Process MTG

Prioritize the Process

I love quotes. I keep a huge collection of them. In fact, I have a Word document on my computer that’s about 40 pages long filled with nothing but great quotes I read online, hear on a podcast, or read in a book. One of my all-time favorite quotes from Magic comes from Patrick Chapin, one of the game’s best ever players and a Hall-of-Famer. In his book Next Level Magic, Patrick said the following:

“It is important to note that my goal is to play perfectly in Magic tournaments, not to actually win them. It is more of a cause and effect relationship, as playing perfectly usually brings a surprising amount of success.”

As someone who does psychology for a living and who completely dweebs out on psych related stuff, I was really intrigued by this bit:

“My goal is to play perfectly in Magic tournaments, not to actually win them.”

“Not to actually win them.”

Prioritize the Process

One of the game’s best players, when going to play in tournaments, his objective isn’t to win the tournament? Whoa. That sounds……really strange, doesn’t? Well, it does, and it doesn’t. And this is exactly what I want to discuss here today.

First, let’s start by taking a look at what’s really going on here. As a competitive and professional player, does Patrick actually not want to win when he goes to compete in a tournament? On a surface level, that’s the interpretation that one could easily glean from what he’s saying. However, that’s not the case at all. It’s not that Patrick doesn’t want to win or that he doesn’t have a desire to succeed. He simply prefers to get to that end destination by utilizing a different approach–winning by not focusing on winning.

In competitive Magic, the reality is this–the result of any game, match, or tournament is largely beyond your direct control. I’ve talked about this in previous articles I’ve written, but it’s so, so important to remind ourselves of and it is especially relevant to the discussion here today–that you can do everything right and still lose. You can do nothing wrong, or very little wrong, and still not win. You can prepare perfectly for a tournament, choose a great deck, formulate a solid sideboard plan, and perform really well in a tournament, but still come away with nothing simply because you had to mulligan to 4 in a crucial game, or because you drew lands 6 turns in a row in a vital third game, or because you just happened to twice in a row get paired against the one terrible matchup you were hoping to dodge.

While Magic is undoubtedly a skill-based game, variance is still a major player, and as frustrating as that variance can be, it serves a vital role–it allows anyone to win or lose at any time. As average of a player I may be, I can have a chance at beating someone like LSV, or Reid Duke, or Ben Stark, or anyone else if I play well enough and receive a good bit of variance. Make no mistake. Consistently over time, they’ll beat me, and they’ll beat me well! However, here and there, I’ll be able to nick a win or two through a combination of skill and variance, and that’s important.

However, that variance existing means that we cannot put too much of a focus on the results or outcomes of our games, matches, or tournaments. It’s not that you don’t put any stock into them. It just means that, win or lose, but especially when you lose, you have to be able to look past the outcome and focus on what counts most–was your process and performance where it needs to be?

This makes being more process-oriented very important. As a competitive Magic player, you want to approach competitive events with the same mindset that Patrick used to utilize when he played. Your objective shouldn’t actually be to win any given game, match, or tournament. Remember, those results are largely beyond your control. So, your objective should be more process-oriented in nature–to play as close to perfectly as you possibly can in each game, match, and tournament.

To be more process-oriented when playing, here’s several things you can do that help so you do that:

1) Focus on the quality of your performance, not on the result or outcome

Let’s say you sit down to play round 1 of a tournament. You play really great that round. You make one or two sub-optimal decisions, but overall, the quality of your play was really good, you sideboarded correctly in the matchup, and you played as close to perfectly as you could. However, you don’t win the round. Your opponent was also a great player, who prepared well and knew their deck inside out, who played well and made great decisions, and was able to draw all the bombs in the matchup they needed to pull away.

In this situation, it would be easy to focus on the outcome; the fact that you lost and to zero in on that 0-1 record. However, what you really should do is focus on the quality of your performance instead. You had zero control over who your opponent was, how well they prepared, how thoroughly they knew their deck, how well they played, and the fact that they were able to draw their best cards in the matchup consistently. However, you had complete control over your own preparation, over your own knowledge of your deck, and over your own performance. You executed to the best of your ability and played as well as you could. What more can you ask of yourself in that situation?

The better you perform consistently over time, the better your results will be consistently over time as well. In the short term, you can play great and lose. You can also play badly and win. That’s why the quality of your performance is more important than whether you won or lost, and that’s why you want to focus more on how you prepare and how you play rather than whether you win or lose.

2) Prioritize learning, growth and mastery over results, rewards, & recognition

Speaking of great quotes, here’s another great quote from another one of the game’s great players, Reid Duke:

“Of all my work in MTG, the most thankless has been the long hours of studying alone, and the hundreds of events I’ve played to disappointing results. I hope it will always be a priority to reward people who devote themselves to Magic purely for self-improvement and love of the game.”

We all know what kind of career Reid has forged himself. However, he could have given up on myself and on Magic long ago if he had been too results-oriented and focused only on the short term results he was getting earlier on in his career. But Reid has a very process-oriented mindset towards the game. He looks at the bigger picture and prioritizes his growth, improvement, and mastery of the game long-term over what kind of results, outcomes, and recognition he’s experiencing in the short-term.

You want to do the same. Growth, improvement, and mastery take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. And, results will come and go during that period. Whether you win, or whether you lose, you have to be willing to look past the result and focus on making sure you learn from every experience as you play. If you can do that, you’ll give yourself every chance possible of succeeding within the game as you move forward.

Thank you for reading, and take care!

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