The Nose Knows – The Ten Card Commandments, Part 1

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Tuesday, April 27th – There are many ways to gain an edge in competitive Magic. In today’s illuminating edition of The Nose Knows, Kyle Boggemes counts down the first five of his Ten Card Commandments, each one a surefire tip that’ll improve your game and help propel you to the next level. Do you have what it takes to be the best? Read on to find out!

There are so many different strategies that are involved in the game of Magic, and many of them are put into effect before we begin round 1 of a tournament. Over time, I have learned many tips and tricks that are often overlooked, tips that allowed me to go from FNM regular, to PTQ grinder, to Pro Tour regular. Hopefully you will take them to heart, since if they worked for me, then they can work for everyone.

These commandments apply to deckbuilding, your mental state, and networking.

The order I write these in is irrelevant, because they are all important to your future tournament success. (I mention my own tournament successes only to illustrate my points, not because I am an egomaniac.)

The Tenth Commandment: Get Plenty Of Sleep Before Every Tournament

I know this is mentioned in every article like this, which should be enough for you to know just how important it is since I am choosing to include it. It is a rare occasion for me to get more than three hours of sleep before a tournament. I think about specific card choices, match-ups, and getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, this prevents me from actually getting a lot of sleep. This is why I am so hit or miss in tournament performances. I cannot function when I have been up all night, and anyone else who says otherwise is just lying. I know it is tempting to stay up all night and hang out with your friends. I am not condemning this particular behavior, because it is not my place to say if that is bad or good. I am saying that if you want to do well in the tournament the next day, getting sleep is the best course of action. I am just assuming that, because you are reading this article, you would like to improve your game. I have only gotten more than six hours of sleep before a big tournament twice in my life. Pro Tour: San Diego and Grand Prix: Minneapolis. I finished second and ninth respectively in these two particular events. I did not test at all for the Pro Tour Top 8 the night before. Instead, I ate some sushi and went to bed, and I would do the same thing again even if I’d lost the Top 8 or Top 4 match. The last few hours of playtesting will not do enough for you to make up for the sleep you are giving up. Why give yourself a disadvantage before you even walk into the building?

The Ninth Commandment: If You Don’t Think You Can Win The Tournament, Don’t Bother

A winning mentality is so crucial to take down a Pro Tour, Grand Prix, PTQ, or even an FNM. I have played Magic tournaments for about eight years straight now, and I have seen many people who are good, but only a handful of them are also good at winning. These two may be correlated in certain cases, but they really don’t have as much in common as one may think. Jason Terry comes to my mind when I think of a person that came to win. He wins just about every PTQ that he Top 8s, and that is because of his strong mental state and desire to win, as well as skill. There are plenty of people who have a tremendous amount of skill, but don’t do well because they have the wrong attitude.

My first three PTQ Top 8s ended the exact same way. I made Top 8 and was satisfied with that, so I lost in the very first round every time. Once I got to the point where I was not happy with just Top 8ing, my win percentage went up. I have a total of fifteen PTQ Top 8s, and I made it passed the first round in the last twelve. I still need to step it up because I have lost in the finals of seven of those PTQs, and I know it has something to do with how I view the final round. It could be the pressure, but I don’t feel nervous when I play the last round. I need to get it in my head that if I plan to lose, then it is a waste because I will never win the tournament.

The Eighth Commandment: Think Like A Pro

I don’t think I have ever seen an article on this topic, and I am not sure how many other people do this. If you know someone who is good at Magic, emulate them. If you come up with a deck or make a play, think about it from their perspective. If you think that someone who is good at the game will disagree with a particular card choice, then it’s probably better to move on to another option. Once you have been doing this for an extended period of time, they become your thoughts, and your deck choices as well as overall play will increase. DJ Kastner taught me how to draft unconventional decks, and at the beginning I had to think about how he would build certain archetypes in order to improve my game. I gained a balanced perspective of the game by thinking like people from polar opposites of the deckbuilding spectrum. Patrick Chapin and Michael Jacob are completely opposite when it comes to deckbuilding, so thinking about what particular deck choice they would make helped me evolve as a deck builder. I enjoy the finer things in life such as playing a grinding control deck, but I am not afraid to cast Bloodbraid Elf and Wild Nacatl. LSV is clearly another good player to emulate if you want to have success in a tournament. I am going to take an excerpt from his PT: San Diego tournament report, as well as an excerpt of mine… see if you notice any similarities. Note that we did not discuss this before both reports were online; we independently came to these conclusions.


