Rethinking the Fundamentals by Joe Fairweather

Sometimes to move forwards we need to take a step back.

Back to Basics from Urza's Saga
Back to Basics

Starting over is not the same as never having begun at all.

I often find myself plateaued, at a point where I know that I have room to improve and yet I can’t see any way to reach that higher ground. I’m sure I’m not alone, and it’s a frustrating experience. Like getting stuck in a duvet cover while changing bedsheets, wanting to improve but having no idea where to start is a uniquely annoying feeling.

Much like changing bedsheets, often the best way to fix the problem is to start over and take a fresh look at your approach.

On paper this is much easier than in practice. Life isn’t an RPG and you can’t just do a mental reroll. So how do we go about doing this in reality? Well first off, we need to consider when we actually need to refresh.

Wall of Denial
Wall of Denial

Hitting the wall

I’m not advocating for an eternal loop, constantly relearning the fundamentals, but rather knowing when to step back and look at your understanding of those concepts a little more critically.

It’s not that uncommon for players to hit a slump where they feel that although they’re doing everything right, they keep coming up short. It’s often this point, where you don’t even know what you don’t know, for me that is a sign: time to take a step back and consider things from a different perspective.

The How

How exactly do we go about restarting? Personally, as I progress, I find more things become a part of my autopilot: role assessment, line-up theory, playing to win.

The components that make up good play all become something of a second nature. This is my point of restart, pulling these components out and looking at them with a more critical lens. Instead of letting these concepts run in the background I take them out from under the hood and start playing with them at the forefront of my mind.

So let’s take an example from my own experience:

Path to Exile Modern Masters 2017
Path to Exile Modern Masters 2017
I’m on blue-white control against Mardu Pyromancer, and we’re in the second main phase of turn 4 – my opponent’s 2nd turn.

They’ve tapped out for a Young Pyromancer with all colours of mana available. My board is a tapped Celestial Colonnade and an untapped Hallowed Fountain.

My hand consists of:
Supreme Verdict
Path to Exile
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Lands 3 and 4

My opponent has not cast a discard spell on turn one.

Pyromancer is a real threat in any matchup, able to generate huge amounts of value in very few turns. I Path Pyromancer. 4 mana isn’t a huge bonus for them and Pyromancer can get out of hand quickly. I choose to remove it.

I lost that game and needless to say it frustrated me.

I felt like I had all the tools to win – and I likely did – but without considering the fundamentals it was hard for me to articulate to myself what went wrong.

In hindsight it was an obvious mistake, but at the time that didn’t register with me.

Reflecting on the match with autopilot on, I dealt with an important threat, never had a good chance to play my sweeper and was put behind by a timely Reveller to lose the topdeck war.

Through the more critical lens – the step by step basics of good play – the right line seems a lot more obvious. What was a formless frustration becomes a lesson in line-up theory:

Focusing on the fundamentals, I realised I had misevaluated how my answers lined up.

Path to Exile is an efficient way to deal with any threat in the Pyromancer matchup – the most notable of which being Bedlam Reveller, a card commonly deployed after a sweeper.

Meanwhile Supreme Verdict’s Wrath effect is notably good at dealing with Young Peezy itself, clearing up any tokens it brings with it. By choosing to Path I saved 2 life at most and made it much harder to answer coming Revellers.

Had I saved the Path, chosen to take the hit and followed up with a sweeper, it’s likely that I could have answered the Reveller and been able to stick a Teferi. My decision to Path meant I was unable to effectively utilise Supreme Verdict on my opponent’s turn 3 Lingering Souls. As it stood, I was unable to stick a planeswalker, and cast Verdict at an awkward time. A Reveller following up my sweeper was all it took to take me out of the game.

Humble (EMA)
It’s not exactly next level play but that’s exactly the point. By taking a step back and assessing what we consider second nature, we can gain a lot of insight into what we’re doing wrong and move forwards as a result.
Back to square one

All this is to say that sometimes going back is the best way forward.

Perspective is everything. Assessing my plays in the example given changes completely when I approach it a more open mindset.

When you look at the issue from “I understand the fundamentals” you miss the forest for the tress, Magic is a process and nothing about it is static.

Rather, why not try thinking “Is there anything fundamental that I’m messing up?”. This way you can better understand your mistakes and reapply those fundamentals to your current experiences and have a greater idea of where to go moving forward.

Without the understanding to identify where you’re making mistakes it can be hard to learn from them. Or worse, walk away with the wrong lesson.

You don’t know what you don’t know, but you can know how to find out…

I am by no means an excellent Magic player, but I certainly want to become one. Knowing when to dial back my ego and consider my foundational skills has been crucial to my own improvement.

The highlands are full of plateaus – sometimes you just have to go a bit lower to find the next hill.

Thanks for reading.

Rethinking the Fundamentals
Rethinking the Fundamentals
Sometimes to move forwards in life we need to take a step back, and Magic is no different. Joe Fairweather shares an example from his own journey and reflects on how looking back through fresh eyes has helped him overcome assumptions to become a stronger player.

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