Attitude and Community

Josh turns his back on the usual strategy this week, instead concentrating on some of the more intangible measures of success. Be recounting his own experiences, he looks at the importance of player attitude and team (and community) testing. Just how far can one’s desire propel us in the pro arena? And is a healthy test group a sure-fire way to succeed? Read on to find out…

It is quite likely that I playtested more for this article than any other I have written. I only hope, as it is representative of a very important part of anyone’s Magic career, that I do the subject justice and that you learn a thing or two.

I see a lot of articles on the Internet. There are three or more websites all vying for your attention; they cater to different people. You don’t see a lot of premium articles about the basics of the attack step, and in the same vein, some of the more specialized premium articles aren’t popular topics for free articles. Lately, a popular topic has been the Pro Tour lifestyle; “reports” from Grand Prix tournaments filter in and glorify the various late-night drafts, meals, and… let’s just say “other stuff,” that goes on late at night when the day is done and the gaming is finished.

I’m sure that to a great many of you, it sounds appealing. I’m not here to dispel your hopes and dreams – quite the opposite in fact – but I won’t really be talking about decadence in the process. Success calls for celebration, but of course, first you must succeed.

My first PTQ was a Rath Cycle Constructed PTQ at Neutral Ground, New York City. I don’t remember how old I was. My last PTQ was last year in January – Champions Block Sealed for Nagoya. It was the only individual PTQ I’ve ever won, and obviously, since it was my last, it was the only one I needed to.

In the intervening PTQs – hundreds of them spanning almost eight years – I spent a lot of time in a car, driving to Boston, Maryland, Pennsylvania. I spent a lot of time in hotels and motels. Most importantly, I learned quite a lot. I learnt things that, if you wanted to and were open-minded enough (not easy, mind you, but one thing at a time), you could apply to real-life situations. If nothing else, this information helped me become better at playing Magic.

I could tell you my opinion of the “importance” of playing well. I could tell you a lot of things, and they’d all be true. I don’t think playing well is unimportant, don’t get me wrong, but I think if you are not a natural like Gadiel or Osyp or Jon, your attitude will wholly define how quickly your game improves. Simply put, if you’re willing to learn, you’ll get better.

For years, I’ve heard people complain. Manascrew, topdecks, bad luck, good luck, fatigue; complain, complain, complain. I was guilty of making excuses too, of course. Even though I’ve largely stopped, the people around me have not. In every walk of life, it seems, people care too much about the wrong things.

Rather than refusing your opponent’s handshake and accusing them of being lucky – if such a thing as “luck” existed – do you really think your opponent is the luckiest man alive? I doubt it. Rather than looking at what happened, look instead at what you could have done.

If you’re playing online, it’s even easier. Watch the replays, look for the crucial turn where things changed; did you mess up? Make the wrong choice? It’s a subtle realization, usually, but when you find it you can kick yourself for a while for being so bad, and then you can learn.

Learning is, in fact, what it’s all about. If you’re not online, but you’re at a PTQ – since that’s the topic at hand – look around. Do you know anyone who was watching? That one guy with a pained look on his face: ask him what you did wrong.

Sometimes, it isn’t that easy. Sometimes you suck, but you win a lot. Sometimes you never bother to stop and try to get better at the game; you just keep playing. When you lose, you figure you’re so good it must have been luck… a bad matchup, a bad draw, a bad blah blah blah… you make your own luck.

A bad matchup? Play a better deck. Play a deck more suited to your play style, play the best deck, and play the deck you’re most comfortable with. Play a deck that would let you play out of the hole the pairings gave you this round. Don’t blame luck. Luck only matters when you did everything else right.

A bad hand? Why didn’t you mulligan? Are you sure that’s the reason?

Ask more questions. Don’t mind the people who stare at you when you talk to yourself.

And then there’s avoiding letting your head drop, and giving up. This means a lot. It means not shrinking in your chair when you double mulligan on the play, or when you recognize your opponent’s name. It means never giving up in the middle of a game, in the hunt for a PTQ win and more. It’s funny in a sense, because in a sense, really giving up the game is difficult. People threaten it all the time; I don’t think many have succeeded. At the same time, it’s pretty easy to give up during a game, and I see that all the time. People assume they can’t win for X reasons, and those people aren’t really successful in the long or short term. This is just a small part of what it means to improve and win. And it isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile.

