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Here I Ruel – Finding the Right Mental Balance

In order to win at Magic, playing skills, good testing and all the technical stuff related to the game in itself are necessary, but they are not enough. A lesson I’ve learned from 15 years of playing the game (ouch, just saying this makes me feel old): you don’t go anywhere without a strong mentality. And one of the most difficult mental aspects to assimilate concerns the thirst for winning, which is needed to get better and to turn the tables in the most difficult situations. What’s difficult is not really to want to win at any cost, but to find out how to keep the fun in playing the game while doing so.

In theory, things should be simple: the more you can keep focused on winning, the more you stay inside your game, the fewer mistakes you make and the better you play. However, the other side of the coin can be really bad. Someone who hates losing will often focus more on what is going wrong in the games than on how he could make things better. Someone who manages to try his best but feels devastated after losing a match will almost necessarily play worse in the following games. More importantly, a player who can’t accept losing will often find it hard to question himself; if he thinks of how unlucky he was, it will make it a lot more difficult for him to think of what he could done better. That may not sound so important, but it is absolutely crucial, as being able to admit your own weaknesses is a necessary path to becoming a better Magic player. And eventually, in that case you’ll just enjoy the game less and make everyone around you enjoy it less. I’m sure you all know someone, even someone you may like a lot outside the game, who complains so much about the game that you just never want to play with him.

Then, if there is so much inconvenience in wanting to win at any price, isn’t it more simple to accept defeat? Once again, unfortunately things are not that simple. Even though accepting the fact that you are losing keeps you in a good and calm mood which is very useful to good playing, it also leads you to sometime get out of your matches, to focus less on the game and therefore to play worse. Also, once again, it’s hard to turn the tables in a difficult match without a strong fighting spirit. More generally, ambition is necessary to improvement, and playing for fun rather than for winning will be a help if you just want to enjoy the game, but it will become a handicap if you aim at becoming better.

The secret in the greatest state of mind at Magic is to both refuse losing and to accept it. It may be a paradox, but if you manage to accomplish that you’ll grow stronger faster than anyone else and will enjoy the game a lot more. For most people it is really hard to get to that point, and it takes a lot of personal work day after day to get there. Here are a few tips to combine acceptation of defeats and lust for winning.

-Accept the random factor

Magic is not chess. Magic is not a 10 mile race. A game of Magic is not something you will necessarily win when you’re better than your opponent, not even when you’re a lot better. Take for instance a pro player who finishes in the top 5 at the race at the end of the season. What do you think his winning rate over the season is? In any game in which luck is not involved too much, you’d get about 90% wins or more. In Magic, it’s about 65%. You’re not prevented from drawing more lands than your opponent, from missing a land drop for two turns, from being topdecked or from facing a deck full of bombs in Limited. Actually, if you look closely, there is always something you could complain about in a game of Magic. You simply need to accept that your opponent is in the same situation, that luck always balances at some point, that even if you can’t realize it it is as often on your side as on your opponent’s; to accept Magic is only a game, a great game, but still a game with all its imperfections.

-Always respect other players

It is pretty important to show consideration to the opponent. You can’t get mad for an opponent because he plays bad. What more can you ask than for your opponent to make mistakes? You can’t really blame him for doing exactly what you want him to. Also, if you complain about the game, no matter whether it’s because you’re unlucky (or at least you consider you are) and/or because your opponent’s pretty bad, the only inappropriate thing in this match will be your bad reaction. By showing bad spirit, you’re making your opponent lose the pleasure he could have from winning, as well as annoy players playing at the next tables, and end up enjoying the game a lot less and playing worse. No matter how bad a game can be going for you, the guy at the other side of the table is rarely the one to blame.

-See the glass as half full

When you’re in an almost dead situation, you should not feel desperate and consider the game lost, but wonder if there is any chance for you to come back in the game. Don’t focus on how bad the game may be looking, but on how to turn the tables, as there is no game more satisfying than one in which you fully optimize the late game in order to make a tiny odds of winning a little bigger. It is this combination of a huge desire to win and of the acknowledgment of how much it will make you enjoy the game which makes such a turnabout possible.

Let’s take a very simple example. I played in a draft game yesterday, a game in which I needed to draw my 1 [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] out of 24 cards left for the win when I had seven lands, [card]Iron Myr[/card] and [card]Sky-Eel School[/card] on the board. My opponent, who had a [card]Wall of Tangletord[/card] untapped, swung with his other guys (which would kill me in two blows for sure) including a 4/4 Chrome Steed I had to block. The instinctive block would have been to chump block it with the 1/1, but no matter how bad the game was looking, I took a minute to think about what was left in my deck, only to come to the conclusion the correct play was to chump block his 4/4 with my 3/3 flyer. Indeed there was no removal left in my deck which would get me rid of the Wall anyway, while I had [card]Trigon of Thought[/card] which I could use to topdeck my Blast in case both cards were on top of my deck, and then cast it with the eighth mana provided by the Myr. I did the correct block, drew a land and died, but it still made me satisfied. The trick was coming up with the correct play, even though it only ended up making a 4.17% turn into 4.32%. The difference is ridiculously small, but I know if I make the right choice 600 times in a row it will win me a game. Will it be some online draft or in a Pro Tour game while playing for Top 8? I have no idea, but at some point it will make the difference, and that’s just enough for me to keep trying to win any game I’ve a chance at.

