There are plenty of Magic concepts that are incredibly valuable to tournament players but do not necessarily require entire articles. Today, I’d like
to talk about a half-dozen of these pieces of Magic Wisdom. Some you may be familiar with or already grasp these entirely, but hopefully there’s
something new and useful in at least one of the sections, plus it can certainly be helpful to occasionally be re-mind-ed of high-level thinking.
When you lose a match, reflect on what decision you made that cost you the match.
Most players have a tendency to examine a game and find a way to excuse themselves for the loss. Â
“I drew three land in a row.”
“He topdecked Day of Judgment.”
“He had turn one Thoughtseize, turn two Blossom.”
“The judge made a bad ruling.”
“I couldn’t beat a Nighthawk.”
While they all may be true from one frame of reference, they aren’t always the answer to the question you should be asking yourself. They’re actually
just answers to the question, “Why should you still feel like you are good/better than you are, despite losing?” That’s the unspoken question players
hear echoing in their mind, shaking them with such force that they feel the perpetual need to try to convince themselves and others of how good they
Here is an idea: Instead of trying to convince yourself and others of how good you are, focus on becoming the best you possibly can be. Then you and
everyone else will slowly realize how good you actually are, rather than just believing an illusion.
You mulliganed? Okay, but should you have double mulliganed? Did you cut a land? Did you splash a third color? Did you choose to play a deck that is
less stable than another choice you could have made? Did you choose to play in Limited? Did you make it clear from your body language that you were
defenseless, prompting your opponent to overcommit his forces, reducing the time you had to draw a sweeper? Did you play a deck without Preordain or
Brainstorm? Do you mulligan too much? Are you playing a deck that mulligans a lot, like Faeries or Dredge? What happened in the rest of the game, as in
what other decisions did you make? What about the other game you lost? Â
There are countless other decisions that you made. Maybe you would make them all again, if given the chance, but sometimes the right decision means
losing X% of games from mulligans decreasing your chances. If so, you are making the decision to take losses like this in exchange for whatever you get
out of it, such as those games where you don’t mulligan. If that is really the case, than mulliganing, ending up down a card, and losing could just be
“the right play.” Even when it is, you made a decision to make it.
You drew three land in a row? This is even worse than the mulligan explanation. Yes, you drew three land in a row, but you’re just highlighting one
series of events out of context. Understanding the decision you made that led to your loss doesn’t mean finding the thing you “wish” were different. It
means carefully analyzing your game until you understand the decision you made that led to your loss. In my experience, you really “could have won” an
enormous number of games from in-game decisions, but even more than that, there are external game decisions you made that affected your match. There isalways something you could have done differently. The part that a lot of people misunderstand is that just because there is always something youcould have done, it doesn’t mean you should have. Â
For instance, if you realize that the reason you went 6-2 in the PTQ was because you just can’t beat a Kor Firewalker, you could have played a deck
that actually can beat a Kor Firewalker… but that doesn’t mean you should have! You made that choice; that was you. Even though you didn’t Top 8, it
may still have been the right choice for you. I say this because if that deck really does give you your best chances of winning the PTQ, next week,
then losing the PTQ this week is just part of that process. This is not to say that it really was the right decision, but if you decide it was the
right decision, so be it. Either way, you made the decision to lose to Kor Firewalker. Even if you didn’t know you were making that decision, you made
the decision to not educate yourself enough on the format to realize that was the decision you were making.
He topdecked Day of Judgment? By now, it should be easy to see how this is just like drawing three land in a row but even less excusable. Could you
have played around it? You certainly could have played a different deck. Maybe it was right to be willing to lose to Day in that spot, but you still
made the decision.
Even a bad judge’s ruling offers opportunity to understand the decision you made that cost you. Yes, if the judge made the right ruling, you would have
won, or whatever. The judge is just a force of nature. If that drunk driver didn’t hit you on the freeway, you might not have broken four bones and
ended up in the hospital. It’s not your “fault” that the drunk driver hit you, but you are responsible for your actions. You did do something that put
you in this position, and even though you got hit, it might have been the right play. This isn’t to say that you made some mistake that increased your
chances of getting hit, far from it. That would be the wrong play. What if you were actually just making all the right plays, but you happen to be in a
car on a freeway? More people get hurt or killed by cars than almost anything. That doesn’t make them the wrong play. That just makes it part of the
equation of selecting that option a certain percentage of the time — the variance hurts.
When you analyze every single match you lost, looking to truly understand the decision you made that cost you the match, you’ll gain such an incredible
awareness; it boggles the mind. You didn’t always make a mistake in the game that cost you (at least that you can tell), but you always did something.
When you know what it was you did, you can decide for yourself whether it was a mistake (you would not do it again) or whether it was the right play
(you think it best to play that mana base again, sideboard that way, keep that seven-card hand, not block there, whatever). The other benefit to
accepting that your decisions can lead to every single loss you ever get is that you’ll start to realize that you’re making way, way more
mistakes than you think you are and that understanding them will help you make less of them and less often.
Take a few moments to make sure of your decklist.
