“How badly do you want to succeed?”
“That’s not bad enough.”
Let’s start from scratch, since I have a lot to get off my chest.
What does success mean to you? Is it winning a Pro Tour? FNM? Does it mean becoming an ambassador for the community? Which part of the community? Does it
mean owning as much original art as you can? Does it mean being a well-known alterist? A level four or five judge? Does it mean getting newer players into
the game? Does it mean owning a card store? Top 8ing an Open Series event? An IQ? What if it’s to learn as much as you can as often as you can? Is that any
better or worse than any of the other goals? Are any of these goals better or worse than another?
If you answered yes to that last question, then this article is not for you.
I don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what you like about Magic. My goal in this article is to (hopefully) give some very real, and probably
aggressive, advice to those doing what they love, but maybe not exactly loving what they do. Success doesn’t discriminate, but mindsets pertaining to said
success most certainly do.
How far are you willing to go? Are you willing to go way beyond the game?
I made a decision at the beginning of the year to figure out a way to improve my game. That included, but wasn’t limited to going to more tournaments,
learning from players better than myself, playing better decks, and most importantly, improving myself physically. Your physical health and well-being is
the greatest thing that’ll ever happen to your playskill.
A typical routine for me before an Open Series event looks something like this on my notes:
– 4 days before player meeting: 3 hours studying. do ~30 minutes walking or 15 minutes cardio. Carbs: 30-50
– 3 days before player meeting: 3 hours studying. do ~30 minutes walking or 15 minutes cardio. Carbs: 30-50
– 2 days before player meeting: 3 hours studying. do ~20 minutes of lifting. Carbs: 50
– 1 day before player meeting: 2 hours studying. rest. Carbs: 50
Tournament day: eat during even rounds, walk during odd rounds. Carbs: 75-100
Why do all of this for a Magic tournament? It’s for reasons that go way beyond a Magic tournament. When your passion for not only the game but to better
yourself is put to the test every day, it becomes a never ending cycle of pushing yourself constantly; getting better constantly. Not only seeing drastic
improvements in my Magic game, but in my overall life. Now, I would strongly recommend not doing exactly what I do, as everyone is different, but even if
you take a few minutes out of your day and become active, you’ll see improvements very quickly. There’s a reason why people like Travis Woo promote health
in Magic so much. Travis gets a bad rap for playing decks that aren’t “competitive,” when in reality he’s one of the greatest deckbuilding minds we’ve ever
had. His ability to find things that no one else would find, and moreover, his confidence and willingness to go through with his ideas and his “no fear”
mentality is not just a product of his incredible mental strength, but his physical health as well. He doesn’t strive for success, he strives for his version of success. In the grand scheme of things, the only people that give him flak are the ones who can’t materialistically benefit
off of his work.
Yeah, I said it.
Digressing; your overall health will have a much bigger impact on your game than anything in the game. Your mind is your best weapon, but your
body is the catalyst.
“How badly do you want to succeed?”
Travis’s version of success matters not to the rest of us, but to him, and success does come from within. Travis’s success is just as great as Patrick
Chapin’s successes. Patrick’s successes are just as great as Jared Boettcher’s. Jared’s are just as great as Nick Coss’s. Nick’s are just as great as MJ
Why are they all just as great? Does a Pro Tour win and the Hall of Fame equate to Rookie of the Year? Does Rookie of the Year equate to being an impactful
member of the community? Do these successes increase in importance if the player is more well-known?
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t matter what we think. At all.
If you’re spending time comparing the successes of others, then you’re probably not spending time working on your own. If they set out to accomplish what
they want to accomplish, who the hell are we to say anything about it? Because it’s all important to them, and they set out to achieve
what they want to achieve in the game. Stop thinking like a Magic player for everything. Not everything needs to be hyper-analyzed,
dissected, min-maxed, and subjectively compared, and not every flaw is worth downplaying the main point for. We are all in this game for different reasons,
and it’s doing the game a disservice to ever hinder someone’s progression toward their goal, no matter what it is. Period. We are all ambassadors of the
game. We all make a huge impact. Use that power for good.
Oh, by the way: You are going to fail. You are going to fail a lot. Failure’s a good thing, because failure is success.
The most successful people in the game are great at failing.
Failure is success telling you that the princess is in another castle. Failure is success telling you that you’re getting closer. When success is achieved,
failure is also achieved, because there’s always a better way to achieve success. Failure is never ending, because success is never ending, failure isn’t
the enemy. It’s the fear of failing that’s the real culprit behind the negative emotional and mental states surrounding what society views as failure. When
someone tells you that you can’t do something, it’s their fear that’s driving those words. Fear begets doubt, but failure begets certainty just as much as
Fear does some crazy things to us. It’s the reason why we tend to overcompensate sideboard cards for a card or matchup we can’t beat. It’s the reason we
doubt ourselves and audible last minute. It’s the reason we feel awful after losing win and ins. It’s the reason for the bad beat stories that no one wants
to hear, or why we go on Twitter to complain about how Mono-Red takes no skill every time we lose to it, and the players playing it should feel bad about
It’s the actual act of failure, however, that is empowering. It’s the reason why we want to get better. It’s the reason why we work harder at the next
event. It’s the reason why we put in the hours. Failure is the motivator for success.
