Control Yourself

There’s another type of control in Magic that we usually don’t think about: self control! Collins Mullen explains how to master the art of always playing the best form of control when you’re playing tournament Magic!

When trying to get better at playing Magic, one thing that I enjoy paying
attention to is whether or not I’m thinking about things the right way.
It’s the best way to make sure you’re learning the right things and
learning as efficiently as possible. If you don’t think about things in the
right way, you risk not learning anything at all, or even worse: learning a
method or heuristic that ends up being incorrect.

I’ve noticed a lot of things that Magic players talk about that illustrate
that they aren’t thinking about the right things. I want to go over a few
areas that I believe the Magic community could improve on.

Focus on the Things you Have Control Over

Magic is a game with variance. This is a hard pill to swallow, especially
for those of us who’re so focused on doing well in the game. But it’s very
important to keep this variance in mind in order to maintain your sanity.
It’s good to realize that there are things in the game that you have
control over, and there are things in the game that you don’t. It’s up to
you to get the difference.

Magic players, in my experience, are very bad at this. There are so many
things that I hear people say over the course of every tournament that
illustrate how often people only talk about the things they have no control
over. Magic players love to complain about variance. Here are a
few of my (least) favorites.

“I can’t believe I drew so many lands that game!”

I once watched a player draw the last card in their library after a very
long and grindy game of Limited and exclaim “I drew every land in my deck!
I can’t believe it!” I couldn’t believe it either. They clearly weren’t
focusing on the right things.

“I haven’t won a single die roll all day.”

Somehow, I didn’t attend a single tournament in 2017 without hearing this
exact phrase at least once. I’ve had an opponent tell me this in round two,
and I’ve also had an opponent complain about this when we were playing at
8-0. C’mon team. We can do better.

“I can’t believe I lost to them. They were so bad!”

This is a really dangerous mindset to have. Believing that you deserve to
win over others will lead you down a dark path. Due to the variance in the
game, you’re bound to lose matches to players worse than you. It’s better
to accept this and move on than it is to believe that life owes you

“I can’t believe they drew !”

Lucky topdecks happen all of time in Magic. It amazes me how often I hear
about these events, and how infrequently I hear about whether or not the
player could have played around this topdeck.

It’s important to realize that the things we talk about and the language we
use is a very powerful tool that will influence everyone’s mindset. We can
use this tool to undermine everyone’s attitude and make everyone feel bad
about the variance that inevitably exists in the game. Or we can use this
tool to stay productive and help everyone improve as players.

This mindset directly influences our ability to improve. There are so many
productive things that we can be talking about with our peers that we end
up forgetting when we decide to only talk about our bad beats.

My favorite things to talk about during Magic tournaments are interesting
plays that happened in my games. Magic is such an amazingly intricate game,
and there are always fascinating decision trees that can be studied even
after the match is over. Sure, I may have lost the match due to a lucky
topdeck, but I would much rather talk to my friends about an interesting
line that I took that led to the game progressing as it did. Maybe I made a
poor decision that, if made correctly, could have led the game to a spot
where I was in much better control.

If we choose to only lament about our bad luck in between rounds at
tournaments, we are giving up so much equity on learning and improving. If
you only talk about the bad variance in the game, you won’t be as focused
on the things that were under your control during your match. Use the time
that you have in between rounds to discuss the games that you played in a
productive way and study each game with the intent to identify mistakes
that you had control over.

Setting Goals

The New Year has finally rolled around, and it has everyone talking about
their New Year’s Resolutions. Everyone is eager to better themselves in
some way and set goals that they hope to achieve in 2018. This is great;
I’m all about bettering yourself in any way you can. We all have
room for improvement. But how many times have you set goals for the New
Year and completely forgotten about them or simply failed to achieve them?

I believe that this has something to do with the poor mindset that people
have when they decide to set goals. Magic players in particular are often
guilty of this. Everyone wants to set a goal that is results-oriented.

“I want to qualify for the Invitational.”

“I want to make the Top 32 of the SCG Leaderboard.”

“I want to Top 8 the Pro Tour.”

All of these goals are based on achieving something or getting a particular
result. Everyone gets so wrapped up in their aspirations that they fail to
put an actual plan in place in order to achieve that goal. It seems like so
many people set results-oriented goals and then just close their eyes and
cross their fingers, hoping it will happen. Setting goals for things that
aren’t completely under your control is an easy way to get disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s good to want these things. That’s
completely natural, and it’s good to have strive. But when it comes to
laying out definitive goals for the year, I find it’s much better to focus
on the things that are completely under your control. You are much better
off focusing on the process than the results.

“I want to pay closer attention to the Standard metagame in order to make
more informed decisions on which deck I should be playing.”

“I want to follow Sam Black’s advice on how to better playtest.”

“I want to make sure I understand all of the Draft archetypes of the new

are all things that you have complete control over. Whether or not you
achieve these goals is entirely up to you, and no amount of variance can
change that. For me, this is much more inspiring than setting a goal that I
have less control over.

One of my resolutions for 2018 is to set a goal for each tournament that I
attend that is entirely under my control. I started doing this closer to
the end of 2017, and it really helped me improve my game. My goal for SCG
Cincinnati was to name the subjective “best” possible option with Meddling
Mage. Whether or not they ended up having it was less relevant, but I
wanted to make sure I was naming optimally in each situation.

While I certainly didn’t do it right every time, it made me pay closer
attention to arguably the toughest decision with the Humans deck. By having
that goal, I made sure to think carefully about every decision, so in
effect the goal was very successful at making me play better.

I hope to continue to set goals like that for myself to continue improving
as a Magic player.

Asking About Records

Them: “How are you doing?”

Me: “Great! I found an awesome breakfast place in town this morning which
put a really good spin on my day.”

Them, annoyed: “Ugh, no, I meant what’s your record?”

I understand that this is meant with good intentions, as people care about
how I’m doing in a tournament. But it always rubs me the wrong way. Maybe
it’s just a personal pet peeve of mine, but I don’t like it when people ask
me what my record is at a tournament. Unfortunately, it seems to be the
go-to question to ask when seeing anyone you know at a tournament. It’s an
easy way to start a conversation. I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the
past, but I do my best to try and talk about other things.

I think that asking this question is pure downside. Either the person you
are asking is doing well and feeling good about their day already. Or the
person that you ask is doing poorly and you asking is just going to make
them feel worse. Personally, if I’m doing well, I’ll likely bring that up
on my own if I want to.

Tournaments can be quite the grind, so you need to do everything in your
power to keep a level head. Thinking too much about your record can be very
detrimental to this and occupies space where you could be focusing more on
the games themselves.

When playing in Magic tournaments, I’m always very focused and invested in
the tournament itself. But often, in between rounds, I want to take a break
from it all in order to relax and hang out with friends that I only get to
see at these events. I think it’s important to take a step away from the
tournaments to maintain some level of sanity.

Don’t Forget

There are two things in life: The things that you can control and the
things that you cannot.

Focus on the things you can control. Accept the things you cannot.