MMMmmmm. Let’s all take a moment and inhale deeply. That delicious aroma is the smell of the holidays and the joy and cheer they bring. Lovely. Truly lovely. I think there is only one real way to celebrate this festive season. Is it to soak in the love and friendship and generosity of our families and friends in this season of giving? Is it to cherish the great times and great memories with our dear loved ones? Is it to eat delicious treats while listening to heavenly Christmas carols?
Well, I suppose those are things you could do, but personally I was thinking along some slightly different lines. We all do ourselves a great disservice by not instead taking a moment to remember the true heroes of the Christmas story. Ebenezer Scrooge. The Grinch. Mr. Potter.
Without the bad guys trying to ruin all of our fun, we lose out on the satisfaction and lessons learned from besting them. And thankfully these bad guys all lose in the end, so we don’t even have to worry about whether or not we’ll succeed. Lucky.
Rather than hit you all up with the standard fare about the state of Standard or how I fared in my last tournament, I figured I’d spin things a bit differently this go around the ol’ mulberry bush. I’m going to take up the bad guy mantle. While many other writers have taken this time of year as a reason to share their successes and joys from 2013, I figured I’d go a different route.
This is the first annual "Season’s Rantings," a segment where I ramble incoherently about things that occasionally irk me in regards to Magic. It promises to be an above-average time. It’s probably also going to be the last annual Season’s Rantings after the network cuts us for poor ratings. So get in while the getting’s decidedly mediocre.
Like Santa discovering a chimney-shaped water slide for the first time, I figure we might as well just jump right in.
Players Complaining About Luck
I’d like to start off with a caveat. We all complain about luck from time to time, and sometimes justifiably so. Sometimes we hit that 1% to lose a game that seemed unlosable, and it’s actually okay to rant a bit about it to cool off. Just don’t go overboard.
Last year I played Orzhov Guildgate, a B/W Midrange deck that I spent hours and hours fine tuning, in a tournament in Baltimore. I cared a lot about the deck and I badly wanted a good performance to prove myself and prove the deck. In round 1, I was winning game 3 against a Naya deck by a margin that seemed insurmountable. The only way I could conceive of losing was if my opponent drew nearly perfectly and I never drew a relevant spell the rest of the game.
Well, my opponent proceeded to rip six high-impact cards in the correct order while I drew eighteen of my twenty five lands, and I ended up losing as a result. Yes, I counted how many lands I drew. Yes, I still remember. I am not going to lie—it was extremely frustrating. I felt that I had played very well in the match and was not rewarded with the victory I deserved.
I ranted about it to some friends, and inside I was pretty frustrated by the whole ordeal. However, regardless of how well I played, I did end up making one classic mistake that could have come back to bite me. I felt I deserved to win. Frankly, nobody deserves to win. It doesn’t matter who is a better player or who played better or who has a better deck. Neither you nor your opponent "deserve" anything. The best you can do is play your best and utilize your skill to put yourself in a position to win. If you’re good enough, you will win most of the time.
That other percentage of the time? You have to just shrug it off and deal with it. Thankfully, in Baltimore I was able to take some time, collect my thoughts, and inform myself that I still had a tournament to win. I wasn’t going to let one bad round spoil my event.
I ended up winning eight consecutive rounds to put myself in Top 8 contention. A draw in round 10 kept me out of the Top 8, but ultimately I would have never had gone that far in the tournament in the first place if I’d let the round 1 loss get to me.
Everyone has bad luck. Everyone has good luck. I’m not sure why, but there is this pervasive thought among Magic players that they alone have bad luck and all other Magic players have good luck. It’s a lie. It’s not true. I used to feel the same way. I used to think that I ran extraordinarily bad and that if I ever started running well I would start to win tournaments.
Once I started playing better and started playing better decks, my luck "magically" became better. It’s funny how that works. It’s so coincidental that I would almost be inclined to hypothesize that it wasn’t luck after all that was holding me back from winning tournaments. It was my own shortcomings as a player. Almost.
