Removed From Game – Permission To Win 101

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Tuesday, April 8th – We’ve reached the 2nd part of 3 in Rich Hagon’s psycho-babble-loaded attempt to get our mental game into gear and use our deeper understanding of ourselves and others to Win before we even sit down to play. Free wins… who wouldn’t want that?


All that hard work last week to present something cogent, and I go and screw it up by couching it in terms that the scientific StarCityGames.com community finds offensive. As you can imagine, that’s especially irritating because I actually had done quite a lot of research into the topic of Cognitive Dissonance and how it might be applied to Magic – which is, even for Removed From Game, the reason we’re all here. Had I presented the scientific or even pseudo-scientific footnotes to attempt to back up my ‘cod psychology arguments’ we would have been well into the realm of academia.

Perhaps even more than usual, I was delighted to read such an informed selection of opinion and comment on the forums. Guys and girls, I’m proud to have you along for the ride. If you can spare the time, you should really go and look at the forums from last week’s article. However, I’ll give you the edited highlights here.

First off, the article attempted to use the term Cognitive Dissonance as a phenomenon whereby the experience we’re having at a given moment doesn’t ‘chime’ with our version of reality. I talked about the idea of our own self-image as being our Comfort Zone. I talked about the idea that when confronted with a situation outside that zone we will subconsciously and sometimes even consciously attempt to return to it at top speed. And, most crucially, I attempted to suggest that our default Comfort Zone is one of Failure, and that therefore many of us subconsciously choose to Fail in order to maintain our self-image of our place in the grand scheme of things.

I am always delighted when people with more knowledge than me turn up in the forums to share, because as a general rule, when you’re talking you’re not learning, and when I’m writing, that’s me doing the talking. Developmental linguistics, Cognitive Dissonance, current trends in psychology, you can find out more about all these in the forums.

In addition, you can find out two very important truths. First, there is nothing new under the sun. Whilst I was thankful to find that I had approached the topic from a different angle, anyone who found last week interesting should as a matter of urgency read the awesome ‘Stuck In the Middle with Bruce‘ by the inestimable Rizzo. And second, for those of you dying from a vicious wasting disease, or just with less time on your hands than you might like, there is a way to get all the goodness out of a Rich Hagon article just by reading the forums. See, what happens is this: I think for hours, days, and weeks about a topic into which I’ve poured all my intellect. I sweat and strain and come up with some thousands of words. A bunch of smart people make great comments. Sometimes MagicDave will insert a couple of comments at this point just for his own clarification. And then MagicDave, my erstwhile European Grand Prix Coverage colleague, will encapsulate everything relevant, interesting, juicy, and accurate from my article. In, at most, two sentences. The bastard. This time around, his final contribution was this:

“Losers are people who are so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try.”
Granpa, Little Miss Sunshine.

Sometimes I really do hate him.

But if ever a forum post contrived to make a point for me, it came from a first-time poster. I don’t know how long this person has been a StarCityGames.com reader. I would hope it’s a lot closer to three weeks than three years. Because, in all the time this person has been reading the articles on the site, he or she has never read an article worth a kind word. Not ever. But, and I quote…

Rich, I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, and I couldn’t agree more that people will sabotage their own chances to win. However, your choice to frame your theory in pseudoscience is so frustrating that I was compelled to register for a forum account just to respond.

Let’s check that. Nobody was worth two minutes of their time for a ‘well done.’ But my allegedly crap use of the term Cognitive Dissonance finally hit the button that got this person out of their metaphorical chair and on to their similarly linguistically-constructed high horse. In other words, only when something monumentally negative ‘needed’ to be voiced was this person moved to action.

I believe that negativity and failure is our default condition, and boy oh boy their behavior nailed it right there. And as for:

There is a lot that can be said on the subjects, and in the future I hope you can restrain yourself to merely discussing the aspects of these that you have any experience with or knowledge about.

