Top 5 Tips to Make You Better Prepared for MTG Events – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge, by Graeme McIntyre

Top 5 Tips to Make You Better Prepared for MTG Events

Top 5 Tips to Help Make You Better Prepared for Magic: the Gathering Events

“Measure twice, cut once.” – Genji Shimada, Overwatch

This is a topic which does the rounds on various sites, because everyone has some experience of preparing for Magic: the Gathering (MTG) events. Often it’s approached in a very general way e.g. ‘get a good night’s sleep, eat properly, stay hydrated’ and so on, which is all good advice, but I thought I’d write it on a more personal basis, drawing upon the things which I have found helpful in the weeks leading up to an event, as opposed to the day immediately before. Some of these are personal lessons – e.g. things I was bad at and have tried to improve upon – and others are things I’ve noticed other people seem to do frequently.

So without further ado, here are my personal top 5 tips to help make you better prepared for Magic: the Gathering events!


5. Watch Magic: the Gathering streams has become a massive success over the last few years, and whilst it’s mostly popular for video games, there are plenty of professional Magic players who stream regularly. Personally I’ve not watched loads of Magic on stream but I have done so for Overwatch, where I found it immeasurably helpful, and the same principles apply to Magic: the Gathering. By watching someone who is better than you play, you can pick up things like the best way to sequence a series of spells, or when a card can be more effective when cast in the upkeep than at end of turn, or when to up or down tick a planeswalker in a given match up. These are general things about how to play a deck or a card which you might have worked out yourself after playing loads of games, but because these players have either a better baseline understanding of the game or have already played with the deck a considerable amount, you’re able to fast track your way through that part of the learning process by watching them play.

This is especially helpful for formats like Modern where there are people who know loads and loads about a particular deck, and it’s very difficult to be really on the ball with all the decks. So perhaps you’re interested in playing Lantern Control after it won the PT last weekend, but you’ve never played the deck before. There will be a streamer out there you could watch playing it for say 10 hours over the next two weeks, and you’ll be much better off than had you just played for 10 hours with the deck, in all likelihood.

Another thing you’ll learn about by watching streams is how to sideboard, because typically streams will be of matches, not singular games. It’s pretty easy to misunderstand how a sideboard works, and not really understand why particular cards are in the deck. Watching experienced players do this ought to help you to understand how to do it more effectively.


4. Check the sideboards of MTG decks

On the subject of sideboards, it’s really important that you have a good working knowledge of yours, and your expected opponents. Sites like provide a rich source of lists which you can look at, including percentages of representation for each card in each deck. so for example, 51% of Grixis Death’s Shadow lists include 1 copy of Liliana , the Last Hope in the sideboard, so it’s worth bearing in mind that this card exists in the match up, while as a Dredge player you might be interested to know that you’re more likely to be dealing with the 53% of decks which included Nilhil Spellbomb than the 31% which played Surgical Extraction.

Having a good grasp of the particular cards which are prevalent in sideboards at the time gives you a much better idea of what to play round at events, and this is the sort of thing you can check on your phone on your bus home, or on your lunch break. Fitting the little things in like this over the course of the week not only alleviates some of feeling of pressure from how much work there is to do in Magic if you’re really keen to do well, but also actually breaks down the workload you have into smaller, manageable blocks, making it far easier to fit into your week.


3. Play the sideboarded games and play both sides of the matchup

Of course, not all of preparation is about watching and studying – you do actually need to play games too. In my experience people often never really get round to playing the sideboarded games because they never actually get round to building the sideboard. I’m guilty of this in part because I never want to play the sideboard games too early, as I want to actually understand why I’m bringing cards in. It’s normally not a simple matter of bringing in Chill vs the red decks and Perish vs the green decks anymore, so you often need to have a decent idea about how the matchup actually plays out, or you might spend a lot of time doing something which ultimately will need to be redone later.

People are always reading articles that say “play the sideboard games” though, so in order to remove the need to have the above discussion every time a new set comes out, I tend to “forget” to build them. The problem is I often don’t really get round to building them after that, so I think there is a lot to be said for just having them built from the start. It’s not just that you play more sideboarded games than unsideboarded, nor that a matchup can change quite drastically before and after boards, but also because you need to understand what you’re doing in the games after boards.

