Magic is an amazing game. It can be a competitive sport or a relaxing leisure activity. Both are valuable and rewarding experiences, but it’s important not to confuse the two. When we enjoy Magic as a form of leisure, we can afford to kick back and relax. Jamming a few games with a friend just for fun, or hanging out in your favorite streamer’s channel is a great way to play games and socialize with friends. But you’re fooling yourself if you think that the same approach is sustainable long term to improving as a Magic player.

In Magic as in life, we sometimes need to step outside of our comfort zone if we wish to grow. It’s not enough to merely play Magic. To improve, we need to engage actively with the game. Here are a few was to do exactly that.

Play a different deck.

Once you find a deck that you enjoy playing and can put up decent results with, you might find yourself losing the motivation to play other decks. This is especially true in nonrotating formats such as Modern and Legacy. There you can play the same deck for years, only ever tweaking your list as new cards are printed and metagames change. This approach certainly has some merit. By focusing on a single deck you can achieve a level of mastery that will be difficult to reach otherwise. I’ve played the same deck in Legacy for about five years, and whenever I go to a Legacy tournament, I never have to worry about deck selection. I never have to try a bunch of different decks to see which one I like the most because I already know what I’m going to be playing. But as good as that sounds, this approach gives you room to be lazy.

The problem with always playing the same deck is that you have to constantly find new ways to challenge yourself. If you don’t, your growth as a player will stagnate. When you play a new deck, on the other hand, you’re forced to pay attention and think about your plays because the play patterns are less familiar.

Play a different format.

Another way to move outside your comfort zone is to play another format than what you normally do. Try your hand at playing Magic in a different environment and see if you can figure it out. When playing a new format you’ll be playing against decks that you are unfamiliar with, and you will be forced to engage your thinking. Playing a new (to you) format is a great way to remind yourself just how much we all have left to learn about Magic.

However you choose to expand upon the ways you play Magic, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not a one-time occurrence, but a process that requires repetition. In my experience, when playing a deck for the first time, I can usually rely on my intuition and the power of the deck itself to carry me to victory. It’s not until I start losing and get the feeling that I’m doing something wrong that I begin to actually reflect on my approach.

Think about the game.

It’s not always enough to play Magic. Like professional chess players, we must study the game if we wish to master it. When playing Magic, especially the kind we’re most familiar with, it’s easy to go on autopilot. Alternating between theory and practice will give you something to focus on when playing the game and thus help you improve.

Fortunately for us, there is plenty of content out there that we can use to learn more about the game. Reading articles and listening to podcasts can be an excellent way to get yourself thinking about Magic. Learning from players who are better than you is not so much about them giving you the right answers as it is about you learning to ask the right questions.

Play against people who are better than you at Magic.

Whatever it is that you want to get better at, when what you are doing is no longer challenging to you, increase the difficulty. You must continue to push yourself. If you’re a runner, you’ll want to run faster. In Magic, the best way to increase the difficulty is to play against better players. Playing against better players not only gives you a glimpse of what they’re capable of, but it forces you to try and play your best if you want to have a shot at winning.

If you find yourself feeling stuck in Magic it can be a sign that you need a break, or it can be a sign that you’ve stopped challenging yourself. In order to improve at Magic you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone from time to time. Try new things, and make sure to focus on the game. It’s certainly possible to learn even when the game doesn’t have your full attention, such as when you come across a weird rules interaction or a cool “trick” that you didn’t know about beforehand. But for the most part, focused attention is essential to improving at Magic.

The comfort zone is called the comfort zone for a reason. It’s only natural that we’d prefer to stick with what we’re comfortable with. Magic can be absolutely exhausting, but it’s only by pushing ourselves to do a little bit better each time that we can hope to improve.

Sandro is a Magic player from Stockholm, Sweden. He’s been playing Goblins in Legacy for years. Follow him on Twitter @SandroRajalin

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