SCG Daily – Thoughts From St. Louis

We’re all going to make play mistakes, we’re all going to get out-topdecked, we’re all going to want to beleaguer our friends with some horribly tedious bad-beat story that makes them fantasize about how nice it would be to bore a corkscrew into our brains and shut us up. Despite all that, though, research has shown that retroactively winning the game in our heads by drawing one of our 43650345621 outs instead of that pesky basic land does not actually count as a win to the DCI.

It occurred to me that I have never written a tournament report.

I just don’t know how to do it. I don’t want to go round-by-round, because I don’t remember and honestly nobody cares. I don’t want to just lay out my decklists, because without seeing the entire draft they’re hardly relevant – and anyway, I don’t have any idea where they are. It seems, though, that I ought to be writing something in the hopes of producing something vaguely useful. So I’ll give you the highlights of my experience at Grand Prix St. Louis.

Early 2006: the GP is announced. All of the St. Louis players race to the forums to shotgun the 1st place finish. Tim Galbiati wins the shotgun war. From there on out he refers to the event as “my Grand Prix.” The prophecy eventually expands to include the fact that it’s absolutely necessary that one St. Louis-area player Top 8 the event to fight the good fight and defend the home turf.

I am not from St. Louis. I shotgunned Top 8 anyway under the assumption that if one barns enough people from a certain area, he is de facto a resident of said area. The trouble, of course, is that I hadn’t even Day 2ed a Limited Grand Prix at that point, much less made money at one. Hmm. Conundrum.

Solution? Bother everyone on my buddy list about Ravnica Sealed Deck. Get sample builds. Talk about cards. Become a master at dodging the on-board trick. Say prayers. Eat vitamins. Drink milk. Et cetera.

Of course, that still left Coldsnap booster draft, and nobody had any idea how to make any sense of that format. Fortunately, there is such a thing as Magic Online Beta.

Free drafting? You have to be Jay Kay. It was time to do some homework.

The doorbell rings at Andy’s house at around 9am. His wife and kids are off on vacation, so he’s relaxing and enjoying some much-needed time to himself. I, however, have other plans. Cody and I burst in with a twenty-four-pack, a lighter, a username, a password, and a plan to convert poor Mr. Andy’s living room into a research lab. Down go the shutters. On flash the monitors. In comes the high-dollar leather reclining chair. I call my director and tell him I can’t make tonight’s show – “emergency” is the word I use, I believe. Andy heaves a sigh and begins poring through the phone book for pizza delivery. It’s go time, boys.

For the next fourteen hours, we draft Coldsnap booster packs.

People question how useful it is to get on the Beta server because the players are so bad – and it’s true, I once had the option to select either Skred or Aurochs Herd as the 14th card in my pile. But you sure get to play around with archetypes. By the end of the day we had tried out the Martyr/Icefall decks, the War Cry decks, the Ripple decks, the Into the North/Boreal Druid decks, the Grim Harvest decks, the Snow decks, and everything else under the sun, and I felt I knew the format like the back of my hand. Sure, it was going to be a lot harder once people got their card evaluation down, but I had learned which archetypes did and didn’t work. I’ll mention this again tomorrow, but drafting Coldsnap seems much more like Constructed than Limited, and Beta gave me some semblance of the expected metagame. As we walked exhausted out of Andy’s front door ready to pass out, I nevertheless felt prepared.

Day 1 of the tournament. I receive a decent pool that contains Wurms, removal, three Karoos, a Signet, and a Compulsive Research. The simple Bear Necessities of life. My only concern is that my comparative lack of sleep due to changing housing arrangements at the last minutes might cause me to make some Strong Plays reminiscent of Small Children. Fortunately, I don’t drown myself in too many of those, and cruise into Day 2 at 6-1-1.

Notable Day 1 events:

I am not happy to be paired against Kyle Sanchez for round 2, as he Top 8ed the last Limited Grand Prix. I know from “casual team side drafts” that he is well-qualified to wield the 40-card deck. He plays well, but I don’t make any glaring mistakes and his game 2 mana flood does him in. This was a huge load off my chest as I figured I’d have to play against 2 or 3 real players the first day, and dealing with one of them right off the bat set my confidence high. I forget whom it was recently that talked about confidence as one of the defining qualities of a good player, but I agree that it’s absolutely essential. Whenever I think I’m better than the guy I’m sitting down across the table from, my mind is constantly active and I’m continually re-assessing and analyzing the game state to try and generate advantages. By contrast – and this happens all the time in side drafts – when I’m against someone whom I consider to be better than me, I for whatever reason just shift into autopilot. It’s not nervousness, per se, but more like a narrow intimidation that subtly affects how I perceive the game. I feel like a lab rat being scrutinized by seedy scientists in a vat or tank. One wrong move and my opponent will be all, “OH MY GAAAAAWD, WHAT A COMPLETE BAG, JEEEEZ” and proceed to wreck me with his on-board trick, or something.