We have a bit of a problem. Can you spot it? Well, this person didn’t even claim to be an expert themselves. They weren’t writing in to let me know that they knew more than I did. You know the kind of thing…

‘I love knowledge and I know you do too, so here’s some knowledge that I’ve learned that you might find cool too.’

This is pretty much the default tone of those of you who disagree with stuff I write. No, instead they took the mighty step of creating a forum account not to demonstrate their own strength, but to demonstrate my weakness, the ‘Just wanted to write in and tell you in no uncertain terms that you’re even more stupid than I am’ approach.

Only guessing, but if that forum poster is successful in life, it won’t be thanks to that kind of negativity. If you only want the world’s leading expert in any given field to be given permission to speak, this site is going to get pretty small pretty quickly. Rest assured, I have been working for months on utilising analogies between Magic and Monopoly, and Magic and The History Of The Grand National (that’s a horserace, by the way), which are the two topics on which I may actually be the world’s leading authority. Still, in the meantime, you’ll all have to make do with a guy who knows a bit about a lot of stuff, and apply for a Ph.D in the one micro-area of human endeavour that you believe worthy of special study.

Why is this so important to me? Why should I care what you write in the forums? I write every week, and as long as the editor likes what I’m writing, I’m golden. I’ll tell you why. Because the extremely eloquent evanmartyr posted this:

I guess what I’m saying is that you took a decent bow and a decent arrow and let fly a tremendously impressive shot that nonetheless got lost in the woods, because now we’re debating the way you presented your thesis and not the thesis itself.

And the truth of that irritates like you wouldn’t believe. Because, incredibly interesting though Cognitive Dissonance is, or Comfort Zones, or Universal Order, or a dozen other phrases that attempt to hint at the fundamentals of what I’m trying to say, being led astray into the thorny thickets of semantics gets us away from what I really want to do. Which is show you how to win at Magic. And, by God, that’s what I’m going to do this week.

In order to accomplish this, I have provided each and every one of you, free, with this article, a Universal Translator. Any time you don’t like a piece of terminology that I use – and I’ll be trying like a drowning man to let as little as possible slip through the neural net – just replace it with a term you like more. Risk-averse, Fail, Negative, The Inconsequential Learning Differential (that’s actually a Detroit hiphop act) – I don’t care.

But I want to tell you this.

Amongst all the discussion over details and semantics and science and pseudo-science and the state of debate in the world of neuro-linguistics I have never had more private responses to an article, essentially saying that what I was, sometimes clumsily, attempting to get across, struck a chord with them. These include no less than three Pro Tour winners, whose responses ranged from the very generous – ‘You actually get it don’t you?’ – to the slightly more alarmist – ‘how am I meant to beat these guys if you’re telling them The Truth?’ These three, who have attained the ultimate in Magic success, all managed to see through my morass of inept naming conventions and lack of academic ‘chops’ to get to the heart of what I was trying to say, and I believe it’s no coincidence that the three people at the heart of this and next week’s article all came to the forums to voice their approval.

Let’s meet them. I think of them as my ‘Mental ‘Mericans.’

First up is Tom LaPille. Tom isn’t a massive Magic name in terms of Pro Tour results, but he has established a considerable reputation within the wider community. How he did this is coming right up. His forum comment:

‘Thanks to talking to you, I gave myself permission to win and then won. You rock.’

Next we have Steve Sadin. A tremendously impressive young man from New York, Steve has been around the Pro game for a good while, but probably came to most people’s attention when winning Grand Prix: Columbus last year. His mental attitude is quite something, and when we’re finished with Tom we’ll show how Sadin is positioning himself for a run at Player of the Year. His forum comment:

‘Wow. You really hit the nail on the head with this one.’

