Hi everyone, Mat Stein here to talk about one simple adjustment that you can make to increase your win rate at Magic, Poker, or any other game you might play. As the title of article says, we’re going to discuss mentality and how I believe it is one of the most pivotal factors holding people back from getting the tournament results that they want.
As the dictionary definition states, mentality is the capacity for intelligent thought. This is crucial throughout magic tournaments, as well as being very important no matter what game you play. What makes mentality so important is that even if you picked the best deck for a tournament, practiced a lot with it prior and felt very confident going in, if your mentality is bad you simply won’t win the tournament. This is because many people experience something that holds their mentality back: Tilt.
We’ve all been on tilt before. Either your opponent had the nut draw or top decked you, or you got mana screwed or flooded, losing in these fashions all feel bad. It feels like it was out of your control and that is very frustrating to most. As humans, bad experiences always stand out in our heads, but good experiences seem to fade more quickly. What this means is you are going to remember when you lost in an unfortunate manner a lot more often than all the games where your deck drew well, and you curved your opponent out for example.
So, the main advice I would like to give everyone is: Stop getting on tilt. Your win rate will increase. Easier said than done right?
Tilt for me started at a very young age. I got angry very quickly and unleashed it on whoever was around me. This eventually got me in trouble when I got into a fight in elementary school when I was about 11 and was forced to take anger management for a full year. I always thought what they told me was so obvious yet useless. “Whenever you feel yourself getting angry, just start counting to ten”. The weird part is that it actually works.
Fast forward a few years to when I was 13 and finally ready to start playing in old school PTQs. I couldn’t afford the best decks, I wasn’t a very technical player, yet I was convinced I had what it took to win the tournament. My biggest flaw? Mentality. Every time I would lose in an unfortunate manner, it would tilt me the entire tournament and very simple play mistakes got masked because I got “unlucky”. This is what I believe was the major factor that held me back from improving for many years.
Once I started making more friends at tournaments, I discovered a release outlet that many do nowadays which is telling “bad beat” stories. Everyone loves a good bad beat story. The problem is many still can’t identify play error from bad beat. You may have drawn seven lands in a row, but why did you keep that five land opening hand? You may have gotten top decked on, but if you played optimally you were able to win one turn earlier and your opponent would have never had that draw step. Everyone loves telling their friends about their bad beat stories, but most of the time you are just exhausting yourself. At a certain point people lose interest or zone it out if you keep telling so many of them and you aren’t really getting anywhere.
There is one key moment that stands out to me at some Montreal event a few years ago. I just lost in an unfortunate manner and I had to tell somebody. I run up to my friend Bo Su and I’m ready to tell him all about it. I couldn’t even finish a sentence when he stops me dead in my tracks, calms me down and asks me a question: “Did you crush or get crushed?”
That caught me by surprise. I paused for a bit and then answered, “I got crushed”. After that he told me that he crushed and we both walked away. I reflected on the interaction for a bit and it all clicked for me. While I initially thought that he was being a bit mean to me, I finally understood that it wasn’t going to help either of us if I told him my bad beat story and this way we both told each other how we did and we can move on.
After that happened, instead of running up to my friends to tell them bad beat stories after every round, I decided to just harness my anger after losing and just reflect on my matches after I finished. I found myself discovering a lot more play errors. In fact, I felt a lot better finding a play error that may have changed the outcome of the game than venting my anger out on my friends.
This led me to become less frustrated overall after losses. This decrease in frustration led me to play better in subsequent matches because I wasn’t really going on tilt anymore. And that finally led me go on deeper runs in tournaments and achieve the better results I knew I could get.
A good example of this is SCG Syracuse a few weeks ago. I practiced and put a lot of effort in before the tournament to have a well-tuned list, traveled out of the country and was ready to sling some magic cards. Less than a few hours later, I’m now 0-3 in the main event. I believe I missed my third or fourth land drop in five of the six games I lost. A few years ago, I would have been devastated. I would have been on absolute tilt and likely lose my fourth round and drop because of how unlucky I got.
But this tournament was different. I knew the Bant Nexus deck myself, Gabryel Laporte, David Schnayer and Davies Clarke all worked on was very good and that I needed to stay focused. I remember after losing the first three rounds, I wasn’t even mad. In fact, I was still smiling around my friends. My mentality was good, and I still went into every match after that with a level head.
