Top 6 Tips For Better Tournament Play

Becoming a great Magic player takes a lot of time and hard work. In the meantime, if you want to improve your results now, Collins Mullen is serving up his Top 6 Tips for better tournament play!

I’m always on the lookout for little things I can do that will help me get better at Magic. Luckily for me, the game of Magic is infinitely deep, and I’m always stumbling across things I or others could improve on.

I’ve compiled a list of a few quick and easy things that you can do to immediately improve your Magic game. If you weren’t doing these things before, they should have an immediate impact on your game play or even just the way you go about learning the game.

1. Bring a written sideboard guide to tournaments.

If you plan on attending a Constructed tournament, it’s important that you are aware of all of the decks you’re likely to face and that you have a good plan for each of these matchups. Being able to consult a sideboard guide at tournaments is nice, but the process of creating one will actually do a lot for you as well.

First, identify the most popular decks you expect to face at the tournament. Then, for each deck, write down what you want to sideboard in and sideboard out for the matchup. I’ve found that it often helps to use your physical deck and actually pull out the cards you’d take out and the cards you’d bring in.

But don’t stop there! Talk to your friends about what you’ve written to see if they agree with everything. This can often create some healthy and informative discussion about the format and how particular matchups often play out. It’s also helpful to use this guide to see if there are any cards in your sideboard that rarely come in. I often do some last-minute tuning when I’m making my sideboard guides because it’s easier to see if you’re wasting sideboard slots on cards that aren’t actually going to be terribly useful.

By simply going through the process of creating a sideboard guide, we’ve taken a closer look at the format by researching the popular archetypes, we’ve made sure that we have a plan for each of these matchups, we’ve talked everything over with our peers, and we may have even tuned up our list. Sounds like a productive exercise to me.

2. Always consult your sideboard between Games 2 and 3.

As much as I think sideboard guides are an excellent idea, following them to a tee can sometimes be a trap. Specifically, not nearly enough Magic players know how to adapt to their opponent’s sideboard plan or even that this is something you should look to do.

My friend and teammate Zan Syed took U/B Control to GP Memphis this past weekend and he had an innovative sideboard plan of bringing in Glint-Sleeve Siphoners and Dreamstealers for the control mirror, where he expected his opponents to sideboard out a lot of removal.

I watched Zan play a match where he lost Game 1 in the control mirror but then ran his opponent over with creatures in Game 2. Between Games 2 and 3, his opponent never stopped to reassess their sideboarding and simply shuffled up their sideboard configuration for Game 3, likely still with no Fatal Pushes in their deck.

This is a surprisingly easy thing to get wrong because it is easy to default to whatever you have decided your sideboard configuration should look like. Shuffling up for Game 3 becomes a habit.

Luckily for us, the solution to this is quite simple. Just make it a habit to always take out your sideboard and think about what you learned from Game 3 before shuffling up for Game 3. Maybe your opponent has a transformational sideboard that you want to take into account, or it could be something as simple as your opponent bringing in an artifact or enchantment that you’d like to have access to an answer for. As long as you give yourself the opportunity to think about it, you’ll be less likely to miss something important.

3. Talk to your opponents after each match.

One of the best ways to learn and improve at Magic is to go over games that you have played to see if there were any mistakes that you may have made, or just anything you could have done differently. Magic is an insanely complicated game and it’s almost impossible for any individual to completely digest all of the information from a particular match.

A quick and easy way to get more out of each game is to talk to your opponent about the match once it’s over. It’s often easier to identify mistakes from the other side of the table, so ask your opponent if they saw anything that you should have done differently. There’s no guarantee that your opponent will have any helpful insight for you, but the times that they do will make asking worth it.

I know that sometimes after a rough loss all you want to do is to sign the slip and get away from the table, but it’s likely worth the small talk to see if you can learn anything after each match. At the same time, however, you should always be respectful if your opponent doesn’t want to talk to you after the match.

4. Think about your whole turn before taking any actions.

I’ve seen this advice go around for a while now, but I think it’s always worth repeating. When you start your turn, after you draw your card, think through everything you want to do on that turn before taking a single action. Yes, before you even play your land for the turn!

Doing this forces you to take a second and think through all of your possible lines instead of immediately doing the first thing that comes to you. It will even help with your sequencing and can help you decide which cantrip you should lead on, whether or not you should attack first, and what each action will tell your opponent.

5. If you aren’t 110% sure what a card does, read it.

“We’ve got ourselves a reader!”

Don’t let your ego get in the way of you picking up that card and giving it a good read. It’s better to make sure you are making decisions with complete information than it is to rely on what you’re pretty sure that card does. I definitely had to give Path of Mettle a good read this past weekend at GP Memphis.

I also won a game because my opponent didn’t realize that Appeal // Authority gave my creature trample. It’s always worth it to check twice.

6. Increase your Magic knowledge by absorbing all of the information you can.

There is a ton of information out there that’s just waiting for you to digest it. Read more articles, watch more video content, watch streams during the week, and make sure to catch whatever tournaments are happening every weekend! The best way to get better at Magic is to make sure you’re up to date with what’s happening in the Magic world, and hearing from the best minds in the game. Exposing yourself to all of the content that is out there is a great way to do that.