As God Is My Witness, I Will Never Suck Again

“For awhile, my game was getting progressively better. I was playing at a higher and higher level. Anyway, I’ve been noticing I’ve hit this plateau lately, so I was trying to figure out why I can’t get off of it. I want to know why I’m stuck.”
“Okay. I’m starting to feel like your therapist now.”
“Freudian – and I’m a little creeped out by it. What have you come up with?”


“Who is it?”

“It’s Jack, dude.”

“Come on in.”

“Watcha doin’?”

“Thinking of that which I love.”

“Your wife?”

“Love her – but no.”

“Your kid?”

“The kid is great – but no.”

“Oh, crap. Not that game again, dude.”


“How much can one guy think about cards, man?”

“Not enough. In spite of all my efforts, I can’t shake my evil burden.”

“You mean you still suck.”

“Indeed. As if I am getting paid for it.”

“Sorry to hear that, dude.”

“Well, it’s not all gloom and doom. Here, check this out.”

“What’s this?”

“Wizards was running this promotion where players were voting on stuff for the next base set. There were votes for card choice, votes for art, and my personal favorite, flavor text submission.”

“Okay. I care why?”

“Jack, look at the winner for Aladdin’s Ring.”

“Dude! You rock!”

“A little bit. I rock a little bit. Everyone who voted for my text rocks more than I do.”

“That’s pretty cool, man.”


“The only downside is it encourages you to keep writing.”

“Thanks again, Jack.”

“Anytime. So you were saying how much you suck.”

“Oh yeah. Well, I’ve been playing for about nine months now, so I thought it was time to sit down and take stock of my situation.”

“A State of the Pale kind of thing?”

“Yeah, I guess. For awhile, my game was getting progressively better. I was playing at a higher and higher level. Anyway, I’ve been noticing I’ve hit this plateau lately, so I was trying to figure out why I can’t get off of it. I want to know why I’m stuck.”

“Okay. I’m starting to feel like your therapist now.”


“Freudian – and I’m a little creeped out by it. What have you come up with?”

“I think I may know the reason for the stall in my improvement.”

“Do tell, dude.”




“That’s not very profound, dude.”

“It doesn’t have to be. I can’t ignore the truth, however banal it may be, if I want to stop sucking.”

“I’ll buy that. So what’s with the mistakes?”

“Well, I’ve been making them.”

“What kind of mistakes? Sheesh.”

“All kinds.”

“Dude, I’m never gonna get what you mean if you don’t start giving examples.”

“All right, how about this. My last PTQ for Chicago. Sealed deck tourney, okay?”


“After I chose my cards, I started figuring out my mana base and realized I had four colors.”

“Dude, didn’t you tell me once upon a time two colors is the way to go?”

“I did. I often play three in the current format, though. I play a main color, a support color, and a splash for two or three cards. That works for me in Onslaught sealed.”

“Except you went with four colors.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t fit blue into the thing. Here’s the list.”

4-Color Sealed

1 Battlefield Medic

2 Daunting Defender

1 Nova Cleric

1 Cabal Slaver

1 Cover of Darkness

1 Disciple of Malice

1 Fallen Cleric

1 Prowling Pangolin

1 Screeching Buzzard

2 Spined Basher

1 Shock

1 Slice and Dice

1 Solar Blast

1 Threaten

1 Riptide Replicator

1 Barkhide Mauler

1 Explosive Vegetation

1 Ravenous Baloth

1 Taunting Elf

1 Towering Baloth

1 Venomspout Brackus

1 Secluded Steppe

2 Plains

4 Mountain

6 Forest

5 Swamp

“In my defense, I would like to point out I had been up all night with a sick baby.”

“Dude, I don’t play the game and I could build something better than that.”

“The presence of the white cards in the deck is evidence of a deranged mind.”

“You said you were talking about mistakes. That’s a no mistake. That’s a travesty, man.”

“I know, I know… But this is a good example of The First Rule of Mistakes.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t make them. This mistake was easily avoided. A little more concentration, and this mistake never happens. Period. This kind of mistake is low-hanging fruit on the tree of improvement.”

“Dude, no metaphors before I’ve had some coffee.”


“So you went 0-2 drop, right?”

