Thirst for Knowledge- Prioritizing Your Magic Play

Wednesday, August 1st – What were you doing immediately before you clicked on this article? What weren’t you doing? Chances are, you probably were NOT playtesting.

What were you doing immediately before you clicked on this article? Were you eating, maybe showering, maybe just got home from work? What weren’t you doing? Chances are, you probably were NOT playtesting. And that, ultimately, is why you aren’t on the Pro Tour yet.

Alright, so here’s the confession: that first part there was pretty tongue-in-cheek. There are plenty of reasons that people aren’t on the Pro Tour, but a large part of the reason why is lack of preparation. I’ve written previously about becoming a better player, but what happens when you’ve filled out all the necessary skills and you’re actually ready for the next step? The answer is simple: you need to make sure you literally have the time.

I’ve been playing Magic for almost eleven years, and at no point did I ever feel as though it consumed too much of my time. Magic has made me a better person and has taught me more about life and my own skills than I would ever have known otherwise, so for me I was never concerned about the time I “wasted” playing Magic. Others, however, are not as ready to admit that Magic is worth it to them. That being said, step one really is to decide if Magic is something you want to do with your free time. And, once you have, you need to make a second decision: how much of your free time will you dedicate to Magic?

For most PTQ grinders, I’d say that their decision is “yes, I want to spend time playing” but only for a few nights of testing and the weekend required to play in an actual tournament. If this sounds like you, then you’re going to be grinding for a long time, and as a result you’re going to spend more time with the game on a lower level than you really need to. If you don’t put in the time to test and prepare and just hope to “rock” events without knowing your deck and the format inside out, you’re just brewing up a recipe for disaster. However, if you spent more time initially learning the format and increasing the likeliness of your success, you’d be able to advance your Magic “career.” And, at that point, everything will change.

Suddenly, as if out of the blue, you will begin to feel like Magic has a purpose. Consider for a moment how you feel on the trip home from a failed PTQ — I know that a handful of times I’ve felt like it was all a waste, and often I just get upset with myself and wonder why I spent the money and threw the afternoon away. Further, think back on how you respond when your friends that don’t play Magic ask you how things went. What do you tell them? At what point do you just stop and say to yourself, “wow, I’m not getting anywhere”?

I’m not trying to scare you away. I’m merely saying that, logically, doesn’t it make more sense to spend more time in the beginning so as to make the time you spend later more meaningful? If I had a choice between spending next to no time preparing for events and being on the PTQ circuit for years or spending a few nights a week testing and making it onto the Pro Tour, it’s an easy decision (and one I am guilty of not making correctly from time to time). Think about it — if you’re on the Pro Tour, you will definitely feel justified. Yes, it’s true that you’ll spend even more time with Magic as a result, but if that was your goal all along (that is, to be good) then it won’t bother you because you’ll know that you’re playing at the top of the game. You’ll see the world, and meet people all over the globe. The bottom line is this: the longer you spend on the PTQ circuit (and likely the less amount of time you spend with the game, even IF it is spread out over the course of your grinding instead of all bunched up at the beginning), the more likely you are to realize that you aren’t moving forward and that you want to throw in the towel.

Now, for some of you that might eventually be the end result, like it or not. Those with families and those seeking to start one will one day say “it just isn’t worth it anymore,” and that will be that. However, what if those people are on the Pro Tour? Are they as likely to quit? I know that if I was on the Pro Tour and was, say, getting married soon or whatnot, I’d still want to see the world. I’d still want to be at the top of the game I’m good at, and I’m sure my bride-to-be would be supportive of such an ambition. No matter how busy you are and how “little time” you may think you have, you can play Magic.

When I was writing for MTGS over a year ago, I received a private message from a guy who was going to be attending the same university as me in the fall. He explained that he really wanted to play more Magic and continue his grind, but he didn’t see how he would have the time. He asked me what I did to find time, and the response is largely where the idea for this article arises.

Basically, you just need to prioritize. Playtesting is absolutely essential to success, but there is absolutely no reason you need to spend three nights a week doing it. If you jam FNMs every Friday night (which most people do, whether they have families, jobs, or are in college), then you can probably afford to spend another night a week testing if a tournament is approaching. There’s little reason to sit down and test in times like this, where a new set is two months off and the PTQ season is over, and sometimes it can be ridiculous to test much for Sealed season given how expensive that can get. Still, the more time you spend testing, the better you will be. Keep that in mind throughout this: in the end, if you truly want better results, you will find the time to test.

