The last few weeks have been a disappointment. I had the Grand Prix in Boston as well as the Pro Tour in Portland to scrounge up two additional Pro Points
to hit Gold before the season ended. I did not make my goal. In both events, I barely scraped into the second day of competition, and then a mediocre Day 2
result kept me from cashing.
Two tournaments. Two average results. Two points short. I ended this season with 33 Pro Points. Silver.
The difference between Silver and Gold is enormous. Gold qualifies you for all four Pro Tours and provides appearance fees and travel rewards to offset the
cost of travel to both Pro Tours and Grand Prix. Silver awards you a single qualification and no travel rewards. Gold gives three byes at Grand Prix.
Silver is two. Gold is being “on the train.” Silver is riding in the caboose.
In addition to failing to make my Magic related goals, it has been a rough few weeks outside of Magic as well. It seems that everything that could go
wrong, did go wrong. To ice the cake, my car died yesterday, leaving me without no form of transportation. It has been tough to stay positive about
Ultimately though, when you boil everything down, I should be positive. While the last few weeks have sucked, in the grand scheme of things, I have nothing
to complain about. I’ve had the last few days to decompress from my travels. In addition to catching up on sleep, I’ve had a chance to really sit down and
think about the past year of Magic, and I want to share some of the things I’ve learned.
Everyone is the protagonist of their own story. In most stories, the protagonist wins. Therefore, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the
correct end result of any given story is that you win. When your opponent in round 10 rips Bonfire of the Damned off the top to beat you and knock you out
of top 8 contention, it is easy to say, “I was wronged. My top 8 was stolen from me. I didn’t deserve to lose like that.”
In reality though, your round 10 opponent is also the protagonist of their own story. They might be thinking, “Finally, my time has come. I am finally
getting the finish I deserve.”
Both players feel like they deserve to win and that any other result is wrong. The fact of the matter is that this is simply not true. Neither player
“deserves” anything. The most one can do is make the best of any result that happens.
As I started to experience more success in Magic this past year, I started to also develop an ego. The more I was winning, the more I felt like I deserved
to win. I was playing well. I was playing good decks. I should be winning. It is an easy trap to fall victim to, but it is also a dangerous one.
The simple point is that nobody deserves anything. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a better player than your opponent or if you have a better deck. You
still don’t deserve to win. Where is the rule that the better player or better deck has to win? It doesn’t exist. The only thing you can do is just play
Magic to the best of your abilities and hope it works out.
What is the danger of entitlement? What is the issue with thinking you deserve to win? The short answer is that it puts the blame elsewhere. If you believe
that the proper result for a match is that you’re supposed to win, who gets the blame in situations where it doesn’t occur? When you think that you’re a
better player and have a better deck than your opponent, then you won’t ever blame yourself for losing. The easy culprit to blame is luck. You’re supposed
to win, and anything short of that is just unlucky.
That’s the kind of mentality that produces bitterness and hinders growth as a Magic player.
Much like how we feel that winning is the “correct” result and losing is the “wrong” result from any match of Magic we play, it is just as easy to think
that good things that happen to us are deserved and bad things that happen to us are wrong.
As a result, it is very easy to fall into the trap of putting too much emphasis and focus on things that are negative, and too little focus on things that
For example, I could sit and focus on how I missed hitting Gold by two points. I could go through my entire tournament history for the last year and try to
pick at and dissect exactly where I could have found two more points. I could really spend a lot of time focusing on the negative aspects of missing Gold.
I could also look at it a completely different way. I could look at how fortunate I was to even be in this position in the first place.
Let’s rewind a few months. Back in May, I had sixteen Pro Points, four short of the twenty needed to hit Silver. At that point in time, the only thing that
mattered for me to was to somehow find four points and hit Silver by the end of the year. I wasn’t qualified for Pro Tour Atlanta or Pro Tour Portland.
I went to Grand Prix Minneapolis needing exactly a top 8 finish. That top 8 would push me to twenty Pro Points, which would then qualify me for the next
three Pro Tours in Atlanta, Portland, and Hawaii. As it happened, I managed to actually make top 8, a very unlikely feat.
I was able to use my newfound Silver invite for the Pro Tour in Atlanta that very next week. I managed to finish in the top 50 with very little
preparation, netting me another six Pro Points. With a top 32 finish in GP Chicago, as well as a top 32 finish at GP DC, I ended up getting fourteen Pro
Points in two months, nearly doubling my Pro Point earnings from the entire previous nine months combined.
I was extremely fortunate to even be in contention to hit Gold. A few months ago, I was hoping to just manage Silver. I could look at missing Gold as a
negative thing, or I could look at my results from the year as something positive. I hit my goal of Silver, and I nearly went far beyond that goal to hit
I have 39 lifetime Pro Points. 33 of those are from this year. This was the first year where I actually tried to make it as a Pro Magic player and it was,
all things considered, a very successful year. I could look at it as “I missed Gold” or I could look at it as “I hit Silver and almost Gold.” It all comes
down to how you choose to see it.
