Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show!
Whoops… I mean, “Welcome to The Nose Knows.”
That’s more like it.
If you have not noticed, I enjoy discussing abstract concepts that will help you improve your game. There are many articles out there that talk about the latest technology, but rarely do they truly help you get better at this game we play.
I have been consistently playing in tournaments since the end of 2001. There have been so many lessons I have learned about how to approach a tournament. These lessons may click for you at different times in your Magic-playing career, so I am here to share some of what I have learned.
Something I have been pondering lately is the Best Deck Dilemma. I am sure you are thinking that this involves playing around the hate, because the best deck has a target on its head. This topic has been discussed to death, so I will delve into a different area.
It is often the case that the actual best deck in the format is a Blue Control deck that is difficult to pilot. It is the best because, if you know how to play the deck, it can beat anything. The problem here is that pesky part about “knowing how to play the deck well.”
Let me show you an example of the “best archetype that was very difficult to play,” from a few years ago in Extended.
2 Trinket Mage
3 Cryptic Command
4 Spell Snare
3 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Threads of Disloyalty
4 Chrome Mox
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Vedalken Shackles
1 Academy Ruins
2 Breeding Pool
4 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
4 Polluted Delta
1 Tree of Tales
1 Watery Grave
If you recall, this deck was discussed to death by the top players in the game. There were not many unfamiliar faces that had success with the deck. Remi Fortier won his Pro Tour with the deck in its infancy, but he went on to top 8 a Grand Prix shortly after. My point is that everyone knew this was the best deck in the format, yet only a handful of people had success with the deck at the professional level. This is obviously just a guideline of what I saw and not what happened every single time. There were still some lesser known players who did well with the deck too.
In case you were wondering, this deck was piloted by Luis Scott-Vargas. He used it to Top 8 Grand Prix: Philly.
I ended up playing Doran in that tournament, because I could not buy a game in the Counterbalance mirror when I was testing for the tournament. It really discouraged me from playing it, because I tested for that tournament with DJ, Patrick Chapin, and LSV. I ended up placing 46th at that tournament, and would have smashed everyone that played NLU in the mirror because they were not as good as the people I tested against. The lesson here is to not get discouraged because I learned that was what happened to me. I was pretty good with the deck, but I was not the best. If I spent more time practicing, I could have possibly made Top 8 at that Grand Prix.
The true dilemma about such situations is whether or not you should put in the time and effort to become one of the best at the particular archetype. There is a lot of failure that goes into becoming a master at piloting these types of decks, but if it were easy I would not be talking about this.
The skill can be translated into various formats once it has been achieved. DJ Kastner made Top 16 at two Grands Prix with almost the same Next Level Blue deck. The next year, he made Top 8 at 5 Midwest PTQs in a row with Next Level Fae, and only stopped at 5 because he won the final one. He won two Legacy tournaments this month with a Four-Color Counterbalance deck. I have no doubt in my mind that he will Top 8 GP: Columbus with it as well. It is not because the deck is secret tech, but he just knows how to play it better than 99.9% of people in the world.
I played in a Legacy tournament with the same deck last weekend and went 2-2. I lost to Donald and first turn Belcher. I made a mistake against the combo deck, and was certainly outplayed in the mirror.
Two weeks ago, I played Four-Color Landstill and also went 2-2 with it. There is so much I don’t know, and I like the challenge of learning how to be the best. By the time GP: Columbus rolls around, I will be a lot better with the control decks. My goal is to reach Level 6 before Pro Tour: Amsterdam, and I think learning how to play theses decks well will help me achieve that.
It is not the same to be a master with Red decks, because any idiot can put a bunch of lifegain in their sideboard and beat you. There are no cards that exist that can beat the best Blue deck, since they are usually at least three colors so they have a wide variety of answers. If you are the best at playing these Blue decks, any tournament will be yours to win.
There is usually a good control deck that has these attributes in every format, so the skill of learning how to play them well will not go to waste. I feel like the Blue/White Control deck of the current Standard format is similar to these decks. I know how to play the deck well, and have not done badly in a single tournament with it. I am aware of this, so although I do well with the deck, I don’t suggest it to everyone. It is just a pile of cards, and it is up to you do make the plays. If the proper time and effort is put in, the deck will deliver.
The overall thesis of this section is to never settle for anything less than perfection. The can only be a maximum of one person reading this article that is the best player in the world, so you all have room to improve, as do I.
I also want to discuss how we perceive reality, and that it can affect our Magic careers. There are many events that happen in our life, and we can perceive them as good or bad. In reality, these things are not good or bad, but they just are.
When you lose a match, take the time to think about what you could have done differently. There is a positive aspect to everything that has ever happened in your life. My streak of marginal tournament performances really woke me up about how I am not as good as I thought. I never thought I was the best player in the world, but getting second at a Pro Tour can really increase your ego. I am glad I realized this before Grand Prix: Columbus, because I really want to do well at that event.
The biggest mistake we can make when we lose is to take nothing away from the experience. The next time you play a tournament, try to look at it through the eyes of a third party that does not know you at all. There won’t be as many times where you are in a bad mood after losing an important match. Instead of just looking at the negative aspect, be thankful that you care about something so much that it can make you feel that way. Most people lack that passion about anything in their life. Be gracious that you have something like this in your life, something that can take you anywhere in the world and help you meet awesome people.
One of the biggest things that set us apart from each other is how we react to events in our life. I am not sure about you, but I want to learn from every experience I have. At the end of our lives, all we will have are experiences.
I don’t regret a single loss or negative experience I have ever had. In the end, everything I have ever done has made me into the person I am today. I like who I am, and you should like yourselves too.
I had a friend tell me after he lost a match that he did not make a single mistake. It was pure luck that he lost. This happened about a year ago, but it stuck with me. It does not surprise me that this person has not made it onto the professional scene. There needs to be a point in your life where you realize that you are not as smart as you think you are, or as talented. There is someone better than you out there, and you need to work hard if you want to achieve your goals.
Humility is the most important trait of a successful Magic player. I have many friends who also happen to be the best in the game. None of them are so arrogant as to think they play perfectly, or that there is nothing new they can learn.
Every great mind has had their fair share of failures before they made it big. I would do everything the same if I had known that I would not have Pro Tour success until 2010 when I started playing tournaments in 2001. I have been picking myself up from not living up to my expectations for nine years. I did not even win that Pro Tour, so I have a goal to do better in the next one.
When I wrote about the Ten Card Commandments, I was criticized for not giving that “premium feeling” to the article, because everything I said had been tackled before. I considered not writing that way the next week because of all the negative feedback, but I decided to stick to my guns. When people come up to me and say they like my writing, those articles are usually cited as their favorites. I thought that article would help me set myself apart from everyone else. Anyone can talk about the most popular decks in a format, but that does not help you grow as a player or a human being. It is impossible to fake genuine inspiration, so I don’t usually write like this, but I felt like I needed to share this with you.
If you ever feel yourself beginning to slip from the winning mentality, just think about some of the greats of this game. Paulo Vitor damo Da Rosa just won a Pro Tour and has 5 other Top 8s. That is simply absurd. Jon Finkel has 9 GP Top 8s and 12 Pro Tour Top 8s. I had to look that up just to make sure I was not exaggerating. This method of motivation is akin to looking at pictures of people who are ripped in gyms when you’re trying to get into shape. Seeing someone do something better than you should be the ultimate motivation to reach for the stars.
Tell me what you thought about this in the forums. Good luck in your tournament endeavors. And remember to take something positive away from every experience, even the “bad” ones.
Thanks for reading.