I received a phone call from Gary Wise on April 1st. He claimed to be taking credit for the article that I wrote about Reservoir Dogs. I told him that’s strange, considering that my picture sat next to the article title and that my name was at the bottom of the article. He insisted the article was actually his work. Very funny Mr. Wise, very funny indeed.
Now I realize that I haven’t written anything since the Mirrodin Dilemmas against my formidable opponent Ken Krouner came to an end. It isn’t because I have had a lack of material either, as I’ve had a Top 8 at Pro Tour Amsterdam, a third place finish in Grand Prix: Oakland, and a win at Grand Prix Columbus. Somewhere in my computer I have an unfinished Pro Tour Amsterdam report. I started it after coming in third at Grand Prix Oakland, but after a while I felt that it was too dated to complete.
I want to go search for my Team Pro Tour New York 2000 report. That took way too long, but it was worth it. I love tournament reports. I know they don’t receive the best hits, but that is a shame. I learn more from reading tournament reports than any other class of articles.
Practice is about playing and playing and playing and playing and playing and playing. Randy Buehler won the very first Pro Tour he played in. It was because he worked harder than anybody else preparing for the event. Kai wins for the same reason. Making mistakes is costly. Don’t make mistakes.
When I get ready for a Limited format, I try and make it a point to know every trick that my opponent could possibly have. When your opponent attacks, you have to be able to figure out what cards they can have in their hand to beat your strategy. If you can play around their trick successfully then do so. If you can’t beat their trick, assume they don’t actually have the trick that beats you. You don’t gain anything by playing around a trick you can’t beat.
I have watched many games of Magic where one player spends the entire game worrying that their opponent has a trick as they get attacked turn after turn. Eventually they are forced to block and the trick wrecks them anyhow. Often, if they would have just blocked earlier, they would have found out that their opponent didn’t have a trick yet, and instead that they were bluffing. Later in the game though, their opponent has had more draw phases and now has the trick, so instead of calling an early bluff, they have put themselves into a losing position.
I know that paragraph isn’t entirely clear. The concept is not simple, and I don’t think I have done a great job describing what I mean. Let me try again.
At any given point during the game you will be faced with decisions that you can either put off until later or deal with immediately. One such situation is playing around counter magic. If you feel you will be able to apply enough pressure to force your opponent to tap out, then playing around counter magic may benefit you enough to hold off casting your key spell. Otherwise you should cast the spell as soon as possible. Your opponent may just be bluffing counter magic, and if you won’t be able to play around counter magic later in the game, then the best chance to resolve your spell is now.
The same goes for blocking scenarios. The lower on life you go, the harder playing around combat tricks becomes. If you don’t feel as if you will be able to successfully play around combat tricks later in the game, then you should force your opponent to play the combat trick. If they have a trick, then at least playing the trick will tie-up their mana, and if they didn’t, then you put yourself into a better position to deal with any combat trick they draw later on.
I think that description went better than the first. If you still don’t understand what I am saying, let me know in the forums and I will try to explain further.
At the recent Team PTQ in Pittsburgh, Tim Aten asked me,”How many mistakes does the average player make during a game?” In Columbus, I was watching a game between Jon Becker and Ted Knutson. Becker was having mana problems over the course of the entire game, but he was still able to play out a good deal of his hand. Nonetheless, he made about a mistake a turn from turn 3 onward. Ted was mana-flooded and under pressure from Becker’s weenies. He didn’t have many decisions to make, however, once his deck did offer up some decisions, he started making mistakes. [It’s true, I’m awful.]
While I am not going to detail the mistakes they were making, I did talk to both players about the mistakes. Actually, I let into Jon more than I think was appropriate, but that was because I could tell he didn’t think he did anything wrong over the course of the game. Jon is a solid Magic player and a very smart guy; I want to see him succeed, so being brutally honest was the best approach.
My answer to Aten’s question was”Six.” Mistakes are very difficult to quantify though. Rarely does a single play fall into the category of”correct” or”mistake.” Magic is too complicated a game to quantify. Every decision has hundreds of factors to consider before the correct play could be determined. One of my good friends, Ron Kotwica, claimed that he has played flawlessly over the course of entire tournaments. While I respect his opinion a great deal, on this topic he is seriously mistaken.
I doubt I have ever played a perfect game before. I am sure I have never played perfectly in a match. I would never fathom having played perfectly over the course of an entire tournament. Playing perfectly over that long of a time period is impossible. Magic is about making the best possible decision given the limited information available. If you make this decision correctly time and again you will win more often.
Since you don’t have unlimited time to make a decision, practice becomes a valuable way to get better at making decisions. Pattern recognition becomes possible once you have played enough. Often I am in a game situation that I have been in before, I therefore have the experience and confidence to make the correct decision, whereas someone who hadn’t put in the time practicing will struggle to make the right play.
“No one wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.” – Lou Brock
At Pro Tour Amsterdam, I didn’t play well at all. In fact, by my own standards, I played poorly. During one round I made the obvious mistake of not gaining life from my own Sun Droplet. Against Kai, I waited a turn too long to cast Awe Strike, giving Kai an extra opportunity to draw a burn spell. However, I had played a ton of MMM. I knew the format like the back of my hand. Even though I was exhausted from jet lag, I drafted well and played well enough to secure my first Individual Limited Top 8 finish.
All of the time people ask me how to get better; the answer is simply,”Play more.” I know that this will frustrate you lazy readers to no end. There is no point of reading Magic articles to get better if you aren’t going to practice enough to be able to apply the theories of articles. When I first started playing Magic, I played non-stop. I played during school, after school, and over the weekends. Before I knew the Pro Tour even existed I continually played Magic. When I was fortunate enough to meet up with the original CMU team members, I had the experience and skill necessary to push my game to the next level. Always try and push your game to the next level. During practice games, I look down upon take backs. They are pointless. I don’t care about what should have happened. I only want to know what did happen. Practice like you play, because you will play like you practice.
I know this all sounds like crap in a lot of ways. I am not laying down the rules and strategies of the game. I rarely do. Magic is not like schoolwork; there are no foolproof formulas that always work. There aren’t test-taking tricks that will improve your score. Magic has depth and complexity that can’t be simplified into easy theories. Geordie Tait attempted to come up with a way to classify card advantage and StarCity’s readers tore him apart. Magic’s complexity makes theories less valuable than solid practice and experience.
I can’t guarantee you that playing more will bring your game up to the level needed to succeed on the Pro Tour. I know many people who play their hearts out and have not succeeded yet. For every one of them though, there are those who put in the effort to become great players and succeed in doing so. Sometimes a player is lacking in an area not directly related to play skill. This type of problem often requires a radical change in attitude before the player can be successful.
Do you make six mistakes per game? Do you win games that you should lose? Do you lose games that you should win? Before you go blaming luck, make certain to first look into the mirror to check if you have come prepared to win.
Thanks for reading. Looking forward to your comments,