Finding Positives in the Negative

I had high expectations for #PTKLD and came up short with a disappointing 8-8 finish. 4-4 on Day 1 and 4-4 on Day 2. I like my PT finishes like my steak: Medium.

It is normal to feel disappointed after coming up short. It is also worth noting that while feeling disappointment is normal, it isn’t particularly useful in furthering the cause. While I can’t change the scoreboard, I can continue to refine my process and play better Magic in the coming month.

When you play a tournament and you don’t win, it is easy to identify the negative because the impression of “I didn’t win” is so front and center. There is no way around the fact that losing invokes negative feelings that taint your experience.

If you are one of the roughly 450+ people like me who didn’t earn another qualification at #PTKLD, or if you end up being one of the 1000s of people who will inevitably miss at the upcoming RPTQ, I hope I can provide some perspective on how to build on these disappointing experiences.

For a committed player, Magic is not a game that starts or ends with one event. I’ve won a few trophies, I’ve gotten on the tour, and fallen off again and still the journey continues. The key is to take measures that will help you continue to grow and improve as a player one tournament at a time.

A Fair and Measured Approach

As competitive players, it is important we be fair when assessing our preparation, attitude, and technical play. It’s easy to feel like a boss after stringing together 5 wins in a row. It is easy to feel like a weaksauce newb when we keep a two-lander and miss. The truth is that we are neither as smooth as we feel when we are running good or as bad as we feel when things are not going well.

 

It is possible to practice well and play well and still lose. Magic facts 101. If you practice better and play better, you will consistently do better, but even the greatest players in the game have tournaments where things don’t go their way.

The key to being consistently good at Magic is to be objective and analytic. For instance, imagine a scenario where you are playing against an opponent who has bad manners or is unsportsmanlike and it makes you feel miffed. You are feeling irritated with your opponent and want to show him up and start taking the most aggressive line of play rather than thinking about things objectively and figuring out the best play possible. Everybody knows this is a recipe for failure. Making decisions based on irrational emotion rather than logic and reason will not help you get the best result.

The same is true of reflecting about a tournament and preparing for the next event.

Find the Positives

My deck sucked. My play sucked. I punted. Once I started losing, I had a bad attitude. Negatives are often easy to identify.

If you are working hard to improve at Magic, the underlying narrative of your event shouldn’t be the few moments where you made a mistake or a coin flip that didn’t come up your way. Ideally, if you are walking the path to improvement, it should be possible to identify positive attributes at events where you don’t run the table, and build on them.

I’m going to use my tournament as an example:

Tournament Preparation

I had never been more confident about my tournament preparation than I was for this event. The Team Ann Arbor guys were an absolute delight to work with. Even the players who didn’t qualify for this event put in energy to help with Standard and Draft testing, and I am very thankful to have worked with those guys.

In particular, Kyle Boggemes, Tyler Hill, and Max McVety (the players I roomed with in Honolulu) put in quality testing in Hawaii. I felt that everybody worked together toward the same goal of having the best deck and best draft strategies possible. My understanding of the formats was solid for the event and I believe that if our team continues to work together and refine our process that everybody will continue to put together strong finishes in the future.

I had never been a part of a team where all of the members played the identical 75 in an event before, and that was how much we were all on the same page for this event! We all played a sick B/G Delirium deck that had a combined 22-12-1 record.

Draft: 2-4

Coming into #PTKLD I had never gone worse than 2-1 in a draft at a Pro Tour before. Typically, I do great in Draft and struggle in Constructed. This time around things were the exact opposite. I 1-2’d both pods.

I also felt very confident about drafting the set. I’d had a ton of success drafting and felt comfortable building decks in every combination of colors.

There was an overarching theme in my drafts that I didn’t see great cards either time. I didn’t open particularly powerful cards in either draft but did the best I could with what I had. Both of my decks were consistently decent but really suffered from not having any “get me over” type cards, which was beyond my control.

“You can’t always get what you want…”

For instance, my first draft deck was an R/G Beats deck that, when all was said and done, only had 2 cards that I would consider to be 1st-pick quality (both of which I was passed). I felt both of my decks were decent but below the power level that I would have liked. With that being said, I also don’t believe that I could have taken a different path to having decks that would have been better based in my seat. The vast majority of my 50/50 “close picks” were correct in hindsight and I had solid reasoning for making the picks that didn’t end up working out in hindsight.

