10 Mistakes Every New Magic: The Gathering Player Makes, And How To Avoid Them
I’ve been playing Magic: The Gathering for just over a year now, and loved every moment of it. Having said that, there are those “Oops” moments where you make a mistake and get
caught out for it. It’s always an embarrassing experience. Nevertheless, everybody is human, and sometimes mistakes happen. From the perspective of someone who botches up regularly, and from one relative newbie to another, here are 10 things that will help reduce the number of mistakes you make.
Always read the text on your cards
This one sounds straightforward enough. Yet, in all my experiences, most mistakes made come from players not reading their cards properly. A good personal example of this would be the card Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, who takes the role of my Dimir Commander General. When I first chose him for the role, I thought to myself “this card is ridiculously good.” However, a few games later I’d realised that Lazav only interacts with your opponent’s graveyards. Because I had misread the card, I couldn’t count any previous victories with the deck as valid. Heeding my own mistakes, I would recommend to all players that they read each card very carefully before putting it into play.
Declare your moves clearly to your opponent(s)
If you’ve ever been a tourist in a country where you don’t speak the native language, you’ll know that a lack of mutual understanding can cause some pretty frustrating encounters. It’s the same with any game of Magic: The Gathering – If neither you nor your opponent has full clarity on each action, mistakes are more likely to happen. This can range from an incorrect board state, to spells being revealed without reason. Whilst these things may have minimal effect on the game on their own, they can add up to cause problems that may eventually lead to an unfair advantage or victory for either player. To reduce this risk, make sure that you speak clearly, going through each decision you make and ensuring that your opponent understands what is happening.
Don’t reveal any more information to your opponent(s) than is necessary
This one applies mainly to newer players, but is still universally advised. Imagine you’ve just drawn a card and you decide to let slip on some of its properties. You tell your opponent that the card drawn is a flyer that untaps up to seven lands when it enters the battlefield. Whilst less experienced players might not know what this is, most of the Magic: The Gathering will recognise that you’re holding the notorious Palinchron and ready themselves to counter it. Because of the information you’ve let slip, your opponent has sensed an opportunity to rob you of seven mana you could spend elsewhere, essentially crippling you for a turn. With this in mind, it’s safe to say that a slip of a tongue can be costly, if not lethal.
Be careful where you keep your hand
Linked closely with the previous point, this tip also applies mainly to newer players. I would advise all players to look at where they keep their hand, especially if they put it down. If you’re holding your cards at certain distances and angles, players adjacent to you will also be able to see those cards too. Whilst in an ideal world we’d like to think that people would respect boundaries, there are players that will exploit this opportunity and look at your hand. The same can be said if, for whatever reason, you decide to put your hand down “sunny-side up.” In doing these things, you’re freely giving your adversaries information they can use to defeat you – So don’t.
Read, read and re-read the text on your cards
As condescending as this is, it’s important that you read the text on those cards – When I say that every piece of information written down makes a difference, I really mean it. Referring again to shapeshifters for example, let’s look at the classic Clone creature card. The card’s text box tells us this: ‘You may have Clone enter the battlefield as a copy of any creature on the battlefield.’ This tells us some very important things about the card. Firstly, it tells us that the card may enter the battlefield as a clone of another creature. This means that the ability to copy a creature is optional, as opposed to obligatory – meaning that you can have clone enter as a 0/0 shapeshifter (if that’s what you really want). Secondly, we’re told that Clone ‘enters the battlefield as a copy.’ From this we can gather not only does the card enter as an exact copy of another creature, but it also receives its Enter-The-Battlefield effects if there are any. Lastly, we should look at the word ‘any’ in this sentence. Normally, this word would be substituted by the word ‘target’. However, since the card has been worded in a specific way, it can ignore Hexproof and Shroud abilities, making it a very useful card indeed. From reading the card carefully, we are made aware of all this.
Make sure you get your steps and phases right
This point is based on the advice of a much-respected friend of mine. When I play cards in an inefficient order, he always says ‘Sequencing, Chris! Sequencing!’ and explains how I could’ve played my cards better. For example, one of his pet peeves is when I draw my card for the turn without untapping my permanents first. Even if do this to wind him up at times, I must admit that he is right. According to the official Magic: The Gathering rules, during the Beginning phase, the Untap step comes first, followed by the Upkeep step, then finally the Draw Step. It’s all very well me doing this in a casual environment. However, in a more formal setting, such as a tournament, the consequences of me doing this might be more severe.