I kept playing well and my luck started to change. I went from 0-3 to 6-3 and made Day two in last place with 36% tiebreakers. Then from 6-3 all the way to 10-3. I won ten matches in a row, two short of making top eight of the tournament after starting 0-3. I eventually lose round 14 because I kept a bit of a greedy hand in game three, and never hit my third land drop. But we’re way past the point where that would have even phased me. I end up finishing 11-4 good enough for 23rd place and felt very proud of myself for not only making a deep run but not giving up when my deck didn’t want to cooperate for the first three rounds.
Another factor of tilt worth discussing is when your opponent acts in a certain way that makes you frustrated. This happened to me at both the Montreal MCQ and Ottawa MCQ where I played against someone that generally acted in an unpleasant manner towards me. This may have been emphasized because I was playing a Nexus of Fate deck, but one thing to remember is that Magic tournaments are supposed to be fun. Magic tournaments are people’s escape from the real world and it’s a good lesson to always act respectfully towards every opponent since you can easily ruin someone’s day. While my friends saw that I was visibly upset after these matches, instead of having them get to me for the entire tournament I just used them as motivation for the next rounds to win.
As a final point about mentality I will leave you with a measurable exercise that you can practice at your next FNM or competitive tournament. The next time you lose and see yourself getting visibly upset, try staying at the same table or take a seat on your own at a different table for a few minutes and just reflect on the match instead of looking for friends right away. Could you have done something differently? What was the pivotal point of the game? And if you can already identify a play error that you made on an important turn, take note of it and think back about all of them after the tournament. I can assure you that you will feel a lot better and you will not make the same mistakes again. You can also do this process after you win depending on how analytical you want to be about your play.
Mastering control of your emotions after matches is a pivotal part of any game that not enough people talk about. Once you can keep a level head no matter the outcome, you will be able to handle losses better, play better Magic throughout long tournaments and achieve better results.
Speaking of better results, I am very proud to say that I won the 121 person Wizard’s Tower MCQ a few weekends ago with Bant Nexus of Fate!
Bant Nexus – Mathew Stein
I went a combined 20-5 with this list across both SCG Syracuse and the Ottawa MCQ and I still believe that this deck has what it takes to be a player in current Standard. While Nexus of Fate decks may not get the best reputation, this deck is still incredibly complicated and giving yourself the most amount of draws as well as optimizing your combo to kill quickly is not that simple. Planeswalkers in play like Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils also complicate your game plan. This is why the list is built to be able to play more a midrange game post board with planeswalkers and creatures against the midrange and control decks of the format.
While I don’t feel that the deck has that many bad matchups, the games against decks like Esper Hero, Esper Walkers, Jeskai Walkers and four Color Dreadhorde where your opponent draws mini Teferi versus when they don’t play out very different. You can usually go over the top of these decks very easily but the games they draw Teferi backed up by pressure or disruption can be very hard.
While this Nexus of Fate combo shell of Bant may not be for everybody, I still believe that the Bant shells have what it takes to not only have a good Red matchup but also be able to beat the slower planeswalker decks by going over the top. A good example of this is the new Bant Mass Manipulation deck that has been doing well recently. If I was to play in any other Standard tournaments like MCQs coming up that’s where I would recommend as my starting point.
Lastly, there is a shout out that I need to make. In round seven (the last round of Swiss) of the Ottawa MCQ at 5-1, I played against my good friend Julien Abenhaim who was on four Color Dreadhorde. Whoever won the match was definitely in top eight, but if we drew we had no idea if one, both or neither of us would make top eight. The matchup is incredibly grindy and we end up splitting the first two games but with him winning game two in extra turns which means that we didn’t have time to start a third game. I am very thankful that he graciously conceded the match, in order to ensure that one of us made top eight. Without that, I would have been unable to win MCQ and it is definitely appreciated.
If you want more details about me, my MCQ win or how I feel about the different constructed formats like Modern, Legacy and Vintage, go check out http://magic.facetofacegames.com/bant-nexus-mcq-champion-ug-ramp-is-uw-tier-1-in-modern/ where I was a guest on the First Strike podcast!
Thanks again for reading, if you have any questions, comments or feedback I will be happy to answer on Twitter, give me a shout @Swarm_Of_Mats.