And finally we have the man I regard as having the strongest mental game of anyone on the planet, Patrick ‘The Innovator’ Chapin. I could write a book about mental strength focusing just on Chapin, and if he fancies it, we might just do that one day. For now, this is the guy who was part of the fantastic Worlds 2007 semi-final against Gabriel Nassif, before succumbing to Uri Peleg in the final. Never a man to use two words when one will do, his forum comment:


Oh, and there’s one more guy central to this whole ‘how to win’ thingy. Me. Since I didn’t want to cast aspersions on any of these three fine gentlemen, I’ll share a couple of monster moments from my Magic past, where I used my understanding of (insert pseudo-scientific/New Age/quasi-Religious term here) to use my opponents self-image against them to my considerable benefit, thus making me moderately clever, a scumbag, or very possibly both.

Case Study 1 – Tom LaPille.

Like me, Tom is a clandestine member of the International Global Ginger Conspiracy, or the IGGC for short. The members are dedicated to taking over the world by mostly covert means. Apart from ourselves, members include British DJ Chris Evans, former world Snooker champion Steve Davis, and Aussie movie star Nicole Kidman. Plus that bird off Riverdance. Anyway, of our three case studies, Tom is the one I know best, since we’ve spent a good deal of time yammering away over the net about assorted topics Magical. So why have I included someone who doesn’t have a Premier Event title to his name? Well, amongst other things, Tom now has a job that most of us would kill for.

Lesson 1 – Be Proactive. Tom first came to my attention when he emailed me. In other words, he initiated the contact. He wanted to know about getting into the Coverage side of things. Right there is Lesson 2 – approach people for advice. There’s no reason to re-invent the wheel all by yourself every time. I know for sure that loads of people think ‘hey wow, that must be cool, travelling the world and talking about Magic,’ but very few go as far as actually asking me, or Tim Willoughby, or Bill Stark etc what it’s actually like. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get good advice, of course. I don’t remember saying anything particularly useful or Earth-shattering to Tom in that first reply. But simply making the contact gave us both opportunities for the future. I guess you could call that Lesson 3 – Learn to Network. Who knows where a random conversation will lead? I was quietly minding my own business earlier this week when the phone rang, and half an hour later I had the possibility of doing commentary work on some video football matches. Surreal, and just because I met a guy a few years ago and we’ve done some unrelated business together since.

Tom talked about the website he had set up. Once again, Tom wasn’t just a talker, he was a doer. Here’s Lesson 5 – Learn to Count. And here’s the real Lesson 4 – Tell The World. It’s hard to imagine a more self-promoting website name than playmagicwith.tomlapille.com, and there’s an engaging chutzpah to his tagline ‘I help you get better at Magic the Gathering.’ Now to a self-effacing Brit, this can seem arrogant. But the advantages are big. First, he puts his name right in front of you, a bit like me calling my column, ‘Because Rich Hagon Says So, So Shall It Be.’ If what you’re trying to achieve is visibility within the Magic community, having your name on your own website is a pretty decent start. And that tagline works for him both coming and going. From the perspective of the reader, you subconsciously feel that you’re in good hands, and that you’re going to derive positive benefit from your time with Tom. Even better, that help isn’t something deferred to a future indeterminate time. Tom says ‘I HELP….’ It’s happening right here, right now, you’re getting better at Magic thanks to Tom. That kind of positivity puts you, the reader, in a great frame of mind for learning.

Here’s another. ‘Drafting with Rich’ is a great title. See, if it was called, ‘Rich Hoaen Drafts’ it wouldn’t be as psychologically inviting. That word ‘with’ conjures up all sorts of positive associations. He’s not doing it ‘for’ us, he’s doing it ‘with’ us. We feel, absurd though this actually is of course, a sense of ownership over the drafts. They are our drafts, not his, because this is drafting ‘with’ Rich. Plus, since Rich is so awesome at Limited, all will be well. There will be no five-color foul-ups. Manascrew and flood will be at a minimum. Car-crash Magic will mostly happen to ‘our’ opponents. With gentleman Rich as your guide, your mentor, your escort, companion, and teacher, pitfalls will be avoided. If you think this is all psycho-mumble-jumble, try reading through 4 or 5 of the ‘Drafting with Rich’ series, recognise how achievable it all sounds, and then take account of the difference you feel as you wait for your next online draft to start. Hmm, that tension wasn’t there when we had Rich ‘with us.’

