Recently, my teammates have been giving me a little bit of flak for the content of some of my articles (and by recently, I am regarding the articles, as giving flak is a constant thing around here). So, with that in mind, I decided to try something a little quirky and fun this week. That still left me in search of an idea for an article though, and I really had nothing stored up and ready to go. Then, a few days ago, we went to eat at a traditional Hawaiian restaurant and while reading their wall of awards, I spotted a little newspaper clipping. On it was a traditional Hawaiian proverb, and it seemed like a neat idea to explore.
Traditionally, proverbs are old, sometimes ancient, but the following proverbs were all of my own design. Some of them may already exist, but that is by coincidence only. Obviously I am no Confucius or anything, so take these with a little more tongue in cheek if you would. With each “proverb” I have included a practical translation as well as how the proverb might apply to Magic. Each proverb is intended to be island/tropical/wild themed in honor of being here in Hawaii to test with for the Pro Tour and I tried to include some references to the team to keep with that theme.
The Sun Bear’s tongue has never seen its reflection
Translation: Function is more important than form
As Magic players, we tend to be overly critical of things upon immediate inspection of them. Everyone seems to think they are an expert in every field and are quick to judge things as a result of that. This leads to a lot of decks, ideas, or technology getting dismissed way too quickly simply because “it looks/sounds terrible. Function should always be more important in a game where numbers and results are the true expert. Ultimately, this means that players should get a feel for ideas better before immediately dismissing them as they could very easily be missing out on some great technology.
This might seem like it only applies for constructed, but limited is just as prone to this type of treatment. We very quickly form opinions about certain cards and then hold those opinions for the duration of a limited environment, but sometimes that Skeletal Grimace is perfectly playable. Take the time to know your craft rather than judging it from afar.
Even the monkey knows when the tree is too tall to climb
Translation: Know your limits
This may not seem like it applies to you, but it very well could. Just like there is a certain amount of Magic you need to be playing to stay sharp and grow as a player, too much Magic can not only have diminishing returns, but might actually start working against you. Everything needs to occur in moderation and Magic is no exception here. Remember to put down the cards and enjoy life outside of the walls of a planeswalker-covered store.
Not only will this help you to know your Magic playing buddies in a different light, but it keeps you from getting too bogged down with the game and burning yourself out. You want to find joy when you sit down to play some Magic, not obligation. Here in Hawaii, we came with the specific purpose of playing and testing for a Pro Tour, but we still take our breaks, andwhether it be for dinners out with the group, swimming, or just chatting, these things help keep us alert and sharp when we do play. There is always a healthy balance to be achieved, so do not fall under the false guise that playing Magic non-stop is purely beneficial.
Ride the wave, drift to sea
Translation: Think things through before committing to them
We all know how complicated Magic can get much of the time. We make decisions each turn that can drastically alter the eventual outcome by a significant amount, and yet, even with that knowledge, time and time again you see players making plays based off of partially thought out plans. For example, players will run through some combat math in their head and then make an attack that never factored in some combat trick from the opponent or in an effort to play around Mana Leak, they expose their Titan to the +1 ability from Liliana of the Veil.
Obviously it is not possible to run through every single potential play for the rest of the game, but thinking through the next turn or two, no matter what deck you are playing or what format, will help you to make the most educated decision possible. Spontaneity is not a bad thing in life, but in a game where any small misstep can cost you a win, information is king, so treat it like so.
The fish spends its life in school
Translation: Always continue learning and growing
So this one may have been a cheap play on words, but the translation is the important part here. It is important to remember that you are never bigger than the game itself. As players, we must never be antagonistic toward learning or experiencing new things, lest we never get the opportunity again. Every game you play has some lesson or bit of information in it that you can latch on to and grow as a result.
If you lose that sense of humility that keeps you seeking new and better things, yearning to become better and better, you close every door that had previous been open to you before, and the fall is quite far. Remember that the best lessons come from the most unlikely of sources, whether that be the bad Mono Red player at your FNM, or the cube draft you did with your girlfriend. Always stay thirsty for information and grow as a result.
