Becoming a better player



  • I am trying to become a better player. I have enjoyed many aspects of playing Magic and Vintage has always been my favorite format but I have not really taken it to the next level in my game play.

    I am loosing games that I think I should be winning but I am not seeing obvious play mistakes.

    I have played many of the pros and I have beat some of them but I have never really played at a consistent level and I am looking for advice on how to hone in on the killer instinct and still enjoy the game.

    The last time I think I played at a level that was really good, would be before my son was before back in 2010 when I played consistently in Columbus, OH with the Meandeck team but Team Serious took over.

    Now, I play essentially once a month at a local tournament with roughly 20 or so people. This is a very competitive group and I have been improving but I do not see my level of play getting to where I want it to be. Any advice out there?

    I do not play MTGO, will that make me a better player. I usually play with my brother once a week, who is a descent player but it is usually casual, do I need a more intense way to practice? Is it worth it building a team or joining a team?

    I can usually get away once or twice a year for a larger event but they are hard to plan for, any tips?



  • I have become convinced that, if you want to play Vintage at the highest level, you now have to be on MODO. The opportunity for practice during the week, combined with events on the weekends, is too much to pass up; it's a chance to learn the tempo, see what's out there, make mistakes, learn from them, and improve.

    There was a point in time where the pixel meta took their lead from the paper meta, and I'm not sure that's the case anymore.

    Back when TMD was tiered, and you had to take a test to be promoted, there was an article that we had players respond to:

    http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/fundamentals/3692_Whos_The_Beatdown.html

    This is, hands down, the best Magic article ever written. In the off chance you haven't read it yet, I'd recommend going through it. He had another article about realizing why you were bad, I'd recommend that too.

    Still, being rigorous in searching for your errors, and being honest in what they were, is critical. These are steps that you have to take if you're ever going to be great, and you seem to be willing to take them. Good man.

    Good luck.


  • Administrators

    I'm about to give you a bunch of advice I don't follow myself. Hopefully if you follow it you'll get better results than I do :D

    You just need to play a LOT. That's why heavy MTGO players get results, it lets you play all the time. If you have a local regular group that's willing to test multiple times a week, that's probably better than MTGO, but realistically you don't (nobody does, that I know of).

    When testing, look for ways to extract more data out of your games. Being objective is super important. Take notes if you have to (it's super easy to lie to yourself about results if you're not recording them). Every test game should have a specific purpose. If you're building a deck or studying a matchup you should be trying to answer a specific question. (e.g. what are the most important cards to coutner/remove, which turn one plays correlate to wins most consistently). If you're testing in paper, there are ways you can answer questions more efficiently by not strictly following the rules while testing ... seeding cards into your opening hand, skipping games where one player mulligans too much. Just remember that staying objective is hard work.

    If you're trying to generally improve playskill rather than improve a deck, you can also test with specific goals in mind. Try things like "this match, I'm going to concentrate on playing my lands and tapping mana perfectly," and don't worry so much about mistakes elsewhere. Identify your weaknesses and concentrate on them one at a time. In theory you could record games on MTGO and re-watch them with a friend later, and fully talk through any scenarios where you weren't sure you made the right decision. This is likely very powerful, but I don't know of anyone who goes this far in testing.

    You're probably not playing enough post-board games. Nobody is, really. I'm not sure it makes much sense to play pre-board games at all, except under extreme circumstances, after huge amounts of other work has been exhausted.

    Of course, add all of this up and you basically have a job that you have to pay money to work, so make sure whatever your testing strategy is, you're enjoying it. You'll burn out real fast if you don't, and it's tough to beat anyone after you ragequit.



  • @brass-man Thanks. I have tried to keep notes and keep track of side-boarding. I am also noticing that when I make choices for cards on a sideboard I have to note if I used them and if they worked.

    I think it is important but difficult to note - did I fail my deck or did my deck fail me.

