Feature Article – Confidence

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Friday, October 16th – Confidence is a tricky thing to tie down, but it seems that those at the highest level of the game have it in abundance. How can you maximize your confidence, and how does it affect your game? Quentin leads the way…

There are many key factors to succeeding at Magic. It pays to be playing a good deck; one that you know inside and out. It pays to have tested the format; to understand the theory behind the game. These are all fine but many of the factors for success are applicable in all aspects of life. Having a positive outlook and, above all, being confident is one of the most important. Some people are confident, others are not. What gave those with confidence the confidence to be confident?

Some people are born with good looks, or a talented voice, or are 7ft4. There’s not too much you can do about what your genes have thrown at you. I mean, there’s a lot you can do about looks so that most people will think you look good without resorting to surgery; there’s a lot you can do to train a voice to sing; there’s little you can do about not being a basketball giant. However, confidence is not something you have or don’t have. Confidence doesn’t come naturally, at least not at first, and then it comes in spades. Confidence has to be learnt, it is reinforced by positive feedback and experience. Confidence is a frame of mind.

I am a cocky sonofab*tch, bordering on downright arrogant, probably to a fault. I wasn’t always like this and I certainly wasn’t always as confident about myself as I am now. You see, confidence is self belief. It is the knowledge that you can do something. It is about not being afraid to fail.

As a young teenager, I didn’t possess any of these things. I was perpetually doubting myself, my abilities, and my success with the ladies. For me, confidence had a lot to do with the opposite sex. I was atrocious for the most part, but I can pinpoint the moment that all began to change and it had a lot further reaching affect than simply improving my sex life.

Flashback to eighteen-year-old me. I was in town and needed to kill a few hours whilst I waited for a friend to finish work. I went to the cinema knowing that Terminator 3 would pass the time just fine (side note: not a bad movie, but then I’m a big fan of Claire Danes ever since she first peered back at me through a fish tank). I struck up a pretty good flirt with a cute girl that worked at the cinema, which continued as she took me all the way to my seat from the front desk.

I sat watching the film with half my mind on her. I figured I might actually be the proverbial ‘in.’ I’d never ever had the balls to ask a girl for her number or for a drink without the empty Dutch courage of alcohol flowing through my veins. When the film had ended (great ending!), I had decided that I was going to go for it. My options were to skulk out of the movie theatre without doing anything or to give it a go. Looking back, it was pretty simple; I had nothing to lose in trying, as not trying would’ve failed right from the start.

She was handing out flyers at the entrance. She smiled at me and asked about the film; random small talk. Suddenly, I found myself asking what she was doing later. It was out there, nothing I could do to take it back. Her reply, verbatim even after all these years, “Later? Later, I’ll be going home and getting into bed with my boyfriend.” B*tch! She could’ve have let me down a little more easily. Dazed, I stumbled out the cinema.

Have you ever seen the classic clip from Singing in the Rain, or when Dick Van Dyke chirpily skips down the road singing Chim Chim Cher-ee in Mary Poppins? That was me walking away from the cinema. I positively skipped, jumping up and clicking my heels together in exultation as I walked away. I had never been so happy. I had tried, I had finally bottled up the courage to ask a girl out. And she had said ‘No.’ And I was happy! Why? I was happy with myself. I was able, for once, to look at myself and not see a coward. I had raged against the dying light, so to speak. I looked at myself and, for the first time ever, was content.

How is this applicable to Magic? Confidence is an outlook. It’s not just being confident about the game or your deck. You have to be sure of yourself. If you are stressed out because you have an interview or exam at work/school, it affects your confidence. If you’re tired or under-prepared, self doubt will begin to eat away at you. From that moment on, I realised that it was okay for me to be me. It was okay for me to try and fail because it’s not the failing that sucks. It’s the not trying.

In Magic, you often see players on amazing win streaks. Yuuya Watanabe is a good example right now. These streaks happen because that player suddenly has supreme confidence in themselves. They know they can succeed. That’s part of the secret: the irony being that to succeed, you have to know you can succeed. I know this to be true from personal experience. I had won PTQs and local tournaments and had a string of solid finishes at GPs and PTs, but it was when I made my first GP Top 8 that everything changed. Suddenly, I went from postulating that I was good enough, to knowing it. That self believe fuelled me to Top 8 a few more times.

Finding that self belief is the most difficult part. I was a dating coach for a little while and we would have a weekend to turn what was normally a bunch of shy, insecure geeks into men who were happy with themselves and could get a number from a girl they liked with ease. We did it by starting at the very beginning. These guys, for the most part, were social recluses; they had never figured out how to interact well with people socially and had often given up.

