Five Mistakes

Thursday, January 27 – What are the pitfalls a player like you and Brad Nelson, 2010 co-Player of the Year, can fall into, especially when picking a deck for a tournament? Don’t make these common mistakes!

Grand Prix Atlanta didn’t go as well as I’d hoped it would. Despite high hopes for the event, I didn’t even manage to make the cut for Day Two.
The most painful part about the event for me was the fact that the deck I’d wanted to play up until Friday night — but ultimately talked myself
out of playing — ultimately won the whole event.

I may have had a very rocky start to the season, but I did learn some very important lessons.

While some of them are for stupid things only I’d ever do, most are lessons for things we all do and are worth learning about.

Pitfall One — Over-Preparing

I started testing for Atlanta three weeks ago. During this time, I played about thirty to fifty hours a week and got to play almost every deck in the

When I test for this long, there’s something that commonly happens to me. I’ll pick up a deck on MTGO and immediately start winning with it. I won’t
understand why I’m winning, so I’ll just think that the deck is very good. After playing the deck for a few more days, my win percentage will go down
slightly — but more importantly, I’ll start to see why the deck is losing. This will show me the holes the deck has and will make me want to move
on to the next deck.

I’ll continue on this path until I find perfection. The stupid thing is that I know there isn’t a perfect deck. Magic is a game full of problems and
solutions. It’s very rare for there to be an end-all, be-all deck in a format, and Wizards usually steps in to correct things when that does happen.
I’m constantly searching for something that probably doesn’t even exist.

This only happens when someone is looking for the correct deck instead of learning a single deck. I bet I would’ve had a better chance in this event if
I’d just picked a deck randomly and worked on it nonstop for three weeks.

There are several types of over-preparation.

The first type is playing a bad deck for too long. This can happen when a deck employs a powerful strategy but is inconsistent, which can make a player
think the deck is better than it actually is. It’s strong when it wins but isn’t winning as often as you’d like.

There aren’t many examples of decks like this. Perhaps the best example I can think of is the Dragonstorm deck with which Patrick Chapin took second
place at Worlds.

The Dragonstorm deck was very good for Worlds. It never had another successful weekend because it was inconsistent and easily disrupted. It was just
the perfect deck for the Worlds metagame because nobody knew about it, and nobody was prepared for it.

I use this example because this is the type of deck that people spend too much time trying to find. There are some rules I usually try to enforce when
testing decks like this.

-Keep very good track of how the deck is performing

This will keep emotion from deluding the statistics. It’s all too easy to convince yourself a deck is good even when it isn’t. Hard evidence will help
you figure out if it’s still worth moving forward and if the percentages are going up.

-Try different cards!

The biggest mistake I make when testing new strategies is not changing cards in the deck every other game. This will help find new cards and help
evaluate the numbers in the deck. The only way to find out is to try them. The deck will stall out if you don’t try new things, and the testing will
become wasted effort.

-Do not let it become a pet deck.

Pet decks are the worst thing you can have in Magic. These are the decks that you want to play, not because they’re actually good but just because you
want to play them. The telltale sign of when you’re letting a deck become too close to your heart is when you fantasize about winning a tournament with
a specific card or deck.

This isn’t the same thing as having a preference for a certain strategy. Many professional Magic players tend to play the same archetypes at every
tournament. This is because many pro players know that playing a specific deck gives them their best chance to win an event thanks to their proficiency
with the strategy.

“Everything will be okay; Mana Leak is back.”—Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Another way of over-preparing is to play the same deck for so long that you end up ahead of the metagame. This is usually a good thing and will
sometimes let you “Next Level” the competition. But every once in a while, it will cause you to crash and burn.

I don’t know how many of you played Extended PTQs when Dredge was the hot deck. It was extremely powerful — but at the same time, it was very
easy to disrupt. This made playing Dredge a hard decision every once and a while. One week, the deck would win multiple PTQs, and then the next week,
Leylines of the Void would fill the Top 8s.

I was a hardcore PTQer back then and fell victim to these exact pitfalls.

I know this might be hard for you to believe — but I play a lot of Magic. I play Magic every day that I’m not physically travelling to an event.
I even drafted before going to Christmas dinner with my family. While I play a ton of Magic now, I actually played even more Magic during my PTQ years.

I got ahead of the metagame so many times during that Extended season, and I didn’t even realize it. I’d play so much that I’d know when a deck
wouldn’t be good a week in advance.

I’d use this information to trick myself into finding room in a decklist that couldn’t afford to lose hate cards. This was stupid because, of course,
the real-life metagame doesn’t shift drastically like this. Instead, very subtle changes occur, allowing you to gain very subtle edges.

Just because Dredge won last week doesn’t mean people will stop playing it for fear of getting hated. It will still be there and can still knock you
out of the event round one. I can’t assume my opponents will bring the hate cards and use that as an excuse to make room in my deck.

Pitfall Two — Overthinking

This is the reason I didn’t play U/G Scapeshift in Atlanta. U/G Scapeshift was a very good deck, but I was able to identify a number of its problems.
The fact that U/G Scapeshift had a bad matchup against Faeries was my first concern, but I had an even bigger problem with the deck. The deck couldn’t
win without a Prismatic Omen. This meant that the deck would lose a (small but tangible) percentage of its games simply because it didn’t find its
namesake card quickly enough.

I was too busy worrying about what problems the deck had to realize that it was just the best deck in every other situation. It had some of the most
powerful draws and could beat most decks in the format quite handily. I was also playing it extremely well.

