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Jim's Pre-Worlds Mail Bag!


This is the big week!

As you're reading this I am packing my bags, as tomorrow I fly to Las Vegas to begin preparing in person for the 2023 Magic: The Gathering World Championships, which is next weekend. From tomorrow until then I'll be at the Pro Tour testing house working with Team CFB & Friends as we try and figure out the best Standard deck for the metagame as well as the best draft strategy, as we vie for the $100,000 first place prize as well as the coveted title of World Champion!

As such, it's been a very busy week for me, and while next week's article will be my usual pre-Pro Tour predictions, this week I wanted to relax a bit and answer some of your questions.

@jimdavismtg Nothing to see here ?? (Ok now that Jim is gone, leave your questions below ? Thanks y'all ?) #mtg #mtga #mtgtiktok #mtgfam #mtgcommunity #ama ? original sound - Jim Davis

My assistant Conor put out this short on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube recently to collect questions for future Q & A stuff, and today seems like a great day to get to some of them! There were over 100 comments across all three platforms, but I'm gonna get to as many as I can today and answer the rest in shorts in the future.

So, let's dive right in to the mailbag!

Iantigone (from TikTok):

Where do you find the most enjoyment in your current career? Is it in content creation, in pro play, in the behind the scenes, etc.

It's interesting because for the longest time my primary focus in life was trying to make/succeeding on the Pro Tour, perhaps to my personal detriment.

I gave it all back in the 2000s. If there was a Pro Tour Qualifier in the northeast of the US within 5 hours or less driving, you can bet I would be there come hell or high water. I lost jobs and made a lot of sacrifices in my quest to make the Pro Tour, and when I finally did in 2006 I was all-in for a few years, playing Magic Online 8-10 hours a day and just living a completely degenerate life as I lived from tournament to tournament. Was it fun? Sure, but completely unsustainable and I don't think I was particularly happy during this period of my life, mostly due to how volatile my day-to-day living was money-wise. This all led to me burning out hard and giving up Magic a while to go back to school in 2010 to try and put it all together.

Now I do content creation full time, own a home, have personal, financial, and creative freedom, am a dad, and am the happiest I have ever been. And in a stroke of good fortune, I'm back on the Pro Tour anyway!

I am proud and eternally thankful I am able to do what I do for a living. I work very hard, with many long hours to both produce my content and run my business, but it's worth it.

Joyverse (from YouTube Shorts):

Card games in general require a lot of nerve and patience. What keeps you calm during heated moments in games where things aren't going your way?

This is a very common question and something that Magic players (as well as players of other games that have elements of randomness to them like Poker) struggle with. When you lose a game of Chess or a match of Tennis, you rarely have anyone to blame but yourself. This can be frustrating, as all of your flaws are on display in every game, but also humbling and makes it clear the things you need to improve on if you are to get better.

In Magic, it can be very easy to blame the myriad of possible things that went wrong based on the cards you drew, rather than how you played them. Are there times where you mulligan to four seeing no lands and just don't really have a chance to win? Sure, but those games are actually few and far between, and the easiest way to spot a weak Magic player is to observe a player only discussing the things they can't control (I mulliganed to five, they drew the Lightning Bolt on the last turn, they drew four sideboard cards) rather than the things they can control (What kind of an opening hand do I want in this matchup? How could I have closed this game out a turn sooner? How does my opponents sideboard effect my post-board strategy?).

So, to answer your question, it's important to understand we signed up to shuffle decks and play a card game. Occasionally this means we are going to get unlucky, but we should always be focused on the things we can control, not the things we can't.

Alexsadlerondrums (from Instagram):

How often are you telling viewers what WotC wants you to tell em, and not what you actually think of the game? Like standard. We know it's all stale and crappy at this time, so would you say the same if that's how you really felt? Or would you say what WotC would want you to say?

While this feels like a troll, I'll humor this one, because I do think there is occasionally distrust that content creators aren't being genuine or are in the pockets of big bad Wizards of the Coast.

Wizards of the Coast doesn't tell me to say anything. I'm not even part of their #MTGAmbassador program, and while they have in the past mailed me promotional materials for upcoming sets, any opinion you hear from me is my own.

I love Standard and think it's one of the most important formats in Magic. I also love Historic, the most underrated format in Magic. I think digital-only designs are mostly a blast and people are far too crotchety about them. However, I think Alchemy is a poor format that lacks a clear purpose in a game where there are far too many formats. I haven't enjoyed Modern nearly as much since the advent of Modern Horizons sets. I think Magic is experiencing a bit of a renaissance in Limited design, as there have been a number of phenomenal limited sets in the last few years.

All of these opinions are my own. Just because you think Standard is stale and crappy doesn't mean that it is, that's just your opinion. And one of my biggest gripes with the Magic community is how much opinions tend to echo chamber ad nauseum, regardless of reality. "Standard is stale and crappy" is a common one since the F.I.R.E. design disaster of MPL era Standard with Throne of Eldraine and friends and tons of bans, but it's actually been great multiple times over the last few years, despite people still having that outdated mindset and mantra they mindlessly repeat.

Gee ?? (from TikTok):

Do you feel that all of magic should eventually be ported over to arena? Should mtgo be phased out?

This is a tough question.

The short answer is a resounding yes.

The long answer is that Wizards of the Coast as dug so many holes for themselves in this regard that I'm not sure how they plan to dig themselves out.

