Reflecting on My Year

I’ve never really set specific goals for myself when it comes to Magic. I’ve been playing for about five years at this point, and every year my goal is always the same thing; to be better. It’s a simple goal, a realistic goal, and it’s my only goal.

When it comes to Magic, you don’t have control over everything. The only thing you can control is your own play. So rather than setting a goal of winning tournament X, Top 8ing tournament Y, or qualifying for tournament Z, I find it significantly more beneficial and healthy to focus solely on improving. And when you’re putting the work in and getting better, the results will hopefully follow.

While grinding for hours on end is both something I do and something that can lead to improvement, I’ve found the most important part of the process, by a large margin, to be reflection. Through every experience, there’s a lesson to be learned. Regardless of whether it’s failure or success, you can take something away from any experience, and this sentiment holds especially true for Magic. In a game where any single micro decision can be the difference between a great finish and an early exit from a tournament, analyzing past experiences in order to lessen the number of future mistakes is crucial.

So being that we’re nearing the end of the year, this seemed like a good time to reflect on a few of my more memorable tournaments from the year, and analyze what I did well and what I did poorly.

Event: Modern MOCS Playoffs

Finish: 5th

This was the first major event I played this year, and arguably one of the most important. It ended up dictating how much I ended up playing, travelling, and the decks I played in countless other events.

What I did Well:

The easiest thing to point to from this event is my deck choice.

Death's Shadow
This event was pretty strange because it was the only one of its kind. This was the only tournament following the ban of Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll, but prior to the release of Fatal Push. It was also the first event in which anyone played something similar to the Death’s Shadow decks we’re all familiar with now, and I was fortunately one of the few people playing it in the event.

I’ve never had such an advantage from deck choice alone in an event before, and there’s a pretty reasonable chance I never will again. I’ve always been very much in the camp of just playing good decks with solid plans and not getting too caught up in trying to break it, but this deck was absolutely busted for this tournament. Despite the field being dense with talent, I think my 5th place finish may have actually been lower than my average finish if I were to play the same event 10 times. I had the best deck in the tournament, and I had played hundreds of matches with it the week leading up to the event. I had over an 80% win rate with deck, a 2010+ rating online, and I actually didn’t think I was capable of losing this event going into it.

The biggest lesson I learned here is that, sometimes, taking risks and wasting time testing new decks is necessary. I tend to not waste much time testing fringe decks because I believe that my time would be better spent tuning already proven strategies, but the edge gained in doing that can never really compare to finding something busted.

What I did Poorly:

Path to Exile
The swiss portion of the tournament went exactly as expected, and I only dropped a single game as I coasted into the Top 8. This is where I made a rather egregious error in judgment that likely cost me the tournament. I was paired against Craig Wescoe in the quarterfinals, and during the swiss portion of the event I had noticed that Craig was the last match to finish on more than one occasion. I was surprised by that because the White aggressive decks Craig is known for playing tend to win relatively quickly. So unsure of what Craig was playing, I looked up his most recent article to see if there was a Modern deck he had written about recently.

In the article he included a list for a {W}{R} Prison deck that incorporated some Death and Taxes elements. After I saw the deck, I came to the conclusion that he was likely playing the {W}{R} deck, and his games were taking so long because they were just long drawn out Blood Moon games. So, when I played against him, I fetched for a Forest on the first turn and Traversed for a swamp in order to play around Simian Spirit Guide into Blood Moon. I ended up getting punished for this pretty hard as Craig was actually on a stock Death and Taxes list. I wasted several resources, and took the basics out of my deck against the Path to Exile and Ghost Quarter deck. I ended up losing the game and the match.

I think it’s okay to make plays based on assumptions, especially when they aren’t baseless, but going for the hard read here when the only information I had to support my assumption is that he wrote an article and his games took a long time is a terrible idea in hindsight. Hedging by just doing something like fetching a basic, but not burning the Traverse was likely correct in this situation. Finding a balance between when to go all in and when to hedge is a large aspect of Magic in general, and if I was a bit better, I probably could have applied the same principles to this scenario despite it being rather unique.

Event: Pro Tour Hour of Devastation

Finish: 8-8

This was by far my favorite event of the year. The Pro Tour itself was a great experience, and going to Japan because I’m decent at a card game was a surreal.

What I did Well:

While I would’ve liked to have 6-0d the Limited portion of the event, it did go fairly well for me. I was a bit worried about Limited because of how rarely I play it, but I am confident in my ability to the play the format when I have to. I have a pretty sound understanding of the game at a fundamental level, and I tend to do well when I actually play the format. The only thing that actually concerned me was the draft. I can play games of Limited at a decently high level, but drafting is certainly one of the weaker parts of my game. I worked on Limited primarily by myself, and I developed a solid understanding of the format in a short amount of time. After about a week and approximately forty drafts, I was completely comfortable drafting and playing any archetype.

