Finding The Winning Line

Todd Stevens takes a break from his Magic travels to talk about his recent successes on The SCG Tour®, his winning mentality, and of course, why he insists on looking oh so dapper when battling at tournaments!

Join The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> in Philadelphia February 27-28!” border=”1″ /></a></div>
<p>I first played Magic in <i>Masques</i> block but started playing competitively online during <i>Worldwake</i>. I have started the 2016 SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> season off well with two Top 8s and an average finish of 17th place through the first four SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> events of the year. </p>
<p>My name is Todd Stevens.</p>
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<p>I started traveling to The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> events last summer, and I can’t recommend it enough. As just a regular player who enjoys playing Magic, The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> is the perfect opportunity. It allows me to play competitive Magic against different players in different parts of the country many weekends, making each tournament unique and memorable. I have also had the pleasure of meeting many players with a similar passion for the game during the tournaments.</p>
<p>Another great thing about The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> is that it is all about the players. The coverage teams do a great job following the players from event to event with unique and interesting stories. This gives the players a platform to show the world their talents and abilities, as well as some recognition for the hard work and dedication they have put into Magic. With strong coverage, the generous prize payouts, and how efficient and well-run the tournaments are, The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> was an easy choice for me to start my paper competitive Magic career.</p>
<p>For those of you interested in following a similar path as mine or who just enjoy playing competitive Magic, then The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> is for you. Even though there are many new teams filled with talented players at the events, it is still possible to do well on your own. Jeff Hoogland is the biggest testament to this, as he can make Top 8 with his own KiKi-Chord deck in this brutal Eldrazi Winter. </p>
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Jeff Hoogland
5th Place at Star City Games Modern Open on 02-20-2016

So don’t be scared to go to the events if you are on your own or just traveling with a couple of friends. However, if this is the case, then you must be well-prepared and have a carefully considered plan.

Magic: The Gathering is a challenging and involved game. Before and during a tournament, you make thousands of seemingly minute decisions that determine whether you win or lose. The purpose of my article today is to help you make better, more-informed decisions that can help turn some of those close losses into invigorating wins.

Be Prepared

When getting prepared for a Magic tournament, time is your most valuable resource.

If you are testing with friends, you need to have specific, achievable goals that will provide concrete information. For example, let’s say you don’t know whether to play Surge of Righteousness or Arashin Cleric in your sideboard for the Atarka Red matchup. The best thing to do is to play five quick games with one automatically in your opener, and then five quick games with the other. Which card was more impactful?

Don’t necessarily look at the outcomes of the games, but the outcome of the cards you’re trying to figure out. Go with the card that performed better in your deck.

If you are like me and live in an isolated location where testing with friends isn’t reliable, then I can’t recommend Magic Online enough. The experience you get from playing matchups is invaluable, especially the knowledge of how sideboarded games play out. When testing on Magic Online, always play in events with entry fees, such as Leagues, where you know your opponents will be serious. Avoid the casual rooms, as your opponents may have goals outside of simply winning.

When trying to figure out the metagame for the new week, remember that people love to play the underrepresented deck in the Top 8 that can beat the deck that got first. For example, Brian DeMars took the first week of Battle for Zendikar Standard by storm, winning with Atarka Red. G/W Megamorph got second, but only had two pilots in the Top 32.

This was a classic case of a deck that people did not know about before, realized it could be tuned to beat Atarka Red, and would show up with it the next weekend in high numbers. So if you were playing in the next tournament, you would want a deck that could beat G/W Megamorph. Concentrating on what the next week’s metagame will look like is a critical part to your preparation for a tournament.

Be Professional

“Why do you dress so nicely for a Magic tournament?

I get this question a lot. It all started with Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell.

Be better than The Gap. Be better than complaining about mana screw. Do you keep sketchy hands because you don’t feel like shuffling? Be better than that!

Dressing nicely isn’t only about appearance, it’s about attitude. It’s a commitment to represent yourself professionally. It’s a commitment to do the best that you can at the tournament. It’s a commitment to stay sharp during every match. It’s a commitment to bring your A game.

