It’s a familiar feeling that conjures a plethora of emotions. A wave of sinking regret upon realizing that one subtle miscue has potentially cost you an important game. It is the common ground that all walks of card players will undoubtedly dig their heels into and have to face the music. Misplays are inevitable, and they will derail a successful tournament run with what might feel like a punch to the gut. Dealing with your misplays is just as important to your gameplay as avoiding them.
Perfection is strived after, yet impossible to achieve. Perfection is reserved for Rob Cygul’s hair on a Flesh and Blood broadcast. Though unattainable, however, chasing perfection is how players improve their game and bring their gameplay to new levels. Avoiding the pitfalls is half the battle. Healing the wounds when you fall in is a completely different beast to tame.
I want to lead with this very simple fact. The vast majority of your misplays will not end the game. There is still, in many cases, plenty of runway left in a game to recover. That won’t relieve the irritation of your blunder, but it is the cushion you can fall onto and get back up. Your mistake may be impactful, but it usually isn’t the scene before the credits.
The misplay will create a stir of doubt within you, and doubt is like the Kardashians. If you pay them any attention, they will always be there, and there will be more of them than you even knew existed. Having the discipline to take inventory of a situation will serve you well. The lights may be flashing and buzzing because three of your engines are on fire, but if you pay too much attention to the sirens, you’ll miss the fact that you’ve still got one engine and some fuel left. Sometimes that’s good enough to land, and you can put out the flames then.
I’ve never won a major sanctioned event, but after scrubbing out of Day One of Canadian Nationals, I decided to take a kick at the ProQuest. The Force was with me that day, and I squeaked into the Top 8. The excitement surged through me, and confidence began to bloom. I knew I was a good card player, but had never really tested my mettle against the competitive field. I drafted my Lexi deck and was paired up against the same opponent who beat me in Round One of the Nationals: David Rood.
The game was a tight Lexi mirror, as we both fired ice-flavored arrows at each other. Ultimately I had him at two life, and had a red five-attack arrow in hand. All I needed to do was pass, and on my turn, pitch to dominate the arrow and win the game.
“Arsenal, draw up, your go.” Holy hell, what did I just do?
In what felt like a meteor impact, I realized that I had just given up the ability to load my arrow with Shiver in order to close out the game. I had a comfortable life total, but waved goodbye to a sure-thing. The game turned on a dime, and David Rood won.
Who the hell is Dave Rood?
I learned that day that the player who masterfully and calmly won our two matches was a world-class card player. My loss shouldn’t feel so bad. So why am I still thinking about it months later?
It may feel like semantics, but there is a difference between losing a game, and not winning it. Playing carefully and deliberately is critical to avoiding the blunders that could turn your soaring tournament run into a smoldering wreck. Making a key mistake that leads to an unfavorable result stings differently than when your opponent just flat-out beats you despite your clean game. That feeling can weigh heavy on you for a long time. But it doesn’t have to.
Don’t misconstrue this for an excuse to just be okay with making mistakes. Instead, understand that your origin story is different from those who might be practicing for hours and hours a day. Your life has its own obstacles and obligations to navigate, and the time you may want to dedicate to Flesh and Blood may not reflect the reality of your life. Understand that your ability to improve isn’t tethered to your opportunities. You are merely going to be taking a different route on that journey – one with more pitstops and detours. Ultimately, the destination is the same, you just don’t have the latest GPS.
This will certainly stink of after-school-special vibes, but I’ve always been adamant about this mantra for quite awhile. It sounds juvenile, and any seasoned Pro Tour player might flush this kind of rhetoric in favor of more rigid practice and testing. I’m not a pro though, and I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of you all out there aren’t as well. Having a pro’s itinerary and schedule likely isn’t feasible for the average player with longshot aspirations of winning a big tournament.
Your misplays are certainly tough to digest, like that Baconator you forgot in the fridge from the Super Bowl party. Dwelling on bad decisions or missed triggers can be detrimental if not viewed through the proper lenses. A mistake is an opportunity to learn, and thus improve your game in localized ways. Every painful miscue is a specific event that will more than likely present itself many more times during your trek through the competitive landscape. Taking the time to understand why you screwed up is the foundation of eliminating that weakness from your overall game.
I tried to teach my mother for years how to use a DVD player, and I would still get phone calls weekly because she never absorbed what the hell an input feed was on her TV. She wasn’t willing to learn about the roots of the failure, and missed many opportunities to learn about this technological shortcoming of hers. Had she learned, she would not only have been able to figure out how to watch Everybody Loves Raymond on demand, but she would also then apply that wisdom to other scenarios… like Blu Ray.
I later learned that she knew how to use the DVD player, she just liked having an excuse to call me. The lesson is still a poignant one though, despite the anecdote.
Losing to a misplay is a crushing feeling that follows you home. It haunts your mind with replays and can inundate you with self-doubt. Nothing is more harmful to your improvement than ignoring this. You need to dust yourself off and respect what happened.
The 24 hours after losing in the Top 8 to a misplay was a rough experience for me, as I performed Olympic level mental gymnastics. Was I unlucky for not drawing my Lightning Presses? Was I just a bad player? Was I a bad person who deserved to fail? It is a slippery slope to fall down, but discrediting that first trip-up is what leads you stumbling down the hill.
Own your mistake and give it its due, because the fact remains that you earned it. You cannot dwell in the competitive terrain yet only come out of the house when the sun is shining. We all have those stories to tell the world about how you Razor Reflex’d a Crane Dance into Find Center to beat Viserai. Sure, that’s cool and all, but you need to stay grounded and honor the colossal failures alongside celebrating the sparkling victories. It puts everything into perspective and gives worth to those winning moments.
You’re allowed to be angry, and you’re going to be upset. You let the big one slip through your fingers. Some might tell you to just launch it out of an airlock and move onto the next tournament and start fresh. The problem is that you may not know when your next big chance will be, exacerbating the issue. Address the negative vibe however it manifests: anger, depression, doubt, fear, lethargy. Every game is unique, and every player is unique. How this boogeyman will appear is different to everyone, but it won’t leave you alone unless confronted. Speak to your friends about it and commiserate. You’re not alone, and you’ll see that there are countless stories of thrown games. Mistakes aren’t the outlier, perfection is. Pay the toll, and move on.
I know you will, because you’re better equipped now than you were when you took the devastating loss. Though the fall from grace was steep, remember that it only hurt so bad because you climbed so high. Every extra rung of the ladder gets you closer to the big prize, but it also amplifies the penalty for failing. The good news is that it isn’t fatal, and you’ll have another milestone to surpass without the potential jitters of being in that position for the first time.
Luke Skywalker took his Incom T-65 X-Wing into the grittiest part of the Death Star. He had a clear shot at lethal and punted. Did he give up? No, he got advice from Obi-Wan, learned from his mistake and took another run in the trench.
Remember: The Force will be with… no wait. You’re not losing if you’re learning.