SCG Daily: Hop on Pop

Yesterday we talked about ways to beat the truly skilled folk you come across. Today I give the best technique I know on how to reach their exalted ranks.

Yesterday we talked about ways to beat the truly skilled folk you come across. Today I give the best technique I know on how to reach their exalted ranks.

To start, a simple question. What does Magic, sports, knife fighting, love making, baby stitching, worship, skipping, lollygagging, and jumping from moving trains have in common? The answer is as simple as Meredith Grey’s mother: if you’re not getting better at an activity, you’re getting worse.

This is a big concept. There is no stasis! You’re always moving in one direction or another. If you take a break from Magic for six months, you’ll be worse when you get back. Inertia and natural skill can only take you so far. As soon as you stop mentally growing, you’re mentally getting stupider. And that’s not even the end of it!

Here’s another turkey shoot (Thesaurus.com) question: How good can a player get? Or more accurately, how good does a player get? The answer to both is "exactly as good as he or she needs to be". That might be a bit arcane (tee hee), so I will elaborate.

Yesterday’s article discussed the necessity of taking risks to beat good players. You need to be adventurous and think outside of the box to create an even footing against the skilled ones. The natural complement to that is the lack of needing risk to beat weak players. If you know you have an edge on playskill or matchup, you’re not going to run wild mulligans or anything of that nature. You don’t need to, because you’ll win the easy way more often than not.

When I say easy, I mean easy. Playing Wild Mongrels versus Rime Dryads. Playing Consuming Vortex on the Call of the Herd token with 2 Vigilance on it (It attacks backwards).

Ho hum, Magic sure is boring when it’s easy. You see the trap here? If you’re any good at all, you’ll win handily but you won’t learn anything. Build the best deck, play the best deck. Win. Yawn. The snare comes from not utilizing valuable, edgy skills. Why would you?

The human brain is by nature a conservative organ. Stereotypes exist in the world because people tend to use an example to represent an entire group. It’s easier!

Along those lines, why in the world would you expend extra precious brain energy for zero gain? If you can beat someone at 1/4 mental capacity, then you will.

In the real world, this means you’re certainly not improving your talents and repertoire when you play the easy to beat folk. And as proofed above, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. To be more specific, you’ll be bad, just a step above the awfuls that you play against. That means that as soon as you play against someone with actual skill, who bluffs and sees turns ahead (Thursday…), you’re more likely to get trounced. Tough luck, but your mental muscles are weak from non-use.

Writers sometime use analogy as ways to get their point across, although they rarely tell the readers they’re using that device. Ah well.

Getting worse is to bad players as getting better is to ____________. Hmmmm

The only truly effective way I know to get good and stay good is to surround yourself with the highest caliber players available. You’ve got to play with people that make you feel like you’re earning wins, people that won’t give anything away. You will rise to the challenge of these people, and be a better player for it.

This is simple stuff, but anyone can tell you it probably won’t be easy. There’s something about being an unemployable, druggie, mangy "person" who happens to have talent in a Fantasy-Based Card Game that can really bring out an arrogant streak. And unfortunately for you, gentle reader, the more deserved that arrogance is, the more you can learn.

Luckily, "quality Magic player" is code for "low self-esteem". Being genuine with people and telling them you want to learn is probably enough of an in. If not, I have a great Pecan Pie recipe tomorrow.

In an ideal world, anyone who has the ability to should be trying to make everyone a better player. Granted you’re creating tougher opposition, but as we now know, tougher opposition is the only way to get better. It’s a happy cycle, and usually ends with people from one geographical area winning every local PTQ and making big scores at Pro Tours.

What if these talents don’t accept you part and parcel into their ranks? You’re going to have it make it worth it. A classic way is ante. Put up a buck for a match, or 4/7, or whatever you can afford; you’ll have opponents quick enough. If you have deckbuilding skillz, exchanging good lists for playtest time is solid. Or you can offer to guinea pig any crazy concoctions someone else comes up with. There are a lot of ways to gain entry into the inner circle. Find one, because the rewards are worth it.

A final note is keeping your mind active on the game, even when not playing. I, for example, liked to make deck lists during classes. On a purely "best for life" approach, I do not recommend this. On the other hand, I’ve heard of quite a few very successful competitors who do utilize this technique (see: unemployable).

Nothing so strict is really necessary. Making sideboards during school should suffice. Or reading quality articles. Or, reading quality articles.

The synthesis to all this is to play big events. When you’re good enough to know you’ve got a lot to learn, hit up a GP sometime. You’ll get destroyed, no question. But if you play your rounds, watch the feature matches, maybe run a side draft or two, the jump in skill can be immeasurable. Like I said, it’s not possible for everyone. But for anyone with the time and means some weekend, give it a shot.

That’s all I can give you today. Tune in tomorrow for multiple(!) turn 1 kills in Standard, and that sweet sweet pecan pie recipe.

Love for the streets,

Noah Weil