One of the toughest adjustments for a competitive magic player is accepting shortcomings. Many players set a certain goal – whether that may be winning a PPTQ, RPTQ, day 2-ing a large event, or getting to the elimination rounds- and many fail to reach it. Sometimes players set a bar that is too high to reach; even I have been guilty of doing this. There is nothing wrong with having high expectations, if one understands failure is a possibility. However, that is only step one of accepting failure. The next step requires keeping your head up and maintaining positivity: remind yourself of why you play Magic: the Gathering in the first place.
Year in Review
The end of the 2017-2018 Pro season recently came to an end and my goal was to reach Silver pro status. During that season, Silver could be reached in two different ways due to a change in the pro point system (I will not try to explain this, as it took me months to understand it): obtaining 20 pro points from Pro Tours plus 6 Grand Prix finishes, and other special events, or; obtaining 22 points with 12 finishes of any type. In early June, I was at 17 points with 1 Grand Prix slot available in the old system, or 17 points with 5 slots of any type in the new system. “Easy!” I thought, as even finishing 10-5 five times at a Grand Prix would give me silver in the new system. At this point I had played in 3 of the last 4 Pro Tours, so I was confident I could qualify again. Assuming that was the case, I would be Silver and on my to Gold while playing in at least the next 2 Pro Tours. Well, that did not happen. I finished the year with 18 points in the old system, or 20 in the new one. Either way, I came up short. I was incredibly disappointed in myself, to the point where I considered quitting Magic at the highest level. I think it’s easy to see how my goal, while very achievable, was by no means easy. The idea that a 10-5 finish is easy enough to achieve 5 times within a few months is an issue. Many players, including myself, think of 10-5 as a slightly above average record/finish. That is simply not true. By misleading myself into thinking I could easily reach silver, I made the mistake of setting myself for disaster: an emotional disaster! After failing to day 2 several Grand Prix in a row, my confidence as a player hit the lowest point. I thought my previous success was strictly luck, just a “fluke”; I gave myself no credit for any of my results.
Why did I care so much about reaching Silver? At the end of the day, all it would have done is provide an invite to the next Pro Tour. I could win an RPTQ and be better off than Silver since it even pays for airfare! I think I attributed success and the way people perceive me/respect me to a Pro Status. After all, Silver sounds nice, and maybe better players start respecting me more now that I am a “pro”. This is obviously flawed thinking, but that can be what the Magic “highs” do to you. I know a lot of players that after a string of successful events feel unstoppable, untouchable, and become arrogant. They lose touch with reality, so to speak. I don’t think I was ever at that point, but I definitely started enjoying the events I attended less and less. Every loss hurt so much, as it was reducing my chances of hitting Silver status. I started feeling grumpy, disappointed in myself, and burned out. Worst of all, I started feeling like I wasn’t learning anything from my losses. I used to take pride in the fact that I always had a positive attitude when losing, and always took something away from it. Whether that was analyzing games I lost due to making a slightly different decision or understanding that variance isn’t worth worrying about because your opponents get unlucky, too. Stress started creeping up on me once I only had a month to get Silver, to the point where my play got worse. By a lot. I would practice on Magic Online and be in the worst moods a few hours after I booted the program. Every time I lost to a top-deck or a miss-click I would become angry and stop playing. Cutting your practice short because you have mood swings based on your results is… Problematic. I knew I had to do something about my attitude towards the game before I reached a point of non-return (to be fair, I am not sure that is ever a possibility with Magic).
What did I do?
When you find yourself at a low point in Magic, realize that only YOU are in control of yourself. Figure out what is making you feel that way. Do you think you aren’t good enough? Keep working, nobody “isn’t smart enough” to play the game. You will eventually get better; how fast simply depends on your commitment. Did you set your goals too high? Slow down, nobody is rushing you to get to your “finish line” and you should always go at your own pace. Just because your friend is Gold doesn’t make you any less of a person than them, and certainly doesn’t mean than anything short of Gold on your end is a failure! Do you think you are always unlucky? I highly recommend looking back at the unlucky games: I promise you there were as many tough decisions you might have chosen wrong. Also, your opponent might have gotten unlucky too at some point that game. One top-deck doesn’t sculpt the entirety of the game. Additionally, keep track of the times you are very fortunate. Over the course of many tournaments I am willing to bet that your percentage of mulligans/bad variance are going to be similar to your opponents (as they should be).
So, what I did was figure out why exactly I was unhappy. I think I simply assumed that playing well enough would lead me to get great results. Well, I was wrong in many ways. I weighed results too highly, to the point where anything short of pro points felt like a waste of a weekend. Let me tell you, when you spend money on flights and hotels and your enjoyment/success relies on your finish, you’re in for a rude awakening. This wasn’t my only problem, however. There are other issues with expecting good results followed by good enough play. First, sometimes you just get unlucky, and that happens. Second, playing well doesn’t cut it. You must strive to play at your best and focus on improving. If you make the same mistakes more than once, you are likely failing to analyze games/matches you win. It’s very easy to brush a mistake off when winning and saying, “it doesn’t matter, I was going to win anyway”. The same goes with losing: “I drew 10 lands in a row, so it didn’t matter”. Well, every decision you make matters regardless of the outcome of a game or match. The sooner you start learning something from every game and match, the sooner you’ll improve. It took me some time, but I think I’ve got things figured out, and I am ready to have fun and crush this coming year of Magic!
Where to go now?
While I failed to reach my goal, I also failed to realize I surpassed many others! I played in multiple Pro Tours, I top8d a Grand Prix, and I hit bronze which qualifies me for (most?) of next year’s RPTQs. The next step is to re-evaluate my goals for the 2018-19 year with a fresh mind a new outlook on competitive Magic. I believe that first and foremost, I should have fun while playing the best I can. This is a great starting goal because you can’t measure it or attribute it to your results, meaning the stress of doing well at events decreases greatly, or even dissipates. Whenever I went on my hot streak, I was just having a good time playing Magic with some of my best friends. I didn’t feel any pressure and I had nothing to prove. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a positive attitude, because results WILL come when enough effort is put in. On the other hand, every time you fail to obtain a result you will beat yourself up if you place too much stress on tournament finishes only. My plan for the next few months is to play in a mix of SCG events and Grand Prix without focusing on one specifically, and to just have a great time. Once I get back into the right state of mind, I will try moving to a more specific goal (leaderboards, Pro Tour appearances, etc.)!
Remember, you play Magic because you love the game first and foremost. Even the most successful players are still infatuated with this card game!
Keep your head up and have fun with it!
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