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Grinding To A Halt

This week AJ shares some tips for dealing with tilt at Magic tournaments and tells you what you can do to avoid burnout and grow as a player.

Magic tournaments are amazing! There are very few things in life that I enjoy more than going to events, playing Magic, and seeing lots of awesome people that I don’t get to see often enough. When I scrub out of an event, I like to think of it as a chance to spend time with friends and relax. I don’t go on vacations often, so Magic events are a surrogate.

At Grand Prix Atlantic City way back when, I ended up getting knocked out in round 6. I was a little disappointed because the loss was almost entirely my fault. Poor mulligan decisions plus poor play left me depressed and looking for something to do. Instead of continuing to feel sorry for myself, I walked over to my hotel, jumped in the pool, and just relaxed for a little while. I returned to the tournament fresh and immediately smashed two win-a-box events with the very same deck that I lost with earlier.

What does this all mean? Why should you care about me and my life? I’m just a small child, after all. Trust me; it will all come together soon.

I recently talked to a few friends about going on losing streaks, tilting off, and just being downright depressed at Magic events. I’m not often one to go on tilt—except while playing Magic Online, of course, where I regularly threaten my computer with hot wax and shakes over the balcony. In real life, I take my losses, learn from them, and occasionally talk to a friend about that insane two-land hand I kept last round.

Can you believe that I missed my third land drop for four turns?! Unbelievable!

I have wanted to talk about this week’s topic for a while. I’ve seen too many friends waste a weekend of fun because they were burnt out, tilted, or depressed. I’m here to pull the sword out of the stone and provide you with some easy ways to avoid this. Whether you are a full time grinder or you are attending your first tournament this weekend, these lessons could save your weekend. Without further ado, call me King Arthur.

Part 1: Tilting Off

Tilt comes in many forms and in many facets of life. I’ve seen people’s entire weeks ruined because they lost a coupon for their favorite restaurant, and I’ve also seen people almost entirely unfazed after losing their wallet. I’ve known tilt to last anywhere from fifteen seconds to what seems like an entire lifetime. In Magic, people usually go on tilt because they got unlucky or made a misplay. Tilting overall just causes a very depressed mood. You can’t focus on anything except what put you on tilt, and then it starts to seem like it’s happening all the time. You might miss a land drop in game 3 of your last match and keep a seven-land hand in the next match because you’ll obviously get screwed again if you don’t.

I remember an event that I was at where I was watching a friend play his matches after I’d scrubbed out. He started out 5-0 in the event and was going strong. In round 6, he made a misplay that almost cost him the match, but he was still able to pull it out. Nonetheless, this misplay made him so disappointed in himself that he was visually affected, and when he went into his next four rounds, he was too shaken up to continue playing as well as he had before. He ended that event at 6-4. While his losses were not entirely based on the tilt, it certainly didn’t help.

Personally, when I’m on tilt I actually become sick to my stomach. After I missed an on-board kill in round 1 of an Open, I had to drop because I couldn’t play my next round. I also regretted that game for about a year or so. Again, results may vary.

When you feel yourself starting to go on some sort of tilt, there are a few things you can do to calm the storm:

1. Put it into perspective.

2. Learn from it.

3. Apply it.

The first step is to put things into perspective. This is mostly for people who tilt when they feel that they got unlucky. This step is the most important for helping you get past it before the next round starts. Yes, you missed your third land drop when you kept a two-land hand. Yes, you were like 60% to draw a land by turn 3. But you were also probably dead if you missed that land drop, and you weren’t even 100% to win if you hit it. You’d need a fourth and fifth land drop sometime soon as well. Maybe you should’ve mulliganed. What about that game that you flooded out at the end? Your deck does have 31 mana sources, and you probably could’ve won earlier if you’d cast your spells differently.

When complaining about mana screw or flood, just remember all the times that it happened to your opponent and you won. Also think about how you could’ve prevented it and possibly even won the game. Yes, sometimes you will play really well and still lose because of the luck of the draw, but getting stuck on the very rare occasions where that happened will not help you in the long run. If you instead realize that keeping two-land, one Farseek hands has been leading to losses, you might start mulliganing in the future. Quite conveniently, this leads perfectly into the next step.

Now that we’ve come to terms with the fact that we got unlucky, let’s figure out how to improve in the long term. The same goes for people who genuinely realize that they misplayed. It is important to note that this step will probably not work if you haven’t completed step one. We now know that we probably should’ve mulliganed that three-land, four Thundermaw Hellkite hand, so what are we going to do next time in a similar situation? Well, hopefully you said mulligan. This step is less important in the short term but much more important in the long term. Once you realize that the terrible thing that you did last round is actually making you a better player, you will feel much more satisfied with your result.

Finally, it is important to apply what we’ve learned. I pretty much talked about this already, but it is worth noting again. I see a lot of people, including myself, learn from a mistake they made but then make the mistake again next time. I realize that I should not have cast that removal spell on that Trained Caracal last round, but it’s looking pretty scary this time around. I better kill it with fire. Make sure that you are actually using the database of smart decisions that you have at your disposal in your head. Letting it collect dust doesn’t benefit anyone, except for your opponents I guess.

Part 2: Burning Out

Have you ever played through fifteen straight Grand Prix trying to get that last Pro Point, only to fall just short every time? Yeah, me neither. A feeling that I do know, though, is the one that you get when you play a bunch of Magic tournaments and keep getting knocked out. Going off what we learned from Part 1, you are probably getting better every time and just not realizing it. I consider myself the worst X-0 bracket player ever. I can’t even recount the number of events that I have started off at least 4-0 and dropped at something like 5-4. My last five or so Standard events have ended like this, and it can become depressing.

Everyone wants to do well to some extent, especially once you’ve tasted success before. When you continue to do poorly and have worse and worse results, it can seem like you’ve lost it. You were good once, but now your magical Magic powers have been lost somewhere on Route 206. The advice for this section is actually very simple. As Fun. says, it gets better! [Editor’s Note: Sing it Nate!]

As long as you keep learning from what you’ve done wrong and right, you will improve over time. The big issue is that some people expect improvement way too fast. Just because you lost in Top 8 of that Pro Tour Qualifier two weekends ago does not mean that you should be winning them now. Everyone learns differently, but as long as you are learning at all, you will get better. In turn, you will eventually do better.

Have you ever tried to watch grass grow? It’s boring. It almost seems like it’s not even growing at all, but forget about it for three months and your neighbors might be begging you to mow the lawn.

Also, never be afraid to take a break. Sometimes, you just need to a little while of not playing Magic to get back in the mood. If you don’t feel like playing the game and are forcing yourself to do it anyway, you’re not going to have the drive to play well or improve. Many people feel that if they don’t play they will stagnate, but if it’s necessary to take a break, then do it.

Overall, this article probably wasn’t for everyone, but if I saved even one person’s weekend from turning into a miserable, depressing event, I’m happy. Just remember that everyone is different and finding what works best for you is important. Once you know what you need to do, do it. The ideas listed here are mostly just points to build off of.

Hit up the comments section and let me know how you deal with tilt and burnout. I’d also be interested in hearing any stories you have related to the subject. A couple of ideas I have for the future are coming to fruition, so I look forward to starting on a new foot with you guys. I can only hope that you are as excited as I am. As always, it’s been a pleasure, and thanks for reading!

AJ Kerrigan
@AJKerrigan55 on Twitter
deadlyporcupine@gmail.com