Top 5 Things New Magic: The Gathering Players Need To Think About At MTG Tournaments, by Graeme McIntyre

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At MTG Tournaments by Graeme McIntyre

Top 5 Things New Magic: The Gathering Players Need To Think About At MTG Tournaments

Unsurprisingly, moving house was more difficult than I predicted and I’ve struggled to get time to write. Nottingham has been really different to Glasgow in a lot of ways, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot – no doubt I’ll write about those thoughts at some point, but I’ll give it a little bit of time first.

This week I asked on Facebook what people felt was impairing or had impaired them in Magic: The Gathering, and how they had overcame these difficulties, with the idea of writing an article that was a bit like an Agony Aunt column about Magic: The Gathering.

From my research (discussions on Facebook), I was able to put together a list of 5 things new (and some veteran) Magic players need to think about when they are at a Magic: The Gathering tournament. These are:


1. How to sideboard well

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments Sideboarding

Getting the sideboarding right is a reasonably common problem because sideboards are reactive, while main decks are active (even if they’re playing reactively – they’re actively choosing to play reactively).

The sideboard is there to react to difficulties the main deck faces in the metagame, so understanding someone else’s sideboard, or building your own, requires you to understand what these difficulties are.

You’ve got a much better chance of having that sort of understanding if you’ve played a reasonable amount before the event.

I generally don’t think it’s a great idea to copy someone else’s sideboard unless you understand why each of the cards is in it, and when they’ll come in and so on, and if you understand all this you probably could just build your own anyway. Even if theirs is technically better, that’s not really any good if you don’t know how to operate it.

When you build your own, consider what is going to come out for each of the cards. There is no point in having 6 sideboard cards for a match up if you’re only realistically going to want to take out 4 cards.

Before the tournament, write a plan for the major match ups about which cards come in and out – don’t work it out at the event when you’re under pressure for time. You don’t need to stick to this rigidly, but it’s definitely worth spending half an hour writing this out and having a think.  

Lastly, this will probably get better with experience because it is a largely transferable skill. Overtime you’ll get a feel for what sort of threats you want for control mirrors, or how many counterspells is too many, and you’ll get an idea of when you want to bother playing a threaten effect and when you don’t in aggro decks.


2. When to call a judge or opponent on something

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments
Source –

This is mostly a question of confidence, or at least it was in my experience. All you can really do is make yourself do it, and get used to it. It might help to sit the judge exam online because then you’ll have a better idea of how often you’re likely to be correct in respect to the rules.

It’s worth asking yourself “How often have I called a judge and my opponent got a penalty?” and in light of this consider how much it actually hurts your opponent.

My experience with calling judges is that they clear up rules issues without me needing to spend time “convincing” my opponent about something I’m 100% certain of, but nothing “bad” happens to them. More often than not it’s a question of expedience rather than rules enforcement.

Ultimately though you need to think about how much investment you have in the event (how much testing? Petrol money? Hotel money? Afternoons of work?), and with that in mind if it’s worth the hassle of asking a judge to get them to play faster, or make sure they didn’t draw an extra card, or tell them they’ve missed their trigger.

You need to know why you’re there, and you need to remember that. I’m there to win the event, and anything short of that will be a degree of disappointment. I’ve let close friends have take-backs at events, and it bothers me a little even now, years later.

Calling a judge is in best interests of the integrity of the game as a whole, too. The game is nothing more than the rules that constitute it, and judges are there to maintain its integrity. There is nothing dodgy or shady or mean about calling them – it doesn’t make you a rat.  

Explain afterwards if it makes you feel better, or you think it will make them feel better – if they don’t want to hear it, then that’s their problem. You did the right thing. 

You may find this Facebook group useful – mtgUK Rules & Judges Questions


3. Knowing if you’ve made a mistake or not

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments MTG player thinking decklist deck

Sometimes you’ll feel like you blew it, and sometimes this will be true. This is a good thing because you’ve got a chance to actually learn and improve when this happens, because you’re not too pig headed to better yourself.

On the other hand though, sometimes you’ll be beating yourself up over something you had little control over. It’s tricky to know which is which, and largely a matter of experience.

The very first deck I was any good with was Saber Bargain, which was a combo deck which used Skirge Familiar and Yawgmoth’s Bargain to generate loads of mana and Soul Feast people to death.

Clark Swan was watching me play, and he was fairly influential on the development of my constructed game. I mulliganed a hand that had 4 land, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Soul Feast and Renounce, and he instantly started berating me for my general lack of ability and particular stupidity in this instance.

