I wasn't sure what to write about this week, so I decided to let you guys decide! I sent a tweet asking if there were any questions you would like answered and was pleasantly surprised by the number of replies. I tried to choose questions that are interesting and cover different areas. This is my first attempt at this kind of article, so I hope you enjoy it.
@HueyJensen which player has had the highest impact on how you play Magic, and why— Bruce Cowley (@bcowley99) January 5, 2014
The answer to this question is Dave Humphreys. When I was growing up, Dave was the best player in the Boston area, which before I traveled the globe to compete in tournaments was where all my Magic learning took place. There was little to no information available at the time, so everybody had to learn from their own experiences. When I started going to more local tournaments and getting more serious about it, I always did what I could to watch the games Dave played and try to learn as much as possible.
Dave was a very methodical player. He certainly had a reputation for playing rather slowly, and it was obvious that he thought through all his plays in great detail and executed with a tremendous amount of precision. I had the privilege of playing on Team Your Move Games for a few Pro Tours, and certainly Dave was the person who I enjoyed working with most. Discussing strategy, concepts, and sideboarding with him definitely helped elevate my game to the next level.
Another reason that I think Dave's ideas were particularly helpful to me is that we generally had a preference for the same kind of decks. Dave was an avid control player and would play combo as well when the situation warranted it. Control and combo have always been my two favorite archetypes, so learning to play and improve at the archetypes I was personally interested from a future Hall of Famer was truly a boon to my Magic career.
@HueyJensen Who is the best player you ever played with/against who isn't a household name?— Patrick Sullivan (@BasicMountain) January 5, 2014
I'm going to cheat here and give you two answers to this question because I can't decide. The first answer is Mike Bregoli. Mike and I were good friends early in our Magic careers and went on to make our first Pro Tour Top 8s together at Pro Tour London 1999. Mike was another very methodical player who was exceptionally skilled with control decks and rarely made mistakes. He went on to make another Pro Tour Top 8 the following year at Pro Tour New York 2000.
Despite the fact that I fully expected Mike to dominate the Pro Tour for years to come, he fell off the map a little bit after that. If I'm not mistaken, he played on the Pro Tour for a couple more years but didn't have any other huge breakthroughs. I would venture to guess that anyone else who knew him would agree with me and that they never had any doubt of Mike's tremendous talent.
The second answer is Chris Manning. Chris Manning was another Boston local who was a fierce competitor on the PTQ scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. You might recognize his name because he recently started getting back into Magic and managed to finish in the Top 4 of the Team Limited Grand Prix in Providence last year with Bruce Cowley and Kevin Bohlmann.
One thing that always impressed me about Chris was his ability to look beyond the status quo and develop extremely potent sideboarding and playing strategies in matches of Magic, specifically Limited. For example, I remember watching a draft he did shortly after the release of Urza's Legacy in which Chris was playing a U/G deck against a black-based deck with a lot of removal. After game 1 Chris chose to sideboard in multiple copies of the card Repopulate. In game 2 Chris had a slow start but chose not to cycle his Repopulate to get to any creatures. After the game I asked him why he had made that choice, and he told me that he believed that if he kept the two Repopulates available to him he would be able to deck his opponent due to a light threat density and high removal count. He was exactly right, as that's how the game played out.
(Note: I consider Neil Reeves to not be an acceptable answer to this question due to the fact that every time the question is asked someone answers Neil Reeves, therefore making him close enough to a household name.
@HueyJensen how do you personally deal with tilt? Any valuable lessons learned there?— J. Andrew Gleason (@theopholus) January 5, 2014
This is a great question. I think tilt really does contribute to a lot of people's tournaments going awry. Everybody knows the guy who always drops after his first loss or slams the table every time he gets mana screwed. It's important to control your emotions; otherwise, you'll be less in control, and it's more likely to be to your future detriment.
The thing that gets me the most tilted is making mistakes. When I'm playing in a competitive tournament and I make an obvious mistake for no good reason, it drives me crazy. It leaves me frustrated in the game in progress, embarrassed, and just generally worked up. Certainly over time I've learned to better cope with it. What I generally try to do is just play through the match without keeping my mind on it. Remember that just because you made a mistake a couple turns ago does not make it any less important that you continue to make the best plays going forward. Yes, it sucks, but everyone makes mistakes.
