Of Takeaways, Dirty Dishes and Areas for Improvement – Spread the Sickness with Grant Hislop

UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop


I’ve been on a bit of a health kick over the last couple of weeks. I finally got to that point where I saw a photo of myself, and thought ‘I’m not happy looking like that’. I’ll show you a couple of pictures of myself, so you can gauge the difference.

The picture on the left is me at a friend’s leaving party a few weeks ago, while the one on the right is me, on one of the first dates I went on with my girlfriend Kat, about 4 years ago. The picture in the middle is me naked, and is presented without comment. Pretty big difference, right?

The biggest thing that changed inbetween these two pictures has been that I’ve been in a relationship. We’re both pretty bad at getting the motivation to cook together, so we tend to eat out of one of the three takeaways on our doorstep far more often than we should. Both of us drink ridiculous amounts of fizzy juice, and personally, I was drinking more than one two litre bottle of coca-cola every day, which is excessive, even by fattest man in Britain standards.

When I met Kat, my t-shirt size was medium, but when I talked to Tu last week, to arrange some new Manaleak shirts, to replace old, grubby ones, I grudgingly had to admit that I would need extra-large ones.

My size has started getting me down, and the health concerns that go with being a larger gentleman have begun effecting me – I’m tired all the time, have a bad back, and not nearly enough energy to run around with my daughter as much as I’d like to. She’s only going to be young once, she deserves a daddy who can remember what his toes look like, without having to look at a picture of them.

Again, presented without comment. (Yes, these are my feet)

I’ve started taking action to remedy this situation. I’ve stopped drinking coke entirely, and have filled the fridge and cupboards with healthier foods, so I’m not driven to the takeaways out of necessity.

One other thing that I’ve been increasingly unhappy about is the state of my house. Neither Kat or I are, by design, particularly tidy people. We’re both messy, and our house reflects that. I’ve grown sick of having to run an obstacle course in the middle of the night to get to the fridge or toilet, and the constant pile of dirty dishes in the sink just further reinforced that we would be eating from a takeaway in the evening.

But no more. I’ve taken responsibility for it, and it’s now really clean. I could invite people over, and not be embarrassed about the state of my living arrangements, as I have been in the past. If someone comes round, I wouldn’t have to spend 3 hours tidying up to make it look presentable for them, as it already is.

Kat’s been pretty resistant to the change, but I’m not really trying to change her. I’m more focused on myself. I will admit that it’s pretty frustrating to come home to a mess of crisp packets and subway wrappers when I left the bed made, and floor clean in the morning, but I’d far rather just spend 5 minutes each evening getting things sorted out again than have it build up, and build up and take the best part of a day to get back to square one again.

So what’s precipitated this change? Quite simply, I’m not happy. Both with my appearance and with my living conditions. I’m getting to the age that my parents were when they had me, and I feel like I’m a million miles away in my life from where they were at the same age. I can’t imagine my parents ever having an empty fridge, eating from the chippy 6 nights a week, and having empty crisp packets on the floor. I just feel like I need to take this sort of thing a lot more seriously, because recently, it was like I was a cartoon of a student.

It’s not cool to have mounds of dirty dishes all over your adult house. It’s not fashionable to have floors that haven’t been swept in months. It’s not trendy to drink 2-3 litres of coke every day, and have no food in the house to speak of. It’s certainly not trendy to say ‘trendy’, but that’s by the by.

It’s fine to behave this way when you’re a student. You’re young, and your body can probably take the abuse. You can afford the time and cost of flying to Palestine to protest the erection of the Apartheid Wall in the summer, and know nothing more about it than the Wikipedia page. You can afford to have an appalling diet, because your metabolism hasn’t disappeared entirely. You can have arguments with people about the differences in emphasis when you agree with someone, and you can argue that ‘our opinions aren’t actually that different’ when they’re polar opposites, because you’re young, you’re an idiot, and you’ve not been told any better. It’s an absolutely terrifying prospect to still be behaving like this when you’re nearly 30 though, and things need to change.

I’ve also been increasingly more and more frustrated with my poor performance at Magic tournaments in the past year or so.

Last year, I felt like I was actually getting to an acceptable level with my play. I top 8’d several PTQs, and even won one. Nothing particularly exciting, but I was comfortable with my play, and that nobody was going to consider me an easy game. Over the past year, I’ve not been playing as much. It’s not that I care about the game any less, or want to succeed any less, it’s just that real life has gotten in the way.

It’s really hard for me to take multiple weekends off to PTQ for a season, when that frequently represents time that I don’t get to see my daughter. Basically, when I look at a PTQ schedule, the only one that I’m 100% going to attend, assuming I’m in the country, is the Scottish one. Then, I eliminate all the PTQ’s that are taking place on a Sunday, which is the day I get my daughter every week. Then, I eliminate all the PTQ’s that are more than a 5 hour drive away, unless there’s an airport nearby. By this point, there’s usually only one or two left.

Because I’ve not got as much PTQ experience as my opponents at the 2-3 I get to go to, I find myself making stupid mistakes. We’ve only recently started getting FNM’s in Edinburgh, and while this is an excellent thing, FNM level play on the regular just doesn’t add up to PTQ standard. When I go to FNM, I’ll probably only get 1-2 matches that I actually have to think about, whereas generally, at PTQ level, they all will be.

