#GPHouston was a thriller of an event. I started off strongly, only dropping one match during the first day to Brock Parker in the final round of Swiss playing Four-Color Rally. Esper Dragons has always been a strong deck, but in this tournament I felt it had the best chance to take home the gold.
The new wave of Hardened Scales and Mardu Green decks placed the Dragon army on the superior side of the power scale of Standard. I played against three CFB team writers playing the green critter decks, and each one was slain by a combination of Dragonlord Ojutai and powerful Esper spells. I was feeling great with only three rounds left and having to win two of them to make it into the Top 8, where I feel I would have emerged victorious based on the performance so far in the tournament.
I lost to Eric Froehlich without playing a timely third land on turn 3 two games in a row, defeated Abzan, and prepared for another win and in against the control mastermind Andrew Cuneo. Patrick Chapin has joked with me from time to time, mentioning that Cuneo and I are the only stubborn mages that can’t put down the control spellbook regardless of its power level.
This had the feel of an epic grudge match; winner takes all, to determine the control representative in the Top 8. Today’s article isn’t a tournament report, but a report and examination on the cause of my loss to Cuneo, multiple win-and-in losses from years past, and a decline of my personal health due to these hardships.
Stress is something that is not associated with Magic: The Gathering too often. Most of the time people play games to relieve stress and have a good time with friends and family, but for all of you reading this right now, you’re aware of the differences between casual and competitive Magic.
I have been out of the casual world for many years and I actually cannot remember what it was like to travel to an event without high expectations for success that I lug on my shoulders tournament after tournament. My match against Cuneo was a prime example of how stress from the game has negatively impacted not only my chances of winning matches, but my overall health as well. Let’s take a quick trip through my recent issues that are in part from bad eating while traveling and stress of the game.
A Doctor’s Diagnosis
Last year I was diagnosed by my primary care physician with a condition called diverticulitis. Many of you have heard of it, and some may actually suffer from a form of it, but for those who do not, it’s an infection that roots in the pockets of your intestinal tract. These pockets form and get infected from poor diet, not enough fiber, and possibly eating seeds and nuts (although most studies refute this now).
How does stress impact this condition?
I didn’t quite believe or understand the impact stress was having on my health and performance, but it became clear while in Philadelphia on The SCG Tour® last year. I was in the same situation, win-and-in, and while losing Game 3, I began to sweat profusely, had a gut-wrenching pain, and my plays were far from optimal. I would have lost that game regardless; however, the aftereffect was the important outcome. I had an attack later that night and was put on the same antibiotics that my doctor assigned to me earlier that year. I was attack-free until, you guessed it, another very stressful win-and-in loss a few months later at the Las Vegas Season Four Invitational.
I have had discomfort in-between these attacks, but nothing like what I endure when the loss comes at the worst possible time in a high-stakes tournament. After GP Houston, I rushed my appointment to see the doctor two days later. Apparently I didn’t have diverticulitis and he pushed forward a scheduled colonoscopy (at age 32!) to the next day because he was worried it could be something more severe.
I have a CAT scan coming up next week, but so far I’m clear of cancer or something equally bad. What the doctor did see was a similar obstruction to diverticulitis, but it isn’t life-threatening.
What I took from this ordeal is that stress in Magic is real, and even if you all don’t have medical issues from it, I’m sure there is a gap in your play skill that widens when the stakes are higher. My goal today is to tell you my story, describe the negative outcomes of stress in Magic and what can cause them, and to develop a battle plan to ensure my spellslinging career doesn’t come to a crashing halt.
How Stress Can Impact You
There are a ton of stressful situations that you’ll encounter eventually if you continue to read my articles, as well as those of the other talented, competitive authors that write for SCG. Those successful players I meet personally tell me they are up-to-date on the best decks and how to beat them, and they know all of this from reading articles on a regular basis.
The first stressful situation you may find yourself in is a camera match. Camera matches on The SCG Tour® can really put pressure on you to perform well because of the commentators, spectators at home, and those watching in person. Your every move is observed and critiqued, which can easily create a stressful situation for anyone. Many people that I talk to tell me they freeze up on camera and play poorly due to all of these factors.