    I like building decks so I often change them. People do scout you in tournaments, especially when you play the same group. Is it better to just stick one with one deck and tolerate being scouted to master the skill of that deck or just better to try and be an all around good player?

    I remember when I played a lot about 10yrs ago I would strongly commit and tolerate being scouted but I do not know if that generates a bias and stunts your growth as a player.

    I also proxy decks that I tend to lose too and shuffle them and try to figure out how they work in practice. This has helped me grow but it is time consuming.

    And you are very correct, I gave up this exercise some years back before I started working like crazy and then I had kids so this is a temporary vanity exercise.

    I want to go to a few larger events this coming year and the only way I can justify is to think that I can actually win.


  • Administrators

    @moorebrother1 said in Becoming a better player:

    I like building decks so I often change them. People do scout you in tournaments, especially when you play the same group. Is it better to just stick one with one deck and tolerate being scouted to master the skill of that deck or just better to try and be an all around good player?

    I see magic results (ignoring variance, which you can't control) as being made up of the following things in the following order

    mechanical playskill > mental hygeine > decklist > inducing your opponent to make mistakes > information management

    Keeping your opponent from knowing what your deck is can help, but it doesn't help as much as playing the best deck for the field, and nowhere near as much as playing a decent deck you're going to make minimal mistakes with. Even the true masters of vintage probably aren't playing at a level where scouting is a serious concern for them, compared to just playing the right cards, I know I'm not even close to that point.

    I wouldn't worry about scouting at all. Picking the deck that you play the best, or the deck that makes you grow the most as a player, (or of course, the deck you enjoy the most) is where you want to be.

    For what it's worth I tend to make deckbuilding and play decisions operating under the assumption that my opponent is going to know my entire decklist. I always assume they're going to make the right play with perfect information. I find thinking this way can cost you some % points in the early rounds of the tournament, but buy you some back in the later rounds where it really matters.



  • @brass-man I used to agree with that analysis but I witnessed someone playing Dredge and everyone knew that they are playing it then players started throwing away good hands on game one to get a Wasteland if they were playing them. In general, I think you are right but sometimes it makes a big difference if someone knows what you are playing.


  • TMD Supporter

    @brass-man I absolutely won a ton more when I played as frequently as possible. AND I once went back and watched a replay of a bad beat, completely realized how I fucked it ALL up for myself. Stupid plays like crazy. This was a long time ago, and I was using a deck that I've never been great with, but still it showed me how my perception of the matches differed from what actually happened.

    I'm not sure of the name of this phenomenon, I suspect it's just cognitive dissonance paired with the fallibility of memory. It's crazy how bad we delude ourselves though.

    Don't beat your self up either though. Learn to give yourself credit where it is due.



  • @moorebrother1 I think there is a slight disadvantage to people always knowing what deck you are on, but I think repetition and expertise with a specific deck far out way that. Look at @Montolio as an example. At champs, or any time on-line, every opponent that sits across from him 100% knows he is on shops. But he still wins consistently because of how well he knows the deck.
    I think the key for me to getting better (and I'm not great btw) is just learning to slow down, and think a few seconds before each play. The other key has been to remember my mistakes and learn from them, instead of getting tilted by them. I don't like to mess up and lose a match because of it, but if it helps me play better in future matches, then the mistake was not that bad after all.
    And above all, I have to have fun. If I'm so focused on winning that I'm not having fun, then I am missing the point of playing the game. Winning is nice, but the purpose of playing a game is to have fun. I find if I keep a good attitude and enjoy the game, no matter how much I am winning or losing, I play at a higher level because I am more relaxed.



  • For me, being a better player is something like you becoming an expert on a subject. When i started playing magic, i always found myself coming back to a particular archetype (prison). I have since ventured out of that archetype to brew fun stuff, but always came back. My synopsis on how to be a better player is from that mindset, of having "mastered" a deck/archetype.

