Three Mistakes to Avoid to Step Up Your Game

Magic players can be described in a number of ways, but one characteristic that we can all pride ourselves on is the fact that we strive to improve and play as well as possible. This article provides a handful of tips to help you avoid some common mistakes. It's time to really level up your game!

1. Not Having a Plan

strategic planning

I cannot stress enough how important this point is. I believe that this mistake hurts control players the most, which is not to say that other players can forget about it. Once you sit down to play a match and your opponent makes their first land drop, you should already have a rough understanding of what you might be up against, what range of archetypes could be in front of you, and, therefore, how you should approach the following turns. If your opponent leads on untapped Breeding Pool, Noble Hierarch, you can and should immediately try to narrow down the possible decks you might be facing and adjust your plays accordingly. In this scenario, they are probably playing Bant Spirits, Infect, or some kind of creature deck in general. It already carries a ton of information as you now know that removal is at its premium and the game will revolve around board position.

Why does it matter in practice? Now, when you play your turn one Serum Visions, you have a much better idea what to look for. Or if you're playing Prowess, you know not to waste burn spells on their life total, or if you are on Tron, you know to focus on Oblivion Stone and Ugin. Whenever I coach, I try to teach people the habit of thinking through popular matchups in advance, so that they don't have to try to come up with a new strategy on the fly. You should know what the games revolve around — which cards, plays, or resources — so that you can combat them better when you are actually playing the game. You see Sacred Foundry, Goblin Guide? Turn on the "be careful with my fetches and shock lands" mode. You see a suspended Search for Tomorrow? You can bet your money that things will come to a head by turn four or five at the latest. All these pieces of information allow you to create a cohesive plan rather than play cards semi-randomly and hope they are good enough.

Additionally, when we go to postboard games, it is way easier to make mulligan decisions if you know your plan. Is three lands, four counterspells a keepable hand? Obviously it depends. Depends on the matchup and the plan you have, and whether you've determined that counterspells play a crucial role … Which they probably do, as you have them in your deck after sideboarding.

All in all, having a plan allows you to map out your early turns better, to play around the cards you've determined to be the biggest threat in the matchup, and to make proper mulligan decisions.

2. Thinking That Practice Makes Perfect

jousting dummy

I know, I know, hear me out. A lot of Magic articles keep pushing the narrative that practice makes perfect and you should play as much as you can if you care about improvement. Now, this is where I'd like to step in. This adage lacks one word which would make it exactly what it should be: Perfect practice makes perfect. Am I being too linguistically pedantic? I might, but let me explain the point I am trying to convey. Just playing the games over and over won't make you better and the sheer number of games you've played is not proportionate to the skill you're going to develop.

What's actually crucial is how you approach the practice and the games you play. What I mean by perfect practice is, for example, recording the results in a spreadsheet with appropriate comments such as why you think you won or lost: due to a specific series of draws, a specific card, your opponent's overall strategy, or specific choices taken along the way? If you are testing the efficacy of a certain card in a certain matchup with your friends, you can always draw your opening hand with one copy of the card in question. Actually test how it works when you have it. Don't waste time on games in which you don't draw it, if your goal is to figure out what happens when you do draw it.

Additionally, one of the best things you can do is watch replays of your own games. They allow you to analyze your play with some perspective and without any time pressure on you. And I highly, highly suggest accepting all the advice and feedback your friends might give. I like to think that other people know something that I don't. So it's worth listening to what they have to say about how you played, what you did wrong, or what you did correctly. You want to pay attention to both when you played well and when you played poorly, so that you can reinforce the good habits and get rid of the bad. You might also consider a coaching session to have someone experienced monitor how you play, have 100% of attention on you, and answer questions whenever something is unclear. You can ask archetype experts about your matchup and how to approach it.

There are numerous ways to make your practice more fruitful, efficient, and beneficial long term, so take advantage of them.

3. Thinking Every Game Is about Card Advantage

axis of immortality

The last point I want to touch on is resources. There are three main resources in Magic, three axes on which you can lose a game: life, cards, and tempo. Now, I would like to describe all three of them in some detail.

a) Life

You begin the game with 20 life points, and should they ever fall to 0 you lose the game. This is the first rule of Magic you learn, and most decks attack you exactly on this axis. However, it is crucial to note that once the game has been completed and the winner determined it doesn't matter whether they ended up at 10 life or on 1. That means that life total can be a resource to gain advantage in the game. You can let your opponent attack you and take the damage, so that you can make more favorable trades later. You can also gain information on what they might follow it up with or what they plan to do next.

In practice, it means that you have to pay close attention to both your own and your opponent's life total and react to the changing levels of it. When your own life total slowly starts approaching zero, you know you need to be a bit more defensive, and when your opponent's life is approaching zero, you probably need to be getting just a bit more aggressive to finish the game. Sometimes, it's difficult to strike the balance between properly using this resource. When you're destroying and blocking each creature within sight just to preserve this beautiful 20, you might be misusing your own resource. But if you let too much damage through early, then you may be forced to make less favorable trades later.

b) Cards

One of the most popular and coveted resources in a game of Magic. Everyone wants to acquire as many cards as possible, especially if they are playing a midrange or a control strategy. However, in order to level up your game you need to pay close attention to when this resource really matters and when it doesn't. When does the game not revolve around card advantage? When you're playing against Grishoalbrand or Tron in Modern, you need to stop them from assembling their specific combo and it doesn't matter whether you are ahead on cards or not. When playing against a burn deck in virtually any format, it's key to preserve your life total and not to hold a full grip of cards.

