There is too much good Magic going around the Internet these days. Everywhere you look, there are awesome decks, player-busting strategies, amazing plays and bluffs that just blew the game wide open.
Problem is, how many times have you learned from your wins?
If you’re anything like me, you lose only when a loss rubs a handful of coarse-grained salt directly into a freshly-opened wound. There must have been a hundred times that I’ve tapped the mana correctly that allowed me to win the game… But the only time I learned the lesson is when I accidentally tapped that Plains instead of the Island and whoops, there went the game.
That loss is like a tattoo on my soul, a glowing ember that never stops burning wedged right in the corner of my eye. Every time I tap a Plains from that moment onward, that tiny wince stops me – “Say, you remember that time you f**ked up big-time tapping the wrong mana?”
And that, my friends, is what stops me from doing it again.
Don’t get me wrong. I learn a little from my wins. Why, just this week, I went, “Oh, right! I can use my Wellgabber Apothecary to prevent damage to my Galepowder Mage when I attack into his army of fliers, allowing me to attack safely and recur my Cloudgoat Ranger for the win!” Looking at the board carefully had allowed me to see an interaction that I’d never noticed before. I had learned.
That was cool. I’ll remember it because it was cool. Yet there’s a reason that parents punish kids; nothing teaches you a lesson like a good solid ache to the heart.
The problem is, nobody loses on the Internet.
Every article’s about how this guy wins, how this deck is awesome, how this analysis is superior. And they’re all about how you can win, listing the eight amazing tricks that will turn you from lowly scrub into Level 6. StarCity and other sites are packed with winners.
God, with all these winners, you’d think every PTQ handed out twelve invites. Why, just the other day, I saw a guy who’d attended two Pro Tours (and scrubbed out in 250-300th place in both of them) talking about how most Magic writers were terrible. Which, of course, carries the insinuation that he was good, even though frankly he didn’t do much better than most of the writers he’s trashing.
In this sea of greatness, who dares to stand up and admit they’re awful? Heck, in a world where forumgoers will cheerfully second-guess Kenji Tsumura and Rich Hoaen and Tiago Chan and be convinced they’re right, who will say that their play, frankly, needs some improvement?
Sam Stoddard is the bad Magic player.
See, he made a list of all the terrible things that he consistently does when playing Magic… And he talks about his preening ego, the thing that convinced him that he was so much better than the other guys. He’d been to six Pro Tours. He’d gotten ninth place at a PTQ. If anything, he had the right to say he was much better than the aforementioned guy who was saying that Magic writers were terrible.
Instead, he made a list.
The list was enlightening, because in seeing what good players see as holes in their play, we can go, “Oh, crap, I do that too! And worse, I don’t even think it’s that bad!” But Magic is a game of degrees, where the slightest mistake can cost you multiple matches; every mistake matters.
Putting all the mistakes that one can make out there signals that it’s a problem. And if you’re a weaker player, it might even point out things that you didn’t even know were mistakes. Would a novice Limited player know that you should, sometimes, play your best creatures in reverse order so that your most vital creature doesn’t fall to the first Tarfire? Probably not.
Hence, I decided to make my own list. The first one’s the same as Sam’s, because frankly, “Not shuffling well” is something that every Magic player should take care of stat. But the rest are pretty much mine.
Here’s my list. Why not post yours?
1) I shuffle very poorly (a reverse bridge) that tends to damage cards and cause clumps. Because of this, I tend to not shuffle as much as I should between games and I almost never shuffle my opponent’s deck as thoroughly as I should.
2) I get intensely bored during games and multitask. My game is not served well by me watching TV in the background, since I’m not considering all the right plays and just going with the easiest ones.
3) My mind wanders in the middle of the game when the board has become “stalemated.” I either panic and attack with everything to see if I can bring him down (thus walking into an ugly trick), or I freeze and wait for an overwhelming advantage to try (thus giving my opponent too much time to draw something).
4) I have yet to master the art of playing at a proper speed. It seems that I’m always burning up my hand in the early game and putting everything onto the table, then being thwarted when my opponent, with his five cards in hand, casts a single big blocker to stop me and I can’t break through for fatal damage. This may also be a matter of judging tempo properly.
5) I’m impatient when it comes to complex combat blocks, and will spend only a minute or two thinking about it before I go with my gut instinct. Which works enough of the time since my gut’s all right, but when it fails it fails big.
