Hi Aetherhub! I've been lurking the forums/etc for quite some time and have seen a lot of questions along the lines of "How do I climb out of gold?" and "Will this deck get me out of Platinum?," so as a self proclaimed ladder monkey, I decided it was about time I actually contributed to the community in the form of a Guide to Laddering. So, right on time to help you get those sweet sweet cosmetics or qualify for MQW, here's my take on Laddering 101 in Standard Constructed Play! ^^
What this guide aims to accomplish: Laddering can be a daunting task to both new and veteran players - it invariably includes a substantial time commitment and requires dedication, mental fortitude, and a certain degree of game and meta knowledge. In this guide, I plan to outline elements key to improving both your individual play and your ladder rating. In my opinion, there are two major components to laddering: Mental Fortitude/Mental Preparation and Game Knowledge/Mechanics. Additionally, while this guide is geared primarily towards players struggling with the ladder or veteran players new to using a Ladder Ranked System, I have included a few tips on how to achieve higher finishes (for the Mythic crowd) and tips on how to approach a new expansion, with War of the Spark on the horizon. This guide IS NOT designed to expound upon specific meta matchups, though I'd be happy to answer questions below.
About me: Feel free to skip this bit, but I felt it was necessary to give some credentials to lend the guide some amount of validity. My name is Andrew5550, and I came over to MTGA at the launch of Open Beta. I have finished in Top 100 Mythic in every season thus far, and as of writing this article, am currently poised to finish in the Top 100 again in RNA Season 2 (currently ranked #5). I have years of experience playing at high Legend on Hearthstone with a smattering of Grandmaster seasons on GWENT. For full disclosure, I play primarily Best of 1 on ladder, but I believe most of these tips are applicable to both Bo1 and Bo3.
Proof, just in case: https://imgur.com/a/cGAW3Mf
In all honesty, I believe laddering to be a greater test of mental fortitude and attitude than skill. Although I believe to compete at the higher reaches of the ladder requires a great deal of skill and game knowledge - however, the patience and fortitude required to ascend poses as a major obstacle that often goes without discussion. So, let's talk mental game first - what do you need to do mentally to climb?
1. Try your best to go into Game 1 with a Positive Attitude
- This can be challenging, for sure - but it's important to keep pressures from outside the game from influencing your attitude, and play, in game.
- Try to stay positive, too! We all go on nasty losing streaks, end up in unwinnable games, and misplay. What's important is that you keep a positive attitude and set your eyes on your goal for the season.
2. Avoid Tilt at All Costs
- We've all heard this one, and avoiding tilt takes a lot of work.
- Remember! You're going to have some really great days where you barely drop games, but you're also going to have bad days on the ladder. You won't end every session with a positive winrate, and that's okay!
- If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break - what you do is totally up to you, but I find playing another game for a little while, going for a run/hike/swim/etc, taking a shower, or watching a YT vid or two can reset my mental and get me back on track for the next game.
- On the note of taking breaks: It's hard to overstate how important taking breaks/putting the game down is. The "3 Loss" rule, in my opinion, is a fantastic rule to follow. If you lose 3 games in a row, PUT THE GAME DOWN AND DO SOMETHING ELSE. The amount of time you take away from the game varies from person to person, but it should be long enough to reset your mental. Playing while tilted can have terrible effects on your mood, attitude, AND rating - so this bit is especially important for aspiring ladder monkeys.
- Some games will be unwinnable. That's just the nature of Competitive games, CCGs included. It is important to accept this and keep unwinnable games from putting you on tilt. However, it is EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT to learn to discern an unwinnable game from an unfavored game from a game in which you may have made mistakes or taken a risky line.
- Stay hydrated and make sure to eat! It's a lot easier to get tilted when Hangry.
3. Dealing with "Playing So Many Games"
- The number of games needed to climb can be intimidating - know you're not at it alone!
- Try not to overdo it - don't play too many games in one sitting or over a short period of time. Climbing AND finishing are much more challenging if you burnout and don't want to play any more.