    My goal then was to play this deck into the ground, until i knew it backwards and forwards. Depending on the format, that changed to knowing what my opponents decks are and how they win. Knowledge is power!
    After you know your deck, and how it interacts with other decks in the format. you can get a sense of what role to play in your game. Are you the aggressor? or are you controlling until you get your hay-maker/card to get you back in the game? If you have built a deck that you are passionate about (this is especially important in vintage since these cards are an investment!) then you should know what cards you need in any given situation.

    PLAY TO YOUR OUTS. if you are on the back foot, or even if you have the advantageous board-state, REMEMBER THIS! Your opponent doesn't want you to win, plan for your opponent to try and stop you, even when you know you have game on board (unless you have information that says otherwise).

    I went to Champs 2017 and had the pleasure of meeting a great many people and seeing many different decks being piloted in front of me. I am unfortunately in an area where i have to beg my friends in between modern rounds to grab a proxied vintage deck and jam a game or two before the next round. Between that and using an awesome app to get sample hands (top decked) during down time, all i had to get my knowledge up was listening to EVERY podcast, EVERY youtube video, watching streams when i could, and talking to friends that play legacy and sometimes vintage with me, theorizing about everything i could think of.

    Any deck you decide on playing, number one I think is picking a deck you want to win with (of course after evaluating what you think the meta is and what would do well). Knowing the intricacies of your deck vs other decks (triggers, timing, what your opponents spells actually say, oracle text!) Then looking into all the information you can. I would literally go into work listening to Vintage Super league, So many insane plays podcast, Leaving a legacy podcast, anything i could to increase my knowledge of the format.

    After that was all said and done, I got ready for EW over the course of two months and came out with a respectable unpowered 6-4 record. I only lost to myself one time that tournament, the rest i blame variance ;-) which unfortunately, is a thing sometimes :-P



  • At a general level, the key to becoming a better player is to focus on the little things and understand whether the decisions you made were correct or not given the information you had available to you at the time. The posters before me made a lot of great points but I wanted to add a few things that didn't jump out to me from what has already been written here on the topic.

    I have extracted a lot of meaningful insight by taking copious notes during serious testing sessions and tournaments so I can revisit key sequences after the fact. I write down all of my opening hands and spend a few minutes after most matches to document any specific details which might be useful down the road. I recommend adopting a similar approach and really committing to revisit your games to understand what happened.

    In addition to taking notes, I encourage you to seek out players who are better than you and befriend them. This was the single most important thing that I did as a Magic player and I am supremely confident that I would not be anywhere close to the player or person that I am today without @Prospero as a mentor. Not everyone is as lucky as I was, but finding a good sparring partner is invaluable. Whether you actually play games together or just bounce ideas off of one another, it is significantly harder to succeed as a lone wolf rather than as a pack.

    Finally and possibly most importantly, make sure you are having fun. As @Brass-Man said, getting better is a job after a certain point and it doesn't pay well, so make sure you are enjoying yourself. Personally, I try my absolute hardest to playtest in person with friends that I can play fun, competitive games with and only play MTGO as a last resort. If or when it stops being fun, don't hesitate to take a break. Personally, I play sparingly between November and February of each year to give myself time to unwind and recharge before diving into my preparation for the 6 or so paper events I play each year. Without this annual sabbatical I would have burned out long ago.





  • Knowing what your opponent is on is HUGE....in certain matches. If you are on blue and you are facing shops and know it, what are you going to do? Are you going to mulligan into your single hurkylls? Are you going to mull until you have 3 basic/fetch lands? if you do, you likely lose on mulls more than you win on luck-sacking into the perfect hand. Your best bet is to play that deck you are comfortable with, hope to make smart plays and minimize error, and win with any luck.

