Feature Article – The Mental Game, Plus A Deck For Standard

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard open Comes to Philadelphia!
Tuesday, December 2nd – It’s no secret that Magic is much more than a mere mathematical game. While a basis in the logic and science behind the game is of paramount importance, the very best players have intangible mental skills that catapult them to success. Manuel Bucher takes a look at some of the fundamental aspects of the mental game, and presents an intriguing rogue deck for the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open…

Former Magic Players such as Kai Budde or Jon Finkel were not only at the top of the game because of their strong Magic skills… they also wanted to win. It might sound obvious that you want to win the game you play, but there is still the psychological barrier. What if you’ve already reached the goal you set yourself before the tournament (such as making Day 2 at a Grand Prix)? What if you fail in reaching your goal before the tournament is over (such as making Top 8 at a Grand Prix)? In each of these situations, are you still able to play your best Magic? If not, how can you make sure that you play your best Magic each round?

While there are obvious ways of getting your mind together for the tournament, such as the old cliché of having enough sleep to ensure your best mental game, I would like to share some points that I personally had to work on, and some newer tips that came up while chatting with friends.

1. Don’t Get Lost In The Previous Round

I had this psychological barrier myself for a long time. After starting very strongly in a tournament, I’d pick up my first loss… and then I’d often end up often with a streak of losses that ensured I’d miss my desired goals. During the round directly after my first loss, my mind would dwell on how I lost the previous match, and thus I was not able to give my best game. After a while, a friend of mine figured out what my barrier was, and thus I could work on that problem.

So, how can you avoid getting lost in the previous round, and instead focus on what is happening right now?

First of all, you have to accept that luck is a part of this game. Don’t tilt because your opponent topdecked their single one-card out in the previous round. It happens to everybody, and often enough we are on the side of the lucky.

Then, if you think that you might have punted the match, you should discuss the difficult decisions made during the post-match pause, so you can play the next round without hanging on the decisions you had to make on the match before.

2. Set Your Goals, And Set Them High

It is hard to give your best each round if you have no idea what you are fighting for. If you don’t set your goal high enough, and thus you might achieve the goal during the tournament, you might not be able to concentrate on the subsequent rounds as you’ve already “won” your very personal fight. If you often reach your goal before the end of the tournament, you should set yourself more short term goals. If your goal was to make Day 2 in a given Grand Prix, you should change that to ensure it’s a goal for Day 1 alone, and set yourself new goals after Day 1 is over.

A lot of the times, you’ll be unable to reach your goal. Don’t worry, you are allowed to be sad in that situation. After opening my sealed pool in Atlanta, my goal was to sweep the day; my deck wasn’t merely powerful, it was also the exact style of deck I love to play. After finishing Day 1 of the tournament with an 8-1 record, I was pretty sad; I hadn’t reached my goal. Most other players didn’t understand my point of view, but I still I got support from others.

In Berlin, we all saw how important it is to set goals. After Louis Scott-Vargas was down two games in the quarterfinals, he searched for ways to win the games. His goal was to win the whole thing, while others would have been happy enough to make Top 8 of the Pro Tour. The difference between someone who has already reached their goal and someone who wants more is simple: the person who wants more will try that much harder to come up with ideas, even if they seem crazy (such as Mycoloth and Umezawa’s Jitte against a Mono-Blue Prison-style deck).

3. Don’t Get Distracted
This doesn’t merely mean that, if you have friends hanging around your match (or any spectators at all), that you should tell them to stay quiet or walk away. It means that you should concentrate on other aspects of distraction. For example, you may have a hard time concentrating if you’ve just eaten and you are digesting. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat at all, of course. While some of you might be fine with that, it’s not very healthy; bringing light food such as bananas or apples do a really good job there. Also don’t wait until the end of the round if you need to use the restrooms… just ask a judge during sideboarding if you are able to leave the arena to go to the restrooms for a minute or two.

It is really important to have both your mind and body be able to give your best in the game. Even if you don’t notice it, your play gets sloppy if are not able to set your mind to the very moment. Of course, we all have personal trouble sometimes, and we are not able to bring our best game to a tournament. If you can, try to solve your private problems before the tournament (or as fast as possible in general). If that’s not an option, speak with a good friend about your troubles.

Basically, it largely boils down to this: make sure you are motivated. Remember to make sure that you start playing a round with optimal circumstances. If the circumstances change during a match, you are often able to change them back in your favour, if you remind yourself to do so.

