If you face a deck that’s 10 percent more powerful, maybe you can make up for that by drawing or playing 10 percent better. Maybe you’ll curve out while they wait for their inconsistent mana base to deliver that missing color.

Cruel Ultimatum

This concept extends well beyond Sealed Deck. I often hear comments like, “I can’t play the most popular deck, then I won’t have an advantage over everyone else.” What’s wrong with being a strong player piloting the best deck? Isn’t that the exact description of the folks who usually win tournaments?

Competitive MTG is much more about consistency, thin margins and tight play than it is about flashy combos and doing something nobody expects. 

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8 thoughts on “Valuable MTG Tips to Become a Better Player – Deep Dive”

  1. “Use your mana” was very eye-opening for me to get the concept of tempo. Cardadvantage was more obvious for me earlier. But I struggled alot against tempo decks.
    From this article, I found “do not concede to hide information” a non-obvious reason, that only seems so clear, once you hear it. Also that (most) creatures only generate value in combat falls into that category for me.
    Thanks alot.

  2. Peter – Great point! I think it was similar for me, that card advantage came naturally, but tempo was harder to fully understand. And I’m glad you found the concession and combat points helpful.

    Benjamin – Certainly true. I’m not necessarily advocating for playing slower; instead, I’m saying you should treat clock as a resource and use it as effectively as possible. Thinking during the opponents turn will make your own turns quicker and crisper. Thinking through everything at the start of your turn is better than taking a short pause between every play you make.

  3. I think another mention is take the mulligan when you need too. I’ve seen a lot of people just chance it and not get there instead of loosing a card, including myself for the most part. Sealed is always a little bit more tricky than constructed, but the theory is the same. I agree all the way way with everything else said here for sure. I’m a seasoned player and the advice even now reminds me of my own issues even today. Thanks a lot and keep up the good content!

  4. This is a fantastic resource! Thank you for compiling this. My main question relates to your point about incremental advantages and your decision to choose mono blue over mono black. You talk about not discounting small advantages but note that the game theory “correct” choice would be to play the mono black deck. How do you decide when to take the small 51% advantage of choosing mono black or when to take the deck that provides a different kind of advantage? Is the advantage advice more related to actual gameplay than deck choice or is there something that signifies when it is worth it to deviate?

  5. Jesse – Thanks for the post. I tried to sketch out some mulligan tips, but had trouble boiling anything down to a simple, one-sentence piece of advice. Mulligans are hard!

    Jake – Good question, and I suspect some of the confusion comes from my use of the word “advantage.” You might be thinking of advantage in the sense of “I have an advantage over my opponent and I’m more likely to win.” (Which is definitely a correct definition). But when I say “small advantages matter,” I’m talking about any opportunity to gain something, or slightly improve your position, whether or not it’s literally flipping the matchup in your favor. Small advantages matter, but I think people vastly overrate the change from 49% to 51%, while underrating the value of picking up percentage points elsewhere. With the Mono-Blue deck, I was trying to cite an extreme example where your tournament equity improves when you go from “slightly favorable” to “massively favorable.”

  6. I find it hard to balance the sections “Pay attention to what your opponent is doing” and “Don’t project your strategy onto other people” since we’re usually thinking about the game on our own terms rather than our opponent’s. We’re not inside his head, so unless we know him really well we have be deducing information from our own experiences. Meaning, that as a very average player, many of the inferences I make from the plays of a good or great one will be wrong – because I’m not very good, so I will be thinking sub-optimally. It’s a huge trap for me, I feel like it’s an advice that only fits, say, the top 10% of players who want to get to the top 1% or higher.

  7. This was an awesome article, thank you Reid. On your point about anticipating expected plays though I’ve recently found myself getting into trouble on the other end of the spectrum – I anticipate an opponents play and find myself prescribing a response, but fail to account for a possibility and when they make a similar, but slightly different play, I fail to adjust.

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