I also find it quite coincidental that I used to run really well when I played decks like Caw-Blade but run really poorly when I played decks that clearly weren’t as good as Caw-Blade. I know it can’t be right, but it almost felt like when I played a powerful and consistent deck I had more powerful and consistent draws than I would otherwise have had.
"I always run so bad with Bant Hexproof. I can’t believe I had to mulligan three whole times this tournament already!" says the player who has mulliganed three times in five rounds with one of the highest variance decks in the room. That’s not bad luck. That’s average luck. That might even be above-average luck. It’s certainly conceivable that you should have mulliganed more times with a deck that inconsistent.
I had a match in a PTQ a few weekends ago that struck me as humorous. I was playing Esper Control against G/W. I had a very commanding board presence. I had a Blood Baron of Vizkopa against a smattering of white creatures, and I had an active Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Despite that my opponent was able to force me to blow away my own Blood Baron, and he followed it up the next turn with a Selesnya Charm off the top to trample over to kill Elspeth.
Suddenly my dominant board state had evaporated, and in the meantime I was flooding out pretty hard. I was drawing a lot of Temples and using those Temples to put lands or irrelevant Thoughtseizes on the bottom of my deck. The creatures my opponent was drawing were forcing me to blow my removal spells until I was out of gas. Eventually, on the last turn I had I was able to draw my first Sphinx’s Revelation. I cast that Revelation for fourteen and was able to fairly easily win from that point.
What surprised me was the reaction after the game, where my opponent’s friends gathered around him and consoled him about how unlucky he had gotten and how lucky I had been. They told him how much it sucked for him to flood out as badly as he did.
The fact of the matter is that he didn’t flood out. In fact, he actually drew a higher ratio of spells to lands than normal. When you have nine lands in play with a G/W Aggro deck, it’s easy to think that you flooded out. When you have nine lands in play on turn 25, that story doesn’t pan out anymore. Just think, that’s nine lands out of the 32 cards you’ve seen. That means that you’ve gone through over 50% of your deck yet you’ve drawn less than 50% of the lands in your deck. That’s not flooding out. That’s actually drawing above average, maybe even well above average.
Why do I share these stories? It’s to showcase how comical it is to complain about luck. Frankly, the vast majority of Magic players have no concept of what luck really means. Players will often complain about how unlucky they got to lose, when in reality they had to draw multiple specific cards in a row to even be in the game in the first place. In the case of the G/W opponent, he had only a couple of turns to draw that Selesnya Charm before Elspeth hit her ultimate.
Players will complain about how lucky their opponent got for drawing a Sphinx’s Revelation while simultaneously ignoring that the Hero’s Downfall they drew the previous turn was the only card in their deck that could possibly prevent them from losing to the Elspeth in play.
It’s easy to only focus on the bad luck and ignore the good luck. It’s easy to blame luck for our shortcomings. It’s easy to shrug off a bad result as "getting unlucky" and fail to look at it for what it might actually be—"I played a bad deck" or "my opponent was favored in the matchup" or "I didn’t play as well as I could have" or "I need to improve my game before I can start to win events."
It’s also easy to mistakenly assume a good result is the product of our skill, when in reality it could simply mean we outdrew our opponent. If we can remember all the times where we played someone who played worse than we did but who still won anyway, then it stands to reason that there are also plenty of times where we played someone who was better than us yet we still won anyway.
Players use luck as a crutch to explain away their own shortcomings. Having that mentality means you will never get better at the game because every time you blame luck for a loss that better play could have prevented you stop yourself from learning how to make those better plays.
Lastly, one of the aspects of luck-blaming that bothers me the most is when people write off a good result as someone getting lucky or write off a certain player’s success as them getting lucky. I can’t speak for other players, but it certainly bothers me when people make comments like "only Larry Q. Lucksack can keep that hand because he’s the only one lucky enough to draw out of it" or "if you ever run as hot as Sally J. Savageripper, you’ll finally win a tournament!"
"Poor little Billy. You’re not as lucky as Jon Finkel. That’s why he’s winning tournaments and not you."
