Chasing Victory – Being Results Oriented

Being “results oriented” means that you focus on the end result and not necessarily the in-between it took to get there. For example, if you make a certain play and win strictly because of that play, it means that play was correct. After all, how could it not be? You won the game because of it!

The biggest problem with being results oriented is that it relies on the assumption that results are constant. Just because you won the game because of a certain play does not mean that it was correct. Results oriented thinking is illogical. Just because you flipped a coin and it came up heads does not mean that the coin flip will always come up heads. Nor should you think that just because that play won you the game that it will yield that same result every time. You should instead consider your plays, and make the play that has the best expected value.

Just imagine if everyone was results oriented in every facet of their life. Whenever someone failed a test in school, they would drop out. After all, why wouldn’t they? If they can’t pass a single test, how could they ever hope to graduate?

Similarly, if you are in car accident, you don’t automatically assume that every time you drive, you will be in an accident, therefore you refuse to ride in cars for the rest of your life.

I enjoyed the movie Taken, but Liam Neeson’s character was extremely results oriented. His daughter wanted to go to Europe, but he didn’t want her to. As an ex-government [card Throat Slitter]ninja[/card] he had seen exactly how dangerous the world could be, and he would rather have his daughter safe at home. She goes anyway, gets kidnapped, and Neeson goes on a killing rampage to eventually get her back.

The entire movie is basically based on Neeson saying “I told you so.” That is just ridiculous. Imagine how many people get kidnapped per year. Just because he told her not to go, because she would get kidnapped, and then she did, doesn’t mean that every time she leaves the house she will get kidnapped.

You need to realize that whether you fail or succeed isn’t nearly as important as why the result happened in the first place. Once you figure that out, it becomes much easier to deal with losing and frustration, since if you are making the right decisions and losing, that’s fine. If you’re doing everything right, in the long term, you will get the results you worked for.

Let’s take a look at the different aspects of Magic, and how people are incorrectly results oriented.


You might be thinking “If results mean nothing, then what’s the point of playtesting?” Well, that isn’t exactly what I said. Results matter to some degree. If you play a million games or flip a million coins, chances are you will end up with a result that is close to correct. Just remember, a coin flip can come up heads a million times in a row. It’s certainly not probable, but it’s definitely possible, so just because it was heads 60% of the time in your playtesting doesn’t mean that is how it will always be.

Say you did a draft with your friends, using the shiny new M10 set. One of your friends beats you three games in a row with his deck, always ramping up to five lands, but then drawing all spells afterward. Clearly that is hard to beat. Afterward, you ask to see his deck and you realize that he was only running 12 lands. His deck ran great for him, and having only 12 lands “seemed to be working for him,” so you decide to try running a low land count in your next draft.

You get mana screwed.

How is that possible? You “playtested” running only 12 lands, and it “worked fine” for your friend, so why not you? Well, as always, the problem was in the execution. Your “playtesting” only consisted of three games. Anything can happen in a sample size that low. You need more results to be able to make a more informed decision.

I see a lot of people using the “well, it works for me” or “it’s worked fine so far” for their reasoning behind card choices, and that is never a compelling argument for me. If you want to make a case with me, you must make a decisive stance and defend yourself. Say that you need card X for matchup Y, which is otherwise a difficult matchup. That is a reason for including that card. If there is no reason for including the card, why defend it? Just admit that it might not be right and do a little legwork to find out what the correct card would be.

In the above 12 land scenario, you can easily do a little math to figure out that 12 lands simply won’t be enough for your deck to operate on. A limited deck generally needs three or four lands to run smoothly, and you should probably have a few higher end spells or stuff like [card]Merfolk Looter[/card] to make use of your excess lands should you get flooded.

You should be using playtesting mostly as a guideline, and not as a definitive result. Too many variable go into a game of Magic to play one game, ten games, or even a hundred games, and claim that deck Y beats deck Z X% of the time.

Players who complain that “my deck beats your deck 80% of the time, so I should have won” greatly annoy me. First of all, how do you know that it’s 80%? Maybe your opponent is this tournament plays a lot better than your playtesting partner. Maybe he knows a better line of play. Maybe he has a lot of sideboard cards for your matchup. Maybe he hit his 1/5 chance to beat you. Either way, your percentage is probably wrong, but 80 most certainly doesn’t equal 100. There is always a chance to lose.

Instead of focusing on your previous results and why you “should” have won, you should figure out what went wrong. Figure out if there was something you could have done differently, or figure out if your playtesting was flawed. Maybe you didn’t prepare for card W and it completely wrecked you.


If your opener is bad, throw it away. That’s easy enough. If your hand is a risky one lander, consider whether or not you’re on the draw, whether or not this hand automatically beats your opponent if you “get there,” whether or not you need to get lucky in the matchup to win, and whether or not you would be extremely happy to mulligan into that hand minus one card.