“Not exactly. I did make some more mistakes, though.”

“Such as?”

“Okay, fast forward to the third round. I’m 1-1 in match play at this point. My opponent is down a game. My foe has just laid down Daru Lancer on his turn, and I swing with Spined Basher.”

“I don’t get it.”

“First strike. His guy has first strike, and a higher toughness than my guy’s power.”

“This is a blunder.”

“Yup, it is. But it gets worse. I say something like ‘Well, I guess I really wanted to play game three’.”

“What’s the problem with that, dude?”

“It violates The Second Rule of Mistakes: Don’t announce them.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“Swinging with my guy was a mistake, but I didn’t have to announce it was a mistake. I knew I didn’t have any combat tricks to save my guy or eliminate my foe’s blocker, but he didn’t know that. Not for sure.”

“It was pretty obvious you’d screwed, my man.”

“I agree – but often what is obvious to one may not be to another. Keep in mind this is a game where many cards rewrite the rules as they are played. It’s best not to announce when you’ve screwed up.”

“Okay, so your point is once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. No need to point it out.”

“Right. Just by acknowledging a mistake, you are giving your foe more information than he deserves.”

“I gotcha now.”

“By the way, it didn’t help matters that the State Champ was playing next to us. He leaned in and said, ‘Nice play’ after I announced the mistake myself. Very embarrassing.”

“Aren’t you used to embarrassing yourself by now?”

“Thanks, Jack. Remind me to get you something thoughtful this holiday season. Like Ebola.”

“Harsh. So after that you were pretty much toast, right?”

“No, not yet. I won that match. Fast forward again to the sixth round. This is the last round of the Swiss, since we were only forty-eight players strong at the start of the day. I am 3-2 in match play at this point. My opponent for this round is a guy I always wind up playing when the gods want to step on me. I have never beaten him.”

“Cool. David and Goliath.”

“Sure. First game, he crushes me. He’s playing green/black, and I’m trying to play four colors in sealed deck. This is where The Third Rule of Mistakes comes in handy.”

“What is The Third Rule of Mistakes?”

“Don’t Panic. Specifically, don’t panic when you make mistakes. My first mistake of the day was building a piece of crap. Panicking would be accepting that I built a piece of crap and going 0-2 drop. Not panicking is figuring out how to sideboard out a color and tighten up the deck for games two and three.”

“In other words, get the hell out the headlights, right?”

“Yeah, Jack. That’s what I mean.”

“So then you came back against this guy?”

“Sort of. He came on strong, and I stabilized. I dropped the Replicator for four, and now the game is a stall. I’m holding Slice and Dice, and I have Towering Baloth on the table. The thought goes through my head that if I play the removal, I will have the Baloth and he will have four 1/1 insect tokens from his two Symbiotic Elves. Otherwise, I just make a 4/4 on my turn and pass.”

“Dude, what life were you at?”

“Seven. I chose to Slice and Dice. On his turn, he swings with four insect tokens and Primal Boosts an unblocked bug for the win. I am an idiot.”

“Well, don’t be too hard on yourself, dude. 3-3 for the day isn’t bad for you.”

“That’s been my point from the start, Jack. After six rounds of Swiss, I’m always 3-3. Welcome to my plateau. I want to be 4-2 or better.”

“What; mediocrity isn’t good enough for you anymore?”

“No! I want to be better! I want to learn from my mistakes!”

“Sounds like a fourth rule, my excitable friend.”

“Wow. You’re right, Jack. The Fourth Rule of Mistakes: Learn from them.”

“Yeah. That or quit, dude. I vote quit.”

“You don’t get a vote, Jack.”

“I should with as much time as I spend listening to you whine about this stupid game.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing, man.”

“Uh-huh. Just for that, I’m going to make you listen to my States story.”

“Before you start, dude, is there anything I could do to talk you out of it?”

“My son is going to need a new diaper pretty soon.”

“You were saying something about States.”

“Here’s the short version. I had been playing my mono-green deck all through Odyssey Block Constructed. I got sick of turning men sideways. I built a blue/black discard deck for Standard. The Onslaught rotation comes up, and I decide to play my blue/black discard deck through States. The only main deck change I have to make is to replace Ravenous Rats with Braids, Cabal Minion. I decide to play around with it a bit more to make some room for Blackmail, and the following janky decklist appears.”