I was too scared to choose this deck for the event and instead looked for “better” options. If I had just stopped thinking about it at 8 pm
on Friday, I would’ve just registered the deck and moved on with my life. I was thoroughly prepared for the event, but I ultimately talked myself out
of playing the best deck.

We do this all the time. We talk ourselves out of things that our gut tells us to do. However, it’s more than a gut feeling — it’s your actual
subconscious letting you know you’re making the correct decision. It doesn’t take that much time for your body to understand a situation and find an
answer. It takes much more time for your mind to use a series of “rational” observations and mess it all up.

Overthinking is one of the biggest problems players can face before, during, or even after an event. This game is filled with situations that take us
so far deep in thought that we sometimes don’t come back up. We love to think and end up doing it way too often.

Pitfall Three — Not Getting Enough Sleep

Grand Prix, Pro Tours, and PTQs are really big tournaments, so it’s very important for you to get enough sleep if you want be successful. Getting
enough sleep will help keep your mind active even when you’re playing your ninth or tenth match of the day. I know this advice doesn’t seem like
it’s that important, and I know that you’ve already heard it a thousand times before — but it’s worth repeating.

People just don’t hear this enough. I don’t care how easy a deck is to play or how well someone says they can function without sleep. A person cannot
play at their best without a good night’s sleep.

I went to sleep at a decent time in Atlanta — but I woke up at five in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I decided to get up and walk
around. I saw countless Magic players still up from the night before, sitting around and playing Magic around the hotel. Some of them just got in from
traveling all night, but a few just decided it was more fun to get zero sleep and play more games to prepare their deck.

Finding the perfect 75th card for your deck won’t offset the mental sharpness that you lose by giving up as little as a single hour of sleep the
night before an event.

I see this happen all the time and even fell victim to it myself when I was a PTQer. Players will stay up through the night practicing a bad matchup
just to get that slight edge against it. Even if that player does learn a little bit more about the matchup — that late-night test session will
ultimately hurt that player’s chances of winning the tournament because he or she won’t be very alert the next day.

I’m not asking you to do this for me. I’m asking you to do this for yourself. Get to the event a day early, and get a normal night’s sleep. It
will help in the long run. Trust me!

I wound up crashing after round six of the event. I grabbed a Red Bull, and it really messed with my system, since I hadn’t drunk much caffeine in the
last few months. I don’t even know if I made any mistakes because my brain wasn’t there to catch them. Looking back, I think I played well — but
it’s just a blurry memory since I was so exhausted. I mean, I fell asleep watching Wafo-Tapa play the last round of Day One.

Pitfall Four — Deck Pacts

I shared a room at the hotel with Eric Froehlich (Efro to all the cool kids). Efro is becoming one of my favorite people to hang out with at the Pro
Tour. I spent a decent amount of time with him testing for Worlds last year and took the opportunity to bunk with him in Atlanta.

Efro didn’t test for the event. He just had three decklists and a huge pile of foils for them. One was my U/G Scapeshift list (this was actually my
take on Matthias Hunt deck — check back tomorrow for his article on the deck!); one was Gabriel Nassif brew, and the last was
Conley’s newest masterpiece.

I saw the other two decklists and didn’t care for either of them. I didn’t even know how much I liked U/G because of the reasons I already talked
about. I was talking both of us out of playing any of these decks. This is when we decided to have a deck pact with each other. This meant we both had
to play a deck we already chose and couldn’t back out.

This was just stupid because we limited our options by doing so. New information arose, but we just shrugged and convinced ourselves we were stuck.
Don’t ever make foolish pacts with your friends over what decks you’re going to play.

Deck Pacts are fun, but they always end up hurting you in the long run.

Pitfall Five — Mono-Red

This is what I ended up playing in the event. All of the mistakes I made culminated into this.

-I tested everything else for too long and thought this was the best deck because it had a winning percentage against most of the decks I was playing.

-I misjudged the field due to overthinking. Since I knew about U/G Scapeshift, I thought everyone else knew about it too.

-I didn’t sleep well the night before the event. I could’ve tried to go back to sleep but lacked the discipline to do so.

-I decided to join in a pact with a good friend, and as a result of that pact, I made zero decisions the morning of the event.

All of these factors led me to play Mono-Red — which was a pretty big mistake in and of itself. Mono-Red wasn’t a bad deck choice for the event
— but it was a mistake for me to run it. It just didn’t give me the edges I needed to do well. I probably would’ve racked up at least a couple of
Pro Points at the event if I’d run a bit better — but I drew the wrong proportion of lands and spells all day long.

So these were the five mistakes I made in Atlanta. Five mistakes that cost me a chance at a jump-start on the season. Just because this Grand Prix
didn’t go well doesn’t mean I won’t be in prime fighting shape come Paris. This will only make me stronger.

Before I go, I want to talk for a bit about the Prerelease. I personally think that the “faction” side of this event is somewhat weird. I’d
much rather get the product that we normally get, so I can use it to practice for tournament formats. I bet some of you feel this way as well.

This Prerelease isn’t targeted at us. These tournaments are designed to appeal to more casual players to give them a great, first-time experience.
There are a ton of players at each and every Prerelease who have never competed in a tournament before. We have an opportunity to help make this
weekend great for everyone who wants to shuffle up some lands and spells. We want to show first-timers what a wonderful game this is and help Magic
grow as much as possible.

Make this weekend special for someone else. I know that’s the job I’m giving myself for this weekend; you should make it yours too!

I’ll be playing at Sunmesa Events in Los Angeles this weekend. Glen Goddard is running this event, and he’s
one of the best things this game has going for it. Check out this sweet video he made for the

I hope to see you all there!

Brad Nelson