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post Среда, 12-oe Января 2005, 17:42
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Мануэлб Беванд
In the quest of becoming a better player, one must not fear challenges. In today's article, I am going to show you a few ways to train your mind in order to improve your playing ability.

Even though some of the best players in the World (such as Kamiel Cornelissen or Dave Humphries) are also some of the slowest, a trait that all those great players have in common is a quick, incisive mind. Some of us are indeed truly gifted to play games. Be it Magic, Chess, Poker or videogames, those people always seem to have an edge. They have it for a reason: their mind is wired to play games. When you notice a pro playing slowly, it means he's probably going over many scenarios in his head, or even calculating probabilities - while most of us take time just to build up the needed courage for our next play.

Unfortunately, we don't all have that innate ability to calculate everything right all the time, read the opponent perfectly and make the right decisions based on pure intuition. Most of us have to go through a long thinking process, and most of the time we still make blatant mistakes.

If you rarely make top 8 at PTQs despite playing a good deck that you know well every time, then you need to question your pure Magic-playing ability, and work on it. I designed the following exercises with that goal in mind: help the average tournament player bring his game forward.

Variant #1: Blind Life Totals

As a top Magic player, you should know your opponent's life total and yours at all times. That means:

- Without having to look at your score pad
- Without having to ask your opponent

Why? Because you don't want to give away that kind of tells. You don't want to ring any alarms when your opponent is unknowingly facing defeat next turn. For example, if your opponent is at 11 with a couple of pain lands in play, and you have two Shrapnel Blasts in your hand, asking for his life total will only make him suspicious - which is something that you don't want at this point of a game. You want him to feel safe enough to go to 10.

Of course, the reverse trick works. Asking for your opponent's life total can be used to make him feel uncomfortable, suspicious, especially if he's high on life and you seem to have nothing really threatening. The situations you want to do that are those when you want your opponent to hold back some of his resources "just in case", giving you more time to develop.

Anyway, here's the thing: life totals are obviously very important, so you should know them without needing to ask or look at your paper. Looking at the paper isn't that bad, but against the best players, they will notice that you are looking down on life totals and may suspect something - especially if they pick up other tells.

What I recommend doing is this: go online, find a game, and hide life totals with a piece of paper. Then try to play the game by keeping the life totals in your mind only. It's not as easy as it sounds! Another possibility if you don't play on Magic Online is to have a third person record life totals during a practice game with a friend. Of course, the life totals should stay hidden, and players should refrain from announcing how much life they (think they) have. They may however say "I take four" and such. The third person acts as the Death Judge, and warns the players when one of them is actually dead. I'm sure you'll find this test quite interesting when you attack for the win and realize that you're missing one point of damage!

Variant #2: Aware Magic

This variant, officially endorsed by Jean-Claude Van Damme, is very simple: play against a friend with hands face up on the table.

This way of playing will improve your decision making skills in certain matchups. For example, you will notice that very often, the Monoblue control deck does not have a counterspell at crucial times. Until you play the deck yourself, you have no way to know how frequently that kind of situation happens. Also, if you're the Monoblue player, you will realize how often your counters can be baited and when exactly it is worth countering something.

The exercise is designed to help you develop your awareness of how matches are won and lost, and what key moments were and were not exploited by one player or the other.

Variant #3: Talk Magic

This variant explores the strategic depth of the game. Its rules are also very simple: play a game, but justify every decision by making an oral statement explaining why this play is the right one at this moment. Here are a few examples

"I destroy your Ravager with Oxidize before you can get another artifact creature into play."

"I counter your Sakura Tribe Elder with Mana-Leak because I have many counters in my hand and I don't want to discard, and I don't want you to develop too fast."

"I take your Tooth and Nail with Coercion because I'm not sure I will be able to kill you before you can cast it."

This has two effects.

1) It will help you realize than sometimes you're making critical game decisions without really knowing why, and what the implications of your decisions are in the long run.

2) You and your opponent can actually discuss how the other plays. He can react to your statement with "You are wrong, I am happy you are taking the tooth and Nail with coercion because I don't need it right now and my hand really needs to develop and taking the Sakura Tribe Elder would cripple me".

Variant #4: Light-Speed Magic

Play at the speed of light, literally. Draw, play a land, cast your spells without taking the time to think. I allow you a full second between each play, but no more.