I learned a few things at this moment. Firstly, I was improving at Magic, and secondly Clark knew a lot less about Saber Bargain than I did, and probably not that much about combo decks. He basically just thought I should keep it because it had both colours of mana and some spells, which is sound advice for beatdown decks (or it was then), but not right for combo generally, and definitely wrong in that case.

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments gb nats 2011 drafting

Years later I was in the top 8 of a PTQ, where I had drafted Somber Hoverguard over Broodstar in the second pack, 2nd or 3rd pick. I’d thought about it a fair amount before I did it, with Broodstar being a bomb in the Affinity deck, while the Hoverguard was “only” a first pick common in that deck.

After the draft, Silas Bath walked up to me and called me all the idiots under the sun for that choice, while Eddie Ross and Bradley Barclay stood by. I was less sure of this, but basically I felt like my deck wasn’t *clearly* going to be an Affinity deck at that stage, and I took the Hoverguard as a hedge. Eddie and Bradley agreed, or at least considered it reasonable, Silas shook his head in disgust and left.

Clark used to be very vocal about his opinions, and scathing in his critique. He also beat me pretty frequently. Silas was generally less vocal, but…

Bath, Silas:

Overall record: 16-67-4

Total number of matches: 87

Win percentage ignoring draws: 19.277108

Win percentage including draws: 18.390805

…he used to absolutely demolish me just about every time we played, and we drafted together twice a week, every week, for years.

The point is that regardless of this, they were still wrong, and while part of getting better and understanding the game is listening to people who are better than you, they won’t *always* be right, and as you get better this will be important to bear in mind.

Sometimes people just like to tell you that you made a mistake or go on about some marginal point as if they’re helping you, but they actually just like the sound of their own voice. This is of course true in loads of areas of life, but it is nevertheless good to watch out for it in Magic too (not having a go about Silas or Clark here – they helped me loads and I’m grateful for that – but that’s probably a bit of what was going on in those anecdotes.)


4. You’ll make good friends (like it or not!)

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments UK MTG players

Networking is time consuming, and not something I’ve ever really actively done. I got into Magic through a guy I knew from school, he introduced me to the guys I would then draft with for years, and overtime I made some friends. Some of them knew people in England, and I got to know some of the English and Irish players this way.

I qualified for Pro Tour LA, and when it turned out I didn’t have a hotel, Gary Campbell’s friendship with Craig Jones and Stuart Shinkins meant I had a place to stay, and I got to know a bunch of guys that way.

When I moved to Glasgow, I was already really well established as a player, and this made it easy to find people to play cards with because I was useful. Guy Southcott was getting good by then, and hungry to play magic – he knew all the new school English players too, and I got to know them through him.

I recently moved to Nottingham because (among other things) I’m pretty good friends with Matt Light and Neil Rigby, so when I moved I knew even if I never made another friend again I would have good players to play with, but I also knew it would probably make it really easy to make friends.

So… I’ve got a decent network, and I’ve really leaned on it over time, but all I really did was hang around forever and ever, while generations of players came and went, and blundered into them as time went by. If you’re happy to just wait around for years, it will probably work out.  

Failing that you need to find people who are appropriate; It’s probably not worth moving to France, looking Wafo-Tapa up in the phone book and asking if he wants to test for the PPTQ, but maybe there is a decent sized city nearby with a store which runs draft…

So go there, be a nice person, ideally play reasonably well, ask about the community. From there, you should contact people who are trying to do the same things as you, and be decent to them. You might not get instantly invited round to play Magic at their house, but if you’re patient – and nice – you’ll probably be treated reasonably well and they’ll involve you. I’ve said this three times already but the really important thing is that you are a good guy – this will go for miles.

Magic online is an invaluable too as well (especially if you’re not a nice guy, or you live miles from civilization). It isn’t great in some ways – it’s hardly a great platform for team building and/or discussion – but it will let you get the job done, and improve yourself even if you live in your mum’s basement in a tiny village, and you’re an awful person.  

One person said they overcame networking issues buy streaming, which isn’t something I know much about, but I can see how it would help. I can never get into watching Magic – I don’t watch pro tour coverage or anything – but watching streams and replays on Magic online is a great tool for getting better, and the former allows for a pretty particular type of interaction which might well help a person meet like-minded people.  

I’ve thought about doing a stream before but the technical aspects put me off. Both watching and doing these is probably really worthwhile.