Every pineapple has a rough exterior
Translation: It takes work to get to the good part
Having a beach house in Hawaii is definitely something that reminds you of how lucky you are, but being surrounded by paradise can certainly get you in a bit of trouble. It is important to remember that we came here with a dual purpose of enjoying ourselves, but also to get work done. It is easy to get caught up with distractions but to have success at anything you also need to put the work in. There will be paradise waiting for us when are done and hopefully a trophy for one of us as well, but we need to stay productive and get things done in order to potentially reap those benefits.
Many players get frustrated with their results, but the truth of the matter is that many times, the work was never put in to bring the type of success that player desires. Magic is a quickly evolving and extremely involved game, so trying to skate by, or just taking a bite without doing the cutting first, will lead to inconsistent results at best and lackluster results more often than not. Put in the work and enjoy the results.
Water nourishes and water destroys
Translation: Just because something has brought benefits, does not mean it will always do so.
This one was inspired by some “interesting” trends in our drafts, but it brings with it a valid lesson. Just because something has worked for you before, does not mean it will always bear the same fruit for you. This will often come up in limited formats when a player gets really comfortable drafting a certain archetype to the point where they begin to force it. You cannot repeatedly be involved with something that contains variance and always expect it to come out in your favor. It is important to understand that it may be just as likely that your favorite archetype traps you and provides a 0-3 record despite being favorable in the past.
It is up to you to remain flexible and view situations/decks/strategies from every possible angle so that you might be the most informed and therefore prepared for the most possible results. Enjoy the benefits when they are there, but do not be alarmed when the consequences turn a little more negative from time to time. It is too easy to go on tilt or find yourself regretting something if you approached it too narrow minded.
The tree is weak; the forest strong
Translation: There is strength in numbers
Being on a team like Channelfireball has been more amazing than I could ever explain and I am truly fortunate to be in the position I am, but it does not require the best players in the world to form a successful team. Chances are, you probably test with some friends as it is anyway and enjoy spending time with them, so all it takes is some minor restructuring to take your game to the next level.
Team Fireball is actually just a bunch of friends in disguise, but there are a few hurdles we have jumped (or still need to jump) to distinguish a group of friends from a team. Organization is the biggest barrier to entry here. If your “team” (IE: friends) can begin taking on various roles within the group and forming some loose code of behavior for which to follow, it really can kick your testing into another gear. Having some kind of driving force to keep you motivated and on track is vitally important to maximizing both your efficiency in testing as well as your success. Begin forming plans of attack for tournaments. Determine how much you want to test, where you want to test, and what goals you want to accomplish. Your team will slowly learn how to do these things better and better and you should see a spike in tournament performance as a result.
Magic, like most things in life, requires some amount of discipline to really excel in the competitive world. There is a time for pure fun in some sort of casual environment, and there is a time to get down to work and put your best foot forward.
The howls of the jungle are not heard from the city streets
Translation: Understand your environment
Of course, I have to throw out a proverb to all of the deck builders out there, although this one can apply to many different things in Magic to be fair. Deck building is always a product of the environment and yet many aspiring deck builders fail to recognize that. The idea of a rogue deck has been stained by the trend of players jamming very mediocre and convoluted combos into a deck and hoping that their cunning plan goes off without a hitch. But rogue deck builder does not (and most of the time should not) be that.
Deck building should be a culmination of evaluating the decks in a format, the specific cards of interest, and the available card pool. Ignoring these contextual influences will very rarely lead to success, unless you happened to stumble upon something truly broken and proactive. Know where everyone else is in a format and then figure out where you should be in relation to them.
The shark must swim fast, the fish even faster
Translation: Always try to be one step ahead.
While Magic is not chess in that being one step ahead of your opponent will ensure victory, it still will give you a significant advantage. If you are able to figure out why your opponent is making plays he is making and come to some reasonable conclusions as a result, you get to use information to your advantage that your opponent likely cannot match.
Of course, it is impossible to know with exact certainty what your opponent has or is planning on doing every time, but you can generally narrow a very broad set of plays down to a significantly smaller set of plays (or cards) which can be huge. Take the time to analyze why your opponent is doing something rather than just taking it as a given and then solely worrying about your own lines of play.
The longest river still meets the ocean
Translation: This article is officially at its end. Thanks for reading!