Hey folks! This week, I’m back with another monthly Twitter Q&A! Each month, I take questions about the mental side of the game over on my Twitter and answer people’s questions in this article. If you’d like to join in next month, just head here to my Twitter, follow me, and ask your question when I announce the Q&A. Let’s get started!

Confidence is absolutely essential—there’s no question about that. If you can’t feel confident in your lines of play, the decisions you make, and your ability to pilot a deck, then it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to play your best and get good results over a consistent period of time. As Brad Nelson once said, “Confidence is one of the most crucial things to have when playing Magic. It’s actually very difficult to function without it. Decisions are much more difficult to make correctly, and second-guessing yourself becomes second nature without it. It is a very slippery slope.”

I’ve always been of the opinion that you’re better off playing a tier 2 deck that you’re extremely confident and familiar with than playing a tier 1 deck you’re not confident with and don’t have nearly as many reps with. In my view, playing a tier 2 deck very optimally is better than playing a tier 1 deck very sub-optimally. Over the course of multiple rounds, you’re going to make more good decisions and correct plays with the tier 2 deck you’re confident and familiar with than you are with the tier 1 deck you’re not confident and unfamiliar with.

If you play Infect confidently and expertly, the downside is that you might lose since it’s poorly positioned. But you’re just as likely to lose with Humans, despite how highly positioned it is, since you’re unfamiliar with the deck and not confident in playing it. In that case, you might as well go with the deck you know how to play and are confident playing, because then you at least have a much higher chance for an upside.

On the day of a tournament, no, I wouldn’t go for a run. I mean, could you go for a run? I think you could, as I don’t think it would be harmful in and of itself. But you can achieve the same benefits you’d want to get from running without any of the potential risks associated with running. You could exhaust yourself, pick up an injury, etc.

Better than running on the day of a tournament is walking. Walking will give you the same benefits of running, in that it will fire up the areas of the brain responsible for focus, attention, and concentration. It will send more oxygen to your brain and get your blood flowing. Walking is something I’d also recommend doing between rounds. You don’t have to do it between every round, but every 2-3 rounds, go for a short walk and keep your mind/body in higher working condition.

This is where post-tournament retrospective reflection really comes into play. For situations like the one you’ve described, it’s about understanding what play it was that you made, what the outcome of that play was, and then most importantly, what was the context that led to that outcome happening as opposed to a different outcome.

For example, let’s say you’re playing an aggro deck and your opponent is playing a control deck. You have three creatures in play and one more creature in your hand. Your opponent has no board presence and only one card in hand. You attack your opponent and get them low enough to where, if you play that last creature in your hand, you can finish them off next turn. Or, you can be patient, not over-commit, and wait an extra turn to finish them off in case they either already have a sweeper in their hand or draw one on their next turn. Given that your opponent has no board presence and only one card in hand, you decide to play the last creature in your hand to try and win the game next turn.

Your opponent draws for their turn, taps 5 mana, and plays Cleansing Nova, wiping your entire board, leaving you with no threats and no cards in hand. That Cleansing Nova wasn’t in their hand. They drew it that turn. In that situation, I would say that your decision to play your last creature and finish off the game next turn was correct, because your opponent had no board presence and only had one card in hand. You took a risk, played boldly, and made the correct play. You just happened to get unlucky with your opponent drawing the exact card they needed to stabilize. But that doesn’t mean your decision was wrong just because the outcome didn’t go your way, because in the majority of situations, the outcome would go your way.

You have to take context into account when evaluating the outcomes of the decisions you make. A good decision is a good decision if, the majority of the time, making that decision would lead to a positive outcome more often than it would lead to a negative one.

The best way to deal with past mistakes made in tournaments is to find the silver lining. You have to ask yourself, “What’s the great learning lesson from this mistake that I made? How can this mistake benefit me going forward?” The mistake a lot of players make is that they focus on what the mistake cost them as opposed to the benefit and growth opportunity the mistake can provide for them.

Secondly, being self-compassionate is absolutely important. You have to remind yourself that you’re an imperfect human being, that you’re going to make mistakes, and that it’s impossible for you to always make every decision 100% correctly, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. Even the very best players in the world make mistakes when they play. They simply do a better job of using those mistakes as a positive force for good moving forward than most players do.

You can train by practicing/playtesting with the level of focus that you would demand from yourself in competition. Focus is a skill, and like any skill, if you want it to be sharp, you have to put effort into consciously practicing it and working at it. When you’re doing playtesting sessions or practicing on Arena, MTGO, or at your local shop, you should be playing with the same level of focus and concentration that you would want to have in an actual tournament. That way, focusing and concentrating at that level is more normalized and habitual in nature when you go into a big tournament.

At the tournament itself, there are several things you can do to keep your focus sharp. Practice deep, controlled breathing during your games and between rounds. Get outside of the crowded tournament space and find some quiet space where you can be with yourself for a few minutes to let your mind calm down and refresh. Go for a short walk or do some kind of non-intensive movement/stretching between rounds.

When it comes to something like sequencing of lands, attacking before playing spells in your first main phase, etc., are those things going to make a huge, massive difference every time you do them? No, probably not. But there’s no downside to getting into the habit of sequencing things correctly and the upside can be rewarding. So it just makes sense to get into the habit of playing your lands in a certain order, attacking before playing spells in your main phase, and more. It doesn’t cost you anything and it can benefit you greatly in certain situations.

In terms of the actual moment at the table when someone is feeling huge nervousness and tension, the best things to do is slow, deep, controlled breathing. Inhale for 5 seconds slowly through the nose, exhale for 5 seconds slowly through the mouth. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system and creates a relaxation response in the body. In terms of preventing nervousness and tension before sitting down, accept that losing is possible. Don’t be emotionally attached to the outcome. Don’t be afraid to lose. You want to win, go for it, and give it your best shot, but do that with the understanding that the result is ultimately beyond your control. Focus on having fun, enjoying the game, being in the moment, and playing the best Magic you can. That’s all you can control.

If you’re interested in getting a more in-depth learning experience about how to improve at the mental side of competitive Magic, I wrote an entire book on the mental side of the game, which you can find here at Amazon. The Professor himself recently rated it an “A”, so check it out and let me know what you think!

I want to give a big thank you to everyone who submitted questions! Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, if you have a question related to the mental side of the game you’d like answered in my next Q&A, just follow me over on Twitter and ask me your question next time!

Thanks for reading, and all the best!