1. Buy the right cards!
Yes, you say, this is a simple step. But for those of you who haven’t played the game in 20 years, it can be quite confusing. Make sure you know which expansion deck the tournament you are entering is using and buy the appropriate cards to achieve a certain comfort level.
2. Learn the cards. Love the cards.
Magic changes from one edition to the next. These cards a akin to your babies. You want to know what each card can do, when you can use it and how effective it is to your play style.
There are also many new terms for a player getting back into the game. Old terms such as “unblockable” and “deathtouch” still remain, but you are going to have to wrap your head around new abilities such as “bestow” and “reach.”
3. Hire a coach
If you have a friend who is currently playing Magic, attach yourself like a leech to their side and have them walk you through the changes. Chances are this person is going to very excited to share their hobby with you.
4. Play a few practice games to get your feet wet
Memorizing the cards and their abilities isn’t enough as you are going to want to play test through the various decks and cards to see what feels right and which cards you like. Like riding a bicycle, if you have played Magic before it will come back quickly. But you don’t want to go into a tournament without getting a few games under your belt.
5. Then play a few more because you still won’t know what you are doing
Knowing the order in which spells can be cast, working out the phases of a turn, all these are things that you want to become rote come tournament time. You do not want to be the person slowing down play because you forget the difference between a sorcery spell and an “instant.”
6. Do not become wedded to one color
There are five colors in Magic: white, red, black, green and blue. If you have not played in a bit, you may have fond memories of a particular color only to find that the recent expansion has tweaked things. Try to play each color prior to the tournament so that you have a basic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each.
7. Construct your deck under tournament conditions
If you are playing next weekend, you will be playing in a “sealed deck” tournament which means the following: when you get to the store you will receive six booster packs, four from the last expansion and two from the expansion set which releases that day. You will then have 45 minutes to construct a deck out of the cards your received from these six booster packs.
To practice for a tournament, buy six of the current expansion booster packs and time yourself from the moment you open the packs to the moment your deck is “ready.”
8. Remember the equation: 24 + 24 + 12 = 60
If there is one equation to rule them all it is the one above. Your tournament deck should be made up of 24 land cards, 24 creature cards and 12 spell cards that can do direct damage to another player or his creatures.
9. Obey the Mana Curve
Each Magic card has casting cost. This is called mana. The higher the cost, the more powerful the spell. However, you don’t want to build your deck with only spells that cost a high amount of mana.
This is where the “Mana Curve” comes into play. Your tournament deck as constructed should be constructed that you have a few high cost cards, a few low cost cards and a majority of your deck should be in the 3-5 mana cost range. This ensures that you won’t get beaten waiting to cast your most powerful cards, nor will you get trashed by an opponent’s high level cards.
There are infinite ways for a Magic deck to be constructed so do not be afraid to practice with different deck builds prior to the tournament. Like enchantments? Load them up to replace direct damage spells. Do you dig artifact creatures? Replace some of your color specific cards with them and see how it effects your deck.
11. Do not panic if your booster decks do not contain any killer cards
There will be people who open their boosters at the tournament and receive a bevy of truly powerful and crazy cards. There will also be those who receive an average allotment or a truly scattered assortment. If you fall into one of the latter categories, DO NOT PANIC!
Magic is equal parts a game of luck and skill. There is as much chance that the person with the ridiculous luck might never get to play their cards due to the randomness of the game. There is also an equal chance well constructed deck of “average” cards can beat a great deck if played with enough skill.
12. Learn about the new cards!
The new expansion introduces some new wrinkles to the game mechanics that you will want to learn about. Wizards of the Coast is currently revealing the new cards (as well as the new rules) each day on their website. You will want to study up on these cards to give yourself an edge on the day of the tournament.
14. Be prepared to have fun…and get trounced
The key thing to remember is that Magic is meant to be played for fun and that this should be an enjoyable afternoon for you and your friends. If it is your first time playing in a tournament or first time back to Magic in a bit, be prepared to take a beating. There will be players in your store who have been practicing much longer than you and have the mechanics down to a fine art. Learn from them, adapt, and be prepared to conquer at your next tournament.