Those statements are usually misinformed. They project the image that the only reason certain players are doing well is because they are lucky. That completely marginalizes the hard work and effort those players put into their success. Saying someone’s wins are the result of luck is essentially equivalent to saying that they aren’t skilled enough to win a tournament. It’s actually a direct character attack.
Owen Turtenwald didn’t win back-to-back Grand Prix because he’s lucky. Sam Black didn’t Top 8 a Pro Tour and numerous Grand Prix with Mono-Blue Devotion over a few months’ time because he draws better than the rest of us.
In the Versus video CVM and I filmed for the Invitational, people mentioned how lucky I was to keep the majority of cards I saw with Temples on top of my deck. Was I lucky? Or was my deck so well positioned in the matchup that almost every card was going to be good, thus significantly lowering the percentage of cards I would need to put on the bottom? There’s always more to the story than "luck."
It also sucks a lot when Indianapolis Colts fans make comments like "the only reason we’re winning is Luck." Give me a break. You’ve got a great young quarterback. Give that guy some credit.
I’ve found that for the most part in Magic as well as life you create your own luck. When good players draw that one card off the top of their deck that they had to draw to win, you can call it luck. However, good players put themselves in positions to get lucky just like people who are lucky in life put themselves in positions to capitalize on opportunities. Eventually, given enough repetitions things will work out for them.
The better I’ve gotten at Magic, the luckier I’ve been. That’s not coincidence. That’s cause and effect because luck doesn’t work the way most people think it does.
The easiest way to get better results from Magic is to stop complaining about how unlucky you get and start focusing on the mistakes you make. Don’t take the easy way out. Own up to it. Nothing causes me to ignore what someone says faster than when they start out a conversation by saying how unlucky they are to not have won a tournament yet. It’s rarely true. I was that player for a long time, and it certainly wasn’t true for me.
Complaining About Standard
Without fail, every Standard season players are out in force complaining about how stale, dumb, boring, or skill-less it is. Every Standard season the same players that always win tournaments are still out there winning tournaments, proving that Standard still is a skill format. Often enough those players bring new decks to the table, proving that Standard is not stale, dumb, or boring.
When people complain about Standard, it reads like this to me. "I’m not winning in Standard. Rather than take the time to work on it and figure out how I can start to win in this format, I’m just going to write it off as being a stupid format. It’s the format’s fault I can’t win. Not mine."
Granted, some formats are better than others. Some formats are worse. Some formats are chock full of awesome, fun, interactive decks, and some formats contain Bant Hexproof or triple Burning-Tree Emissary.
However, even if Standard isn’t the best it has ever been, it is rarely bad. Players complained about last Standard season when there were at least six different viable archetypes that could win a tournament. Players complain about this Standard format when it’s similarly diverse. There are so many different archetypes that have experienced success, and you can get so much mileage out of any archetype if you take the time to learn the ins and outs of the deck.
I’m tired of hearing it in the comment section of articles. I’m tired of hearing it from other writers. I’ve never played in a Standard format since I started playing this game years ago where people haven’t complained about how bad it is. Never.
Rather than give up the first time someone Thoughtseizes you, figure out how to build your deck to beat Thoughtseize. Rather than complain about how dumb Pack Rat is, pick a deck that doesn’t care about the card.
Innovate. Try something different. Look for new or unique solutions. Don’t just throw in the towel the first time you start losing matches or the first time someone plays a card you don’t like. Figure out how to beat it. Figure out how to beat them at their own game.
If you’re winning but still not enjoying Standard, try something new and fun. Find an underused card that you’ve always wanted to build around and see what kinds of things you can come up with. I had a blast in an SCG Open last year playing a deck built around Progenitor Mimic. I didn’t win, but I had a lot of fun and some great stories came from it. Sometimes a break from the usual can be just what the doctor ordered to cure the Standard blues.
Being A Jerk To Your Opponent
I feel like this shouldn’t have to be said, but it’s clear from what I’ve seen that it does have to be said. Treat your opponent with respect. Notice how there are no strings attached to that sentence. It’s not "treat your opponent with respect unless they make a really bad misplay at some point, at which point you have free reign to harass them about anything." It’s not "treat your opponent with respect unless you don’t like the way they look, then ridicule them." It’s not, "treat your opponent with respect until the point where it’s clear they are winning and then bombard them with insults."