Moreover, playing certain cards in the wrong order can also be costly. To demonstrate this, we’ll look at the act of playing Mystical Tutor, followed by an Evolving Wilds. You search your library for the instant or sorcery card, reveal it, shuffle your library and put the spell on top. You then proceed to play Evolving Wilds, and sacrifice it, searching for a basic land to put into play tapped. What are the consequences of this? For a start, you’re at a card disadvantage – you’ve effectively payed one blue mana to put a card into your graveyard. On top of this, you’ve randomised your deck after searching for the spell card you chose, meaning that the card could now be anywhere in your library. By this point, you’ve put two cards into your graveyard, thinned your library by one and put your spell card in an unknown location. Whilst it looks like a stupid thing to do, it’s a mistake that can easily be made if you drop your guard for a moment, as well as being one that can cost you dearly.
Take your time when making important decisions
As the moral goes in one of my favourite of Aesop’s Fables, ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race.’ This is true for many scenarios and certainly is true in the case of Magic: The Gathering. I have often had experiences where other players have looked at me impatiently and asked ‘are you done yet?’ If you end up in this situation as well, don’t feel pressured to hurry up and say ‘No’ instead. Remember that your turn is in your control and ends when you say it ends (Unless an opponent plays a card like Time Stop – Then the turn’s over when they say it is). Keep in mind the fact that more mistakes are made when you rush, think your decisions through carefully and don’t feel encouraged to end your turn simply because your opponent is giving you evil looks across the table.
Confirm that your maths is correct
If you play Magic: The Gathering, it’s a safe assumption to make that you understand basic arithmetic. Mathematics plays a central role in a game where mana is produced, damage is dealt and received in specific quantities. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to make sure that you’re paying the right amount of mana to cast that game-changing spell, as it also is to make sure that a lethal amount of damage is being dealt before you tap all your creatures for the killing blow. The difference between a single mana or point of damage can make or break a game.
Keep an eye on your opponent
This is another obvious one, but it’s always important to be reminded to watch your adversary carefully. Being a game of wit, Magic: The Gathering requires a demanding amount of concentration if you’re playing to win. I know many players, including myself, who will often take a break mid-game to go the toilet, to answer a text or call or go get a snack. Needless to say, each of them is always a little surprised when they return to the game and find themselves at a disadvantage because they weren’t present to respond to their opponent’s actions. I would therefore advise all players to keep distractions to a minimum and, on a more sinister note, watch vigilantly to make sure your opponent isn’t breaking the rules (I’m sure we can all agree when I say that it’s no fun playing against a cheater).
Make sure all your cards are format legal
I want you to picture another scenario: you’re playing a casual Modern game with friends and it’s your turn. You decide to play a Baleful Strix, but are surprised when you find out that the card isn’t actually allowed in that format. Embarrassing, isn’t it? Your friends might be more than happy to forgive your slip. However, in a competitive setting, you may be penalised, or even refused participation for playing “illegal” cards. Try and check the legality of your cards in the format you’re playing, especially if you’re thinking of playing at an official event.
Bonus Point: As previously mentioned… ALWAYS read the text on your cards
I cannot stress how important this is, to the extent that I’ve mentioned it multiple times. Make sure that you’ve read the text on every card in your deck and understand how each one works. It is especially embarrassing to play conditional cards only to find that their conditions are not met. For example, you might try and cast Negate or Doom Blade on a Noxious Gearhulk. Neither of these cards can target the Gearhulk – the former spell because the Gearhulk is a creature and the latter spell because it is a black creature. The more you know your spell cards, the less likely you are to make a mistake mid-game.
Take them in your stride
Reflecting on each point that I’ve made, there’s only one more piece of advice I can offer to players on mistakes: take them in your stride. Don’t be embarrassed because, as previously stated, we are all human beings and it’s in the human nature to make mistakes. Try and see the funny side of it (after all, your opponents probably will), and make sure you learn from each of your slip-ups. Above all else, remember that Magic: The Gathering is just a game and thus is made to be enjoyed. Here’s to making mistakes, making exciting plays and, lastly, making friends in the Magic: The Gathering community.
Community Question: What is the single biggest mistake that you always make, and what do you do to try and prevent it from happening?
Thanks for reading,