From Right Field: The Baseball Player’s Mentality

Overconfidence is a killer. Overconfidence tells me that I can take on that whole biker gang by myself because I just saw a Jet Li movie, or because I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Overconfidence makes you think that you’re invulnerable, that you can’t be beat. Even when you stink. You know what happens to people like that, doncha? Uh, yeah. They lose. A lot.

Sometimes, winning a game of Magic isn’t about how well the deck is built or even randomness. It’s about attitude. Ted Knutson delved into that aspect in his piece on The Boxer Mentality and how it relates to Magic. It’s a great piece and very entertaining. (And I’m not just saying that ’cause he’s my editor and decides if my stuff gets published or not. Really!) Go read it if you haven’t already. This will still be here when you get done.

I am a contrarian, however. I disagree simply because I can. (This sometimes is called”being mule-headed” or”just plain wrong.”) Actually, I don’t really disagree with Ted. Attitude can make a huge difference in your game. If you’re confident, you can do things that you normally couldn’t do. For example . . . <cue harp music and fuzzy transition filter>

Back in my single days, I dated women who were much better looking than I really should have been able to date. Heck, look at my wife. Just don’t stare. It’s definitely Beauty and the Beast with us. I simply had the confidence to ask out women that many other guys didn’t even try to ask out. As a result, I got dates with a lot of women that friends didn’t think I deserved to be with. True dat. Still, they went out with me. [Ditto. – Knut]

The thing is you can also be overconfident. Sometimes, the feeling that”I can’t be beat” is simply overconfidence. When confidence is greater than ability should warrant, it’s overconfidence.

Overconfidence is a killer. Overconfidence tells me that I can take on that whole biker gang by myself because I just saw a Jet Li movie, or because I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Overconfidence makes you think that you’re invulnerable, that you can’t be beat. Even when you stink.

You know what happens to people like that, doncha? Uh, yeah. They lose. A lot.

Funny thing is, though, they never learn from their losses. Since they’re invincible, the loss clearly wasn’t their fault. They got mana hosed. Or mana flooded. Or their opponent got lucky. It’s never because their opponent played well or had a better deck. No, Mister Overconfidence didn’t get beat. He got hosed. It wasn’t his fault.

For the reason that the boxer mentality tends to be”I can’t be beat,” I prefer to think of Magic as a game that has more to do with The Baseball Player’s Mentality. (This could, of course, be why Ted is so much better than I am at playing the game. I should probably stop disagreeing with people who are better than I am.)

As Ted points out, a boxer can go a whole career and suffer only one or two losses. Baseball players know that they don’t have that luxury. A reporter once asked Casey Stengel how he could still be so chipper with his team in the midst of an uncharacteristic losing streak (The Yankees, not The Mets). Casey said (and I’m paraphrasing here because, since moving into my wife’s condo, I can’t find all of my baseball books),”Every year, each team loses fifty, and each team wins fifty. It’s what you do with those fifty in the middle that counts.” (This was back when they played 154 games a season. Today, you’d say fifty-four. Or maybe not, since it doesn’t flow as well, and doesn’t really help the point. But, I digress . . . .)

The point that Casey was making is that you will lose. It’s a fact of life in baseball. The best teams in the history of the game lose fifty games in a season. Fifty. The season’s about twenty-five weeks long. That means the best teams lose on average twice a week. If you let a loss get into your head, you’re sunk. That one loss will turn into a losing streak. Then,”what you do with those fifty in the middle” is you lose them. Presto. Your team’s record is 60-102, and you’re calling The Tampa Bay Devil Rays your daddies. Ugh.

So, baseball players learn that they’re going to lose fairly often and that they can’t let one loss (or a bad at-bat or a bad sequence of pitches or a fielding error) infect their game. The good ones figure out what they did wrong or whether they were just outplayed.

Of course, the best baseball players also have a bit of that boxer’s mentality. You have to believe that, despite yesterday’s loss, you can win today and tomorrow, or the season becomes very, very long. Steve Carlton felt like he could win every time he stepped onto the mound. When he lost that confidence, he became the Steve Carlton who dragged out his career playing for The White Sox, The Indians, and The Twins. Ty Cobb, near the end of his life, was asked how well he thought he’d do against the current (1960) crop of players.”I’d probably hit around .340.” The reporter was stunned.

