Building A Legacy - Hubris
“Drew, you have a lot of problems with your Magic game. Ultimately, they all boil down to you being arrogant.”
Ever wonder why you're not playing as well as you know you can? You start out 4-0, 5-0, and the wheels come off somewhere. You sideboard wrong, but it's a judgment call. You draw two of the cards you should've sideboarded out and lose. It's okay, though. You're still good at this game; you just made a mistake. Come on, battle back, there's next round.
Arrogant? Almost everyone I know has called me that at some point or another. I convinced myself it was a compliment at some point. Maybe the kids in middle school were onto something, though. Maybe the girlfriends I lost over the years had me figured out, and I was just fooling myself. Arrogant, though?
Rewind the tape to that feature match in round five in Dallas. I knew from the second I saw the pairings that I was going to be fighting Merfolk. I might give myself too much credit for some things, but my memory is a sponge. Scott Barrentine is indelibly linked to Merfolk in my head. Don't ask me why I knew that before I sat down. I didn't even know what he looked like before shaking his hand, but I knew he would have more than ten basic Islands in the deck he had in his hand.
“Arrogance is the reason you played like trash in the last three rounds of the DC Standard Open and dropped after round four of the Legacy. You think you deserve something, like you have some level of entitlement about all of this. Well, I got some bad news for ya: you have to earn it all. Every single life point, you have to earn it. You have to prove to the person sitting across from you that you're better than them. You don't deserve anything.”
Just because I have however many Open Series points doesn't make me a good player. Good plays make me a good player in the moment. But the true mark of a good player is the ability to do it again next round. And the round after that. And the round after that. And you know what? I started to get proud of what I'd done. There's nothing that I can do to myself that's worse than feeding my own ego. It's where my tournaments go to die, never to be heard from again.
“All of us want you to do well, but you make it hard for us to like you sometimes. I mean, we're rooting for you, but you don't always make it easy. You need to be more open to suggestions, more open to feedback. You need to listen more, and really hear what people are saying to you instead of just nodding along and dismissing the advice of your betters.”
Never have I acted more entitled than when I Ghastly Demised Scott's Lord of Atlantis when I was on six life. It wasn't that it was a thoughtless play – I calculated my options for about a minute. I considered what he could draw and what he could've drawn off of his Silvergill Adept. I considered killing the Adept, which I should have killed if I was going to kill either of them. Instead, I just killed the Lord, not thinking about the tremendous amount of impending beautiful justice that was going to end my tournament so righteously that I would sit at the feature match table for five whole minutes afterward, staring at the tablecloth and wondering what could've possibly possessed me to do what I had done.
“Did he draw Sower of Temptation? Of course he did. Why would you play that Ghastly Demise? You do know it's an instant, right? That you're on six, and he has FIVE power of attackers? That he's binned two of his four Dazes already, so you're only beat if he runner-runners both of his other Dazes? You do know that Sower of Temptation is a staple Merfolk sideboard card, right? How could you be so stupid? Aren't you supposed to be good at this?”
Good players make good plays consistently. They don't expect to be patted on the back for it, and they don't expect recognition. They expect to win and then to have to earn it again next round. For too long, I've been taking my opponents for granted. I've been doing exactly what I said I wouldn't. I've got no laurels to rest on, but that hasn't stopped me from deluding myself. I still have what it takes to pilot a blue control deck through a field of professionals and come out undefeated. So why am I struggling?
“Every conversation should be about learning something, not about being right. You can't take card discussions personally. Your deck can have bad matchups, your card selections don't have to be correct. You can make mistakes, but you have to be able to be persuaded. Right now, you're not, and that's a really bad thing that you need to work on. Stop being defensive, or smart people won't want to have good conversations with you.”
Realizing that I'm intractable is bad enough. Being told that I'm not a good person to work with, though, is brutal. That's not something I want to hear. But you know what? I want to hear it. I'll take it every single day. I'm so goddamn lucky to have friends that step out of the shadows and coldcock me with a two-by-four straight to the temple. Most people never had that luxury, never had that sort of free therapy. Most people just bemoan the fates when they Brainstorm and miss on their way to the 3-3 bracket.
Rarely do people have friends who are willing and able to teach them the ways of their failures. When I wake up from my stupor, though, they're the ones telling me to stop walking down those 0-2 alleys, to keep my eyes on the prize, to stay focused on what I flew out here to do. “Enough with the interviews,” they say. “The only interview you should want to give is the one with the trophy in hand. Until then, just play Magic.”