Telling The World has a big advantage for Tom too. When he doesn’t feel like putting the work in to achieve what he wants, there’s a massive incentive to do so, namely people like you. I make a point of telling people about possibilities, however remote, because these same people may subsequently hold me to account. Oh wait, I’ve just done exactly that. You see, that bit a few paragraphs back where I mentioned this football commentary thing? Well, chances are that some of you who know me will ask me at some point how that’s going. I don’t want to say, ‘Oh nothing came of it, just another dead end,’ and curiously, I don’t want to say that because I don’t want to disappoint them. It’s as if by sharing this exciting possibility and then not following through on it, I am letting them down. Since I don’t want to do this, I make myself do the right things, like emailing the guy and telling him how much I want to work with him in future. You can apply this strategy to almost anything that doesn’t cause public outrage – ‘I’m going to sleep with 1,000 hookers by the time I’m 21′ would be an example that you probably wouldn’t want to share – and in Tom’s case, he applied this Tell The World technique to Pro Tour: Hollywood. He had the guts to tell the Editor here that he wanted to do a series of articles about qualifying for the Pro Tour. Obviously, this saga would be a much better prospect if Tom could, like, qualify. And he did, using a firebrand approach that brought down quite a bit of scorching comment down on his ginger head.

This brings me to Lesson 5 – Hide The Pistons. I don’t mean Detroit here. For many of us, particularly those of us with a poor work ethic, we like to believe that winners are primarily those who were lucky, or just ‘in the right place at the right time.’ To find that winners are frantically working in overdrive just beneath that apparently calm exterior is a little disconcerting, to put it mildly. Tom, God bless him, decided to reveal to you every single whir and crank and cog and gearstick and piston in his gargantuan efforts to succeed. And because some of those efforts involved concepts like ‘No Mercy,’ as one of his articles was memorably called, some people didn’t like it. Fair enough. But on May 23rd, Tom LaPille name will be on the start list of Pro Tour: Hollywood, and most of ours won’t. Still, if you can do all the fancy footwork out of the public gaze, then you should. Nobody likes opprobrium heaped upon themselves if they can help it, and to my mind Tom deserves some kind of Fearless Writing award, because he’s smart enough to know he was due a hammering, and he said it all anyway.

Lesson 6 – Find Your Niche. It’s a big old world out there, and finding your place in it can be tough. I’m pretty confident that none of Tom, Evan Erwin, or myself are ever destined to be The Greatest Magic Player Alive. Yet we’ve each found a niche in the Magic firmament. To my mind, this involves a detailed understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, and simply maximising the first and minimising the latter. Evan is a great writer, but he knew that he had more to offer. Why not combine his knowledge of video to produce, I don’t know, let’s call it The Magic Show. Suddenly, he occupies a unique position in the world of Magic. He is a global name, and yet he is by no means a stellar player. Tom may have been to a few Pro Tours, but he’s known primarily as an exponent of The Cube. And now, thanks to astonishing hard work and deserved success, he’s going to have much more of an impact on the future of Magic than Evan and I and Gab Nassif combined. He really does have the sweetest job known to man lined up. And as for me, it took me until I was 35 to finally find something where I was expected to be good at many of the things I’m actually good at, like writing, talking, listening, and thinking about Magic, and almost nothing that I’m hideously bad at (most other things). Suddenly there were people at Wizards whose apparent sole purpose in life was to make my ability to think, talk, write and listen about Magic easier. Like the guy who just re-installed everything on my Mac during Pro Tour: Valencia, because he was the Tech Guy. Awesome.