Maximizing the time you have when you DO have it is pretty essential. If you’re at an FNM and your round is done early, playtest while you wait for the next pairings. Play additional games with your opponents after your matches are over. Don’t be afraid to play against bad decks, because all of it familiarizes yourself with the deck you’re piloting anyway. When you DO sit down and formally playtest, test sideboarded games and don’t shuffle improperly or “cheat” on mulligans. You can read about proper playtesting in a number of places, so I won’t reiterate, but the point is that you should be using whatever time you come up with as efficiently as possible.

If you’re in school, you need to be sure to keep your priorities straight. Homework is always more important than that testing session, though it is possible to minimize your downtime in order to accommodate. If you are assigned a paper and it isn’t due for weeks, get it done early when you can’t get people together to test so that you don’t have to cram it in before a testing session down the road. If you have a job that constricts how often you can test, or you’re on a shift that doesn’t synch up well with others, consider altering your work schedule so that you can get more effective testing sessions in.

If you have other hobbies, it is important that you decide how important they are. For example, if you like to work with photography or play lots of Call of Duty, you need to decide that that’s more important than Magic. At any point in time that you could be playing Search and Destroy with your buddies on Xbox Live, you could hop on Magic Online and playtest. Everytime you sit down in front of the TV and watch Law and Order, you could be at the table with friends learning match-ups. If you want to be on the Pro Tour very badly, then this exercise might help you to let go of some things in order to facilitate your desire to get better at Magic.

Magic tournaments often take up an entire weekend, and sometimes they take up even more than that. If you’re on the Pro Tour or heading to a GP, sometimes you’ll need to take lots of time off work or whatever to allow yourself to go. Is losing out on pay worth it to have a shot at greatness? Is skipping a Monday morning class or a Friday afternoon lecture worthwhile so that you can go to a Grand Prix? What if you were being flown to Europe? These are the questions you need to be asking yourself.

There is no right or wrong answer to any of these. And, just because you don’t spend every second of your free time testing (which isn’t even close to being recommended here, as that is the surest way to a burnout) doesn’t mean you won’t find success. All it means is that every match you playtest makes you that much more proficient, and that’s what it’s all about.

Essentially, it is up to you to figure out how much Magic means to you. If you want to be on the Pro Tour with a fiery intensity, then you’re probably not going to be watching much TV or playing too much disc golf. However, I offer this warning: be healthy. That is, no matter how much drive you have, getting exercise and doing things unrelated to Magic is very good, as it gets your mind off the game so avoid getting you tired of it. On the other hand, though, don’t feel awkward if you find yourself thinking about Magic too much in your free time (or any time). I remember for two summers in a row I’d be sitting at my place of employment and brewing decklists and just thinking about the format, and this is a sign of someone who has Magic coursing through their veins and who wants to continue playing the game for as long as he can.

Craig Wescoe recently got some criticism because he chose to go to Barcelona for the Pro Tour instead of his high school prom. This is a classic case of prioritizing, and the fact that he chose the PT over his prom shows not that he’s some sort of loser, but instead that he had priorities, and in this case they happened to be competing on the pro circuit of a game he decided he wanted to be a part of his life. As someone mentioned in the comments of that article, it’s hard to deny that had the Pro Tour just been a vacation to Barcelona, the decision suddenly becomes so much easier. I mean, if you’re in high school and your parents offer to take you on a vacation to Spain the same weekend as your prom, are you honestly going to go to prom? I guess if I was madly in love with my date I’d consider it (and he wasn’t, as far as I can tell), but at that point shouldn’t she play some role in how the situation turns out? Shouldn’t she understand that you get to fly to Spain for free and compete for $40,000? I personally think the decision is easier than most make it out to be.

I once skipped a friend’s wedding for Regionals. Yeah, that was pretty crappy of me, and looking back I 100% should have been there. And that, ultimately, is where the danger lies. No matter how high on your list of priorities, there are just some things you cannot miss. I learned that the hard way, and when analyzing your personal stance on what Magic means to you, I urge you to think long on hard before you ditch out on an event in favor of a Magic tournament.

So where do you stand? Are you willing to give up on some hobbies and dedicate your free time to Magic? Are you okay with “sleep, eat, go to class, play Magic?” Or do you prefer the “test once a week then PTQ” approach? As I said, there is no right or wrong answer — just the amount of emphasis you yourself want to place on the game. And just remember: the next time you’re about to do something, just ask yourself this: “should I be playing Magic right now instead?” If the answer is yes, then you’re dedicated and you’ve made a decision for yourself (though if you ALWAYS answer yes, then you might need some help). If it is no, then maybe you need to take a step back and see where the game falls for you. Ultimately, that’s all there really is to it.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO