The Black Holes Of Magic

Want to get better at Magic? Mark Nestico did, and he learned a lot about the game by stepping out of his comfort zone. Follow the advice and the discoveries that he used to crawl out of black holes and into the Pro Tour!

“Why don’t you just do one of those end-of-the-year-in-review articles?” -Me

“Because those are too easy.” -Anthony Lowry

Yet here we are.

I don’t just do anything normal, though. I could have done one of those “these are my best articles of 2015” and talk about how a lot of people
don’t understand satire, but to be honest it’s probably unneeded. The feedback I’ve gotten since I’ve “spread my wings” this year and dabbled in a lot more
experimental writing has been so overwhelmingly positive that it doesn’t behoove me to even acknowledge the people who want to spit in my face or think I’m
a scrub. In fact, I celebrate those folks and their ability to tell me I should jump off a building. You all are the grease that makes the wheel turn, and
for that…I love you.

Thanks, Ari.

Instead I want to talk about why 2015 was probably the most productive year I’ve had playing Magic and why it could be the same for you. We want
breakthroughs, kiddies. We want you to have the best year of your life in 2016 and if success in Magic is a part of that, let’s do it. Together. Forever.

Black Holes

One concept I’ve touched on in the past is getting out of your comfort zone as a player and expanding your horizons. I don’t really go much further than
that, but today we’re going to discuss it at length in order to keep you from falling into those black holes that I see so many battlers succumbing to

You’re the player who always plays midrange decks. Right now you’re probably playing Abzan or Mardu and you’ve had okay results. In the previous format you
played Jund, and it’s your weapon of choice in Modern. You love Death and Taxes in Legacy. If it’s grindy, you lock yourself in. There is no deviation.
It’s just what you always play.

I used to be the same way. Before 2015 I can’t remember ever taking an aggressive deck to a big tournament. It just never worked out that way. I was always
playing B/W Midrange, U/W Control, Solar Flare, Bant Control, and so on and so on.

A classic black hole that you get sucked into is your own avarice. You want to win a tournament with whatever deck you like, regardless of positioning in a
current metagame. That level of greed can become a mentally cumbersome endeavor for players that heavily affects their results in the long term without
them even realizing it when they continue to not reach their desired outcome.

The Wheelhouse Black Hole

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in buzzwords. Among them, and even I am guilty of using it, is “wheelhouse.” The implication that we as Magic players
have certain decks we play better than others is a fundamentally flawed block that can keep you from reaching your actualized potential. Sound extreme?
That’s because it is.

“I only play control. All other decks just don’t appeal to me.”

That’s a completely fine statement and I would never hold it against the player who said it unless they have a strong desire to achieve competitive

“I only play control. All other decks just don’t appeal to me. I don’t understand why I can’t make Day 2 of a Grand Prix or SCG Open.”

This is a statement I hear a little more than I would like. Perhaps we should breakdown why this person unable to have that breakthrough.

a) Is control good in that metagame?

b) Is the pilot playing their chosen deck optimally?

c) Are they attached to an archetype?

d) Do they feel their “mastery” of control owes them wins?

e) How frequently, if at all, do they entertain other decks?

f) Are they unwilling to compromise on playing different things?

There are numerous other factors that go into why someone is unable to achieve the level of success they are working towards, but these seem the most
fundamental to me. When challenged with these counterpoints, the most common response I receive is “I’d rather not do well than play a deck I don’t like.”
Again, that’s a completely fine statement, but it comes with the catch 22 that maybe you’ll never be as good at Magic as you want to be. Is that all that
matters? Of course not! Players measure success in plenty of different ways, like fun and comradery. For them, it doesn’t matter how many Ws and Ls they
see, and that’s okay. But if you’re a player who is constantly frustrated by poor performance and you’re unwilling to budge on what style of deck you play,
you’re committing an easily-avoidable sin.

The Information Black Hole

How many times have you read an article that said a certain deck was “bad” and then it went on to do great things at a tournament?

Do you feel like that’s a coincidence or just a happy accident?

