The 3 Kinds of Mistakes

How do you become better at Magic? Play more, watch pros play… are the most common answers to that question. While not entirely wrong, they do not address the right issue.

To play better, you have to avoid mistakes. Today, we’re going to talk about the three kinds of mistakes a player can make and how to improve your game while correcting them.
The punt.

1- The Punt

It’s the most common mistake new and non-competitive players make. It’s missing the onboard trick, miscounting damage or life totals, forgetting triggers… They are mostly due to a lack of focus (or interest in the game). Whether it’s because you didn’t sleep well the night before, or because you’re not paying enough attention, being distracted by the people around you, your phone or an open browser tab if you’re playing on Arena, if you’re not aware that you’re not 100% in the game, these are unavoidable. Once the conditions are met, you will end up making one of these, no matter how good you are at the game.

There are ways to improve your focus: breathing exercises, mentally blocking everything around you, or finding a mantra. My personal favorite is to pick up a song before each tournament, and sing it in my head every time I feel my mind is drifting away from the game as a constant reminder that I’m actually in a game.

2-The lack of preparation

Playing a game without messing up requires knowledge of how your deck works, what’s in your opponent’s deck, what your cards do, what their cards do… Once you’re in a game, there’s no real way to catch up. If you strongly believe a card does something, when in fact it does something a little different, you aren’t going to double check. You’re going to play according to what you know and make the wrong play (which would have been fine if the card did what you thought it did… but it didn’t). Same goes for a specific set of rules you’re unaware of.

This is probably the one mistake you can avoid by actively playing a lot. You’ll learn the cards by playing against them over and over again, figure out the right sideboard strategies, tune your deck, know what everyone else is playing and minimize the surprise effect from an opponent’s unintuitive play.

3-The Wrong line of play

Anyone aware of the first two mistakes is able to find a fix. Refocus, play more, that’s almost in anybody’s reach. But the third type is where the difference between the average, the good and the amazing player comes.

You can play your game, 100% focused, 100% prepared and still play a game poorly. And the worst part is that you won’t even know you played wrong.

This is a wide range of mistakes, from planning your turns wrong, sequencing your lands and plays incorrectly, failing to switch gears when you should, misreading the board state… I understand this might sound misty to some, and for a reason.

You have your own style, your own experience and unless you already are an accomplished player, chances are you might be stuck in what you already know, meaning you are unable to think outside the box. You‘ll miss the right play (and choose the wrong one, unknowingly), simply because you didn’t know a better one existed.

This is the hardest to fix as it requires you to work extra hard to find out what could be improved, what you’re missing, how to think differently. An external point of view is necessary to help you out of that box, give you different perspectives, different lines of play or even teach you some basic concepts that you might have overlooked.

When people come to me for coaching sessions, this is what I tell my students. I won’t be able to focus or prepare for them. If they can’t avoid an onboard trick, I’m not going to be there to remind them every time and I won’t be providing sideboard guides.

We usually watch replays together and discuss the plays we could make. I don’t pick up on big punts, because they already know they messed up. We discuss sequencing, planning turns ahead, lines of play and when it gets a little complicated, they usually discover a brand new way to play the game, to make their own after a while.

When it comes to beating yourself up because of a mistake after a tournament, only number 2 is free of guilt. You didn’t know, there’s nothing you could do about it at the time, move on. The other two are usually 100% on you, and that’s where it hurts the most.

What I just described doesn’t only apply in Magic, and you’ll find many more applications to this mistake-targetting process in your everyday life to improve in many other fields.