"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world."
--By Unknown Monk, 1100 A.D.
The last few weeks have been a wild and crazy journey for me. It was filled with many hectic and fast-paced days. I really want to talk about all of them in the near future, but something very important and inspirational happened to me during this Magic trip. I just can't waste the opportunity to share it while it's on the tip of my tongue.
My story begins at Grand Prix: Oakland. I met up with my good friend, Tom Ross, and we hung out until the byes were complete. We spent a few hours exchanging greetings and stories that friends who have not seen each other for a long time would usually do. The most important thing we talked about was how prepared we were for both events and what expectations we had for them.
Tom surprised me. He told me that he was going to finish in the Top 32 of this event. It was a strange number since it is only a few hundred dollars, very few pro points, and a very average finish for someone who has to play 15 rounds of competition. I asked him why he would finish in the Top 32 instead of better or worse. He just kept saying that was just how well he knew he could and would
I didn't think much about this and simply brushed it off as something Tom would usually say. As he predicted, however, Tom finished in the Top 32, losing to what he thought he would lose to and beating what he knew he would beat. He called every small detail of that tournament before it started.
The second part of Tom's amazing predictions came a week later at Pro Tour: San Diego. Before the tournament started he told me he was going to Top 16. I asked him the same questions I asked him the previous week and he gave me the same answers. He told me that he would do very well in Constructed, but since he didn't prepare for Limited he would do poorly in those rounds. He finished ninth place on breakers, going 9-1 in Constructed and 3-3 in Limited.
My attitude going into these events was much worse than Tom's. I went into these events with thoughts of great performances resulting in Top 8 finishes or even holding the trophy. Before these events I thought it was a good thing if you looked in the mirror and told yourself you would win the tournament over and over again. I performed very bad at both tournaments and didn't make day two of either events.
This is when I decided I needed to make a drastic change in the mental part of my game. I know my technical game could still use improvement just like anyone else, but it wasn't what needed the most help. I decided before Pro Tour: San Juan I would have to completely overhaul how I approached the game.
I decided to make some rules for myself. I really liked how Tom had complete control over his expectations. But I was sick of even thinking about how I would finish, so I branched out from his ideas a bit.
1. Know you can win, don't think you will win
This was the first thing I had to learn. Ever since I started playing Magic on the Pro Tour, my life has picked up speed. It feels like I am always catching up to my surroundings. I am seeing a world outside of North Dakota. Life here is simple and slow-paced. When I am out of my bubble and in a foreign area with people all over the world, I get put into a very fast-paced speed of living.
The world of professional Magic is no different. If you do well at an event, the event coverage will promote that. I went from a small time PTQ grinder to a Magic household name in a very short amount of time. This was very bad for my ego. Instead of working on the parts of my game I was used to, I started to think I was better than I actually was. I started to think wins would just come pouring in because I deserved them. Not because I was actually good at this game, but that's what Magic Pros did. They won so much because they were actually good at this game, but I was too thick-skulled and forgot this.
This doesn't just happen to me. This is a constant problem for many Magic players. It happens on kitchen tables as often as it does at the Pro Tour. Players get so used to the course they are on when they are winning. It feels good and you don't want it to change. The problem is that you lose the drive to actually improve and that will cause your performance to slowly deteriorate.
The best thing you can do for your game is to not be results-oriented. Yes, it feels good to win a tournament and I am not trying to say that you cannot celebrate. It means that when you are working on your game, you should never go into any tournament thinking about past finishes. Whatever happened in the past, good or bad, will not influence next week's tournament unless you allow it to.
Everyone sits down at round one with 0 points.
2. Control yourself
Magic is filled with many variables. It is a game designed with the intent that everyone has a chance to beat anyone. That is what makes this game so amazing and still hard to stomach at times. It is very hard to take a punch like 0-2 dropping at a PTQ you drove 2 hours to attend. It only becomes tolerable once you realize that your happiness at the end of the day should be fixed on things you can control.
