Magic, Lynx, And Dawson's Creek
The difficult we do immediately. Impossible takes a little longer.
It would be literally impossible to count how many times I hear people wrongly say things are impossible.*
Asking "What is possible?" is better than asking nothing at all but it's a lot less useful than "What will it really take?" This article is not about what'simpossible versus what'spossible . It's about some things I have learned from Magic one of which happens to be: "One of the most reliable ways to come up with new ideas is to be willing to entertain impossible notions."
This is going to help me win more at Magic tomorrow right?
It's tempting to start going on about this quasi-philosophical stuff before jumping into the Magic as it's part of one of the most important lessons I have learned in my entire life. If something is difficult then it's doable and can be done immediately. If something is impossible it generally just takes the length of time needed to learn exactly how we are wrong. Adopting a strategy of talking in terms of what it costs to accomplish something—as opposed to whether it can be accomplished—has been extremely valuable to me and I highly recommend it.
Have you ever seen the movie Inception?
In a way this is really just applying game theory. If I were listing important lessons learned from Magic I guess the next on my list would have to be just how valuable being good at gaming is in navigating everyday life. From realizing the [real] value of activities like the credit card game to optimizing travel plans to resolving problems at a bar to working as a team game theory just keeps coming up over and over. What is game theory?
Game theory is a method of studying strategic decision-making. More formally it is "the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision makers." Game theory is basically approaching interactions as a game. Imagine you and everyone else is playing a game. You win the game by accomplishing the thing you want! Everyone wants whatever they want and people respond to incentives. At a certain point game theory becomes completely in sync with "applying logic to life."
Of course this article isn't about game theory either.
Okay this is all well and good but what does it have to do with the price of tea in China? This all sounds like a bunch of "strategies for life" rather than Magic.
What do you think it takes to get better at Magic? A decklist is a tool and tools can be useful. Learning the "pen-trick" is useful but also a tool. Even learning how to evaluate which creatures to block when to mulligan or how to build a mana base are all tools. At the end of the day the name of the game is developing a better system for thinking for doing for being. When you read someone writing about how to attack a metagame or how to prepare for an event or how to figure out what tricks your opponent could have what they are really doing is painting a picture. They are singing a song that invokes something inside of you that suggests some personal experience. If it resonates with you if it clicks you can develop an understanding of how to think about that situation in the future.
Getting better at thinking about Magic is really just a subset of "doing everything better." Magic players are generally pretty smart people (all jokes aside yes really) and people who win a lot at Magic really are doing at least some things better. Getting good at Magic is one of the most fun challenging and rewarding ways to practice getting good at "stuff." Getting good at Magic isn't just about memorizing decklists or even learning the shortcuts for building a mana base (hint: 40% templating 30% pattern recognition 20% math 10% pixie dust). It's about figuring out how to interact with people (especially other smart people). It's about rationality logic life experiences and having a good time. It's about challenging yourself being courageous responding to pressure; it's about psychology philosophy and problem solving.
It's about drinking enough water and getting a good night's sleep.
Err… Well it's definitely about a lot more than bombs and removal. Not everyone who wins at Magic is as good at life as they could be but getting better at life is a real good way to win more at Magic.
There are a lot of smart people in the world but more importantly judging who those might be prematurely leads to a lot of missed opportunity. This is a tricky one because we certainly don't have time in the day not to discriminate.
That's right; discrimination is actually a vital tool to have in one's toolbox. Sadly this word has a negative stigma attached to it because of sexism racism and a variety of other highly ineffective tools. Still the word is a powerful one and the ability underrated. It wasn't that long ago that a statement such as "David Ochoa is a man of discriminating tastes" was widely understood to be the high praise that it is. When you choose a good deck over a bad one you are discriminating. When you pick Murder of Crows over Desperate Ravings you are discriminating (you are also not LSV...).
However as important and useful a tool as discrimination is most humans are pretty poor at identifying when their discrimination—their biases—are actually serving them. Most people aren't even aware that they are discriminating and when they are doing it despite doing it all day every day. For the conscious mind the game then becomes "How can I open my mind up further still? What shortcuts did I used to use that no longer serve me?"
The fastest way to getting better at Magic doesn't involve adhering to the Magical advice you get from every Tom Dick and Harry. However being a good human being to all three even when you don't want or need anything from them will go a long way. Getting written off doesn't feel good. It really doesn't. Developing good strategies for people will help those same people in the future (and you inadvertently). Actions also speak louder than words.
Everyone has something to teach us. They're not always going to be aware of what it is they have to teach us. In fact what they have to teach us could easily be something personal deep down inside yourself that you only realize because of some experience you had related to them. Or not your call...
—Dawson Dawson's Creek
What you've done where you've been and who you've met is a lot more satisfying and interesting than what you have. Plus having an opportunity to interact with incredible people from many different countries backgrounds etc. well it rocks.
See we all know this one on a conceptual level but in practice it's easy to lose track of this to temporarily forget it without the life experience that makes it real. Being "nagged" to take our umbrella neglecting to then getting rained on has a very potent "feel" to it that is much more than just a few drips a few drops on the tip of our nose. It has a way of making the experience come to life to become something real.
It's because of Magic that I've met Jon Finkel Kai Budde Gabriel Nassif Kenji Tsumura Luis Scott-Vargas Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Bob Maher. Just imagining the circumstances that would have had to transpire to have brought all these people from all over the Earth and from so many walks of life into mine...
