Reflecting Ruel – Mistakes to Avoid

Read Olivier Ruel every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, October 9th – Olivier Ruel, currently travelling the world for a myriad of Magic tournaments, brings us an interesting article that outlines a selection of common mistakes that hinder our Magic development. If you feel you’re stuck in a rut and finding it difficult to improve, Oli has the answers…

“Jetlagged” is my middle name. I’ve just started one of these long itineraries… my speciality. Here’s my itinerary:

Lille – Paris: 1 hour
Paris – Ho Chi Minh: 12 hours
Ho Chi Minh – Melbourne: 8 hours
Melbourne – Los Angeles: 15 hours
Los Angeles – Dallas: 3 hours
Dallas – Austin: 1 hour
Austin – Houston: 1 hour
Houston – Tampa: 2 hours
Tampa – Dallas: 2 hours
Dallas – Los Angeles: 3 hours
Los Angeles – Melbourne: 15 hours (but I’ll arrive three hours before I departed!)
Melbourne – Kuala Lumpur: 8 hours
Kuala Lumpur – Osaka: 7 hours
Osaka – Kitakyushu: 2 hours
Kitakyushu – Osaka: 2 hours
Osaka – Kuala Lumpur: 6 hours
Kuala Lumpur – Melbourne: 8 hours
Melbourne – Ho Chi Minh: 8 hours
Ho Chi Minh – Paris: 12 hours
Paris – Lille: 1 hour

Transit between flights: 51 hours.

I have to spend a total of 168 hours (exactly one full week!) on planes, intercity trains, and on transit in airports. In between those flights, there’s a Pro Tour (Austin), four Grand Prix tournaments (Melbourne Tampa, Kitakyushu, and Paris), and maybe a week’s break before Worlds in Rome. If I don’t go to Minneapolis, that is. But this whole trip almost got a lot shorter, as I had trouble getting my tickets. As WOTC wouldn’t answer my flight ticket request for Austin for a while, and as I needed to know if they could fly me from a place other than Paris, the ticket prices went up. I still decided to buy tickets about ten days ago, and I immediately received an email from my travel agency announcing that I needed a visa to visit Australia.

This was quite a surprise considering it was not needed when I last went, about two years ago. I checked on the internet and found out the document became necessary for such trips a mere two weeks earlier. Sweet.

Martin Juza, who already had the visa, explained to me I should just register on the internet. I would get an answer within an hour, and I wouldn’t have to pay any extra.

94 hours later, including 90 straight hours of Australian immigration’s website maintenance, I was at the Vietnam Airlines counter trying to explain to the lady I had made a request to the embassy to get me a visa. In order to prove it to her, I took out the computer I’m travelling with (in order to write for StarCityGames.com, and for my new French online magazine Weekzine). So I opened my computer and heard a big crack. Half of the screen was now detached from the keyboard. I now had no visa and no CPU.

After long phone calls, she sent me to the ticket counter as they could apparently sell me a visa. I would therefore have to pay for it (25 Euros, or 37 dollars), but at least I should be set. I had been told to come back to the counter before 12:25, the hour at which the check-in would close. I made it at 12:24, and felt some relief when I was handed my ticket.

When I landed in Vietnam for my brief 16-hour stop, I tried to give my computer one last chance. And it was alive! My antiquity was now laggier than ever, but at least it worked, which was amazing news considering how much work I had to do by the end of the month. The problem is it doesn’t work well enough to launch Magic: Online, so I’m getting a little late on my draft column. Luckily, I’ve just met with Martin who will be kind enough to lend me his computer later on today.

And now I am live from Melbourne City’s Library, trying to fight the jetlag and work on my articles, as Martin and LSV visit the zoo.

I won’t speak about Zendikar Limited this week, even though it’s a format I’ll be playing in the next five weeks, as I don’t consider my experience in the format sufficient to give true advice on the format yet. I’ll keep that for the next few weeks.

Today I shall speak to you about more general concern: mistakes to avoid if you want to get better at Magic. Those mistakes don’t only concern decisions during the games, but things you wouldn’t necessarily think of as mistakes, even they will most certainly alter your play in the wrong way.

Don’t Feel Down After Losing A Match

It’s good to do your best in order to win. However, Magic is not one of these sports in which you should hate losing. When a tennis player or a basketball player loses, feeling really bad about it will often make him stronger for the next match. Champions often say their rejection of losing is what took them to the top. This doesn’t apply to Magic. It is true that the will to win is important, but you can’t allow yourself to feel too bad about a loss. A basketball player has several days to motivate themselves after a defeat. You usually have about 20 minutes, and if you’re still feeling mad, it will affect your play and lower your chance to win the next match.

In almost every tournament you’ll take mulligans. You’ll lose to people weaker than you. You’ll be on the receiving end of the topdeck that guarantees an opponent’s unlikely comeback. It sucks, but it’s Magic. Just keep in mind those things rebalance at some point, even if you don’t realize it, and try and keep your anger and your disappointment on the inside. You’ll have all time to release it at the end of the day if you still feel upset.

