With the conclusion of the 2016-2017 season, I find myself disappointed. I finished at Gold, which 2 or 3 years ago would have been more than enough to satisfy me, but this year was different.
At the beginning of the season I had my hopes set high. I remember when they announced the location for the World Championships this year, and it was my home city of Boston. I wanted nothing more than to compete for the third time in a row at the event. The feeling of being there is exhilarating, and this time, had I qualified, I would have gotten to share the experience with my family.
While I am grateful for what I have, falling short of my goals has made me evaluate how my season ended where it did, and looking onward to improve my approach for next season.
1) Play More Matches With My Decks
This season has been a whirlwind for me in terms of deck selection. It's gone down to the wire at almost every Pro Tour, and even at some Grand Prix I've found myself on a flight not knowing which one of two or three options I was going to sleeve up.
Normally this wasn't an issue for me, but this season I found myself in a few matches, especially at the Pro Tour, not knowing the matchup well enough to make close decisions.
The previous few seasons, I was lucky enough to be comfortable with a deck a few days before almost every event, had adequate reps with the decks, and made plays with confidence because of it.
Part of this problem is a fear of choosing the wrong deck, which leads me to wait until the last possible moment to choose a deck, instead of trusting my instincts. I plan to focus more on choosing decks earlier, and getting adequate reps in before events next season. When the formats are as balanced as they are right now, simply choosing a solid deck and knowing it inside and out is a big edge. In past seasons, I was able to discover broken decks and used that advantage to carry me in Constructed rounds at the Pro Tour—this hasn't been the case recently, so it's important that I get a lot of reps in with a deck before an event.
2) Better Planning
This past season, my testing team lost one of our most valuable assets in Jon Stern. For those of you who don't know Jon, or much about him, he is very meticulous and organized. Jon would often set up all of our housing, set up orders for our cards, schedule our testing meetings, and make sure all of these things were done with time to spare. Without him, my testing team was kind of disorganized, and this rubbed off on me in between Pro Tours as well.
I never realized how important it was for me to schedule things for myself. I would just go week to week planning my Grand Prix trips, which in turn led me to play a fewer than I would have liked. This was detrimental for a few reasons. For one, I gave myself fewer opportunities to pick up Pro Points. While my Grand Prix slots were filled, and I had reasonable finishes, spiking a 1st or 2nd place finish at a Grand Prix can be the difference in pushing you across that threshold to hit Platinum. The more Grand Prix you attend, the more likely of an outcome this is.
The second reason playing fewer Grand Prix can punish you is that you get rusty or apathetic. Playing fewer Grand Prix kept me less in tune with the game in general, and that may have impacted how well I played throughout the year.
This year I've already purchased plane tickets for my first couple of months of events, and with a new quarterly system I plan to evaluate which events I'll go to in the next quarter at the end of every quarter. I think with this approach I'll be able to follow a schedule and plan out better how I prepare for events.
3) Get More Sleep
I usually don't like talking too much about factors outside the game, but something I noticed this year was that I just wasn't sleeping well before some events. I noticed in the later stages of tournaments that my fatigue was catching up to me, and I simply wasn't playing well.
Playing my Top 8 match against Sam Pardee at GP Las Vegas in the Limited event, I could barely think at all. The night before I had slept on his hotel floor and didn't get to sleep until really late because of an incident with his hotel room. He also told me after that he couldn't remember ever playing Magic that tired before.
I also made a horrible mistake in GP Dallas at the beginning of this year. I cast a Dismember, paying 4 life instead of 2 for basically no reason, which was the difference in competing in the Top 8 or not. Had that same situation come up earlier in the event I would have been much more in tune with what was going on, but I think fatigue may have gotten to me. During the Pro Tours I've been getting to sleep around 1-2 a.m. instead of 10 or 11 p.m. because I'm so unsure about my deck choice that I'm waiting until the last minute to submit my list.
So this year, I'm going to try to make sure I get a good night's sleep before every tournament, and get to sleep at a reasonable hour.
4) Respect the Magic Online Metagame
The Pro Tour changed this past season. The newest sets were released early on Magic Online, and the metagame evolved rapidly. In most instances, the best performing deck on Magic Online was just one of the best decks at the Pro Tour. Identifying this isn't very challenging, but for playtest teams who lock themselves in close quarters and don't use Magic Online much, it's easy to lose touch.