Point being that it’s good to achieve a positive state of mind real early into the tournament.

In round 4, as I mentioned earlier, I make a colossal mistake against Mike Krumb that costs me the match, but (equally important) I’m able to get over it pretty quickly and focus on playing the rest of my games. I would say that the number one skill to have in high-level tournament Magic is that ability to get over it. We’re all going to make play mistakes, we’re all going to get out-topdecked, we’re all going to want to beleaguer our friends with some horribly tedious bad-beat story that makes them fantasize about how nice it would be to bore a corkscrew into our brains and shut us up. Despite all that, though, research has shown that retroactively winning the game in our heads by drawing one of our 43650345621 outs instead of that pesky basic land does not actually count as a win to the DCI. What does count, though, is the outcome of the next match, which we won’t be winning if we don’t concentrate on it.

Equally dangerous, too, is the “I only need to win X games and I’ll make top X” train of thought. You have to focus on every game individually, because any time you spend fantasizing about how awesome the trip to Kobe will be with your friends is time you’re not spending thinking about how you’re going to trap your opponent into tapping his Benevolent Ancestor so you can kill his Sky Hussar with Galvanic Arc.

So I manage to go through the rest of the day without earning another loss, though my opponent in the last round does concede to me to avoid a draw knocking us both out of Day 2.

Me: “I’d really appreciate it if you’d concede to me, man.”

My opponent (rather militantly): “Oh yeah, well, why don’t you concede to me?

Me: “Because I’m at 29, you’re at 4, you’re dead next turn, and you were the one with the Twilight Drover/Selesnya Evangel/Thoughtpicker Witch deck that took about eight minutes a turn for you to play even as a judge was watching.”

My opponent: “…”

So I’m in Day 2. How lucky.

I can’t ask for my two drafts to go better. My first was the G/U Into the North archetype featuring three Into the Norths and two Mouths of Ronom. I almost lost to Steve Jarvis’ Illusion deck in the first round – a deck that I was never able to draft successfully, but apparently Alex Kim is the absolute master of – but took it on the back of sideboarded 1/3 block-flying wrecking balls. The next two weren’t very difficult as mana acceleration into Ronom Hulk is basically unstoppable in this format.

My second draft I lucksacked the Martyr/Icefall deck with 5 Martyrs and 4 Icefalls, splashing Blue for two Riptide Survivors (sooooo good with Icefall), two Frost Raptors, and a Perilous Research. I 2-0-1 with that quite easily, getting the dream pairing against Kenji. He has ten power worth of guys on the table by turn 3. I shrug and announce Martyr. Must (it is).

As they announce Top 8, Tim Aten delivers me a “pep talk” that might have been one of the most useful and poignant things I have heard in my Magic career. It went something like this.

“Alright, I’ve got to say this to you. Making this Top 8 is no big deal. Beating Kenji is no big deal. No one cares. It doesn’t make you important. It doesn’t make you good at Magic. You can’t say ‘oh, I made it this far, everything from here on out is just extra, and I’m just happy to be here.’ No. You want to win this tournament, not just snap your picture for the Top 8, wave ‘bye!’, and head out the door.”

The only response I could stupidly muster was, “I mean, I don’t plan on conceding.”

Well, sadly, I let ya down, Timmy boy. The Japanese got me in the end. But I think that lesson applies at all levels of Magic. If you’re truly taking the game seriously, don’t just say, “sweet, I qualified for the Pro Tour, this’ll be awesome.” Because it doesn’t end there. If you truly want to do well at this game, you can’t just stride into the Pro Tour happy that you’re seeing the sights and meeting up with some friends – though that certainly is an amazing feeling, of course. Making it in the door isn’t good enough. Top 8-ing that first PTQ, Day 2ing that first tournament, playing at that first Pro Tour – these are all just steps. And you don’t sit around climbing stairs for the fun of it. Eventually, you want to get somewhere, but unless you’re constantly striving for that higher level, there’s no way you can get there. As for me, now I want a win. If somehow I get that, I want actual Pro Tour success. Sure, I’ve caught the bug. But I’ve also realized that some things matter and some things don’t. Lots of people plod around pretending that they’re important or that they are a whole lot better than they actually are just because they’ve got a nifty little Pro Tour badge hanging in their closet. I certainly did that for awhile, even if I didn’t admit it to myself. But for everyone out there that actually wants to make it at the highest level – are you prepared to do what it takes to get there?