I really wanted this deck to be good; it had all the sweet cards in it. Jace, Cruel, Calcite Snapper, Treasure Hunt, removal, everything. I tested Blue-based control more than anything else by far, with UWR Planeswalker Control being the other sweet Blue deck. I think I got this list pretty well tuned, although it certainly went through many modifications, but in the end I wasn’t satisfied. I was well aware of the danger of playing a deck just because I wanted to; forcing the issue can often lead you down a very dangerous path. I’m very glad that I kept that in mind, since as much as I wanted to play the deck, I just knew it wasn’t good enough. This format lends itself much better to being proactive, and if you look at the Top 8, there aren’t any true control decks. Jund and Naya can both take the controlling role, but they can also beat down if needed, unlike Blue decks, and even Niels’ deck is an Open the Vaults combo/control hybrid. I suppose it definitely does lean more towards the control end of the spectrum, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend playing it, at least until a few more lands get added. Nassif did just barely miss Top 8, so it is certainly possible that the UW deck he played is sweet, but I haven’t really taken a look at it.


My testing for the event began as soon as Worldwake was spoiled, and I quickly assembled decks that involved plenty of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I tried a U/W Control deck that Patrick Chapin was working on, and I was pretty impressed with it. I tried many variations of it because I thought Everflowing Chalice was a great way to start a control deck. U/W/R and Esper decks were brewed as well, and I just could not get them to beat a good Jund list. I did a large amount of testing with DJ Kastner. He lives 5 minutes away from me, and also has an affinity for a saucy control deck. We both really wanted to make Jace work, but knew when it was time to try something else. Another concern I had was that if I played a control deck, it needed to be constructed in a way that is able to handle a specific metagame. There was a lack of non-Magic League tournaments, so the format was still undefined and I was running the risk of being prepared for the wrong decks.

We got second and third at that tournament, so I would say this commandment is a good one to follow.

The Seventh Commandment: Don’t Justify Reasons To Lose

Have you ever taken three mulligans on the play and just gave up on the spot? I have, and you probably have too. It can be a frustrating experience, but you have to play through it if you want to get to the next level. It takes a great player to fight through the worst circumstances and come out on top. There is no point in playing if you are just going to quit before a game starts. It’s alright if you lose, because you can just tell your friends that you mulliganed to four and there is nothing you could have done about it. It is a comforting feeling when you lost but had no other options. How about this… instead of taking a bunch of mulligans, you are paired up against a named player. Does it actually matter that you recognize the name you are playing against? Not really. I hear excuses like this all the time, and sometimes I hear it before a match even begins! It would be cool to run up to your friends that you played against the biggest pro in the world and got your ass kicked. Would it not be better if you beat super pro, and get to go tell that to your friends? Treat these scenarios as opportunities to have a good story instead of admitting defeat before a game starts.

The Sixth Commandment: Test Your Deck!

This is another one that seems obvious, but it’s still a common occurrence. Making good use of your testing time is also important. Sideboarded games are often never played in the average testing session amongst friends before the next big tournament. The crazy thing is that after most of you read this, you will still not do this. Any match you play will involve at least one game that is with a deck you have never played before. I think the only reason this situation is not as obvious is it should be is because nobody tests post sideboard. If two people who don’t know how to play their deck post sideboard face each other, somebody will win and neither will know why.

Sideboarding is not the only thing that people tend to overlook. I have read countless articles in which the writer has this sick deck they have been testing, only to switch to some “secret tech” at the last minute and scrub out. I have been there before; switching decks is very tempting. I have no idea why the allure of playing a different deck is so great, but it just is. Just remember that you know the deck you have in your backpack, and you are unfamiliar with the deck you are tempted to play. Can you remember the last time there was an actual broken deck that was discovered the night before a big tournament? Pro Tour: Berlin comes to mind, with elf combo. That deck was very good, but it would be suicide to pick it up the night before because of its various intricacies. Taking the time to know the subtle interactions in your deck, as well as how matchups play out, will put you way ahead of the game.

Let’s take a look at Cedric Phillips and his affinity for a good Kithkin deck. I never thought that deck was good, and I rarely lost to it, yet he was always crushing with the deck. It’s not that it was good, but he stuck to his guns and was rewarded.

These are half of the commandments I have to improve your game. Stay tuned next week to read about the next batch. I hope these five will already help you on your way to becoming a better player.

Thanks for reading…

Kyle Boggemes

Lilbogg675 AT aol DOT com