As we hurtle toward the Strixhaven Championship, time accelerating in a way that only a Quandrix mage could attempt to unravel, we're taking a moment to dive deeper into the learning experience both in and outside of school. Magic is a place where players from every walk of education find success, and where students not yet out of high school sit down to battle (and defeat) players with doctorate degrees.
Numerous Strixhaven Championship competitors cited math, statistics, and probability as the things they learned in school that helped them the most in Magic, from knowing how hypergeometric distribution works to swiftly calculating the likelihood of certain cards in their opponents' hands. Even classes like linguistics offer concrete takeaways for the battlefield.
We asked Strixhaven Championship competitors to reflect on their own time in school, from what they've learned to the courses they wish they could take to improve their game, and now I'm here to spin you a tale of people who really, really like math.
That's not to dismiss the impressively wide range of topics that the competitors enjoyed in school. When asked which class was their favorite, though, over four times as many people answered math as the next most popular subject, history. And only one person made a Dungeons & Dragons class joke. (We see you over there, Daniel. It's a little early for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms though!)
While the flavors were different, for many players the general appeal of math lay in the sweet mix of being both comfortable in the environment while also challenged by the problems presented.
"I like solving riddles in a logical system," said competitor Ben Zahneissen.
Guillaume Perbet echoed that. "I find it easy to work with a well-defined context."
"Maths, not even close," Hennes Dahmen answered. "It's elegant and beautiful."
Given the answers above, it's unsurprising that Quandrix was the most popular Strixhaven college among championship players, though not by nearly the margin that their enthusiasm for math would suggest. Plenty of Quandrix mages also chose courses that, if not strictly math, are decidedly math and science adjacent, from biology and physics to statistics, data analysis, and technical design.
Like, say, economics. "I study that currently in university!" said Max Vervoort. "I think it's fun because it's a science that is heavily connected to everyday and actual events."
After Quandix, Prismari was a close second with students loyal to the blue-red color combination and Limited strength.
"I'm not cool enough to be a theater kid, but I sure would like to pretend I am," said Prismari pledgemage Chris Botelho.
"Experimental theater," was Evan Kaplan's favorite class. "So much of schooling is about individual mastery of specific topics. But this class was all about collaborative work and discovering things together. Some of my favorite projects came out of that, and it was a great opportunity to set your ego aside and learn from your peers."
Kaplan's "experimental theater" turned into a skill set many successful players have called out as important, but that still too often remains on the sidelines: collaboration and learning from other players' strengths.
Another link between many of these favorites is the importance of great instructors. Many students cited a teacher with enthusiasm for their subject matter who brought it to life in an interesting way, making each class a fun experience to look forward to.
"Math or Philosophy," Gavin Thompson said, indecisive about his favorite class. "Math because I learned some things that are useful for playing Magic. Philosophy because my teacher was excited about the subject and his enthusiasm was contagious."
"Databases," David Inglis answered. "I had a great lecturer who somehow found a way to make them feel exciting. Thanks Donnie!"
Favorites play a part, but players are people, and people are more multifaceted than the limited scope of a few answers can convey.
"I love both my algorithm based Computer Science classes and my Creative Writing workshops," said Arya Karamchandani, whose college choice of Lorehold even further defied strict categorization.
"Genetics!" Joel Burke said of his favorite class in school. "It tells us how every living thing got to where it did." When it came to Strixhaven, though, Burke is a Silverquill mage because he's also "a keen calligrapher."
Physics was Georgios Mavroudis's pick for class, "because it gave me a glimpse of how the world works in a language I wanted to understand." But like Burke, Silverquill was his college of choice. "The color combination appeals to me, and the way it has been implemented in Strixhaven has an interesting flavor, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword' and all that. Especially when the ink is ‘alive!'"
And while Kaplan's appreciation for the collaboration in experimental theater may have put him in Prismari, he actually prefers Silverquill, too. As to why, he left us only this quote that begs the question, did Shakespeare play Magic?
