Feature Article – Lessons Learned

Hello everyone. By the time this article goes up New Phyrexia will have already been released. As I write this it is before the prerelease, and although I have only looked at the spoiler it still seems to me to be an interesting set. I can’t wait to draft it.

Recently I have been traveling for GPs. Two weeks after Grand Prix Dallas I played in Grand Prix Kobe and following that Grand Prix London. I plan to attend Grand Prix Prague as well. I have yet to decide about Grand Prix Providence at present. I would like to go, and at the same time I would not. In a few days I think I will decide, but it is a complicated matter because my eternal rating is below 1600.

But enough of that. I first planned to attend Grand Prix Kobe at the end of April, and the event proved to be a bittersweet experience for me. Going into the last three rounds I had eleven wins and one loss, and I thought I had secured a Top 8 seat for myself. In spite of this, I lost, lost and lost again making my record eleven wins and four losses. I made Top 32 and got two pro points and four hundred dollars.

If I had won any of the last three matches I would have made Top 8, and just one more win would have given me three pro points. This would mean being in the Top 16. Top 16. This is the line that gives a player the right to play in the Pro Tour. While I think that making Top 8 has merit, in order to stay a level eight pro every year you need to earn 50 pro points and it is because of this benefit that I can have the lifestyle of traveling to Grands Prix as work. So for me, making Top 16 is a big deal.

Doing a simple calculation, there are around twenty Grands Prix per year. If you make three pro points at each one, you reach the goal of sixty points and find yourself in a position to aim at Player of the Year. If you consider the number of people participating in Grands Prix recently, you could say that making Top 32 met the mark sufficiently, but not being able to get the bonuses is a huge issue.

Just one win. One more win meant three points. At this time this seems just as distant as it did then.
This is entirely personal, but at the previous Grand Prix Kobe I similarly had three consecutive defeats in the final matches and missed Top 8, and it happened again this time. I felt very dejected after these two defeats.

At the very end, luck abandoned me. Maybe it is just my destiny in Kobe. You could put it this way if you were using literary language. However, when I speak of Magic I think I will not use this type of expression. When it comes to Magic, whatever the cause of my defeat I will not seek an explanation beyond my own actions. The responsibility for what brought about the loss is mine alone, and this can be avoided by my own choices. I would like to think that if I can be a skilled player, I can reach the Top 8. Even if this is about mentality, it is also a very practical point.

I think today’s article will be about this topic. I’ll talk a little about losing and what is learned from losing, as well as touching on the lessons of success.

Lessons from Losing:

Magic is a game that incorporates elements that can be linked with luck in the form of mulliganing and mana issues. With Magic there are situations where you lose and there was nothing that you could have done about it, and I too have succumbed to the temptation to place the blame on events I could not control. Moreover, I think that there are times when you can end up going down one negative path, and your next series of choices follow the same pattern of negativity. For example, immediately after my recent loss in the thirteenth round I played a friend of mine and very strong player, Shouta Yasooka. (After that he continued to win, finally getting the coveted title. Congratulations!) Our match up and my following loss seemed like one bad thing after another. It certainly could be the case that “Playing Yasooka was unlucky”.

But, you must not forget to consider the reasons behind your loss. What if I had defeated Yasooka? Even if I were to describe this as unlucky there is definitely a small difference, right? After losing the match, being paired with him would not change and was really not the issue. When looking for something to blame outside ourselves we must not forget that the fact of the matter is that we lost.

Moreover, I lost due to mana problems. I had to mulligan too many times and this determined the outcome of our match.
However, generally in a Magic tournament you can lose a game or even a match and still make Top 8, and at two day premier event this can usually be achieved with up to two match losses.

Is falling out of contention in the deciding round the result of things that are entirely out of your control? I strongly feel that this is not the case. When you lose, look for the instances where you could have done more. But, this might be something everyone thinks about.

In order to win this matchup what elements do I need? What is necessary for winning these games? And what choices should I make to this end?

I think that pondering this sort of idea is incredibly important. However, I also want to keep in mind times when a strong desire to win clouded the truth.

Additionally, after you lose you should continue your quest to win. Losing is rarely a pleasant thing, but if you avert your eyes from your losses you cannot study and learn from them and nothing can be done when your next results are also unpleasant. If you are seriously considering winning, you must also seriously consider losing. Players who always win at Magic do not exist. When it comes to losing, regardless of what kind of irrational thing you may be thinking I think it is very important to link why you “lost it for yourself” with an analysis of what you could have done differently at the time, at least unless you are able to declare yourself to be a flawless Magic machine who never makes a misplay (for your information, as far as I know there is not even one professional player who believes their play to be optimal all the time).

This is just an example, but often after a tournament I will consider how I could have won games that I have lost. I have a habit of considering this by myself at length until I can find a path that would have led me to victory.

At Grand Prix Kobe in game three of the thirteenth round there was the question of whether I held onto [card]Day of Judgment[/card] for too long, as on turn two of the final turns I ended up losing. In game two of the fourteenth round there was the question of whether I had mulliganed excessively, and in the third game of the fifteenth round, I thought about whether I should have held onto more creatures and not let my opponent use [card]Mana Leak[/card].

