Own Your Mistakes

Tim Pskowski takes a good look at all the things he could’ve done to improve his chances at StarCityGames.com Pittsburgh. Learn from this man! He made these mistakes so you don’t have to.

The other day at work, I was kind of hungry. I headed to the break room, put my dollar in the vending machine, and punched in the number for my standard snack: Pretzel M&Ms. The metal corkscrew turned but to no effect. The M&Ms were stuck and didn’t fall into my waiting hands. I halfheartedly shook the machine but no luck. As my wallet was now empty of singles, I sadly headed back to my desk.

It would be easy to blame this on fate, bad luck, or the poor design of American vending machines.

In the end, I had to take personal responsibility. Why? Well, as I tried to shake free the M&Ms, I saw that the machine had a new item. Sitting below and to the left of my M&Ms was an inconspicuous orange bag with two magical words on it.

Reese’s Pieces

If I’d taken the time to survey the vending machine, I’d have seen the new addition, purchased it, and enjoyed the elegant blend of chocolate and peanut. However as we often do when playing Magic, I’d gone on autopilot. Rather than take time to reason out the correct decision I’d gone with what had worked in the past. The universe was well within its rights to punish me and it did.


SCG Pittsburgh did not go very well for me. I went 2-2 in Standard after conceding rather than drawing into 2-1-1 and went 5-2-1 in Legacy, good for a top 32 and $50.

I was pretty tilted toward the end of the weekend, and there was no question I’d had a case of the run-bads. I had a number of legitimate complaints about how luck and some other factors had gone for me. However once I got home and was hit with $2,000 of unexpected costs due to being a home and pet owner, I realized that there are things you can’t control, and there are things you can control.

My finishes in Pittsburgh were my fault and my responsibility. This article is not about my tournament or my decks; it is about my mistakes. For the record and to make the following clear, I played Caw-Blade and UW Mystic/Faeries in the two events. I was about eight cards off from the 150 Ben Friedman played to back-to-back Top 8s (congrats!), so I can’t blame my decks.

Mistake #1 Not Calling a Judge

In round two of Standard, I was in a good spot versus an opponent playing Bant-Pod. He however ripped a couple nice ones in a row and went on to spend a long time killing me with a Birthing Pod. He clearly did not know his deck well and spent long periods of time coming up with plays that were worse than what I expected. I should have called a judge for slow play but didn’t. After the game, I asked him to speed up, and he insisted he was playing at a reasonable pace.

When I presented for game two, he called a judge to check my sleeves, which I was informed were worn and would need to be replaced after the match. The fact that he did this and counted my deck in game one did lend an amusing sense of irony to his later claims that I was fishing for a game loss.

Game two came and went quickly, and we were on to the decider with very little time left on the clock. I played very aggressively to try and close things out, which let him rip and resolve a Birthing Pod. The match turned into a mess when he forgot about Sun Titan triggers twice in a single turn then decided to use them after we’d already marked down damage from an attack. Eventually the head judge determined that the board state was irreparable. And I went on to lose the game when I didn’t rip a Day of Judgment.

I’d have never been put in this spot if I’d just called a judge in game one for slow play. If that game had not taken thirty minutes with my opponent tripping over his deck on the way to win, I would have had time to be more conservative in game three and would have won.

In the end, my opponent played a poor, sloppy game and got lucky. However I had outs—that out was to call a judge in game one. Don’t make the same mistake.

Mistake #2 Not Looking Out For Your Own Interests

In round four of Standard, I was 2-1 and faced Dan Jordan playing RUG TwinPod. Game one was a strange game where Acidic Slime and copies of it destroyed about five lands. I lost to his third copy of Splinter Twin a turn before I could kill him. Game two was fairly long with him being a couple points short of lethal with his Inferno Titan.

Again we had limited time for game three, and I boarded into an aggressive version of my deck taking out the sideboarded Day of Judgments.

In game three Dan landed a Wurmcoil Engine and put Splinter Twin on it. His clock was very slow versus my chump-blocking Hawks, but I couldn’t draw any of my outs. I had a hand full of countermagic, but it was useless versus his 6/6. Eventually we drew, and I decided to concede, as he was ahead, rather than have us both at 2-1-1 in an event where at least one x-1-1 was probably going to miss Top 8.

So where was the punt? Twice we’d had relatively simple judge rulings in our match. They’d taken a total of three or four minutes out of our match. Both times, the judge failed to give us a time extension, and we failed to ask for one. If we’d had those few extra minutes, I’d have drawn the Oblivion Ring that was a few cards down and be in a position to ask Dan to concede rather than doing it myself. Judges should give you an extension when they make a ruling that takes more than a few seconds, but you have to be sure to ask for it if they do not. If we’d done that, I might have been 3-1 not 2-2.