- If you're anxious during games or are intimidated by the number of games, that's okay! I find that putting something else up in the background, like music or a video, can help ease the anxiety between matches.
4. Dealing with Ranked Anxiety
- Ranked anxiety is when you're too nervous to queue up in any ranked format - and can happen for quite a few different reasons. Not everyone experiences ranked anxiety, but I wanted to include a few tips on it as someone who still struggles with it.
- Aim to improve, not climb, while playing. If you focus on your play instead of the rating on the line, it can help ease the anxiety and make the game morefun.
- Along the same lines, try not to focus on your winrate - no one on the ladder has a 100% winrate, so dropping games is normal!
5. Get help with your goal!
- Streams are immensely helpful for understanding a wide variety of decks, deck archetypes, and win conditions! There's no shame in asking questions on reddit or in chat.
- Even if the streamer isn't playing your deck, pay attention! It's good to try to get into your opponent's head and figure out what their objectives might be and what that deck does and doesn't want to see!
- Don't be shy! Ask for clarification on a point or about a certain line of play! Or, if you're having trouble with a deck, it's never bad to ask for help! That being said, try to make your questions specific - for example, asking "how do I climb out of platinum?" isn't exactly an easy answer - people like to take different approaches and play different decks. But asking "How do I beat Esper as White Weenies?" is specific and can net you some very useful insights.
- Read! If you have a little extra time, really want to improve, or prefer reading to active interaction (or a combination of all 3), pick up some articles or consume videos! Consuming content can introduce you to new skills like Bluffing, Hand Reading, and generally improve your mindset in a variety of matchups. An additional boon can be finding out what popular content creators are running, card for card!
- Record! If you want to go the extra mile, use the software streamers use! You by no means need to start up a stream, but using Open Broadcast Software (OBS) to record your games and review them in your spare time. Examining different lines can be helpful for future matchups! But do be careful not to let your memory of what happens later in the game(s) impact your review!
Alrighty, now that we've got our mindset in place, let's talk some of the more nitty-gritty stuff. When someone asks how to climb the ladder, I imagine this is mostly what they're shooting for. So, from one ladder monkey to another, here's are some tips/elements to help you improve your gameplay.
1. Learn the Meta DecksTM
- By this I do not necessarily mean play the meta decks. While laddering, it's important to figure out what you should expect in every common matchup and try to predict and preempt their threats. For example, if you are playing against Golgari Midrange, you should be afraid of Vivien Reid on 5 mana. Against RDW, you should expect Runaway Steamkin on turn 2. Prepare your decks, and your play in game, according to what cards you expect in decklists.
2. Play the meta!
- This point is less an absolute, and more a suggestion. You can reach Mythic with any deck if you can pilot it well enough and put in the time, but the meta exists for a reason. If you are looking to climb quickly, pursuing a meta deck is your best option. With off meta choices, you may have the element of surprise, but it will almost certainly take you longer to climb.
- By the same token, there is no shame in "netdecking." While I STRONGLY advocate for tweaking decks to fit your playstyle and improve the matchups you hit most frequently, taking a successful deck off of a deck-sharing website is a great way to learn deck archetypes and climb. Add to the work that others have done on a deck archetype - there's seldom reason to re-do it yourself.
- HOWEVER, it is important to get comfortable with decks SOONER rather than LATER. As the season winds down, play decks you are comfortable with (and by this I mostly mean deck archetypes), rather than the meta decks that you see people succeeding with. If you are not proficient with a deck, the last 2-3 days of the season is not the time to learn them if you are trying to climb towards your goal. This still applies to decks deemed "simpler to pilot," though to a slightly lesser degree. Becoming proficient with these decks still takes time, and knowledge of nuanced interactions and matchup mindsets do not manifest instantaneously.