The bottom line when it comes to this stuff is that your point of view and your attitude matter a lot more than people give credit for. If you insist on blaming bad luck for all of your losses, why should you bother to get better? After all, you only lose when you get unlucky, and your opponent didn’t mulligan, didn’t miss a land drop, and played okay… how were you supposed to win in the first place?

What were you expecting?

It’s on you. This part is, anyway.

When you start trying to learn, trying to win, and trying to improve, the game becomes fun for different reasons, in different ways. It’s less a casual thing, and more about being the best that you can… and it isn’t for everyone. Some people enjoy playing their favorite cards rather than their best cards. They enjoy sitting around at the local shop and playing for play’s sake, so to speak.

I don’t have any problems with these people. I must admit, not everyone has the determination or skill-set required to actually making it past the PTQ-playing stage… but most do, given enough time. If you, or they, are honestly saying that you don’t want to get better, and are content… then have fun, by all means.

A lot of improvement is a solo act, there’s a lot you can and need to do to win a PTQ, to move to the big leagues, so to speak. But you yourself, for the most part, can only go so far.


Ask any leather-faced weather-beaten veteran of our beloved Magic community why they still play the game, and – while Adam Horvath, a notable robot, might be the exception – they will all tell you the same thing: they play for the people.

I have friends that pepper the Earth like so many polka dots on a necktie; if it weren’t for them, there is almost no chance I’d still be flying all over the world to play Magic.

Have you heard of Eugene Harvey, Osyp Lebedowicz, Patrick Sullivan or Gerard Fabiano? Adam Horvath? How about Jon Sonne and Craig Krempels? You’ve undoubtedly heard of me by now, so I feel safe in assuming this is a good example. Even if our degrees of success were varied, Pro Tour and National Champions; Grand Prix Champions; has-beens, never-will-bes, writers, Magic players; I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that if you asked any of us how we got better, we’d not hesitate to point around the room at whoever was there. They are friends of mine, friends that I root for at events, friends that have had as much to do with my winning as I did.

Will any group of guys be as successful? Is spawning Pro Tour and National Champions the norm? No, probably not. But you must remember we were all PTQ champions first, achieving this goal more or less at the same time. While I might be the exception to the bunch – as I didn’t win a PTQ while they were more or less tearing up the PTQ scene – we all started winning at the same time. Every team is rich with history, and I won’t get into ours here, but suffice to say when everyone qualified for Pro Tour: New Orleans, 2001, we knew it meant something. We didn’t exactly celebrate each person’s PTQ victory – I wasn’t ultra-friendly with all of them, and I didn’t win a PTQ to qualify – but soon enough, things would come together.

Magic teams are almost as old as Magic itself. Sharing information is nothing new, either: IRC, Newsgroups, The Dojo, Magic Online Clans, and the local shop, whatever. The attraction of playing a game with your friends is nothing new, and almost everyone wants to win. I don’t know which team came first, which big names were on it and what they accomplished, but look for yourself and see what teams have accomplished together, no matter who ultimately hoists the trophy. Be it Deadguy Red, various German victories, or (lately) Japanese triumphs, a team effort was behind them all. I’ve spent hours – days – weeks playtesting for events with the same people, in the same place, for game after game after game. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don’t.

As in life, there are few guarantees in Magic. If you test and test and test, I can’t guarantee you’ll learn anything, or figure out the metagame, or even win a match at the event. I can’t guarantee that you’ll feel proud if your teammate validates your testing because he happened to test the most and understand the deck the best; I can just share my experiences.

I should mention the Japanese a little here, since they don’t really get enough press. In a way, they are just the latest successful Magic team. It doesn’t hurt that they are the hardest working, either; it just means that they will enjoy continued success. I doubt they’ll let up any time soon. Poker might get in the way, and some of them might stop for other reasons; school, jobs, and real life… whatever. They are the most successful Magic community right now. Potentially forever, but for now at least, they’re here to stay. But that’s all they are – hard workers in a goal-oriented community. In the past, teams have done more (and less) in the same way for years; it isn’t impossible, and it certainly isn’t easy.

Take me at my word when I say I don’t think it’s an easy task, there are a lot of really good players out there, from countries all over the world, and you might or might not be one of them. If you are, it’ll be easier (and easier still if your friends are better than you). But “easily” is relative, and it won’t come easily; it won’t come at all if you’re lazy. None of this will.

But it could.

You could make it happen; all of it, or none of it.

Josh Ravitz