"Have I not here the best cards for the game, To win this easy match play'd for a crown? And shall I now give o'er the yielded set? No, no, on my soul, it never shall be said." - King John, Act V scene ii
"Linguistics is all about breaking words, sentences, and discourses into their constituent parts," said Timothy MacSaveny. "This kind of process trains your mind to analyze discrete elements of a situation and consider them in their contexts, which is useful training for complex board states."
"My program in school offered two Risk Management courses which have proven to be very valuable in my journey as a Magic player," Erik Coomber said. "Oftentimes, it is easy to stick to a game plan and execute it, but when a wrench is thrown in the wheel, you need to be able to adapt and have an alternative plan. Risk Management taught me to come out of situations with the least possible loss and that is very applicable."
Just as often, though, players cited less quantifiable but equally important lessons that span the breadth of skills needed to succeed at the top tiers of Magic.
"When programming/coding, sometimes the simplest solutions are right in front of you and also the best ones," said Franche Tan.
Gerardo D'Elia offered, "in my school, in addition to learning things that are difficult to understand, they taught me to know how to study, so the most important thing that helped me a lot in Magic was learning the method!"
To return to the theme of collaboration and working with your peers, Tristan Wylde-LaRue said "the real thing that I learned in school was how to communicate my thought process effectively and how to work collaboratively on hard problems. These skills have helped me tremendously in my Magic career, probably more than any technical ability."
Many Strixhaven Championship players were eager to turn the topic on its head, though, and offer the ways in which Magic helped them in school.
"If anything, Magic taught me how to get better in school because the game has taught me discipline and patience," Tania Russell said.
Andrew Traynor echoed that. "I would say Magic helped to teach me a lot of skills that went the other way and helped me in school, things like work ethic and studying."
"Honestly I was so young when I started playing Magic that it's probably easier to name things I learned in Magic that helped me in school," said reigning World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. "The biggest boost was probably in English classes. By the time I even had English classes I was almost fluent because of my constant exposure through Magic."
Karamchandani looked at the question from another angle entirely. She teaches a tournament Magic course at her college, "and teaching it has certainly made me a better player!"
But what if, rather than applying lessons from these many disparate fields, players could take a single, Magic-oriented course? When it's presented as an open-ended question, the possible answers are endless, but players gravitated towards a handful of common answers.
"I would take a class in how to pick the right deck for a tournament," Ryan Haddad said. "Deck selection has always been something I've struggled a little bit with due to indecisiveness, and being able to learn how to pick the best deck for events more consistently would make me a much better player overall."
It was an answer that took centerstage, like a Prismari student on opening night, rivaled only by requests for classes on mulligans, drafting, and whatever Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wants to teach.
"I really like the draft, and I still have a lot of progress to make, so I think I would like a lesson on how to read draft signals," Thomas Raër said.
"After all these years I still keep questionable hands," Gabor Kocsis admitted. "I need classes in mulligan decisions."
In addition to many calls for Damo da Rosa to teach, generally, how to be so very good at Magic, there were requests for Matt Nass and Stanislav Cifka to teach a class on mastering combos, and for Shota Yasooka to teach a class simply called "Combat."
"I would love to take a course on how to slow down my play and get my opponent to think a little more," Erik Coomber said. "‘Taking Your Time 101, taught by Gabriel Nassif.' I am typically a very fast player and map out my plays two to three turns ahead, and there have been times where I've been burned by not taking the time to weight out my options before forcing myself to react to an unfavorable situation."
As competitors prepare for the Strixhaven Championship, they'll need all these lessons and more to pull ahead of their fellow players. No matter which Strixhaven college they'd join or what classes they've enjoyed, it's still an ineffable mix of deck building, testing, tuning, and teamwork that pushes players to the top.
In a few days, we'll have the chance to see who's rising to the top of the class. Watch everything competitors learned all weekend long, June 4–6, live at twitch.tv/magic!