3 Simple Steps to Help Beginners Improve at Magic: The Gathering, by Dan Hill

playing magic the gathering thinking confused

Learning, What’s Next, Decision Time: 3 Simple Steps to Help Beginners Improve at Playing Magic: The Gathering

I really had no idea how to open this article, other than the fact that the reason I’m writing this comes from thoughts about my own player base at the Grimsby Magic Club. I myself have only played for for around 18 months, though I’ve played a number of games in that time period.

Let’s open by mentioning that learning is a life-long process. Anyone who tells you differently hasn’t learned otherwise. Throughout life, we’re subjected to different experiences with different outcomes. This is an inevitable aspect of the human experience. It’s what we’ve taken from these experiences that changes us. If it was a bad experience, how do I change it, or prevent it from occurring again? If it was a good experience, how do I replicate it? Games function the same way. It’s natural to want to improve and move forward, but some people have an easier time learning from their experiences than others. Hopefully, for people starting Magic: The Gathering (or any game, really), these three steps can help improve your mindset towards gaming.


3 Simple Steps to Help Beginners Improve at Playing Magic: The Gathering

  1. Learning…

Go in with the mentality that you have a lot of room to improve! The first time you play a game, you may recognise some similarities and differences to other games. Treat that game as though those aren’t there until you find out for sure that they are. Go in with a clean slate and try to understand what is happening to the best of your ability. If you’re anything like me, your mind is already going to be working overtime- and as much as you want to say that X reminds you of Y from this other game you played (be it Hearthstone or Yu-Gi-Oh or Force of Will or whatever other game you’re most used to), treat it as though it doesn’t. The more you accept that there are gaps in your knowledge, the more you’ll realize that you need to learn in order to progress.


2. What’s Next?

Sooner or later you’re going to reach your a point where you’re either in your comfort zone or discontent. Both of these work similarly and are a plateau of the game. The question is the same for each – what’s next? Now’s the time to explore- if you can’t win a game, learn from it. Question everything! What’s next? What worked? What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? Self critique is an amazing tool, and if you can recognise your own mistakes you’ll be in a better place for it! I may have taken this quote from someone else, but “Knowledge is power.” Don’t reinvent the wheel. The internet is a huge place and simply using Google searches to try to find what you want can be beneficial. We can’t force people to engage and learn, it has to be something you want to do. Now’s your chance to do your own research.


3. Decision Time!

You’re at home, you’ve done some research on deck building or strategy and bounced all over an internet forum. You think you’ve read it all, and its time to make a decision on what you’re going to change about your deck or your style of gameplay. This step repeats itself over and over and becomes a cycle in and of itself. You can’t solve a problem without a set of solutions to choose from and knowledge is essential to this process. Start with the question “I have a problem, how do I solve it?” When you come to a decision, question it, and re-evaluate whether or not it works based on what you know.

This works on a large scale, but the same also applies when we narrow it down to a more specific environment. Lets start with your average FNM.

1. You’re turning up to FNM, you sit down at your first game. You have absolutely no idea what your opponent is playing. You know nothing, approach it slowly and carefully. Your opponent wins the dice roll, so they start and they start in style. It’s a Mountain followed by… slow down. They’ve played a Mountain. We’ve just learned they’re playing Red, but lets not get carried away yet and make assumptions. Wait, watch and learn. The Mountain is followed by a Monastery Swiftspear. We learn some more – we know now they’re playing an aggressive red deck.

2. What’s next? You have 45 minutes until the next round, reflect. What worked? What didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? It’s research time! Ask your opponent if you can look at their deck, compliment them and their deck, thank them for a good game, ask what certain cards do and why they included them in their deck, perhaps ask what they feel are its strengths and weaknesses if you can’t recognise them.

3. Decision time. Based on what you’ve learned, ask yourself if you have a problem. If so, how do you solve that problem? Have you found a solution to the problem? Question it. Does it work vs Red Aggro? Does it work against other decks?

It’s really quite easy to scale this model down during a game.

1. Learning. You have no idea what you’re up against. You play a Reflector Mage– no! Your creature just got countered, and now we’ve learned the opponent is playing counter-spells.

2. What’s next? We know we’ve got to be more careful with the timing of our spells as there’s a chance they will be answered fairly easy. We can infer that our opponent is probably playing a control or tempo style deck.

3. Decision time. We have knowledge of what kind of spells the opponent is playing. We know we have a problem, but what is the solution? We have two creatures, do we play the weaker creature to draw out a counterspell if our opponent has one or do we play the stronger creature in case they don’t? Made a decision? Question it!

Above all else, there is one more important rule when it comes to improving as a gamer- have fun! As cheesy as it sounds, enjoyment is ultimately at the very top of the pillar. You can’t progress, learn, or improve at a game if you don’t have fun doing it.

Useful resources

Community Question: What advice would you offer to new players looking to better themselves at Magic?

Thanks for reading,

Dan Hill

3 Simple Steps to Help Beginners Improve at Playing Magic: The Gathering, by Dan Hill
Learning is a life-long process. Anyone who tells you differently hasn't learned otherwise. Throughout life, we're subjected to different experiences with different outcomes.

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