Keeping Your Cool

I have an attitude problem.

If you’ve ever played Magic against me or seen one of my games it’s clear as day.

While you may think it happens every now and again because no one likes to lose, it happens to me far too often. The odd part about all of this is that I can recognize the behavior in others and will go out of my way to talk to them about it, yet I am unable to control it. My mood will even shift in games. If I lose game one, I will be down on myself and miserable, whereas if I win, I will be overconfident and primed.

Why do I bring this up?

In part because it’s cathartic but more so because it’s something most people experience when trying to work their way up.

I was at FNM playing Standard and managed a 1-2 record after three rounds. The rounds I lost were non-interactive games. Both I should have lost sooner, but my opponent felt like stringing me along I guess. To be honest, he was so focused on [Card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/Card] that he seemed to forget I was at six life and he had nine damage on board. We’ve all been there.

After dropping I went to talk with some of the store employees that I know, and we were talking about the upcoming PTQ. One of them joked that I had no chance as I no longer look the part of the typical Magic player. It was clear on my face that I was still unnerved, and my buddy Justin pointed out, “You tilt to easy and get upset over losses.”

I’ve never been a fan of being called out over anything. I try to work at being better at everything, and most times it feels more like taking pot shots than actually trying to help. So I quickly deflected what he said and continued chatting about banalities before leaving, but walking back home it stuck with me.

Most people recognize their own faults and limitations; we don’t like admitting them but they are obvious if you stop and think for a moment. Now, it’s one thing to say, “I’m going to change,” and then not do it. For numerous years I spent every day saying, “Tomorrow, I will start going to the gym,” and would then end up not going. It’s another to put one foot in front of the other and do it.

Back to the present, the next day I was attending a PTQ. It was Limited, and I would face people who were worse Magic players than I—the perfect testing ground to try to keep my cool. There was only one problem; I had no idea how to proactively do this. It’s hard to keep your emotions in check when you’ve never actually been in a situation before and are unaware exactly how you will react to it. This led me to message Justin again and talk about something until I subtlety snuck in, “How do I not tilt?”

Justin gave me a bunch of different advice that most people would be able to dispense but one in particular stuck with me, “You always have a bad-beat story.”

And there it was—for all the years of playing poker and Magic, I hated hearing other people’s bad-beat stories because they were told by a biased observer and, frankly, I didn’t care. You lost; get over it. Yet I constantly did the very thing I hated. Even at that FNM I remember telling such a story. The fact is, it wasn’t a bad beat; I lost plain and simple.

The next day, I went into the PTQ with one goal: I wasn’t going to tell any stories about my games. If people asked I would tell them that either I won or I lost, and if they wanted details I would tell them the match score but that was it. Before I continue, since this is a Magic the Gathering article, I will list the two deck choices I had in my sealed pool. (The cards in the sideboard are the on-color cards I decided not to play, but that are playable-ish.)

[Deck Title=BR Sealed]
[Lands]
9 Mountain
8 Swamp
[/Lands][Creatures]
1 Ashiok’s Adept
1 Black Oak of Odunos
1 Borderland Minotaur
1 Deathbellow Raider
1 Everflame Eidolon
1 Fate Unraveler
1 Nyxborn Rollicker
1 Pharagax Giant
2 Returned Centaur
1 Servant of Tyramet
1 Shrike Harpy
1 Spiteful Returned
1 Thunder Brute
1 Warchanter of Mogis
[Creatures][Spells]
2 Bolt of Keranos
1 Fearsome Temper
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Lash of the Whip
1 Rage of Purphoros
1 Weight of the Underworld
1 Whip of Erebos
[/Spells][Sideboard]
1 Asphodel Wanderer
1 Fated Returned
1 Magma Jet
1 Marshmist Titan
1 Pharika’s Cure
1 Priest of Iroas
1 Scouring Sands
[/Sideboard][/Deck]

There are a few things about this deck. I’m not a fan of playing Jet and Cure because there are many games where they are outclassed, and I would prefer sideboarding them in the few times they are relevant. The second thing is that, while this looks like a fine deck, I don’t want to be playing these colors together in this format. I don’t feel like they provide the best chance of winning. Last and most important is the deck I decided to play is far better.

