Positive EV – A Self-Serving Bias in San Juan

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to St. Louis!
Friday, June 11th – Manuel Bucher believes that all Magic players fall prey to a self-serving bias that blinds them to the strength and weakness of their individual performance. By highlighting some of the mistakes he made at Pro Tour: San Juan, he hopes that we won’t make similar mistakes, and that we’ll come to recognize this bias within us all…

A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors, but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. Today’s article will be all about the self-serving bias.

In the game of Magic, we often think we played superbly when we win — and when we lose, it is unlucky. This is how the human brain works. This is why we should ask ourselves what we did wrong during the match after every single round (or, if we play on MTGO and somebody is watching us, we should ask them if they would have played a situation differently). In today’s article I want to fight my self-serving bias and analyse what I did wrong in the games I lost, in the games I won, and during my preparation for the Pro Tour in San Juan

First of all, the deck I played in the Block portion.

For reasons I explained in my article two weeks ago, I wanted to play beatdown at this tournament. I decided not to play Mono Red since I expected people to be well prepared for it, and I gave myself a bigger edge with the Black deck against the Red deck than in the mirror match. Having the surprise factor on my side (Corrupted Zendikon, for example) can also lead my opponents misplaying a lot. I didn’t really like Mono Green Aggro simply because it has a very hard time dealing with Kargan Dragonlord, and we didn’t have very good results with the deck in our testing.

I still like the decklist a lot, but wish I’d played Mono Red instead. There was much less Mono Red than expected, and a lot of decks that just hoped not to face Kargan Dragonlord. Still, the Vampire list probably wasn’t optimal for the tournament. The majority of the testing with the deck was against the most successful decks played in Magic Online events, which were pretty much only Mono Red and UW Control. The deck posted decent results against the most popular lists of both archetypes. This is where the first mistake was made. Against the lists that play Cunning Sparkmage in Mono Red, or Sea Gate Oracle in Blue/White in addition to Wall of Omens, the matchup gets a lot worse. The second mistake is that the metagame at the Pro Tour will never be similar to the one on Magic Online. The deck, even though it is powerful, simply doesn’t run powerful cards. If a matchup is bad, it will be really bad, since there is not a single card that might impact the game a great deal to swing it in your favor. The deck would be a much better choice if you could predict more than a part of the metagame.

In the hotel in which I stayed, there were a lot of other Magic players playing in the lobby, and instead of sharing with them, we simply kept our testing to ourselves. Sharing with them would have given an advantage to both of us. We both learn more about the metagame and what other people think about it. Since we didn’t break the format, we might even learn something about a really good combo deck which we missed, or fringe cards that were very good in the format.

Next, some mistakes I made on the tournament floor…

Round 2

My opponent is playing Green/White and plays an Overgrown Battlement on the second turn. I instantly expect him to play a Green/White Eldrazi deck, and play optimally against such a strategy, and end up playing Vendetta on the Wall. Two turns later he plays Emeria Angel. I don’t have a solution, and I die.

How could I have known that he wasn’t playing an Eldrazi based deck and instead a more midranged one?

Well… How could I have known if he actually was playing an Eldrazi based deck?

I assumed that my first thought was right, and got punished for it. Instead, I should have thought about the possibility of it being a non-Eldrazi based deck, and then played according to the best plan against both those decks until I figured what I was facing. Especially since most Eldrazi based decks didn’t run a lot of four-drops in which they could accelerate into, there was no need to kill the Wall immediately.

Round 4

I was playing against Blue/White Control, but in the middle of game 3 I forgot to put a counter on the two Quest for the Gravelords I had. Even though I ended up winning, having those two counters could have won me the game much earlier.

Round 5

My opponent is running Mono Red. I lose game 1 and I am, from my point of view, in good shape in the second game. He doesn’t have any guys and I have a removal spell or two in my hand, and am beating with a guy or two every turn. Eventually he plays a kicked Goblin Bushwhacker, and I decided to not Vendetta it and take the two points. My opponent ended up burning me for 18 points of damage. At this point it was pretty obvious that my opponent didn’t have any other guys in hand, and I should have just killed the Bushwhacker, taking less damage in the process, and not allowing my opponent to chump one of my guys. Still, I was too greedy and didn’t want to spend my good removal spell on “just a 1/1 guy” — even though it was unlikely that he had any other guys at all.

The Draft

I open a Lord of Shatterskull Pass in the first pack, and pick up some more Red cards, while passing mostly Black and White cards. Later in the pack I receive some strong White cards and pick them up in case I open a good White rare. I end up opening Deathless Angel in the second pack and didn’t move from the colors. I think the deck is pretty good, and I have hopes of still making it to Day2 despite my bad record in the Constructed portion.

9 Plains
9 Mountain

1 Caravan Escort
3 Ikiral Outrider
1 Knight of Cliffhaven
1 Wall of Omens
1 Makindi Griffin
1 Lord of Shatterskull Pass
1 Totem-Guide Hartebeest
2 Rapacious One
1 Deathless Angel
1 Artisan of Kozilek

1 Devastating Summons
1 Flame Slash
1 Guard Duty
1 Spawning Breath
1 Staggershock
2 Lust for War
2 Heat Ray

Round 6

The first game is super close, since I cast Devastating Summons for 5 on my fifth turn and he has a ton of trouble dealing with it. Eventually he deals with the 5/5s, but my Makindi Griffin had him down to three points. I draw my second land (with an Eldrazi Spawn on the table) and play Lust for War post combat on his 1/1 flying imp instead of the Guul Draz Assassin sitting next to it. I didn’t have a lot of experience with Lust for War and expected it to deal damage when the creature attacks, not when it is tapped. He kills his Imp, and now was able to keep my Griffin in check. I draw Heat Ray a turn later to win the game. Attaching the Lust for War to the Assassin would have put me in a very good position; instead, I didn’t read a card I hadn’t a lot of experience with, and almost threw away the game, getting lucky to win it.

Round 7

I lose game 1 against a Black/White deck after attaching Lust for War to a guy that he played Mammoth Umbra on the turn after. Game 2 I keep a Red-heavy hand with only Plains (3 Plains, Ikiral Outrider, Heat Ray, Lord of Shatterskull Pass, Lust for War), and die to color screw. This is when I realized that I probably don’t mulligan aggressively enough anymore. There are reasons both to keep the hand and to mulligan it — and I am still not sure which way to go with this particular hand, especially when Devastating Summons and the Eldrazi are almost dead cards in a possible six-card opener. Still, over the course of the tournament, or even the past few months, I’ve probably kept a lot of sketchy hands.

I end up conceding the last round to the guy sitting to my direct left in the draft (playing Black/White, as expected), and I finished the tournament with a bad 3-5 (3-4) record. He had much more need for the possible pro point than me (getting an invitation to Worlds), and therefore I didn’t see a reason not to concede. I might see one if I am one point short, again, at the end of the year.

I probably missed a fair amount of my mistakes, but the ones I caught should help you avoid making the same mistakes yourself. More importantly, you need to know about the self-serving bias. Don’t let the self-serving bias fool you. Assume you played badly whether you won or lost. Try to figure out the spots were you made mistakes, or could have made mistakes, and try to talk about such things with your friends. Sure, there are a ton of games that are decided by chance, but not playing the best we can is just increasing the chance in a negative way.

I am happy that one of our test group ended up making the finals of the Pro Tour, and not only because of the 0.25% split. Congratulations again, Guillaume Matignon!

Thanks for reading…