I wrote two articles this week, a process which seemed easy enough to do, but proved difficult. The first topic,
, was simple. My list is easily a month ahead of everyone else’s, and no one was writing about it regardless.
Past that, I could update Standard decks
which would be made trivial in a week â€” talk about Legacy brews, which
Patrick Chapin already did
, or spend some more time on Extended, again,
which was already done by Sam Stoddard
So what’s left? I could write about Pauper, but only twenty people would read that. More Extended or Legacy tech seems to be always welcome in the community. Perhaps a mixed piece? I definitely thought about writing
, Part Two, but then I’d have to pay Chapin royalties.
I had a little something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while, but didn’t want to do it unless it was done right. Still, it was another one of those theory-type, feel-good, mental game articles. While I feel like, if done correctly, such an article could greatly enhance someone’s resume, they just don’t sit well with the mainstream crowd.
Some people aren’t concerned with going pro, winning a PTQ for the first time, or even getting better. They want technology to crush FNM with, or people they can try to call out in their forums to make themselves feel better, or just something to read to kill time. Basically, most would rather be handed a fish than be taught how to fish.
It seemed like if I ever did get around to writing it, it would probably be something that I should post on my blog (which I’m clearly neglecting).
But I’m already doing two articles this week and will most likely not get around to writing three, so I was worried about that article ever getting finished. I think it’s good, it’s important, and I should start the new year with something of substance, so here we are.
Whenever someone feels like they have a game locked up (or when they even just start to pull ahead), it becomes theirs. It is their cherished victory. It’s another accomplishment under their belt, another trophy on their mental mantle. No one can take that away from them…
…Except, of course, for their opponent’s crafty maneuvers, the top card of their opponent’s deck, or even their own mistakes.
Why then, do we count our chickens before they’re hatched? What purpose does it serve? Can’t we just celebrate after the fact? Once that moment is gone, that taste of victory that we all crave is fleeting. What we want is to live in the moment, and cherish those triumphs. Once that moment passes, we have to return to our everyday lives, so we need to embrace those seconds while we have them.
I wrote about
my victories at Grand Prix: Nashville
the StarCityGames.com Invitational
, and many could say that I sounded ungrateful. At no point during the tournament did I reflect on my accomplishments â€” whether they were game wins, match wins, making the top eight â€” or the money I made. Even after the tournaments had ended, it was hard to look back and be grateful for my wins, or my friends who were cheering for me, or what had happened. That’s how ingrained in my mind
thinking about it had become.
The only thing on my mind during those tournaments was the matches at hand. You wouldn’t catch me asking what I needed to make top eight, or who I thought I’d play against next round considering I was up a game and therefore likely to win the match.
- I’m in a good position. How can I lose this game?
- He missed his third land drop. What could he have that would entice him to keep that hand?
- He didn’t play a two-drop in his Vampire deck. He must have Mark of Mutiny, Demon of Death’s Gate, or Memoricide. How do I decide which he has?
So which school of thought is better? A world where we live on the edge of our seats in the game, waiting for the look of defeat in our opponent’s eyes once they peek at their last draw step â€” or where we keep our cool and finish our games with no emotion?
For the most part, it depends on what you want to get out of Magic. If you’re just in it for the thrill, and want to see your opponent turn over their top card when they are drawing to three outs, I suggest you pick up a different game.
If you just want to win at leisure and bask in the glory later, I’d go with my current strategy.
Optimism and Adam Yurchick
Lately, I’ve been reading some books on psychology â€” a subject that I’ve always found fascinating, but was far too lazy to ever get really into. Thanks to John Penick, a real psychology student, I ended up reading Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman.
One of the most interesting portions of the book, even though the entire thing was pretty awesome, was where the author gave a test to determine if the reader was an optimist or pessimist. The test is kind of screwy and definitely game-able, but the results plus the following portion were an eye opener. Apparently I’m an optimist, at least in most areas.
He went on to describe how optimists and pessimists function differently in the workplace, and which jobs fit each group. Optimists make for great salesmen, as that job involves a lot of calling random people, offering them something, getting yelled at, and then hung up on. In order to maintain their sanity, the optimist typically makes up an excuse like, “Oh, he was just having a bad day. I’ll get the next sale.”
Meanwhile, the pessimist is getting yelled at, and suddenly feels plagued with self-doubt. Is this the job for them? Will they ever make a sale? Calling these people and disturbing them doesn’t seem very nice.
I read about all that, applied it Magic, and immediately thought about Adam Yurchick. While probably not a household name, as he doesn’t spend all of his time shamelessly self-promoting like some, Adam is a stone cold master. He finished level six this year after a quiet string of solid finishes, and some of you might have no idea who he is.