-Always aim higher

After a close game you’ve lost, you should not wonder how the game could have gone better, but what you could have done to make it go your way. The more you try and find the answers in yourself (how could I have played? Should I have run another deck in that tournament? What if I ran a different sideboard? Did I expect the right metagame? If not, what was wrong in my testing? Etc.), and the less you focus on natural but unneeded stuff (like bad luck), and the more you focus on the strategic aspect of things, the more you will improve.

This is the secret to getting better and enjoying the game: perfectionism. I’m not telling you that it means you won’t mind losing, nor that you should. But if you really want to get strong at Magic, it is necessary that you set yourself the goal to always get better. By doing so, if you have a strong spirit and good natural skills, you’ll not only get better, but you’ll also keep on enjoying the game, which gets a lot more difficult when you get into the most competitive aspect of the game.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

Oli

17 thoughts on “Here I Ruel – Finding the Right Mental Balance”

  1. Ah on peut parler en français ici tiens ? :p

    Good article, it’s always nice to have some tips on how to improve. They’re recurring ones though, si maybe I would have prefered a less conventional article.

  2. great article
    longtime ago i used to blame luck everytime i lost a game
    but reading articles here are making me seethat it just happens
    but i really want to change the mind of my friends about it

    thank you for this article

  3. It’s called PPC ads guys, you want free content? You get ads. Last time I checked, channelfireball.com wasn’t a charity.

    I think the topic of this article has been covered quite well before, but still, it’s good to remember. One of the best players I know remains stuck at his play level because he has bad luck and life sucks in general, so there’s nothing he can do about it. The difficult part is not to read about this, but to really apply the lesson to each and every game.

  4. This is exactly what ive needed!!! I’ll be reading this many times over.

    Lsv – I totally understand renting out ad space but I think to content like this gives a very bad impression, especially with regards to any minors reading this. Just my opinion.

  5. It’s great to see articles like this. Articles like this were very, very rare when I started playing M:tG competitively and it took my becoming an adult and a general life philosophy shaped by college/university to learn this kind of stuff on my own. I hope that this type of philosophy catches on, so big events have less hopefuls that try to act however they think a badass pro player would…which shows how few they have met and a general lack of experience in competitive play.

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  7. the person at the other side of the table is not one to blame when you got a bad beat? sure… unless he side shuffle your deck for full 3 minutes and clogged your land and did it again after you mulligan and presented your deck for the second time. 2 easy trips to paris, and i never mulliganed to 4. have you play with someone like this? not to mention obnoxious bastard who relies on bomb to win, if he doesn’t draw it he is dead in the water. and surprisingly he draws it every single time and turn my deck to slag since i rarely got the bombs. and after the game he always brag about how he win by slamming that wurmcoil engine to beat me. i don’t put much respect on my opponent really (enough to make me not underestimate them), but i am willing to learn from mistakes (but obviously i don’t enjoy learning from my own). and i don’t rely on luck either, because i think magic is a game of chance, statistic and probability (although i can not deny those bunch who drafted a poor deck and when he opened pack 3, there is a nasty wurm smiling in their pack and always can play it on turn 6)

  8. What’s interesting to me, and it’s not just this author who has said it, that it seems like there’s a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand we have luck for a single player. Magic is, in a way, more luck based than other games such as chess. In the article this player is a pro tour player. Since this game is luck based that player then will not win as much as an equally skilled player in a less luck-based environment. On the other hand, this author, and others, want to say that luck is evenly spread over the whole playing field. But if it’s evenly spread then the pro player will win due to luck as often as he or she loses to luck. Therefor their win percentage shouldn’t really differ in this game compared with an equally skilled player in a less luck filled game.

  9. Personally I try not to take losses at heart, and 98% of all games I lose I try not to focus too much on it. There’s those times where your opponent is lucky and you are not, which can be very frustrating, but there’s not so much that can be done about luck.

    When i get lucky, i generally feel uncomfortable about winning. While i’m glad I won, it’s hard to shake an opponents hand and say good game because you know that they’re not feeling too great about losing to luck, or when you notice them getting mana-screw/flood where they may have been able to offer a better game if it wasn’t for that. I usually apologize to see their luck wasn’t very great as for me it feels like a potential loss on a better game, and shows humility that you think the game might have played differently under better circumstances.

    When I lose, even to luck, I give my opponent a smile and congratulate them. It’s a much stronger display of character when you lose gracefully, and let your opponent enjoy the satisfaction of winning rather than to be rude, complain, or comment on their luck. I mean we’ve all had our lucky games, so why deprive someone of a good feeling when it happens to them?

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