[Deck Title=Ottawa PTQ Sealed Deck]
[Lands]
10 Forest
7 Island
[/Lands][Creatures]
1 Flitterstep Eidolon
1 Leafcrown Dryad
1 Nemesis of Mortals
1 Nimbus Naiad
2 Nylea’s Disciple
1 Nylea’s Emissary
1 Pheres-Band Centaurs
1 Pheres-Band Tromper
1 Setessan Oathsworn
1 Thassa’s Emissary
1 Voyaging Satyr
1 Vulpine Goliath
[/Creatures][Spells]
1 Aspect of Hydra
1 Feral Invocation
1 Griptide
1 Nylea’s Presence
1 Raised by Wolves
1 Retraction Helix
1 Savage Surge
1 Sea God’s Revenge
1 Sudden Storm
1 Voyage’s End
[/Spells][Sideboard]
1 Breaching Hippocamp
1 Chorus of Tides
1 Divination
1 Fade Into Antiquity
1 Gainsay
1 Karametra’s Favor
1 Lost in the Labyrinth
1 Ordeal of Nylea
1 Scourge of Skola Vale
1 Setessan Oathsworn
1 Setessan Starbreaker
1 Stratus Walk
1 Swan Song
1 Triton Fortune Hunter
1 Vaporkin
[/Sideboard][/Deck]

I found when building a deck in this format you want an identity. If you can achieve that, you’re set. The goal for this deck was green devotion with every single blue trick in the book, and I’m not joking—there is one of each blue trick! It’s the reason for leaving as many blue creatures as I did in the sideboard.

My deck was very light on heroic; instead I wanted bestow creatures that were functional on their own, and with as many tricks as I had, removal such as Fade and Starbreaker were suboptimal cards in my deck. Someone asked me why no [Card]Divination[/Card], and while the card is fine, I want to be tapping out on turns three and later to play threats, not a card that will hopefully draw me threats.

The last two cards I want to talk about are [Card]Scourge of Skola Vale[/Card] and [Card]Vaporkin[/Card]. I don’t like Scourge. A 2/2 for three doesn’t fit in my deck where I wanted to go bigger and more efficient than my opponent. I want to be the tempo deck and never want to risk the drawback of having my Scourge bounced. I think the decision comes down to whether I want Scourge or the one [Card]Setessan Oathsworn[/Card] I played, and the potential drawback on Oathsworn is less severe.

As for Vaporkin, it is a good creature but my ability to pump it is not fantastic. That said, I did bring it in against more aggressive decks as it serves as a very effective early blocker.

After building my deck, a couple things were going through my head. I was happy with my list and truly believed it was capable of getting me to the top eight. As such, I would ultimately be disappointed with myself if I did not make the final rounds. Remember how I said this tournament was about working on my mental game? Well, I never said I would make it easy on myself.

I ended up going 6-1 in the Swiss portion of the event, which was indeed good enough to make top eight. My one loss was something that happens. I promised myself I wouldn’t tell any Magic stories, and this one was particularly tough not to talk about as a number of players were watching my match, but I just looked at them, shrugged, and said, “It happens sometimes.” It was made worse as I had Andy “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL” Peters sitting next to me giving me pity eyes, but my resolve held.

After the match I talked with someone who was curious about my line of play as I was scrying potentially useful cards to the bottom. My reasoning was that, rather than finding potential stopgap cards, I wanted cards that could turn the tide. Without them, I would have been dead regardless of whether my opponent had any relevant spell in his hand. I stand by that as solid reasoning, as my opponent had five cards in hand the entire game. Generally, I assume my opponent isn’t holding five lands in his hand when he’s missing land drops on turn three.