Those of you who do know him can describe his demeanor, as it’s very original for a Magic player. Adam is mostly silent, wandering the tournament halls with his headphones on, devouring an apple or whatever delightful fruit he procured from a nearby market. All the while, he’s silently racking up match wins. What he’s currently pondering at any given time is a mystery.
While I’ve seen Adam smile at the occasional comment from Josh Wludyka, his emotions are usually well-hidden. If he’s ever been upset or angry, I’ve never seen it. He seems almost robotic.
However, I can say, without a doubt, that Adam is an optimist.
If, by some act of God, he loses a match of Magic, his demeanor remains the same. It’s as if nothing happened at all. It’s as if â€”
â€” his mood and general well-being aren’t affected by his latest results. If Adam loses, it doesn’t impact him negatively because he knows that he’ll get the next sale.
Brad Nelson and I have written in the past about playing Magic one match at a time. Don’t concern yourself with what round it is, don’t think about what record you need to top eight, don’t think about how you’re going to convince your mom to let you go to the Pro Tour in Europe. Cross those bridges when you get there.
Gavin Verhey said that
you shouldn’t try to ignore those impulses; instead, simply don’t let them bother you
. I think that, unless you’re well-trained in that regard, you should try my advice first.
Round Nine of Grand Prix: Oakland, I was paired against Adam Yurchick, and I knew I was going to lose.
My brief hiatus in 2009 had ended abruptly when I quit my job and moved out of Montana, and had nothing left to do but re-pursue my career in Magic. My first PTQ was a heartbreaking third-place finish, but I was a new man. I was reborn in the ashes of the backwater hell I had just escaped from, and knew I’d get that next sale.
Without even thinking about my mental status or how much better I was playing now than before I quit, I easily won the PTQ two days later. I had a fire and a drive to win that arose from less than a six-month break. For the last few months, gaming wasn’t on my mind at all; now I just wanted to battle, but battling was nothing unless I was going to win.
I won that PTQ with a version of Dark Depths that, even two months into the PTQ season, was still capable of winning a PTQ. It was timeless and beautiful.
After taking a split-second to look back on what had just happened, the drive disappeared. On reflection, I was happy with my accomplishment, and my fire was extinguished. I had nothing left to gain. Although I still dabbled in online events, typically placing in the money, I wasn’t putting up impressive results. I was constantly on auto-pilot and frequently made sub-par plays.
Grand Prix: Oakland was a month later, and was the same format. I realized what was happening and took a small break before the GP to compose myself. The Grand Prix was to be my epic Magic comeback, and was a fitting format to return to the trenches with. I was armed with a weapon that I designed myself (although for the nitpickers out there, I obviously scoped out a few specs from other designers), and everyone was coming to me for advice.
I was on that center stage for the first real time in my life. All eyes were on me, but I think it was because I didn’t even realize it, or at least I didn’t take it seriously that I was able to shut it out. My Grand Prix Trial started, and I cruised to 5-0.
A very good, well-respected friend of mine would later tell me that he used to think I was a mediocre player that had above-average results, possibly getting my edge from deck design. After watching me play the GPT to get information for himself, he said that if how I played in that GPT was any indication, I was an insane player who had gotten incredibly unlucky for the last ten years.
That’s probably an exaggeration on both ends â€” but it just goes to show what sort of mindset I was in, even from an outsider’s perspective. I can talk up how important mental preparation is all day, and give you examples of where I’ve excelled because of it, but hearing it from someone other than me should help.
Dark Depths is the type of deck Yurchick and I are motherf***ing surgeons with. Even on autopilot, I take lines of play others don’t even consider, but I know to be 100% correct because I’ve made the same play a hundred times before.
On my best days, you are going to watch me and not understand what’s going on until the game ends five turns later. You’re going to think I’m behind, possibly even getting crushed, but I’m just using my life total as a resource, forcing them to expend every resource
have, until suddenly they’re dead.
I’m going to play around Mana Leak even though my opponent’s deck doesn’t typically have it, even after I saw his hand the turn before with a
Thoughtseize. It was where he arranged the card he drew, how I traced his eyes across my board and through his hand, and figured out his plan.
he did set me off, and I was smart enough to listen.
Maybe I returned a Chrome Mox with Academy Ruins in the middle of a game because I knew I was going to use my mana for the next two turns, the culmination of which was him countering my Sword of the Meek with his last card. At that point, I needed an artifact to sacrifice to Thopter Foundry to get my combo started. The play was fluid. I didn’t have to think about it; it just made sense.
