10 Pro Tips For Getting Good At Magic: the Gathering

Magic: The Gathering relies heavily on strategy, so here are 10 pro-tips to help you improve your gameplay and win even more

Do you love trading card games? Perhaps Magic: the Gathering is your go-to game? This game is older than many of its players today, having first released in summer 1993, but this deep and complex game is more welcoming to new players than ever. Wizards of the Coast is making a sincere effort to open the entrance gates wide open, and many products are tailored to new players who are getting a grasp on how to be a planeswalker.

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Once a player has learned the rules and practiced a few games, they may wonder how they can push their game to the next level. There are many tips and strategies to pursue, and the pro players may know them all. A comprehensive list would be pretty long, but the following ten strategy suggestions may be a fine place to start. They are general enough so that any player, using any sort of deck, can follow them.

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10 Know When to Mulligan

There are some decisions to make even before you take your first turn. Sometimes, it's totally clear when you should mulligan, such as when you have no lands in your hand or hand is almost entirely land cards. But what about borderline cases? Things get fuzzier.

One rule is to see if your current hand lets you be proactive early on, or counter your opponent. If not, take a mulligan. Also, if you cannot easily cast more than one spell in your opening hand with the lands you see, a mulligan may be in order. Finally, you may take a mulligan if your opening hand does not represent your overall strategy at all.

9 Build a Sideboard

New players will soon learn that a deck is not 60 cards, but 75. A sideboard may have up to 15 cards, and they can be swapped with the main deck to adjust to your opponent's strategy. Some sideboard cards are broad and generic and are great inclusions, such as Pithing Needle, Ghost Quarter, Spellskite, and Wasteland.

Others are geared for a specific strategy or even a particular deck. Learn which decks and strategies are the most popular in your chosen format and game store, and use that as a reference. But your opponent will side in cards too, and you may try to side in cards for that. Don't be afraid to use your sideboard for your opponent's sideboard as well as their main deck!

8 Master Card Advantage

This is a deep topic. Any card has an inherent -1 card advantage, since you lose the card to get the effect. Find cards that can destroy more than one permanent at a time (such as the two pictured) to make your opponent lose more cards than you did. Or try cards that cantrip, such as Remand. Scry 2 may act as a substitute, such as on Magma Jet.

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"Grindy" cards think long term, and they may cost your opponent many cards over time or let you draw many more. Huntmaster of the Fells, for example, is a werewolf that makes 2/2 wolf tokens and can burn away creatures more than once as it transforms back and forth. Or, you may play a creature or a token-creating spell that your opponent will need more than one removal spell to deal with. Think of Lingering Souls or Kitchen Finks, for example. Your opponent will lose a lot of combat blockers or removal spells to deal with such threats.

7 Bait out cards

Many decks have counterspells and/or removal spells. Reduce their impact by creating a smooth curve of how powerful your creatures are. Start with creatures that are weaker, but still pose a threat, and pressure your opponent into using counterspells and removal on them.

With any luck, your opponent's answers have run dry for the time being, and now it's safer to play your biggest threats yet. Your 3/3 may bait out your opponent's Terminate, and on your next turn, that Terminate isn't around to deal with a sudden 5/4! This works especially well against control decks, which are afraid of creature pressure of any kind. Play conservatively at first, then bring out your big guns a turn or two after that.  Don't wait too long, though; control decks love the long game.

6 Bluff with dead cards

Wait a minute. Which cards are these? Exactly.

Magic will reward players who bluff and mislead their opponents. If you draw an unneeded land, feel free to hang onto it, and play as though it were a juicy removal spell or counterspell. Back this up with some untapped lands or other mana sources, and your opponent may get the totally wrong idea about what you're doing.

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This works best fif you're using reactive decks such as control, or Jund in the Modern format. As for aggressive decks, hang onto a dead card and then make a bold attack while your lands are untapped. Your opponent may get the impression that you're preparing to cast a devastating combat trick!

5 Familiarize yourself with relevant decks

Pictured are three typical cards for some decks in the Modern format, as an example. Karn Liberated is the poster boy of Tron, Valakut is central toward Temur Valakut decks, and no Affinity deck will show up without Arcbound Ravager in the mainboard. Exempting homebrew decks, which are impossible to predict, you can study the many established decks in the format of your choice.

This way, you know what is coming, and based on your opponent's current cards, the mana they have available, and the current board state, you can roughly estimate what they may do next. Experience makes this easier to do, and this might even help you see through bluffs or know when to mulligan a hand that is weak against a particular deck.

4 Three resources, not one

Mana is not the only resource in this game; life points and cards are the other two, and all three must be managed well. How? Life points can be spent to pay for effects or spells, and black mana, in particular, is savvy with that.

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Meanwhile, do whatever you can to advance your strategy by using as few cards as possible, and try to make your opponent spend more cards than they normally would in order to keep up with you. Blue does this best, but any color offers grindy cards or strategies to pull ahead, such as board wipes, two-for-one removal, cantrips, and creature threats that are impossible to completely negate with just one card. If your opponent runs out of cards, they will run out of steam, too!

3 Have a Plan B

A plan B is essential for any strategy game, and that includes Magic. Your deck will have a primary strategy that defines it, such as "aggro" for Naya Zoo or "burn you to death with Valakut" or just "play lots of merfolk and attack."

But your opponent might defeat your main plan, especially with sideboard cards, so you'll need another route to victory. Substitute combat damage with burn damage halfway through a game, or abandon your combo and attack with efficient beaters. Multicolor decks have the easiest time with this, especially those which are meant to be flexible, such as Abzan Midrange or three-color Delver of Secrets decks.

2 Make sacrifices

Don't overestimate the value of your life points or your planeswalkers. Often, blocking does not turn out well, and rarely will your opponent attack unless they are sure that their creatures can kill yours (or if you have none). If your life is low, it's time to block, but until then, buy time by allowing small creatures through.

This is especially true if your creatures are useful utility creatures, such as Deathrite Shaman or Mother of Runes. Don't throw them away to save 2 life points!

1 Practice!

Elspeth, pictured, must have spent many hard years practicing and drilling to become a knight. You, too, need some time on the practice field. Actually, everyone does, and nothing teaches more than experience.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes or misplays along the way. It's how players develop, and you'll learn new things about your deck and the game itself as you go.

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