What I've found helpful for me is after the match to go talk about the mistake with a friend. For whatever reason, I find telling somebody about it to be somewhat therapeutic. If I find myself particularly frustrated even after talking about it, I'll find another friend and talk about it some more. If I don't have time for that, I really just do everything I can to get it out my head and go on with the tournament.
The thing that I think causes tilt in most Magic players is getting unlucky. The most common way people feel they got unlucky is when they are forced to mulligan a lot and/or get mana screwed. I think the easiest thing to do here is just realize that mana screw is a part of Magic. It's going to happen to you and everyone else some percentage of the time. Of course in any given game that percentage is low, but over the course of a tournament or several tournaments it's going to happen. The higher stakes the match in which it happens, the more frustrating it can be. It's certainly never fun, and the feeling of helplessness is awful. However, it's just math. Sometimes you won't play a third land. If you're going to play Magic seriously, do your best to learn to accept it because there's no getting around it.
@HueyJensen How much do you value having fun while playing Magic? How does it compare to how much you value winning?— Shawn Kornhauser (@ShawnKornhauser) January 5, 2014
I feel I place a reasonable amount of emphasis on having fun as well as winning. I'm a person who really enjoys competition and particularly playing in a Magic tournament. Winning is obviously more fun, but typically even when I don't do particularly well I end up enjoying myself. If Magic felt like a chore to me or going to tournaments wasn't something I enjoyed, I wouldn't be playing at all.
Once in a while I'll attend a tournament even as big as a Grand Prix and play a deck that I might not think is super competitive just because I really want to enjoy myself. Two of the decks that most stick out in my mind are my Battle of Wits deck from Grand Prix Milwaukee 2002 and my Rakdos Mirari Burning Wish Recursion land destruction deck from Grand Prix Cleveland 2002.
Since I've come back I haven't really busted out any "fun decks" yet. This is primarily because I'm still trying to achieve status levels and success is very important in reaching them. That being said, I certainly use which deck I'd enjoy playing more as a tiebreaker. The exception to this is a tournament like a Pro Tour. Success at the Pro Tour is one of the most important things to me. There's nothing more satisfying than doing well at a Pro Tour, and I would never play anything except for the deck that I feel gives me the best chance to win.
@HueyJensen Any advice for new players who are trying to improve but have hit a wall and feel they aren't getting any better?— Andrew Mitchell (@Angie_Who) January 5, 2014
If you're trying to get better and feel like you're stagnating, you should try changing some things about your process. It's very easy to fall into a comfort zone and stick with the type of preparation, deck types, or tournament formats that are familiar to you. Analyze not only your Magic games or tournaments themselves but try to do an objective analysis of your preparation. If you have one specific person or small group of people you usually prepare or play with, consider branching out. Try playing some at a different store instead of your normal local game store. Try playing online, or if you mostly play online, try playing some paper Magic.
Another thing that I see a lot of people do when they are at that point is fail to realize mistakes or fail to admit them to themselves. It's very common for a player to lose a game and walk away with the attitude of "there was nothing I could do." While this does make it easier to handle a loss because after all it wasn't your fault, you're much more likely to improve with the exact opposite mindset. No matter the result of the match and no matter how it played out, you should always be thinking to yourself "what could I have done better?" Sometimes there are very unusual situations that arise in Magic and require very unusual lines of play. Thinking about an unusual line of play, even if it turns out that it wouldn't have benefited you, will help you think about the game better and make you more likely to see one of those lines of play when it's the correct line.
It takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication to keep improving at Magic after a certain point. Watching coverage, getting a Premium membership here, reading all the articles, and watching all the videos is certainly a step in the right direction. But if you want to really continue to improve at Magic (or anything else), you have to practice. A lot. It doesn't happen overnight, and you should fully expect to take your lumps every step of the way. It can certainly get discouraging if you feel like you're not improving, but if you're willing to put the time in, truthfully want evaluate yourself, and really want to get better, just keep at it.
@HueyJensen Is it good or bad to Mulligan aggressively— Nick D'Ambrose (@MTimmyMtG) January 5, 2014
This is sort of a tricky question. Semantically, what do we really mean by mulliganing aggressively? Usually people will say something like "I mulliganed aggressively to my Thragtusk." I think what they really mean is "Thragtusk is so good in this matchup that I decided to mulligan a hand I might normally keep because it didn't have a Thragtusk." Operating under this assumption, I think it's best to define when we want to mulligan.
What is the goal when taking a mulligan (or making any other decision) in a game of Magic?
