Mental Habits in a Game of Magic – Deep Dive

I saw an interesting tweet recently, discussing what people usually think about when they play a game of Magic, and thought it was an excellent topic for a deep dive.  So today, I want to show you what exactly goes through my head from the start of a game until the end. 

Here’s a brief summary:

  1. The Matchup
  2. Play vs. Draw 
  3. Opening Hands and Key Cards
  4. How Do I Win?
  5. How Do I Lose? 
  6. How Does My Opponent Win?
  7. How Does My Opponent Lose? 
  8. What are My/Opponent’s Outs?
  9. What’s in Their Hand?
  10. Why Did They Make That Play? 

Now let’s dive a little deeper into all of that.



Header - The Matchup

Knowing what deck you’re up against dictates pretty much everything from your game plan and how aggressively you should mulligan to knowing the key cards that either player can play on every turn of the game. You need to think about how the matchup usually plays out, what happens in the games you win and in the games you lose and what are the key cards you’re looking for in your opening hand. 

There are four classic archetypes that we are going to be using as examples today. 

  • Aggro – decks like Mono-Red, Mono-White or Mono-Green with a lot of cheap creatures, focused on finishing the game as quickly as possible.
  • Control – decks like Azorius Control that have a lot of defensive tools and very few win conditions, usually planeswalkers and/or cards like Shark Typhoon or Torrential Gearhulk
  • Midrange – decks like Modern Jund, Standard Grixis or Explorer Rakdos Midrange. Good examples of midrange cards are Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Bloodbraid Elf or Bonecrusher Giant.
  • Combo – decks like Modern Scapeshift, Amulet Titan, Song of Creation, Goblin Charbelcher, Living End or Dredge that are almost solely focused on executing their combo plan and don’t usually try to interact with the opponent much.

There are also mixed archetypes like Aggro-Combo (Hollow One, Rakdos Sacrifice, to some degree Mono-Blue Spirits thanks to Curious Obsession), Combo-Control (Jeskai Lukka, most Indomitable Creativity decks, the old Splinter Twin decks) or Midrange-Combo (Abzan Collected Company) where you need to be aware of both their combo finish, but also keep in mind they can easily win the game by playing normal cards like Bonecrusher Giant and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

Knowing how the matchups usually play out comes from experience, but there are some basic rules of thumb you can follow which we will get to later. 


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4 thoughts on “Mental Habits in a Game of Magic – Deep Dive”

  1. Thank you for sharing your insight. Sideboarding has certainly been my biggest weakness since I began my Magic career. Also, I’ve never really thought about what an opponent might have in their hand during play. I truly want to get better at Magic, even if it’s just at locals or at kitchen table commander games. Again, thank you for this article. I will certainly read and reread it many times in the future!

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