Dressing nicely isn’t for everyone, though, and that’s perfectly fine if it isn’t for you. No matter what you wear, you have to be committed to yourself, you have to believe in yourself, and most importantly, you have to respect yourself.

Focus on What Matters

In Magic only one thing matters at the end of the game: one player’s life total is at or below zero, while the other’s is not. During the game there are a lot of other things that matter, such as card advantage and advancing your battlefield state. These are critical pieces of the winning puzzle, but at the end of the game, the only thing that matters is who won.

It’s really hard to resist the value of two-for-ones, but the goal is to get your opponent to zero life, and everything you do should be about staying alive or killing your opponent. The most common way is to exhaust your opponent’s resources and win with what you have left, but this is not always the case. In a Standard format where people are playing Kolaghan’s Commands off of their Goblin Dark-Dwelllers, exhausting your opponent’s resources can be quite difficult. Getting them from twenty to zero? That’s not so bad.

Andy Ferguson has been dominating the Standard events on The SCG Tour® recently with different Collected Company decks that, on the surface, do not seem to have the power to compete with the raw card advantage built into other decks such as Jeskai Black or Mardu Green. Even though this is the case, Andy continues to win by focusing on what matters, and he uses early pressure backed up by key tempo cards such as Reflector Mage and Bounding Krasis to get his opponents to zero.

Try not to overvalue any particular card that you have in your hand or on the battlefield. Even though it is crucial to get the most out of every card, remember that you are the most important part of the match. If you need to chump-block while you are at twenty life so that you can outrace your opponent in a couple of turns, don’t be scared to defend yourself.

In order to use your resources properly, you need to have a purpose and a plan for the next couple of turns. Make sure you know the fastest line to killing your opponent at all times. This line is almost always not the correct one to use, though, until you are either winning the card advantage battle, in a positive racing scenario, or desperate. That said, make sure you are always cognizant of this line so that you are always ready to win when you are ahead or steal the game when you are behind.

Stay Positive

Your mindset during a tournament is the most important aspect to doing well.

If you are positive, you will play better, which will make you feel better, which will make you play better. It’s cyclical, and if you’ve taken a couple of losses, the best way to bounce back is to think positively. It’s very easy to complain about mulliganing to four and then drawing six lands in a row, but you must have a short memory and look ahead.

If you struggle with tilting after losses or poor play (which we all do from time to time), the first thing to actively try to do is to take deep, slow breaths. Focusing on your breathing does a couple of things. First, your focus is pulled away from the game of Magic that was just played, making it easier to put behind you. Second, the focused oxygen going to your brain will also help clear your mind.

With a clear mind and a steady heart, refocus on the preparation you put into the event and the next match you have in front of you. Believe in yourself and the results you want will follow. Being positive not only helps in Magic but in all aspects of life. If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it is to be a more positive human being, as happiness is both the precursor to success and the result of it.

Bonus Decklist!

No article is complete without a decklist, so here is a Standard deck I’ve been working on.

If you love Eldrazi Aggro taking over Modern, then here is the best way to play it in Standard. The creature package is just like the Modern counterpart, except Endless One is much worse without the Eldrazi lands. Eldrazi Displacer can move blockers out of the way, save your creatures from removal, or team up with Mastery of the Unseen or Hallowed Moonlight out of the sideboard for additional fun.

The importance of exiling creatures is at an all-time high, and white has the best ways to do it. Sea Gate Wreckage makes sure you always have something to do, so flooding out isn’t a problem. Remember to put the Oran-Rief counters on your creature while the Eldrazi Mimic trigger is on the stack for the added boost. Mirrorpool is an underrated utility land, and turning your real estate into a Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher at instant speed is game-changing. Try out the Eldrazi how they were designed to be played. They’re still pretty good.

See You On The SCG Tour®!

My goal today was to help you make more informed decisions when playing Magic by having a better mindset. Remember to be prepared and professional, focus on what matters, and always… always… stay positive!

Join The SCG Tour<sup>®</sup> in Philadelphia February 27-28!” border=”1″ /></a></div></p>
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