Dragon Gold, The Type One Hoard: How Good Are You Really?
I have been playing Magic for about five and a half years now, give or take. During that time, I have always enjoyed a large degree of success and have known very few significant failures. This would indicate that I am and have been a pretty good player, correct? Not necessarily. In fact, there was a time when I can honestly say I was terrible, and then evolved to decent, then to good, and hopefully now I actually DO possess a level of genuine expertise. I may be wrong.
The problem is that it is difficult to know exactly how good you are, since it is all relative to the quality of the people you play against. For example, the first casual tournament I ever won was with a ninety-card deck that killed with Hecatomb. The second place deck was a sixty-card Thallid theme deck with some splashes for Demonic Tutor, Fireball, and the like. While I was the best in that group, the group was plainly not good. This trend continued for some time, with me rising to the top of gradually less and less inferior play groups. Hell, I was eventually winning playing Counter-Post with only one Outpost. I would just Cap away Strip Mines until I could play my Outpost and win. I was winning multiplayer games with Serendib Efreets. You see what I am talking about.
What ended up happening was that I had become a big fish in a small pond. A lot of people come across this at one point or another in their lives in any number of venues. Some people, a select few, are the big fish no matter what pond they are in. Tiger Woods, for example, will be the big fish in almost any golf event he enters into - it has nothing to do with his opposition, he is just that damn good. Jon Finkel is also on of those people who are just that damn good, Magically speaking. A lot of people in my experience, myself included, will occasionally make the mistake not of thinking they are"that damn good"... But that they are something more than they really are.
When I first started getting involved with Internet Magic, it was not a long time before I became one of the more respected regulars of Beyond Dominia, for two reasons. The first was that I was willing to eloquently offer advice to just about anyone, and the second being that I had the early stages of what would eventually become a very good control deck. I say"eventually," because when it first started out it was much worse than it should have been.
What was the problem, then? I was in a larger pond online, but I was still a big fish who was not exactly deserving of that position. My deck won, and it won pretty much all the time. There were people in my play group who went literally YEARS without beating me, ever, and still more who would win maybe one game in fifteen or twenty. Did I have a good deck? Not really. It was just that much better than everyone else's I was playing against was. It was also the same deal with me as a player, I think. I was better than that group of local friends - and though I would win and win, I never improved because there was no need to improve. In order for triumph, there must be adversity to overcome, and I was just not encountering that needed stimulus. It was not until I went to college that I really started to pick up my game to real heights, mainly because my play group shifted from casual players to people who were likewise equally competitive and competent. Some of them, anyway. ;)
Now here I am, with many very good players to compete against, a Beyond Dominia that has more quality players than ever before to bounce ideas off, and a much better understanding of the game than ever before. It is because of all that that I have improved enough with my understanding of the game to be able to look at myself objectively and say that I am a good player and deck builder. Thankfully, there are several people whom I consider to be excellent players who agree with me and use my decks. I'd say that my entire span of actually being a good player and not just the best player in a group of chumps (sorry guys!) has been about one year in five or six. One year of being GOOD in six years of winning or T3ing in tournaments pretty much all the time. I'm not even saying I'm great - merely good. I do not play enough to consider myself great, and I do not play enough Standard to have a respectable DCI ranking.
The question to ask yourself, if you are the big fish in a small pond, is whether or not you are winning because you are good, or because no one else is AS good. There's a big different. If your T1 StupidGreenDeck can beat a fully-powered Keeper, odds are that Keeper player is at best incompetent with that particular deck. Skill is all relative, and we are all only as good as the best player that we can beat. Thank God I can beat someone who went to a Pro Tour! :P