Mistake #3 Not Looking Out For Your Own Interests (Again)

In round five of Legacy, I was 4-0 and had a feature match versus James Rynkiewicz on SCGLive. This was a fantastic match, and I recommend watching it on SCGLive here and here.

Whenever I have a table judge, I get more lax about enforcing rules on my opponent. This is a bad habit, and I know I’m not alone in it. In game one James did take a long time making his plays, and after the game, the judge gave him a verbal warning. I did nothing. Like before, I should have spoken up during the game. This might have resulted in a warning at some point, but more importantly, it would have resulted in a quicker game one.

Again I won game two, and we went into game three short on time. I cut the Wrath of Gods and Ancestral Visions from my deck. Again I was playing to win, not draw. James got a fast start, and I looked pretty dead when time was called. However as I’d boarded with the intention of winning, not drawing, and he’d taken the bulk of time in game one, I declined to concede, and we both went to 4-0-1.

If I’d pressured James on time game one, which I think would have been justified, I could have changed my boarding and had a much better plan in game three where his draw was pretty cold to Ancestral Vision or Wrath of God.

Mistake #4 Not Trusting Yourself

My mistakes versus James went beyond time management. In game two I made a pretty big misplay. You can see game two in part two of the video here. If you want to skip to around 15:30 or so, you should see the relevant section.

I played Jace to bounce Vendilion Clique. On James’s turn he had three land with the Clique in hand and cast a main-phase Brainstorm. My hand was Force of Will, Mental Misstep, blank. I Misstepped the Brainstorm as it was unlikely he had a land to replay the Clique, and I just wanted to untap with Jace while he had nothing going on.

While my idea was solid, it made no sense in this game. Before Misstepping his Brainstorm, I thought to myself ‘if he has his own Misstep, I’m in a bad spot.’ I strongly considered not casting the Misstep at all, but in the end it was just too tempting.

James had the Misstep, and he Brainstormed into Pyroblast killing my Jace. If I held Force of Will for his Clique or for a card that removes my Jace, I was in a pretty good spot and thought I had a good chance of coming back in that game. I think Force of Will on his Brainstorm is even a relevant play to get around Misstep. As it stood, my chances at winning the game more or less ended when I cast Misstep on Brainstorm.

If I’d listened to my gut, I might have been 5-0, only needing one more win to draw in.

Mistake #5 Being Over Confident

In round six of Legacy, I faced Aggro-Loam. Game one he was on the ropes after I Force of Will-ed his turn one Sylvan Library, and he didn’t have a turn-two mana source. A few turns later the board was:

Him: Taiga, Mox Diamond, Tarmogoyf

Me: Lands, Stoneforge, a freshly cast Jace with three loyalty

I lost this game.

Now for me to lose, a million things had to go wrong. I ended the game with 17 cards in my deck; one was a land. This was after eight to ten Brainstorms, most with shuffle effects.

I however can’t blame luck for this game loss. Sure I would have won if I’d drawn better, but I had an out, and it wasn’t complicated.

I just had to bounce my Batterskull leaving a Sword on the token and create another Germ. He had exactly enough blockers/Maze of Ith so any extra creature would have taken care of his one life point.

Many turns later, I was dead. I boarded in my huge amount of graveyard and creature hate and felt very confident I could win, though there wasn’t much time left. For game two, I mulled to four, and minutes later went on some pretty serious tilt.

What Can You Learn From a Bad Weekend?

At 4-1-1 in Legacy, I ran into a round where I legitimately couldn’t have changed the result. I just drew really poorly. However if I’d won round five, I’d have had another match round six and a shot to win. This type of loss just reinforces how important it is to avoid blowing matches that you can win.

I know that next weekend, if you play slowly against me, I will call a judge and try to get things moving.

I know that next weekend, if we have a table judge, I’ll still aggressively pursue judge calls when warranted.

I know when I’m ahead, I’ll really think about my plays, not go on autopilot.

If I’d done all that this past weekend, I’d have been in the position to crush Ben in some more Top 8 UW mirrors and been both pleased and unhappy to ship him money from splits.

Wrapping Up

I want to apologize to anyone looking for wacky antics or good stories. I had a great weekend in Pennsylvania outside of the individual rounds and want to thank all my friends for their company, help, and support.

No disrespect was intended to (most) of my opponents brought up in this article. As I said, whatever mistakes you made, I am still responsible for my own.

Congrats again to Ben; he is really someone to watch assuming that he isn’t punting in the Top 8 or playing against me.

Congrats to Gerry for proving that an old man can still win events and become the first back-to-back Open Champion.

Lastly, congrats to Ali for taking down Nationals with UB. His deck went from unplayable to pretty good as the Caw decks evolved and became more inbred, well done.

I’ll be in Richmond this weekend looking to take it down with some 1/1 fliers in both formats. Not sure on the exact lists yet, but I’m keeping my Islands and Plains sleeved!

Let me know any questions in the comments. Thanks for reading and follow me on Twitter as @timpskowski!