“Only .340, Mr. Cobb? The way you bad mouth the pitchers of today, I thought for sure that you’d say you could still hit over .400.”

“Well, you have to remember that I’m 74 now.”

Boxer’s mentality, indeed.

Having this mind set in Magic is incredibly helpful. You’re going to lose a lot of games and matches. You will. Period. How you deal with those losses can affect future games and matches. You have to believe that you can fight your way back up through the 0-1 and 0-2 brackets to the top. In fact, I know a guy who psyches himself up when playing in big tourneys where he starts 0-1. He calls it The Losers’ Bracket Gambit. Basically, he convinces himself that he just got an easier route to the Top 8 by getting to play a bunch of folks with at least one loss. It must work because he made Top 8 at the 2001 Southeastern Regionals where he started 0-1.

I bring this up because I’m the worst at letting losses affect me. I try to hide it, telling people that, hey, that’s the way the game goes or that I made a big mistake or that my opponent just outplayed me. I try to play it off, but I’m not a good liar. (Hence, the fact that I’m a lousy lawyer.) In fact, it becomes so obvious, that my friend Stacey Allen (Pro Tour Player – Chicago, 2000) will often turn to her husband Karl (Pro Tour Concubine – Chicago, 2000) and say,”He’s gone into Depressed Mode.”

What she means is that I stop playing the game. I get so bummed about a bad play (or a good one by my opponent) that I just kind of curl up and die. Why? Because, regardless of the fact that I may be playing a cheap, rogue deck, I feel like I can beat anybody, even if I know that’s not really true. When I lose on a bad play or a play that I didn’t see until it was too late, I beat myself up.

On the other hand, when there’s nothing I can do about it, I just move on. Last week, for instance, I wrote about a Green-Red anti-Affinity deck called Blow Me Away that had been undefeated in testing against Affinity. So, I added a sideboard and took the thing to Friday Night Magic. The sideboard looked like this:

4 Grab the Reins {anti-Tooth and Nail and any other non-artifact-based deck tech}

4 Scrabbling Claws {anti-Witness tech}

4 Molten Rain {anti-Tooth & Nail or any control deck tech}

3 Creeping Mold {anti-Tooth & Nail or any control deck tech}

Tooth and Nail was the Achilles’ Heel of this deck. Without any meaningful main deck artifacts to kill (Mindslaver doesn’t count since they rarely cast it when they can’t also use it), twelve spells sit dead. Against T&N, the entire sideboard comes in. In exchange, we take out all of the Detonates, Echoing Ruins, and Oxidizes as well as three Viridian Shamans. The fact that Creeping Mold can also hit an artifact if they slip something into the sideboard can be a lifesaver.

Grab the Reins was instrumental in winning test games against T&N. If they got the Leonin Abunas and the Colossus or Platinum Angel out, the GtR allowed us to Fireball the Abunas out of the way while Flinging the Colossus or Angel at their head, though, not usually in the same turn. Sometimes, the way was even cleared by throwing a Colossus at an Angel. That makes a very loud Kaboom!

The Molten Rain and Creeping Mold kept the T&N decks just far enough behind that Entwining T&N was nearly impossible anyway.

So, with deck in hand, I hightailed it from work to the bookstore where our newest FNM was located. Since I was the second one there, I played a game against Curtis. Curtis was playing Affinity. Again, Blow Me Away rolled. It was now 10-0 against Affinity.

You know what that means, right?

Yep, I drew Curtis in round one. And I lost 0-2. In game one, I kept a nice three-land hand. I was able to hold him off by blowing stuff up. Sadly, neither Fireball nor Arc-Slogger showed up. No problem. I’d just take games two and three. Except for one small problem. I had to mulligan down to five cards, keeping a two-land hand with a Mountain, a Forest, a Tel-Jilad Chosen, a Molder Slug, and an Arc-Slogger. I figured the Chosen could hold him off for a while. Nope. Electrostatic Bolt ended his existence almost before it began. Poor guy. I hardly knew ye.

I was able to stay in it thanks to Detonate and Oxidize, but I never saw another land. He ended up, thanks to the aforementioned artifact poppin’ spells, with two Glimmervoids and three Arcbound Ravagers on the board. If at any point in the final three turns I had drawn Echoing Ruin, I’m pretty sure that would have been bad for him, since it would have completely cleared his side of the board. I didn’t. It wasn’t. He won. And I had the honor of losing the first two games that this deck had lost to Ravager Affinity. Ya-friggin’-hoo.

