Hey everyone! I’ve never done a mail bag article before, but I’ve always enjoyed reading these type of articles by various other Magic players so I thought that I’d give it a shot myself. I asked on Twitter if there were any questions players had for me to answer, and I gathered some of the more interesting ones here.

Let’s get started.

This is a great question Brandon Nelson asked about how I balance my job as a Magic Player and as a father.

For those of you who don’t know, I have soon-to-be three year old identical twin daughters. I stay home full-time and care for them on the weekdays while my wife goes to work. I’m fortunate enough to be able to have this gig writing for ChannelFireball.com to supplement my income, which affords me this opportunity. I’m able to brainstorm article ideas and concepts at home while watching the girls, and generally write when my wife comes home from work when I can be in my own zone.

Playing Magic, on the other hand, has gotten much more difficult since my daughters were born. I’m usually able to play a match here or there while they’re watching TV in line on of sight, or when they’re napping, but I can’t just ignore them altogether so I generally try to consume more content now. I’ll watch great streamers like Gabriel Nassif and Luis Scott-Vargas, and some not so good ones, like Matt Nass. (Just kidding, Matt, you’re great.) In doing so I can learn about the game without having to be engrossed in it.

While I’m not able to focus on my own matches, I can get a good grasp of what’s going on in matchups, ask questions if I missed something, and get caught up in ways I couldn’t otherwise. My wife is very supportive of my current career so we compromise on time for me to play Magic while she can give the girls her full attention. This also includes travel time. My wife’s mother also helps a tremendous amount with the girls, watching them for a day or two when I need to get caught up on creating content or up to speed testing for an upcoming event. Since I have streams to watch and articles to read, I can sift through information and shortcut some of my own work.

Sometimes, I feel like I can’t play enough Magic to stay at the top of my game, but I push as hard as I can when I can. I enjoy Magic so much that using all of my “free time” on it doesn’t bother me. I mostly forego playing new video games and trying other digital card games because my hands are full with Magic. Magic is my only hobby since I have so much going on, and I’m OK with that.

There’s also times when I feel like I need to focus more on family too. After Pro Tours, I tend to back away from Magic a little bit for a while and focus more on spending time with my wife and family. I’ve just finished an exhausting testing process so I’ll dismiss preparing for the next GP if it’s right after the Pro Tour and try and spend time with the kids, removing myself from the game for a period of time. As much as I love the game of Magic, nothing feels better than coming home to my family after a long week or two of grinding.

Overall, I’m just very fortunate to have an extremely supportive family who goes out of their way to make what I do possible.

Getting frustrated with Magic happens to all of us. Whether we’re losing, can’t figure out what deck to play, or just bored with a format, we can get frustrated. If I’m frustrated enough, I’ll spend a day or two away from the game. I’ll spend time playing video games or getting caught up on TV. After a day or two, I genuinely miss the game. As I said in my last question, I don’t do this too often since Magic is my work now, but when I do it makes me enjoy these things even more.

If I’m frustrated with what’s going on with Magic but still want to play, I simply go back to the formats I love most. I’ve always loved casual Draft formats, or Cube, and I’ll play these formats as something different to keep the game fresh for me. Last weekend in GP Sacramento I bombed out Day 1 of the event, and should have used that next day to practice for the upcoming PT. Dejected by my result, I instead decided to play a Core Set 2019 side Draft, and learned Battlebond. Playing the types of Magic I love with friends always reinvigorates my passion for the game and helps me remember why I do what I do, and appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given to be a professional Magic player.

