Self-Talk in Magic

July 09, 2020

Self talk is an important part of the mental aspect of sports and video games alike.

An internal monologue … is a person’s inner voice which provides a running verbal monologue of thoughts while they are conscious. It is usually tied to a person’s sense of self. It is particularly important in planning, problem solving, self-reflection

-Wikipedia, on Self-Talk


I’m going to talk about ways that I’ve seen myself and others use self-talk in Magic. This blog post will focus on identifying and correcting instances of self-talk that are hurtful.

Negative self-talk can

  • take you out of the game, causing you to lose focus.
  • make you go on tilt.
  • cause you to lose motivation.

Constructive self-talk will

  • help you stay more focused during practice sessions.
  • help you win more at Magic.
  • help you enjoy Magic more.

Every example I give in this blog post are things that I have done myself and that I see others do. If you do these things, I’m not calling you out, or speaking ill of you, I’m just trying to help more people have more fun when playing Magic.

“Oops, I messed up, but it doesn’t matter”

I should have drawn a card with Teferi before playing my land, but it doesn’t matter, I didn’t draw a shockland anyway.

Why do we do this?

  • This saves face. We notice a mistake, something obvious, a play or sequence that should have been done differently.
  • We notice that in this instance, the mistake didn’t matter. We’re just as smart as we thought we were before we made the mistake. We even noticed both the mistake and that it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
  • It keeps us in our comfort zone; we messed up, but we caught it, so it’s no big deal.

Why does it hurt us?

  • It puts a negative light on making mistakes. In Magic, even the best players make mistakes every game. Part of getting better is noticing your mistakes and learning from them.
  • Being outside of our comfort zone is ideal for testing; the best practice occurs when we’re being presented with challenges and decisions that are just outside our skill level.
  • If a mistake was so easy to spot that we notice it immediately after doing it, we shouldn’t have made it in the first play. It is sloppy, it makes for bad testing, we will make the same mistake in tournaments and it will hurt our win percentage.

What should I say instead?

The goal here is to not let yourself get away with small mistakes. Part of getting better at Magic, is making all the small decisions correctly. We want to build habits that let us evaluate and correctly decide what to do in these small decision spots.

  • That was bad, I won’t do it again.
  • I’m happy it worked out this time, but that could have really hurt me.
  • I wonder if I’m making similar mistakes to this in other areas of my game.

“This card/my opponent is so bad”

Who plays Skeleton Archer IN STANDARD?!

Why do we do this?

  • It’s fun to point out mistakes.
  • It makes us feel smarter than our opponent.

Why does it hurt us?

  • It takes us out of the moment. We stop to tweet about our opponent chump attacking into our first striker, don’t realize we played the wrong land, and now we can’t curve into our 5 drop.
  • It aggravates us when we lose to bad cards or bad plays.
  • We don’t think about why our opponent played the weird card they did. Opponents are people too and sometimes they try out new cards. There are lessons to be learned there.

What should I say instead?

Our objective here is to stay focused and in the moment even after our opponent does something unexpected. Even worse, our opponent could have very good reason to make their weird play and we miss the learning opportunity because we didn’t stop to think about it.

  • Weird card, I wonder why they’re playing it.
  • Nice, they chump attacked, how can I capitalize most on this?
  • That was a bad error from them, let’s focus and not give the game back to them.

“This game doesn’t count”

I’m trying out this new deck, but I haven’t gotten any good games in. My opponents have been drooling all over themselves.

Why do we do this?

  • It just makes sense, if opponents don’t play well, you’re not getting good tournament practice.
  • We think that both players have to play perfectly for testing to be good.
  • We hold ourselves and our opponents to too high a standard; a standard that we never actually meet.

Why does it hurt us?

  • This tells us that some games don’t matter, giving us an excuse to check out, and we stop trying to learn. Just because an opponent plays poorly doesn’t mean we can’t learn, just that we might have to think a bit harder.
  • We shouldn’t be rejecting new information and ideas. New information gives us opportunities to grow.
  • It pushes the idea that some games of Magic and some players are worse than others. It makes us closed-minded and makes us inconsiderate of fellow players.

What should I say instead?

Our goal here is to trust our own senses. We are still playing the game, we can still evaluate whether or not our deck is good, we can still think about if we would have won had our opponent played their cards differently. We don’t need a World Champion level opponent to help us figure out how to play a matchup, we can evaluate and generalise from the gameplay we have.

  • I’m going to have to work a little harder to get something out of this game.
  • It won’t be that easy everytime.

Written by Owen Collier-Ridge who lives and works in Washington D.C building things in clouds and playing games. You should check out his personal site.