    Now if you are on a certain deck running 1-strip/4-waste and perhaps even something like main sorcerous spyglass and KNOW your opponent is on dredge, you are damn straight mulling a good hand of 7 for a decent hand of 6 with waste/spyglass is a HUGE gain in game 1. It is the difference between a near auto-loss into a favorable g1 matchup. Even in a deck you are semi-comfortable with as opposed to a deck you've mastered, if you have ample cards against a deck that hinges on one axis and know you are facing that deck, you are much better off. The same could be said running a null rod-based deck vs PO storm. If you know that matchup is happening, you are better off mulling into the 1-of chalice or turn 1 rod off a mox than keeping a solid hand that won't win until turn 3 or stop artifacts.

    If you have 3 basic land + an orchard, and an oath...you keep that vs shops. If you have that hand vs PO, you probably lose. If you have that same hand in your oath deck and also know you have FoWs and null rods, you probably mull that away instead of hoping to live to turn 3 with no answer to getting stormed out.

    So, the answer to the question again is: it depends. Based on the matchup, the knowledge vs mastery can make a big difference.



  • @thewhitedragon69 said in Becoming a better player:

    Knowing what your opponent is on is HUGE....in certain matches. If you are on blue and you are facing shops and know it, what are you going to do? Are you going to mulligan into your single hurkylls? Are you going to mull until you have 3 basic/fetch lands? if you do, you likely lose on mulls more than you win on luck-sacking into the perfect hand. Your best bet is to play that deck you are comfortable with, hope to make smart plays and minimize error, and win with any luck.

    Now if you are on a certain deck running 1-strip/4-waste and perhaps even something like main sorcerous spyglass and KNOW your opponent is on dredge, you are damn straight mulling a good hand of 7 for a decent hand of 6 with waste/spyglass is a HUGE gain in game 1. It is the difference between a near auto-loss into a favorable g1 matchup. Even in a deck you are semi-comfortable with as opposed to a deck you've mastered, if you have ample cards against a deck that hinges on one axis and know you are facing that deck, you are much better off. The same could be said running a null rod-based deck vs PO storm. If you know that matchup is happening, you are better off mulling into the 1-of chalice or turn 1 rod off a mox than keeping a solid hand that won't win until turn 3 or stop artifacts.

    If you have 3 basic land + an orchard, and an oath...you keep that vs shops. If you have that hand vs PO, you probably lose. If you have that same hand in your oath deck and also know you have FoWs and null rods, you probably mull that away instead of hoping to live to turn 3 with no answer to getting stormed out.

    So, the answer to the question again is: it depends. Based on the matchup, the knowledge vs mastery can make a big difference.

    People have known what I was on for the last 5+ years and that hasn’t stopped me from succeeding. I don’t disagree that it can win you matches, but mastery is more likely to win you tournaments.



  • @will I assume you are a dredge player? I think one thing that limits the effect of knowledge parlaying into a win is that most players rely on their SB completely to beat things like dredge. If you happen to know the opponent is on dredge AND have ample maindeck answers, the knowledge can prevent you from having to win games two AND three and set you up to win game two OR three (since g1 vs dredge is a loss for many people). If you have the knowledge, but no maindeck answers, you don't get to use that knowledge to your advantage.

    Again, assuming you've been on dredge the past 5 years...if your opponents played a typical 60 with very little dredge answers main, then having them know what deck you are on would have minimal effect vs you. All they would "know" is that they're going to have to win games two and three.



  • @thewhitedragon69

    I’m a Workshop pilot.



  • @will Then yeah - I already mentioned shops. Knowing you are on shops doesn't benefit a blue player...what are they going to mull into that would cripple you? Knowledge vs mastery is only applicable when facing a deck the hinges on one axis - like bazaar for dredge or artifact mana for PO storm. And that's also if you maindeck ways to hit bazaar or shut down artifacts (waste/rod). If you are facing blue, fish, or workshops, there's literally no maindeck card you'd want to mull a good hand away to find.

    The gains of knowing your opponent's deck is limited to certain decks - namely dredge, PO...maybe oath if you maindeck something like cage/priest/decay or are on the mirror and want a hand of orchards as opposed to oath. Decks like workshop (aggro or prison) blue control, big blue, most fish builds are immune to your opponent knowing your deck because there's nothing they'd prefer to see over a good opening 7 against you.



