Hinterland Harbor
As I sit on the deck of my family’s cabin, my mind wanders. My gaze slowly falls on each object before me: the trees surrounding the cabin, the water, Burlington, VT across the lake, and a giant sailboat—at least forty-five feet in length—passing by. My eyes rotate between each, never lingering long, but always coming back, like a stray cat looking for food.

I am contemplating what to write.

While my mind is flowing and my fingers are moving with ease, I have trouble relating what’s passing through my mind and before my eyes to Magic.

This is a place of sanctity for me—a place I can be without a worry or care about what is happening beyond the tiny (and I really do mean tiny) town of Willsboro. It has always been this way for me.

My family has been coming to this place for over one hundred years, across six generations. We are not rich. We are not even what I would consider upper middle class. My mother was an elementary school teacher—now retired—and my father was a social worker—now a self-employed marriage and child counselor.

It has been luck and determination that brought us here.

You’d be surprised at how far those two things can get you. Sure, success requires connections, intelligence, skill, and a smattering of other traits, but many of those come when you’re determined to do something.

Do you really want to speak Spanish? Travel to a foreign country? Win a Pro Tour Qualifier? You’ll make it there if you’re driven.

My brother in law is playing his Spanish guitar, a relaxing melody that originated in Spain but that is strangely comfortable here in the Adirondacks.

The problem is nobody can teach you determination. You can’t take a class on it in school and then go out and be a changed person. It’s something that comes from within, for lack of a better-sounding phrase.

My great grandfather was determined that his sons would enjoy the same lake he had enjoyed as a child, and so he spent his money on land in the early twentieth century. Most of his friends probably laughed at him. “Why are you buying land in upstate NY when you could be investing it here in [New York] City?”

At my first Grand Prix, I wasn’t looking for a specific finish; I just wanted to do well. When I started off 2–2, my determination kicked in. I didn’t want to end my first Grand Prix with a losing record.

When I was 3–2, I told myself I didn’t want to end at .500. When I was 4–2, I just wanted to win the next one.

5–2, “One more.” And so it went until I was up 1–0 in Round 9 and realized I only needed to win one more game to make Day 2 of my first Grand Prix.

Stand Firm
Being determined, or driven, isn’t just telling yourself you will (or can) do it. It’s knowing you can and being willing to take the steps necessary. In Magic terms, it’s not telling yourself you’ll make first place, but knowing you can and doing what will get you there—playtesting, choosing the right deck, and so on.

When my back was against the wall, I was determined to reverse the situation, and I did everything in my power to make the correct plays and maximize my chances. I wasn’t giving myself those goals arbitrarily. Each stood alone, and I thought no further than the goal before me until it was completed.

They weren’t even steps toward making Top 8; I assumed finishing in the money was a pipe dream for someone who lost two of his first four matches. (It wasn’t. I finished thirty-eighth.) I simply wanted to win each match as they came, and I was willing to push myself to do so.

The methods are different for everyone. There have been countless articles written on what works best for Magic and dozens of other competitive sports and games, so I won’t regale you with another.

The wind is strong, and I watch as large white caps roll by.

There’s a lot to be said for being passionate and determined. It always seems that the best in any business are the people driven by themselves. They might enjoy the other benefits—money, fame, and so on—but the reason they do whatever it is that consumes their lives is that there is nothing else they’d rather be doing.

Almost every time in my life I can remember being driven or determined to do well or get something done, it’s happened. That doesn’t mean I’ve won every game or competition I’ve entered. Sometimes, I don’t push myself enough. Other times, someone is more skilled, better prepared, or is in some other way ahead of me. Sometimes, people are just lucky.

Luck is an entire article on its own.

Over the course of typing this article, an inchworm has been working its way to a tree branch via a thread. I have been watching as I take moments to gather my thoughts and reconcile what I have written. The worm slowly ascended, the wind rocking it back and forth as it gusted. It reached the branch just before I typed this paragraph. How apropos.

We all have troubles and unexpected happenings that buffet us, attempting to keep us from reaching whatever goals we may have. There are times when it feels as though we are moving tangentially to where we want to be. But that does not mean we cannot reach our destination.

I strongly believe we make our own luck. How will you make yours?