A few years ago, Sam Stoddard wrote a piece on StarctiyGames entitled ‘Creating a Fearless Magical Inventory’, and while I think that the title is pretty cringe worthy, the concept is sound. Sam’s taken a real, honest look at his game, and what he needs to do to improve as a player, and how to stop the mistakes that he’s been making. I’d like to create one of my own, and share it here with you.

Perhaps you know me, and can chip in with something else that you’ve noticed about my play, or perhaps you’d like to have a bash at one as well. If you want to share, great, if not, having a document like this would be great to have saved on your computer to look at from time to time, just to check where you’ve improved, or to add to as you develop new bad habits.

Here’s my current list of areas for improvement:

  • I don’t optimise my testing time. I play in FNM when I’d be better served as an individual playing 2-mans or daily events on Magic Online.
  • I don’t play nearly enough Magic Online. I play 2-3 hours a week currently. When I was comfortable with my play, I was drafting at least once a day, plus some constructed.
  • I play control far more often than I should. I’ve sleeved up Karn Liberated in paper standard about 20 times in the last year. It was probably ‘correct’ to do so once or twice, maximum.
  • I don’t play nearly enough limited. I didn’t like the AVR limited format, and I can’t stand core set draft, so I didn’t draft. That’s going to be nearly 6 months when the only draft experience I have is cube.
  • I favour blue decks far more than I should.
  • I value drawing cards far more highly than I should, in both limited and constructed.
  • I miss points of damage frequently when playing constructed. I forget when it’s safe to attack with a Snapcaster Mage quite often.
  • I’m not as good at optimising my mana usage as I should be. I play spells out of order, and set myself back.
  • I don’t plan my turns out as well as I should, leaving cards stranded in my hand, missing damage, and taking more than I need to.
  • I don’t respect unknown opponents enough. In the UK, it’s generally a safe bet that if I don’t know them, they’re bad. That’s not always true, and not giving my opponents the benefit of the doubt has led to multiple times when they’ve been able to take advantage of a gap I’ve given them, not thinking that they’ll see it.
  • I respect players that I do know too much. When I first started out, I was awful, and everyone I knew was better than me. I’ve found it very difficult to gauge at what point I ‘became better’ than those I used to play with, and who it’s true for now, leading me to play more conservatively than I should have, when in reality, I’m quite far ahead in terms of skill than my opponent.
  • I play much faster than I should. I generally find a line of play that I like, then take it, without considering alternatives, which may be better. It’s not a bad thing to trust your instincts, per se, but at the cost of thinking through options, it’s bad.
  • I don’t mulligan enough.
  • I’m awful at closing a game. I make sloppy attacks, and play to give my opponent a chance to take it back. I leave creatures behind to block potential 10/10 flying haste creatures for 3 mana that don’t exist.
  • I sideboard based on game 1 rather than what game 2 will look like.
  • I don’t pay nearly enough attention to what I’m passing in draft, or what will likely wheel. I’ve picked poorly because of this many, many times in the past.
  • I say ‘I played badly’ a lot after a loss, and don’t examine what led me to make those mistakes, or indeed if they even were mistakes (they probably were).
  • I tune out when people are discussing my play too often. I stay committed to lines of play that were wrong, to my detriment.
  • I don’t maximise the cards of my deck. I need to ensure that I’m getting the maximum value out of my cards. I only start with 7 of them, I need to make sure they’re doing all they can.
  • I concede the game when I still have outs. I should never concede when a specific series of draws from myself can lead to the game state being reversed, unless time is an issue.
  • I don’t pay nearly enough attention to the clock. I speed through decisions when time isn’t an issue, and think things through thoroughly when I don’t have the luxury of the time to do so.
  • I’m very resistant to change. I don’t like learning new things, leading me to miss out entirely on getting to play the Delver deck to an acceptable standard this season.
  • I don’t make proper use of judges. I’ve let things go that look pretty shady because I’ve caught them. I’ve been yelled at by opponents, accused of stalling for pile shuffling my deck for game 3, with 2 minutes left on the clock, got in arguments over opponents slow play and plenty of other things that should really have resulted in a judge being called.
  • In board stalls, I don’t evaluate where I can afford to try a probing attack, representing a trick, I wait til I actually have one, underestimating my opponents. I also don’t feel out my opponent enough by bluffing.
  • I fall for just about every bluff going. I think that an opponent attacking when I don’t understand why mean they must have the trick, and cost myself unnecessary points of damage.
  • I let my colour and deck preferences get in the way of drafting ‘the best deck’. I don’t value signals as highly as I should.
  • I often tap my mana incorrectly, closing avenues of play to me. I don’t get nearly annoyed enough about doing this.
  • I don’t play enough Magic. Who does?

You have to take responsibility for your own performance, as no one else will. I’m not happy with mine, and these are the things that I know I have to work on. Obviously, this isn’t going to be as simple as just stopping doing some things while I start doing others. Some of these bad habits are ingrained pretty deep, but I’m taking an honest look at myself, and my game and saying ‘I’m not comfortable with this’, and taking steps to rectify it.

I know I’ll be trying to change these as much as possible over the next few weeks, and who knows, maybe it’ll pay off in time for the PTQ in Manchester next week. We can but hope.

Stay classy mtgUK,



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