...then remembering that life actually did. Life has already provided the perfect stage the perfecting meeting ground the perfect pursuit. I have to fight the urge to just start listing names of all the freaking amazing people I have met from Magic one after another. It's tough because I actually literally want to yell from the rooftops about just how thankful I am for each and every one of them. Everything I've learned every friend and friendly acquaintance every positive moment shared...
No matter how much you see there's always more that you are missing. Obviously this is connected to "The person that knows they know nothing knows more than most" but there is more to it more that is useful. The point is not everything in life is a binary. Many experiences many decisions many pursuits are complex subjects that are formed by many combinations of 1's and 0's. For instance even among true masters in Magic there's always more to be learned more to be discovered. One of the biggest obstacles that slows down aspiring players is operating from a framework where they stop thinking about things they "know."
"Knowing" something is a powerful tool but a dangerous one. Everything you know cuts off so much that you know is not. For example once you know you aren't playing White Weenie it decreases the possibility of discovering that there is something you don't yet know that would cause this to be so. This is not to say one shouldn't try to figure out what they do know. Rather it's a reminder that knowing things isn't something to be done lightly. It doesn't take much effort to think of countless examples of people doing things we find to be completely insane because of what they know. Seen any politicians lately?
This kind of ties back to the value of keeping an open mind and divergent thinking. Want to have more good ideas? Cultivate your creativity . Young kids are often overflowing with creativity but most adults have been beaten into such conformity that they don't even remember that they can still control their creativity. It's not something you either have or you don't. Everyone has it and always had it since before they could speak. It's just a matter of remembering how to use it how to turn it on. It's not ever really off; we just have constructed faucets to hold it back to contain it. Once we turn the knob and remove the dam we've built it surges with incredible force.
Our society places a huge premium on excelling at divergent thinking which is interesting considering the massive pressure on everyone to conform. Tournament Magic is no different.
Life is a metaphor for Magic.
Magic puts a lot of pressure on us to conform to netdeck to imitate. Of course this is because the vast majority of things that people are encouraged to copy are in that position because they're pretty good ideas. It would be smart to copy them and is often a good idea.
It's often stupid to go a different route to diverge from the crowd. The majority of the time doing so ends up being "less good" than imitation. Most of the time these stupid ideas don't work out.
Now some adopt the strategy of always choosing the divergent path. This of course is really just a form of conformity. After all both the slave to conformity and the slave to counter-acting conformity have their actions dictated by the crowd rather than their own will. Additionally the cost to taking the path less traveled is not always negligible. Opportunity cost rears its head in all things. Things cost not only the dollars and the hours they cost what you could've done/had/learned/experienced if you had spent those dollars and/or hours in a different way.
I could've played Spirits in Hawaii but I didn't. I couldn't have played Elves at the PT in Berlin that LSV won but I didn't. I wouldn't trade making Top 8 with Dragonstorm or Tezzeret or true Sligh so it's not really fair to try to only go back when it didn't break right. After all hindsight is 20-20. Was it stupid to play Grixis in Hawaii? Maybe but maybe it was also stupid to play it in Paris last year.
Sometimes stupid ideas work out but sometimes it's way better to do things the smart way. Every time you choose a speculative route you are missing an opportunity to play The Best Deck or whatever. Obviously this is just barely scratching the surface of the opportunity cost questions that come up in Magic.
Should I block? If I chump now I can for sure prevent five damage but what opportunity am I giving up? What other options could that 1/1 give me if I didn't block?
Should I drop from the tournament? I can't Top 8 anymore and I have a homework assignment I have to get done by tomorrow.
Should I trade for that Tropical Island? If I give up all those cards I won't have much to trade with for the rest of the day today.
Should I sideboard four Kor Firewalkers? They'll help me crush red but what would I have had in my sideboard instead?
Should I practice against the French Rites deck? What could I be spending this testing time on?
Should I even spend so much time practicing at Magic? What else could I be doing with my time?
None of these are to suggest the negatives but rather to illuminate that understanding the true cost (as well as the true benefits received) is necessary to make an enlightened and informed decision about any of them. A lot of people are playing a lot of different games at once even when it looks like they're playing the same game on the surface. This is true among Magic players and muggles alike. Evaluating what is important to you how things affect you and what you want can lead to very different actions than what's going to make others happy.
There's not really a lot you have to do in this life. Be healthy and happy. In fact you don't even have to be those things but it's a lot healthier and happier if you do...
Remembering that everyone is playing a lot of different games can provide us with valuable insight into how to interact with them. This links back to game theory of course. Imagining that everyone is just playing a game can help remind us not to take things personally. When someone plays Steal Artifact on us it feels aggressive but remember: it's just a game. In life so often other human beings will do things that seem terrible; despicable things that make you want to attack them.
Remember they may be playing a very different game than you. Looking at the situation through a cold lens can help us adopt the strategy that's best for the situation. For instance what do you do when people steal backpacks at Magic tournaments?
Your opponent may be trying to Steal Artifact you but it doesn't mean you don't bounce it in response then show him where Batterskull's name comes from...
I was going to write this article about a number of important lessons I've learned from Magic and how they'll help you win but life has a funny way of taking us for a ride sometimes. If you want to read that article it's right here.
If you want to talk Standard with the Invitational and GP Salt Lake City coming up let's talk Standard. What deck concept do you want to see explored? Read the other suggestions in the comments below. If someone else suggests the same one "like" theirs to vote for it. Whichever two get the most "votes" will be included next week no matter what.These can be existing archetypes or original brews. Either way see you next week; thanks for being excellent!
*Ironically using literally literally ironically while describing the impossibility of describing impossibility.
**Did I say Lynx? I meant Links. Sorry Paul...