​Moving Up from Local Play

Moving Up from Local Play:

Path to Competitive Magic: the Gathering Part 1

by Duy Vu

Hello everyone, my name is Duy Vu from Swish Gaming. I have been playing Magic: The Gathering (MtG) since Tenth Edition in 2007, starting with kitchen table magic. Talking to other people and how they got started, it is not an uncommon start with a very casual approach and group. Eventually, I would move on from there to where many players start their journey with a more structured design playing in Friday Night Magic (FNM). Players can easily settle in at this level and continue to love the game for years. I’ll discuss my personal journey in competitive magic, the lessons I’ve learned, and how it led me to Pro Tour Barcelona. I hope this will help you and your journey into competitive play. In this article, we are going to discuss a technical foundation, understanding the metagame, developing a sideboard strategy, and getting all the information you can.

Technical Foundation

When I refer to a technical foundation, I am not talking about technical play. I am talking about the technical foundation within MtG gameplay and the rules that control the game. We are moving up a tier on our rules enforcement level (REL) going from Regular to Competitive. Instead of warnings and reminders with abilities to often rewind and repair game states, with the focus on developing and improving players, we have penalties, warnings, violations, and even game losses that are given out to players.


Judges are there to assist you both at FNM and Competitive Events, so when you need their help raise your hand up, call out for a Judge, and keep your hand in the air. They can’t assist you with how to play, but they can assist you in understanding what is going on with interactions and cards you may not be familiar with in a game. You can always ask to talk to the Judge away from the table to not give away any information. It is important to understand that RCQs can be run with just a Rules Advisor and not a Judge. If it is a large enough event, there may also be multiple Judges with one designated as the Head Judge who you can appeal all rulings to if you would like. The ruling of the Head Judge is final.

Decklists, Tournament Structure, and Time Limits

You are required to create a paper or digital decklist for RCQs. You can always check with a store ahead of time to see what their requirement is for decklist submission. I will generally show up to an event 30-60 minutes ahead of time to make sure I can settle in, organize my deck out for writing on paper if needed, and not feel like I am rushing right before a tournament starts. The Judge will do their announcements before the event begins that will cover time you need to be in your seat before the game and match losses are issues. Often this is at 0 or 3 minutes for game loss and 10 minutes for match loss. Regular REL has a more relaxed approach to time limits and pace of play, but with Competitive REL you have time limits and are expected to play at a reasonable pace of play to maintain a steady progression of the game. This does not mean you should rush your plays, pause and think through all your decisions and plays because once you make them they are happening.

Understanding the Metagame

There is an adversity for incoming players to the competitive scene about the metagame and netdecking. This is something you will need to get over. Plain and simple. The metagame is just an aggregate of the decks that are performing well with the cards that are available. Netdecking is just the vast amount of information we have access to through websites dedicated to releasing information on the lists that are performing well. You don’t need to get into the trenches yet about the all the win and match up percentages, but you should be familiar with the top 6 to 10 decks of the format you are playing at the very minimum.

Developing a Sideboard Strategy

Once you are aware of the top 6 to 10 decks, you should write out your sideboarding strategy. You can shortcut this as well by subscribing to different teams such as my own who publish our sideboarding strategies for free right here on All Star Sports website or on our Patreon. You are allowed to reference the sideboarding and notes between games but not within the game itself. This also lets you notice the holes with your sideboarding of cards coming in and out along with understanding what matches you may not be as prepared for as you thought. Finally, sideboarding guides and strategies are a guideline. You shouldn’t take it as gospel, but you should understand the ideas behind the change. That understanding of why will serve you in understanding what you are hoping to achieve in games 2 and 3.

Obtaining Information

Lastly for part 1, you need to become a sponge of information. You should read up on articles and guides. You should listen to podcasts about the game. You should watch whatever streamers and recorded videos interest you. You are not an island. You are in a community and one of the largest in the world. Your deck is being played by other players so you should know what they are doing. You should know how the top decks are changing. Staying on top of this information will help you move from Regular to Competitive.

This is going to wrap up part 1 of my series on Moving Up from Local Play. My next article on this series will be dedicated to playtest groups, how to form them, what I look for in them, and how they improve your gameplay. Thank you for reading. - Duy Vu

Oct 30th 2023 Duy Vu

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