This, for the record, is a troll question I talked a lot about over the weekend in Ben Yu’s company. This, however, is a great situation to discuss, and vaguely resembles The Looter Problem written by Luis Scott-Vargas.

https://www.twitch.tv/videos/291518018?t=43m42s

This video is the play in question. I’m extremely behind at this point of the game as I have 4 life. I’m behind on board and my opponent is drawing two cards a turn. With the information I have, I know that I have a single copy of Strangling Spores left in my library to kill the Resplendent Angel, and also a Banefire as my only real shot at winning the game. I’m able to Act of Treason and sacrifice an Angel token, and hopefully find my Strangling Spores the next turn to get rid of the Resplendent Angel. In the meanwhile, I can sacrifice my Skyscanner after blocking the Resplendent Angel to prevent my opponent from getting another Angel token. So after I cast Act of Treason, I have to make a decision on which way I want to sacrifice my opponent’s Angel token. I can sacrifice it to my Dark-Dweller Oracle or to my Brawl-Bash Ogre. Sacrificing it to my Oracle would allow me to find a land on top of my deck and play it, or basically exile my top card. In doing so I’d deal two more damage.

But the amount of threats I have left in my deck is extremely thin. In fact, what you’re looking at on the battlefield is as good as it gets. I have some weak creatures, no flyers, and nothing that can carry me to victory on its own. You know that you shouldn’t be worried about “milling your good cards away” because it’s not a relevant argument. Unless, of course, you’re going to get to the bottom of your deck. The top of your deck is completely random, so it’s not any more important than the bottom card. Just like the looting problem, you’re equally likely to get closer to your good card than you are to draw it or mill it away.

My decision at this point of the game was based on the fact that I thought I needed to use all of the resources available in my deck to win the game. I have creatures like Doomed Dissenter and Goblin Instigator left, and having these creatures with Dark-Dweller Oracle on the battlefield make it possible for me to get to the bottom of my deck by sacrificing low value creatures to reveal and cast more cards. From this spot, I figured the instances where I win this game basically involve my opponent flooding out horribly while I’m able to get some chip damage in, finding my Strangling Spores and dealing with his Resplendent Angel, making all of my land drops, and eventually casting a large Banefire for lethal damage. Since the games I feel I’m winning looked like this, I decided to lose out on 2 damage to have one additional card in my deck.

One additional card in my deck could amount to an additional attack phase, which may also translate into more than 2 damage. To top it off, I’m such a huge dog in this game that revealing more of my deck, and letting my opponent know that I have a Banefire in my deck, may have a direct cost in game 3 of the match.

All of this crossed my mind in those few seconds as I was making the decision of where to sacrifice my opponent’s Angel token. I believed that I was in the corner case situation in a spot where I should legitimately be worried about losing threat density in my deck as I may get to the bottom if things went well.

Was it the right play? I honestly don’t know. It’s possible that I needed to run perfectly if I even had a chance. I would have had to deal that extra two snd hit exactly a land so my Banefire later would be large enough. These kind of calculations are impossible to make not knowing what combat will look like for a few turns. In these kind of situations you just have to make a decision and do what feels best.

While this may seem like a very innocent, one sided game, I had a lengthy discussion about this spot with Paulo, who commentated on the match, and a bunch of friends at dinner, and we didn’t reach a consensus on what was the right thing to do, but agreed that it was reasonable to come to my line of play. If you feel that you’re going to reach the bottom of your deck, you can correctly “not loot”.

My favorite moment of my career was winning the Player of the Year title in 2014-2015. I honestly never knew what would come of my career, and my choice to take Magic more seriously as a profession. Having the ability to look at the rankings and see myself as the number one ranked player in the world was surreal. It squashed any doubts I had about being good enough to be a Pro Tour player, and that was important to my confidence in continuing this pursuit.

One thing I wish I knew before I went Pro would be how much hard work it is to keep an edge at the Pro Tour. I’m typing this article in a conference room in a hotel in Minneapolis. There’s water bottles and deck boxes everywhere. The 10 to 15 of us testing together woke up at 8 a.m. and went hard until midnight, with only short breaks for food. We try day in and day out trying to get that extra edge, and usually we don’t. While I wouldn’t wish to be doing anything else, it’s not always glamorous. The times we do figure something out though, those times are special. And we keep striving to relive those moments, and I will continue to for as long as I’m able. You need to be lucky to play Magic professionally. Some of us ran hot and caught lucky breaks, while others who may be just as good or better haven’t found that success yet. But with that being said, it’s still a lot of work to compete against a bunch of extremely intelligent individuals all chasing the same dream, and who are willing to work hard to achieve it.