  • @thewhitedragon69 your opponent won the die roll and choses to begin.
    You draw a 7 of :Mental Misstep, Flusterstorm, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Preordain, Dack Fayden, Treasure Cruise. Its a fine hand in most cases i would say.

    But if you know your opponent is on shops, this hand just loses immediatly to any turn 1 taxing effect. You should mulligan this hand if you kbow your opponent is on shops, making the shops deck (and pretty much every deck out there) not immune to knowing the matchup.
    Sure, knowing what your opponent is on benefits you sometimes more or less, dependent on the deck, but its never absolutely irrelevant.

    Still, really mastering a deck and knowing all the fine lines, instead of constantly switching just to suprise your opponents, but playing them all mediocre seems the way more solid approach.



  • @aelien

    Playing a spread of decks medium well is a recipe for failure. Being varied is good, but you can achieve the same effect off actually being varied by throwing a curveball every so often. I'm primarily a blue pilot, but I've shown up to events playing Shops or Dredge on occasion, so people know that I could be on other decks.

    Even from those limited experiences, I will attest that playing poorly loses a lot more games than having opponents mull some marginal hands against you.


  • Administrators

    To be clear, when I said:

    @brass-man said in Becoming a better player:

    mechanical playskill > mental hygeine > decklist > inducing your opponent to make mistakes > information management

    I didn't mean that information management is irrelevant ... I just meant for most players, there are so many more important things to worry about that concentrating on hiding your deck is a wasted opportunity cost.

    Can you get a few % points by an opponent misplaying because they think you're on a different deck? Sure. But all of those %'s go away if your opponent scouted the room. They go away in the top 8 when everyone knows SOMEBODY who has played against you in the swiss. They go away when your opponent isn't a regular and can't guess what you're on even if you always play the same deck. Most importantly, they go away in game 2, which is > 50% of the games you're going to play.

    Nobody here is making so few mistakes that they'd get more mileage out of that .05% bump in 10% of games, rather than just playing the deck you don't make game-ending mistakes with. For certain, I don't come close to playing that well. I'm not the best player in this thread, but nobody here is playing at a zero-mistake level.

    Does this mean you should never switch decks? Not at all. But there are other more important factors. Playing a matchup from the other side of the table can give you real insights on how to win, and if you're similarly strong with two decks, it can be correct to play something different as the metagame changes. I just don't think surprise value has a lot of weight here.

    If you run into a situation where getting an information advantage is free? Awesome, go for it. ... but don't sacrifice something more important to get it ... and almost everything in magic, (like avoiding play mistakes or adapting to the local metage) is more important. Don't pitch your Ancestral to counter their Preordain.



  • @aelien "immune" was perhaps not the right word, but "far-less-impacted" is more apt. As I said, knowledge of the opposing deck in shops vs blue is really minimal advantage. This is very different from knowing the way to beat PO storm or dredge. Again, I'm saying knowledge is most valuable against decks that hinge primarily on one mechanic that you have the maindeck answers to stop. Why do people keep using shops vs blue as an example when I've addressed the minimal impact of knowledge in this matchup many times???

    Also, knowing your opponent is on shops with the hand you suggested - they have to have one of chalice, one of thorn, or a sphere in hand. That's 6 cards in a deck of 60. Even if they toss out a golem, you still play 2 moxen and preordain for more mana (or draw land as well on your draw). If you mull that away because you know they are on shops, you basically give them a sphere in hand, assume that's their turn 1 play, and assume you won't draw land. That hand, if they DON'T have sphere/chalice basically wins the matchup. You are going to throw away a good hand of 7 for an unknown hand of 6 by assuming they have the sphere in hand and want to play it? (If they have only tomb/sphere or land/mox/sphere and spells costing 2 or more, they likely won't want to lead with sphere due to locking themselves out.) You basically give them the hand you fear, just by fearing it - and can mull into much worse hands.


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