During my tenure as a competitive Magic player, I’ve always been keen to innovate. I wanted to find out cards, strategies, decks, and even lines of play that aren’t generally considered “on the beaten path.” I’d go through card lists for the chosen format and sift through page after page trying to find the best possible thing I could find for the role I was looking for. I thought I was so smart when I found a techy card for this obscure interaction that I would maybe encounter twice in a tournament weekend.

The ability to innovate is a very powerful thing. When you’re correct you’ll benefit greatly from the inherent risk associated with just playing a known entity. There are multiple spots where you would want to implement an innovation. When a deck that has a specific card or interaction that hinges on the majority of its success (think Splinter Twin or [Reno Jackson] decks), it may be a good idea to play a card that can bust up that strategy, so you can worry about the rest of the game (Seal of Primordium, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, and [Dirty Rat] come to mind). When a dominant deck is also very linear, a solid way to break up that linearity that isn’t already on their radar is helpful. Burning-Tree Emissary aggro and Ad Nauseum in Modern, are examples of this. Lastly, if a deck’s pacing can be exploited with a card, then that’s also a way of approaching innovation (example being Deflecting Palm against a deck that relies on a critical mass of damage with one creature).

The biggest issue that people, myself included, run into when looking to innovate is frequency. It becomes very easy to fall into the rabbit hole of wanting to innovate every time, to the point where you’re simply looking for a reason to do so, rather than just sticking with what you already have. If you find yourself losing sight of your goal and your deck’s goal, then scale it back and remind yourself of what you’re trying to do in the first place. Too often I’ll find myself starting with Ancient Grudge, then moving to Shatterstorm by putting in an extra Snapcaster Mage, then putting a Snapcaster Mage in the board to better supplement my Shatterstorm, then adding more instants and sorceries to…

Well, you get it.

The second big issue with innovation, related to going too deep in capability, is going too deep in reliance. You know you have those one or two cards in your deck that can swing the game so far in your favor if you wind up the position to do so…

…So you play the game to put yourself in the position…intentionally.

You’ll see this happen in tournaments all the time, the player next to you that shows their opponent the card they were looking to draw the whole time to beat their opponent, when they could’ve just played properly and never be in that position in the first place. This effect just doesn’t really work if you aren’t named Kevin Jones, and the same advice applies; Go back to the drawing board if you’re finding yourself constantly being in the position where you need this card to win. It just isn’t worth it, and you probably aren’t doing something else right.

These are the biggest things that a player looking to innovate should avoid, but the payoff can be very much worth it if calculated correctly. Granted, that’s half the battle, but while practice does make perfect, finding those that are more skilled at the art than you can go a long way towards eventually pulling the trigger on an ambitious choice.

Anthony has been competing in games for the better part of his adult life and is dedicated to improving his game, improving his community, improving himself as a person, and most importantly having fun and enjoying himself while doing so. You can check out his stream to find out which video game is the latest to catch his attention.

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