Beginner’s Mindset: A Fresh Look at Magic

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One of my favorite characteristics of Magic is its ability to refresh itself time and again. This happens every couple of years, in my experience, and occurs because of both external and internal factors.

Externally, Wizards of the Coast continues to evolve this game with the advent of new sets, new formats, new keywords and abilities, new playing media (Arena has been a major boon), and more. Internally, Magic has managed to meet my evolving social and entertainment needs as I navigated through numerous life stages—from my pre-teen years up through parenthood.

With each new evolution, I experience a period of “beginner’s mindset,” a concept from Zen Buddhism that instructs the concept of openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions. Every time I try something new in the world of Magic, I enter with an open heart and mind as I eagerly learn about that new area.

This past week I experienced three such “beginner’s mindset” moments in Magic, all with varying degrees of success.

My Foray into the Art World

Last week I declared my newfound interest in acquiring a piece of original Magic art. I had my eyes set on Zara Alfonso’s sketch of Kithkin Billyrider, but I lost out in a bidding war on Facebook. This was disappointing and humbling. With my beginner’s mindset approach, I took it as a valuable learning experience and an invitation to try again.

When I tweeted about my defeat, multiple members of the Magic art collector community reached out and offered to help me acquire my first piece. The response was so welcoming and supportive. I was blown away by everyone’s kindness and generosity with their time. I want to say that my foray into Magic finance was the same way, but let’s face it: the #MTGfinance community can be a toxic community at times.

A special shoutout goes to Phil Li (@ThePheylop) who has gone out of his way to educate me in the original Magic art space. He sent me links to different pieces of art that are for sale, discussed pricing with me, and even offered to help negotiate on my behalf to leverage a cash + trade offer on a piece I like. If the rest of the Magic Twitter community functioned this way, it would be a much brighter place to hang out.

For all I know, there may be politicking and drama in the art community too, but as a pure beginner in this space, I have nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings toward everyone. Through these interactions, I’ve learned so much more about Magic art and artists, and I am absorbing this new knowledge like a sponge! With their help, I am confident that I will find that first beloved piece that I can hang on my wall.

Additionally, I’ve acquired a much greater appreciation for modern Magic art. A few years ago, in the heart of my “Old School MTG” phase, I once made the naïve comment that I appreciated classic Magic art over modern-day pieces. I would like to retract that statement. While I’ll always have a nostalgic soft spot for classic pieces such as Shahrazad and Eureka, the detail and depth of contemporary pieces like Kithkin Billyrider or Alessandra Maria’s Nesting Dovehawk blows me away.

Art will always be subjective, but my opinions have evolved. I apologize for any hurt feelings I might have made with ignorant, misplaced comments.

My Foray into March of the Machine Limited

I didn’t draft Phyrexia: All Will Be One when it first launched on Arena because I was pursuing other interests at the time (mostly chess). A couple of weeks into the format, it became clear from listening to my favorite Limited podcasts, Lords of Limited and Limited Resources, that this was not a community-favorite draft format. I was fairly convinced it wouldn’t be worth my gold and gems, but I did try one draft during the course of the format. When it was done, I didn’t feel inspired to run a second. One draft of ONE was enough.

I have a little more free time to try drafting now that March of the Machine is out on Arena. Once again, I employed the beginner’s mindset to remain humble, eagerly learning all I could about this new format. Boy oh boy was there much to learn!

The First Draft

My first draft left me somewhat short on playables. I hesitated too long before picking a third color. I knew I would run black because I picked up some solid removal spells, but the bomb rares weren’t flowing my way and I was receiving mixed signals from both red and blue. Ultimately, I ended up on a black-red sacrifice deck that didn’t see any Furnace Reins. The deck played clunky, but I still managed a 5-3 result simply because I was playing in the bronze portion of the ladder.

The Second Draft

I had a little more luck in the second draft. I picked up a Polukranos Reborn // Polukranos, Engine of Ruin after first picking an Invasion of Karsus // Refraction Elemental.