When it came to the event, I was definitely proud of my drafts. In both drafts I got pushed out of Green ramp early on, and was able to easily shift into other archetypes. In went 2-1 in the first draft losing to an insane {W}{G} deck with a lot of cat lords, and I went 2-1 in the 2nd draft getting mana screwed in consecutive games against Jon Finkel. I can’t really complain about either loss.

What I did Poorly:

The answer to this one is pretty easy; I played really bad. The answer is a bit deeper than that, though. Throughout the tournament, my level of play ranged from great to atrocious.

This was the first time I had played a tournament on the other side of the world, and the travel took a toll on me. I slept from 2am-7am everyday I was in Japan, made a few too many trips to the local Family Mart and indulged in a few too many treats, and did a very poor job at staying hydrated in what felt like 120 degree weather. This all culminated in me totally crashing during the back half of both days. I made some of the most egregious errors I’ve made in years, and I was miserable the entire time. My solid 8-3 start quickly turned into an underwhelming 8-7 finish. In the last four rounds, I played against four players who were already better than me, and I made mistakes in every one of them. I conceded in the last round, and I finished at a dead average record of 8-8.

This event was also the first time I had worked with a large testing team. While I don’t think I was a bad teammate or that my team was bad, I didn’t like working with a team very much. For a while, it seemed like it was impossible to succeed on the Pro Tour without a large testing team, but I think they’re extremely overrated. With the way Standard currently is and sets being released earlier online, the need for a team is severely mitigated. A team is necessary if you’re trying to break the format, but I can’t remember the last time someone broke the format for a PT. It was probably Matt Nass with Rally, but he was on a team and they didn’t even play his deck. The point is you don’t have to break the format, you just need a solid deck. Anyone with some talent who is willing to work hard enough can have a good deck for the PT if they play a bit and study the online metagame.

Event: MTGO PTQs

Finish: 1st, 2nd, 2nd

This was actually the first year I had grinded old-school PTQs. I played a few when I first started playing Magic, but it wasn't something I took seriously back then. And by the time I became invested in Magic, PTQs weren't a thing anymore. But when I began playing a lot online at the end of last year, I realized that I should probably start playing PTQs when I’m not doing anything else. I actually really like playing in these events, and I’m always excited when they fall on weeks I’m not traveling.

What I did Well:

I only had the opportunity to play in approximately ten PTQs, and I managed to do fairly well in most of them. While the events aren’t the most difficult, they’re not exactly easy either, so I think it means I was doing something right in them. I specifically wanted to highlight these events because I felt like my level of played my best in these events. I’m at my best when I’m in my room, listening to some music, and just completely relaxed. I need to work on feeling as comfortable playing paper tournaments as I do playing in tournaments online.

What I did Poorly:

I didn’t lose very well. And by that I don’t mean that I’m great and didn’t lose often, but that I didn’t handle my losses very well. Prior to this year, I was no stranger to losing in the finals of events. I had lost in the finals of four SCG Opens. I certainly wasn’t happy about those losses, but they were pretty easy to shake off.

Losing the finals of a PTQ feels a lot worse. Like I mentioned, I had never really played in any sort of winner-take-all style tournaments, so it was a rough adjustment. I was significantly more frustrated after losing these events than I would like to be. They weren’t week ruining or anything like that, but I have had to spend some of those ticket winnings on drywall repairs.

I’m known for being basically emotionless when playing live, and for the most part I am, but as it turns out I can actually feel things sometimes. It’s a lot easier to let out some anger when no one else is around. I hate thinking that my feelings could be detrimental to my play if I’m getting mad while the match is still going on, so this is definitely something I’ll be working on throughout next year.

Event: SCG Atlanta / SCG Dallas

Finish: 1st, 1st

I have to group these events together because they basically played out the exact same way. They were week one Standard tournaments, and I was significantly more prepared than the rest of the field.

What I did Well:

A lot of things went well for me to win these, but the thing that stood out the most to me by far was the edge I had in preparation. Both Amonkhet and Ixalan had early releases on Magic Online, and one week is more than enough time for me to gain a massive edge over the field. I’m basically always caught up on Standard and I’m pretty good at identifying what matters out of new sets, so a whole week is more than a sufficient amount of time to put it all together. And if I find out what the best deck is early on enough, I can spend the rest of the time tuning it and developing plans for popular matchups.

What I did Poorly:

It’s hard to recall specific instances, but I don’t remember being particularly happy with my play. Understanding that you didn’t play perfectly just because you won is imperative when it comes to improving.

This wraps up my first full year of writing Magic articles, and I can’t thank everyone enough for the support. Similar to Magic, my goal when it comes to writing is to always be improving. So, I hope you all enjoyed what I put out this year, and I’m looking forward to producing better content for you all throughout next year as well.

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