Now comes what to my mind is Tom’s biggest contribution to us being winners. Lesson 7 – Remove the Excuses. I went to a very good school. If you think Yale or Harvard for 11-18 year-olds, you’re not a million miles away. Of course, I learned a bunch of stuff about geography and history and science and modern languages and math and English and music and art and a host of other things. But actually, the knowledge that came with my education was secondary. The key was the process. Through my eight years there, I and my fellow students were inculcated to believe that we were destined to be winners. There was an entire ethos that said we were the Business Leaders of Tomorrow, the Decision Makers, the Front Runners, the Thinking Out Of The Box Mavericks. Almost everything we were going to be when we grew up would have a Capital Letter. We wouldn’t be a policeman, or fireman, or nurse, or tax inspector. We would be Captains Of Industry, CEOs, Artistic Directors… you get the idea. The point here is that whilst the knowledge I gained has come in useful any number of times, what I was really taught was my ‘pre-ordained role’ in society. (I don’t believe all this by the way, but you can be assured that this genuinely was the School Agenda for its protégés.) In the process of gaining knowledge, we acquire the necessary arrogance about our ‘right’ to succeed. The school system was designed to give us all Permission to Win.

Let’s look at a recent Magic situation. You’ve learned about every deck in the Extended Format. You’ve spoken with many of the game’s leading theorists and deckbuilders. You’ve travelled to test with some of them. You’ve tested relentlessly online. You’ve made sure you can access any cards that you need. You’ve planned your calendar for the next three months to maximise your chances of qualifying. You know every relevant card in the format. You know all the key matchups, including detailed sideboard plans not only for your deck, but for theirs as well. You stay in hotels the night before the tournament so as to be well rested and at your best. You’ve read every strategy article you can lay your hands on.

Suppose, just for a moment, that your deck is set up to beat Dredge after boarding. Maybe all 15 cards are dedicated to that one matchup. Now suppose that in the tournament you face 10 Dredge decks in a row. You beat them all, and qualify. Doesn’t that invalidate all the work you did on other matchups? All those cards you learned and their Oracle wordings that never cropped up? Your knowledge of the playing styles of all the top people who you didn’t play? Surely, if you’d known what was coming, you’d have done nothing and just known that your 15 card sideboard was going to get the job done.

No, no, no.

It isn’t just the knowledge that you acquire. By doing all these things that are generally recognised as ‘good,’ you remove from yourself another strand of possible failure. You can no longer say any of these:

I didn’t sideboard correctly.
I didn’t get enough sleep.
I didn’t know Skullclamp was banned.
I thought X didn’t target on announcement.
I wasn’t watching.
I thought it was 2/3, not 3/2
It has trample?
It has flying?
Holy Mother of God, it has Protection from Black?!?!?!
I didn’t know how big the Tarmogoyf was.
I missed the trigger.
I tapped the wrong land.
I didn’t know what deck he was playing.

There are a hundred others, and Tom LaPille ruthlessly and efficiently removed all the obstacles from his universe, and did indeed give himself Permission to Win.

What have we learned from our first case study, Tom LaPille?

1. Be Proactive
2. Seek Advice
3. Network
4. Tell The World
5. Hide the Pistons
6. Find Your Niche
7. Remove the Excuses

Only one of these, hiding the pistons, is negative. All the others are a reflection of Tom’s positive attitude, a belief that he is indeed a Winner, and therefore there is nothing wrong in Winning. Tom is generous to say what he said in the forums, because I of course had little to do with Tom winning. The power comes from within. And of course, from being ginger.

It seems as if Messrs. Chapin and Sadin will be deserving of their own Removed From Game column next week, but now seems a good time to show you the mental approaches I’m advocating in two real-life Magic situations. As previously mentioned, I’m not entirely sure they show me in a good light, but here goes:

Situation One.

