The good, the bad and the ugly?
I’ve written before about identifying strengths and weaknesses as a player. Knowing where you stand can be hugely beneficial. Whether it’s picking decks or improving weaknesses, there is a lot of value in knowing yourself well. In somewhat of an introspective piece, I’m going to write about three things I think I am best at, three things I think I am worst at, and three things I have improved upon over the years. While looking at these traits, we can see how they affect my play, and then everyone can make fun of me!
The good (otherwise known as sick brags)
When I start fresh on a new limited set or dive in to a constructed format I haven’t tried before, I play badly. I make a lot of mistakes, miss on board tricks, counter the wrong spells, and draft the wrong cards. However after making a mistake, I am good at noting it for the future and avoiding it. In a twisted way, I’d love it if right at the beginning of a set, I could make all the mistakes at once, so I avoid having an unknown situation come up at a pro tour. Good recent examples of mistakes include forgetting to peek for Delver, playing my Traveler’s Amulet turn one and losing to a werewolf, or taking advice from Hayne (just kidding…maybe). I’ll do all of these once, and sure it will be embarrassing, but next time I see the card I am reminded of the shame, and it serves me well.
#2: Playing around a small pool of cards
This is a weird one, because one of the weaknesses is playing around a large pool of cards, but the smaller the better. The prime example I have of this is triple set drafts. With gggr open in triple Innistrad, I know exactly what instants I can expect, or I always keep in mind which wraths are available, or I can think of what my opponent’s outs might be. When the second or third sets in a block are released though, suddenly a mono white player could have Midnight Haunting, Village Bell-Ringer, Rebuke, Smite the Monstrous, Hollowhenge Spirit, Skillful Lunge, Faith’s Shield or Break of Day? And those are just the reasonably playable ones? In one color? How am I supposed to play around all of that? It’s too hard! It might be that my thought process is flawed, but in triple Innistrad thinking through what would happen if he made 2 spirits, a 1/4, or killed a guy was doable, and I was pretty good at never getting surprised or blown out by tricks.
#3: Drafting a curve
I am very disciplined when it comes to draft. I like to think that I know when to be greedy and when to take the worse card. Too many times I see decks loaded with fives because the fives are generally “more powerful” cards than the twos and threes so they get picked according to some pick order or other justification. Sometimes you have to take the Manor Skeleton over the Battleground Geist.
The bad (aka back to reality)
#1: I think too slowly.
Not as bad as some people…but still too slowly to compete in high level events. The most likely fix for this is to just play more, since your brain will see similarities faster and be able to process and eliminate poor paths quicker than before. The danger of fixing this one is that every once in a while, playing out the basics on autopilot will make you miss the correct play.
#2; I’m bad at playing through complex situations
When things get sticky, I do not consider every line of play. Instead, I look at the most obvious ones and pick the one I think looks best. This is also where I acknowledge that I rarely plan more than two turns ahead. The worst part is that I have no clue how to fix this. I hope that with good practice it will improve over time and I will just ‘see more’ than I used to. I mean as a new player, everyone misses on board tricks and simple information, and over time it’s not like something magical happens, you just start to automatically see some things that a newcomer to the game would miss.
#3: I limit myself
This one I just discovered recently, and it’s what leads to me writing this article. While testing for Hawaii, I had not ever tested Delver (though I played against it a lot) and coming in to the beach house I told myself that Delver was beyond my skill set and looked for other options. Even if it wasn’t the best deck (which is up for debate) how was I supposed to improve that skill set by avoiding it completely! The same thing happened last year, when I had been telling myself that I am just a limited player and avoided playing constructed as a result. I have to push my comfort zone more, ideally in the vicinity of better players who can help point out my mistakes that I miss.
The ugly (wait what? The analogy doesn’t work here…)
The number one thing I’ve improved on over the years is noticing what is relevant. Before I used to focus only on what I was doing, and only for the current turn. When I began to notice what the opponent was doing, as well as how it could affect my future turns, things changed. Everything from habits to cards in hand to what could be represented to what the alternatives are. For example; I knew before that if I had 2 creatures out against a control deck, it would be bad to play a third one in to their wrath. However once I started to notice more things something clicked. Perhaps the creatures I already had on board would have elicited a wrath anyways and he doesn’t have one. Perhaps if I don’t play my third creature he can just Doom Blade the bigger one and all my pressure is gone. Perhaps if he has wrath I lose anyways. There are a ton of factors, and the two things I can say have helped more are slowing down my play a little bit, and putting down my hand to survey the board more often.
#2: Playing better decks
I never really played much constructed magic, but whenever I did I would just play something that looked fun or that I had worked on a little bit. Well it turns out brewing good decks is really really tough and takes a lot more work than what I was putting in. I was previously put off by bad matchups, for example if I was thinking of running a control deck; I would worry about losing to Valakut or sideboard hate or whatever. There are two problems with this thinking. The first is that there are also lots of good matchups, and the second is that my solution would be to play rogue decks that people didn’t have sideboard hate for, which were almost all underpowered.
#3: Building my network
I remember back before Nats 2010 when Lucas Siow invited over people who were queued to test. It was my first Nats, and my reaction to the invitation was basically “holy crap! I got invited by Lucas Siow? He’s famous! He writes for Channel Fireball!” I had this idea that top magic players wouldn’t want to be bothered with mere common folk like me. Well, it turns out Lucas is just a nice guy, and I started to talk to more and more people. Having a good network helps not only for card borrowing and testing, it also helps you enjoy the game more and learn from other peoples experiences.
Overall I still have a long way to go. A couple of tournaments have gone my way, but I have to be more consistent and demand a higher level of play from myself. There are a few things I’m doing right now to help myself get where I want, but considering I’m going to have another 4 pro tours to play in at a minimum, I have a real chance to make a name for myself and build up Canadian magic. One last thing that Cappy and I have been discussing to close things out is that ever since we both did well, we feel as though people have hesitated to point out our mistakes (perhaps thinking they are missing something). Well the news flash is that we aren’t really that much different than before! I make tons of mistakes! And the only way I’m going to get better is if people are willing to point them out. So please, I won’t bite, if you see something questionable bring it up. At the very least it will lead to a discussion where someone benefits.