Also, losing can sometimes be better than winning. On Day 2 of Pro Tour: Hollywood, I played PV four rounds from the end. During Game 3, he asked me if I’d put my Cloudthresher on the stack in response to a Spellstutter Sprite trigger or in response to the spell targeted by the Sprite itself, and even though it’s obvious I wanted to do it in response to the trigger, the wrong words came out of my mouth, causing his Sprite to survive and to counter a spell of mine, allowing him to win the match when we should have drew. I felt really bad about it for three minutes, and then moved on to something else. I won the next three and finished in Top 32, meaning I took nine points from the final four rounds. I would probably have lost at least one of the final three and took seven points had I not lost to PV. If I had done badly in the last three rounds I’d have felt really bad about this loss, but not blaming myself too much after that loss helped me stay in the tournament and play well in the next three rounds.

Don’t Look Down On Practicing

I’m not telling you that intensive practicing is the only way to get ready for tournaments. Actually, sometimes, it’s not so useful. What truly matters is how much seriousness you invest into whatever time you take. If you don’t focus when playtesting, practicing becomes a double-edged sword. Indeed, you get to know the matchups and the situations better, but playing fast and/or not concentrating enough will lead you to reproduce the same behavior in tournaments. The best example is on Magic: Online. The software makes people better drafters, but it doesn’t make them better players, as the program does so much for them (shuffling, counting life totals, writing on creatures the damage they’ve already taken this turn etc.). People tend to concentrate less than when they play in real life. Also, if you’re playtesting with a friend, and one of you focuses less and it costs him one or two games out of ten, you will end up with the wrong impression about a matchup and it may push you into running the wrong deck.

This kind of behavior necessarily becomes a handicap and will cost you many games. Maybe not as much as the playtesting will have made you win, but still far too many. Therefore, keep in mind that you should try and play as seriously when playing at home as when you’re in a tournament. It’s one of the quickest way to getting better.

Take Time to Think

When two plays look about as good, don’t just make one play at random because you feel like it doesn’t make a difference. It does. You should take some time to actually think about the impact of your move. Let’s stay, for instance, that you’re playing first in ME3 draft and you open with Young Wei Recruits and Wei Infantry in your starting hand. This is now your turn 2, you don’t have any other two- or three-drop in hand, and all your opponent has played so far is an Island. Many people choose almost randomly which one they will play in this situation.

Here, the best play is clearly to open with the 2/2, and this is for several reasons:

– If your opponent plays a one-power creature on the next turn, you can still attack and put some pressure on him, which has got to be your goal when playing these kinds of cards. Also, if you draw a three-drop on next turn, the impact of his one-power guy will be even lower.

– If he plays a two-power guy, you’d happily trade it with the 2/2, and if he doesn’t feel like blocking it, you still have the option to block his guy with your Infantry on your following turn.

In a game of Magic, there are countless examples of these kinds of plays. They look like small details, but they can actually make the difference.

Don’t Judge Your Actions By Their Consequences

When you have two options and end up losing because you went with Option A instead of Option B, don’t think it means the latter choice would have been the right option. In the same way, it’s not necessarily because your play led to your win that it was the correct choice.

The best example is the mulligan. Let’s say you open with this hand on the draw, and your deck runs 9 Forest and 8 Island:

Island, Merfolk Looter, Borderland Ranger, Centaur Courser, Snapping Drake, Essence Scatter, Giant Growth

The odds you will draw a land within two turns are quite high (almost 75%), and then your draw should be okay and your chance to win the game quite high (about 60 – 65% probably), which would give you about 40% chance to win. I would say the less you like your deck, the more you should keep. With a deck I don’t like, I’ll keep for sure, while with a brilliant deck I’ll ship the hand as I’d consider a six-card hand would probably give me better odds of winning. Back to the main point: if you draw the lands and win the game when your deck’s really good, it doesn’t mean you made the right decision and should do it again next time. And in the same way, if your deck’s pretty bad and you keep but don’t draw lands, it doesn’t mean your call was wrong.

The final example: many people, when they mulligan, look at the top of their deck and say “I should have kept” or “that was the right call.” Bear in mind that it’s not the consequences of your draw which determine if your call was correct.

Don’t Get Lost In A Plan

This is one of the most dangerous traps there is. Sometimes, in very complex games, you need to actually think of a plan to get out of a difficult situation, sometimes by anticipating a draw you need. Therefore, you will play according to that plan and hope it will work out. This is very good, and it is a thing which is as difficult to perform as efficient when you manage to do it. However, if it’s good to stick to the plan, it is also important to think that many factors can change the equation. An out in your deck you were not considering, a card your opponent plays which doesn’t look relevant at the time it hits the table… many things can actually end up screwing your plan.

Therefore, bear in mind that having a plan is really good, but that in a complex game, there might be a best way to win, but it is rarely flawless and/or unique.

Don’t Say “I Haven’t Made Any Mistakes Today”

This is arrogant and wrong. You do make mistakes. Even for a pro, it’s very rare to make only optimal plays in a full game; I’m not talking about not playing perfectly for a full tournament!

If you feel like you’re making mistakes and feel bad about it, don’t worry too much. You still have much more room for improvement than your pals who feel like they are playing very well and still have the same results as you. Being able to question yourself and your plays is a key to becoming a better Magic player.

Magic is a game in which luck plays a big role. This sucks, we all agree on that. However, overconfidence often ends up in you blaming bad luck instead of questioning your degree of responsibility in your failure.

Have a great weekend!