Perhaps one of the great follies I see newer or even grinder-type players suffer from is not only believing everything they read but holding that as

I make the statement “everyone wants to be right and be the smartest person in the room,” and that sometimes means parroting whatever article you checked
out that said something to the effect of “Abzan Aggro is a really bad choice this weekend in Atlanta.” Is that necessarily true? When presented with a bevy
of reasons that the author came up with, players will flock to that. I’ve heard “there probably won’t be a lot of Deck X here because Gerry wrote that it’s
bad, so I’m not too worried about it.” Do you know why people make that comment? Because a multitude of players actually think that way.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, it is very, very easy to be swayed by the opinions of the greatest minds in Magic. When we write it’s almost always
to inform in one way or another, whether it be through bluntness, teaching, comedy, or allegories. One way that Magic’s best and brightest got that way was
by formulating their own opinions and theories on a format regardless of what the vocal majority said before them. This doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but one
of the best ways to become a more solid Magic player is thinking both inside and outside of the box. The correct answers usually rest somewhere in the
middle, so developing your critical thinking skills is paramount.


The reason I write this is because, as I said earlier, 2015 was my best year playing Magic. I qualified for a couple of Pro Tours, won some PPTQs, PTQs, an
RPTQ, and did well at the GPs and other events I attended, like #SCGRegionals. This isn’t to blow my own horn, but it can be attributed to my willingness
to expand my horizons as a player.

If you’d have told me a year ago that I would have registered not one, or two, or even three different aggro decks at major events this year, I probably
would have disregarded your statement. I was constantly struggling against what my preconceived notions as a player were: that control and midrange were my
wheelhouses, aggro was beneath me, and I was a better player for rarely picking up the beatdown route.

I took a chance and ventured outside of my comfort zone and achieved things I spent years trying to do in only a matter of months. Not only did it
make me play better, but it rekindled the fire brighter than it has ever been.

In other words, I did the impossible (for me at least): I escaped a black hole.

The Revelation That Nothing is Beneath You

Every deck and archetype has its proper place in the metagame, and that’s something the best Magic players realized a long time ago. I often wonder why
grinders believe that concept to be almost an affront to their sensibilities. As if picking up Mono-Red Aggro makes you a mindless player.

In February I decided that I would play R/W Aggro at one of the last PTQs in Florida. This went against everything I had ever done. Honestly. If you look
at my previous successes in Magic, it was always with control or midrange decks.


Because I never registered an aggressive deck at a non-FNM tournament. Ever. Seriously. Not once.

The first time I did, oh boy did it feel fantastic! You see so much more when you actually open your eyes, as silly as it sounds. I wasn’t blind anymore,
and it paid off more than I could have ever hoped.

In learning this, I decided to experiment with more and more decks, increasing my effectiveness as a player and my overall ability to evaluate cards and

Will this be the same for everyone? No, of course not. But if your desire is to become a better overall Magic player, you can’t leave this stone unturned.

The Revelation That New Things Aren’t Scary

As funny as it sounds, I’ve talked to players who said they didn’t want to play control decks because they seemed too complicated or aggressive decks
because they don’t know how to stagger their spells properly.

A lot of “standoffishness” comes from a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the styles of play we aren’t accustomed to. Speaking from my own
experience, the only knowledge of how to properly play aggressive decks stemmed from all the videos and streams I had watched over the years, which hardly
translate to actual real world knowledge. Sure, they help a lot, but nothing can take the place of actually sitting in that match and making the decisions
yourself. Nothing.

The years progressed, and I fell deeper and deeper into my black holes, solidifying myself as a one-trick pony who wasn’t very well-rounded when it came to
the facets of the game I should have been better at. At my core I was afraid of failure. If I registered that beatdown deck, how stupid would I feel when I
went 0-2 drop? I played it safe, and was extremely mediocre as a result of it.

When it got it through my head that trying new things was okay, I felt…I don’t know how to properly describe it. You ever watch Dragonball Z? You
know when Pikkon reveals during his fight with Goku that the whole time he was wearing weighted training gear and when he decided to take it off his power
level soared? I felt like that, except I’m not green and I have a nose. I was Yusuke Urameshi finally taking off his spirit cuffs in his fight against
Toguro. I was Eren Yeager after an abnormal titan ate his leg. I was Edward Elric had Nina never been turned into a chimera.

You get the gist of what I’m saying.

This, by far, was the most liberating revelation I had as Magic player and one I’d love to be able to pass on to as many people who will hear my message:

When you can play any deck and play it very, very well, you become dangerous. No longer will players say “that’s so-and-so…they always play control.” From
that point on you can be proficient with anything and that makes you predatory.

“Who does God favor in the web? The fly or the spider?”

Be the spider.

The Revelation That This Article is Over


Because it is?

Have a Happy, Happy New Year, kiddies, and focus on making 2016 the best year of your life.