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Overcoming a Plateau

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Goals. We all have them when it comes to playing this great game. A lot of people like to play to have fun, just another activity they enjoy with their friends. They could be playing a four person Commander brawl, or drafting their favorite cube cards around a few boxes of pizza and in good company, or even playing their new favorite brew at FNM, letting off steam from a long week at work.

A lot of people play to be competitive. They love the thrill of battling another living, breathing human being, and out-thinking their way to victory as if they were a professional boxer trying to make their way from the semi-pro circuit to their preferable weight class championship bout at the MGM Grand in Vegas.

No matter why you play or anyone else plays this game, we are all driven by goals, much like many other aspects in life. What’s the goal of working? To have money. Why do we want money? So that we can afford our home. And also because these little bits of cardboard aren’t getting any cheaper.

Most people, however, reach a certain point at different levels of progress while pursuing their goals. This point is a point at which they seem stuck, and are unable to pass through using the same means they’ve found to be successful in the past. This is the point that is referred to as beating one’s head against a wall. This is the dreaded plateau.

This term is used in a lot of different activities. Your career could plateau when you stagnate at your current position for too long with aspirations of rising through the ranks of your workplace. A runner may not be able to improve his or her 5k race time, but he or she knows it is possible to lower it. I may not be able to win at Magic even though I believe that I am able to do so, and my friends keep trying to boost my confidence.

Most of us have been there. Some of us may be there right now. Yours truly is actively in mid-head ram, and this wall doesn’t even seem to be cracking.

When we get into these plateaus, it can truly be disheartening. We lose self-esteem because we’re not doing as well as we’d hoped. We say to ourselves, “Hey, if I try doing it this way, maybe it’ll work,” but we find that we’re still stuck in this rut.

My last few IQ appearances have not been going my way. Since April, I’ve been to 5 total. My best finishes were second place, and ninth place on breakers. My other performances have been a 1-2 drop at a six round event, a 2-2 drop at a five round event, and another 2-2 drop at a six round event.

What’s more, one of my very good friends and already qualified high quality magic player, has been accompanying me to a few of these tournaments, and every one to which he has come with me, he has top 8’d. I’m very happy for my friend, he’s a good player, and deserves the placements he gets at these events, but this is disheartening to me, as I believe (or at least, did in the past) that I am good enough to have more consistent high placings than I have been having. I have numerous friends who tell me this as well.

So I have a few weeks off from IQs. I decided to wrangle up the friends, put together a silly 60 card deck, and drive to my LGS for Friday Night Magic. I bombed. I went 2-3, and I typically top 8. My confidence was shattered. Something needs to change, and if you’re in a rut like me, I’m going to give some tips that I’m going to be using in the weeks going forward to help and improve both my gameplay, and my mental state.

Shake it up! : The Deck

The first thing someone thinks about when they’re going to a Magic tournament, typically, is what deck should I play? There are typically two camps when it comes to deck choice. The first camp is full of the people that play the same deck each week, with minor changes. They love their big green idiots, so they’ll throw Sylvan Caryatids and Polukranos and Dragonlord Atarka on the battlefield until their sleeves burn holes in them.

The second camp is full of the people that try to hit the best deck every week according to what they believe to be is the projected metagame. These folks aren’t taken by any single deck, and believe they are able to get an edge by changing their 75 for each tournament.

Both of these are fine, but if you’re in a rut and your performances aren’t what you’d like, why not try changing your approach? If you’re in the first camp, and have been casting Goblin Rabblemasters since last October, but just keep getting beat and feel like you should be winning more, why not invest in some Siege Rhinos? If you hate that you draw Ultimate Price or Bile Blight when the other is the removal spell you’re looking for, or that three mana for a Hero’s Downfall is too slow, jam some Elvish Mystics and Thunderbreak Regents, and see where that takes you.

If you’re in the second camp, and just can’t figure out the metagame, and you’re frustrated that you always get paired against your worst matchup, just stick with a 75 that you enjoy, and ride it out. Since the metagame and people in general change a lot, maybe there will be fewer Hordeling Outbursts next week, so that your Crackling Doom can actually kill a not token.

For a while, I was in the second camp, and every time I wouldn’t place well with a deck, I would shelve it, and shove a new 75 in the same sleeves, like some kind of sadistic punishment for the old deck’s poor performance. I’m now invested in a deck that has projected viability until the Khans block rotates next year, and plan to play it and master all of the matchups and intricacies, even if I don’t win any of my upcoming tournaments this summer. My new goal is to become the master of this new archetype.

Shake it up! : The Routine

In February, my wife and I were graced with our second child, our beautiful baby girl. For the first month of her life, I got into a routine of bad habits. My daughter would always wake up around midnight. So my wife and I would both wake up to my daughter’s cries, and one of us would go take care of her. Since then, I’ve developed this schedule where when I get home from work, I eat dinner, hang out with my family for a while, and my wife would go to bed early-ish (9pm).

I would choose to stay awake while my family all slept. I would hang out on the internet with my friends, playing video games until midnight each night. This went on until I returned to my 9-5 after my child’s birth, however it continued. So now, I was staying up until 12-1am and waking up at 6am. EVERY. DAY. I was exhausted, my temper had a short fuse, and this lack of rest caused me to not think clearly.

I’ve realized that this is a problem that I’ve created for myself, and that I have to change my actual daily routine in order to feel better about…well…everything. I feel better and more productive at work, I feel like a better husband and father, and I don’t have headaches all day and I’m not spaced out as much.

Perhaps if we change our routine, something simple like when we eat our meals, how/when we exercise, when we sleep, or what we eat, we could gain clarity of mind, and pass over our plateau.

Shake it up! : The Mental State

Back to my friend from the beginning of this article. We’re very good friends, and we bounce ideas off of each other all the time. My friend will occasionally bounce ideas of decks off of me, but when it comes to tournament time, you can sure as heck bet he’s going to be casting Goblin Rabblemasters and Stormbreath Dragons at least a turn early. He’s been doing this since those cards were legal in standard. He’s had a lot of success with it as well.

So why did I make another section when I could have put this in the first section? Because we’re not going to discuss how he plays the same deck every week. I want to discuss how he thinks, versus how I think when it comes to decks.

I am a very analytical person. I’m a software engineer, and I like to think about things. A lot. Too much. I tend to overanalyze everything, and this in general gives me a negative attitude. My friend on the other hand, is a very positive person. When discussing a new card spoiled in a new set, he’ll be on the lines of “X card looks really sweet! I think it can be really good!”

In this conversation, I’ll play the role of negative Nancy. “Yeah, seems like a fine card, but what if your opponent does Y?” Granted, unless we’re talking about Abzan where they ALWAYS have the damned pack of Siege Rhinos, your opponent doesn’t always have cards to fear. You’re not always going to play against an ultimate price deck with your Goblin Rabblemaster, which is why the red gentleman is played.

I think that if you’re a negative person like I am, trying to be more positive, and thinking about the benefits of playing a card or strategy without really thinking of what might detract you from playing a certain 75, can help improve your decision making, and even how much you enjoy playing this great game.

So, circling back to goals. As you know if you’ve been reading my articles, I’m trying to qualify for New Jersey in August. Old me would say something like “It’s in two months, so chances are pretty slim that I’ll make it. There’s always next year.” New me is saying “This is a thing that I want very much, and I’m going to work very hard playing this new deck in order to secure my invite.”

Chin up, folks. There’s always another tournament.

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