It's late Sunday afternoon.
Another end to another long Magic tournament; another end to another long Magic weekend.
Despite a rough round one loss and a poorly played game three in round five, you were able to rally back and finish 6-2 in the Modern Classic. Not great, but at least a top 16 and $150 in store credit will make up for another late collapse on day one of an Open.
After you hand in your slip, you make your way to the feature match area to watch one of your teammates play a match against one of your friends in the semi-finals of the Open. Your team has been crushing it lately and many of your friends have been having quite the year so far. You are, of course, happy for them, but small pangs of jealousy linger just beneath the surface.
These sorts of negative thoughts have been far too frequent lately, despite your heavy focus on having a positive attitude.
They announce over the loudspeaker that players from the Modern Classic are to report to the main stage to get their prizes. You make your way over to see the standings, scan down the list, and... 17th place on tiebreakers.
Unfortunately, it's just the latest in a long line of frustrations for 2017.
It feels like every event you play in you get a good run going and then either lose your last few rounds to not make day two or fall off a cliff on day two.
Your opponents either always have it, or always draw it when they need to.
When you make mistakes, you get punished to the maximum every time.
When your opponent makes mistakes, they are either irrelevant to the game or your opponent just draws out of them.
When standings go up, you're always in 17th or 33rd place.
Everything just feels like it's always ready to go wrong and it feels like you've stopping playing Magic: the Gathering and started playing a new game:
It's similar to Magic: the Gathering, but instead of the person who built their deck better and played better winning, you always lose!
The excitement lies in finding out what new way you are going to lose in, as well as spending money traveling to events with no chance to win any money at all, and no chance to have fun because you are so preoccupied with losing!
Are we having fun yet!?!
In case it wasn't obvious, this has been my 2017 so far. This is not my first slump and it certainly won't be my last. Every Magic player has gone through slumps before, with many of the same symptoms from our little intro story. Just like our intro story, the slump often will compound itself until it reaches a point where you feel like you will never win again.
The problem, of course, is escaping this negative feedback loop.
The reason that slumps exist is because they feed into themselves. Once you have the idea in your head that you are in some sort of slump, you begin to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you feel like you are going to lose, you will often find a way to do so, be it consciously or subconsciously. Focusing is difficult, tilting happens very quickly, and it can affect your play in very damaging ways.
A player mired in a slump that is having a tough time winning will often not play their games normally.
Some will become very fearful and begin to play scared. Because they are approaching the game with a negative attitude, they will give their opponent credit for "always having it," play around cards that aren't there, and take a much too passive approach to their games.
Some will become completely reckless, keeping one land hands on the play or going for risky combat tricks because "why the hell not; I'm probably going to lose anyway." They won't be looking for the proper context clues in the game to decide their plays, instead just going for it at every possible chance to speed up the process of their inevitable demise.
The result of all this negativity and poor play is of course more match losses, which leads a player to get even further mired into their slump.
Magic is already a difficult enough game, and if you are fighting yourself while trying to play it you are not going to succeed!
Breaking The Slump
So how does one get out of a slump?
Damned if I know, I've been stuck in one all year.
Thanks for reading, see everyone next week!
That's the real problem with slumps. Even if you know how to escape them, actually doing so is the hard part.
1. Change Your Perception of Success!
Magic is a difficult and fickle game.
A single draw step or missed land drop can be the difference between a medium cash finish and a Pro Tour championship. You can play your best and lose, and you can play poorly and win. Variance is one of the most exciting aspects of Magic and the reason we play the game. If you wanted something a little more consistent, go play chess!
As such, results are often misleading.
It's very possible for a world class player to walk into a small FNM and go 1-2 drop. There are a ton of great players in every big Magic event and many of them do poorly! This is often for a variety of reasons, but many times it's a simple numbers game. If there are thirty great players in a big event, they can't all make the Top 8.
As such, viewing your final standing in an event as the only measurement of your success is foolish. What's much more important is how you felt you played in the event, and the overall process of yourself getting better as a Magic player.
Do you feel you played well?
Did you learn new things?