While I was light on removal, I picked up a Lutri, the Spellchaser and I was excited to draft a Red Green beatdown deck!

I promptly went 1-3, losing to bombs like Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, Tribute to the World Tree, and (in my opinion) the most offensive bomb of all, Invasion of New Phyrexia // Teferi Akosa of Zhalfir.

Suddenly my brew with a giant hydra and the ability to fork Cosmic Hunger with Lutri felt insufficient. I quickly realized that a tightly built deck can easily be outclassed by the format’s numerous bombs and heavy hitters. While I felt like I had a couple of powerhouse cards myself, they simply could not hold a candle to what my opponents were throwing against me. I understand now why my favorite Limited podcasters are describing this format as very Cube-like in power level.

I haven’t given up, though, and I’ll maintain my beginner’s mindset for at least a couple more drafts before I make a broader decision about where March of the Machine falls in my personal preference ranking. I struggle with Cube drafts, so I suspect I won’t have tremendous success with this set.

My Foray (Back) Into Standard

It feels like ages ago since I hit Constructed Mythic on Arena and felt confident enough in Standard to enter small (free) events through Star City Games. It’s frustrating how less than a year away from Arena can send you so far behind, in both card pool (wildcards don’t create themselves) and in metagame knowledge.

Despite this, I’m adopting the beginner’s mindset once again and dipping my toes back into Standard. I’m beginning this foray by copying one of Ashlizzle’s decks. It's a Red-Black deck centered around sacrifice synergies. I’ve been a huge fan of sacrifice strategies ever since Throne of Eldraine blessed us with A-Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven.

Here’s the list I’m following as closely as I can, given my limited supply of rare wildcards (I still need Blackcleave Cliffs)s.

I’ve only played a couple of best-of-one matches so far with this deck—I’ve won and lost with it, so it’s too soon to pass judgment. One thing I will say is I have much to learn regarding how the cards work together and how the metagame has evolved since I last played Standard. I can readily see how mistakes I’ve made have cost me chances to win the games I lost. With the beginner’s mindset, I’ll continue to study the strategy and hopefully grind my way out of bronze and back up to a respectable tier on the ladder. It will take time, practice, and a great deal of learning.

Wrapping It Up

Regarding gameplay, I’ve rediscovered Magic for the umpteenth time via March of the Machine Limited and Standard, courtesy of Arena’s ultimate flexibility. As a parent of two kids, this is the best way for me to enjoy playing this inventive game with minimal disruption to my home life.

On the collecting side, I’ve moved off Old School cards and random Beta rares and towards art collecting. I had no idea what I was missing until I joined the Facebook art group. I've discovered the beauty and talent this community boasts. Rather than try to fight the impossible battle of obtaining the “One Ring” card, why not consider obtaining a 1/1 art piece instead? That’s the strategy I’m going to use, and it should be about 1/100 the price!

As long as I maintain the beginner’s mindset, I should enjoy these newfound spaces in the universe of Magic. I’ve been playing the game for 26 years and I’m still blown away by how diverse and expansive the hobby can truly be. Whether it’s Limited, Constructed, new formats, old formats, collecting cards, collecting art, or any combination therein, it truly feels like Magic is a hobby that has something for everybody to enjoy.

One thought on “Beginner’s Mindset: A Fresh Look at Magic

  1. Your observations on MTG finance were very prescient. As Modern and Legacy came crashing down by the onslaught of reprints, you also saw the vintage market exploding in real time. I’ve always seen the buylist as a safety net, not as a profit margin, which allowed me to keep investing without going negative on liquidity. But in reality the reason I bought that Force of Nature from Alpha and decided to keep it is because it had one of the coolest artwork of the entire set. I wanted to keep it. The price it was selling for at the time felt like a bargain. When it comes to Magic or any other collectible I’m playing the long game. Once you buy it there’s no turning back, and hope it was the right pick.

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