Main Deck

3 Peek

2 Duress

4 Cabal Therapy

3 Blackmail

4 Chainer’s Edict

4 Mesmeric Fiend

4 Aether Burst

3 Unhinge

2 Shadowmage Infiltrator

2 Deep Analysis

4 Braids, Cabal Minion

2 Guiltfeeder

2 Haunting Echoes

3 Lonely Sandbar

3 Barren Moor

4 Polluted Delta

4 Tainted Isle

2 Island

6 Swamp


2 Millstone

3 Mutilate

2 Rancid Earth

2 Hibernation

4 Engineered Plague

2 Smother


“Stay with me, Jack. Notice that this deck has no enchantment removal. None. I know enchantments will be played. Hand disruption is really my only defense against Opposition, Mobilization, Lightning Rift, Astral Slide, or Mirari’s Wake prior to sideboarding.”

“Why doesn’t that sound wise to me?”

“Because it isn’t. I wanted to play this deck because I enjoyed playing it. No problem, but that doesn’t fit in well with my ‘I want to get better at this’ mentality. Somewhere along the line, I forgot to remind myself why I chose the deck.”

“That’s a good point, dude.”

“Anyway, the big mistake is that the deck is land-light. I got so used to running eighteen and nineteen land in my green deck that twenty-two seemed like plenty.”

“Isn’t it?”

“Not usually, and definitely not when you are running six ‘comes into play tapped’ lands. The four sac lands help, but the math is further skewed by my favorite janky item – the sixty-first card.”

“Ah. You are an idiot.”

“Thanks again, Jack. Anyway, I spent all day at States trying to get as many people to scoop to Echoes or Guiltfeeder as possible. When that doesn’t work, in come the Millstones. Decking people is fun.”

“If you say so.”

“Anyway, the seventh and final round finds me at 3-3 in match play. My foe is running a green/white deck that seems to be tuned to beat AstroGlide. His creatures are all mana accelerators or phantoms, and he has lots of enchantments: Worship, Glorious Anthem, and Mirari’s Wake, to name a few.”

“Sounds like a lot of enchantments, dude. Good thing you packed all of that hand disruption to take care of those kind of things.”

“It looked good on paper, Jack. Anyway, game one saw my opponent clearly in command. I played my hand to extend the game without revealing Braids or Guiltfeeder. I brought in everything except the plagues from the sideboard. Game two, I got an early Braids and a Guiltfeeder after a couple of turns.”

“So it all comes down to one game. Tight.”

“Yeah. Game three was close. He got an early Sacred Ground on the table, so Braids is a dead card. He got a few critters out, and his other enchantments started coming down, including Compost. I Mutilated his team to stay alive. I dropped my Millstone, and then on it is a very tight race. We went through several turns of him draw-go, me draw-mill-go. Finally, I drew an Echoes. Of course, he immediately started with the creatures again. This created a couple of turns of this pattern: him draw-creature-go, me draw-edict-mill-go. I had no opportunity to cast Echoes.”

“I can’t believe I just followed that description, dude.”

“Time was called on my turn. My last chance was turn four. He would definitely swing for the win on turn five. After all of this, I had six lands in play. I had a Lonely Sandbar in my hand. I could cast Haunting Echoes, which I had been holding, but I wouldn’t have the mana to activate Millstone. If he had just one basic land card left in his deck, he would win. As luck would have it, he had three.”

“Wow. That’s close, man.”

“Looking at it as a single match, it’s close. It was the most fun I had all day, but that doesn’t change the fact I had already lost three matches before I sat down for that one. That ain’t where I want to be.”


“Next time, I will pay more attention to my mana base. Next time, I will obey the demands of the metagame if I want to win. Next time, I will make no mistakes.”

“Yes, you will, dude.”

“Next time, I will not announce my mistakes.”

“I’m leaving now.”

“Next time, I will not panic.”


“I will learn! I will learn more! One day, I will rise up out the muck that is my deckbuilding, I will leave behind the quagmire of my gameplay, and I will not suck!

“Yeah, dude… Testify and all that. Can we go get coffee now?”

Pale Mage.