6) I sometimes get stuck on certain effects, going into automatic mode of “always tapping this guy” or “always hitting this guy” or “always attacking with this guy” without checking to see if the board has changed in the interim. This is particularly evident during a stalemate.
7) I do not pay sufficient attention to what my opponent played. When I go to sideboard, I often forget the full range of colors he was playing if it didn’t affect the board at the time, and I won’t remember a spell he played if it didn’t wreck me.
8) I have a terrible memory. I should always know the number of cards in my opponents’ hand, and if I bounced a creature I should always remember it’s there, even if he doesn’t replay it for a few turns. Likewise, I should pay careful attention to what cards got played; I know more than a few matches have been decided because a player returned one Plains to his hand with a bounceland, then played a different Plains with different art a turn later, letting the good player know that his opponent now has a Plains in hand… But I don’t have that kind of memory.
9) I keep low-action, mana-flooded hands in the second game because I got manascrewed in the first game and am terrified it’ll happen again.
10) I’ll often play something to “draw out” a trick my opponent has without properly considering whether getting it out now is the proper course of action. For example, I’ll suspect a Whirlpool Whelm or Wings of Velis Vel and throw a creature away just to get it out of his hand so I won’t have to worry about it. I’m generally right about the trick, but the timing’s wrong.
11) I still have a tendency to overcommit mildly to the board, playing almost all the lands in my hand and putting just one too many creatures on the table.
12) Unless I’m paying careful attention I play the creatures in my hand from most powerful to least powerful, allowing my opponent’s removal the optimal efficiency.
13) I am good at getting out of hopeless situations. Unfortunately, I’m also good at getting into hopeless situations because I don’t consider every last play in the way that I should until my back is against the wall.
14) When I’m struggling on mana, I’ll often get impatient and tap out for The Big Cool Creature that I finally cast, regardless of whether I have a combat trick that I desperate need. I tell myself that it’s highly unlikely that my opponent will do something grievous in that one-turn window, and am inevitably surprised.
15) When mulliganning, I sometimes forget to look at the right lands-to-color combination – a total scrub move.
16) I don’t know how to sideboard. I take out a card almost at random if it didn’t help me in the first game, and put in a card specifically designed to hose one card in my opponent’s deck. I don’t think in terms of his overall strategy vs. my overall strategy and what I need to neuter.
17) If I’ve lost due to someone’s bomb rares, I tend to get disheartened and think that I’ve already lost the next game because I just can’t beat that.
18) If I lose the first game, in my heart of hearts I’ve already lost the match.
19) I forget most of the cards I pass in Limited right after I pass them. I tend to only remember the big flashy one. This leads to not knowing that I am sending misleading signals, then being surprised when I am fighting the person next to me for a color. Also a nightmare in team drafts.
20) I do not pay enough attention to my opponent. If they want to cheat, they could probably get away with it, since I assume they are honest.
21) I take my cue from my opponents when it comes to strictness of play. If he appears to be playing a casual game, I will do the same thing, and I’ll allow stupid takebacks. I should be a hardliner regardless of what else is happening.
22) I almost certainly have habits, tics, and other giveaways that indicate my mental state to anyone watching. I do not know what they are, but I’m pretty sure I have them. Worse, I tell myself nobody’d pay attention to that anyway.
23) I skim new cards and sometimes don’t pay attention to what they do.
24) I look at my opponents’ ratings by looking at their profile and then adjust my play accordingly. Which may be something that’s not a bad idea, but I probably overcompensate overmuch.
25) I automatically go first in Limited.
26) I get “power-blinded” by Limited, falling in love with the first cool card I open (which isn’t necessarily a rare – sometimes it’s just two power commons coming right up in my pool) and then get fixated on playing those colors.
27) I do not think enough about the mana curve when building my Limited decks.
28) I overvalue my first few picks of a draft. I will not switch an overly contested color until it is too late.
29) I lie to myself after losing and pretend that I’m just not smart enough to analyze what went wrong, when it’s just plain laziness.
30) I over value specific cards in play and do not play around my opponent’s removal.
31) I go to tournaments hoping I can win, not knowing that I will.
32) I get impatient hitting the F2 button and click through stupid things. Then, if sufficiently frustrated by a bad misclick, I’ll cede the game.
33) I tell myself that mistakes I make in games that I win are less important and I do not focus on what I could have done to fix them.
Wow. Thirty-three areas of suck. How do I improve that?
I’ve got some ideas. But I think that’s gonna be a big New Year’s article, if you get my drift.
So what are your failures?
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