The goal is to make a decision that is going to give you the highest-percentage chance to win the game. So while I can't categorically answer the question whether or not aggressive mulliganing is good or bad, I can tell you that sometimes there are matchups where a single card is so powerful that mulliganing a hand where you might be 50/50 to win is going to be a huge boon to your chances.
At Grand Prix Washington DC late in day 2, I was watching a match of Owen Turtenwald's. He was playing his U/W/R Delver deck against an opponent playing Manaless Dredge. Owen's sideboard had one copy of Grafdigger's Cage and two copies of Rest in Peace. In the second game, Owen played a turn 2 Rest in Peace, and his opponent conceded on the spot. Knowing this information—that your opponent simply can't win if you put a Rest in Peace in play (and presumably also Grafdigger's Cage)—I would be hard pressed to keep nearly any seven-card hand without either of those two cards.
On the flip side, if I were playing something like Brian Kibler's G/R Aggro deck from previous Standard against Jund, I'm certainly not mulliganing an average hand to try to find a Burning Earth. The impact just isn't as high.
@HueyJensen what was your favorite time of magic. Beside your induction to hall of fame— Greg(@gnice1769) January 6, 2014
My favorite moment of my Magic career other than my Hall of Fame induction is when Brock Parker, Matt Linde, and I won the team Pro Tour in Boston in 2003.
While Thoughtseize is obviously very good in Standard, I don't think it's too good. I definitely think it sometimes feels too good because it can be so frustrating to play against. With the devotion mechanic being released and Standard Magic making a shift toward monocolored decks, I think black needed a little bit of a catchall. Thoughtseize does the trick by allowing mono-black decks to sometimes deal with cards that they otherwise have very few ways to deal with, like Assemble the Legion, Thassa, and Primeval Bounty.
@HueyJensen What do you miss most about old school Magic compared to today? I'd prefer a non-generic answer like "Team Pro Tours." :)— Gerry Thompson (@G3RRYT) January 6, 2014
Well obviously Team Pro To—oh wait.
I think one aspect of Magic that is lost today that was really cool back in the day was showing up to tournaments with a sense of anticipation for what decks you'd see. There is so much information available now and it's available so fast that it's very rare to see a deck that truly surprises you. There are certainly cool innovations to existing archetypes and sometimes a deck that you hadn't really thought of, but even that is somewhat rare. The days of "WOW!" when you heard about a deck another team came up with or when you told a friend who you didn't practice with what you're playing seem to be long gone.
I also miss the old Invitational where the winner was able to design a card. I wasn't fortunate enough to compete in it, but I would have loved to. I always enjoyed reading about the crazy formats played by some of the world's best players. The prize of being put on a Magic card of your design is one of the coolest things I could imagine, and I wish they'd either bring back the Invitational in some form or tack that onto the prize of World Champion or something.
@HueyJensen how hard (or easy) getting back in the game after your break— Donovan Gilbert (@Don12don12) January 5, 2014
It wasn't "hard" per se, but it took some time. When I first came back, I was often frustrated because I felt I wasn't playing as well as I was capable of playing. I had hoped it was just rust that I could work off. I definitely put in a lot of time and effort to get to the place where I felt like I was playing at the level I was capable of playing at.
I'm also very fortunate in that I had connections from my previous playing days with many of the best players in the world. I was immediately able to hop onto one of the best teams in the world and make friends with many of the current best players in the world. Returning to Magic would have been much more difficult and much less enjoyable without such great friends and teammates.
@HueyJensen How much magic do you play between tournaments on average for practice?— Ben Chapman (@bchap55) January 5, 2014
Depending on the break between tournaments, it varies greatly. In addition to simply playing Magic to prepare, though, I discuss Magic a lot, watch Magic a lot, and think about Magic a lot. If I had to guess a number for an average week in which I was going to a tournament on both weekends, I'd say around fifteen to twenty hours of actually playing Magic.
Kaitlin Lindburg (@kaitlindburg) January 6, 2014
I think my favorite place I've been for Magic is Barcelona, Spain. I really liked the city a lot, and I had a great time there. I haven't been back for over ten years, and I'm really looking forward to going again in February.
My favorite animal I've met through playing Magic is easily your dog Talia.
Sorry if you submitted a question and I didn't use it, but thanks to everyone who submitted one. I really enjoyed this article, and I'm looking forward to doing another mailbag article in the future. I'll let you know on Twitter when the time comes.