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Taking the Positivity Challenge

Last weekend, the grind continued for me as I headed to Indianapolis for the Modern Open. I had lots of great deck options, but my primary goal was to practice for the Modern GP this upcoming weekend. I need exactly 1 more Pro Point to achieve my goal of hitting Silver and qualifying for the next 2 Pro Tours.

I had access to the RG Valakut list for the tournament, but opted instead to play one of my favorite Modern decks: Abzan Company. My thought process was that the Valakut deck seems pretty straightforward to play, whereas Abzan Company is more complicated (especially sideboarding) to pilot over the course of a large tournament. I’ve played a lot of games with Abzan in smaller tournaments but haven’t played it in a “large” event before.

Abzan Company

Brian DeMars

Unfortunately, this was one of the rare occasions where 6-3 didn’t make Day 2 at an Open. I still love the deck and the list even though I came up a little short of Day 2.

I’ve already devoted due attention to CoCo in other articles, so today I want to focus on something a little different:

Karma Police, Arrest This Man

As those of you who have been reading my content over the past few weeks probably already know, I’ve been really focusing on changing my approach to the game and how I play tournaments. The catalyst for this change was a long string of disappointing finishes all in a row and feeling like I needed to start doing things differently with my game.

When you focus on the negative, bad things tend to happen.

One thing I’ve made a note of is that I think my attitude has played a huge part in the results that I’ve been getting. In particular, I think that I have an unfortunate tendency to focus and fixate on the negative rather than to embrace the positive.

I have a tendency to dwell on trivial things or focus on the ones that don’t go my way. Everybody knows that focusing on the bad turns doesn’t exactly breed success, but nonetheless, I know I have a tendency to go there.

For instance, I do silly things like keep track of how many die rolls I’ve lost throughout the day and feel annoyed when I lose more rolls than I win. Have you ever started off a match on tilt because you lost the third die roll in a row? Seriously, could there be a less productive thing to be upset about than the outcome of a random event?

Aside from the possibility that I may play below my ability because my mind is focused on something irrelevant, allowing myself to linger on these kinds of negative feelings creates a losing mentality over the course of a tournament.

Focused with a negative attitude is worse than focused with a positive attitude. I don’t think it is possible to make the best plays if you don’t believe you can win. In a scenario where you are behind and need to draw specific cards or have an opponent make specific plays to win: how can you honestly expect to execute and sell these plays (bluffs) if you believe you are going to brick off and die?

We all know negativity is bad.

The Positivity Challenge

After taking my second loss in the first 3 rounds, I decided to go for a walk to clear my head. I could feel the frustration beginning to set in after yet another “race to the bottom” start.

Understanding that negativity is toxic and has undermined my ability to perform is a fact I’ve become increasingly aware of over the past month. The paradox was that I knew focusing on the negative was a problem and was still frustrated.

I’ve never been a big fan of the “just be positive” advice. If it were as easy as just thinking it and having it happen, I would have done it already!

What I decided to do was to create a subgame for myself within the tournament that challenged me to focus on being positive rather than negative. The rules for the game were as follows:

  1. Be as pleasant and positive as you possibly can at all times for the rest of the day.
  2. Place zero value on any game-related events that are beyond your control. For example, die rolls, what cards people draw, and the outcome of the games.
  3. Focus on doing the best possible job of navigating the elements of the game you can actually control as possible. For example, deciding to mulligan or not, sideboarding, and in-game play.
  4. If you catch yourself thinking something negative, immediately discard that thought as “negative and therefore not useful,” and go back to being positive.

I’m not 100% on the finalized rules of the game yet, but I feel the concept has a lot of potential. It’s still in beta testing, but I think the easiest way for me to change my mindset was to turn it into a game.

I felt that these were the qualities that would lend themselves to me having the absolute best mindset for playing in a card tournament and so I challenged myself to try and operate under these rules for the next 6 rounds.

I don’t lose at Magic for the lack of wanting to win. It is the drive to win that fuels emotions like tilt or frustration. These emotions usually stem from factors that feel beyond your control such as bad draws, die rolls, or flat out bad luck.

Magic may be a game full of variables I cannot control but the positivity challenge is comprised of elements that are all 100% in the realm of my control. If I choose to win then I will—and winning means I am in the state of mind to play my best Magic.

For the next 6 rounds, I was successful at succeeding at the positivity challenge each and every round. I also went 5-1 in the last 6 rounds of the event.

The better record was only a side effect of my much improved play. Focusing on being positive made me feel sharper and more engaged in what I was doing and it was reflected in my plays.

The best round that I played was the one that I lost. My plays made the games much closer than they would have been otherwise. If I had been focused on the negative (die roll, bad matchup, mulligan, that his draw was better than mine), I wouldn’t have been able to devote 100% of my energy to trying to find creative ways to claw back into the game.

Technically speaking, I didn’t instill this concept until the third round, which means I’ve never completed an entire tournament being 100% positive, even the ones I won! That is something that I’m going to change for good moving forward.

They say that “you can’t win ‘em all.” But nobody ever said you can’t try! With a positive attitude, you’ll give yourself the best chance to play your best and hopefully win a little more often.

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