It took over a decade for Magic Online to go from only having sets from Invasion Block forward and actually have all of Legacy and Vintage available, but that was starting from Invasion Block; they only had the seven years between the release of Alpha and the release of Invasion to cover, and that still took a decade. MTG Arena was released in 2018 alongside Guilds of Ravnica, which means there are 25 years of sets to get all the way back to Magic's beginning.

This would be a herculean task that would take literally decades.

There's also the issue of how Magic Online's economy functions. Every Magic Online card is a real "object" with value, and there's a huge economy and multiple large businesses like Cardhoarder and ManaTraders that run completely based on that economy. This economy has been functioning like this for better or worse for almost 20 years, and to move on from Magic Online or make any sort of major change to the platform it all has to go.

Without the limitations of this economy, Magic Online would likely have moved to a subscription service where you pay $25 a month to have access to every card rather than buy cards individually years ago, but Wizards of the Coast has backed themselves into a corner.

So yes, I do think that Magic Online is an archaic and ugly program that should be put out of its misery, but only if all of its functionality can be replaced by MTG Arena, but there are huge issues with both of those things.

gbear5599 (from Instagram):

On your bio card in the cool stuff inc ad reads, it says you like MTG because of the community and the endless puzzles to solve. You have also spoken about how you enjoy the StarCraft games as well. what about StarCraft games appeals to you?

I've been playing Starcraft for longer than I've been playing Magic, and Starcraft 2 is the greatest competitive one on one game ever created. While I was never that good at the game (high platinum, low diamond) and rarely have time to play, I watch a lot of Starcraft 2 as my content of choice, primarily replays from live tournaments and occasionally a few different streamers.

It is amazing that a game that is over a decade old is still so vibrant and ever-changing, but competitive Starcraft 2 is a joy to behold. The skill gap between the top 20ish players and the rest of the world is so high, and it is a pure skill game where the 100th best player will almost never beat the best player in the world. Watching the game's best battle it out is nothing short of excellence on display.

What makes Starcraft 2 so enthralling is that it has all of the tactical strategy of a game like Magic - you need to understand the metagame, matchups, unpack what your opponent is trying to do, be able to counter it and think on your feet, and more, but it joins this with the high physical demands of a fast-paced sport like Hockey or Basketball. You not only need to be able to strategize, but also able to execute insanely quickly and with precision at the same time. The average professional Starcraft 2 player has an average APM (actions per minute) of about 400. I, a middling at best player, have an APM of about 80.

Just like I could never hope to dunk over Lebron James or hit a Shohei Ohtani fastball, I could never hope to complete in Starcraft 2, which makes it a wonder to watch and why it is the best spectator esports game of all time.

@Rufi83 (from YouTube Shorts):

Jim, if you set aside all of the games you play that are, for all intents and purposes, won or lost based on the opening hand + first few draw steps, what percentage of games would you say you play that are decided by player skill?

In a word? A lot more than you think.

One of the reasons why less experienced or skilled Magic players think the game is more about luck rather than skill is because they lack the experience and skill to even see what they are doing wrong. They don't see anything wrong with how they are playing the game, so the only possible solution they can come up with is that they are getting unlucky/drawing the wrong cards when they lose.

As someone who has been playing for 20 years, plays all the time as well as plays on a professional level, I sometimes forget how complicated and difficult Magic is. That is, I forget until I watch someone play a game, either on a stream or over their shoulder at a tournament, and just watch the little mistakes pile up that have likely gone unnoticed. There are just so many decisions large and small made in every game of Magic that it would be almost impossible to play a perfect game, which of course means that there are always a ton of things a player could have done differently almost every game.

If you're interested in improving, examine your games closely. Either record them and watch them back, or even better have a friend who is more skilled (or even better hire a coach) watch over your games to provide feedback. It may sound harsh, but I can promise pretty much anyone reading this that it's not the game, it's you, and you've got room to improve!

And that's a good thing! If it was all just luck, Magic wouldn't be such a great game, and if it was easy to improve, then anyone would do it.

the man (from TikTok):

How would go around teaching a significant other MTG? is one v one commander the best format? cube?

The first thing I would say is to ensure that your partner is actually interested in learning the game. While playing Magic or traveling to Magic events with your partner can be a ton of fun, it's also important to have activities in your relationship that are "yours" and you can do apart from your partner. It's easy to want to do everything together, but having an amount of space for things the other party isn't interested in is good and healthy. Your deep interests don't need to be their deep interests and vice versa.

That being said, if your partner does show interest and wants to learn, that's awesome!

I'll give the advice I give to anyone who is showing the game to someone new - keep it simple and keep it fun. Throwing a new player into a Commander game full of 400 unique cards from 30 years of history is extremely daunting, as is throwing them into a Rakdos Scam vs Four-Color Control matchup in Modern.

Your goal is to show off the game in a fun and inviting way, preferably using cards that are fairly simple, and most importantly flavorful and evocative.

Turn to Frog

You shouldn't be explaining how to retain priority during a Krak-Clan Ironworks combo, but rather showing off cards that are fun and self-explanatory like Turn to Frog. I play this card, and now your big creature is a small frog until the end of turn! Cards that create fun moments like this can dull the difficulties of learning what can be a complicated game.

Build some simple decks following these concepts, or you can use a product like Jumpstart which is a great starter set.

Most importantly though, make it fun!

I'm Off to Worlds!

It's always fun answering your questions, but obviously I only have so much space in each article. There were over 100 questions asked across all three platforms, and I'll be answering some of them in videos sporadically over the remainder of the year.

As for me, I'm off!

First prize at the Magic: the Gathering World Championship is $100,000. Does it have my name on it? I don't know, but I'm gonna find out.

Register for CommandFest Orlando today!

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