I tried not to get into Depressed Mode. It was tough, though. I lost to the deck that Blow Me Away was designed to beat. I did it in spectacular zero wins, two losses fashion, too. Mom would be so proud. I took the time to read some comic books and get some Apple juice. Apple juice is comfort food to me. Especially with Vodka in it.

Okay, I was ready for round two. I wasn’t gonna let the previous round affect me. Baseball Player’s Mentality and whatnot. I went first. On his second turn, he had a Mountain, a Swamp, and a Pentad Prism. I had no idea what the deck was or what he was planning on doing. I just knew that he could have five mana on turn three. So, I Detonated his Prism on my third turn.

Later in the game I found that the Prism as well as four Talisman of Silly-Name-Making-Black-or-Red-Mana were to get Arc-Slogger out on turn 3, which, if you’ve never seen it, is as ugly as watching walruses mate.

Anyway, since I had no idea what he was planning, I kept blowing up artifacts and laying out critters, making sure not to empty my hand in case of Starstorm or Plague Wind or some other nonsense. I did see a Devour in Shadow that hit my Molder Slug. That was a nice six-point hit to his life. It wasn’t enough, though, and he won the game with three life left.

For game two, out came the Detonates for Grab the Reins. Against the Prism, Detonate is one turn too slow. Of course, I had to mulligan to five again.

I’m writing a song called”Mulligan to Five.” It will be my theme song. I’ll use it as my team limited name next Spring. I’ll trademark it. Anyone who says”mulligan to five” will have to pay me a royalty.

I kept a hand with three lands, an Arc-Slogger, and a Molder Slug. Should I have gone down to four? Would you have gone down to four? Either way, it worked out, one of the few times that I can remember saying that and meaning it. I drew artifact destruction and enough lands to make the Molder Slug, which really hurt my opponent when he finally hit it with Devour in Shadow. With him at eight and me with only a Viridian Shaman on the board, he made a critical mistake that won me the game. He had cast a Slogger and had a Mountain open. I cast Grab the Reins, without Entwine, merely taking the Slogger. It left me with one Mirrodin’s Core untapped. He looked at the board and his life and took a while to give me the Slogger. I thought for sure he’d burn out the Shaman. Instead, I swung for an unopposed six and Sloggered him for the last two. Had he killed the Shaman, he’d have been at two, and there’s no telling if/when I would have been able to kill him.

So, on to game three. Wherein our hero mulligans to five again. This time his opponent got out a third turn Arc-Slogger, sending our hero to the 0-2 bracket.

Oh-and-two at Friday Night Magic? I stink. Don’t ever say I didn’t warn you.

For the third round, of course, I got paired up. I got to play Kerri and her 1-1 Tooth and Nail deck. Oh, joy. The deck that really rips mine a new one. Great.

As expected, I rolled to a 2-0 win.

Huh? Let me check that again.

Yup, right there in black and white.

Let’s see. How did I win that? Game one was just a bunch of the two-mana creatures attacking all out, Arc-Slogger, and a Fireball to win.

Game two was The Tooth & Nail Gambit. In came all fifteen sideboard cards and out went the Detonates, Echoing Ruins, Oxidizes, and three Viridian Shamans. Between the Molten Rains (which did four damage on their own) and the Creeping Molds, I was always able to keep her one or two lands from doing really degenerate stuff. Even if she had been able to Entwine the Tooth and Nail to bring out a Colossus and Abunas near the end of game two, I was holding Grab the Reins. Throw in an Arc-Slogger, and it was lights out.

Of course, someone had to drop before round four. So, I got the bye. Happy happy joy joy.

Wow. My big contribution to MD5 block will be a deck that went 1-2-bye-goodbye. I’m so happy I could sh** a brick.

Tell you what. I’m playing this again, and I’m going to do much better. I promise.

How can I say that? I was a baseball player. One for three with a walk’s pretty good.

Hmmmm . . . now that I read that last line, maybe a Baseball Player’s Mentality isn’t so good for playing Magic, huh? I think I’ll let Ted be the Magic Psychology Guru.

Chris Romeo