One Step Ahead - Becoming Emotionally Invested In SCG LA
Over the years I've become increasingly detached from my results. After playing countless matches of Magic and several hands of poker it's easy for me not to be influenced by whether or not I win or lose. By now the sickest things imaginable have happened to me both in the positive and negative. In addition I've had life experiences that make getting one-outered in a game of Magic seem meaningless.
There are worse things that could happen to you.
Why do you let the results of a single game affect you? In the big picture it doesn't impact your quality of life in the least so you should just learn not to get invested in the outcomes of the games. If you played badly that's one thing. Typically you should be striving to play each turn of each game as well as you possibly can. That's about the best anyone can ask of you.
If you make a mistake you should learn from it rather than let it change your mood. You'll live a much happier life and your Magic skills will greatly improve. If you play well and still lose them's the breaks. At the end of the day you're playing a game of chance and that should be expected to some degree.
Even then there are still things you can learn from. Maybe if you played the deck you worked on for two weeks instead of audibling at the last second or had the correct sideboard for that matchup or mulliganed a sketchy hand. If you go through a tournament without learning anything then you aren't taking advantage of what tournaments are truly there for.
At the beginning of the day there are often several hundred people vying for that trophy or blue envelope. Most are probably hopeful that it will be them but often there are only a select few who are capable of winning the entire tournament. Those who are still in the learning stages should keep their eye on improvement rather than that trophy. With improvement and growth that trophy will eventually be a reality. Those who are good enough to win a tournament often have their minds on the wrong thing and therefore are no longer capable of winning.
When you take a bad beat or tilt over a bad mistake you're making yourself miserable for no reason. Take it in stride; let it roll off you; and you'll be much happier.
I bring this all up because for a few reasons I became emotionally invested in the SGC Open in Los Angeles. Winning doesn't get to me anymore. I don't often look back and feel happy about my accomplishments allowing myself to grow complacent. Instead I store all that away to be unearthed at a different time and place.
However my round three at the SCG Open changed all that. I was wielding this:
My opponent was a nice gentleman with Boros and I kept a sketchy hand on the draw. He opened on Steppe Lynx; I responded with Duress taking a Bonehoard and leaving him with four lands. The top of his deck provided him a Plated Geopede and he proceeded to roll me.
Second game we both mulliganed me to six and him to five. Again I only had blue and black lands but peeled a white on turn 2. From there I had complete control and the matchup proceeded as it typically should.
I was entitled to that peel. My deck is the best and I've proven that week to week. Patrick Chapin was beside me playing the same 76 as I was and he was crushing his opponent. This match was mine to win. I deserved it.
For game three I kept a “real” hand but his equipment was destroying me. My deck was chock full of spot removal so it should have been a nonissue but that just wasn't the case. My deck wasn't cooperating yet again. Turn after turn he flooded the board with creatures. I was barely holding on to my own life total while his skyrocketed past 60 thanks to Bonehoard and Basilisk Collar.
I knew that once I was in complete control his life total wouldn't matter any longer so I trudged on. I used Gideon as a Fog and begged out loud for a Day of Judgment. My opponent thought I was joking as he “knew” I didn't have Day of Judgment in my list as of last week. He was safe to deploy all his threats.
I tore the top card of my deck and there it was! He was visibly stunned and I was ecstatic. Week to week I change my decklist to reflect metagame trends to use what I've learned and to surprise people. It had worked just like I planned.
He drew a creature suited it up and again I was in a major sweat. The top of my deck wasn't quite as kind as last turn and I died on his turn.
In a normal universe I would've been happy that my Day of Judgment “tech” had come through. After all whether I win or lose shouldn't have any bearing on if my choice to play a miser's Day of Judgment was a good idea. It clearly was. My opponent (and later opponents) didn't play around it and sometimes I was able to punish them for that.
Still I had blinders on. I had regressed to my earlier days and was fairly upset that I lost. These days I expect to win the majority of the time but I still know that losing is a real possibility. Being upset when the possible happens isn't where you want to be in life I assure you.
Regardless that's where I was and for a brief moment I couldn't turn it off. The tournament continued and I rattled off win after win. In round eight of nine I faced off against Edgar Flores. Now there are some accusations—because Edgar seemingly came out of nowhere—that he's a cheater or a fluke but I know that neither of these is the case.
When Alex Bertoncini a good friend of Edgar's jokingly called him a cheater Edgar smiled and laughed. Typically a shady person in Edgar's position would become defensive but he's just happy where he is. He's riding high on success and eager to prove his place in the Magic community. That is not the mindset of a cheater.
This was my second match against Edgar the first being when he quickly dismantled my High Tide deck with Team America a deck he had never played before in a format he had never touched. The man can game and while he wasn't happy to be playing me I wasn't happy to be playing him either. I thought I had overcome my bad mood but I wasn't sure how I would react to losing on the bubble.
Unfortunately Edgar kept a one-lander on the play game three and fell behind rather quickly. I was 7-1 but for the first time I didn't feel like I deserved to be there. Now I'm one to quickly roll my eyes whenever someone proclaims they “deserved” to win their last match or “should have” won the tournament but it's a double standard.