“You should think about banning yourself from the GGsLive booth. Just don't go in there until you're out of contention. Every time you go on camera, you take yourself out of the correct mindset. You become this persona, the ‘Legacy writer-commentator' that you want to be, and you stop being the cold-blooded killer that you need to be to win games. Every time you take your game-face off, you have to put it back on again. Sometimes you can, but more often it costs you. It's not like your self-sabotage is particularly subtle, you just don't define it as sabotage. You think you're having fun, but what's really going on is that you're not playing your best game anymore. Your ‘fun' is actually just destroying your chances at winning.”
The day that I flew to Memphis, I had access to the two best Caw-Blade decks that would be played the next day. I could've played Gerry's black list or AJ's red list. Instead, I played Valakut with Wall of Tanglecord. I have no idea why I thought this was a good idea. It wasn't. The beauty of my hubris is that I thought it was such a good idea that I would get Glenn to write about how great an idea it was. Yeah, I started that tournament 0-2. After all, why play good decks designed by good players when I could play Primeval Titans and daintily scoop up the wins I so richly deserved? After all, I had myself convinced that I deserved to win. The rest of my poor decisions followed naturally.
“Ha ha ha, are you kidding me? The last article you wrote, the one last week? Yeah, that was the worst thing I've read in at least three months. It's exactly that sort of sh-t that puts you in this entitled mindset. Stop trying to convince yourself that you're good. Just go out there and prove it. Prove it to me and him, but most of all prove it to yourself. You think that just because you put up those finishes that you're something special and you're not. You've made yourself worse since then, and it shows.”
Admitting to myself that I don't know everything is the most important step. Before I can ask for respect in the eyes of my friends, I have to understand who my peers are and are not. Once I know where I am, I can decide if I'm okay with that. If I'm not, I can grow. But until I've torn down these facades and empty fronts of buildings, I won't have a foundation that I can build on. Why am I not okay with the phrase “I don't know,” with the phrase “Please explain that,” with the phrase “I don't understand?” Why do I stay on the defensive so often? Why do I parry and thrust when I'm talking to my friends? This isn't a duel, so why do I wield my words as I would a saber? Even if I “win,” all I accomplish is cutting into someone I care about. Why am I working so hard to repel the attention of the people who I'm lucky enough to have as my mentors?
“Now maybe I was a little too sharp with you during the New York trip. But you were trying to show off, trying to assert instead of converse, saying things that made it obvious you had no idea what you were talking about. And I lashed out at you instead of explaining what was going on, and I'm sorry for that. But when we finally talked about it, finally actually discussed what was going on the Sunday morning of Memphis, it put you in the right mindset again. You were willing to listen, and you did. And that put you in the mindset to just crush the tournament. But as soon as you made Top 8, you went right back to your arrogance, and you made a stupid, preventable mistake, and that was the end of your tournament. You need to focus on learning your lessons.”
“Kid, I see a lot of myself in you, that's why I want to help you and talk with you. I see the same sort of intelligence in you as in me. But with you, you have this sense that it's all owed to you, that you're a good player, so of course you deserve to win. When I was struggling through this, I wanted to use my intelligence to prove to the guy sitting across from me that I was better than him. I wanted to outplay him and use the match slip as evidence of my superiority. You're complacent before you ever get to a match. How can you have a good mental game if you don't have that same drive to win? Being good is worthless without victories. You have to prove it every single round, or it's meaningless.”
You're right, of course. I never learned how to not be the best at something until now. But that's the beauty of friendship, right? All this competition, all this mental exertion, someone has to be better than someone else. But until now, I didn't realize how much I still had to learn. I didn't realize how much I needed to unlearn.
Of course, reality hurts most after it's been ignored longest. I suppose twenty years is enough time to spend convinced of my own infallibility, of my own brilliance, of myself. At the end of this experience, my fever will break, and the glass will shatter, and the fog will lift, and I'll still be here, albeit a little quieter, a little different. If that happens by the time this article goes up, I'll see you in Los Angeles. If it doesn't, I'll give it a week, and I suppose I'll see you in Atlanta.
Unlearning everything is a daunting task, but no one ever got out of a hole with a shovel. I'm grateful for having friends as good as AJ Sacher and Gerry Thompson to do for me what no one did for them. They've taught me more about technical play in the last two months than I learned in the previous two years, but that's not why I'm lucky to have them as friends. I'm lucky because there are very few people willing to teach life lessons to a twenty-year-old and even fewer willing to teach them to one as arrogant as I've been. So for your patience, kindness, mentorship, respect, long conversations, and wisdom – thank you.
I hope all of you can start to learn your own lessons from watching me learn mine.