When do cards matter then? They matter when you're playing against another control deck or a midrange deck. They matter whenever two players are making a series of trades instead of racing to establish a board presence or to reduce the other's life total. When the game boils down to killing each other's creatures, getting the most out of enter-the-battlefield effects, or just simply having more material to work with — this is when you need to pay attention to card advantage. What does that mean in practice? It can mean to hold off on a Supreme Verdict to kill more creatures, or to spend mana on card draw. Focusing on cards will often be at odds with a focus on life and/or tempo.

c) Tempo

One of the game's most difficult concepts to define, but I will try to paint a rough picture. Tempo is about time and about how much you and your opponent have done with it, often measured in mana you have or haven't spent. In my experience, it's the most misunderstood axis and people underestimate it greatly. If you put a huge number of powerful 3-drops, 4-drops, and 5-drops into your deck, you will probably lose to much weaker 1- or 2-drops, purely because your opponent was able to deploy much more before you started doing anything relevant. It's why being on the draw in Magic is generally very bad, even though you are up a card. It doesn't matter if you're holding seven, eight, or eleven cards, if you can't deploy them all by the time the game ends. It's one reason Force of Negation has changed Modern Control so much, as it allows an archetype that might otherwise die with leftover cards in hand to turn them into actually useful output.

What makes cheap effects such as Spell Pierce or Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push so powerful is that they trade up in mana almost every time. They are so-called "tempo positive." If you counter your opponent's 5-drop with Mana Leak you have traded one for one on the card front, but you've traded your two mana for their five, which is a huge tempo swing. If this was turn five, you may have been able to multi-spell and to pull quite far ahead.


You need to identify which resource is key in any given game of Magic. It will mostly likely be a mixture of all three, but in different proportions.

That's all from me today. Thank you very much for reading my first article here, and I hope the above will prove useful to you. I obviously didn't cover these topics in full, because they are very broad, and deep. If you would like me to go into more detail on any of them, let me know. Until next time — hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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LeoLuchs(2020-05-30 11:55)

Hey Skura,

Thank's for your article. As a fellow control player I appreciate your tipps!

I would like to reply to your comment at the end: I would be interested in a detailed article about the "Tempo-aspect" of the game. As a control-player I feel that in current MUs especially against Lurrus decks (Modern) the early setup of like getting multiple cantrips played in the 1-2 Turns has become more important than before. You can outrun the Lurrus deck with card advantage and answers to their threads in the Midgame and finish them off in the lategame. But if they Inquisition you and take out your Coatl or Astrolabe u probably have a hard time. This leads to interesing deckbuilding decisions. For example: in a 80 card Yorion deck with 3 colors, why are people playing Abundant Growth over Omen of the Sea? You don't need the manafixing that much. Omen is probably the better card...

The other day I had a discussion with a friend who usually plays Jund about whether Lurrus Jund or traditional Jund are stronger and where they are favored at different points in the game (Early obiously Lurrus, Lategame probably old Jund and also Postboard, but the most interesting part was the in-between, lets say Turn 4-6 - we came to no conclusion on this).

vimcc(2020-05-29 11:32)

Nice tips!

TimeLord(2020-05-27 00:37)

Hey, wasn`t sure to reply.

This is all over the basics.

Its more like a starter guide, you didn`t even noticed milling.

Its obvious to keep care what the enemy is doing, you`re not a good player, if you don`t know what is comming next.

This is what you should know, still thanks, many people still don`t know it, sorry to be rude.

But you should tag this thread threads, some of us are playing since the beginning.

Skura(2020-05-27 10:02)

These are not basics :) If you have a plan for each MU, know how to playtest, and you easily assess resources needed in each game of magic then you are an advanced player and this article might just not be for a player of your calibre.
I don't know where you want me to mention milling. In resources? Decksize is, by and large, an irrelevant 'resource'.

Powl10(2020-05-26 12:35)

Hey Skura! Thanks for your (first?) Article! Really like your Videos!! Learned a lot!

Skura(2020-05-26 12:54)

Yeah, it's my first article here! More to come :)
I am glad my content has been useful :D

Darkiwi(2020-05-26 09:56)

Nice article, thank you :-)

djcjorissen(2020-05-26 09:09)

Is their a research of how much being on the play or draw effects your win percentage?

WellTrade(2020-05-26 12:03)

I think that depends on your Deck. A Controll deck won't have a lot of problems going second but a T1 Combo Deck can get a agreat boost fom going first.

Skura(2020-05-26 14:01)

I actually don't agree with WellTrade. A control deck really really cares about going first or second. It is impossible to conduct any research on the matter as it differes from deck to deck, meta to meta, and format to format. In general, it is believed that being on the play is better but how much better? Probably impossible to quantify

djcjorissen(2020-05-26 14:41)

I'm a huge fan of Elf decks in almost all the formats. Getting my bird bolted is very much the biggest pain. In modern and pioneer, if my llanowar elves survives the first turn I'm ahead big time. So I can understand that for aggro/tempo decks in general it is a huge deal to be on the play. I would like to see some numbers about this, the same as about how mulligans effect win percentage.

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