3. Learn AT LEAST 1-2 decks per expansion
- As a f2p player, I understand how difficult it can be to cobble together strong meta decks, especially with a new account. However, each expansion, with a little work and a little good luck from packs, you should be able to cobble together 1-2 fairly competitive decks.
- Remember that your deck does not have to be 100% perfect to take it into ranked queues. Try to have a complete list, but if you're comfortable with ranked and are looking for its rewards, having a few substitute cards is perfectly okay. This goes doubly for Bo1 queues. For inspiration, I recommend looking at SB cards or decks with a similar build.
4. Know when to Push the Advantage!
- Honestly, this fits somewhere in the space between mental and mechanical gameplay in my opinion, but alongside skills like Hand Reading and Bluffing, it's important to get a feel for when your deck can become aggressive against opponents with weak openers/dead cards/etc.
- Leveraging a mental advantage against an opponent can go a long way - even on a digital client. Working out how to make your opponent respect cards you aren't holding or disrespect your sweepers/removal can be key to squeezing out victories in tight spots.
5. Deck Tech Options
- Accept that your deck is going to have bad matchups. Accept that some matchups are bad enough that they don't warrant any tech options in Bo1, as they will not increase your overall winrate by a significant margin.
- Tech for the most common matchups, not the worst matchups.
6. Let's slow things down
- Even if you enjoy aggressive decks, try to slow things down if you're struggling to climb. Vocalize your plays, and talk through potential other lines before making your final decision and clicking the buttons. Sometimes you won't see the best line of play at first - especially when you're new to a deck.
- Take a little time after each game to reflect on different lines you could have taken to potentially achieve a better result - whether you emerge victorious or were defeated, it's absolutely crucial to constantly reflect on how you can improve your play.
And finally, for the Mythic Crowd - here are a few tips on hitting your Finish goal at the end of the month (and a few general tips that didn't fit well elsewhere):
- Play sooner, rather than later - try to reach your goal a few days before the season ends. This gives you a buffer in case things don't go as planned or as well as you'd hoped for.
- Set a "Breakpoint" if you have a specific goal in mind. By this I mean setting a rating (#) and a time that you think means that you have to play or you will not reach your goal as a result of decay. This is entirely subjective, and my earlier advice of "playing sooner, rather than later" still applies. For example, say Timmy would like to finishing the Top 1000 Mythic. He's played early, and is sitting around #650 on the last day, but is still nervous that he will drop out of Top 1k in the last day. If Timmy does not want to play and risk dropping rating immediately, he should set a "Breakpoint" - let's say ~750 with 6 hours to go. Watching his rating, if Timmy drops below 750, he will play to try to put himself in a more reasonable position. When setting your breakpoint, make sure to give yourself enough time to account for a loss or two. Last minute laddering is a nightmare that I would not recommend to anyone.
- Only play decks you are comfortable with in Ranked Queues. If you are Jank inclined or new to a deck, take it into the Constructed Event or casual play modes if you are seriously concerned with your rank/finish.
-In Bo1 Queues, mulligan for Aggro, unless you know that your opponent is playing control. WHEN IN DOUBT, MULL!
- New expansion tip (with War of the Spark on the horizon): Aggressive decks tend to be stronger ladder decks during the early days of an expansion as they punish unrefined lists. If you're nervous about your finish but can't play before WAR launches, try to bank on Aggro (especially in bo1).
Anyways, thanks for reading my wall of text on laddering! I'm happy to answer any questions below, and if you're interested in watching me play/want to ask me more questions/just want to say hi and be friends, I stream most days at twitch.tv/andrew5550tv from 2ish PM to 10PM EST!
Additionally, if you're looking for some further reading, I highly recommend checking out Channel Fireball and Star City Games - there is some really enlightening content there. I'd be happy to share some of the articles I've read and enjoyed below, but for now I've held your attention long enough.
Oh, and shoutout to Ellie for helping me wrangle this mess into an actual article!!! A fair few of the points are a lot more refined thanks to her!
Thanks again! Best of luck laddering, and hope this helps you reach your goals! ^^