Being right is hard, and it is not something you can always control. Bias is just a natural fact of life, and it can get in the way of success. If you want to do well at Magic, don’t try to become more right – try to become less wrong.

Sometimes you go to a Grand Prix to find yourself playing in the single elimination rounds of the Top Eight. Sometimes you end up winning only one match in the Grand Prix and spending the rest of the weekend trying your best to accumulate a thousand Prize Wall tickets. Fate never really lets you in on the end result until you live it. The best course of action is just to live in the moment and appreciate what you’ve got. Isn’t that right Brian?

BBD And A Giant Card

“Do I really have to ride in the back seat with this guy for the entire trip home?”

Yes, BBD, you do.

Grand Prix Providence wasn’t one for the storybooks, at least not in the pages I would write. I went 1-3 after my byes and ended up playing a win-a-box while Todd and BBD finished up Day One. On the second day I spent my time in the Super Sunday Series. I took my second loss in round five and spent the remaining two rounds trying to accumulate enough points to bring everyone’s favorite demon home with me. 5-2 isn’t the worst result, but I definitely wanted to take a crack at playing in the main event in Seattle for my first time. All of my results were just worse than what I was accustomed too. I didn’t really know what to chalk this poor performance up to.

I could blame it on my mindset. Grand Prix Charlotte wrapped up with me having all of my six available GP slots filled with three points or better. What makes it even more special was the fact that I had only played in six individual Grand Prix the whole season. That meant that I would need a Top Eight or better to even obtain any points. The stress was off and I was seeking fun more than anything. The only reason I even went to Providence was because I promised BBD and Todd that I would embark on the long journey weeks prior to the event.

I could blame it on the deck. Jeskai has always been a deck that I didn’t value highly. It felt underpowered compared to the rest of the field, and so far it always had poor performances ever since the release of Fate Reforged. I changed my tune on the deck when Patrick Dickmann crushed me with it, and fell in love with the interesting build after a couple events on Magic Online. The list was unique enough for me to ignore past results with the strategy. I liked our build since it was designed to prey on the expected metagame, but to our surprise, Abzan Megamorph showed up in higher numbers than I imagined. Adding to that misevaluation, the deck just didn’t perform as well as I originally thought it would. It was far more clunky than I thought it would be even though I knew it had been an awkward archetype for the past six months.

I could blame it on my preparation. I didn’t get much time to test this past week due to real-life obligations which left me trusting in Patrick Dickmann’s love for the Jeskai deck. I usually always find time to play enough games, but I just didn’t this week. Patrick did nothing wrong and helped sculpt a great deck. My only grievance was that I didn’t know how to play it well enough.

I could blame it on my play. There were multiple decision points during the event where I know for a fact I would have chosen differently in a more competitive mindset. I wasn’t playing bad, per se, but I wasn’t on my normal game.

I could blame it on variance. Multiple times throughout the event I found myself in a great position to win only to later find myself topdecked out of the game. Sure, it was frustrating, but I knew that I was riding on grace for some time now and getting the short end of the stick at this event wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

I could blame it on all of these things. Each and every one of these reasons would end up being a part of the bigger picture. It’s difficult to articulate exactly why a tournament went poorly since there are so many variables involved, but it makes it so much easier to learn from if you try. Objective reasoning after an event helps when trying to understand how to progress from a poor result. Looking at things honestly and analytically will heed the best results when looking forward to the next event.

Am I disappointed with my result? No.

I know exactly why I didn’t do that well this past weekend. I didn’t care as much about it. I spent less time testing than I normally do, played a deck that I’ve always believed to be a poor choice, and didn’t play as well as I could. All of these things culminated in a poor result. Even so, I did succeed in my initial goal of having fun. I actually had more fun at this event than most of the others. I got to root on my friends without any internal pressure keeping me out of the moment, hang out with people I normally only exchange pleasantries with due to time constraints, and strive to win something on a thing they call a prize wall that I wasn’t accustomed to in the past. Grand Prix Providence was a blast!

One thing that did happen in Providence that I wasn’t expecting was how many people were shocked at my result. People constantly asked me how it was possible for me to do poorly. “But this event was Standard and you always do well at Standard” was one of the more common vocal points in my interactions throughout the weekend. How do you answer that? Regardless of if it was playful or not, it was unnerving to constantly answer that I was human and don’t always do well. I didn’t care though since I was comfortable in my own skin and always knew that my results were well above personal expectations.

Let’s rewind all the way back to 2011 where I had the exact same finish in Grand Prix Atlanta. The format was Extended and I played Mono-Red. I thought it was a great choice since my results on Magic Online had been good, but found myself only winning one round in the swiss. The other deck I had which was somewhat new ended up winning the tournament. I wasn’t happy at all. I was mad that my tournament went poorly. I picked the wrong deck, had terrible draws, and screwed up in testing. I felt ashamed that I did so poorly and was self-conscious about my result. The spotlight was shining on me due to the Player of the Year playoff coming up and I felt that the world would turn against me if I started having bad finishes like this one.

Both of these events were similar, yet my mentality in them was much different. Providence was a blast regardless of my finish. I was content with myself and wasn’t concerned with what people would say about me missing Day Two. People cracked jokes at me all weekend long, but none of it fazed me. I just knew it was white noise and that it didn’t need to affect the way I saw myself or my accomplishments. That wasn’t the case five years ago; back then, I was crushed when people talked poorly about me. I needed the validation and craved it whenever it wasn’t there. I allowed my self-worth to be defined by my accomplishments.

