The Next Plateau is all about taking your game to the next level. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to talk about jumping from kitchen table Magic to tournament Magic; from tournament Magic to a competitive-level event; exploring a different constructed or limited format; and deciding to become a judge, among many other topics revolving around expanding your reach in the game of Magic.
From the Kitchen Table to a Tournament
Let’s assume you’re pretty familiar with the rules of Magic. You play with friends at home, school, a library or Starbucks regularly. Your deck might consist of one of those Duel Deck products with the foil premium cards and occasional Planeswalkers. Perhaps you’ve supplemented your deck with a few booster packs from your local game store. You might have seen a tournament going on, but those can be pretty intimidating. But you’re really interested in making that first jump to tournament Magic.
Friday Night Magic is a traditional tournament setting where dozens of players can gather at their local game store on a Friday evening to play a short tournament. Wizards of the Coast gives out special foil promotional cards and there are booster packs for winning and sometimes even for participation, depending on the store.
Before stepping in to Friday Night Magic, here are a few tips to remember if you’ve only ever played with friends before.
- There’s a time limit
Constructed tournaments are 50 minutes per round. That might seem like a lot, but when you’re new to Magic, it’s not enough. Your opponent will expect you to know what the cards do and how to play them correctly. You should be experienced enough with your deck to know, more or less, what the correct decisions are.
- You will probably lose a lot at first
This is one thing that all the FNM ads in your booster packs don’t tell you. Even the most casual Friday Night Magic has players that have been playing for a long time and have highly tuned decks filled with rares, mythic rares and Internet-sourced deck tuning. Your deck might not have all that. You will likely lose most or all of your matches at your first several FNMs until two things happen: you get better at the game, and your deck gets better.
- Even casual events have floor rules
Casual rules enforcement (REL) events like FNM still have important rules that even the newest player has to follow. Don’t draw extra cards, don’t reveal your hand, pay for cards with the correct mana, be seated when the round starts, and so on. Too many mistakes like this and the organizer may give you a warning.
- There may be rules interactions or cards that you’ve never seen before
How you play Magic at the kitchen table might be very different than how the game is really played. Things like the stack, priority, timing, sorcery speed versus instant speed, damage, mana abilities, triggered abilities, and so on are things you may not have even considered before. If you’re confused, or if you think you or your opponent are doing something wrong, call the organizer over and ask. You’ll pick it up after awhile.
So you’ve attended a few FNMs, but you’re still losing a lot, and that can be a drag. How do you go about winning a few matches?
- Build a good constructed deck
Assuming you’re playing Standard, then ditching what you’re playing and putting together a competitive deck is a must. In order to not break the bank, most really new Standard players build an inexpensive, but good deck like Atarka Red or RG Landfall. Even newer Modern players can put together Burn or Bogles for not much money.
For just a couple hundred bucks or less, you can make a red deck that, with enough practice, can win a majority of your matches. Now, building a deck in the other colors will cost much more, so best to save decks like that for when you start becoming really serious about Magic.
- Practice with it
Few players can take a deck they’ve never played before and run the table with it. Practice during tournaments. Practice with friends. Practice between matches or before or after events. If your deck is good AND you know the ins and outs of it, it’s a winning combination. It’s also important to play against a variety of other decks so you know how your deck performs against them.
- Sideboard correctly
A sideboard is a 1 to 15-card side deck (just do 15) included with a tournament deck of 60 cards (actually 60 or more, but in practice 99% of tournament decks are 60 cards). In between games of a single match, cards may be substituted in and out on a 1:1 basis. Knowing what to sideboard and when is difficult to master. Often, a good article on a website like this one will have a sideboard guide included. Referring to a guide like that at first will build your instincts.
- Know when to mulligan
Mulliganning is a rule where you reshuffle your bad opening hand into your deck and draw one fewer card, then repeat as necessary. After you decide to keep a hand, if you’ve mulliganned one or more times, you can Scry 1 before the first turn starts – look at the top card, then put it on the top or bottom. Knowing when an opening hand is bad and when it’s worth keeping is another difficult strategy to master. A good rule of thumb is: no 0 or 1 land hands, no 6 or 7 land hands, no hands where the lands and spells don’t match, and if you have to think about it a long time, send it back.
Mastering both the floor rules and your own deck will ensure you have a winning – and enjoyable – time at Friday Night Magic. In the future, we’ll explore what to do when FNM just isn’t satisfying your competitive nature anymore.
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