I tend to do much better when I'm not entirely on my own dime i.e. getting staked or have a split. It could be a combination of my caring more about everyone else's wellbeing than my own and focusing more because I'm not just playing for myself; or the two are directly linked. Either way it doesn't really matter.
I'll split almost whenever someone asks me assuming I have a modicum of faith in their ability or their deck. I'm not at a financial high point where I see splitting as completely negative EV. Sure I'm probably more likely to win than any other random person but hedging when you're low on funds is also acceptable in my eyes.
Just because I've had good results in the last year or so doesn't mean that I should stop splitting. If I win the tournament and have to pay out that means that I've done well in the tournament and therefore made money. If I collect on a split (which I do about 5% of the time) that means that again I came out ahead. In the scheme of things I'm hedging and am still fine with it even if it's negative EV.
There's also the case of my doing significantly better when there are splits on the line. I don't feel like it's just a coincidence at this point. I tend to be pretty clutch when I need to be and playing for someone else seems to bring that out in me whatever it is.
I have one of the highest Team Limited ratings out there with no true standout finishes. This is because whenever I'm on a team I give it my all. Often I won't partake in the casual side drafts that many pros engage in during Pro Tours and Grand Prix simply because I don't want to risk disappointing someone. However when I get roped into one you better believe that I've got that fire.
I remember way back when when I was ascending the ranks in my Magic career when all I needed to play for was myself. I had something to prove to the rest of the world and that gave me the drive I needed to succeed. Now I don't necessarily feel the same way so I need a different outside influence to keep that fire going.
If only I could harness that drive or fire or whatever you want to call it on my own then maybe I'd change my ways. As it is I'll probably continue to split although I'll get into that a little bit later.
Anyway I was sitting at 7-1 rather sadly for what it was and couldn't change my mindset. I checked the standings realized that I would most likely be playing Patrick Chapin for a Top 8 berth as neither of us were in a position to draw.
This brings me to another tangent. Sometimes when I play against my friends I want them to win more than me. It doesn't matter that Patrick's accomplishments far outweigh my own or that the money and SCG points would mean more to me than to him. He's my friend; I wasn't out there trying to prove anything and I didn't have any splits. I wouldn't have given it my all.
These types of feelings have cost me numerous matches and were the primary reason why I spent the majority of 2007 and 2008 conceding to my friends. I wanted them to succeed more than myself and therefore I took the match out of the equation knowing full well that I'd find a way to lose had we played it out.
I was not anticipating this match as it was giving me flashbacks to my match against Ben Lundquist at the SCG Open in Edison. He wrote in his article that he was nervous for the first time in a while but going in I knew that he was going to win. Lenny B had nothing to fret about. I thought his deck was better; he's my friend; and I wanted him to win more than me.
Thankfully Patrick stepped up and offered to concede. While it was nothing but admirable I couldn't help feeling like I didn't earn that Top 8. Realistically what did I do to earn some congratulations? I didn't mulligan enough; I probably played poorly and cut up some dudes in the x-1 bracket. After that I had the Top 8 giftwrapped for me by easily my toughest opponent.
Regardless I snapped out of it. I had Chapin in my corner rooting for me to advance and I couldn't let him down. When I saw my quarterfinals opponent's decklist I felt as though I couldn't lose. He was playing a version of Martin Juza's Kuldotha Forgemaster brew from Pro Tour Paris. The only reason that deck didn't take off after the Pro Tour was because of its notoriously bad matchup against Caw-Blade.
Hey wait... I'm playing Caw-Blade! This should be easy right?
Well as it turns out you start feeling a bit anxious after a couple quick mulligans to five. Somehow I won game three despite having a hand of five lands on turn 2 and was onto the Top 4. I consulted with Patrick and for the first time I felt like I should refuse the Top 4 split. I had some money in the bank and the majority of the remaining players were Caw-Blade. I wanted to take a shot.
Instead I was paired against Brian Kibler; we talked about our situation and decided to split. However I can't say that I'd be that nice in the future. I've said it in previous Top 8 profiles but when I'm playing Caw-Blade specifically with the black splash I feel invincible. There's probably no deck in the format that's a bad matchup right now.
Once again I reverted back to my old self and couldn't manage to win the finals. My opponent played well and I really like his list for what it is. If you're in the market for a solid U/W list I would highly recommend it.
So what's the moral of this story? I suppose it's that I'm weak and need to fix (or outright dismantle) this mental rollercoaster that I end up on at times. I've been on or around the Pro Tour for nearly ten years. I've seen everything – mental anguish regret dedication paying off and the proudest moments of people's lives. I've even gone through most of them myself yet this is where I am today still dealing with yesterday's demons.
It's a tough road ahead that's for sure but this is what I'm trying to tell myself (or at least trick myself into believing): Magic is a game of mostly skill but some luck. You win some and you lose some but neither outcome should affect the quality of your life. Be proud of your wins but don't be upset at your losses. Regardless of the result try to learn from it. Among everything else play for yourself.
When you're in a tournament you've got a job to do and even though there will be plenty of opponents standing in your way your toughest opponent is going to be you.