When you finish your decklist, sort your library into the order listed on the decklist and look at each card, then the name you wrote down. If you
haven’t been playing your deck for a long enough time to know it inside and out, ask someone else to double check your decklist sheet, preferably
someone that knows your actual decklist. Everyone makes mistakes, but I’ve found that most people make the mistake of not having a disciplined system
of ensuring their deck-reg sheet is impeccable. This is a mistake that you’ll rarely get punished for, as you will generally get it right without
trying, but from what I hear, it sucks when you don’t.
A good habit to get into is writing the full names of cards. This is a tough one because there’s certainly a very real cost to writing “The Mind
Sculptor,” or even “TMS” on proxies over and over, instead of just writing “Jace,” but if you ever accidentally write Jace without specifying which
Even worse is using similar tournament cards as proxies for one another. For instance, I remember years ago, Eric D. Taylor got a loss in an Inquest
Type 1 tournament from a deck registration error. He had written Underground River, instead of Underground Sea. Guess what proxy he had been using
during his playtesting? Obviously, these types of mistakes will be rare, but when you playtest with real tournament cards as proxies for other real
tournament cards, your brain develops the wrong mental shortcuts.
Another good habit to get into is writing your decklist in a logical order. I generally write the decklist in mana curve order, writing spells that
cost one, then spells that cost two, then spells that cost three, and so on, as that is how I think about decks as a whole. Then, when I’m reviewing my
deck-reg sheet, it’s far easier to identify when I have omitted something. This can also be helpful for making some last-minute decision about a card
to change or cut, as it will have you thinking about your deck in a logical and organized fashion.
One last note, quadruple check your deck-reg sheet. Seriously, it doesn’t take long, and there are plenty of moments where you have dead time anyway.
I’m not talking four times in a row. I’m talking about filling it out in your hotel room, then double checking it when you get to the site, then
comparing with someone, then checking it one last time just seconds before you hand it in to a judge.
Study what masters do.
When you’re training to succeed at something, study what people who succeed at it do. This doesn’t mean that you should just copy them or try to be
them, but it does mean that often, there is a lot that masters of one trade do that’s connected to their mastery, which aspiring students never
consider might be connected. This certainly doesn’t mean they’re always right or that the habits they have aren’t mistakes, but in general,
understanding why masters do the things they do is a massive benefit for those on the road to mastery.
Whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish, identify who has already accomplished that or is accomplishing it as we speak. What sorts of things do
they do? Why do they do those things? When you truly understand the mind of a master, you won’t be able to help but display mastery.
So many people make the mistake of asking experts a question, then arguing the point, trying to convince the expert to agree with the asker. There is
no question that the asker could be right and the expert wrong. That’s not uncommon at all. However, framing the encounter as someone trying to argue
with someone who doesn’t agree with you isn’t always as useful as presenting the facts that lead you to believe what you do and asking their opinion.
If you believe you have logically stated your case, and they still don’t agree with you, a few things are possible:
1) They just don’t “get it” yet. Arguing with them isn’t the most efficient way to help them get it.
2) You are wrong. Arguing with them isn’t the most efficient way to discover this.
3) You are talking about two different subjects or trying to accomplish two different goals. Arguing with them isn’t the most efficient way to fix
What are you trying to accomplish? Persuade them you are right or reach the greatest understanding? Understanding what you are really trying to
accomplish makes all the difference. If you’re talking to Conley Woods or Michael Flores, and they say you absolutely must add card X, and you think
they are mistaken, you don’t have to agree with them. However, it would serve you to ask yourself, “Why are they so sure I should add card X?” What
would make them think that? If you don’t understand why they think it, how can you be sure they are wrong? Once you understand their thought process
and why they think what they do, you have the ability to make an enlightened decision about whether to revise your stance, or to neglect their advice,
or whatever. Understanding someone’s position isn’t arrived at by arguing with them; it’s arrived at by asking useful questions, listening, and
considering their views from their perspective.
Playtest against people who want to win, when they’re playing the stock deck.
This is obviously a must when you’re piloting the stock deck against your friend. Playtesting against people who want to win with the deck they’re
playing is a totally different matter from testing against the person who just can’t wait for the Faeries/Elves matchup to be over so they can test
their brew. If you want to be the best possible teammate, you have to want to win with the deck you’re playing with.
This is easier said than done. One of the advantages of a playtest group of 4-8 players, instead of just two, is an increase in your ability to only
play some of the decks in the gauntlet. For instance, Wafo-Tapa enjoys playing Valakut, making him an ideal Valakut opponent in testing (a deck that
traditionally gets neglected in many circles, during testing, as many non-Valakut players can’t stand playing it).
Personally, I really enjoy Red Deck Wins types of red aggro. This, combined with my experience with the archetype, makes me an ideal pilot for the red
deck in testing, which many others don’t want to have to play with. The tradeoff comes when they pilot the White Weenie deck that I might not enjoy as
much as they do. Developing a testing group with good teammates involves finding people who are willing to do their part to give the group the best
possible testing possible.
