Archive for the 'Mental Game' Category...
Filed under Standard Operating Procedure, Mental Game
Mike Flores’ article last week on Star City about how to win a PTQ (It’s premium (which you should already have!)) was absolutely spectacular. You should go read it. He riffed off the same Tim Aten quote that I riffed off of here, but his take on it was a little different than mine.
One of the things that he obviously felt the strongest about was that to win a PTQ, you had to feel like nothing in the world could possibly stop you. If you don’t believe that the tournament is yours before it starts, you won’t do as well. I initially disagreed with that, because there are always things that are not under your control. I thought it was more accurate and reasonable to think that there wasn’t anyone in the room that you could imagine yourself losing to. However, I remembered something that made me reconsider what the most useful thing to believe actually is.
The last PTQ I played in was in Cleveland, Ohio during the same weekend as US Nationals. When I sat down for the player meeting, I looked around at all the other players in the room and decided that there was no one there I could possibly imagine losing to. I wanted to do something to express that externally, so I changed the deck name on my deck list to “Shotgun” and showed it to a friend, who was seated next to me. He was a bit miffed, saying that that was arrogant. I asked him to look around the room and tell me who I should be worried about, and then told him that I was winning the tournament.
Everything went smoothly during the swiss, and I was paired against Eric Taylor in the quarterfinals. Before we started the match, we chatted about life, Magic, and eventually winning PTQs. Eric told me that his view was that you just have to make a lot of top eights and then eventually get lucky. I immediately thought to myself “you’re dead wrong. The right person usually wins the PTQ top eight too, and that is why I’m about to crush you.” Of course, I didn’t say that- I think I said something like “I’d have to think about that for a while.” However, I didn’t want him to think about it any more; I was quite happy to have him thinking that he needed to get lucky.
I was playing Teachings control, while Eric was playing blue-green pickles. We split games one and two. On the pivotal turn of game three, he attacked me with a Mystic Snake and a Riftwing Cloudskate to put me to eight. I had two lands in my hand and six lands in play, and a single Mystical Teachings in my graveyard. Eric had two cards in hand, and after a long think played them both- a morph and another Riftwing Cloudskate. This meant that I had to topdeck or I was dead. Happily, I drew the Damnation, he didn’t draw threats for a while, and I had time to dig for gas with Mystical Teachings for Careful Consideration, so I eventually won.
Who was right during the before-match discussion? From Eric’s perspective, he was right. If I don’t draw the Damnation, I die and he moves on. If I do, he is left with nothing. There’s nothing he can do about that, so for him this was just one of the top eights he wasn’t destined to win.
However, I think Eric should not have played out the two extra creatures. If he plays nothing, he still has me on a two turn clock, and I still have to topdeck to win. I could flash back the Teachings to get a Slaughter Pact to kill one of his two guys, but then half of my mana is locked down next turn and he can just play more guys after that before I have to pay the upkeep. If he plays one additional creature immediately, then I’m on a two turn clock still, but it’s harder for me to topdeck my way out other than a Damnation. If he had held his two creatures, he would have won that game. It took me three turns after the Damnation to find more action, but I had enough time for that because he didn’t have any threats. Therefore, from my end, it looks like I was right- Eric misplayed, so I won.
In the end, we were both right, but only for ourselves. One might guess that Eric’s fatalistic view about what it takes to win the top eight was what led him to settle for playing out his extra creatures. If he had to get lucky to win, that was just about as good a situation to roll the dice as any that ever happens in a game. I had three Damnations left in about forty cards, so he wins most of the time. However, were roles reversed, my perspective would have encouraged me to figure out how to leave as little to chance as possible. Because of that, I’m certain that I would not have played the two creatures; I think he wins nearly all the time if he keeps them in reserve.
I did in fact end up winning the tournament. After all, that’s how shotgunning works, right?
The point here isn’t really that Eric or I are fundamentally correct; we were both right for ourselves. The important thing is that it is more useful to convince yourself that nothing can stop you from winning. People who believe that it is their divine right to win a tournament will work a lot harder to make it happen, and that makes it happen more often. Even if that’s never the case, any edge you can get is worth taking. Believe that you are indestructible; you’ll be wrong, but you’ll be more motivated to do what it takes to win.
Tim Aten on Winning PTQs
Why Standard Operating Procedure Matters in Magic
How to Play a Spell
Filed under Mental Game, General
Posted by Tom LaPille on Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
The only way to get better at Magic is to practice a lot. The best players are the ones who play a lot, and that’s not a coincidence. However, not practicing carefully can trick you into having the wrong impressions or keep you from learning new things once you hit a certain point. Adjusting the practice that you do based on what you already know will make sure that you get the right ideas and keep learning even after you know a lot.
One important kind of practice is when you don’t know anything at all, and you have to build knowledge from the ground up. This will happen when something big changes in a format, or you are just new to it. If you have to ask what decks are good, what deck to play, or what colors to draft, then you don’t have a clue, and that’s important to know. In this case, you should play a lot of games while making sure that you see all the angles of a format. If you’re practicing limited, try to draft different colors and archetypes every time you draft. If you’re practicing constructed, don’t play one matchup for twenty games; play ten matchups for two games each. Your goal isn’t to get deep knowledge of any one thing; it’s to build a complete picture of the format that allows you to tell what is generally important.
During this process, you want to be as open-minded as possible so you don’t miss anything that is generally important. For this reason, I tend to start my explorations of any format on Magic Online. If I pull a few friends together to draft or test, I’ll get insights from me and those few people. If I play in Magic Online 8-man queues, I’ll learn things from a random sample of people who play tournaments on Magic Online, who tend to be in the top echelon of players worldwide. Another problem is that when you “test”, there’s nothing on the line, so people don’t try as hard. When you have to pay to play and there are prizes on the line, everyone works harder because there is an actual reward to be had. Because of that, you get to see what your opponents really think is good, which is a great way to learn about what really is good. If you have to do early-stage constructed exploration in real life, make sure you have a ton of different decks around and don’t play one deck for more than a few games at once so that you keep a broad perspective.