If you decide to mulligan, don’t look at the top of your deck. Who cares if there’s a land there? Odds are that it wouldn’t have been.

If you have a one land opener in your 24 land, 60 card deck, that leaves 23 lands in your 53 card deck. You don’t need to draw a land on the first turn, but you probably do on the second, so that leaves you with 23 outs into 53, and then 23 outs into 52. You are worse than 50/50 to draw a land, but it’s pretty close to a coin flip.

Most players just think that they are flipping coins for the game win, which would usually be fine in some circumstances, but that isn’t the case. You are on the bad end of a coin flip to even get to play Magic! Just because you draw a second land doesn’t mean that you automatically win most of the time.

Either way, looking at the top of your deck is stupid. The result of whether or not you would “get there” isn’t determined by what was actually on top of your deck, but by the math. Math is constant, pure, and never wrong. If you had a 42% chance to get there in two draw steps, whether or not the land was on top, you probably made the right decision, the decision with the most positive expected value.

If you do look, you develop bad habits. You will generally remember that time you “got there” or didn’t “get there” and be influenced by what happened in the past, rather than doing the math and focusing on what is “right.”

Also, just because you flip a coin and it comes up heads, doesn’t mean that it will be tails immediately afterward. 50/50 is not an indication that something will happen, and then alternate immediately to the other possible result. A coin flip can come up heads three times in a row. It’s somewhat unlikely, but can obviously happen.

If you “got there” the last game, that doesn’t make you any less likely to “get there” this game. You are on a clean slate. You still have a 42% chance, and that should be what you take into consideration, not what happened in the last similar situation.

Winning the Game, or the Tournament

Just because a certain deck won a big tournament doesn’t mean that it’s the best or even that it’s the best build of that archetype. Again, variables.

In poker, when a bad player scoops a giant pot after playing bad cards poorly, the losing player will often make fun of their bad play. When the bad player can’t defend his play, or make a coherent argument, he will often say, “Well, who’s got the chips?”

Well buddy, you do, but that is irrelevant. That doesn’t change the fact that you played poorly.

Winning tournaments with bad decks doesn’t mean that your deck is good, or that you were right.

Playing and Making Mistakes

Say you are in a situation where you have two 3/3s to your opponents 3/3. He is at nine while you are at three, it’s your main phase, and you each have no cards. What do you do?

Well, it kind of depends, but the main thing here is that you are dead if you attack with one of your guys and he draws a removal spell. However, if you don’t attack, you give him more turns to draw out of a situation where you are clearly favored.

If you attack, he draws a removal spell and you die, so what? He probably had 3-4 left in his deck, out of 25
or so cards. Those odds are in your favor.

If you don’t attack for fear of removal, and he draws it, that doesn’t make your play correct.

Paulo Vitor wrote about a play he saw, where a guy activated [card]Blinkmoth Nexus[/card], cast [card]Pyroclasm[/card], killing his own creature, and then ended up winning the game on two life while his opponent held a useless [card]Molten Rain[/card]. Does that make his play correct? He did straight up win the game because of it, but that is irrelevant.

Card Choices

I’ve seen a lot of players cut the Faerie hate from their deck, only to play against the one Faerie deck in the room round one and get demolished. Naturally, that person goes on to complain about how they knew they shouldn’t have cut the Fae hate from their deck. Obviously they were going to play vs. Faeries.

No, they weren’t. There was one Faerie deck in your hundred person tournament. The odds are greatly against you playing against that deck. You might think that you got unlucky, which is reasonable, but luck runs both ways. You take the good with the bad.

If you cut the Faerie hate from your deck, you are making the best decision possible, as 99 times out of a hundred, you won’t play against Faeries (at least round one).

Likewise, I saw a player absolutely demolish the swiss rounds of a PTQ, only to fall to [card]Time Sieve[/card] in the Top Eight, a bad matchup. That player, confident that he could beat everything except for Time Sieve, added ten cards to his sideboard to beat the bad matchup that ended his tournament last time.

He 0-2ed the next PTQ. What happened? Well, he probably lost a ton of percentage points by cutting all of his sideboard cards for the “good” matchups to make room for the anti-[card]Time Sieve[/card] cards. [card]Time Sieve[/card] wasn’t a big part of the metagame, and he didn’t play against it, and instead lost to two “good” matchups.

The problem was that he turned his “good” 65% matchups into 50% matchups by cutting a bunch of useful sideboard cards, therefore making those “good” matchups not so good anymore.

The moral of the story is to not play scared and focus on what matters. The numbers are what matter. If you expect Time Sieve or Faeries to be 1-2% of the metagame, don’t waste sideboard slots on them, as odds are you won’t play against them at all. If you do, you still have a shot! It’s not like you are drawing dead because you didn’t play with 4 Stags.