At the time I thought all of these plays were correct, but Magic is a truly complex game because from only a small amount of consideration of what was the correct play I realized that I had made an error. Of course the information available during and after a game is remarkably different, but when thinking about it afterwards there are many cases where various types of opponents provide readable hints that need only to be recognized at the time of the event. Of course there have been many times when I was unable to find the answers too.

You might say that this easily confirms how different I am from the ideal Magic player who always makes the correct play. If I could become a player of this caliber I think I could discuss in detail the extent to which I was unlucky while playing Magic, but I still have a long way to go.

Lessons from Winning:

There is one more similar thing I would like to consider: games where you win but feel there were places where you misplayed. I think these can be an extremely useful method when seeking to improve your Magic play.
The majority of the process is understanding what the correct play would be at the points where you misplayed, something which is comparatively easy to understand, and recognizing what kind of misplays you have made in the first place.

Additionally, any misplays on the part of your opponent that led to their defeat, something else which I think is relatively easy to understand because if you notice a misplay analyzing what makes it incorrect is pretty simple.

To develop this ability a little, try fixing the uncomfortable feeling you get in the middle of a game in your memory and recreating it. Is there anything you can do when the game plan you have theorized has had different results, or after the game has dragged on and you have a feeling you’ll make a mistake?

At any rate, you should examine the points where you remember yourself being stuck: why it happened and why you felt the way you did – and store them in a corner of your memory. Generally speaking, feeling uncomfortable is correct. It should improve your play.

Winning and losing can be reversed by simpler things than is commonly thought. There is no assurance that just because I win once by chance now, I can make the same misplay and win again. Rather, it seems the chance I will lose is much higher.

“Winning” is the goal of the vast majority of tournament players. This alone means that consideration of misplays from games that have been won can easily become perfunctory and careless. After you lose because of this misplay in a more important situation will you be able to recognize the problem? Or alternatively when you win due to good luck and notice the mistake will you be able to prevent the misplay the next time you find yourself in that situation? These things often come up in play testing, and although there are advantages to mastering them in testing they may come up in real matches as well. Furthermore, things you observe in actual matches are much easier to commit to memory. You must work to polish precious stones; mere pebbles are no substitute. Although it takes time, I think that you should polish these stones of insight if your senses can turn what you observe into diamond.

Whether You Win or Lose:

In Magic, there are uncertain elements which make it so that the correct choice is not necessarily linked to winning the game. Naturally, there are irregular circumstances where you will lose no matter what choice you make. It might seem as if this contradicts the two things I discussed above, but I would like to say that if you judge that you should make a certain play after plenty of consideration, even if it ends up in failure you should be confident in your own choices. And when you find yourself in the same situation next time, you should not necessarily make a different choice just because you lost the previous time by making that decision.

Let’s look at some things I’ve actually experienced in matches.

Even if I found myself in this situation again, I am confident I would make the same choices. The setting is the 2010 World Championships, in round four of Day One. Up to that point, I had one win and two losses: three points. I was headed into the third game.

Turn Zero of Extra Turns

My opponent had no cards in hand and 18 life.

His board:
[card]Luminarch Ascension[/card] (four counters)
[card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card] x2
Two angel tokens

His land:
[card]Island[/card] (untapped)
[card]Island[/card] x2 (tapped)
[card]Plains[/card] (tapped)
[card]Glacial Fortress[/card] (tapped)
[card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] (tapped)

I had 16 life.

My hand:

[draft]Natures Claim
Summoning Trap[/draft]

The top card of my library was [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card].

My board:
[draft]Oracle of Mul Daya
Primeval Titan[/draft]

My land:
[card]Forest[/card] x2 (untapped)
[card]Mountain[/card] x4 (untapped)
[card]Forest[/card] x1 (tapped)
[card]Raging Ravine[/card] x 1 (tapped)
[card]Mountain[/card] x3 (tapped)
[card]Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle[/card] x 4 (tapped)

What I chose to do:

There were two options. The question was whether to use [card]Nature’s Claim[/card] on his Ascension and draw the game, or to use [card]Summoning Trap[/card] and commit to its unpredictability and the possibility of him top decking [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. I chose to play [card]Summoning Trap[/card], and resigned myself to the danger of a board wipe. As for why I took this risk, it was because it was still the first day of the World Championships and the first half was just wrapping up. The chance of losing here was less objectionable than the entirely worthless one point from a draw, and aiming for the three points I would get if I got [card]Avenger of Zendikar[/card] or Primeval Titan made a lot more sense.

But in the end Summoning Trap missed, and moreover the top card of my library was once again the useless [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card]. There was nothing I could do about my few remaining life points being whittled away by Celestial Colonnade.

Here I missed getting one point in the tournament, and after that my goal of making Top 32 became unexpectedly important. But if I were to come across these circumstances again and the one point from a draw was meaningless, I think I would still choose to cast Summoning Trap. I can say with confidence even today that that choice was the correct call. While it may be true that the result was failure, I do not consider it a mistake at all.

Losing is something tournament players must avoid as much as possible, but no matter what kind of player you are as long as you are playing in tournaments you will absolutely be confronted by situations like this. And in many cases, there will be various consequences to your loss. Some kind of participation privilege, pro points, or maybe prize money.
But as for what you may have learned in this article, it is only through how you use it that you can become stronger than before. Conversely, food for thought like this can become useless.

I have tried to outline my methodology, but you should also have your own.

Until next time, thank you for reading.
Shuhei Nakamura

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