Drawing Live—Level-Up Moments

Good morning, Internet (or time-appropriate greeting)!  I’m Zach B. (not to be confused with your Durdle Magus, Zac C.), your newest contributor to Hipsters of the Coast. I’ve been playing Magic on and off since 1994, I’m an avid streamer (twitch.tv/ZennithGP), and I too frequent Twenty Sided Store (where I teach introduction Magic and draft constantly). In Drawing Live, I’ll share lessons, concepts, and stories about the game of Magic. This column is intended for intermediate to advanced players who’ve been playing the game for at least a little while.

In every Magic player’s life, we have “level-up moments.” These are times when a new concept is understood on a visceral level. They’re not when someone teaches you something—they’re the moments in which something just clicks.

You level up when you realize what card advantage is. You level up when you understand why card advantage is important. You don’t level up when someone tells you the theory of card advantage.

Leveling up happens when you learn that an opponent making a seemingly horrible attack can have a combat trick. It’s when you learn to play around combat tricks. It’s when you learn to bluff combat tricks. It’s when you learn to play into combat tricks.

You might ask why this matters. We come to understand all sorts of things in such flashes of insight. Why focus on these moments in the context of Magic? Excellent question! My short answer is that we can attend to these moments to improve ourselves as players. How?

Magic is an extremely complicated game with many, many rules. These multitudinous rules form an enormous barrier to new players. When people are introduced to the game, they need to be constantly thinking about everything. A small amount of board complexity can stop them in their tracks. Consider a battlefield wherein New Player A has two 2/2 bears and New Player B a 3/3 centaur. An experienced player will immediately recognize that (all else being equal) there are no good attacks. New players will (probably) not. It’s not that they can’t do the math, it’s that they have to consciously think about every element at play.

This takes time and thought. They have to recognize that double-blocking the 3/3 is possible and leads to it trading for a mere 2/2; that attacking with both 2/2s is throwing away a creature and favorable blocks for two damage; and that the cards in their hand (and their opponent’s hand) will affect and further complicate the battlefield. They need to know all of these combat rules, be able to predict what every situation leads to, and still remember the basics of the game (untapping, power and toughness, and so on). A relatively simple board state can overwhelm a new player because that player needs to be consciously thinking about every element in the game.

Once one levels up and basic combat math is understood, these analyses become instantaneous (or at least much faster). Our minds become familiar with these sorts of situation and scrutinize them without our needing to exert conscious effort. With this load off, we get to focus our limited mental energy on more difficult problems and we will not need to think intensely about what we have come to understand. We play faster because we have to think about less. We make fewer mistakes because we have past experiences to draw from. We play better because we think more about the harder problems and take the easier ones in stride. When we level up, we become better players.

Early on in one’s Magic career there’s a lot of leveling up. There’s the stack, drafting, constructing a deck, designing a curve, realizing why creatures are so important, and determining a bomb from a card that’s merely expensive or complicated. Internalizing the basics of the game constitutes an enormous amount of understanding (it’s mind-boggling both how complicated this game is and how players quickly grasp and take for granted all these rules). Later on, however, these discoveries seem to abruptly stop. You know how to play the game. You know the more complicated rules well enough. There seems to be little more strategy to get. It feels like you’ve hit level 99 and there’s no growing to do.

But there is no level cap. We never stop learning. Though the lessons become less obvious over time, the opportunity to learn always remains. If there were a maximum level, the Pro Tour would be an assemblage of identical playstyles and ideas (which it clearly is not). If we each have individually maximum levels (something I doubt) then we’d better get to work finding where they are—or better yet, breaking through them.

Every week in Drawing Live I will explore opportunities for further growth as a Magic player. As a taste, I’ve included a brief list of ways to up your game (any one which could be an article in and of itself). If you’re interested in reading a column about any one of ’em, leave a comment below or shoot me an e-mail.

  • How to deal with failure/tilt/negative states
  • Justify your lines of play
  • Pre-sequence and re-sequence your plays on the fly
  • Go back to the basics
  • Know who you are and why you play
  • Know your weaknesses

That’s all for this week. Huge thanks to Hipsters of the Coast for inviting me to write for them and to you for taking the time to read all of this. Here’s hoping to be sharing and chatting with each of you for a long time. As long we’re dedicated to improving ourselves, we’re always Drawing Live.

—Zach B.

twitch.tv/ZennithGP—join me for live Magic streaming!

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  1. […] I’d like to welcome Zach Barash and his Drawing Live column, which will focus on Magical education for the intermediate to advanced […]



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