The constant quest to improve is one of the greatest things about Magic, and aspiring players want to know the best way to do so. Mastering the strategy is an endless task, and no one piece of advice can incorporate all the wonderful nuance of Magic. But my advice for players of all skill levels is both simple and actionable: never drop from a tournament. Following this philosophy leads to both tangible benefits and an important mental shift.
The clearest benefit to stay in the tournament are the prizes you could still win. On the most extreme scale, you might still have a chance to win the whole tournament! At the first Grand Prix Las Vegas, Neal Oliver almost dropped after starting the tournament 0-1, but his friends convinced him to stay in, and he went on to win the biggest tournament in history. His Allied Strategies Podcast co-host Tristan Killeen has a similar story, being talked out of dropping from a PTQ after taking his second loss, then sneaking into 8th place on tiebreakers and winning the PT invite.
Even when you are incapable of winning the tournament, there are often still prizes on the line. When I routinely played PTQs, I almost always finished in prize contention because I never quit. The most competitive players tended to drop with two losses, often (but as above not always) out of contention for Top 8. But if I lost early I could climb X-2 bracket to a reasonable finish. At the last Pro Tour, World Champion Huey Jensen was at one point 1-4 in the tournament. He won the next 10 rounds, only losing the last to finish 11-5. Another player in this situation might have given up and missed out on the potential for an excellent record that qualifies for the next Pro Tour.
Beyond the main tournament prizes, there are rewards like Pro Points or Planeswalker Points. A 10-5 record at a Grand Prix is good for 1 Pro Point, but outside of cash prizes. When Wizards announced the new Bronze Pro level this year, many players regretted dropping from a Grand Prix where they were battling for a single Pro Point they did not think would matter to them. The Planeswalker Points system rewards you for winning no matter what your record, and can help you earn byes at future Grand Prix. Big tournaments like Grand Prix or PTQs give out a higher multiple of Planeswalker Points, so this is yet another reason not to drop from these events.
Another reward to playing out all the rounds is the valuable tournament experience. You prepared for the tournament and got your deck together, and this tournament experience is valuable practice, especially for newer players. Another reason I found a lot of success when I started at the PTQ level was regularly playing these tournaments helped me master my deck and learn the format. Staying in the event helped me prepare to do better in the tournament next weekend.
There is more to be gained in a tournament than just by winning. Maybe the most important reason to keep playing is to have fun. It’s easy for aspiring competitive players to forget this is a game they have fun playing. If the prize incentives are the only reason you are at a tournament, and actually playing the games is not fun for you, then Magic tournaments are just not worth it. There are not enough prizes in this game to justify playing if you aren’t having fun doing so. Continuing to play when out of prize contention is a great way to focus more on the fun of the game itself instead of your competitive goals. Some of most enjoyable rounds at the Pro Tour have been in the bottom bracket after being eliminated from the chance to make Day 2. With no more stakes, the atmosphere is much more relaxed. When your opponent is no longer an obstacle to your tournament success, the environment is friendlier.
This chance to meet people is also valuable. Magic has a great community, and my favorite part about travelling to tournaments is seeing a group of people I know from around the world. As a newer player, the people you meet a tournament can become part of a network of Magic friends. Knowing more Magic players helps with having more people to playtest with, borrow cards from, and root for at tournaments. As a more experienced player, you have the opportunity to be a positive ambassador for the game. I remember a story from a Pro Tour when Hall of Famer Jon Finkel dropped with an abysmal record, to the disappointment of his teammates. They said that for his future opponents, also doing pretty poorly in the tournament, getting to play against Jon Finkel at their first Pro Tour might have made their day.
These are many benefits that you can get during the rest of the rounds, but the biggest reason I advocate not dropping is the way having that philosophy shifts your attitude in a tournament. The common behavior of quitting as soon as you are out of contention for the prizes you want inevitably causes you to focus on your record and how good it needs to be to achieve your various goals in the event. At the back of your mind you are thinking that you cannot lose any more or you will drop because you can’t make Day 2 or can’t make Top 8. Or maybe you are doing well, and hoping that with just one more win you will be able to intentionally draw the last round and make Top 8. This draws your attention to something you cannot actually control - your standing in a tournament. The only thing you can actually control are the decisions you make in each game of magic. When you know you will play every round of a tournament, it get’s easier to just focus on the games themselves and let the tournament standings and logistics sort themselves out.
Having a better mental outlook on the game will positively influence your win percentage, but that shouldn’t be the only reason to care about it. For me and many of the players I know, Magic is our competitive outlet. While having that competitive drive can motivating and fulfilling, it’s also really easy to let your desire to win come at the cost of your enjoyment of the game, or even worse the experience of the people you play against. The philosophy of never dropping can help avoid this negativity that comes from worrying to much about results, without having to try less hard or be less competitive about the game.
So the next time you are doing poorly in a tournament, I challenge you to leave that “Drop” box on the match slip unchecked. Play out all your rounds and make the most of your tournament experience.
Meet the rest of the Massdrop West and Massdrop East teams: https://www.massdrop.com/talk/2595/mtg-the-return-of-massdrop-east-massdrop-west