Welcome back everyone!  This may be a departure from my normal articles, but Modern is relatively quiet right now. It’s an excellent opportunity to venture into some of the important intangibles involved in getting better at Magic. There is a long-standing debates about how to approach getting better at Magic. Should you master one deck/archetype, or should you develop experience playing a range of strategies?

Today I’ll be covering the costs and benefits of mastery—what it means to master a deck and why you should. Developing your range can wait for a future article.

What is mastery?

Mastery seems to mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and truth be told I also had to think pretty hard about what the word mastery means to me. The definition of the word is, “Possession or display of great skill or technique.” In my eyes a master in magic is someone that you think of when thinking about a certain deck, archetype, or strategy.

Mastery can be in the eye of the beholder and very closely related to the level of skill possessed by your competition. If you’re someone who plays at a high causal level, someone who regularly attends FNM may view you as a master. Similarly, mastery is different to people who regularly play Magic at the highest levels.

Why should I master a deck?

There are a variety of competitive advantages to be gained by consistently playing a deck to the point of mastery. As a person who knows what I like to play and does my best to play it well, I am a firm believer that mastering your deck can take you a long way in Magic.  For example, you can look at the work the Reid Duke puts in with Jund-style Modern decks, Craig Wescoe with aggressive white decks, Gabriel Nassif with control decks, or even Matt Nass with combo.

All of these players have had very successful and storied careers playing largely the same style or deck in almost every tournament. This happens in no small part because they know their decks inside and out.

How do you become a master?

Much like becoming a master at anything else, time and experience are the biggest measuring points. Simply put, nobody becomes a master overnight. it takes months and often years to master a specific deck in Magic.

If you wanted to become a master of Jund in Modern, you might first start by finding all of the content you can on the subject to learn everything you can. Over the course of the next few months, you play the deck frequently against people that you respect in the community. Seek out people that you consider to be Jund masters and have conversations with them about the deck. Learn everything you can from these people as they have already made the journey and know what it takes.

Challenging yourself is the most beneficial thing you can do at any given point in the journey. If you’re always looking for opponents who are more skilled than you, every match will be a learning experience. Challenge yourself to think about the deck, the cards, the matchups in different ways than you had previously. If you see a card in a deck list that you don’t understand, don’t dismiss it and think the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Try to figure out why that person chose that card. In the end, that person’s decision may be wrong, but the point of the exercise is to not get caught in your normal thought patterns.

Once you start thinking critically about the deck, and the cards in it, you can start seeing things through different lenses and that is a significant level up. The single most important piece of advice that I can give is to never stop challenging yourself, every game, every match, every conversation should be a learning experience.

Why should you stick with a deck you’ve mastered?

There are a lot of players who, once they feel they have mastered a deck, want to begin on the next deck or project. But there are a few reasons why sticking with the deck you’ve mastered is a smart play. First and foremost is win percentage—unless you’ve mastered a truly horrible deck, chances are that your win percentage is going to be higher with that deck than it will be with a deck that you’re less familiar with. That leads into the next point which is matchup knowledge; a big part of winning a match of magic is knowing the matchup better than your opponent. Chances are if you’re been playing the same deck for years you will have more reps against any given deck than your opponent will have against you. When you know not only how you’re supposed to sideboard, but how your opponent is likely going to sideboard and play against you is a huge edge.

Finally, if you step away from a deck you’ve mastered to go work on something else, chances are when you return to it you just won’t be at the same place you left the deck in terms of competency.  Whether that is because matchups have changed as your deck, or other decks have evolved, new cards have been printed that have changed the metagame, or even a variety of other factors. Magic is ever-changing. Maintaining mastery with a deck is the best way to stay sharp.

What formats reward mastery?

The general rule of thumb is that the older the format gets, the more you get rewarded for mastering a deck. Formats like Modern or Legacy reward those who keep playing a deck for years. However, in Standard if you’re looking for someone who is a master of any given deck, the best you’ll find is someone that has been playing the same deck for no more than a couple months.

Standard moves so quickly that if you stick with the same deck you’ll often get left behind in the shifts. Modern and Legacy metagames tend to evolve more slowly. With a much more diverse card pool it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a level of practice against the other decks in the field if you move around frequently, which naturally gives your opponent the edge in that part of the match.

Until next time when I discuss the costs and benefits or developing your range as a magic player, be good, and always strive to improve.

Michael Rapp is a Boston-area grinder who started playing competitively in 2014. Loves Modern but plays everything. His favorite card is Thoughtseize has a soft spot for Tarmogoyf. GP Toronto 2019 Champion. Always happy to answer questions or just chat on Twitter or Facebook.

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