Nashville Retrospective (After Losing to New Perspectives)

Greetings once again! This time, I’m writing to my readers live from the hotel lobby of the Sheraton Grand hotel in beautiful Music City, the one and only Nashville, TN. After a week of compressed testing and a blistering fast exit from the Pro Tour, I’m left wondering what went wrong. Certainly, I was less skilled at Aetherworks Marvel spinning than my good friend Jiachen Tao, but the losses piled on so quickly I barely had a chance to analyze why I was losing. Looking back, I can spot precisely four instances where a decision I made cost me big-time at this event. Let’s start from the top, in the hopes that my Pro Tour post-mortem will be of use to all of you looking to learn how to better analyze your losses and find ways to improve even in defeat.

0: I did not optimize my health and energy levels prior to the tournament!

Bountiful Harvest
When I’m not traveling to a Magic tournament, I try to get enough sleep, to wake up at a reasonable hour, to hit the gym or do some sort of physical activity every day, and to eat a stellar diet. This means lots of veggies, few processed carbs, protein from sources like beans, nuts, and egg whites, and most of my sugar intake coming from fruit smoothies. I know, I know, this isn’t a health article, but this stuff matters. When I got to Nashville, not only was I tired from waking up super early for my flight, but I immediately messed up my typical eating patterns by starting in on delicious ice cream and french fries and assorted treats with my teammates. I also didn’t get in any exercise because the AirBnB that we stayed at had no gym equipment, and we went straight from waking up to go test all day, with breaks for food on occasion. This led to a little more sluggishness on my end mentally, and I intend to fix this for Kyoto. I have three main fixes in mind to bring some of my healthy domestic routine to a Pro Tour on the other side of the world, and if I can do it there, I can certainly do it in Albuquerque in October.

To start, I’ll be bringing a good portion of my own food, so I won’t be as tempted to break my diet for the various and sundry treats that you can find abounding at every convenience store and vending machine. Fava beans and dried roasted chickpeas are big ones, as they are not as high in calories as almonds and peanuts, so I’ll be able to pig out on them without going overboard. (And let me tell you, I love pigging out on food, but if I don’t bring my own food, it’ll end up being Pocky and flavored KitKat bars in Japan for me.)

I’ll be obliging myself to do a set of ten or fifteen push-ups between testing games as well, as over the course of the day, I’ll get in upwards of two or three hundred push-ups. I occasionally used to do push-ups at tournaments (ten for every match win, twenty for every match loss, and thirty for an unintentional draw) but I let the habit die. Not anymore! This sort of physical exertion keeps energy levels higher and helps you fight fatigue over the course of a long tournament.

The third, biggest thing, is working on maintaining a healthy sleep schedule going into the tournament. This one is really tricky for most players, as I know from experience that it’s almost too easy to ruin your sleep from late nights jamming matchups and drafting on MTGO. Setting yourself a strict bedtime and wake-up time is no fun, to be sure, but it also helps immensely with your tournament-day energy to follow the same routine you’ve been following the whole week. If this is professional Magic, it behooves us to treat it like a job, and that means following a routine to help us be our best. Anything else is just spewing equity.

But enough about intangibles and the tired old trope about taking care of oneself, let’s talk in-game decisions!

1: My first and second draft picks!

Neheb, the Worthy
In case you didn’t catch the segment on Twitch where I went over my draft with LSV, I faced a choice with my first pick. I had Electrify, which is a playable but not stellar removal spell, and I had Neheb, the Worthy, which is a powerful card that goes well in exactly one color combination: {B}{R}. Drafting the Neheb would be a risky, but high-payoff play that might result in a very, very strong deck, but might result in a wasted first pick. Drafting the Electrify, which I now believe was incorrect, would give me a playable but unexciting card in my favorite archetype, {W}{R} Aggro, while keeping me open. I was a little nervous, as I have never been in the feature draft pod at the Pro Tour, and I was a little tired still, as I hadn’t slept very well the previous night. I tanked, and tanked, and decision time came, and I chose to draft the flexible card that might let me into my favorite archetype. I think that it was incorrect in retrospect, not because I immediately got passed a pack with another Neheb, the Worthy, but because I had an opportunity to take a risk and get rewarded in a Pro Tour where I specifically wanted to take risks to potentially get a very strong finish.

Of course, I saw the second Neheb alongside a Cartouche of Strength in the second pack, leading me to another tough decision. At that point, having passed Neheb, I should have recognized that I was likely to get into a fight with a {B}{R} drafter downstream if I passed two Nehebs, and that it might not have been worth it to try to make Minotaurs work. On the other hand, I also passed a Khenra Charioteer in the first pack, leading me to believe that someone two or three seats to my left might end up in that color combination, as well! I was truly next-leveling myself at this point, regretting my decision not to snap off the more powerful, risky choice, and I thought that if the player to my right passed a Neheb, it might make sense to pass-cut the first one, and get the hook-up in packs one and three. It wasn’t pretty, but it was my line of logic. I also strongly dislike Green in this draft format, so I was disincentivized to take Cartouche, and the rest of the draft continued from this decision. There were very few playable Red or Black two-drops in pack one, and I was forced to take some underwhelming ones in pack three to fill out my deck. I hoped for a 2-1 finish on the back of a big pile of removal and high-quality Minotaurs, but in the back of my mind I knew that my deck would need a lot to go right in order to salvage this draft. Sure, the packs broke poorly for me, and the whole draft ended up being very strange from my perspective as well, but I faced two tough decisions right off the bat, and I was unprepared and flustered by those choices. This is a sure sign that I hadn’t gotten quite enough breadth of draft experience, and though I knew exactly how to draft W/x Aggro, I was lost trying to cobble together{B}{R}. That inexperience showed in my first round, against Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif.