Using Facebook and other social media networks really help, if you’ve not done so already, I’d recommend joining these groups – Useful UK Magic The Gathering Facebook Groups & Forums


5. Don’t infringe on peoples space (both physical and mental!)

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments MTG cards play area playmat

“Crowding” was brought up partly in jest because of my “issues” with play mats, but I thought it was worth discussing.

By “crowding physically” I mean people taking up a disproportionate amount of space at the table. Play mats are bad for this because you just don’t get a play mats worth of space at most PPTQs, so if the two guys on either side of you drop one, you’re suddenly required to negotiate for some space (because they’ve marked their territory, and all).

This is really a matter of confidence as well. You just need to say “Hey, I’ve not got enough room here, could you fold it over slightly please” or something. They’ll likely comply to an extent, but you probably won’t have as much room as them.

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments Prepare in advance

Always bring an appropriate sized notepad to keep your life totals on, a minimal sized box for dice and try to avoid gigantic rucksacks. I normally take a rucksack for clothes and stuff with a smaller shoulder bag inside, and leave the bigger bag in the boot or hotel. This is good because it means less likely to lose stuff because I won’t feel compelled to put the small bag down, but also keeps everything tidy and minimal in terms of the space it takes up.

I also put my stuff down in such a way that it reduces the playing area in a minimal way, and will often ask people to move their things slightly to optimise this.

From a game play point of view, there is some psychological advantage in taking up more space. I remember a story about a pro (I forget who) back in the day, who sat back in his chair, took up as little space as he could with his cards, and his opponent overextended into a wrath. At which point the pro leaned forward, moved all his cards forward a fair bit, and dominated the table. Changed his attitude too, from pretty sullen to a big smile and some chat. I can definitely see how this might tilt a person.

The reason I mention it is that it’s worth considering the physical space as a resource to a degree. When I attack I normally push my guy over to the other side of the table a bit, my arms lean on the edge and my lands are further forward. I like to be able to reach everything and see everything.

5 Things Magic Players Need To Think About At Magic: The Gathering Tournaments mtg player thinking

I also don’t like to chat when I play, and find it irritating when people try to make me (this is the non-physical crowding). I don’t mind chatting a bit after the game, or maybe while I sideboard, but during the game I am aware of time, and that talking might diminish my ability to concentrate.

These things matter, so don’t be put at a disadvantage. Don’t respond to questions, or ask a question about the game in response against the chatty guy. If your opponent’s playmat is taking up too much space, just attack onto it. Don’t be forced to do anything to your disadvantage because you don’t want to seem impolite.

You’re unlikely to be required to be actually rude, so avoid that too, but the advantages of having space and getting to think properly while you try to win a PPTQ are probably worth more than the potential consequence of an overly sensitive person thinking you were being rude by not responding to their banter, or asking them to move their stuff.

Do you any questions or points you’d like me to cover in my next article?

This ended up being a pretty long article, but I didn’t want to miss anyone’s points. I’m happy to write this sort of thing again if people like it, but obviously I would need issues to discuss – so if you have one, then please share!

All the best,

Graeme McIntyre

Top 5 Things New Magic: The Gathering Players Need To Think About At MTG Tournaments, by Graeme McIntyre
This week I asked on Facebook what people felt was impairing or had impaired them in Magic: The Gathering, and how they had overcame these difficulties, with the idea of writing an article that was a bit like an Agony Aunt column about Magic: The Gathering.

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Graeme McIntyre
I've been playing magic since the end of Rath Block, and I've been a tournament regular since Invasion Block. I started studying for a PhD in Sociology at University of Leicester in 2017. I was born In Scotland, but moved to Nottingham three years ago, seeking new oppertunities both academic and magical. I play regularly with David Inglis, Alastair Rees and Neil Rigby. I've been on 5 Pro Tours the 2016 English World Cup Team, and Scottish 2003 European Championship Team, but what I really bring to the table is experience. I've played 136 Pro Tour Qualifiers, 18 Grand Prixs, 11 National Championships, 13 World Magic Cup Qualifers, 51 Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers and more little tournaments than I can remember. More than anything else, my articles are intended to convey the lessons of this lived experience. Likes - robust decks, be they control, midrange, beatdown or combo. Cryptic Commands, Kird Apes and Abzan Charms. Dislikes - decks that draw hot and cold. Urza's Tower, Life From the Loam and Taigam's Scheming.