This variant is a lot of fun, and it can become quite extreme when the situation is complicated with several attacks, blockers and potential cards in hand. You can also introduce a special rule: when a player stops to think, he loses one life per second. His opponent is allowed to start the countdown after the player has stopped for three seconds. For example: Player 1 stops to think for three seconds. Player 2 says "1 damage! 2 damage!". Player one makes a play, loses two life, and the countdown is set to zero again.

When playing Light-Speed, do not go back and correct your mistakes or miscalculations. It is important that you feel the sting to your Magic player pride when you make a mistake. That will condition you not to make them anymore in the future. It's also a great help for tense end-of-round situations when you must play as fast as possible before times runs out.

Variant #5: Combat Exercises

Take the following cards:

One 1/1 flying creature (Lantern Kami)
One 5/5 trampler (Moss Kami)
Two blank 3/3s (Hill Giants)
Two blank 4/4s
Three blank 2/2s
One 6/6 creature (Winding Wurm)
A 1/1 regenerating creature (Drudge Skeleton)
A 3/2 First-striker
A Giant Growth
A Lightning Bolt
A Healing Salve
A Vitality Charm

That's 16 cards. Shuffle them face down, and distribute 8 to each player. The rules are as follows:

Each player has 10 life and infinite mana available
The cards are displayed on the table. Creatures start in play (untapped and with haste) and instants are in each player's hand.
There is no library or graveyard. Players do not draw cards.
The only way to win is to take your opponent to zero
Play quickly

When a game is finished, trade seats with your opponent and play the same situation again. The player who won the first game should be trying to win again in the other situation. Try to see the different scenarios.

You are allowed to throw in new cards if you find it too simple:

One pinger (Prodigal Sorcerer)
One 2/2 double striker
A 2/6 with Vigilance

This will help you play in a number of varied situations that deal only with attacking, blocking and using combat tricks with the right timing.

Variant #6: Goldfishing

All combo players have their preferred method of goldfishing. I'll give you mine here:

Take a combo deck. Imagine you have four turns to live. Try and go off within that limited time, assuming you are dead when your opponent's fifth turn ends. Your goal is to play one hundred games and see as many situations as you can. Many combo situations are rather tricky: you must sometimes stop and figure out the probabilities of drawing this or that before you take a decision.

Variant #7: Mulligan Practice

When testing a new deck, start with six cards against your opponent (who has seven cards). See how your deck handles mulliganing. Then try only five cards, just to see what happens. This will allow you to know if your deck can handle mulligans. So when you're in the actual tournament and your hand has only one land, you know whether to keep it or send it back.

Variant #8: Sealed Deck Practice

I've been using this simple exercise for years, and it got me a GP Top 8 and a GP 9th place. Use a sealed deck generator (from Magic Workstation or Apprentice), just build, build, and build. Try seeing at least twenty to thirty different sealed decks. You don't have to play with them all. What you want to do is:

Get to know the cards.
Realize which colors you like most and end up playing the most often.
Practice building your deck fast so you can concentrate on the details.

Ideally, you'll want to compare your builds with a friend's. Build the deck separately, compare the results and discuss the most extravagant choices.

When you'll get to the tournament, you have so much deckbuilding practice that you can spend most of your time pondering important decisions and exploring several different builds, instead of painfully selecting 22 cards for half an hour before realizing you still need to check your decklist!

Variant #9: Quick Pack Play

The following variant is a mostly fun format, but just playing Magic in different conditions is a way to practice facing different situations. Particularly, with this variant you'll explore a format's particular synergies and practice your close, late-game play. You need two players and two unopened booster packs. Shuffle the cards together and deal 15 to each player.


Each player has 5 life.
Players can lose by being decked or going to zero life or less.
Whoever goes first chooses how many cards he wants to draw for his opening hand, and then the other player chooses too. For example, you can start with 4 cards in your hand or 11, or 8, or the regular 7... It's up to you!
Any card can be played face up as a land that produces mana of its colors. For example, a Fireball can be played as a Mountain (okay, bad example…).


Those exercises should help you sharpen your tournament skills. I encourage you to concentrate on variants #1, #4 and #8 as they're the ones that helped me the most in the tournaments I've been successful at. Have fun with them!

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post Среда, 12-oe Января 2005, 19:35
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Молодой Герой.
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