The best advice I can give is to create and maintain dialogue with your opponent. Engaging in small talk with the people you are paired against is one of the best parts of playing Magic, in my opinion. You realize that even if this match is for a ton of money and fame, there is still a human element that gives the game so much more depth. Talking with your opponent, smiling, laughing, and enjoying the moment are the best ways to remove all of the stress from being filmed and observed.
There will even be times where you forget where you are and all that matters is enjoying the match and coming out with a victory at the end. I never think about what is being said about my play, or what people at home are thinking. Save all of that for after the tournament, when you are at home in your pajamas and watching coverage to pinpoint mistakes you had during your match. I may be the last individual to boast about a stress-free strategy, but as long as it’s not a win-and-in, I’m as carefree as anyone.
Stress doesn’t just follow people to feature matches, but to regular matches throughout the tournament. While playing an opponent, you may make a terrible error that puts you far behind or costs you the game. This “tilt” aspect of stress is very real for players that are less weathered in tournament play, but it can happen to the best of us as well.
Magic can be just like playing the quarterback position in football. You’ll often hear announcers state that Joe Montana needs to have a short memory as a quarterback, because if he doesn’t, that second interception in a row he just threw will cost his team the game. In Magic, we all make play mistakes; however, the true champions can shake off that error and charge forward to victory still.
That is one of the most difficult things to do in Magic and I know players who have been in the tournament limelight for many, many years that are still throwing matches away after one goof. If it isn’t a play mistake that tilts you, it could be a loss midway or early in the tournament. Stress can mount when you have your back against the wall and need a few more wins to cross the finish line.
It’s like in any other sport, playing for a playoff spot, and reminds me of the Jets’ loss in the final week of the NFL regular season. They had to win and they didn’t. You could see the horror and depression that rests on these players’ faces to know their season and their dreams of a Super Bowl were over. The only difference with Magic and us is that we have a lot more tournaments to play in and more chances for greatness.
There are a ton of other stress elements in Magic that impact specific portions of the gaming population. Stress can stem from missing flights, a lack of funds, not getting the cards you need, getting no sleep, missing Round 1, having a deck stolen, an opponent who cheats you out of a win, and the list goes on and on. Each one of these stressful events can negatively impact your game, that tournament or in a future event, so figuring out ways to manage stress is key for you and especially me.
Here are a few bullet-points of stress management that I’m going to tape into my deck box for #GPDC this weekend and for the future:
– Get plenty of sleep.
– Eat a great meal.
– Bring a water bottle and continuously stay hydrated.
– Never leave your bag anywhere but wrapped around your leg.
– Create relationships and stay friendly with opponents and other players you run into.
– Shuffle your opponent’s deck and stay vigilant, holding them to the rules of the game.
– Politely remind opponents of the importance of playing quickly to avoid draws.
– Don’t constantly update the world on how close a Top 8 berth is to avoid additional pressure.
– Remember that this is a game and there will always be another tournament.
– Remind yourself that mana issues are a big part of the game and you’ll steal some wins as well as lose some games due to it.
– If you fail, regardless of how close you were, your friends and colleagues will support and root for you next weekend when trying it again.
The last bullet was specially designed for me and I’m going to repeat this over and over to avoid crashing and burning like I did in Houston. My Esper Dragons almost led me to greatness, but the truth is I am still here regardless of my failure that day. I’m still writing for this great website, you all are still reading me, I have a fantastic team of Brian Braun-Duin and Brandon Nelson ready to dominate with me this weekend at #GPDC, and most importantly, I’m still alive and relatively healthy.
Standard is close to rotating, so I didn’t want to go into excessive detail about what went wrong in the two losses to Jeskai Black and one to Four-Color Rally. I am going to post the list below for you all to battle with for the next few weeks, in case you didn’t catch it from Twitter or Facebook a few weeks back. I wouldn’t change one card in the list, and my biggest regret is that there isn’t another tournament coming up where all of these cards will be legal.
We are losing the all-powerful Dig Through Time and fetchlands, which will need a strong replacement in the upcoming set. Luckily for us, all of the Elder Dragons; Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy; and Painful Truths are sticking around to give control a strong foundation. The next time we speak, I guarantee stress will not get the better of me, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be a Team GP champion.