A few weekends ago, I attended a tournament, and it highlighted something that I think many players can improve upon. To understand why, I have to give you some context.
The event was an Eternal Masters sealed PPTQ, with Eternal Masters top eight draft. The store hosting it was small-ish, so it had a 32 player maximum cap. As it was my local store (which rests in rural Alberta) I decided to enter, but as more serious players were coming out I didn’t expect to do well.
On a blustery day, ~24 players showed up to play. We sat down at noon and it was announced that it would be five rounds of Swiss pairings before top eight. I expected to be out of there long before the draft rounds started.
My pool, and pre-first round
So my pool was...strange. It had some good aspects - I opened both a Mother of Runes and a Maelstrom Wanderer- but unfortunately I couldn’t really find an archetype I liked. None of my colors really did what I wanted them to, my fixing was terrible, and I just couldn’t find top end threats that would be castable quick enough to be relevant.
In the end, I built a Naya beatdown deck, and it truly was three colors. With only four dual lands and four of each basic, my fixing was minimal. To say I was unsure about my deck was an understatement. But I also was confident that it was the best option available from my pool.
My first round
My first round opponent was a less experienced player, who built a 60 card, 4-5 color goodstuff deck. And by that I mean Goblin Charbelcher alongside Dualcaster Mage. So as unsure as I was, I was confident I could run him over. And game one, that’s pretty much what happened.
In both games two and three, I saw ten lands in the fifteen cards I drew. This was in a deck with sixteen lands. And the games were still close.
None of this is to throw shade on my opponent. He played quite well, especially for someone of his experience level (he went on to miss the top eight, but only just). It was my decision to keep questionable hands and straight bad luck that I didn’t manage to get there. And I got frustrated because I had expected to win, and failed in no small part because my deck had defeated itself.
But the day continued.
At 0-1, I was paired against a good friend, and he noticed my frustration. As he is every bit the Magic player I am, and his pool was somewhat more coherent than mine, I fully expected him to walk all over me. So I did what I usually did: shook his hand, made a joke, and shuffled up for round two.
Game one was one of the toughest games I played that day. One of his rares, an Eight-and-a-Half Tails, almost took over the game, with my only out being that he forgot he also had a Benevolent Bodyguard on the field after a complicated turn. He did.
That was the only reason I won. And don’t get me wrong, I played multiple turns setting up a moment when he had to tap out, then forget this last ability. And had I not I would have been 100% dead.
But the reason I made those plays was even more critical than my victory. Because by the time I dealt my opening hand, round one had all but left my mind. This was a new round, I was here to play and have fun. And if my deck was going to betray me like that, the least I could do was give my opponents a challenge.
Besides, it’s not like I stood a chance anyway.
Later that day…
My last match ended at 9:00, and I ended up in second place (there is another story there, but that is for another time). I got lucky, no doubt about it. But my own lesson was drilled home while talking to a player between rounds.
The player in question is older than I am, but newer at Magic. I glanced through his deck, and saw another 60-card good stuff pile. I offered him my deck in exchange, and gave him some pointers on building a limited deck with a coherent plan.
But I also reminded him of my own mantra: never sit down at a game you are not prepared to lose. Because the second you sit down at the table and go, “this game is an auto-win” or “this player is trash, 2-0” you are setting yourself up for failure, whether you win or lose. Because even if it is not on this day, chances are at some point someone is going to upset your applecart.
And what then? Can you survive the blow to your ego that defeat will lay upon you? I have friends who are far, far better players than I am, but a first round loss dooms them to drop by round 4.
I have lost games to 12 year-old girls. I have lost games to new players. I have lost games in matchups I should never lose. And I will again, because that is the nature of the game. The second you let a loss like that get to you, you might as well go home because your tournament is done.
The truth of the matter is that going on tilt is always going to cost you in the end.
So roll with it. Bounce back, look forwards, and remember that whatever else, Magic is a game. Have fun with it.
Author: Robert Trueblood