I put myself on a pedestal.

Competition breeds excellence. Without tournaments, the Magic community would be a lot smaller, the companies created through the game would be worse, and the ceiling of the average skill level would be much lower. The overall happiness of the players would, however, be astronomically higher. It isn’t the fault of the tournament organizers, but that of the individual competitors. Competitions aren’t designed to create winners. Only one person can win. They are designed to create losers.

From that competition, only one person is victorious. In many instances, they are literally put on a pedestal for others to gawk at while they kiss the piece of gold they were given. On this pedestal, they, and the rest of the audience, get to look at the results biasedly or unbiasedly.

Being biased in competition is natural. It is impossible to look at your own results completely objectively, but understanding the subjectivity is crucial in maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself and others around you. Without a deep understanding of where thoughts are coming from, a person can slowly move away from the place they want to be. Take me for example.

In 2011 I was on top of the world. I thought making the Top Eight in events was easy because people constantly talked about how easy I made it look. I didn’t have the foundation that I do now to understand what was actually going on. I eagerly stepped up on the pedestal people set down for me only to see my hard work crumble around me as I became complacent. I didn’t fully grasp that winning doesn’t create more winning. The preparation and mental constitution I brought to every event was the reason for my success.

It was difficult to get off of that pedestal once I was on it. For a while people continued to put me on it, but that didn’t last long. I quickly became a “has-been” in the community and they were on to the next hot thing in Magic. I was left in the dust yet I still clung to my pedestal for dear life. I wanted that sense of accomplishment back and had no way to reclaim it. Without wanting to get off of it, many problems manifested.

I was unhappy in others’ accomplishments. Every time I saw someone else do well, I was bitter about it. I wanted the spotlight to shine on me and didn’t care why it didn’t. I was self-involved and every decision I made in and out of the game came from bias. I would interact with others from a place of superiority only because I couldn’t reflect on what was happening. I was on a pedestal.

I see these situations happen all the time. People want to be appreciated for their accomplishments regardless of how long ago they may have happened. “I would know, I have two Open Top Eights” is something I have heard more than once. What happens in these situations of bias can be detrimental to not only the person saying it, but to their audience as well. Like I said, subjective thinking is unavoidable in the arena of Magic, but understanding this is crucial in our interactions.

If their audience also puts this player on a pedestal, now the interaction between these two has a major disconnect. It will involve one person projecting their superiority over the other who is eating it up. Regardless of whether this person is correct or not, their ideas will no longer be challenged. The audience will not understand that these ideas are coming from a place of subjective thinking which will cause them to take it as fact.

“You know he probably is right, since he did Top Eight two Opens.”

Have you ever been wrong? This question is about as easy to answer as “is the sky blue” or “is water wet,” yet I have met people who have had to think about it before answering. As mental competitors we don’t want to ever be wrong, but understanding that we sometimes are is the easiest way to get better. In fact I have lately been addicted to finding flaws in my game since I understand it is the fastest way to improve. I even blame myself when luck was obviously a major factor. Not all the time, of course, since that is a whole new level of unhealthy thinking, but you get my point. I no longer like to think that omniscience is the endgame. Exploration and discovery is what got me into this game in the first place, and that is what keeps me coming back for more.

One thing most people don’t understand about being on pedestal is that it is exhausting. For example, let’s say someone is being put on one by another player, but they themselves do not choose to step up onto it. They are rather good at the game, but in the eyes of their audience they are the next big thing in Magic. The local community sees them as the local guy who is going to put them on the map.

This level of biased praise puts pressure on that person to perform. Whether it is them knowing the correct deck to play or line to take, they are always expected to do well. Both parties know they are as human as everyone else, but a disconnect happens, causing the audience to assume the person is better than themselves. Asking for advice in these situations is not wrong, but assuming it will always be correct can be detrimental to the relationship.

Sometimes the relationship is only a one-way street. A player will put someone on a pedestal because that person is getting exactly what they want out of Magic. Oftentimes this is someone doing exceptionally well on the professional circuit. This player will strive to accomplish exactly what the other person is doing, but end up short and not understand why. They subjectively see no difference in skill since they are submerged in biased thinking and often they will try to knock that person off the pedestal they originally put them on. The way they do that is berate that person internally or externally for poor finishes, sloppy on-camera play, or bad deck choices. They become fixated on pointing out everything wrong with that player since it is much easier to lash out at others flaws than it is to reflect on their own imperfections.

We see this last one happen in the Twitch chat at any major event. It doesn’t actually matter who it is. Players will berate unrecognizable competitors for misplays since they don’t understand why that person gets to be there and they don’t. They put the idea of success on a pedestal, yet they can’t recognize without bias how to achieve these goals for themselves.

In the end, bias is uncontrollable since objectively thinking about one’s own tournament results is impossible. There will always be places everyone can improve upon, but sometimes it’s as simple as understanding that bias is a thing and counteracting it is important. Without an even-keeled mindset, anyone at any skill level will begin to degrade – and then they will have to start all over again at the mindset that got them into this game.

Trust me. I’d know.