As a testing team we've finally made the leap to using Magic Online more in our testing. The next step is to respect everything we see on Magic Online. We've fallen into the trap of dismissing decks like Zombies because we considered them budget options that people played more on Magic Online than they would at the Pro Tour because they were cheap but competitive decks.
This season, I will make sure I try every deck popping up on Magic Online so that I know what to expect. I had never played a game with or against Zombies going into Pro Tour Amonkhet—the deck that eventually won the tournament—because we just didn't take the deck seriously. If there's a stock deck that wins a Pro Tour and I have never played with it or against it at all in testing, I'm going to consider that a failure on my part.
5) Ignore Small Samples
Going into Pro Tour Aether Revolt, my testing team was high on Mardu Vehicles. It presented a fast clock against Saheeli Combo, and played a lot of proactive and powerful cards. I, on the other hand, played about 30 games with the deck and was unable to cast spells basically at any point. I remember Eric Froehlich was watching from my side, and laughing and mocking my horrible draws. Everyone on my team however loved the deck at this point of testing and thought it was clearly the best choice. I couldn't believe what I was hearing because of how often it felt to me that our mana base was just punishing us. We worked on the mana, but I couldn't escape the fear of having to choose between playing a Toolcraft Exemplar on turn 1 off of an Aether Hub or trying to find more lands with a turn-2 Veteran Motorist instead. I chose to play public enemy number one, Jeskai Saheeli, and everyone I played against had a solid plan for the matchup. Mardu Vehicles turned out to be the deck of the tournament, with all 6 of the Top 6 players in the event playing the deck.
Next season if I have most of my teammates telling me a deck is good, I'll ignore the inconsistencies with the deck, and try to work more on fixing them instead of dismissing the deck altogether. I have, in my opinion, the best testing team in the world. If I'm the only one saying I think something is bad when nine or ten of them are telling me a deck is great, I'm probably wrong, not them.
6) Absorb More Content
One thing that surprised me about all of the players I view as the best players in the world is how much content they consume.
Jacob Wilson, for instance, watches every match of Magic that's covered. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa reads almost every Magic article on every major website. Owen Turtenwald always messages me on Facebook asking me if I saw a certain play or match. Honestly, up until I started to produce content, I basically didn't read or watch anything beyond the occasional stream. If someone pointed out an article to me, sure I'd go read it. But I wasn't actively pursuing ideas from the greatest minds in the game. In retrospect, this is foolish. I have the ability to go back and watch the game's best players play in important and difficult matches. I should certainly use this to my advantage.
This season, I'm going to make an effort to spend some of the time I spend watching television watching players like William Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and so on, play Magic. I can learn a great deal from seeing how players of this caliber approach their games, and I've left this resource untapped in the past. Now is as good a time as any to start.
7) Attention to Details
I noticed over the past season that I've gotten lazy with the small things I do before tournaments. For instance, I used to show up to the Pro Tours with a piece of paper with a general sideboarding guide tucked into my deck box. I stopped doing that this year, and found myself in positions where I wasn't sure if I wanted a certain card, or if I wanted to take out one card or another. Though this is rare for me not to know, it still comes up and I can take care of this by simply writing down my plans on a piece of paper instead of trying to memorize everything.
Something as simple as remembering a life pad, or dice, makes me feel more comfortable when I'm playing a match, and doing these small things will increase my overall equity in events by a subtle amount just because I'll have peace of mind.
8) Take Breaks When I Need Them
Last year, I went to events just because I felt like I needed to. I'd fly halfway across the country to a Grand Prix because it was routine. Occasionally I would feel burnt out, and that feeling of burnout would carry over to another event I actually wanted to go to.
So while I intend to play more GPs this season than I did last season, I want to make sure I'm doing so wisely. I remember reading something Paul Rietzl wrote on either Twitter or Facebook where he said he was no longer going to attend events he didn't think he could win, and this is the exact approach I'd like to take. If I'm not feeling up to playing an event like a Grand Prix, I likely won't do well anyway. I just should take a breather and move on to the next event.
I'm sure there are other steps I can take to improve as a Magic player. After falling short of my goals this season, these are the first steps I can identify to help me do better next season. While I'm disappointed I won't be playing in Worlds this year, I have a very positive outlook for this upcoming season and I'm really excited to get started next weekend at GP Denver.
I just have to figure out what to play first.