Failure is success in disguise.
Failure is success.
The fear of failure is what keeps us back. It’s going to be there, and there’s no way to completely get rid of that fear, but the feeling of failure and
success will be that much sweeter when you go through with it, despite the fear.
(As an aside, nothing makes you look worse than putting negative connotations toward how other players choose to play. There’s an astronomically high
chance you could’ve done something better yourself, and until that no longer holds true [which won’t happen, ever], get over it. Get better.)
“It doesn’t matter how good you are.”
Did you know that I’ve never top 8’d an SCG Open, or day 2’d a Grand Prix? Did you know that there are many more well-known players that also haven’t done
those things than you may think?
Those same players are still very much respected throughout Magic and their respective communities. Why?
Because who cares?
Yes, it is something that I’m sure we all would love to do one day, and I’d be lying to you if I told you it doesn’t bother me from time to time (the fear
of failure), but it is far from a defining factor. I’m not at the Gerry Thompson level of thinking, but you have to start somewhere. No one worth your time
is going to change the way they treat you because of how good you are, or how good someone thinks you are. No one worth your time is going to care how many
top 8s you have or don’t have. While it may be cool to acknowledge, touch on, or talk about, the notion that you need X amount of successes to do anything
short of qualifying for something is absurd, and you should never feel like you have to do anything as a prerequisite for what you want in Magic. Well
known players are well known for a bunch of different reasons, and they go way beyond Pro Tours, articles, and trophies. If a person’s respect for you is
related to the number of tournament finishes you have, then there are people out there that will be worth your efforts. Surround yourself with people that
want to help you be the best you, not what they think you should be. Reciprocate their efforts. Help them be the best them, not what you think they should
“Deserve” is the most poisonous word in Magic.
There’s no such thing as being deserving in Magic. Every single thing you do in Magic will have a result, but that result often isn’t always going to be
what you want it to be. Deserving something begets macro formed expectation, and nothing is to be expected on that scale in Magic. What happens in a game
simply is. Just because you punted a game doesn’t mean you deserve to lose. Just because you played perfectly doesn’t mean you deserve to win. If you did
everything in your control to give yourself the highest chance of winning, and still lose, then you succeeded in that game. You can’t deserve what you
don’t have complete control over, and there’s very little that you have complete control over in this game. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. “But
I lost” is a mental and emotional road bump that’s there to test your will on your way to maximizing your progression. “But I won” is also a road bump,
testing your ability to face progression from a seemingly positive thing. It’s okay to feel good about winning or feel bad about losing (though I
personally try not to tie them to my emotions), but it’s the feeling of progression and learning that supersedes both of those.
How badly do you want to succeed?
Sportsmanship: Have some.
People will remember you most from the impact you left on them, not from a good play you made or a good tournament you had. Your opponent is likely not
going to be what you think they should be, do what you think they should do, or play how they think they should play. None of that matters. Be respectful,
play fair, and always shake their hand. Did the match suck? Was it not very interesting? So what? Say “Good game,” shake their hand, wish them the best on
the rest of their tournament, and always be a sport. And please, if you’re going to get into the semantics of when “Good game” or shaking your opponent’s
hand is applicable, refer to the point of not thinking like a Magic player all the time.
There are two types of opinions:
Those with the purpose of objective improvement, and those with the purpose of self-gratification and/or superiority.
Compare these two statements:
“Soul of New Phyrexia could fit in your deck if you’re looking for a way to fight through wrath effects, and it is pretty solid in combat too. The question
is if we even need that type of effect when we have Mutavault.”
“Nah, that card sucks. It costs too much, and we already have Mutavault.”
Both statements get at the same thing, but one can be interpreted as much worse sounding than the other. One is looking to build, and the other is looking
to break. If you’re arguing that the one that’s looking to break can also be viewed as building, then consider that how you say things can matter just as
much as what you say.
And finally, something I cannot stress enough: enjoy yourself.
Seriously. Have fun.
Your enjoyment of the game doesn’t have to be related to your record. Miserable and forced Magic is the worst kind of Magic. Your gameplay suffers
drastically, it brings everyone around you down, and it’s just not healthy for you. There is no tournament that’s ever worth being miserable for. I have
skipped Grand Prixs and Invitationals because I don’t force anything, and I’d treat any other tournament the same way. If I’m not up for playing, I don’t
play. Your sanity and well-being is worth more than any event in the long run. While I make a push in everything I do, pushing yourself to rest when your
body and mind tell you to is also important. Balance is crucial.
Putting work in is hard. None of what I’m saying is going to be easy, but if it were easy, then it wouldn’t be worth it.