Flow of Ideas – Loving the Game and Having Fun

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Thursday, October 15th – By the time you read this article, I will have touched down in Austin, Texas. I will have successfully flown halfway across the USA to be in close proximity to the event site for a main event for which I’m not even currently qualified…

By the time you read this article, I will have touched down in Austin, Texas. I will have successfully flown halfway across the USA to be in close proximity to the event site for a main event for which I’m not even currently qualified. I will most likely be surrounded by close friends who have come from near and far, cards firmly in grip, mind fully awhirl, busy grinding out Standard games in preparation for the LCQ while my friends sit alongside me, bashing Kird Apes into Spellstutter Sprites in preparation for their big day.

Despite my record of near-hits and crushing misses this Standard season, the swelling ups and debilitating downs since Grand Prix: Los Angeles, the unquenched quest for level three that’s missing many proverbial quest counters, the very notion that I am sitting here in this slightly uncomfortable chair preparing for a LCQ I made the choice to fly out to, playing game after game in a Standard format that feels all to well like a perpetual embodiment of I-still-had-all-these, all I can think about under the well-placed guise of a man embroiled in thought is this one notion: I love this game.

“What does this have to do with anything,” I’m sure you’re asking. On the eve of the Pro Tour, why is my passion for Magic the topic I have chosen to provide discourse on? Allow me to explain.

I wanted to write an article that would be of use to those playing in the Pro Tour. I had illustrious visions of writing an Extended primer or posting up some Extended decklists I particularly enjoy playing, but I came to realize the fact of the matter: the day before the Pro Tour, I’m not going to convince anybody to switch, nor tell them something they don’t already know. An article about the quickly fleeting pre-Pro Tour Extended format at this point in time borders on irrelevancy. What I can impart upon you, however, is a universal truth, important to those playing in their first Pro Tour as well as those playing in their twenty-first: the door to success is opened through the keys of fun and enjoyment.

That’s not to say that hard work, perseverance, and the lot of activities encompassed within your requisite 10,000 hours of practice have all been for naught. The place of practice in Magic is irrefutably high and nigh shakable. All of those countless hours, painstaking game after painstaking game, overlaid across the silk screen of pizza-and-coke fueled playtesting sessions have undoubtedly amounted to something. However, behind all of this lies the simple enjoyment found in winning a game of Magic: the Gathering; the feeling of victory we try and reach as often as possible via our favorite means possible.

“Favorite means possible?” Yes. We all have a preference toward what we find fun in a game of Magic. Some people like the calculating, reactive, chess-like nature of control decks; others inherently prefer the speed of creatures crashing into each other at unmentionable velocities present in a beatdown deck; and further yet is the player who perpetually enjoys the puzzle piece assembly found within combo decks. While you should know how to play all three, there is nothing wrong with defaulting to what you enjoy when presented with two decks of similar strength.

I make no secret about the fact that I often play (and succeed with) control decks, and I feel much of that is due to the raw strategy-based enjoyment I feel tingle throughout my body while figuring out how I’m going to slowly wrench the game into a winnable position. Other great players enjoy Magic much more when presented with the steady stream of attacking and blocking found in beatdown. There is a clear disposition toward certain kinds of decks present amongst players.

While many argue that some kind of psychological feeling of “deck preference” can hinder our deck choices if we pay it too much attention to it, I feel the opposite. When it is the sole factor governing your deck choice, yes, it is dangerous; the kind of ailment that can prompt you to play a combo deck into a sea of bad matchups. However, if you look at deck preference as simply being more adept at playing and building a particular archetype than others, then you can use your preference as a guide when you’re not sure what direction to move in a format. For example, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Japanese Red deck creator and player extraordinaire, might default to red decks when he is unsure about a format or feels deck power is equal, but he isn’t so blindly dedicated to his preference that he feels above playing decks such as Elves, Mono Blue Control, or Faeries.