It actually doesn’t matter the circumstances. Just treat your opponent with respect. Even if your opponent isn’t treating you or others with respect, you can still rise above their influence and be the better person. That doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover, let them get away with things, or let them say or do things that you find offensive without repercussion. It just means that you don’t have to engage in that kind of behavior yourself.
Sometimes your opponent barely knows how to hold their own cards and makes an enormous amount of mistakes but still manages to beat you anyway. Sign the match slip, wish them good luck, and move on. By berating them over their deck, the way they played, or any number of other things, you’re ruining the Magic experience.
For one, you’re stealing the enjoyment of the victory from them. Whether or not you berate them doesn’t change the fact that you lost, so why strip the enjoyment from the person who won as well? It doesn’t help you any. It just simply hurts them at no benefit to anyone else. It’s just simply an asshole thing to do. It drives people away from the game.
Secondly, it doesn’t help yourself any. Reputation matters in Magic. If you get a reputation of being a jerk, people won’t look to do you any favors. That kind of a thing adds up. You might miss out on friends or lose out on contacts that could serve as great resources at some point. I’ve met so many friends and had a lot of opportunities open up to me because of Magic, and none of it would have been possible if I had just alienated those people the first time we sat down across from each other.
Even deeper than that, by letting yourself get so emotionally invested in a loss that you’re willing to go so far as to belittle your opponent over it, you’re actually just hurting your own chances of tournament success. It can become hard to fully let it go and focus on the next upcoming match, making it very easy to let one loss snowball into an entire wrecked tournament.
I’ve found that when I immediately accept the fact that I lost, wish my opponent good luck, and start focusing on the next match at hand, I perform far better in a tournament than when I let the frustration of the loss linger.
Have a little respect for yourself and don’t be the kind of player that nobody wants to sit down across from.
Posting About Unrelated Magic Topics In Places They Don’t Belong
Nobody is guiltier of this than I was years ago. When I was neck deep in the World of Warcraft muck, I had a special skill. No matter what the conversation was, I had a knack for somehow turning it back around to WoW. At the time I had no real awareness of what I was doing, but looking back on it now I can only imagine how annoying it was for other people. I was being extremely selfish. They might not have wanted to talk about WoW, but I did. By steering the conversation back to it, I wasn’t being very aware or considerate.
If someone posts a status about how their dog can do a backflip, please don’t respond to the thread by asking them to help you sideboard with Esper Control. If someone mentions how they have a flat tire, please don’t comment on the thread by talking about how awesome Tireless Tribe is in Legacy Dredge.
There’s a time and place for those kinds of Magic discussions, and the place is never a thread that has no relevance to Magic at all.
If you’re looking for a conversation about Magic or advice on a deck or archetype from someone who is proficient with it, send that person a polite private message. Don’t ask Ali Aintrazi to help you with your Simic deck on the thread where he’s posting pictures of his buff body on Facebook. It’s just not right. Besides, savvy Simic mages are already one step ahead of you. The little known fact is that his son is actually the go-to expert on Simic now. Forget Ali. There’s a new Aintrazi in town, and he’s the real Master Biomancer.
It really sucks when people rant on and on about how something is bad and then are guilty of doing the very thing they are condemning.
Standard is miserable right now. Devotion has made the format stale. The games usually play out in a boring fashion. Pack Rat is a dumb card. I feel like you could just take each player’s opening hand, look at them, easily pick out the winner, and then sign the match slip without even playing the games. There are simply no decisions to be made.
I can’t wait for Born of the Gods to come out. I hope it shakes up and breathes some life into this dying husk of a format. If I have to even look at someone who has considered playing a game of Standard in the last two weeks, I will probably quit Magic for good. It’s just abysmal.
Oh, and I almost forgot one thing.
F*** Burning-Tree Emissary.
That felt good.
In all seriousness, though, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season. Just remember, if you manage to eat the delicious desserts before your family can, that’s not luck.