There’s a lot of talk, depending on which threads and podcasts you listen to in the Magic world, about this notion of “levelling up.” This essentially means that you’ve hit the next quantifiable point in your Magic career. Either you’ve gotten better, and now see things in a different way, or you’ve hit some benchmark that you deem as a quantifiable checkpoint on your way to fulfilling your Magic goals, or it could mean something else entirely.
For a while, I would say that past six months, I had been in a sort of a slump. When I first started playing competitive Magic about 18 months ago, the goal was to top eight something. Now it’s rare that I don’t top eight an IQ or PPTQ that I attend. The last time I was left out of the elimination rounds was May of this year.
Wow, Tim! Great moves, keep it up, proud of you! But that feeling of accomplishment had waned. Top eighting turned into a chore. Granted, this is a chore a lot of players would enjoy to have, I understand that. However, when your sole goal is to be the last person standing in a room full of people who are also trying to win, there’s an indescribable feeling you get to walk home with.
This happened about a year ago, when, after about six months of trying to actively win, I won my first IQ. It happened right at the deepest valley of a slump where I felt that luck was just not on my side. Was it luck really though? Or was I just frustrated, and had clouded my mind with that frustration? That seems like the more likely scenario. Instead of playing good Magic, playing around cards that my opponent might have, I was just casting spells each turn hoping to be lucky.
I didn’t realize it then, but that deep rut I was in, when I actually realized that I was in a rut, and I actually was good enough to win, before I even won that event, allowed me to focus more deeply than I had for a few months of grinding.
Fast forward from then to two weekends ago, when I made yet another top eight at a PPTQ. I felt that I lost in the elimination rounds due to luck. I had drawn only two lands in a game three in which my opponent was able to make a Liliana, the Last Hope Emblem pretty much unhindered. That might seem like luck, but if I had played better earlier in the tournament, had I won my round one match, or won game 2 in that elimination round, I wouldn’t have even had to either play that opponent, or even that game 3.
Now, my friends, those friends those are closest to me, with which I spent my youth playing Magic, and still spend time playing video games, eating at the local diner sometimes, and even now playing Magic with, know that I am fiercely competitive when it comes to Magic. It’s the one thing in life that I truly enjoy striving to be good at. I say this because whenever I hear of my friends doing well, while I couldn’t be happier for their accomplishments, I become enraged with jealousy, because I feel like I am as good at playing Magic as any of my friends could be.
When my friends win an event, or place higher than me, I just can’t stand it. And that’s how I felt when my buddy Joe took second place at the PPTQ. I was rooting for him the whole way, and if he won the thing, I’d be the first to congratulate him, and start to help him get ready for his RPTQ. But damn it I’d be upset that he did it before me! That’s not me being a bad friend or a poor sport, I want to put that out there, and Joe I love you dude. That’s just how fiercely competitive and how seriously I take [and love] this game.
I had every intention to play in a PPTQ in Parsippany this past weekend. It was taking place at ToyCon, which to my knowledge is a vendor fair that takes place in New Jersey once a year. A ton of game stores show up. So much so that one was hosting a PPTQ at the venue. My LGS team was set on going, as was I. However, I knew there would be a good amount of people.
Then I get the text from Joe.
“You’re playing in Florida [New York] tomorrow, right?”
“What no Parsippany.”
See, there is a store in Florida, New York. They were having their second scheduled PPTQ, which would turn out to be the first actual PPTQ that they fired on the same weekend as the one in Parsippany. Joe had determined that the field would be super soft, and this would be the one to spike. Not only that, but Florida, New York is considerably nearer to my home than Parsippany, New Jersey.
However, I wrote this store off, as the last PPTQ that they had advertised, I drove all the way there, and was told that the PPTQ was cancelled due to lack of interest. Luckily enough I was then able on that same day to travel to and play in a PPTQ in Bernardsville, New Jersey, in which I got 4th place, but enough about that. I sent a message to the store the night before, and awoke to a “100% guaranteed” firing of the PPTQ. We were locked in.
I had also been chatting with MTGO personality AntzzzOnALog on his Twitch stream for some tips about the deck. He’s been tearing up leagues with the W/U Flash deck, the deck that I had enjoyed playing in this format, and after talking with him, I took his list to this PPTQ. “I wouldn’t be playing these 75 cards if I thought they weren’t the best 75 cards to be playing.” More than enough to convince me to not audible to the [awful] R/B Zombies deck at the last minute.
14 players vs the 40 in Parsippany. 4 rounds vs. 6. A PPTQ is a PPTQ. We were ready to go.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand we lost round 1 to Jeskai Control. Auto tilt, the paddles won’t move, it’s your last ball in the pinball machine, and you watch it burst into flames on its way down into the void between your nonreactive paddles. We were dead inside. I couldn’t capture a win with one of the best decks in the format at an event with maybe 5 good players in it.
I began rapid firing text messages to Joe about how I was going to have a Magic card bonfire at my house later that night and his whole family was invited. But this is why it’s great to have a supportive cast of friends around you, and I certainly take Joe for granted with this. He sent me messages over and over while I was ranting just telling me that I was definitely good enough to win any PPTQ, let alone this one, and that I just needed to reign in the tilt and focus.
We did just that, and rattled off the next two wins against R/W Vehicles and B/R Aggro, and we were locked with a draw into top eight.
Top eight is where it got a little dicey. But every time I started to get overwhelmed or think ahead to the next round or what my drive home would be like win or lose while my opponent was making decisions, I fell into a routine I had been mentally preparing that tried to ground me. This is the biggest thing for me I think. I always get ahead of myself, and I always assume I’m going to lose, so I lose to myself more than I should. This has been my pitfall I’m sure. So every single time I needed to refocus, I did the same thing, and this was my level up moment.
1 – Took a deep breath.
2 – Asked my opponent how many cards were in his/her hand.
3 – Looked around the entire table. Checked my opponent’s lands, and checked for open mana for what they could be presenting.
4 – Told myself “One game at a time.”
5 – Checked what my plan was for how to win this game, and which cards my opponent could have that would make me lose with this plan.
6 – Proceeded with the plan by slowing the game down in my head.
I did this a lot, especially when my energy began to wane as the day went on. However, this procedure allowed us to win on the draw in top eight against a similar W/B tempo aggro deck, win on the draw against the one seed in top 4 in the mirror match, and again win game three from being far behind on board, and winning in the finals against my opponent that I had lost to in round one.
Elation. We did it. We had the game mechanics down, but that thought process seemed to be the last piece of the puzzle. I immediately called my wife and just yelled garbled noise into the phone. I called Joe and did the same. It took me ten minutes to leave once I was in my car because of how overjoyed I felt. Sure, people will tell me it was a very soft 14 man event, but a PPTQ is a PPTQ.
I ticked all of my boxes for the year. That was the big thing. I achieved all of my goals that I set forth at the beginning of the year. I’m great. My wife is great. My decks are great. Now I get a chance to prove that I’m good enough to play on the Pro Tour in one of the most competitive regions in the country. Time to put my money where my mouth is.
Trackback from your site.