Grand Prix Minneapolis was the event for me that really challenged my views on how to approach a tournament. I went into the tournament needing a top 8
finish. Nothing else was good enough. I also realized how difficult it is to top 8 a 1600 player tournament and that expecting a top 8 result was simply
I decided before the tournament that I was just going to play as well as I could and not worry about anything else. If I didn’t top 8, then so be it. I
wasn’t going to put any expectations on myself, and I wasn’t going to let the results of any individual matches affect me. I was playing the best deck,
Melira Pod, and I just wanted to play it as best as I could and let the pieces fall where they would.
Early in the tournament, I made a mistake that cost me a match. Normally, I would beat myself up over it, but I decided that I was just going to accept
that it happened, file it away as something to learn from, and move on. A few rounds later, I lost to my opponent just rolling over me in the Pod mirror.
Again, I just shrugged it off and kept battling.
The next week at Pro Tour Atlanta, I approached the event with the same mindset, and again came away with a result beyond my expectations.
I realized something important from these events. There is only one thing in Magic that I have full control over: myself. I can’t control the cards my
opponent draws. I can’t control whether or not I get mana screwed. I can’t control the matchups I play against. The only thing I can do is play to the best
of my abilities and hope that it is good enough.
Having that mindset actually takes away a lot of the pressure from Magic events. If you realize that much of what happens is completely out of your control
and only focus on changing the things you can control, it really makes things a lot simpler. When I only focus on my own play and not that my opponent
ripped his one out to kill me, then it becomes a lot easier to see where I messed up. It also makes it a lot easier to accept negative outcomes and avoid
Changing focus to ignore things you can’t control also helps illuminate other areas that need work. If you felt that you played a fantastic tournament from
a technical standpoint, but you still couldn’t put up a good result, perhaps you made the wrong deck choice. With the wrong focus, it is easy to say
something like “I got very unlucky to get paired against Tron. It’s an unwinnable matchup.” With the right focus, you might say, “Tron is a bad matchup and
the deck is picking up in popularity. It might be time to consider playing a different deck.”
It’s also important to not dwell on the past. It doesn’t matter that you messed up last round, and it doesn’t matter how much time you spend thinking about
it, the result will not change. In a tournament, it’s important to just forget it and move on. Wait until after the tournament to go back and think about
your mistakes and how to learn from them. Spending too much time dwelling on the past and things that you can’t control just saps your ability to focus on
and improve the things you can control.
Only focus on the upcoming match and playing that match as best as you can. Ignore everything else and let the pieces fall where they will. It doesn’t
matter that you got unlucky. You can’t control it and you’re just hurting yourself dwelling on it.
This year has given me the opportunity to work with a number of different teams for various events, and I have learned a lot from all of those tournaments.
I think the main takeaway is that it is almost impossible to ever be completely happy with team preparation for a tournament. There is always something
that gets missed or something that falls through the cracks. There will always be disputes, arguments, or disagreements.
For the last Pro Tour, I worked with team Face to Face Games. As for myself, I cared far more about Limited preparation than the rest of my team did. I
felt like the Standard format was pretty set, and it was unlikely that anyone was going to break the format. As a result, I wanted to dedicate a large
percentage of our testing to drafting M15.
Going into the Pro Tour, I also felt like Limited is where I needed the most work on a personal improvement level. I spend lots of hours every week
writing, testing, and doing videos playing Constructed formats. Considering I have a finite amount of time and a fairly busy schedule, that means that I
don’t get to dedicate much time to drafting.
I also feel that Limited doesn’t get as much attention as it should for Pro Tours. Considering you generally need a 12-3-1 record to top 8 a Pro Tour, 4-2
is about the worst Limited record you can afford, and even that is pushing it. Typically, a 5-1 or 6-0 is the kind of Limited record you need to make the
Even if you have the best Constructed deck in the tournament, it is still very easy to miss simply by virtue of having a mediocre record in draft. Even an
average record like 3-3 is not going to be good enough.
Historically, my Pro Tour Limited results have been exactly that: average. In the five Pro Tours I’ve played, I have gone 2-1, 3-3, 2-4, 5-1, and 3-3 in
draft for an overall record of 15-12.
My biggest disappointment from this tournament was that I felt we didn’t draft enough. We had ten people on the team, and for the most part, there were
always two or more people who didn’t want to draft. I wanted to draft two or three times a day, and I drafted less than ten times total, averaging just one
draft a day, maybe even less than that.
I went 3-3 in the Pro Tour in Limited, which was about the result I expected, considering I didn’t get in nearly as much preparation as I would have liked.
It would be easy to point fingers and blame the team for that, but ultimately, I am only looking at things from one perspective. If there is a common theme
in this article, it is the importance of considering things from more than just your own personal point of view.
While I cared mostly about limited and just wanted to focus almost exclusively on that, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the team has to share those same
opinions or that they should cater to my whims in that regard.
