Breaking Through – A Lesson in Humility


Magic, first and foremost, presents itself to us as a game. We do not usually come in looking to be the best or to break a format, but rather just want to have some fun and maybe do a little winning en route to the fun. Somewhere along the line though, this mentality shifts, and it can happen quite drastically. Not that this is a bad thing, but it does change Magic from being just about fun to being a competitive outlet. Fun and competition can and do of course live side by side, but competition in and of itself comes with some baggage.

We want to be the best — period. To do this, we want to beat the best, showcase our knowledge of the game, and impose ourselves on our fellow players. This does not have to come in some violent tirade or anything, but we do wish to share our knowledge of the game as being the “correct” way of thinking about the game. After all, if our knowledge is incorrect, how can we possibly be, or strive to be, the best?

Handling your Ego

It is here where one’s ego begins to get in the way of their progress. I know this firsthand, having been there before. We all want to think we are better than we really are at some point. After all, isn’t that a self-fulfilling prophecy you wish to have come to fruition? Well of course, but unfortunately, a cocky or arrogant attitude is simply not the way to get it done.

Recently, as many of you know, I began doing some videos for Channelfireball. This has only been going on for a few months (from my end) and a few weeks (from the public end) but already has me thinking about Magic, myself, and life in a whole new context. The transparency one has to go through in order to produce one of these is off the charts. You are forced to be honest with yourself which is an act that many claim they do, but I am willing to bet most do not do it to the extent that they should be. I did not know what that level was until embarking on this sort of video journal if you will, but it is certainly higher than I would have ever expected.

In fact, I would encourage everyone out there to test their hand at some videos. You don’t have to put them online, although that is the highest level of transparency, but even just watching over your own games after the fact with a critical eye really alerts you to missteps along the way. There are complications, of course. For me, for example, I need to view my videos and weed through the mistakes caused by distractions in commentating and in Magic Online only barriers, like misclicks.

Now these types of mistakes are still ones to be corrected, but they do not necessarily showcase your play mistakes which are the biggest factor we are looking for. That said, you are going to find plenty of play mistakes in addition to the other types of mistakes and if you cannot pinpoint a certain mistake, it is best to err on the side of caution and just assume it was a mess up. This type of exercise will not be easy at first. You will find yourself scrambling for reasonable explanations to your bad play and often will be content with the scenarios you create, but this does not mean you are any less wrong.

I have found that the constructive criticisms of those who watch my videos is actually helpful in forcing me to accept mistakes. Most of the mistakes I find for myself when re-watching the videos, but occasionally I find myself rationalizing even when there is no reason to do so. If you do decide to record your Magic Online videos, have a friend critique them with you after the fact as that will at least mimic the effect of a forum.

It is pretty common knowledge that everyone is going to make mistakes in any given game of Magic. Even when going through and re-watching the same game again, it is still possible to make mistakes with mostly perfect knowledge in hindsight. This means you are never going to reach some level of perfection even with intense film study and game analysis, but this should hardly keep your from improving at least in some capacity.

Throwing your ego around not does not just come into play when you are analyzing your own play, however. Has anyone ever gone to read some article, noticed a mistake, and done everything you can to be the first to point this out? Sure, maybe you are ono of the 5% of people not to do this, but chances are you know exactly what I am talking about. Pros make mistakes just like an average FNM player makes mistakes, and just like the kitchen table player makes mistakes. Looking at these and providing constructive criticism is one thing, but making the mistake finding a challenge to show boat just how awesome you are is basically pathetic.

Go into any article on this site and skim through the comments. I guarantee you will find someone who does nothing but point out mistakes in grammar, play, or theory and use those mistakes to try to make himself look better. This is the online equivalent of name-calling. When someone makes a mistake, chances are they will find out about it within the first 2 hours of that piece going public, it is just the nature of the Internet. No one actually needs to read 50 comments about how they messed up if these posts do not add anything to the discussion.

I appreciate all of the viewers and readers who give me feedback that is constructive and helps me to further my game, as I understand I can learn just as much from you as you can me. But reading a ton of posts that are totally selfish in nature and are basically bragging about how you caught someone’s mistake is just pointless. Learn to stomach the fact that you caught a mistake until you can figure out some constructive advice to go with it. Believe me, no one is at home keeping track of who got in there “FIRST!” over the span of X amount of time. Be the bigger man/woman one time.