Part of gaining this understanding comes from playing both sides of the matchup. This will give you a much better idea of what the really clutch cards are in each deck, and in knowing this you can build your post-board deck to make the best use out of these cards. Certainly, it will steer you away from siding out cards that are actually very important in the matchup from the other side’s point of view. It will also make you more aware of the cards in the other deck’s sideboard, so for instance it might be that a particular enchantment in their board is especially strong against you, and you need to bring in your Disenchants even though they have no other targets.


2. Play the games out!

It can be very tempting to give up on games in testing because you want to get through more games, and the outcome seems clear. This temptation is exacerbated by the tendency to feel games are hopeless if you’ve lost a lot of games already in the series. Over time, creatures in Standard have become increasingly powerful and swingy, so it’s increasingly the case that things can change a great deal in a few turns. If you hit a run of good cards over 2 or 3 turns while they don’t, it might be that the seemingly unwinnable game is now practically unlosable.

It might also be the case that a card which seems like a “victory condition” – e.g. the resolution of said card is the point at which it becomes unwinnable – is actually not that big a deal in reality, and playing the games out shows this to be the case. Here, through playing out the games we might create less data than if we played more games, but the data is considerably more meaningful.

The dispiriting nature of playing the bad end of the matchup will be reduced somewhat by playing both sides of the matchup, as discussed above. Ultimately, we ought to be able to avoid letting things like this impact the choices we make in game, but the reality is that people often don’t, despite claims to the contrary. It’s easier to cheat human nature than fix it.


1. Don’t just collect data, discuss and engage too!

Once you’ve played the games it’s important that you do more than simply count up the results and decree the matchups you’ve played to be good or bad. Think about and discuss how the matchup played out, and how it might be made better or worse with the cards in the deck as they are now, but also think about and discuss new solutions to the problems in the matchup – is there another list which is better? What about a different sideboard card?

“Think about and discuss”. Do both, not one or the other. Many people go away after and think about it on their own with no real attempt to engage with their playtesting partner about the topic. Obviously it’s a good idea to think about things on your own too, but while the games are still fresh, there are opportunities for both parties to learn and come to a greater understanding of the matchup. Discussing without thinking is unhelpful for what should be obvious reasons.



It’s really easy to be lazy, or do things on auto pilot. Succeeding at Magic consistently is a fairly time consuming process, and there are bits of it that each of us are loathe to do. I don’t really like the physical process of building decks. Getting cards into sleeves when some of the sleeves are the wrong way up, or ink from a proxy isn’t quite dry and it smears the inside of the sleeve, or just checking the list while holding a folder and trying to get cards out…obviously this isn’t the end of the world, but this is an element of getting stuff ready which I can never really be bothered with. Maybe for you it’s checking the sideboards or watching someone else play Magic: the Gathering on Twitch which is boring.

We don’t need to do everything ourselves – divide the labour up with the people you play with. In addition to that, try to find ways to make life easier – Magic Life Hacks if you will – which you personally find makes it simpler for you. This is something which really comes down to the individual, but for me organizing my cards into folders for the rares and mythics and a box for all the good commons and uncommons, and splitting them into Standard and Modern, was really helpful. Before, I just had all my cards in a series of boxes, with the rares+mythics in one box. Reading that back, it was a disorganized disaster zone before, and I’m really glad I did something about it.

Life hack, or common sense? Discuss!

So just to summarise, here is my list of top 5 tips to help make you better prepared for MTG events:

5. Watch Magic: the Gathering streams

4. Check the sideboards of MTG decks

3. Play the sideboarded games and play both sides of the matchup

2. Play the games out!

1. Don’t just collect data, discuss and engage too!

Help a player out: What would you say are your top 5 tips to help make someone better prepared for Magic events?

Anyway, that’s it for this week. Next time I’m going to write a similar article focusing on Limited, then another on Constructed.

All the best,

Graeme McIntyre

Top 5 Tips to Make You Better Prepared for MTG Events - Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge, by Graeme McIntyre
What would you say, are your top 5 tips to help make someone better prepared for Magic: the Gathering events?

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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.