No one that plays this game can win everything. You cannot control taking multiple mulligans to five several games in a row, or if your opponent will topdeck that one-outer to win the game. The only true thing you can control in this game is yourself. This is the greatest way of thinking if you can master it. If you just concentrate on playing the best possible Magic you can, that is when everything else will fall in line.
3. Objective gameplay catharsis
A Magic player can grow after every match they play. Even if it was a complete blow out on either side, there is something to learn from the game. I personally know that I have never played a single game of Magic perfectly. Because this is true, I now know I should dissect every game I play and find the mistakes I made.
You have to dissect every game objectively, though. You cannot worry about what happened inside the game except for the mistakes you made. Even if you played an opponent that was not on the same level as you are and it was a very simple 2-0, you could find something in the games to learn from.
I have gotten to the point now that I spend about five minutes after a match thinking about the games again and find any mistakes I made. It does take a while to get yourself into this train of thought, but it will be very rewarding if you manage to get there.
4. Aim small, miss small
I first heard the story from the beginning of my article when I was in high school. This meant a great deal to me since I was really into golf at the time and was working hard to perfect my game. Golf is a very special game if you have never played it. It is the only game that is played competitively where you penalize yourself when you make a mistake. This makes for a very strong connection between the physical and mental aspects of the game. If you cannot penalize yourself when you make a mistake, then you will never improve as a golfer or even a person.
I applied this story to my golf game because I would have expectations of how I wanted my round to go even before I teed off. This false hope of expectations would ruin many good days on the course. The problem was that if I was not on track for my overall goal I would get discouraged and let emotion take over my performance. It wasn't until this story taught me the greatest lesson I have yet to learn in life: it taught me to look at the shot in front of myself before anything else. I had to get through the next shot before I could even think about finishing the round. I was then able to control the shot that was in front of me, instead of trying to control the entire round which I could never accomplish.
This philosophy ports to Magic very easily. Tournaments can be very long. It can be very intimidating to look at an entire Grand Prix instead of breaking it down from round to round. When you are only focused on the task that is directly in front of you, you will be less likely to make a mistake based on outside influence.
This is what helped me win Grand Prix: Washington D.C. a few weeks ago. The entire second day of competition was filled with people constantly trying to figure out what would make Top 8. It was a very long day with eight rounds of competition. Instead of worrying about the final purse, I decided to just take it one match at a time. I had the mindset that I would play rounds until someone stopped me. I was not being influenced by the entire tournament when I was in my matches. I just played each match and focused on my individual games instead of finish.
Take tournaments one step at a time. You cannot win an event before you finish every round. That makes every round just as important as finals.
5. Forget the past
This is the last lesson I decided to implement. This is a simple one that everyone has already learned in some way, shape, or form. It still is one of the hardest lessons to constantly use. You just have to forget what has happened in the past.
Sounds simple, right? It's not. It is very hard to process all of the information we gather as gamers and decide right then and there what should be disregarded. You try to keep a mental note on specific opponents or situations so you can use that in the future. This is a simple ability you use when you play a deck for a long period of time.
It then becomes very difficult to throw away information that can be bad for your game. A good example of this is that your opponent has cascaded perfectly against you the last five times you played him. Even though it has cost you five matches, it doesn't mean he will continue to do this in any given game.
You have to be objective in every decision you make. Past situations should only be taken for constructive evaluation and not anything else. Do not make decisions based on being unlucky in the past. This will only prevent you from finding the actual best plays possible.
Ever since I implemented these rules into my game I have felt very good playing. I have been on the top of my game because I have been in complete control of my emotions and the way I approach the mental side of this game. I really hope these lessons can help you in your development in the mental side of Magic.
I have some fun and relaxing weeks here in the near future. Next week I will be in Washington fighting WOTC at the Community Cup. I hope everyone enjoys following this tournament coverage and cheers us on when we fight the ultimate end boss.
The week after that I will be in Fargo where my local card shop, Paradox Comic and Cards, is hosting a great weekend of Magic. On June 19 they are hosting a Pro Tour Qualifier. There is also a Standard $1K the following day. Anyone in the area should come up and play some cards during a great Magic weekend in Fargo.
See you guys Friday!
Fffreak on MTGO