Challenging Misconceptions – Shared Discovery with Rob Wagner

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Challenging Misconceptions – Shared Discovery by Rob Wagner


Hi all, it’s been a while since I last posted and for good reason. I’ve begun on a Teacher Training course up in Manchester and am enjoying it immensely but it takes a lot of my time up and I haven’t been able to play much Magic as of late. Thankfully there haven’t been many events to miss out on, just the one British PTQ I think.

One of the things we’ve learned about in the university section of the course was the idea of misconceptions and how to challenge them. Misconceptions are ideas people have about the way things work/are that are simply wrong, but appear consistent enough to that person that they firmly believe it. Here is a list of common misconceptions (those that a lot of people believe in) from Wikipedia – how many did you think were true?

The key to successful learning isn’t being right all the time, but being able to change your mind when you are wrong and being able to challenge your own ideas and allow them to be challenged. The key to successful teaching is to find out what people know, and make them want to learn more and correct their own misconceptions.

How does this apply to Magic? We’ve all met that person that is steadfast in their belief that card X is good in a format or that a certain matchup goes only one way and we just know that they’re wrong. You can argue with them but they never seem to change their mind – because they know that they’re correct just as much as you know they’re wrong. This isn’t remotely the same as saying that everyone’s opinion is valid though, because we are talking about cases where there is a right and a wrong but one or both players are confused about what is correct.

Some of the more common misconceptions in Magic include:

  • Q) How do you even beat deck X? A) Easy, I play 4 of this card and it destroys them.
  • Card X must be good because it just won me that game and no other card would have.
  • People aren’t playing any specific hate for my deck so it’s really well positioned right now.
  • I’ve got an large tutor package so I can always find what I need against my opponent and that will lead to victory.

I will go into more details on these soon, but a lot has been written by many authors on these subjects. What I will do differently is phrase how to deal with them in terms of challenging misconceptions.


I mentioned above that part of successful teaching is getting people to challenge their own misconceptions. If they don’t believe that they have any then you clearly can’t just run up against the brick wall over and over and try to force them to simply admit that they’re wrong. You have to say to them “look, I’m not sure about this – why don’t we try it out and build up a body of evidence” or “I see what you’re saying but let’s just have a look through all the situations and logically process the pros and cons” or similar. One of the good reasons to remain humble is that it may even be you that is wrong and you can promote a community of good learning by showing that you’re open to change yourself.

The technical name for what you want to induce is “cognitive conflict“. They must be presented with something that absolutely doesn’t fit with their way of thinking but that they can’t find fault with. For simple facts this can be achieved by getting them into a logical fallacy. To take an example from the Wikipedia article, there is the belief that the word `sushi’ means `raw fish’ where it actually means `sour rice’. This can easily be challenge by asking some native speakers of Japanese and it even makes more sense than the previous belief because of the existence of vegetarian sushi.

Some people just seem immune to challenging their own beliefs and admitting they’re wrong. Some people even just have a belief on everything and aren’t open to admitting that they don’t know enough about something to say either way. These people are really hard to do anything with because they actively don’t want to learn or improve. They may say they do, but they’re closing themselves off to any way of actually doing it.


For the examples given above, let’s have a look at how you might help someone with their misconception.

1) Q) How do you even beat deck X? A) Easy, I play 4 of this card and it destroys them.

You can say to them “well, what if you don’t draw it” and they may respond with something like “I’ll mulligan to it” or something equally banal. If they aren’t good at Magic theory and are incapable of working through things in their head then you need to sit them down and try it out.

Make them be really honest with themself – play tournament rules playtesting so genuine mulligans etc. If the matchup is as one-sided as you think it is then that will bear out in the games. If they always win when they draw that card, then fair enough – but if mulliganning to find it is too painful for them then they will see it over and over.

2) Card X must be good because it just won me that game and no other card would have.

This is difficult because they have positively reinforced to themselves that the card must be good, and you need to create conflict for them that it won’t be that good very often. What you have to do then is make them play out a bunch of games where that card comes up and with a bit of luck the card won’t have the same impact that it had before. If they then have 1 game where the card is good and 9 games where the card is bad you can strongly suggest to them that maybe that 1 game was a bit of a fluke perhaps?

3) People aren’t playing any specific hate for my deck so it’s really well positioned right now.

This is a strange one because it shows part-knowledge of how metagames work. The person is clearly aware that levels of hate can dictate how well a certain deck can be positioned to face its expected opponents, but they are obviously of the assumption that the deck is going to be really strong if there is no hate for it.

I’ve definitely heard people say (correctly) that there is no hate for their deck, but actually people don’t need to play hate for it because it’s just a rubbish deck – mill decks, for example, often fall into this category. This takes a lot of work to overcome because they clearly just don’t know that much about metagames and how interactive Magic plays out. All you can really do is help them to be really honest with themselves in assessing why they didn’t do very well in events – did things not go their way or did they never really have a chance anyway?

4) I’ve got an large tutor package so I can always find what I need against my opponent and that will lead to victory.

Aka the Birthing Pod problem. Some builds with large “toolboxes” have a problem when they play a bunch of really narrow cards that are awful when they’re not against the right opponent. Watch their games with them and take great pleasure in pointing out when they draw useless cards to them. They can only be annoyed for so long before they either punch you in the face or admit that they may be playing some bad cards just for some narrow applications. When they’re willing to accept that most of the time the strength of a tutor engine isn’t in being able to do anything but being able to reliably do what you already want to do then they will cut out the things that aren’t what they want to be doing.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion you can’t really do anything about people who don’t want to learn, but you can help people who do by presenting them with enough evidence that directly contradicts their beliefs so that they can re-process their own world view to include the new information. You also yourself should be willing to change your own views when you find disagreement from others – make sure you base your decisions on evidence, logical processing and reasonable assumptions and you shouldn’t go too far wrong.

Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing!


@DrRobWagner on Twitter

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