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Attention to Detail #47
It's that time of year again. And by “that time” I mean the end. Another long progression of days which we mark the end of by lighting fireworks and singing songs and whatever else you people out there have planned. In addition to these festivities, the new year is a time when people resolve to change things. They take a good long look at themselves and resolve to do things better and to make their lives happier. This practice should not stop at such simple self-improvements as “exercise more” or “pay the electric bill”. It should encapsulate all areas of life – including Magic! With that sentiment, today I'm going to bring you ten new years resolutions which I'm making on behalf of the entire Magic community. I'm going to work on them myself of course, but what good would it be if I were just wishing myself a better game? I'm here to help, after all. So I'm hoping we can all stick to these resolutions and be better off for it. Without further ado, here's the ten.
#10 – Appreciate the Flavor
Flavor? Yes, I know that when you read Attention to Detail you're usually expecting some kind of insight about strategy or metagame evolution. I'm not usually one to push the Vorthos side of the issue on people. But I felt that it was important in this time of reflection to make a note here. Flavor is what brought Magic to where it is now. Flavor is what sold the game initially. When those first packs of Alpha started appearing in game stores in 1993, store owners convinced their wary customers to buy it by saying that it was “kind of like D&D – lots of monsters and heroes and stuff”. It was a hard sell. Nobody had ever seen a collectible card game before. “$2.99 for a pack of cards – and I need more than one?” was a pretty common sentiment back then. Little did they know just how many packs of cards they would need (and that they'd eventually be paying a dollar more for them). Indeed, the selling point for Magic was that it looked really cool. And part of looking cool is the flavor.
When I opened my first pack of Beta, it had 14 cards in it (the one and only time I've gotten a pack that was short one). One of those cards was a Lord of the Pit. As cool as that thing looks now, you can't imagine how cool it looked coming minty fresh out of a Beta pack, when Magic cards still had “that smell” (you can ask any older player what that is if you don't remember it yourself). I looked at all the little skulls at the top and all the big numbers and something about it eating your creatures and my only reaction was that it was incredibly cool. I didn't have the faintest idea how to play Magic at this point. All I could see is what the cards told me. And they told me that this game was something special. Flavor sold me on Magic, as I'm sure it did for many of you. But players who started out thinking that Lord of the Pit was cool eventually grew up and decided that Counterspell was cool and that, more importantly, winning was cool. As Spike evolved, flavor started to fall by the wayside. It was still there bringing in new players, and it was in many ways cooler and more flavorful than ever, but the tournament players started to ignore it.
And you know what that means – time for a resolution. I resolve, as a member of the Magic community – that we all start paying attention to the flavor again. Take a moment to read your cards when you get them out of the pack. Not just to decide whether they're going to fit into your next PTQ deck, but to read the flavor text and look at the artwork. Each Magic card is a complex thing with a lot going on. By ignoring on facet of the card, you're short changing yourself. You paid $3.99 for that pack of cards, so it's probably best that you get your money's worth.
#9 – Memorize New Cards
I'm sure you're all tired of hearing this from me by now, so I'll make this one brief. Memorize new cards when you see them. When a new set is released, know it like the back of your hand. This information will help you win games. And this is a good resolution for everyone. Even people who promote memorization as an important tactic for winning Magic games like me need this resolution. Because sometimes cards fall into the cracks. Hardly a tournament goes by when I don't see some veteran player having to read a card their opponent played because it had escaped their notice. Don't dismiss cards out of hand because they seem bad. You never know when an oddball card is going to come back to bite you. And it's best to be prepared.
#8 – Read More Articles
It's not just shameless self-promotion (well, maybe just a little bit). Every day there are dozens of Magic articles that go up all over the internet (and even in print magazines). There are people who want to tell you about every facet of the game from new releases to old releases to strategy to flavor to metagame to community. If you want to know something about Magic, chances are there's an article that covered it. And if there isn't, maybe you should be the one to write it? The best way to become good at Magic is to live Magic. Make it a part of your life and not just a hobby. Thinking about Magic when you're not playing Magic is the hallmark of a good player – or one who hopes to be. I know many people who enjoy talking about Magic and reading about it and theorizing about it far more than they actually enjoy playing the game. There are times when I fit that description.
Each of the people who writes about Magic is doing so because they feel they have something to say. They're not just writing for their health, as the saying goes. So this isn't just a resolution to make your life better. This is a holiday gift to the people who write about Magic. We all like to write, but we all like to be read as well. It's gratifying to know that someone out there is reading what you have to say and appreciating it. So resolve to make a Magic writer feel appreciated.
#7 – No Windmill Slams
Now we're getting into the technical resolutions. This one requires a bit of explanation, I feel. A “windmill slam” in this case is the act of opening a pack of cards during a draft, seeing a huge bomb and quickly slamming it down on the table while passing the rest of the pack immediately. This behavior is flawed and I resolve as a member of the Magic community that we stop doing this. There are a couple reasons why. First of all, any quick picking of this sort (with or without a literal windmill slam) is a clear signal of a bomb to your opponents. This gives them something to think about. For instance, if you're opening pack #3 and your opponent already has a clear idea of what you're going to be playing (through whatever means they've employed earlier), then a windmill slam of this variety can be a huge signal that you've just opened a bomb in your colors. This limits the choices pretty significantly in any format. And no matter what format you're playing, surprise will always be to your benefit. You may have a big dragon in your deck, but that dragon will be a lot better if your opponent wasted his or her removal on smaller creatures, no knowing you had it. The second reason not to windmill slam is probably more important in the long run. All too many times I've seen myself and other players quickly pick a card and pass the rest without bothering to examine the contents. Yes, there are some cards in any format (usually in the first pack) which demand picking. In the first pack, would you pass a Kokusho in Kamigawa block draft? I sure hope not. It's happened before, but then again so has everything – once. But just because that Kokusho showed up in your pack, that doesn't mean you should ignore the rest of it. Those 14 cards will give you a clear sign of what your opponents might be picking, if you know what to look for. Drafting is about way more than just building the right deck and getting lucky picks. It's about reading your opponents and knowing what they're doing. Don't throw away a perfect opportunity to do that, just because you opened a bomb.
