Competitive Magic has an immense level of depth to the skills and strategies that are viable paths to success. One of if not the most important of these is very seldomly talked about because of hard it is to get into words because it is an incredibly abstract concept, and that is the mentality it takes to be a successful Magic player. This subject is something that I’m very passionate about and I believe it is a great topic to write my first article about. Before we get started, I should introduce myself. My name is Joseph Stargel I am a new addition to the Team Tapstart competitive Magic team. However, I am no stranger to competitive Magic, I’ve been playing competitive Magic since Return to Ravnica. In that time, I’ve had an abundance of SCG Open Series top 16 and top 32 finishes, as well as several IQ, PPTQ, and PTQ top 8 finishes as well as a lot of local event victories. I haven’t had my breakout performance yet, but I grind day in and day out to become a better student of the game and to try to become the best Magic player that I can possibly be. I generally specialize in aggro, tempo, and combo decks, such as delver, affinity, and storm.
I believe there is one thing that separates the great Magic players from the good ones, and that is the mentality that the greats approach Magic as a whole. People say “Believe you have the best 75 in the room” or “Believe that you’re the best Magic player you can be” these are adequate mentalities to have but they do not breed the mindset that I think makes truly great players. I believe that the mentality to have comes down to two very simple things.
First, that you can always improve in some way. Secondly, and the most important, is to have the confidence in your decision making and plays to be able to play your best game no matter who or what matchup sits down across from you. This is a concept that was reinforced for me this weekend at a local PPTQ in which I had a top 4 finish. I lost in the swiss and in the top 4 to the same person. However, I had extremely close quality games of Magic in a matchup that was supposed to be almost unwinnable and I stand by the fact that this was because I approached the matchup confident in my preparation for the tournament and had the confidence in my decision making throughout the games. This brings us to the first step in achieving a positive and confident competitive mentality, and that is preparation. Being prepared for a tournament means knowing the ins and outs of your deck and the key pieces of your matchups and having a quality understanding of the meta that you are expecting. For me on Mono-blue Tempo this meant preparing for UR Pheonix, Jeskai control, BG midrange, RW aggro, and the mirror. In the weeks leading up to the event I was playing as many quality games of Magic as I could. I was not just playing to play, I was constantly looking for new ways to approach matchups and crafting new sideboard plans. I did this by making notes about all the matches I played and trying to find places where I could improve my play as much as possible, however this doesn’t stop when the tournament begins you can learn things about matchups even in the tournament you were preparing for, no two games of Magic are the same that’s part of the reason we love this game so much.
The second and final thing to concentrate on to improve your competitive mentality is realizing certain things are out of your control. This game has an element of randomness to it that is why we play the matches and are not assigned wins and losses in tournaments based on matchup percentages. However, this should not be used as a crutch or an excuse for plateauing in your improvement, especially because of how easy it is to make that excuse. If your opponent draws the nuts, they draw the nuts, but that’s not the end all be all because you can always adapt and adjust in any given game. When you are in a bad position in a game never just give up, start thinking about how you can play to the situations that lead to you turning the game around. For example, think about how you can optimize your plays so that you are milking your cards for every ounce of value you can get out of them, how can you force you’re your opponents to use their cards in the least optimal ways possible. Maximizing your cards and minimizing your opponents is the both the best way to create leads in games and claw your way back into them. The best piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to be a more competitive Magic player is to play your game as much as possible and to focus on your and only your play. Look for the small ways that you can improve and optimize, become comfortable in your own Magic skin, find the strategies you are comfortable playing and optimize them even if they aren’t the best strategy in that format. More can be gained from playing your style as optimally as possible than can be gained from playing the “best” deck and second guessing your instincts.
Bottom line BE CONFIDENT IN YOUR INSTINCTS, the more you trust yourself and commit and learn from the situations that go bad, the better your instincts will become and the more confident you will become which will improve your game in the most significant and concrete way possible. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my first article, this is the first of many and I look forward to not only improving my play in my own ways but also improving my quality of content for the community.