This is a very interesting question. Since the Top 8 is seeded in most cases, I’d play to give myself the best chance to win if it was going to benefit me to win. If losing would still leave me as top seed, I’d potentially be more cautious if I had something I thought my opponent wouldn’t figure out. But if it was just two stock deck lists against each other with stock sideboards, I’d just sideboard normally.

I have a good story about a similar situation at Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad. Eventual champion Steve Rubin needed a draw to make Top 8 and was paired against a higher seed, Jon Finkel. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Jon could afford to lose and still make it, and drawing would of course also get him in. While I don’t know what seed Jon ended up in, he eventually offered Steve Rubin the draw—a draw he knew Steve would take at any point. He offered the draw very early in game 3. Why did he wait so long? He played out the game, and cast Infinite Obliteration on turn 3. Not a card B/G Season’s Past would typically board in against G/W Tokens, but what he did was use his situation to give him a chance to cast Infinite Obliteration post-board to see how Steve chose to sideboard in the match. Once he took a look at Steve’s deck, he offered the draw, which Steve took. This is an excellent heads up play by Jon. He got some free info, at little to no cost by refusing the draw initially, and leveraged his higher standing in the tournament into some additional information. If you happen to have a card like this in a similar situation, perhaps Surgical Extraction, it may be worth sideboading it in when you have nothing to lose.

The last question I’ll answer is part of this series of questions. My strengths and weaknesses as a player.

As far as my weaknesses are concerned, I have none. I’m kidding, of course. Attention to detail is my biggest flaw as a Magic player. Most of my mistakes are in game, and they are often careless, sloppy mistakes.

One creature will give another first strike and I’ll forget, or I’m not focusing on life totals when figuring out a combat and instead trying to figure out how to gain the most material in combat when I should focus on killing my opponent. These kind of mistakes can cost me games and while it rarely happens, it still does. Just this season I punted an on board kill because I forgot that my creature didn’t have summoning sickness in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Ixalan.

I have a few strengths as a player as well. I think that I’m good at big picture planning in games. I can see how games are going to end very quickly, recognize my path to victory, and execute on it pretty well. If a game is going to go ten or fifteen turns I can identify that quickly and play the game in a manner that’s conducive to a prolonged game. Instead of giving up material for extra damage that I know won’t be enough to close the game, I can save that extra 2/2 creature for a double block down the road.

I also pride myself on the ability to identify good decks, and to pick them up and play them. I don’t get attached to one archetype or strategy. For instance, over the past three or four years I’ve managed to post a 13-2 or better record four times at Modern Grand Prix. Two of these I missed Top 8 on tiebreakers, and the other two times I made Top 8. I don’t know in exactly how many attempts, but I’d guess that it’s somewhere close to 12 to 14 Modern Grand Prix.

Of those four strong finishes, I did it with four different decks. My first was with Affinity, second with Amulet Bloom, third with Jund, and fourth with Hollow One. I don’t have a preference for any specific style of deck. I just want to identify what deck I think gives me the highest win percentage and learn it well enough to attack the metagame from the correct angle. I think this gives me an advantage over players who pigeon hole themselves into only playing combo, aggro, control, or midrange. While I do think it’s possible to have a successful career playing the kinds of decks you love, the decks I love are the ones I think will give me the best chance to win.

Hopefully I have a deck I love this weekend when I battle alongside two of the best players of all time, Luis Scott-Vargas and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.

I hope that you learned something about me, or about Magic reading this article, and I hope that you’re in Team CFB’s corner this weekend at the Pro Tour.