I was never really one for New Year's resolutions growing up. I always felt like an arbitrary date was a poor reason to make life changes. I looked down at people who resolved to quit smoking or lose weight or whatever else, feeling certain that their resolution wouldn't last until the end of the month. If you want to make a change in your life, you should just do it, no matter what time of the year it might be.
But as I've gotten older, I've softened a bit. Some of my youthful idealism has been set aside for practicality. I've realized that the holiday season is an incredibly difficult time to stay committed to anything, let alone start something new. Making a New Year's resolution to change your diet or your fitness habits isn't simply arbitrary but rather just practical. Are you really going to say no to every cake and pie and piece of candy while you're visiting your family for the holidays? Let's be reasonable here. How many times have you told yourself "my new diet/workout plan/budget starts next week" only to push it back and back and back. While the best time to start any positive change in your life is right now, there's nothing wrong with using the new year as an excuse to do it.
With that in mind, I decided to make—and share with all of you—my Magical resolutions for 2013.
1. Take Better Care of Myself
Wait, what? Weren't these supposed to be Magical resolutions? Why am I sitting here starting things off with the most clich New Year's resolution of them all? Because it's relevant to Magic, that's why. As I talked about in my 2012 review, the past year of playing in tournaments virtually nonstop took its toll on me. The constant travel left me exhausted, not only on the days after I returned home but during the tournaments themselves. I pretty much fell out of all of my good habits and picked up bad ones.
I wasn't eating well. I wasn't sleeping well. My poor habits absolutely impacted my performance. I was tremendously reliant on caffeine just to function, which made my energy levels take sharp dips throughout the day at tournaments. It was difficult for me to maintain the level of focus necessary to compete at the highest level throughout long events. Even the first day of a Grand Prix I could struggle to stay awake since I would frequently have to take early flights to get from San Diego to an East Coast event at a reasonable time.
This is something that has absolutely become more of an issue as I've gotten older. At Pro Tour Chicago in 2000, I stayed up nearly all night on Friday before the event talking about the format and tweaking my deck, and it didn't hurt me in the slightest—I was absolutely on my game throughout all the rounds of the tournament that day. Now, though, I need the Sleep-In Special at Grand Prix just to feel awake enough to do combat math by round 4. I guess that's what happens now that I'm 32 and working at a computer every day instead of 20 and only a few years out from wrestling in high school.
It's absolutely true that there's a link between a sharp mind and a strong body. Fatigue of the body weighs on the mind and keeps it from being able to function optimally. I was in the habit of working out every day back when I started playing Magic again in 2009, and then I immediately made back-to-back Top 8s in my first two Pro Tours back. I remember reading a quote from billionaire Richard Branson when he was asked for secrets on how to be more productive; he answered simply, "Work out." In the past year or so, I've allowed myself to get so overwhelmingly busy that I didn't make time for taking care of myself and resorted to patch solutions like caffeine to try to deal with the problem.
Next year, though, I'm going to change that. I've already taken steps toward kicking my dependence on caffeine thanks to a thorough detox process over the holidays—I was yawning at 10 PM on New Year's Eve, but it's been worth it. I'm down to no more than a 20 oz. soda in a day, with energy drinks totally off limits. If I find I absolutely need caffeine at a tournament, it'll actually be functional rather than simply feeding an addiction.
I'm also working to improve my sleeping, eating, and general fitness habits. I'm flying into Denver on Friday night and back late Sunday to avoid having to wake up crazy early. That means missing out on some of the fun hanging out with people after the Grand Prix is over, but that's the kind of sacrifice I'm going to have to make. While that won't always be an option with GPs in other time zones, I'm definitely going to take the opportunity to avoid messing up my sleep schedule when I can.
And while it can certainly be tough trying to eat well and work out with the sort of hectic travel schedule tournaments result in, I'm working on that too. For anyone who is interested in checking out nutrition and fitness advice that I've had success with in the past (and to which I'll be at least loosely adhering to again now), I highly recommend checking out the book The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferris. While there's some wacky stuff in it, the basic principles are sound, and the dietary recommendations are the foundation of what LSV, myself, and others have used to great effect.
So remember, while Magic may be a mental game, your mind doesn't operate in a vacuum. All the preparation and playtesting in the world isn't going to help if you set yourself up for failure with bad habits. I'm going to work on taking better care of myself this year—who's with me?
2. Slow Down
How many times have you taken your turn in a game, said go, and then looked down just a moment later and realized you made a horrible mistake? If you're like me, it's probably a whole lot more times than you'd like to admit.
Playing too quickly is a bad habit of mine that comes up most frequently when I feel like I'm in a winning position. It's a symptom of overconfidence, I think. Just a few weeks back at the SCG Invitational, I was playing a match against a Rakdos opponent in which I was significantly ahead. Rather than evaluating the board and determining the best course of action on my turn, I just attacked and then almost immediately realized that I had left back an Arbor Elf that should have also attacked since it would have gotten through. At the end of the game, my opponent managed to peel a few key cards while I drew blanks, and he won an incredibly close game. So close that he was at one life at the end—which would have been zero many turns earlier if I'd just attacked with that Elf.