#6 – Be Careful / Be Bold
Sometimes you need to sit back. Sometimes you need to jump forward. In many ways, Magic is a game of figuring out which is which. Whether you're making a choice about whether to hold your attack or send in the alpha strike, or deciding whether to counter your opponent's first spell in a turn when they've got mana open, knowing when to stay and when to go is important. Part of this is careful analysis of the board. Part of this is careful analysis of your opponent and the deck that they happen to be using. And part of it is instinct. As much as we'd all love to resolve to have better instincts in these situations, that just isn't possible. Instincts just happen, you can't train them. So the important thing to do is to analyze everything and to remember everything for the future. Some times you're going to make the wrong choice. You're going to alpha strike into a fog or counter the wrong spell or blow your removal too early. These things happen. The trick is to not let them happen over and over again. So remember the past. Think about the last game and the last match and the last year. Remember when you've been in a similar situation and how that felt and what the results were. This may start out as a conscious exercise, but eventually you'll be able to do it without thinking. Eventually your instincts will catch up to your desire and you'll know what the right choice is.
#5 – Remember History
At the moment, Magic has been around for a little more than 13 years. That's a lot of games of Magic. Although the combinations of cards are virtually limitless, a sizable number of these interactions have happened in the past. And chances are someone has written about the more interesting ones somewhere. When you're reading through Magic articles online (and shouldn't you be?), you'll probably come to someone talking about a card or a deck or a player that you don't recognize. Don't just gloss over it and move to the next section. Take a moment to familiarize yourself. Although cards like Quirion Ranger, decks like Trix and players like Mark Justice aren't particularly relevant to the current face of Magic, knowing who and what they were is important for understanding where the game is going. This is especially important in the face of Time Spiral block. Remember that each Timeshifted card was chosen on purpose. There's a reason for each of them. If you open a pack and see a card and can't understand it's importance, you should take a minute to find out what that is. It's good because it teaches you the history of this great game and because these cards are relevant today. The past is coming alive, as many theme parks like to say. Best to be prepared for it with an understanding of where that past came from.
#4 – Never Pass Up a Good Thing
Oddly enough, this resolution has nothing to do with drafting. Or at least it has nothing to do with cards you might pick while drafting. In the end, Magic is about having fun. Years from now, you might not play it anymore. But you'll probably still tell stories about your greatest victories and worst defeats. So don't miss chances to make these memories. If your friend calls you and says “hey, there's a PTQ tomorrow – want to go?” and you've got nothing more important to be doing – go! Don't just say “oh, I probably wouldn't win anyway”. It could prove to be the crowning achievement of your Magic career – or even a stepping stone to some far greater glory. The point is that if you don't go, you'll never know. I didn't mean for that to rhyme, but c'est la vie.
This is about more than just big events, of course. There's tons of things happening with Magic that you don't want to miss. It could be anything from a throwback draft (try Rath Cycle drafting sometime – it's the best) to a night playing multiplayer around the kitchen table. If you don't get out there and do it, you'll never know what fun you might have had.
#3 – Branch Out
So you're a drafter? That's great. Why not try your hand at sealed deck? So you're a multiplayer specialist? That's great. Why not try your hand at Mental Magic? Don't let yourself be pigeonholed into just one format or style of play. Just because you love turning creatures sideways that doesn't mean you should refuse to play control. Just because you love to play with your Moxes that doesn't mean you shouldn't try your hand at Standard every now and then. On the one hand, branching out is good because it's fun. It's fun to try new things. On the other hand, branching out is good because it can give you a greater understanding of your favorite thing. Every part of Magic will teach you a little more about every other part. Drafting helps you understand Standard. Legacy helps you understand Extended. Control helps you understand Combo. Nobody can claim to be a master of Magic. Even the people who have been inducted into the hall of fame can't claim to be the best. There is no “best”. Everyone has something to learn, and you learn by experience. So don't put yourself in a bubble. Try everything that Magic has to offer.
#2 – Play Magic Online
If you're reading this, you probably have a computer. If you have a computer, you should try Magic Online. In my opinion, MtGO is the single greatest advance in the game. It has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to become better players and to communicate with each other in a way they've never had before. It has revolutionized casual Magic and tournament Magic alike. I don't think that paper Magic will ever die, but I do think that Magic Online will become stronger. Eventually it will sit roughly even with the paper game in terms of overall popularity. If you've never experienced MtGO, I suggest giving it a try. It's no more expensive than paper Magic, so allot yourself a little time and money from your normal Magic expenses to try the online version. I don't think you'll be disappointed.
#1 – Pay Attention to Detail
No, I'm not asking you for money (though if you want to help contribute to my bills, I'm not going to refuse it). Each and every point I've made on this list of resolutions comes down to one thing – details. Keen observation of details is the single most important way to become a better Magic player. If you take this list to heart and resolve to do everything I've said, great. If you want to just take some of my advice, go for it. The point is the same.
And with that, I leave you for the short remainder of 2006 that I have left. It will soon be a new year and it's time to do things right. I hope that everything in your life is well, and I wish each of you a prosperous and detailed 2007.
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