Also, don’t become resigned to your fate before the match has even started. So you’re playing against Faeries round one after cutting all your Stags. Who cares? You still have a shot, you just have to keep your play tight. Thinking about what you should or shouldn’t have done last night is irrelevant. The only thing that matters in the game you are playing right this very second. If you aren’t going to give it your full attention, you might as well concede right now.


You are playing in Top Eight of your Nationals with your trusty GB Elf deck against your enemy’s UB Faerie deck. You should probably side out your [card]Nameless Inversion[/card]s, but you forget and leave one in on accident, draw it, and curse your luck. However, as the game goes on, you sculpt a turn where you can use that Inversion to pump your Tarmogoyf and get in for exactly lethal damage.

Congratulations, you just won a game based on a mistake you made! You realize the error of your ways and side out the Inversion for something better. However, there is still some merit to the situation. Your opponent, Paul Cheon, now has to consider what you sideboarded out for those Inversions, as he fully expected you to cut them from your deck, and rightfully so. He now probably has to play around them, while they are all sitting in your sideboard.

Sam Black, the Elves player, realized that just because he won the game with the Inversion didn’t mean that it should have been in his deck. The end result of the Inversion being in his deck was irrelevant, as he knew that Inversion was worse against the Faerie deck than anything else he could have brought in, and corrected his mistake after that game.

Now, what if Sam did all of that on purpose? What if he kept in a single Inversion, hoping to draw it and trick Cheon, either into playing around further Inversions or because he knew Cheon “knew” that Sam would side them out. That, my friends, is called “leveling” someone. You know exactly what level of thinking your opponent is on, and therefore you can make plays that would be “wrong,” but actually quite correct in the abstract.

My point is that everything that is right or wrong is based on perception. What might be the right play for an FNM player (siding out Inversion because it’s bad against his opponent, and he knows his opponent doesn’t try to play around anything) might not be the correct play for Sam.

What might be an 80% matchup for you against your testing partner Jimmy is going to be a coin flip against your local PTQ end boss Calosso Fuentes. Calosso plays better than Jimmy, he’s going to be a jerk and fluster you, and he focused on his deck being able to beat yours because he knew your deck would be popular.

Draft Picks

You are in the draft pod of a Grand Prix Top Eight, and your opening pack has Doom Blade, Pacifism, Overrun, and Merfolk Looter as potential options. You of course, take Jackal Familiar, get fed an insane mono red deck, and easily 6-0 the top eight.

Now, it’s pretty clear that that pick is wrong, but maybe you know something nobody else does. I know that in Shadowmoor limited, I took Intimidator Initiate over much “better” cards, but I rarely lost with mono Red. In M10, that isn’t quite the case and not taking any of the four cards I mentioned is probably a mistake, if only because that Jackal Familiar would probably come back 9th pick.

If taking Jackal Familiar first pick works well, does that make it correct? What if your neighbor is attempting to draft mono Red also, does that make it wrong, simply because you got cut out of Red?

Similarly, I see a lot of players stick to two colors when it’s perfectly reasonable, only to see a lot of Black cards in pack two and three, and then talk about how they “should” have been Black. Why should you have been black? There was no indication that Black was open until very late pack two, at which point it’s too late to switch colors.

Yes, Black was open and it sucks that you have a solid two color deck instead of the insane mono Black deck you could have had, but that doesn’t mean you should jump ship for that Dread Warlock you see fifth pick pack two. Even the sixth pick Tendrils doesn’t warrant an audible. Nor does the seventh pick Royal Assassin, or the eight pick Nightmare. At that point, you are too far committed, and not jumping into black is hardly a mistake.

If we can’t rely on results, what else is there? Well, you can rely on the results of several tournaments, but I wouldn’t want to assume that the results of one tournament, one small sample size, are entirely correct. If you start testing a matchup like Faeries vs. 5cc, you will probably be able to see in a few games that playing from the 5cc side is very frustrating. Faeries always has the counterspell, they always have the Mistbind Clique. That matchup is hard.

Bam! Three games and you’ve figured out that it’s a bad matchup, all just by thinking on your own. You didn’t have to play a hundred games to realize that Faeries is a difficult matchup, or that Mistbind Clique is one of their best cards against you. All you have to do is pay attention to what’s important and to what is causing each deck to succeed or fail. At that point, you can go about making changes to the decks and trying it all over again.

Second, there’s math and expected value. As I said earlier, as long as you are making the right plays and decisions, eventually the results will come. It’s much better to focus on that rather than your short term failures. You cannot win every game of every match, let alone every tournament.

Magic is not designed to be like that. If it were, I suspect eventually there would only be one person left playing it. No one likes being mana screwed, but everyone loves winning, and as long as anyone can win at Magic, that will keep people playing. The problem is that you, as the PT hopeful, would like to win a PTQ and probably a PT right now.

Until that happens, good luck!


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