Having been both 7-1 and 9-2 at various points of Grand Prix Liverpool this weekend, to finish just 10-5 (and get ID’d out of the cash) definitely ranks as one of the most disappointing performances of my Magic career so far.
I’d be lying if I said I took it all that well. Anyone wondering why a guy was punching the wall in the bathroom on Sunday afternoon has their answer. Anyone wondering why a guy was taking a long and angry walk down the banks of the Mersey between rounds also knows what was up. Frankly, I was wishing I’d never been daft enough to write anything along the lines of “whether you come home with a trophy or a 0-3 drop, there’s no excuse for not having a great time”.
Of course, once I’d necked a few beers and enjoyed a superb Mexican meal in a restaurant on Duke Street, I did start having a great time again. I was able to take my friends presenting me with a copy of Salt Road Patrol after dinner in something resembling good humour. I even accepted the fiftieth copy of Salt Road Patrol the next morning without actually committing murder (seriously, guys, that joke never once got old).
Once I’d calmed down and stopped ranting about mulligans, flood and screw, the first thing to ask myself is where it all went wrong. Why had I lost five times that weekend when I felt I’d been playing well?
One of the most important things you can do when a tournament goes badly is to really figure out why. If we always put our defeats down to bad luck, or always assume we just didn’t draw as well as our opponent, we won’t be able to properly analyse the flaws in our game. Without good self-analysis, we won’t grow and improve as players. So it’s crucial to be honest with yourself about where you went wrong, and try and take lessons from those mistakes. Punting can be a positive experience in the long run, so long as we’re willing and able to learn from the mistakes we made.
With that in mind, I’d like to go over my thought process about each of my five defeats, where I think it all went wrong, and what I’ve learned from those experiences, in the hope that my own self-analysis might help you improve your own.
ROUND 3 : 1-2 vs MARIO MATTHIES
Unfortunately, luck was definitely not on my side. My opening hand of the tournament was a pretty awkward six-carder, and whilst I did stick Sidisi, my opponent hamstrung it with a Debilitating Injury and forced me to keep attacking for 1 in order to produce tokens to block with. I just about dealt with the Wingmate Roc he jammed with raid, but by the time I’d got parity on board, I was about to deck myself.
I took down game two with a much better hand, but game three saw me down to six cards again, stuck on lands and unable to play anywhere near enough spells to keep up with my opponent’s hand. Did I make misplays in this game? None I can think of. Sometimes you really don’t draw well enough. That’s a lesson unto itself – you need to identify when you really did get on the wrong end of variance, and when you failed to get the most out of a poor hand and give yourself a chance. This one was, I believe, the former.
ROUND 9 : 0-2 vs RAPHAEL LEVY
Happily, I rattled off five straight wins, with only one, mercifully unpunished, punt (tapping out for an unnecessary Necropolis Fiend and allowing my opponent to topdeck Feat of Resistance to push through the last points of damage when I had him dead next turn – I’d left only Black blockers back…).
My reward for wrapping up day two by round 8 was a tie on the top tables against Hall of Famer Raph Levy. To say I was outclassed would be an understatement.
It was an education to watch how much value he was able to squeeze out of every card. Had I been up to the same standard, I would surely have won game two. Having put Levy down to 1 life, I had a board of Aven Surveyor, Typhoid Rats and Torrent Elemental tapped down by a Singing Bell Strike.
Levy had a board of six untapped lands. I knew he had something – his body language told me he wasn’t out of the game. I decided the most likely thing was to have two cards that could deal with my threats – something along the lines of Winterflame and Force Away. I paid to untap my Torrent Elemental, swung with the team, and got blown out by Supplant Form.
I don’t doubt that Levy would have played around that card. Had I worked out that possibility and the correct line, I would have attacked with just the Rats and the Surveyor and been able to replay the Elemental the same turn. That would have won me the game.
That’s the gap between a “good” player like me, and a pro. Levy played deliberately, visibly assessing every possible play and the responses I might have. I played too quickly, wasn’t able to work out every possible outcome of each play, and was punished by a player who used his cards better than I did. Deciding that an opponent has “something along the lines of X and/or Y” isn’t good enough. If I want to reach the top level, I need to be able to figure out every realistic possibility and determine the right line accordingly.
That’s not a way of thinking I can acquire overnight. I’ll need to apply myself to be able to deduce the correct plays in the same way Levy did. I played “well” in that game, but not perfectly, and that allowed a vastly better player to take me down. This may be the single most important defeat I’ve ever had, as being able to see what it takes to be the best up close was an enormous education.
He seems like a nice guy, by the way. Never offered me that “I Played A Hall Of Famer” badge though…
ROUND 12 : 1-2 vs JULIAN FLURY
Day two started perfectly, with a good draft (I was able to draft my preferred Temur deck with triple Ethereal Ambush) and wins in the opening games in the pod. Although I owe a lot to my second opponent making a misplay to counteract my own misplay – he allowed me to Mindswipe him for lethal when I had already missed a good opportunity to Mindswipe him a couple of turns earlier.