Through practice with the deck, the matchups, and having a clear head, that is what I was able to accomplish. The GPT was a breeze, and I quickly found myself sitting at table one with an 8-0 record. My opponent was the aforementioned Adam Yurchick, a friend with whom I can only assume I have a mutual respect. We were both piloting the same Dark Depths deck â€” although he’d comment during the match that I was, like always, a week ahead with the sideboard technology.
We sat down, shook hands, and discussed how big of a joke it was that our match wasn’t featured. At that point, it hit me. I reflected on the last month, looked around the room; I saw the people railbirding me at table one, nodding. We all expected it, and I made it happen. “My” deck was tearing up the tournament, and no matter what happened in that match, one of us would advance to 9-0. We were both capable pilots, and the winner would likely end up in the top eight.
What was there to lose? I had already accomplished so much. Even winning the tournament would barely increase the amount of recognition I was getting. Much like after the PTQ, I finally allowed myself to be proud of what I’d done â€” and after that, the match at hand no longer had any real meaning. Adam likely saw the glazed-over, dead look in my eyes and knew I was simply a punching bag.
I could say that I mulliganned both games, and Adam had Dark Confidant advantage the entire time… but that’s not how I lost. After the match, I shook his hand, wished him good luck on day two, and walked away from the table with a smile on my face. Adam’s friends were congratulating him, but he was stoic as ever. The tournament wasn’t over for him yet, and he knew it. However, mine effectively was.
Adam went on to finish second in Oakland, won Grand Prix: Houston with the same deck… While once again, I sat on the sidelines. Much like the first time I made top 8 of a PTQ, and the judge set down my box and top eight pin right next to me, I had already given up. My goal going into that PTQ was to make top eight â€” and I did it! Because I had reached my goal, there was nothing else to strive for, and I lost.
At Worlds in 2009, I played in two separate PTQs with cool decks. I knew I was “quitting,” so the PTQs had little meaning aside from beating people with my brews. Both times, I reflected, once at 4-0, and the other at 2-0… and both times, I lost the very next match.
At Worlds in 2008, I started 3-0 in the Extended portion to lock up level six, and immediately lost the next match. It wasn’t until Tim Aten found out the situation and made a tiny scoff that I resolved to tighten up and focus. I knew Tim well enough to infer that he thought my goal was met, and I wouldn’t win any more. I went 2-0 to finish out the day, which was my part of our “conversation.”
With time, your goals change. Chris Andersen used to get excited and high-five his friends when he was 4-0 in a PTQ, only to go 0-2 from there every single time. After a while, he broke that curse and started making top eights, but then lost immediately. These days, I don’t think he’s happy with anything less than a win. Being undefeated, or even making top eight, isn’t something that satisfies him anymore, so he’s not proud until he wins.
Players like Adam Yurchick are incredibly dangerous, since you know if they put the time in and care enough, you probably won’t beat them. There are similar players like Kenji, Paulo Doritos, and even Corey Baumeister, where I see the same traits. All it takes is a little work.
There are good players out there like Calcano and Calosso, both with the potential to be great, yet their mental game is weak. Both are constantly searching for the first opportunity to bemoan their luck and enter the tilt-a-whirl. Losing is far easier than winning for most. Seizing that chance to throw away a close game rather than actually playing tight is typically more satisfying than trying to win, especially if it ends in failure.
Reading Nick Spagnolo article, which described how
Calosso overcame his opponent in the finals of a recent PTQ when he was down a game and dead on board
, was amazing. I knew that Calosso had finally won another PTQ, but I had no idea that his friends were leaving in the midst of game two, assuming that Calosso had no way to win. Thoughts of the past seven PTQs where he lost in the finals were probably the last thing on his mind when he refused to give up.
I’m not a natural. I’m just a dude with an above-average IQ, who kind of hates losing, and doesn’t like being bad at things. I needed someone to teach me about card advantage. My brain certainly doesn’t want to play along with what I want, and is frequently trying to sabotage me. I can honestly say it warms my cold, dead heart to see today’s youth overcome the problems that I still struggle with.
If you take anything away from this article at all, please let it just be the knowledge that this is important. It is so vital that I feel like there should be more articles on tricking yourself into achieving this mindset than about actual strategy. If you’re stuck in a rut, constantly X-2ing or top eighting PTQs but can’t quite get there, you probably need help the most.
I’m not a natural like Finkel, Baby Huey, or Gabe Walls. Those guys can pick up a game and instantly know the ins, outs, and ways to exploit it. Perfect play is fluid and effortless. I’ve struggled my entire life to get to where I am, all on my own. Chances are, you’re the exact same way.
Start something, start here, and start now.