This is not to say that one should just decide they are a person who doesn’t like to play Faeries and shouldn’t have to be the Faerie player. Rather,
if you don’t like winning with Faeries, in the short-run, maybe someone else is a better pilot to test against, but in the medium picture, you should
work on seeing the beauty in Faeries. Find the enjoyment in it; find what it’s in Faeries there is to appreciate, regarding Magic. When you find the
beauty, the truth, the joy in a new deck, you have greatly increased your range as a player.
Of course, there is also the benefit of having more fun, which isn’t just fun but also leads to greater success!
Sleep the night before the event.
I know you have heard this one before, but since you probably don’t adhere to it, I am just going to restate the case. First of all, it sounds obvious,
and most people know it conceptually, but if one doesÂ not sleep enough before engaging in a highly demanding mental competition, they suffer the
next day in a variety of ways, even if they’re relatively young and used to staying up all night being maniacs. When one stays up all night working, or
partying, or playing games, then tries to function the next day, generally they’re just trying to function. Winning a Magic tournament is not
basic functioning. Â
When one is sleep deprived, even by relatively small amounts, they have less memory capacity (too many random programs running in the background eating
up their RAM), which they experience as diminished recall capacity (what cards did I pass in pack two, pick two?) and diminished processing power (when
you have less processing power, your brain produces less ideas for you on its own while you’re busy playing Magic, like what if you bluff a Giant
Growth here?). Lack of sleep leads to an inability to focus, less awareness/perception, and physical fatigue (and in mental activities as demanding as
Chess, inventing new Mathematics, and Magic, the mind and body are very much intertwined).
Can you function without sleep? Maybe, but that isn’t the question. You can also function with a R/B/W Weenie/Titan deck with twelve one-drops, twelve
two-drops, twelve six-drops, twelve dual lands, and twelve basics, but that doesn’t mean it gives you the best chance of winning! Also, regardless of
how tempting it is to believe that chemicals can take the place of sleep, no amount of caffeine, taurine, 5-Hour Energy, or anything else can replace
sleep. Taking caffeine can improve mental functioning compared to not taking caffeine, but the other side to that coin is that a good night’s sleep
improves mental functioning by a greater degree than any mental stimulation, and it isn’t close.
One last point to consider: if you are sixteen to twenty-two and can stay up all night and hardly feel it the next day, you are surely right that you
experience less diminishing effects of lack of sleep than some. However, you still experience a notable drop in performance, plus you won’t be 16-22
forever, and these habits definitely get harder to do right at events.
Be willing to be stupid.
If you haven’t already, please watch this Diesel advertisement. I’m not a guy who
goes around linking to jeans advertisements, but honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an advertisement that was an absolute must-watch,strategically. Seriously, understanding this advertisement’s message (outside of just associating these ideas with Diesel) will help one bring
excellence into their lives.
Like balloons, we are filled with hopes and dreams
But. Over time a single sentence creeps into our lives
“Don’t be stupid.”
It’s the crusher of possibility.
It’s the world’s greatest deflator.
The world is full of smart people.
Doing all kinds of smart things…
we’re with stupid.
Stupid is the relentless pursuit of a regret free life.
Smart may have the brains…
but stupid has the balls.
The smart might recognize
things for how they are.
The stupid see things for how they could be.
The fact is
if we didn’t have stupid thoughts
we’d have no interesting thoughts at all
Smart may have the plans…
but stupid has the stories.
Smart may have the authority
but stupid has one hell of a hangover
It’s not smart to take risks…
To be stupid
is to be brave
The stupid isn’t afraid to fail. The stupid know there are worse things than failure…
like not even trying.
Smart had one good idea,
and that idea was stupid.
You can’t outsmart stupid.
So don’t even try.
only stupid can be truly
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â -Diesel
Rather than get hung up on arguing specific lines, such as the relative smartness of taking risks or hangovers, I suggest looking at the deeper meaning
of the two concepts involved here, going by the labels “Stupid” and “Smart.” Stupid and Smart are not selected as labels because of the actual
intelligence involved in the ideas or decisions, but rather as a response to the experience of “feeling stupid” and the opposite of that, “making the
smart move” (i.e. the safe one).
Is it “Smart” to play the netdeck, instead of brewing? You’d have to be pretty stupid to play a brew, when more than nine out of ten of the best
brewers’ brews fail, and your alternative is The Best Deck (which is safe, and a “smart play”). You better believe it is stupid to try to become a
professional Magic player. You better believe it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Is there a good chance you will look stupid if you walk up
to that girl or boy and strike up a conversation? Yeah, probably, but there’s a chance something could come of it, and you will certainly Live more
The average finish at a Pro Tour is like 240th or so. Are you telling me that that sounds better than a one in ten chance of Top 8ing? You will have
countless opportunities to make big choices in your life, and if you’re on the pursuit of excellence, one of the best things you could do is get over
the fear. Most people are constantly afraid to try new things, think new thoughts, tell a new joke, talk to a new person, make a unique life career
choice, create a new style, work on a new deck, write a new song, invent a new dance move, design a new archetype, or do things differently from
everyone else. They are afraid of saying something stupid, looking stupid, feeling stupid. Â
Brilliant ideas are stupid ideas that worked.