Your goal in the early exploration phase is to develop a general idea about what is good. You’ll know that you’re done with this phase when you are thinking things like “Okay, I want to go back to playing with the good deck,” or “Why would he ever draft that card?” You don’t need to know everything, but you want a skeleton that will allow you to ask the right specific questions. You might also figure out that you know enough when you aren’t learning a lot from random games in tournaments. Playing too much of one deck, matchup, or draft strategy will cloud your thinking if you don’t have a big picture first.
The second kind of practice is when you want to answer specific questions. The more of a big picture you have, the more targeted the things you want to know will become, and the way you practice should change in response to that. As you learn more and more, you’ll find questions that you would have to be lucky to learn the answer to in a random game against a random deck. If you want to know which of two decks beats each other, you should just build those two decks and throw them against each other. If you want to know how to play a matchup with a deck, then play that matchup a lot. If you need to know how good a certain card is in some draft archetype, draft that archetype. The more you know, the more you’ll need to work to set up situations where you can keep learning, so be aware of when you stop learning from something and move on. You’ll never know everything there is to know about a format, but you can tell that you know a lot if your questions can get more and more specific to the point where you are obsessing over minute details like your last sideboard slot.
It’s important to be doing the right kind of practice because wrong practice can hold you back or trick you into making bad decisions. If you start testing a format by playing long sets of the same matchups, you’ll overrate cards and decks that are good against the matchups you played and you won’t learn much about what other strategies are possible. On the other hand, if you know what deck you want to play or draft but you just play a lot of games against random opponents, you might not learn how to beat your bad matchup or how to play properly against some fringe draft strategy that isn’t well known. Adjusting your practice methods based on what you know already will make sure that you use your practice time most efficiently.
Filed under Standard Operating Procedure, Mental Game
Posted by Tom LaPille on Sunday, November 11th, 2007
About a month ago, Kyle Sanchez wrote an article about winning a PTQ. He asked a bunch of good players what it took to win one, and they all said some things that were useful. Tim Aten’s answer, however, was really interesting:
Basically, there are two ways to win a PTQ:
1) It’s just “your day”… you’re an at least reasonable player and you just happen to bring you’re A-Game that day, little bit of luck, etc.
2) You just outpower the field by so much between your playskill and deck choice that it’d be hard for you to lose.
You could replace “PTQ” with “tournament”, and this would still work. It’s really hard to play horribly and still win a tournament of any reasonably large size. Obviously it is possible, but it’s very unlikely. Therefore, someone who wins a tournament probably deserved it. However, Tim has just told us that there are two ways to deserve it. You can either be “reasonable”, or you can “outpower” everyone. Let’s call these category 1 and category 2 wins.
I can think of tournaments that I have won that that were these different types of wins. At Pro Tour Las Angeles, I scrubbed out of day one. I was depressed, but there was a PTQ the next day, so I stole Ben Peebles-Mundy’s list, changed the mana base and added Dark Confidants five minutes before the player meeting, and then somehow managed to 10-0-2 a 200-player tournament to qualify for Honolulu. As far as I can remember I played very well all day, and I won from some unreal situations that included beating a red-white-green Astral Slide deck that had Renewed Faith, Loxodon Hierarch, and sideboarded Circle of Protection: Red and winning game three on the draw against affinity after mulliganing to a hand of 3 Mountain, 3 Pillage. It took some nice draws and some lucky opponent mistakes to get out of those situations. I would put this tournament win squarely in category 1. I was a reasonable player with a reasonable deck, and I got a little lucky in the top eight to have Rasmus Sibast and Yann Hamon, both playing Heartbeat of Spring combo, lose in the top eight before I had to play them. That matchup would have been near-unwinnable, but I dodged them and I got to go to Hawaii anyway. Lucky me.
Contrast this with the PTQ I won for Valencia. That tournament had only sixty players, and almost everyone who I consider to be a threat at a PTQ was off at US Nationals that weekend. My deck was also two weeks ahead of the rest of the room; I was playing a Teachings deck I had gotten from Gerry Thompson that included Gaea’s Blessing, which is just amazing in that deck but no one else had it at the time. I won quasi-mirrors with Blessings easily, and everyone else in the room had bad versions of reasonable decks or just plain bad decks. The only time that I was in danger of not winning was the third game against Eric Taylor, where he overextended to try to kill me immediately when I had nothing and I topdecked a Damnation. If he hadn’t played out his hand, I still would have had to Damnation and then I would have died two turns later. My other matches weren’t close. Between my deck being awesome and my skill level compared to the rest of the room, I think that it would have been hard for me to not win that tournament. This win was category two.
These categories can guide you as you prepare for a tournament. Assuming that you will win the tournament, figure out what it would take for you to have considered it a category two win. Then, do those things. Even at a Pro Tour, you might think to yourself that it takes a lot of luck to outright win, but I don’t think this is entirely true. A few examples of players whose decks were just miles beyond those of the rest of the field are Gadiel Szleifer from Pro Tour Philadelphia and Tommi Hovi at Pro Tour Rome. If you asked Gadiel or Tommi about those tournaments, I don’t think they would attribute many of their wins at those tournaments to just having a reasonable deck and being lucky, and you probably shouldn’t either. You’ll win a lot more often if you don’t need luck’s help to do it, so get out there and make it hard for you to not win tournaments. You’ll win them more often that way.
Posted by Tom LaPille on Thursday, October 4th, 2007