Today’s topic is something, I have been thinking about on and off for a while now. Almost the whole 4 and a half years I have been playing Magic in fact. The last time it really came up, and made me think on it for a long time when I was actually trying to sleep, was on Friday, where I lost the first two drafts of the day and then proceeded to win or split 8 in a row, before losing one more. At the end of the day, when going to bed, I felt like I had lost every tournament I played that day. Only when recounting them in my head, did I realize that was not even close to being true. At all.
One reason a lot of people make bad mulligan decisions very frequently, is that you tend to remember all the times you kept a one-lander and “got there”, while the ones where you didn’t get lost in a jumble of “oh, how unlucky I was not to draw the land / ok, I deserved that / whatever, let’s go to game 3”. It is also very easy to delude yourself into thinking you are a great Magic player, because you tend to remember those games where you made mindblowingly awesome plays to win with, and forget all but the most memorable of the games you lost to playing horribly.
This tendency of seeing the good of everything and remembering selectively only that which you want to remember – because it was sweet! – actually ties into a lot other things you might be doing wrong in Magic. A lot of people have trouble cutting cards from their decks, because they all look so fun, and you remember them being SO good. I mean, didn’t you totally blowout your opponent playing mono Silumgar Spell-Eater with your Keeper of the Lens last time? That was like the sweetest thing ever! Best card in your deck! Similarly, with a card like Scale Blessing, it is easy to imagine the complete blowout scenario – or maybe you actually did destroy someone with that card once – and while that is true some amount of the time, usually you do not play in Magical Christmasland and as high as that cards upside is, more often than not it is an Honor’s Reward that doesn’t gain life – not unplayable, but definitely not good either.
Some people lose a lot of money on preorders, because they overestimate the new cards a ton. Take Narset. I don’t know how (as I always thought she was terrible), but a TON of people thought she could be an insane standard card, because they imagined the best case scenario and ignored the fact that when she is not setting up exactly this play, she is usually doing nothing and losing you the game. I myself once burned 40 Euro on a set of foil Duskmantle Seers, because in a moment of mental derangement, I thought that card would either make it in some competitive constructed format, or end up as a commander/highlander card. What I ignored were the facts, that a) the card was just bad and b) casual players generally do not enjoy using their life as a resource. Or the color blue. I was very young and very dumb. But at least I was still excited for new cards.
The thing is, for all the problems it brings with it, I understand this sort of selective memory. Everybody wants to think of themselves as clever and awesome, and not as idiots, foolishly throwing away games and money left and right. So our subconscious takes over and remembers all the nice things that happened to us, instead of all those times we would prefer to forget. That makes sense to me. It isn’t contributing to the process of improving at something, but it does make sense.
In some regards, I seem to be suffering from the opposite problem – and I would wager I am not close to the only one. I say problem, because it really is. It is probably equally as bad for me, as it would be to overestimate myself and every new card spoiled.
A friend of mine has said repeatedly that she doesn’t get why I play Magic. I hate losing. I really, passionately hate losing. I am terrible at it (though, with as much practice as I have – you’d think I’d improve eventually^^ go figure ^.^). I also hate playing against people I feel are worse than me, because it feels like a huge waste of time, unless under very specific circumstances – like introducing someone new to the game, or helping along someone who is trying to go from casual to competitive (or just generally really wants to improve). While that already sounds like sort of a subtoptimal combination, add to that the fact that I really do not care about winning at all, and you’ve got yourself the obvious question of why I even bother.
I remember GP Vienna. It was the only Magic tournament I was ever really nervous for. I say nervous, but basically I was incredibly scared, and completely petrified. On day one, before opening my pool, I felt like I couldn’t properly breathe, and my heart was beating like crazy. It was just a random GP, so why? Well, it was shortly after PT Born of the Gods, a tournament where I really didn’t achieve anything, but people were giving me a lot of credit for nonetheless. Some people started calling me “the German Melissa De Tora”. I loved every minute of it, but it was also a little awkward, because I felt like a complete imposter, and I thought that any minute now everybody else was going to figure it out too. I really didn’t want that to happen, so I thought I could prove that all the attention I got was not unfounded by top8ing a GP. That was my goal. I didn’t care about anything but top8. I opened a good pool, but lost a match early on. I felt crushed. It was just one match, but even sitting down for round 9 at 7-1, I felt like I had been losing all day. I was down, I wanted my “bad day” to end, and I played poorly, losing the last round of day one to eventual winner Aniol Alcaraz. I don’t know if I could have won, but feeling like I had already lost sitting down certainly didn’t help my chances.
On day two I managed to squeek a 3-0 with a bad Gruul deck, and then drafted a very good one, but lost to Aniol Alcaraz again due to making a stupid mistake. At this moment, I was out of contention for top8 – and thus to achieve my goal. I felt like the biggest loser ever and I completely lost interest in the tournament, because I had already lost it anyway – never mind that a top12 would still be pretty sick. I punted away the next match, and finished somewhere in the top64.
Feeling too confident in yourself or deluding yourself into bad plays hurts your chances to win at Magic. But so does losing hope early, or just generally not dealing with a loss well. This has always been on my list of things I need to work on, but I never really got anywhere with it. Improving your own attitude is hard. It is also, however, worth doing. Because – as a nice bonus – it will probably make Magic more enjoyable for me all-round.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences.
Thanks for reading