My third match of the day was probably my closest of the second day, against the current leader of the race for the Swiss World Cup captaincy (a lead he was able to extend later on). Games two and three were largely defined by one or the other of us getting flooded whilst the other curved out, but game one put me in a tricky spot where I made the wrong call.
Here’s the scenario. I’m at 6 life, my opponent’s at 12. My opponent has two creatures and six lands (doesn’t matter how many of each type):
I have one untapped creature, one tapped creature, and five lands (again, doesn’t matter how many of each type, except I could play my spells):
[draft]Lotus Path Djinn[/draft]
[draft]Lotus Path Djinn[/draft]
In hand I have this card.
On his precombat main phase, he taps three mana for a morph.
What would you do?
I let it resolve, he unmorphed Icefeather Aven and won. Had I cast Mindswipe for three he would have to pay mana to cast morph, therefore he wouldn’t have been able to flip it up and kill me that turn. He would have been at nine, and given me a chance to topdeck one of three Ethereal Ambushes to stay in reasonable shape in the game.
So why didn’t I do that? Rather than thinking about the possible morphs he could have and assessing whether it could be correct to Mindswipe him, I autopiloted my decision on the basis that it seemed weak to Mindswipe a spell not for the amount that would allow me to actually counter it, but just enough to use all his mana. Of course, the very fact that he was playing the morph precombat should have given away that it was Icefeather Aven.
The lesson I took here isn’t just to reaffirm my need to think more carefully on the possible cards an opponent might have, but to actively stop myself from switching the autopilot on instantly making the intuitive play. Sometimes the right play isn’t at all obvious, and playing too quickly cost me the match and knocked me out of Top 8 contention.
ROUND 13 : 1-2 vs ANDRE LUFF
I was actually pretty chipper after my third loss – I was out of the Top 8 running but was still in good shape to cash. Sadly my second draft was a bit of a disaster. I missed the signals that Blue-Green, which I’d been initially passed in to, was being shut off to my right as the power level of the cards in the packs was low. I didn’t realise that other colours were more open. As a result my final deck was distinctly underpowered.
Nevertheless, I wound up in a state of almost total disbelief that I lost the next match. After coming out well ahead in the opening exchanges against my opponent’s Blue-Red deck, I flooded the board with small guys, put lethal on board – and he untapped, cast Mob Rule and killed me from 19.
This is a basic one to analyse. I overextended because I didn’t think about a particular rare which destroyed me. There was no great need to play as many guys on to the board as I did. Had my opponent been playing White I would have though about End Hostilities and not made the same mistake, but somehow I blanked on the one Red card that ended the game.
You often hear people reassuring themselves or their friends that you “can’t play around a rare you haven’t seen”. Unfortunately, that’s rubbish. Had he forced me to extend into it by deploying more blockers my play would be understandable, but instead I’d walked right into it. After losing game three to flood, I was beyond tilted and suddenly on the bubble for the cash.
ROUND 14 : 0-2 vs IAN CALEB
Sometimes, when you’re down, life kicks you all the harder. Over the course of the match I believe I played four spells, and in game two we learned that a solitary Wetland Sambar doesn’t beat a Wingmate Roc. Who knew?
What matters isn’t that you make mistakes
The lesson here is that you’ll struggle to grow and improve as a player, if you don’t learn from your mistakes. Of my five losses at Liverpool, two really were unavoidable – yes, sometimes mulligans, screw and flood really do lock you out of a game – but three of them could possibly have been avoided had I made the correct plays.
What matters isn’t that you make mistakes – everyone from Jon Finkel downwards misplays sometimes – but what you take from them. That doesn’t just mean remembering not to overextend into Mob Rule in the future – it means improving your decision-making process. It means stopping to think a little harder when your opponent plays a morph precombat. It means realising the importance of thinking through all the possible lines of play before committing to an attack. I won’t suddenly be able to work through a board state like Raphael Levy can, but I have a clearer understanding of the thought processes I need to maintain in order to make the right plays.
I hear too many players explain away their losses as “luck”. Their opponent top-decked their one out. They didn’t draw the burn spell they needed to win the game. Hell, I’ve been guilty of this myself on many occasions.
But did you really lose because your opponent topdecked the out – or did you give them the opportunity to make that topdeck, because of a misplay you made earlier in the game? Sure, maybe you mulliganed to five and missed a land drop – but did you definitely have no chance to win the game, or could sequencing two plays differently have given you a chance?
Mistakes are the best teachers we have, and any misplays you make can be turned into positive experiences in the long run (no matter how tilting they may have been at the time) if we acknowledge and identify our errors and learn from them as a consequence. So the next time you find yourself raging to your friends about how badly you drew all day – ask yourself if there wasn’t something you might have done differently.