This is in a Two-Headed Giant Champs match a couple of years ago. I’ve already told you about my school. Well, in England we have, at least in some people’s minds, a North-South divide. The caricature view held by people in the south of the country (think London) is that they themselves are intelligent, sophisticated, cultured, and successful, and are many miles away from the ignorant thieving peasants in The North, who have barely discovered the wheel, let alone things like running water, electricity, shoes, or cannabis. The reverse view is that everyone in the North are honest, hardworking, down to earth folk, while the South is full of ‘Southern Softies,’ with their heads so far up themselves it’s a wonder they’ve still got room for canapes and Architecture Monthly.

I, the Architecture Monthly-subscribing up-himself Southern Softie, am facing an ignorant thieving peasant from the North. (Yes, there are two other characters in this match, but not relevant to the plot, since it’s Northern Boy I’m about to destroy.) The interesting thing about these caricatured views of our respective parts of the country is that I don’t believe them, but he does. This means that he is eager to get the job done against me. This isn’t about Magic, you understand. This has almost nothing to do with cards. This has to do with beer, cigarettes, virility, Real Men, and a burning desire on his part to be seen to be my intellectual superior. Since that’s what he wants, that’s what he’s going to get…

I have one card in hand, my partner two. Decoding assorted bits of conversation across the table, it is clear to me that Northern Boy’s partner has a discard spell which he will shortly be pointing at one of our heads. I only have a Swamp in hand. For reasons that will shortly become clear, but not until it’s too late, I really want the discard spell to be aimed at my partner. Now, you have to remember that I’ve been performing for 30+ years, so pretending to do something so that it looks like I’m doing it For Real is absolutely part of my being. Achieving this naturally isn’t easy. So I start fiddling with my card. I shuffle my lands around a bit. I make a show of re-arranging my creatures, and in the act of doing so, while Northern Boy’s partner is busy playing a spell, I drop my Swamp face-up briefly before ‘anxiously’ picking it up. Hook, line, and sinker sums it up nicely. When I see Northern Boy lean across to his partner and whisper with a self-satisfied smirk, “Rich has got a Swamp,” it takes years of training to stop myself grinning. His self-image of the plucky underdog pulling a fast one over the public schoolboy from the South is being fulfilled. I am aware of his cognitive buttons, and I’m pushing them. Because I know him, and I mean that in a very personal “inside-his-head at that moment” kind of knowledge, I absolutely forced him to behave in a way contrary to his own best interests.

Curiously, his partner is an extremely good UK player, who also has a healthy dose of cynicism about what opponents may be up to, and I absolutely had to ensure that he wasn’t paying attention when I ran my ‘oops’ moment. With that successfully accomplished, it was just a case of sitting back and waiting for the discard spell to hit my partner, and for us to have a 5/5 Dodecapod.

When two people think they know what’s going on, and only one actually does know what’s going on, that’s the person to be.

Situation Two.

From a purely psychological aspect, this is undoubtedly my finest hour in Magic, since I proceeded to analyse, dissect, and then ruthlessly dismantle a very worthy opponent just because I knew him better than he knew himself. Oh, and I’d only met him at the start of the round. This is a severe cautionary tale, since while I’m pretty good at this stuff, I’m by no means the best out there, and if I can do it to this guy, I can do it to you, and that means others can do it to you, if you’re weak enough to let them.

It’s round 4 of an Extended Pro Tour Qualifier, two, maybe three years ago, and we are both at 3-0. My opponent is a young man, probably about 14. To be honest, I hate playing against people like that. See, I’m generally at my best, Magically speaking, when I get to dominate proceedings, and when I perceive myself to be the favorite. Any time I play someone like this, I can be pretty certain that they have more brains than I have, since there are any number of natural disadvantages to being a 14 year old boy, many of them to do with hormones. I am therefore very wary against opponents like this, but I’m also extremely devious. I am playing Scepter-Chant, a deck I used to qualify for Pro Tour: Philadelphia back in 2005, so I know the deck well. My young adversary is playing Heartbeat, a rather tasty Combo deck that I had played earlier in the qualifier season. We go to extra turns with the score at 1-1. He’s played well at every turn, and I’m pretty scared of losing. Winning is out of the question. I finish extra turn 4 and pass. As I do, I say, “So it’s a draw.” I say this moderately firmly, as I want to make sure he understands that the match is over. He replies, “not necessarily” in a confident tone. Hmm. I decide to push once more. “Yes, but I’ve had my last turn, I can’t beat you, you’re safe,” something along those lines. I want him to relax. I want him to wind down. I want him to stop playing, and I certainly want him to think that I’ve stopped playing. He repeats his assertion that he can win, and as far as I’m concerned, now is the time for me to shut up. There are few things more problematic than an opponent who is absolutely determined to leave no stone unturned in a bid to put you away. If I say anything now, it risks utterly antagonising him, whereas putting him to sleep is my actual agenda.

