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The Secret to Winning in MTG

“The root of suffering is attachment”

In last week’s article I said we would discuss if you should be playing the best deck or trying to beat the best deck. However, there were a number of things that happened over the week that made me decide to delay that article in favor of this one.

Quick note that my health goals are going well. I overdid a day of weight training and had to miss a couple days of weights so I compensated with more cardio. The goal of supporting myself via Magic content creation is also going well with our long awaited Podcast (Planeswalker Diaries) launch and a new Youtube video series coming soon.

We have talked about the mental game and how we need to be mentally strong willed to reach our goals in previous articles. But what exactly do those things mean? And more importantly what are the specific behaviors that we need to adopt? Today we will discuss how to be detached from your results, why it is important to do so and how to stay the course if we begin to stray.

This is one of those lessons that I have had to learn repeatedly but I feel now is firmly stamped into my being as something that I MUST do in order to have a healthy relationship with the game and have long term success. To begin, let’s go over some of the obvious ways that being overly attached has plagued the competitive magic scene.

Your Mood & Mental Health

How many times have you seen a player be visibly upset after a loss? How many times have you seen a player let a mistake or game loss affect their next game, match or mood? How often have you heard a player talk about needing a break for the good of their mental health or because they were burnt out? How often have you seen a player make mistakes in an important game that they almost never would have otherwise?

Most of these problems can be attributed to being overly attached to the game and to our results in it. We assume that we need to “try harder” to win more. Thus we pour ourselves into the game day in and day out. We attack the game with passion and dedication, and we expect to be rewarded for it. At the end of the day however Magic is a game with both an extremely high ceiling for play skill and also a large amount of variance. This leads to players becoming upset that they are not winning more and also not identifying their mistakes.

The problem is that we connect trying with caring and not caring with not trying. What we need to realize is that we are mental athletes and any great athlete needs to be composed or “in the zone” to perform at their optimal level. We will always have emotions running through us, what we need to do is let them appear and wash over us. Staying at all times calm and focused on the task at hand, detached from these emotions that would try to bring us out of our harmonious state.

Keeping Calm

I won the Bash Bro’s Podcast $1000 tournament last weekend and was in this zone for most of it. I was calm and relaxed and not thinking about winning or what that would mean. I was not worried about anything outside of my game. My opening hand would be drawn and I would ask myself “Is this hand keepable?” If the answer was no I would mulligan. If the answer was yes I would map out what my first 2-3 turns will look like. Which lands and spells would I play in what order and why. How would this change depending on the cards I could draw or if my opponent played a certain card on one of their opening turns. If the answer was “I am unsure whether to keep or mulligan.”, then I would ask myself “why?”. Was it because I didn’t have enough lands or too many? Was it because this hand didn’t seem very good vs my opponents deck? I would then try to map out the likely scenarios that were to follow, keeping this hand to try and make a more informed decision detached from how I felt about it.

Learning From Mistakes

During my games, I was methodical about my play. Thinking about what cards my opponent might have from the actions they are taking. What they were likely to do in the turns ahead and how I could position myself against them to have the best chance of winning. If I noticed a mistake that I made, I would acknowledge it and store it away to be learned from and continue playing in the same way. I would not beat myself up over it, I would not become upset, I would not think about how things could be different right now if I hadn’t made that mistake. Catching mistakes is great because you have a chance to learn from them when you otherwise wouldn’t. Trust me when I say you are making mistakes all the time but not catching them.

Previous Experiences

Compare this to anytime I have played in an important match or tournament. I am normally filled with so much anxiety that I think I might be physically ill. My stress levels are peaking so high that it’s hard to even think at all. For instance when I was playing Temur Adventures against PVDDR playing Bant Control in a broadcasted GP Semifinal match, my head more or less exploded. We went deep into the games with both of us having easily over twelve lands in play and 7 cards in hand. Each phase of each turn I was faced with a never ending decision tree, while playing the World Champion and knowing that my plays were being critiqued by Huey, Marshal and the MTG world. I am pretty sure smoke came out of my ears as my brain short circuited.

I thought that these emotions would fade with time, but that time still has not come for me. So what I have learned to do is talk to myself and keep myself focused and relaxed. If I am feeling anxiety I tell myself to relax and that it is just one game of Magic that I am going to try my best at and that is all I can do. Win or lose it doesn’t matter, all I can do right now is remain calm and try my best. That’s why I am here, to have fun and try my best. Accept that I will not make all the best plays and will inevitably make mistakes and focus on learning from them. As long as I keep repeating this pattern I will inevitably continue to improve as a player and climb towards my goal of joining the MPL. Relax, try your best and don’t worry about making mistakes or outcomes.

Just Relax

This is how we should approach every game of Magic. As a scientist or explorer, just here to gain knowledge and enjoy the process of doing so. This allows us to always be playing our A-game and not becoming upset when we lose. This in turn allows us to win more often and learn faster, as well as play more because we avoid burnout. Instead of a vicious cycle that brings us down, walking this path is an uplifting cycle that brings us closer to our goal of improving as players.

So when you go to play your next game try to take deep breaths to relax. When you draw your opening hand, talk to yourself about why you are choosing to keep or mulligan. If you are unsure about the decision this is a good opportunity to share this hand after the game and get feedback from other players. While you are playing, ask yourself questions like “Why am I making this play?” as it’s important to have a plan. Also ask yourself “Why is my opponent making their play” as this will allow you to develop predicting what your opponent is doing and thus plan better. And if you are unsure of a decision during the game resign to stay calm and try your best in that moment. Once again, this is the perfect time to take a screenshot and share with your friends or teammates to get feedback and grow.

 

I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I enjoyed writing it and I will see you next week!

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