At The Gathering – Home Improvement

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Wednesday, October 14th – You are a terrible Magic Player. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Pretty much every player who plays Magic is horrible at it. I’m definitely in that group of horrible players, but then again, it’s a pretty big group. The worst part is, we don’t just suck in one way. We suck in multiple ways.

You are a terrible Magic Player. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Pretty much every player who plays Magic is horrible at it. I’m definitely in that group of horrible players, but then again, it’s a pretty big group. The worst part is, we don’t just suck in one way. We suck in multiple ways. To quote a favorite Saturday Night Live Skit:

“I’ll elaborate. Jeter, you suck in three very specific ways. So Hard, So Bad, and Wicked Bad.”

I would be ecstatic to get my suckitude down to three ways. But today is not about telling you how much you suck, or opining about the multitude of my sucking. We’re here today to tell you how to run your life. Today we’re going to talk about how to suck less.

First tip on how to suck less: Realize that you do, in fact, suck. I know you think you don’t suck, but you do, and admitting you have a problem (sucking) is the first step. If you don’t think you suck, then you must think you’re good. However, unless you have multiple other players who have already been acknowledged as very good or great saying you’re good, then you’re just deluding yourself. Normally, I’d make a joke about denial and Egypt, but it’s been done to death, so instead, I’ll tell you to get back to reality, wherein you suck.

Also, don’t assume just because you’ve done decent at a tournament or two that you are no longer horrible. Winning one PTQ doesn’t mean you are good. It means you were one of the following:

1 – Less horrible than your opponents.
2 – More lucky than your opponents.
3 – Picked a good deck for the day.
4 – All of the above.

Now, you’ll notice that being good may very well be included in this group of options. It could be that you were less horrible than your opponents because you are in fact good. However, this is extremely unlikely. You probably suck.

But why do we need to acknowledge that we are terrible? Because otherwise we get pulled into the Allen Iverson trap. I would imagine that most of the readers are familiar with Allen Iverson, but if you aren’t here‘s a quick bio. Probably his most famous quote is the following:

“We’re talking about practice. We are not talking about the game, when it really matters, we are talking about practice”

Now, Allen Iverson is a great basketball player. He has awards, accolades, and medals. But the above quote is somewhat indicative of the fact that he doesn’t value practice as heavily as the real thing, because he doesn’t believe he has much more to learn.

We can run the same risk as Magic players in that we have to recognize that we need to always try to get better. Which brings us to our next tip.

Our Next Tip: Practice. A lot. No, more than that. Yes, closer, but still more.

Look, the truth is, the more you practice, the more you will learn. And you need to learn to get better. Let’s use an example to help, one that I like to use a lot: Tarmogoyf.

The following is a list of writers who whiffed on Tarmogoyf.

Mike Flores
Stephen Menendian
Adrian Sullivan
Richard Feldman
Tiago Chan
Jamie Wakefield
Jeroen Remie
Josh Silvestri

This list is not meant to degrade or mock these individuals, just for the record. Pretty much everybody whiffed on Tarmogoyf (although it’s interesting to note that Chris Romeo saw the light, giving it a 10 out of 10 rating, and even adding the following blurb “They’re just teasing us with the Tribal and Planeswalker card types. Still, you could have a 6/7 for two mana, and that’s just ridiculously good.”) No, this list is to show that even some of the brightest Magical minds of the day didn’t automatically know it was awesome. But you know how they found out? Practice. The played lots of decks, with lots of ideas and lots of scenarios until someone (the Japanese) found out how amazing it was. And now, it’s pretty much universally considered the best creature ever.

To use a more recent set of examples, both Cruel Ultimatum and Path to Exile received lukewarm receptions by notable players and/or writers. While I’m sure Patrick Chapin will be happy to show you the printout of the “Cruel Ultimatum Will Change Everything” article he carries with him (kidding, of course), the fact of the matter is we can’t evaluate cards just by looking at them. Yes, sometimes we can know that a card isn’t going to be good for Constructed, because it’s strictly worse than another option already available (Patrick’s Scathe Zombies/ Mindless Null article from Monday is a good example) but a lot of cards we just don’t know about.

Think about that for a moment. Out of every player on the planet right now, not one is 100% certain about what the absolute best deck possible for each format is. They’ll sit down in groups, they’ll test, they’ll send ideas and e-mails and scandalous jokes back and forth, and they’ll start narrowing down ideas, but nobody is going to solve any format anytime soon. Maybe temporarily, for a single tournament (see: ELVES at Pro Tour: Berlin) but not full on solved. Even the best players have to practice, and every single one of them will also admit to making mistakes in every tournament, if not every round.