Sometimes you flood out 4 times with your 15-land aggro deck and there isn’t much else that needs to be said.

Looking back, 2-4 in Draft is a terrible record. But that record wasn’t a result of making bad decisions or being unprepared, and so I know there isn’t a reason to dwell too much on it.

Constructed

I played the Rock deck that my teammates and I worked on in the Constructed portion of the event. We felt the deck was insanely good against the aggressive decks and we tuned it to be able to grind people out in more controlling matchups and mirrors.

We knew going into the event that our worst match up was Aetherworks Marvel and other combo-style decks. We had done some testing with various builds of Marvel but we all came to the same conclusion that the deck was just too inconsistent to risk a PT on.

“They play turn 1 Forest, Attune with the Aether… and I’m like ‘Oh, please god let him play a Voltaic Brawler next turn and not a Puzzleknot…’”

In hindsight, I think we made the correct choice for the event and, if anything, I think the deck continues to be a great choice for Constructed moving forward. Great deck is great! Yes, Marvel is a thing, but it is not consistent enough nor resilient enough to be a great tournament deck moving forward. In particular, the emergent blue decks create big problems for Marvel, which should help push our bad matchup further from the top tier.

Of the 12 losses our Delirium deck took, 8 of them were to Marvel combo decks. The one misstep we made was to underestimate how many players would be on Marvel for this event. We didn’t think the deck was particularly great and felt it would be a 10% meta share rather than 20%. In hindsight, perhaps we could have had more sideboard cards devoted to the matchup but overall I thought our deck choice and build were solid.

Another positive that I can identify is that my technical play continued to improve over the course of the event. Most of the Constructed testing was done playing Leagues with everybody watching and talking about the games and so it was a little bit different actually having to take the training wheels off and play paper Magic by myself! The first few rounds of Constructed I felt like I wasn’t very automatic or fluid in my plays. I was spending a lot of mental energy figuring out what was going on and what my lines were going to be. After I got a few rounds under my belt I felt like I really knew and understood my deck, and what my plays were going to look like.

I also felt like I got some of the fire back at the Pro Tour. In the first half of the event, I played like a guy who was just playing Magic, and in the second half I felt like I was playing like a Pro Player. I test against great players all the time, but there is a big difference between jamming games with friends and competing at a PT. I played against a lot of challenging opponents: Wrapter, Travis Woo, Joel Larson, and Jacob Wilson to name a few, and it really reminded me of what it takes to play high quality Magic. They are all great players who serve as a strong reminder of what to aim for. Joel, good luck with that sunburn!

In the last few rounds I played my best Magic of the event and I feel really good about that. I played a great game 3 against an R/G Energy opponent where I had stone-cold nothing and he had open season to destroy me but I sold him that I was leaving up removal. I had a plan that if I drew air I was going to untap and snap tap 4 lands to represent that I was going to cast a Kalitas or Mindwrack Demon, and then pull it back and tank for a second, and pass the turn (representing 2 removal spells). He bought it and it bought me time to draw out of my flood situation and I won the game.

Last but perhaps most importantly: I had a great attitude. I didn’t complain about my losses and I took each round one at a time and gave it maximum effort. In fact, I pushed myself to give more and more effort to play better even when I was struggling and losing matches.

I think I’ve finally worked through feeling really tilted when I’m not winning and not taking my losses too personally or too badly. That was something that I’ve really struggled with in the past and I’m happy to be in a place where I feel like I’ve got high drive and motivation to win, but am able to not take those tough losses to heart and become distracted.

The scoreboard is what the scoreboard says it is. Regardless of whether you think you played well and got robbed, or played terribly and got punished. The fact is that focusing on the negatives—“I played bad” or “my deck sucked”—can only carry you so far. Okay, don’t play badly and have a better deck—these are obvious explanations that don’t give you much perspective on how to do better next time, which is why I believe focusing on what you did well and working to push those qualities forward is a much more productive strategy.

Hopefully, my demonstration of how to find the positives after a tough tournament helps to give you some perspective on how to use this process in your own post-tournament reflections. There is often more to be learned from taking what you’ve done well and building on it than dwelling on what you’ve done poorly and worrying about it.

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