So we started small. We’d go to a mall and get them to approach strangers to ask for directions or the time. Then we’d get them to go up to people, not employees, in clothing stores to ask their opinion about a particular item. Eventually, we would get them talking to women about these simple things and trying to keep conversation flowing. All this before we had even walked into a bar, or even tried to really flirt.

The same is true of Magic. Don’t try to run before you can walk. You shouldn’t crush your spirits by just playing in PTQs and getting nowhere; play in FNM and monthly events. By beginning small, and trying again and again, you will start to win, and when you genuinely become aware that you are capable of wining, you will start to win more.

You’re not on your own. Much like those guys, there are people you can turn to for advice and help. These are the better players in your neighbourhood. Watch them and if they do something that doesn’t make sense to you, ask them about it after the game. Even better, if you get a good player to watch you play a game, listen to his criticisms. He’s not trying to tell you you’re bad, he’s highlighting where you go wrong so that you can learn from your mistakes.

It’s not about luck. Sure, the random nature of Magic adds a reasonable amount of variance to the game, but it’s not about luck. By tightening up every aspect of your game you decrease the opportunities your opponent has to ‘get lucky’ and increase your own. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” I don’t beat people because I’m lucky, I beat them because I’ve trained to get better. I’ve put in the hours, I’ve talked to those players better than me and, sometimes, I’ve even listened!

When a new set comes out, I come up with my own card evaluations based on the experience I’ve garnered from years of playing Limited; this gives me my initial assessment. Then I talk to anybody and everybody who will listen and ask for their opinions. You can learn from other people’s experiences and apply their knowledge to your own so that the next time you sit down to draft you might look at that Grazing Gladehart in a different light and pick it over the Mold Shambler your instinct had told you was better.

Preparation and training pay off. There’s a reason why the army trains the way it does, shouting at those below them, repeating every task a thousand times and repeatedly going through training exercises. It is so that when they find themselves in the midst of conflict, when they are panicking, their training kicks in instead of their instinct to run.

In much the same way, during the pressured timing of the draft when faced with a difficult decision, if you have drafted a lot you can reflect back upon past experience and allow it to aid in your decision making. This will save you time and quash panic, letting you reflect upon what you have picked so far and how this pick will fit into the greater scheme of things.

The same is applicable in Constructed. If you have tested a matchup, you will know how games tend to play out, what cards are important, what you have to do to win and what you have to do to disrupt their game plan. Having played a matchup a lot will give you the time and knowledge to pick up on the little changes their build might have: you will see a Steam Vents in a NLU deck and realise that this means that they will have access to Ancient Grudge and/or Firespout after sideboarding, or you will see a Watery Grave and know it means Bitterblossom, or a Hallowed Fountain and know it means Path to Exile and/or Meddling Mage. You will know how to sideboard and rather than just following a generic plan you and a friend concocted before the event, you will be able to alter how you sideboard to the exact specifics of your opponent’s deck.

When you are in a losing situation, don’t give up hope. It doesn’t matter how slim it is, there is probably a way for you to win the game. Maximise that chance. Even if it requires you to make several consecutive top decks and your opponent to draw nothing or even make a mistake; if it’s your only way of winning, play to it. Confidence will turn your upset into dedicatedly trying to win. It won’t be luck if you win, you played to your only out and you got there.

There are lots of little things you can do to raise your confidence. I find the easiest and best trick is to smile. This works for several reasons. Firstly, people will see you smile and reason that their must be a reason behind you smiling – that you are happy and confident with the current situation. As such, they will respond to you in a certain way that will actually reinforce what you are trying to achieve, they will respond to you as if you actually are confident.

Second, smiling will actually make you happier. People will smile back at you and you will start to feel good, ironically reinforcing the fact that you are smiling, often turning what might have been a fake smile into a real one. The human brain is a wonderful thing. If you lie to yourself, you can trick yourself into believing that you are confident. Eventually, you will start to genuinely believe your own lie, until it ceases to be false and becomes a reality.

Body posture accounts for much the same. Sit up straight. Hold yourself proudly. Slow down your breathing and take your time. Make eye contact and hold it.

There’s no easy trick to becoming confident. Nothing in life worth having is easily gained, otherwise we wouldn’t value it. It’s gained by being able to look at yourself without fear, by not caring what others think, by being willing to fail. With confidence, success will follow. Believe in yourself.

I am going to somewhat cheesily finish with what is possibly my favourite quote. Nelson Mandela used it as the opening of his inauguration speech:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Confidence is not an exterior casing for others to see, it is something inside for you alone.