Next up… how about a new deck for Standard?

I wanted to share a deck list created by Nico Bohny with you, which has strong matchups against most Tier 1 decks while remaining rogue itself.

Manuel B: Can I post your Black/White decklist in a StarCityGames.com article?
Nico Bohny: Only if you tell people that it is Wafo-Tapa’s deck.
Manuel B: And if I call it “Nico’s Wilde Kerle”…?
Nico Bohny: Fair enough

I doubt Nico would be unhappy if you bought him a drink after piloting the deck to a decent performance at Worlds, or the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open tournament.

Here we go…

Nico’s Wilde Kerle

4 Swamp
2 Plains
4 Mutavault
4 Windbrisk Heights
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Fetid Heath

4 Kitchen Finks
3 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Spectral Procession
4 Bitterblossom
3 Ajani Goldmane
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Unmake
3 Terror
4 Thoughtseize

3 Condemn
1 Puppeteer Clique
4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
2 Windborn Muse
1 Tidehollow Sculler
1 Liliana Vess
3 Grave Pact

Nico Bohny’s Black White Deck, named after the children’s picture book “Where The Wild Things Are,” brings the token strategy to the next level. With the help of powerful hand disruption like Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler, he is able to disrupt the opponent while he builds a lot of pressure with card-advantage-generating spells like Bitterblossom, Kitchen Finks, or the White token-supporting Planeswalkers Ajani Goldmane and Espeth, Knight-Errant.

The matchups… as I didn’t play the deck very much, I add Nico’s win- loss statistic from recent MTGO matches.

Quick n’ Toast (Nico 7-1, me 1-0)
Your game plan is to stick a threat and defend that with your hand disruption. Threats like Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Bitterblossom are pretty hard to handle, as their deck is not very good versus non-creature permanents. If you don’t have any of the permanent token generators, your Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler are helping to overload their mass removal, so you can eventually stick a Spectral Procession or Cloudgoat Ranger.

Sideboard: +1 Liliana Vess, +1 Puppeteer Clique, +1 Tidehollow Sculler, -3 Terror
If your opponent is running lots of Pyroclasms and Firespouts, feel free to add Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender.

Faeries (Nico 4-0, me 3-2)
If you are able to stick an early Thoughtseize or Tidehollow Sculler to remove their Bitterblossom, you end up with enough time to stick one of your threats, which they are unable to trade one-for-one. If your opponent sticks a second turn Bitterblossom, and you are not able to disrupt the four-drops Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command, you are in very bad shape.

Sideboard +1 Tidehollow Sculler, -1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Mono-Red Aggro (Nico 6-1, me 1-0)
As with all the creature matchups, this is very good. It may be that your opponent is able to burn you out in game one, but you should be able to stop their Hell’s Thunder or Demigod of Revenge with Spectral Procession, Cloudgoat Ranger or Unmake.

Your four Burrenton-Forge Tenders in the sideboard ensure you that you are able to stop Chaotic Backlash most of the time, while their Everlasting Torment is often too slow (unless combined with Chaotic Backlash). If you arrive in the mid or late game, your threats like Kitchen Finks or Cloudgoat Ranger should be able to produce enough card advantage, so you are able to win comfortably.

Sideboard: +3 Condemn, +4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, +2 Grave Pact, -4 Thoughtseize, -1 Bitterblossom, -1Mutavault, -3 Tidehollow Sculler

White Weenie (Nico 2-0, me 0-0)
While you are able to lose game 1 because your opponent might stick a Ajani Goldmane or Elspeth, Knight-Errant before you are able to force their discard or stick your own, the matchup is close to perfect for you post-board. If you are able to resolve a Grave Pact, there is close to no way they can win — a Windborn Muse with the help of Thoughtseize should ensure you to get there, if you are unable to draw one early game (or stick it under a Windbrisk Heights).

Sideboard: +3 Condemn, +2 Windborn Muse, +3 Grave Pact, – 1 Thoughtseize, -1 Bitterblossom, -3 Tidehollow Sculler, -2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant, -1 Mutavault

Finally, when it comes to Extended for Worlds, somehow ELVES! is still underrated.

At the time of writing, I’ve been thinking about the old “Ask The Pro” column (which was on magicthegathering.com a while ago). I am one of the guys missing it. So, if you miss that column as well, feel free to ask me questions via the forums or in PM. I’ll do my best to include them in any future articles.

That’s it for this time! As always, I’d be happy to see any form of critique in the forums.

Manu B