Other times, it’s simply about playing with cards you enjoy. Counterspells are a particular class of cards that foster enjoyment for a certain Magic demographic. Some players just like attacking with big creatures. If you can play with cards that make you happy when you cast them — actually happy, that is, not the oppressive, robot-like sense of happiness caused by sending the game out of reach with a Cruel Ultimatum, but the ecstatic giddiness transposed from the card onto you by tapping Arcanis to draw three cards — then you are likely to have more fun as a result.

Local PTQ player Mike DiPetrillo always puts in the time to test for events, and has had success in the past. Recently, though, he has hit a string of poor finishes. I took some time to talk with him and go over what he has been doing to prepare for events, and he seemed to be doing everything right. However, one thing was perpetually nagging at him: he found himself simply not having fun playing Magic at recent tournaments. His lack of fun wasn’t as a result of his poor finishes as some might quickly suspect; his distaste with playing started early on in the event.

What happened in Mike’s case? It can be summed up thusly: where the mind goes, the world will follow. If you don’t want to be there — if you’re not actively enjoying your time spent playing Magic — you need to figure out how to change that. In a recent podcast interview between Noah Weil and I, Noah touches on something similar. He mentions that if you wake up for an event and you don’t want to go, don’t drag yourself along just because you feel some commitment to play at every opportunity you can. There will always be more PTQ’s; you’re just throwing your $30 away if you only show up because, as an aspiring pro player, you feel obligated to attend every PTQ possible. I’m sure we’ve all been in that position, and I think Noah is right. I have never done remotely well at a tournament I have begrudgingly attended, whereas almost every event I was excited to be at and felt prepared for I have done extraordinarily well in.

Sometimes, excitement and fun is spurned by the wafting scent of newness. There’s a reason prereleases are the most popular Magic event and that people always have fun at them. The reason is because the set is new, and you can have fun exploring it before limited experts tread all over the set. The same can be true in Constructed: playing new decks can keep your matches exciting and constantly-changing. Back when I consistently played FNM, my rule is that I would never play the same archetype twice during the same Standard season, and I ended up with a wildly varied set of decks that I had a lot of fun playing and constructing.

Of course, having fun with new decks isn’t just for FNM. I fondly remember a PTQ I made Top 8 of in Portland, Oregon, where I am confident how much I was enjoying myself factored directly into my success. On the way down to Portland I had no idea what to play, just a jumble of cards in my bag. I call around to friends to hear what the metagame is like, and to my surprise, Josh Wludyka and Adam Yurchick created a U/W ‘tron deck the night before they are claiming is excellent. I ask for the list, build up most of the deck in the car, finish it with minutes to spare at the event site, and then play it, having never touched the deck previously. While during the tournament I was behind everybody else in time spent refining and playtesting my deck, I was having so much fun that everything seemed automatic anyway. I had played numerous control decks before, and I was having such a fun time that everything flowed naturally from my previous experience.

While you are having fun, you tend to be more relaxed and play more automatically. In doing so, it is much easier to hit your peak performance state, or “zone,” because you do not feel nearly as tense as you normally would. While there is certainly a line between having fun playing and loose play, I feel like that line is seldom crossed by those who can play their archetypes well in the first place.

When people ask me for help, I inevitably rattle off a list of things they can do to become better at Magic. Within the tournament scene, the third or fourth item I rattle off down the list is to always make sure you are having fun. A surprising amount of people have answered saying that they aren’t, and that’s something I think a lot of players could do to improve. Whether it is the kind of deck you play, the tournament format, how many times you have played your deck before, or something else entirely, always make sure you are having fun. Magic is an amazing game, and you should always be able to enjoy yourself while playing. This weekend, no matter how I do, I’m going to be spending time with some of the best people, playing the best game in the world. The competition is going to be fierce, yet I know my passion for the game will still inspire me to enjoy myself each and every round. I hope you will do the same. See you on site!

Gavin Verhey
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else