It's easy to get excited when you feel like you're winning a game, but it's important not to let that excitement distract you. In that same tournament, playing against Lewis Laskin, I had him dead on board the following turn with two Strangleroot Geists in play alongside a Garruk Relentless, two Wolves, and a Deathrite Shaman. I'd just Duressed him and seen two Terminus in his hand along with a Sorin, Sphinx's Revelation, and Azorius Charm, which I took. His only out from that position was for one of his two remaining Terminus to be waiting on top of his deck—which it was. He managed to claw back from an incredibly disadvantaged position and win a long, drawn out game from there.
Did I get unlucky for him to miracle the Terminus that turn? Absolutely. But I still should have won. In my excitement over my board position, I only thought through the possible ways in which Lewis could live through the next turn—not the ways in which I might actually lose the game. I should never have cast the Deathrite Shaman that he was able to Terminus away on his next turn since I already had a board presence sufficient to win the game.
My thought process at the time was that I wanted to be able to win even if he drew a black land for Sorin; I'd be able to fight his token and then attack with all of my creatures and drain him with Deathrite. But there are no bonus match points for winning faster, and I ended up exposing one of my most important cards in a long game if he does manage to peel that unlikely Terminus. Given how much longer the game went on and how close it ended up being in the end, that Deathrite Shaman would have almost certainly made the difference.
I've played a ton of Magic in my life, and most situations I can play out more by feel than anything else. But that doesn't mean that I can get away with playing speed Magic in situations where I legitimately need to think. This year, I'm going to focus on trying to avoid that bad habit and slowing down and taking the time to figure things out when I need to.
3. Get Better at Limited
In my Magic career, I have twelve Grand Prix Top 8s. Only three of them are in individual Limited events. In two of my four Pro Tour Top 8s in the split format PT era, I went 3-3 in Draft, only making Top 8 based on insane Constructed records in both events. I am, to be perfectly frank, just not nearly as good at Limited as the best pros out there.
Why is that? Well, I've never enjoyed Limited as much as I enjoy Constructed Magic. The most fun part of Magic to me is the process of dissecting a format and trying to figure out the best way to attack it. While there is some metagame solving to Limited, it's not the same, and it's just never appealed to me nearly as much. For a significant portion of my early PT career—prior to the advent of Magic Online—I never drafted. I didn't have a playgroup to draft with locally, so the extent of my practice was the occasional team draft at events. I even skipped the second ever Pro Tour despite being qualified because it was Draft and at the time I had never played the format.
A lot of people think Draft practice is as simple as just drafting and trying to figure out what the best cards and strategies are, but there's more to it than that. Because I've historically been less interested in the format, I haven't given the same kind of attention to figuring it out as I have Constructed Magic. I'm not particularly good at actually playing games of Limited. I just haven't played nearly the same enormous number of games of Limited Magic as I have Constructed and can't rely on the same kind of intuition to make the correct plays. I misevaluate the importance of different resources. I play too much on autopilot when I'm practicing on Magic Online rather than trying to learn and improve.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm bad at Limited. But I'm not on the same level as many of the other top pro players or really the level I want myself to be. I shouldn't have to have an absolutely ridiculous Constructed record to make Top 8 at a Pro Tour. Not all of my PT results in Limited have been disastrous—I went 5-1 in both Philadelphia and the most recent Honolulu—but I could certainly stand to improve. I intend to do so.
4. Avoid Being Stubborn
If you've read my year in review article or my Pro Tour Dark Ascension report, you know that I was incredibly close to playing G/R Aggro in Honolulu. I convinced myself while literally lying awake in bed the night before that if I wanted to win the Pro Tour, I'd have to beat teammates to do it, and I couldn't win the Daybreak Ranger vs. Primeval Titan matchup. I wasn't stubborn, and it paid off.
Leading up to PT Return to Ravnica, I was trying to make Junk style decks work with Deathrite Shaman, and I was trying Loxodon Smiter or actual Doran as my three-drop to supplement Knight of the Reliquary. Using Shaman as my primary mana creature made my Knights harder to keep out of Lightning Bolt range and nearly impossible in matchups against opposing Shamans, but I just couldn't bring myself to cut Knight from my deck. At the Pro Tour, my Knights repeatedly died to Lightning Bolts out of my Jund opponents, thanks to both their Deathrite Shamans and my own.
I've had a lot of success building decks over the years, and sometimes it's difficult for me to avoid falling into the same patterns. I enjoy being successful in Magic, but I enjoy being successful and right even more. Sometimes, though, I can't find a solution to the problem I'm working on in the way I want it to work, but thankfully I have a group of talented players surrounding me who can help when I can't pull it off. When I was willing to stop being stubborn in Honolulu early last year, it meant winning a Pro Tour. And yet later that same year, I still found myself unable to let go of an idea that didn't quite cut it.
For 2013, I'm going to work to avoid that stubbornness. While I'm certainly going to keep doing what I love and trying to figure things out in my own way, I'm going to try to get better at realizing when I miss the mark and being willing to embrace whatever strategy gives me the best chance to win—even if it means I don't get to play a green deck.
What are your Magical resolutions for the new year?