This may seem like it has no relevance to furthering your competitive game, but it actually does. Habit-forming is insanely powerful as I have written on before. It is crucial that someone learn to develop good habits in all walks of life in order to maximize them when it counts. You cannot steal candy bars and gum from gas stations but claim it’s ok because you have yet to steal money from your work. Things don’t work that way. Once you have exposed your mind and body to a gateway opportunity, it is only a matter of time before that begins to bleed over into other areas of your life.

Think about your playtesting for example. How many times have you disregarded something your partner has said simply because you view yourself as better than him? It happens all the time. In reality, if LSV or Saito were sitting there telling you the same thing, you would be listening in a fully devoted manner. Now sure, your partner may be wrong more often than LSV would, but give him the benefit of the doubt and at least listen to him. Have your discussion or debate afterward, but do not just tune him out because you think you are better.

It is probable that every single Magic player can teach every other one something they would not have known otherwise. This won’t always be the most groundbreaking morsel of information, but even learning about some card that you may not have known existed could influence your deck design years down the road. The point is to not take anyone or anything in Magic for granted.

We all start somewhere after all. Do you think that NBA stars are looking down at the 20 somethings playing ball at the park and spitting out phrases like, “Man, those guys only think they are good?” Obviously not. They have already proven themselves to the world and have the NBA as a shining beacon of their work. But why must that be the threshold where one’s demeaning attitude begins to fade? Why must we step all over our fellow man or Magic player to promote ourselves? Can we not lean on our actions and skill alone?

Sure, this might not get you recognized as quickly, but if anything, that simply lets you know that your game needs work. There are always going to be those who prey on others at every level of every competitive venture known to man, but that should be the exception, not the rule. All the time spent bashing your fellow player could instead be spent critiquing your own game and improving as a result.

It goes without saying, but results speak much louder than words and I can assure you, you will recognize a spike in your play and results when you begin to look internally instead of focusing on outside forces. Once you begin to critically analyze your own play, the doors open up and you can begin to improve in areas you never knew needed improving. It will be embarrassing at first, but so long as you can set aside your ego for a while to take a few licks, the return investment is one that is nearly priceless.

The key to learning to step aside and focus on you is to differentiate the game from the community. Yes, every time you sit down and shuffle up, you are doing so with the intention of winning a match of Magic. Your opponent knows this, regardless of whether he is a stranger or your best friend. Because of this, you don’t need to do anything at that point other than win.

Control your Emotions

But when you take this attitude and turn it on to the members of the community outside of the match area, trouble ensues. We are all a part of a somewhat underground culture and should embrace that difference rather than segregate within an already segregated community. We have so much to learn from each other that we are really just holding ourselves back both as individuals and as a community when we cannot set aside our own ego to further the game as a whole. As the saying goes, “A house divided cannot stand.”

I think the Pro community on the whole does a good job of displaying this effort. Yes, there are the occasional rivalry and what not, but in general, most of us are friends. We spend time together outside of Magic and enjoy time with each other but when the match slip is set beside us, we fully understand that we are there to win and expect nothing less from our opponent. This is akin to the example given from the NBA earlier, as most pros understand that they have little left to prove. Yes, they want to win, but they need to do that for themselves, not for the public eye. Venture a little further down however, and you have the PTQ grinders who tend to take the “step on the little people” approach to its max.

It is not that these types of players are bad people, instead, they are just trying to move up the totem pole and degradation of their peers seems to accomplish this. Of course broad generalizations are always going to have holes in them, so if you are not among this mindset, I hope I have not offended you. The takeaway here though is to understand that Magic is more about mastering yourself than it is the opponent.

If you can accept your flaws and actively look to work on them, you will receive the biggest take away both from a Magic perspective and a life perspective. The opponent is just there as a means to be able to play this amazing game. The real challenge will always be within. So check your ego at the door and actively look to improve. Be honest with yourself and good things will come as a result. Thanks for reading.

Editor’s note: Conley will be gunslinging this weekend at the M11 prerelease in Los Angeles, so be sure to stop by and meet one of the best minds in the game!

Conley Woods

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