Lately I have been thinking a lot about the errors people make in games and how they approach these errors. In my latest article I talked a bit about how addressing mistakes, errors and hidden information in a wrong way, can lead to a non-evolving environment. And I want to continue a bit down this path with a few written words about some of the things that go on when we learn new stuff and how, by knowing about them, we can improve not only in Magic but in every aspect of life.

How Coping Works

When self-protection holds you back

Stream of Thought by Seb McKinnon

Stream of Thought by Seb McKinnon

One of the brains most wonderful tools, is its way to protect itself when we get into situations that are rough. This way of protecting itself, discovered by Anna Freud (daughter of the Sigmund Freud), is called coping. Coping comes in all shapes and forms through anger, self-loathing, projecting and many more, but what is common for all of them, is how a mistake or fault is drawn away from your own ability to change/influence it and put into the hands of others or other reasons like luck for example.

This is where it gets tricky because no one in their right mind wants to be a failure, and even though the word “failure” is pretty brutal, then the same goes for less harsh words like “not as good as you think”, “slightly average at (…)”. The tricky part is that it is only when you accept this reality, that you can truly evolve into a new you. However, it comes at a cost: It that can feel so harsh, that it isn’t worth the pain that it will give you along the way.

The 4 Stages of Learning

Everyone goes through these to improve

Rain of Revelation by Nils Hamm

Rain of Revelation by Nils Hamm

What I’m going to tell you might seem plainly obvious in hindsight, but after I started digging into it, I applied it in basically every aspect of my life, and it has been worth it all the way.

What I want to talk about are 4 stages that everyone goes through, when they learn:

  1. Unconsciously Incompetent
  2. Consciously Incompetent
  3. Consciously Competent
  4. Unconsciously Competent

A fun little thought-experiment: How long have you been typing on a keyboard? At first you learn some way to become faster at typing. The more hours you put in, the better you get. Eventually you get extremely good, you are better than almost all your peers and you rarely make any typos – you could even do it blindfolded. This is a peak! You now use your keyboard 2x, 5x, 10x over the course of the years, but because you have reached your maximum potential, you never get better.

To apply the above 4 stages, it will look something like this:

  1. First time at the keyboard, you may or may not know what you can do with a keyboard – Unconsciously Incompetent.
  2. You start typing and realize that this is quite hard, you are quite bad at it and it needs some sort of focus from you to become better – Consciously Incompetent.
  3. You practice a lot, ask people who are better how to become better, and type 1000 hours, the fruit of your labor is that you now know that you can type, you are good – Consciously Competent.
  4. You are good, and you keep on doing it, until it is within your muscle memory. You no longer think about when you type, but you type faster than most – Unconsciously Competent.

You might think and convince yourself that you are at your maximum potential, but if you where to attend a speed typing competition, you would soon go over the steps again realizing that you are slow compared to the other competitors. And with this realization you start your climb towards new heights and a new maximum potential. Unconsciously Incompetent –> Consciously Incompetent –> Consciously Competent –> Unconsciously Competent.

The Biggest Hurdle

Admit that you’re not perfect

Unmoored Ego by Volkan Baga

Unmoored Ego by Volkan Baga

The only problem is that because of the brains coping system, it is so extremely hard to breach the barrier and accept that you are unconsciously incompetent (or colloquially called “bad”). And the more time you have put into e.g. playing Magic, competing against others and merging Magic with your entire being, the harder you will get hit, when you realize that your entire self-image is flawed because you are unconsciously incompetent.

Allen Wu just wrote in an article about humility. He said that every MCQ grinder thinks of themselves as “temporarily embarrassed MC Champions” and if this is the case, then they have not yet realized that they are all unconsciously incompetent and therefore they have reached a peak – if they want to or not.

Magic is a relentless arena when it comes to getting to acknowledge your own flaws, because it is so easy to put your losses in the hands of your opponent’s luck, you mulliganning, topdecks, your own misfortune – the list goes on! Instead of taking a deep look inside and own the mistakes you made, the lines you took and accepting that the game (on average) had a lot more to it with hidden information, bluffs etc.
The faster you accept the premise that you are bad, you instantly leave the stage of unconsciously incompetent and can start your ascend towards greatness, but it is not until this realization that it will start.

Is it even worth it?

Getting out of your comfort-zone

Talisman of Curiosity by Lindsay Look

Talisman of Curiosity by Lindsay Look

So why do this?

“The pain of exploring is less than the pain of not knowing.” 

It is a good question, but my guess would be, that you Reader, are reading Magic articles, strategy and deck guides to become better at playing and competing in this great game – so you have the desire to put in some effort to become better. The only problem is, that you have to take the immensely hard hit of self-conscience and then fight your brain in its coping mechanism when things get cruel and uncomfortable.
I am of course not talking about bullying or accepting someone being mean, but when you ask if this is the right play, then when people tell you that it was not because of a reasonable argument, then accept that this could be a truth, and that you do not know what is right or not, but you are learning.

By doing this over and over and always questioning yourself if you have actually become so comfortable in your skill that you have reached the final stage Unconsciously Competent and peaked, you need to figure out in which arena you are actually Unconsciously Incompetent and restart the process.

If you look at the Mythic Championship III interview with Kai Budde, and a lot of interviews at other high-stake tournaments, the great competitors will often talk about minor missteps (or major) that they did throughout the game, that lowered their chance to win or left them in a weak spot, where it was somewhat out of their hands. They don’t do this to torture themselves, but their learning process is forever ongoing, and they analyze why they made any mistake, the thought process behind it, how to change that and what other lines were there. And this is only possible because they acknowledge that they don’t always just make the best line of play, but every play is the culmination of every play before and therefore there are so many possibilities of making different lines that could change the outcome.

What You Can Do to Improve

Both in typing and in playing Magic

Scour All Possibilities by Mitchell Malloy

Scour All Possibilities by Mitchell Malloy

I have had this on my mind for quite some time, and I hope that it can help you or your friend to become better at understanding some of the processes that might be going on, when you face new obstacles in every arena in life. This was it for now and as a small sign off, I will show you a way of getting better at typing faster (if you felt that the example was spot on) and a small exercise for you to do at home. I am a teacher in my life beside Magic, after all.

Typing: If your word per minute rate is 200 words, set a goal of 210-250. Then just start typing as fast as you can, without thinking about typos. Keep pushing the speed, even though it leaves you with even more typos. This might be an uncomfortable experience because you are pushing your body, like you would if you were exercising, and you are outside of your comfort zone. But eventually 201 will become 210 that will then be 250 and you will have achieved what you thought was unachievable – now rinse repeat, 260-300 and use the time that is needed, if you really want to become better.

Regarding trying to get out of a mindset of everything being non-games and about luck, try the following:

Count your mulligans. Count your opponents’ mulligans. And match these over 100-200 games. Even though it is a small sample size, it should give you an indication about it being random, and that it will even out over the course of enough games. Scale this up and start writing down everything like play/draw, mulligans, top decks and get it out of your system in a logical way, where you acknowledge that it is random, and you get hit just as frequently as your opponents. By not focusing on it, you free up some mental space for other things – the game is great, and it is a part of the game for better or worse.

That was it!


Michael Bonde


This article was written by Michael Bonde in a media collaboration with mtgmintcard.com