Do you feel like you are a little better at Magic than you were before the event?
These are the questions that can help you determine if you've had a successful tournament, regardless of your final place in the standings. It helps to think of Magic not as a series of single tournaments or events, but rather as one humongous tournament that lasts your entire life. Your goal as a Magic player is to improve yourself constantly, not to be emotionally at the whim of your last handful of matches.
When you take this sort of big picture approach, it's much easier to see the forest for the trees.
2. Look at the Great Players Who Did Awful!
Piggybacking off of our last point, next time you are at a big event and unhappy with your performance, take a walk around the room. See which players are playing in the Standard Classic on Sunday, or side drafting, or just hanging out playing Catchphrase. You'll likely see many top players that you consider to be much better than you slogging away at 2-2 in the Classic or cobbling a deck together in a side draft.
Remember, if there's thirty great players in a tournament, about five of them are likely to crash and burn for various reasons. Bad matchups, bad draws, poor play, poor preparation... the list goes on and on. Seeing and understanding that even very good players have bad days can make your own bad days much easier to handle.
SCG Tour® master Tom Ross has had three byes all year from being Player of the Year last year and has failed to convert anything more than a few top 32s. Fellow Team MGG member Frank Skarren is a two time Limited GP Champion and failed to make day two of GP Richmond or qualify for the sealed RPTQ. Brad Nelson won the last SCG Tour® Open and GP back to back, and then failed to cash either day at #SCGCHAR playing the exact decks he won both events with.
I'm not calling anyone out here (lord knows it's hard to trash talk when you can't even win a match yourself), but it's a comfort to see excellent players fail sometimes because it helps you realize that everybody loses.
3. Remember When You Succeeded!
This is a fairly common tactic for players in slumps in sports.
You can bet if Aaron Judge goes into a slump later this year, the hitting coach is going to take him into his office and show him a few video clips just like this one.
I am very fortunate to have had a long and fairly successful Magic career so far with a good amount of finishes that I am proud of, but high level success is not necessary for this step. Success can mean many different things to many different people and is completely relative to how far you have gotten in the game. Maybe you've won a tournament. Maybe it was a PTQ Top 8, or even just a big match against a name-brand player that you won. It could also have been a deck you worked on that did well, a draft strategy you helped to craft, or a sneaky sideboard plan you thought up.
Whatever point it was in your own personal Magic career that you felt successful, bring yourself back to that time and remember that is was you that achieved it. That was an accomplishment that you earned, and while it doesn't mean you are entitled to more accomplishments, it does mean that you are capable of doing it again.
4. Write It Out and Study Up!
Writing is often cathartic.
You may be tempted to complain to your friends or tell endless bad beat stories, but it's far more productive and far less self-serving to do a personal inventory on yourself and how you have been doing in Magic recently. With no audience but yourself feel free to let loose, both as a method of venting and then, more importantly, as a method of self-reflection.
Again, our goal is always to learn, improve, and grow, and this sort of self-reflection can be a wonderful tool to help meet these ends. When you go back and read what you've written you can do so with a clear mind and look for areas in your game that need improvement. Things that you may have attributed to bad luck may have actually been more under your control than you thought, and you may find holes in your game that you can put your energy towards fixing.
There's no shame in taking a break, and a break is a great time for learning.
Read articles, ask questions, get coaching, talk to other players, reflect, learn, and grow. Remember, our goal in Magic is to grow as a player and always be getting better, and that doesn't mean just jamming endless drafts on Magic Online.
5. Lose the Idea that You Will Keep Losing!
You are not psychic.
You have no idea when things are going to turn around.
As such, you really have just one goal:
Stay positive and focus on playing well.
All you can ever control is you, both how you play and how you handle the things around you. There is no such thing as a predisposition to losing, nor is there such thing as "bad luck" or "running bad." These are just concepts created to make people feel better about themselves when they are losing.
Failure is just part of the game.
Overcoming losses, tough times, and slumps is what makes you a better player in the end. Don't look at a slump as a burden, but rather as a challenge to learn from and overcome. Stay positive, focus on what you can control, and remember that the only way out is through.