I don’t know the exact quote, but Mike Turian once said something along the lines of the following: “You could blink at the wrong time and make a play mistake, let alone actually making mistakes with the cards.” (If I butchered that horribly, my apologies, as my memory is going in my old age. Curse you, late mid-twenties)

New Tip: Practice Blinking.

Okay, that one’s a joke.

Getting back to practice, though. Practice is important for so many reasons. One, it creates knowledge in the form of experience. Now, this may seem natural, but it gives an even more powerful advantage: Pattern tracking and shortcuts. Your mind will track shortcuts in the game. You’ll learn what happens at the end of a chain of events, and your mind will begin to recognize the pattern, and allow you to skip over analyzing the exact same reaction each time, thus giving you a faster reaction time. In a game like Magic, that’s gold, Jerry! Gold! You don’t have to think out the combo each time you need to disrupt it. Once you learn how it works, and find its weak spot, you know. So, in the 7th round of a Grand Prix, you don’t have to waste 5 minutes watching the Cascade Swans Player go off, in spite of your disruption, because you don’t know where to try to disrupt it. True Story, I was the Swans player, trying to go off with one land. Because my opponent didn’t know the combo, I was able to resolve a full cycle, which drew me two lands, which put me out of his range of disruption. (A single Path to Exile, as I recall) All because he didn’t practice or read.

Third tip for sucking less: Read. About Magic, of course.

When I got back into Magic about four years ago, I didn’t know anything. It had been five years since I had played last, and I didn’t even know about the 6th edition rules update. What the crap happened to my Interrupts?!?! I have a Constructed rating over 1800, and a pretty solid record at most events I have gone too, managing at least a winning record at all of them, with the exception of my first Regional (2-3-1 drop because of stolen deck)

More than one local player that mocked me in my introductory n00b stages have been passed by me in both skill and ranking. How did I do it? I read everything. I still read every single article on this site, even the ones many people skip because they think it’s more basic. You never know where you will learn a new principle or tactic, even if it’s one you think you’ve already got a handle on. Knowledge is power, and these writings are basically free power 5 times a week. To not be taking advantage of that is ridiculous. Of course, if you are reading this article, you’re probably already on that path, but just in case you stumbled across this article looking for cheap laughs, hopefully you at least learned something (See, self-fulfilling prophecy. Read everything)

My last tip for you today, but by no means the be all and end all of how to stop sucking, is this: Make the players around you better.

Now, what do I mean by that? Quite simply this: You are only as good as your competition, in most cases. Your growth is stunted by their ability to challenge you. Therefore, in order to increase your capabilities, you need to increase theirs.

Story time.

Back in the Wandering Age, before I played Magic, I got my competitive fix playing Dungeons and Dragons Minis (DDM). Much like Magic, I was a good player, but not great. I would do well at Constructed and Limited tournaments alike, but never broke through to the big show, which was the Worlds Championships at GenCon. However, while at a Qualifier in Salt Lake City, I encountered a group of guys from Southern California, whom I knew to be good players based on previous tournament results. We all congregated on one main site at the time, MaxMinis.com, so I was a known quantity among them as well, though more as a prolific poster with (hopefully) intelligent thoughts than anything else. Anyway, in between rounds, they were analyzing a game that had finished, and where the player could have made improvements. This was mid-tournament, and they were likely to face each other later that same day, and yet were working together to actively engender a feeling of community between themselves. I came to find out they did almost all of their playtesting in a similar manner, talking through each turn of the game, and what the potential plays and placements were, and the pros and cons of each. Now, I imagine similar things happen in Magic, and will definitely see a rise with the new Online PTQ parties that will inevitably take place. But you’d be surprised how many players do not work with anyone else, don’t share ideas, and take an antagonistic approach toward their local community as opponents to be smashed. I too could be called guilty of that, although I tend to be far more approachable to players who have accepted tip #1. I don’t want to come off as harsh to players who haven’t accepted that they suck, and therefore, much like the Marine Corp, have to tear them down before I can build them back up. And while I love me a good tearing down, it’s not good for the player unless they come to it themselves (Kinda like alcoholics).

I’m already past deadline, so I’m going to wrap it up for this week. Hopefully, next week I’ll have an article about how I didn’t win a PTQ, full of imagined bad beat stories when in fact I messed up and didn’t deserve to win.

Because I suck.

But that’s not as fun to read, now is it?

Until next time, this is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.