The Main Phase – What It Takes

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Monday, July 7th – A lot of things go into the creation of a successful Magic player. For example, countless hours of preparation and effort, mental toughness, and pure mathematical skill all take part. But no one thing has been nailed down as the singular most important deciding factor when it comes to what makes a person a ‘success’ at Magic…

A lot of things go into the creation of a successful Magic player. For example, countless hours of preparation and effort, mental toughness, and pure mathematical skill all take part. But no one thing has been nailed down as the singular most important deciding factor when it comes to what makes a person a ‘success’ at Magic. I wanted to find out from the mouths of some people who would know best. So I sent out the following message on Facebook to several people from whom I wanted to hear opinions:

For this week’s article, I wanted to gauge an answer to a question that I think interests a lot of people, particularly me.

In your opinion, what does it take to become a successful Magic player?

You can interpret that question any way you see fit. If you see success as Pro Points or winning records or rating or just feeling like you are good at the game, I want to know what you think makes a person a successful Magic player. Mental toughness, preparation, etc.

I am excited to see your responses.

Thanks everyone!


Here are the responses I received:

Zac Hill: I think the absolute most important thing, if you consider success in terms of winning games, is to constantly evaluate every play you make retrospectively to see how it’s actively helping you win. Obviously this means you need to admit to yourself if you just punt, but you also need to think about what your overall strategy is and whether every action you took helped contribute to that. Marijn gives me hell for talking about this all the time, but it’s incredibly important: what’s your plan?

Owen Turtenwald: Practice is probably the biggest thing in my mind. Most of the players that always win always play Magic. When you play often you’re more familiar/comfortable with what you’re doing and it’s more like pattern recognition than trying to figure out what’s going on every turn. You also need mental strength to deal with all the sick variance you will encounter.

Gerry Thompson: Commitment, the fire, and a strong mental game are all things that I would consider necessary. All of the other things (preparedness, whatever) just help you win more, but won’t really help you become successful. I think with most people, you either get it or you don’t. You can’t just take any random donk and turn them into Kenji.

Rich Hagon: For most, success means over-achieving, because we tend to dismiss our own achievements. Example: going 4-2 in a PTQ. Successful? For sure, everyone on your list would say no for themselves. It’s still more wins than most people at the event, by definition. Feeling successful is measured by your own definition, not by others. When I won my first ever Sanctioned match, I felt the sweetness of success, because my skill level and inexperience suggested I would 0-X the day. I went 1-5, but that was a ‘successful’ day, because I ‘overachieved.’ Does this mean Guillaume Wafo-Tapa can’t be successful in his own eyes? Not necessarily, but I’m prepared to wager that Kai doesn’t lie awake at night thinking of 7 PT titles. More likely, if he thinks about it at all, he’ll be thinking about the two Top 8s where he didn’t win. That potentially makes him feel unsuccessful, whilst contributing to him being one of the top two players ever.

Evan Erwin: My definition is obviously skewed. I don’t see Magic success as a first place ‘thing.’ I see it as both a process and a lifestyle.

A successful Magic player always has friends to bounce ideas off. They have people they can carpool to events with and pile into the same hotel room. They share excited e-mails and text messages when they read the latest spoilers. They can equally enjoy each other’s tournament successes just the same as cube drafting success.

Being successful in Magic is making an impact, allowing others to be influenced by your words, whether it’s across the nation or across the tabletop at your favorite store.

Success at Magic is not only the PTQ win fallout, but the PTQ scrubbing fallout as well. When you just got demolished and went 0-2 drop, successful people see that as an opportunity to learn what went wrong. What not to do next time. You can train and test, but mentally, successful people don’t sit around mulling over What Went Wrong because, even for the winner of the event, something went wrong, but the things that mattered went right.

Success at Magic is experiencing joy in all aspects of the game. Winning, losing, community interaction and friendship. As long as those are in place, practice and perseverance are ways of keeping this joy for you, but never relying on one aspect of the game to make it or break it.

Doug Linn: I cook a lot, and the two things that make someone a good cook instead of a decent one are knowing how to salt food properly and good knife skills.

I want to pull this out to Magic — two critical, and underutilized, skills are mulliganing and being able to remember your entire deck. I know this matters more in Vintage than in other formats due to the one-ofs everywhere, but if you sit down and cannot write out your entire deck and sideboard, you need to study your deck more.

Bill Stark: Any good English degree-holder will tell you definitions don’t actually exist, but for your experiment, here you go.

To be successful at Magic you must have a love for the game and a determination to improve. One often leads you to the other, and either can keep you going when the other wanes.