As we start the final turn, I have two cards, a Remand and a Spell Snare. I have three mana open. There is no sane way I can stop him doing his thing and beating me. Clearly, I shall have to resort to insane ways.

He untaps, and starts going about his business. Although I intimately know every step that he’s taking, having taken them myself multiple times, I feign puzzlement. As a young man, being cast in a position of power is a very heady experience, and I want him to be busy ‘showing me’ things when I put the big spoke in his wheel. Incidentally, this is one of the most effective teaching tools known to man. Once you’ve taught someone something, get them to explain it back to you. So, there he is, telling me very formally about what mana he’s tapping and what spells he’s casting, and I’m busy being the dim grown-up who has thrown his two ‘useless’ cards on the table and is busy being ‘schooled’ by his young superior.

We reach the critical point where I have to utilize my pitiful actual Magic defenses. He goes for Early Harvest, and with a great show of triumph I slam up Remand. Understand that I know this does nothing. If he allows my Remand to resolve, he can simply recast the Early Harvest at his leisure and go on to win. Having made a big show of my Remand, I allow my face to fall. “Ah,” I say. “Ah.” And now I look positively crestfallen. And I start muttering aloud as if I’m working out the possibilities, and then, with a look of disgust, say, “but you just tutor for your own Remand, use the Top and win.” Now this is the really horrible bit. I’ve already established that he goes to one of the top schools in the country, a counterpart to the one I went to many years ago. In addition, I used to teach in a school just like his, and I know the Achilles Heel. See, these guys may be super-bright, but underneath a gargantuan brain they’re still 14, and at those kind of schools being 14 means, above all, respect for Authority. I see his resolve weakening as a flicker of unease crosses his face. Can I possibly be being helpful, and throwing in the towel? I decide it’s time for the haymaker. “Remand Remand Remand, why’d they print such a stupid card? Get Remand, cast Remand, I win, great. Yeah, never mind, Rich, at least you’re playing Remand too.” Yes, I squeezed six uses of the word Remand into that little diatribe.

He gets the Remand, casts it, and I of course Spell Snare it. My Remand gets to resolve, and he winds up one mana short of being able to recast the Early Harvest. It’s a draw. In the final analysis, he had the win right there. He had the intellect to see it, and had already amply demonstrated his ability to pilot the deck correctly. But unfortunately for him, more important to him than Winning was his desire to Respect Authority. I fitted his mental image of someone who was Right and someone To Be Obeyed. So he did what he was told by someone older and wiser, and didn’t win. I made the Top 8. He didn’t. He looked thoroughly disgruntled and puzzled as he sorted his cards after the game. Suddenly he stopped and said, “If I’d let your Remand resolve, I could have won by recasting the Early Harvest.” And I innocently replied, “Could you?” I mean, I might have to play him again one day…

I hope these two examples show you what can happen to you when your mental game isn’t in great shape. Having watched the best the game has to offer around the world for two years now, I’m constantly fascinated by how people like Tom, Steve, and Patrick go about their business.

In our third and final instalment, I’ll show you how Steve Sadin and Patrick Chapin are using their understanding of their own mental processes to rocket towards the top of the tree, and bring you more lessons on how you can give yourself Permission to Win.

As ever, thanks for reading.