There are some things that can be learned from all this though.
As a team, we started testing in Boston. Our goal was to do some preliminary testing in Boston, play in GP Boston, and then fly to Portland and finish up
We had a house in Boston, and I felt like our testing there was phenomenal. The main reason is that we had a set schedule. Every day, we had two drafts
scheduled and an optional third draft scheduled. During non-schedule periods, we could test Constructed. Having this schedule ended up being amazing. It is
very difficult to take ten different players, all with different goals, and be able to combine them together to accomplish a single task without some form
of underlying structure.
When we moved to Portland, we lost the schedule, and that’s where things kind of fell apart. It became very difficult to get drafts together, and our
testing kind of became very scatterbrained.
I feel there are a number of things that would really improve the testing process. While thus far, I have talked mostly about team testing, I feel that
these ideas also apply to any kind of tournament testing, whether with a team or just with a handful of friends.
The first step is sit down with everyone and get an idea of what they are looking to get out of the testing. I felt that for this Pro Tour, I had
completely different goals and ideas than the rest of my team, and as a result I wasn’t happy with the testing. If we had all sat down at the very
beginning and discussed what we wanted to get from testing, then we could have had a much better chance to develop a plan to fit everyone’s goals.
Secondly, I would recommend to set up a schedule and stick to it. If we had kept with the schedule plan in Portland, I feel like we could have accomplished
a lot more as a team and everyone would have been happier.
Lastly, I feel it is important to have an idea of what you are trying to learn whenever you sit down and test. There is no value in just playing two decks
against each other. Every time I tested my B/W deck preparing for this event, I did so with a specific goal in mind. Rather than just play games for the
sake of playing games, I played every matchup, pre and post board, specifically to figure out exactly what cards I wanted to keep in and sideboard out and
exactly how many slots I would need to dedicate to the matchup and what slots they should be.
For example, I realized in playing matches against U/W Control that I couldn’t beat them if I didn’t have Obzedat in my 75. I went into testing expecting
that B/W would still be favored even without Obzedat, but in testing I realized that simply wasn’t the case and I had to drastically alter my list as a
Since I’m sure people are curious, I feel like I should provide a small aside to this article to explain the deck I played in Standard and why I made that
I went into the Standard testing looking to play some kind of Black deck. My preference was B/W Midrange, as I felt that a white splash gave a huge edge in
the mirror match with Blood Baron of Vizkopa and a huge edge against Sphinx’s Revelation decks with access to cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council and Sin
I spent the bulk of my constructed testing just tuning and figuring out the numbers for B/W. I had my 75 locked in days before the tournament, and I was
pretty happy with where the list ended up.
Mike Sigrist and Alex Majlaton also played the list and we went a combined 19-11, which is a fairly respectable result. If I had to run back the tournament
again, I wouldn’t be unhappy just playing the same B/W deck. While I personally went 5-5 with the list, I had a ton of close matches that I feel like I
could have probably won if I played a little tighter.
I really like Sign in Blood a lot and have been very happy with it, but it seems like the other teams that played B/W lists were all playing fairly
radically different looking lists with Underworld Connections instead of Sign in Blood. Personally, I have found that Sign in Blood is better than
Connections in every single matchup except U/W/x Control. Even against Mono-Black Devotion or other B/W decks, I have found Sign in Blood to be better.
Against decks like Mono-Blue Devotion or Jund Monsters, it isn’t even close at all.
I felt that one of the advantages to playing B/W was that you didn’t have to play Gray Merchant of Asphodel, and as a result, you didn’t have to bother
playing Underworld Connections. I felt that Sign in Blood was a stronger card than Connections, but Mono-Black pushes you into playing Connections because
you need the devotion for Merchant.
I was surprised that every other team on B/W played Connections instead, and it certainly makes me reconsider my opinion. Sign in Blood was just so much
better in testing for me, but it’s still possible that I’m wrong regardless.
This past year has been a learning experience for me. I went from having played only one Pro Tour ever, to playing in all four Pro Tours this year. I went
from six lifetime Pro Points to earning thirty-three in a single season.
I’ve learned a lot as a player, and I hope that some of the things I’ve learned as a player are helpful to you as well. I also still have a lot to learn.
I’d like to become a more technically proficient player. I’d like to become better at Limited. I’d like to become a stronger deck builder.
All told, though, I am happy with how much I have progressed. I feel like I am a better player now than I was a year ago. I feel like I have a better
perspective and understanding of Magic and how to handle the pressures, successes, and failures of tournament Magic.
I could look at the last year as a failure. I didn’t make Gold. Instead, I’m choosing to look at it as a success. I reached my goal of Silver. I nearly
made Gold. I won a Grand Prix and I top 50’d a Pro Tour. I am in a good position to have a good year again next year.
I’ve had a rough two weeks, but I’m happy with how things have gone regardless. It all boils down to perspective, and I’ve made a decision to change mine.