Adam Yurchick: I think the most important factor is just having a strong mental game. You have to be willing to play and play and play, taking beat after beat and be unflappable. You are going to mull to 4 game 3 of the “playing for Top 8” round. Then it’s going to happen the next tournament. You have to have the willpower to actually win those games, not bend over. You are going to play bad match ups, they are going to have it every time. You will see 4 perfect card runners, you are going to 2nd two PTQs in a row, you are going to miss Top 8 in PTQ after PTQ, just to drive 5 hours the next week and do it all again. To be successful you have to put in the time and the effort, win the games ‘no one else in the room would have won.’ Win on the mull to 4; win the game against Kai when he turn 2 Chills your burn deck. And plays another on turn 3. The main thing that makes MTGO veterans so much stronger than the average chump you play against is that the MTGO player has seen it all. I dare you to contrive a beat bad enough, a Lemony Snicketing so absurd that a MTGDO vet can’t top. This calluses your mind so much that these things just can’t get to you anymore. I’m not saying MTGO is the only way, as I’m sure Kai and Finkel and the old pre MTGO greats and the current greats who don’t MTGDO share the same attitude, but it certainly is the easiest way. You have to get to the point that you are a machine, and at that point you are so free from emotion that you can focus on everything else, namely winning.

I think another big thing is just pure love of the game. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with what Evan said, but there is no better practice than to just get out there and play. Playing FNMs, MTGO, or testing against friends. Cubing, team drafting, just playing Magic in any way shape or form. Not necessarily testing for a given event, just playing. When someone truly loves playing they are going to have a lot more success because of their willingness to just play. It builds play skill and mental game, which are keys to success. Sure, there are some players that may do well without playing much, but they have gotten to that point by countless hours of playing in the past.

Mark Herberholz: I never act like an *sshole to any of my opponents in a sanctioned match if I get the nut draw on them or if I blow them out with something. Instead I choose to exhibit good sportsmanship and win by superior play. The only time I am a d*ck is if I am provoked. While being a d*ck may help you win a match, it will hurt you more in the long run when you are playing at high level events because people will not want to test with you or share decks. Also it doesn’t phase my play at all when someone tries these kiddy tricks to rile me up, I just play my game and make a note that this opponent, who may have won this match, will not win at life.

Sam Stoddard: Nothing tilts your opponent more at the PTQ level than when you are mull to five on the play and act as if it is nothing. Or when they play some random bomb, kill your board, and you just respond with “Okay. Done?” People expect you to tilt when you are losing, so if you don’t then they assume you must have something up your sleeve that is going to blow them out. That isn’t to say you are a d*ck – you are calm, collected, and you play your game. If your attitude is ‘I am in the winning position’ all the time, then your opponents will often bow to your will and let you have it.

That being said, I’m going to have to agree with Mark on a lot of what he said – I think community building is one of the best steps to getting good at Magic. It takes a long time, and it is far more difficult than, say, copying deck lists or scumbagging / cheating your opponents into oblivion, but the long term rewards are amazing. Random things like a last minute sideboard tech from someone who has played the format more than you, or even just a heads up about the deck your next round opponent is playing. Building positive relationships with as many players as possible will help your chances of doing well.

Have you noticed you never hear about someone who does well on the PT or even PTQ level by testing by themselves? Sometimes the lone idiot will win a PTQ, or Top 8 three or four in a row, but they are gone a season later. You need to build relationships and help the people you play with on a regular basis if you want to do well in the long run. As they get better, so will you. Some of them may end up beating you in a tournament some day, and you might be sad, but you will end up as a much stronger player. Plus, you will end up with connections for when you need deck lists, or a hotel room, or when you are going into the last round as an x-1 and you get paired down against an x-2. Do you want to be known as the guy who is constantly a d*ck, or do you want to be the guy that people like and get the concession or draw?

Not every good deed gets noticed, but every bad one does. It’s hard work, but if you help out the people around you, they will be there to help you when you need it.

Patrick Chapin: Success is very much in line with discipline, clarity, and networking. Imagination and intelligence help.

While this exercise may not have pinpointed the number one deciding factor in what makes a successful Magic player, I certainly hope that these hints will help you in your future Magic endeavors.

Happy battles.


Reuben Bresler
Reubs in the forums
[email protected]
CleverMonikerMan on AIM

Current Playlist:

Joy Division — Love Will Tear Us Apart
Ours — The Worst Things Beautiful
Atmosphere — You
Beck — Gamma Ray
The Wombats — Let’s Dance to Joy Division