It’s a weird feeling knowing you’ve done something different and it’s beneficial. After each match, I had the same composure. I didn’t feel happy about having fun; instead I had more of a mission-accomplished feeling for each round but knew I had to win the next one. I talked with people, I sat down and relaxed, and I watched some other matches to figure out what could be done in each situation.

After winning my last round and knowing I was in the top eight, I talked with my buddy Mexi about how I had missed some combat math, and he told me a different line of play I could have taken earlier that would have left my opponent with fewer outs. We then joked about how clearly math wasn’t my strong suit and that adding was hard. (While it’s not particularly funny to outside observers, the one area people can take shots at me at that always makes me laugh is about math. I have a bachelor’s in mathematics yet I occasionally make arithmetic mistakes.)

I had made it out of Swiss and into the draft with three of my friends who also happen to be better Magic players than I, so I wanted to go over my options since I knew they weren’t going to be giving me any good cards at later picks. I was slightly advantaged as we were almost all on one side of the table and I was passing to them. For this reason I wanted to force a W/X aggressive deck, as I didn’t want to be fighting over midrange cards with the people passing to me. That’s why I first picked [Card]Ghostblade Eidolon[/Card] over [Card]Hunter’s Prowess[/Card]. My draft deck can be found below.

[Deck Title=Draft Deck]
[Lands]
7 Island
9 Plains
[/Lands][Creatures]
1 Cavalry Pegasus
1 Coastline Chimera
1 Deepwater Hypnotist
1 Ephara, God of the Polis
1 Evangel of Heliod
1 Ghostblade Eidolon
1 Hopeful Eidolon
1 Leonin Snarecaster
1 Loyal Pegasus
1 Nyxborn Shieldmate
1 Phalanx Leader
1 Prescient Chimera
1 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Traveling Philosopher
1 Triton Shorethief
[/Creatures][Spells]
1 Chosen by Heliod
1 Crypsis
1 Dissolve
1 Lost in a Labyrinth
1 Ray of Dissolution
1 Retraction Helix
[/Spells][Sideboard]
1 Benthic Giant
1 Flamecast Wheel
1 Griffin Dreamfinder
1 Swan Song
[/Sideboard][/Deck]

While drafting the deck I was happy. I knew I was missing a few key cards along the way, but the card quality was lacking throughout the packs. (I took Ray of Dissolution pack 2, pick 2 as it was the best card, by far, in a pack that still had a rare and three uncommons.) I slightly changed my tune after laying out and building my deck, but I had an aggressive curve that would be able to win me some games, and my late game cards were high-impact and powerful so I wasn’t going to complain.

Unfortunately I lost in the quarterfinals to my buddy Evan Berry. Obviously I always want to win, but Evan is a good guy and, frankly, I wanted him to win it after he came so close in his last top eight. Our match also had Andrew Noworaj providing commentary, and Andrew can always make me laugh, so while it was the top eight of a PTQ and there was something on the line, the match felt like a casual game of no importance, which is my favorite way to play Magic.

Truthfully I don’t know if I actually listened to Justin’s advice or it just happened to be a good day, but this PTQ felt like a change. Each round I played Magic to what I thought was the best of my ability and didn’t worry about what was beyond my control. I wanted to win each round but I didn’t need to win each round.

You should always play Magic to win every round regardless of your opponent. There are times I get too caught up in how I should always beat a certain opponent because I’m better than they are or how unlucky I got because my opponent drew card X and I couldn’t draw card Y, but none of that matters.

The truth is I’m not alone. There are many people who do the same; they get angry or allow their emotions to get in the way. There are times that I let things that are out of my control affect me, and I need to realize that I need to take a step back, get in the right frame of mind, and then continue forward. Dwelling on things doesn’t help and can only hurt. I think I took a step forward at that PTQ and certainly figured out something that I can build on, but I’m not there yet. Ottawa was a good start, and I plan on applying that on my next Magic stops.

Thanks for reading,
William