2: I gave Gab an out, and he spiked!

Rhonas the Indomitable
In Game 2 of our match, I had Gabriel Nassif on the ropes. A well-timed Fling broke up a double-block, and suddenly his board looked very anemic in comparison to my Neheb and two copies of Cursed Minotaur. He was at 15 to my 7 life. I had a Baleful Ammit and a Mountain in my hand, and played both of them pre-combat, putting a counter on my Ammit and charging up my team of Minotaurs. I sent in with the squad, putting Gab to only one life. He responded to the trigger by flashing in two Pouncing Cheetahs, suddenly making me a lot more nervous than I’d just been. Maybe I should have only attacked for nine instead of fourteen? He untapped, ordered his lands, and peeled the top card off his deck. “That was a pretty good one,” he said, as he placed Rhonas the Indomitable on the table and started doing math to see if he could kill me from seven life. He had two 3/2 Cheetahs, a 2/3, and a 2/1, which was exactly enough to alpha strike, pump the creature I blocked, and kill me on the spot. I sat there, stunned, wondering if I’d made a huge mistake. I didn’t think I’d be staring down two flash 3/2 creatures, let alone a topdecked God! But I started doubting myself, wondering if I’d somehow gotten too overconfident and failed to play around all the outs Gab could have had. I quietly shook Gabriel’s hand, still muttering to myself about how I didn’t think I needed to play cautiously. This specific instance has been a constant monkey on my back, where I find myself far ahead in a given game only to lose to a strange series of overconfident plays followed by a topdeck from my opponent. More than anything else, I need to work on this aspect of my game, to keep my brain from turning off when I’m far ahead or far behind. If I’d put the Ammit’s -1/-1 counter on one of my Minotaurs pre-combat, I’d have been able to survive that attack. If I’d only attacked with two of my three Minotaurs, I’d have been able to play around Limits of Solidarity. However, there is obvious value in attacking my opponent down to a super-low life total, so the decision is not completely clear-cut. Rather than thinking about it too much, I made the most obvious play, giving Gab an out to win, which he took. Next time I’m far ahead, hopefully I keep my game face on and stop giving my opponents free outs due to sloppy play.

3: I played into Manglehorn in the Marvel Semi-Mirror!

So, there I am, 1-2 after the draft, but excited to battle with my Aetherworks Marvel deck in Standard. Of course, what better way to start things off than with a match against Temur Marvel, where (despite repeated bricking with Aetherworks Marvel) I take Game 1, simply by virtue of actually, you know, having the Marvel. Game 2 was a non-game where I spun my Marvel, missed, and then my opponent made an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn five, but that’s just life. In Game 3, though, when my opponent tapped out on turn three and four for Rogue Refiner and Whirler Virtuoso, I decided to play a Marvel with a single mana untapped for Dispel. My opponent slammed a Manglehorn, which I didn’t expect, and mangled my hopes and dreams. We had all prepared for Dissenter’s Deliverance as the Marvel answer of choice in the semi-mirror, and even though I could have played other interactive spells that turn and played my Marvel with energy ready to activate it the next turn (with Dispel backup, no less!) I got cocky, made a play that lost to a card I didn’t expect, and then promptly looked foolish when my opponent had that exact card. Again(!) I felt like I wasn’t even close to prepared to win in this PT, and with that third loss went most of my will to fight. I lost two more matches to heavy mulligans and poor Marvel spins, but that key mistake in the fourth round sent my tournament into a true death spin.

To be fair, if I’d played Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot instead of Aetherworks Marvel that turn, my opponent would have Manglehorned that card, leaving my Marvel to come into play tapped on the subsequent turn, but that would still have been leagues better than losing my key combo piece. I knew that the creature-based Temur Marvel list had only three or four Negates to interact with a Marvel on the stack, and I had Dispel to protect it, so unless I wanted to play around double Negate, my play was almost needlessly aggressive. To be fair, there is merit to playing around Negate + Dispel, or double Negate, rather than a single Manglehorn, but based on the way my opponent played the game it made more sense for them to have an artifact removal spell rather than multiple counterspells. I regret my decision, despite there being a potential line of logic that might have led me there, specifically because I made the decision hastily rather than making a difficult choice after weighing multiple options. Even had I come to the wrong conclusion about what to play around after much deliberation, that would have been preferable to getting taken by surprise after making a decision without considering the possible answers my opponent could have.

New Perspectives
Regardless, I lost that match, then lost another one to Mardu in the depressing 1-3 bracket, and finally gave up the ghost to Makihito Mihara (playing New Perspectives Combo, of all things!) to end my tournament with a whimper.

I highly suggest that all players take the time to do some sort of post-mortem for every tournament, success or failure, but it’s usually the critical misses that prompt the most introspection. Though my Pro year has been reasonably successful up to this point, I fear that I may end up writing it in for the last leg of the season, and exercises like this help stave off complacency and mediocrity. I hope you find the opportunities to do similar exercises, and as always, feel free to share those retrospectives with me in the comments. I’d be much obliged to give some feedback and advice on any well-considered self-examination!

This coming weekend is the SCG Team Open in Louisville, KY, and I’ll be battling alongside Jim Davis and Frank Skarren. This will be my first foray into Topless Legacy, and I’m excited, but the teammates demand that I wear my team jersey rather than show my support for the new format by showing some skin. Bunch of party poopers . . .  Wish us luck, and if I see any of you there, feel free to say hi. It looks like it’s going to be a great event!

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