#theweeklywars #4 — Learning, Form & Skill

#19 — If you teach, you learn.

Yes, I realise how corny this is, but it’s still true. I have noticed that whenever I try to explain something, it forces me to really think about it, which more often than not means I end up with a clearer vision of the very point I’m trying to bring across. Occasionally, this can even lead to my reversing my initial position.

In general, I have found that discussions are a great learning tool. I have known for a long while that I’m prone to losing interest in things too quickly, but talking about them with other people is a great way for me to maintain focus. Teaching someone is the same thing, only with a feeling of responsibility tacked on, which only makes it more important for me to be thorough.

#20 — Sometimes you’re just not in it.

We all have these moments we can’t pay attention to anything for various reasons. We might be hungry, tired or simply have something on our mind that distracts us. I think it can go further than that. The way I have learned this has nothing to do with Magic, but I still think it’s applicable, so let me elaborate.

Over the years, I have bought quite a few records I realised I wasn’t into rather quickly. Usually, that meant the record simply wasn’t for me. But I also have a tendency to revisit them after a few months have passed, just to make sure. And every now and then, it turns out I’ve skimped on a great record.

I’m fairly certain this can apply to deck selection. Maybe we tried a deck in a local tournament and just got all the bad matchups. Maybe we had terrible draws and thought they were average for the deck. Maybe we just weren’t ready for the deck and missed fundamental lines. We can write these decks off as mediocre or even terrible, but we should probably revisit them every now and then just to make sure.

#21 — Mirror matches are not primarily decided by luck.

A few days ago, there was a discussion on mtgthesource.com about the Storm mirror. Some (including myself) expressed their dislike for the Storm mirror, while others stated they found it interesting and claimed positive records over big-ish sample sizes. Those that said they felt favourite noted that they considered it skill-intensive. The other side considered it a coin flip.

It was brought up that every mirror match becomes a coin flip when two players of equal skill are involved. That’s a very common misconception. Magic is highly complex. In every given game, players make multitudes of technical mistakes. No two players are consistently on the same level. They are presented with different situations, which are really just opportunities to make mistakes, at different times.

The decider here is not strictly variance. Yes, variance plays a huge role in Magic, but really, the decider here is form. On a very good day, even a mediocre player can beat a top player without big variance swings, if the top player has a bad day. Despite all the variance there is in Magic, most games are won by the player who made mistakes with lower frequency. Further:

#22 — Skill is not one-dimensional.

In a way, this is only clarification of the previous point, but I still think they both work independently. Either way, the question about two equally skilled players battling a mirror match also brings up the question of how to measure skill.

We are not even sure how to best measure success in Magic. It might be that match win percentage is the cleanest way to measure it. But it could just as well be Elo rating. But what about the players that always design great decks but never really do well? How about those that lead a testing team to great results but don’t have strong finishes themselves?

Even if we limit this discussion to in-game decisions, there are a multitude of factors. Some players need to get going but never get tired of playing, others seem like they can just hit a switch to get focused, but tire quickly.

And even if we exclude things like these, there are very few well-rounded Magic players. If the first is quick and precise with linear combo decks and the second always knows which battles to pick with control decks, which player is more skilful? There might be an answer to this question based on metagames, formats and design trends, but don’t think it’s very useful to get lost in the question of who is better.

Now, that doesn’t mean all of this doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. The realisation that there are different areas of skill can help us identify holes in our own game. This column is all about indentifying mistakes and fixing them; I think this is a very important aspect of that process.

#23 — I don’t play enough paper Magic.

I have talked a bit about different areas of skill, and I think one very important avenue to success in Magic is being used to slogging through long days of paper Magic. Yet, I haven’t played any paper Magic since November. To be fair, there have not been any Grand Prix in Europe since then, but I will be missing out on two international tournaments in the next two weeks, plus I haven’t been to any of the bigger local events — one of our local Modern events seems to be drawing 100 participants regularly now, maybe I should check that out this month.

And really, interacting with people is usually more fun than sitting in front of a computer screen, despite how comfortable it is playing from home.

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