Thursday, March 21, 2013

Leveling Up Your Magic Game

This week I was listening to the latest episode excellent Limited Resources podcast entitled "Leveling Up." Even if you're not a regular player of the Limited format for Magic the Gathering, you should do yourself a big favor and listen to this podcast. It is, hands down, the best source of information for improving your play for Magic. Anyway, as you might expect, the topic for this episode was on how to "level up" your Magic play. By the title, I expected a list of different skills to improve upon, perhaps with a suggested path to tackle them. But as it turns out, the episode instead focused, by and large, on a single topic that, I believe, has the biggest potential to change the way most people play magic: overcoming tilt.

For those unfamiliar with the term tilt, it comes from the days of old-fashioned pinball, where one might bump or nudge the table to get that little shiny ball to go where you wanted it. But if you hit the table too hard, the tilt sensor went off, and all the controls went dead. Fast forward to the present, and now tilt describes, in both poker and Magic, an emotional response to bad luck or "unfairness" in the game that makes a person more aggressive and less rational, usually resulting in poor play and decision making.

As I listened, I took careful notes on the tips they shared with their listeners. Again, I strongly suggest you listen to the whole podcast. But if not, here's a detailed summary:
  1. Change your expectations. No matter how skilled you are as a player, no matter how strong your decklist is, you do not deserve to win. Bad luck can follow bad luck can follow bad luck, and no fundamental laws of the universe dictate that this shouldn't be happening to you.
  2. Don't rely on luck as a crutch. In other words, when you lose, your initial reaction shouldn't be to blame random chance. If you always blame bad luck for your outcomes, you will never do the hard work of really evaluating your performance and figuring out where you need to improve.
  3. Strive to play perfectly, still lose, and be content with the outcome. If winning determines whether or not you enjoy the game, eventually you will come to hate Magic. Instead, strive to play making the best decisions that you can, and if you play out a game to the best of your ability and still lose, feel good about your decisions rather than your outcome.
  4. Don't give up the narrow percentages. Even when it looks like you can't possibly win, keeping playing anyway. In most situations, there is a possible path to victory, even if the odds of it coming to pass are exceedingly small. In those crushing situations, identify your outs, and play as if that's the way the game will go. Over hundreds of games, even those tiny percentages will eventually equal out to more wins for you.
  5. Acknowledge when you run good. Part of overcoming the victim mentality that says you are cursed with terrible luck is to mentally stop and acknowledge when the opposite is true. When you get that perfect top-deck, when you keep a one-lander and draw the exact right mix of lands and spells, or when your opponent mana-screws twice in the same match, remember that your victory was probably more about good luck than skill.
  6. Be willing to be held accountable. One of the best ways to improve your game is to let other people see you playing and comment. With replays on Magic Online, along with various screen-recording software, this is easier than ever. Ask a better player than you who you trust to watch a couple of your games. Or take the plunge and post them online, and ask for feedback on your play. 
If you want more discussion and information about this topic, I wrote what I believe is a very strong article about this topic more than a year ago over at You can find it here.

That's it for today. Please feel free to comment, and I'll see you next time.


  1. Really interesting post !
    So many players enter events with big win expectations, and drop after a loss on first match when they could possibly win the next ones and go further in the competition. One always learns from play, wether winning or losing.
    Keep up the good work Gwyned!

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