I started 9-0 at GP Pittsburgh. I was clearly thrilled, and to top it off I had never gone undefeated on Day 1 of a GP before. I had always thought about it, and now had finally achieved it, though of course there was still a lot of Magic to be played. I couldn’t just rest on my 9-0 and Top 8 the Grand Prix.
The next day the fell off. I was a turn away from winning multiple times before I died. I made some errors that cost me games I could have won. All of a sudden, this tournament that was going so well for me seemed like one I was destined to forget.
Rather than stop and think about ways to mitigate disaster in future rounds I just kept playing Magic, and I just kept losing. I went 1-5 on the day to end the tournament well short of anything meaningful after the hope that a 9-0 start provided. What happened exactly? Why couldn’t I stop the downward spiral as I lost round after round? Today I want to present some solutions to prevent this from happening to me again in the future and to help you when you start losing a round or two. Reset and get back on the winning path.
Part of my failures came from a lack of energy. I had a horrible night’s sleep and was feeling somewhat groggy until around noon. The tough thing is that despite my best efforts to get to bed as quickly as possible, I just wasn’t able to recharge. The lesson here could be to try harder to sleep even earlier and sleep better, but what kind of advice is that? Certainly I would have done so if that were a possibility. Rather, I think in the situation of feeling tired or sleepy, there was more I could have done to try and wake up and get back to energized.
At tournaments I’m a big fan of snacks, specifically granola bars because they’re easy and pack a ton of energy. Apples and bananas are also excellent though can be harder to procure unless there’s a nearby grocery store. If you really can plan ahead, bring these with you on your road trip or domestic flight and you won’t have to worry about getting them when you get to the tournament site. Another great energizer for me is unsweetened tea. Without a sugar crash, I find it gives me a nice boost in later rounds of the tournament. Of course, water works wonders too and is free, though I find a mix of both to work best for me.
Along these lines, a good breakfast will help throughout the day. On Day 1, because I have 2 byes, I eat after the player meeting with friends and am then happily awake by round 3. On Day 2 I like to wake up a little early to get a good breakfast. I could sleep for an extra 30-45 mintues, but then I’ll be hungry and distracted during the actual tournament which is a worse alternative to me. Breakfast is also always the main source of energy throughout any long Magic tournament day. It’s just very difficult to get in a good full meal later given the lack of a lunch break.
Recharge and Refocus
After I blundered away a match I felt awful. I had made a stupid mistake that cost me a game and of course was beating myself up over it. We’ve all been there. In hindsight I can say I should have just let the mistake go and focused on the next match but that’s not always easy. What I could have done was process the negative result in a positive way. I needed to recharge and refocus. One way to do this is to leave the tournament hall, even if for just a few minutes. Tournament halls are always extremely loud and that ambient noise can really drain your energy. Escaping that environment even just briefly provides a nice reset.
Stretching, or even doing a few pushups to get the blood flowing for the next round is another way to get refocused. As you are thinking through your errors, you’re also allowing your body to loosen up. There is definitely a physical connection to your mental focus in game, and the better your body feels the more likely you are going to be able to play your best. Note that I’m not saying getting into shape will turn you into Jon Finkel, but that you can try and maintain your personal best. We all have a range of play ability and it’s important to always strive to be at the top of your game.
If you’re an extrovert, share stories with your friends. Draw energy on their successes or your combined failures so that you can be confident that next round can be the turning point back on the road to success. If you’re an introvert take some time for yourself. Walk outside, write down about your loss in a journal or on a notepad. Do what you need to do to get that loss off your mind for the time being and realize that you still have a tournament you can be successful in. It won’t go as perfectly as planned but doing pretty well is still better than crashing and burning. Maintaining focus after failure is so important.
Never Give Up
One of the toughest moments I’ve had to face at a Pro Tour is coming to realize that I’ve selected a horrible deck for the field. In fact, this has happened more often than the times I’ve had a good deck, but in that moment I’ve realized there was still a lot of Magic to be played. If you’re worried about how you made a deck choice error while playing against the best deck, that’s just going to add to your opponent’s advantage. Not only do they have a better deck than you, but now you’re not focused and wondering how you could have prepared so poorly. Be in the moment. Focus on the current board, the way that the game is playing out, and try to win even from a disadvantaged position.
This becomes even worse as you lose back-to-back rounds. Suddenly you might question why you even came to this particular tournament. Was it worth all the preparation and travel time? Why couldn’t you have thought up the better metagame deck for the weekend? The fact of the matter is that once your deck choice is locked in, this no longer matters! You only can work with what you have. Focus on the ways you can win. Sure you might still lose every match, but you have a better chance to win with the right mentality.
Be Retrospective After the Tournament
I personally didn’t adhere to a lot of my own advice in Pittsburgh. We’re all fallible, and every person that has ever played Magic has lost a lot at it. Looking back on what went well and what didn’t is the easiest way to succeed more in the future. Admitting your mistakes feels bad any time you’ve lost, but ignoring failure is a bigger mistake than losing any one game.
I didn’t stay energized on Day 2. I allowed myself to continue losing. I didn’t rally back. My tournament fell apart. As I write this, everyone can see that I went from 9-0 to end at 10-5. Does it feel good to tell everyone about how poorly I did? No, but it is necessary to acknowledge it. I know I am better off for taking this time and can certainly grow from the experience. The crazy thing is that even if I played perfectly I still might have lost just as many matches! However, I would have at least given myself the opportunity to win them and that is what’s important.
My true goal at a tournament isn’t in the individual match results. My goal is to play my absolute best and improve with each tournament. Had I felt that I had achieved that goal and still crashed and burned in the tournament, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be reading this article. I wouldn’t feel like I had made huge mistakes. I’d just maintain focus and know that I’d be able to win next time. But by being honest with myself and focusing on my errors and how I can fix them, I can have a more successful tournament. And if you maintain a high level of honesty with yourself, you can also do the same.