Going 15-0 at a Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix is the confidence boost we all need
2015 has been an emotional roller-coaster ride so far, with a lot of lessons learnt. For today’s article I will try something different, I’d also like to recount the psychological and emotional impacts of trying to get good Magic: The Gathering tournament results at high pressure events.
The year isn’t even over yet, so lets jump straight into it.
Pro Tour Fate Reforged in Washington doesn’t go well for me. I don’t play around an obvious removal, don’t put enough pressure when I should have, play the wrong land on turn 1, morto, dead… No money, no extra Pro Points.
Grand Prix Seville doesn’t go different. I didn’t put the time needed to catch up with the format, didn’t listen to those with a better idea, mis-built my deck, mis-sideboard most matches. No money, no points.
Grand Prix Liverpool is the only tournament in schedule. I won the last GP in England, Top 8-ed the previous one and cashed the one before. Did I mention I represent England as the National Champion in the World Magic Cup? This country has been kind to me, I know I have to perform, I NEED to perform, I am feeling confident.
I play Magic well for the first time in weeks. Make couple mistakes, pay for them, end 34th with three losses and a draw. Made some money, got an extra Pro Point.
Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir: I knew I had a great deck for Standard, which never happened before. With 66% of victories in Draft in the past four Pro Tours, I knew I was a decent Limited player. I felt confident.
Draft doesn’t go my way, though I still end up with a decent deck. I know power level of the table is low. Lose an extremely close match to a top player Round 1, don’t get to play Round 2, lose to some rares Round 3. Go 0-3 in draft for the first time in a tournament. Confidence is all gone, but I still have day to play. GR Devotion gives me the points needed to be back the next day. I draft an insane deck, crush two opponents, get topdecked back to back by the last, 2-1 going into the Standard portion. Going into last round with 9-6 and bad tie breakers I am dead for money, but I can still get some Pro Points. Ask my opponent for a concession – he refuses, apparently he could also use the points. Interesting point from a Hall of Famer with only 3 points in the current season. He draws his two 1-ofs I can’t beat. No money, no extra Pro Points.
Grand Prix Krakow: Another disaster. The psychological punch is very hard when you are used to be a lucky person and out of nowhere nothing goes your way, not even a single time.
12 months ago Europe saw me winning back to back Grand Prix. This year was not even close of what I would have expected so far. I am surely decided to perform.
I have a homemade brew for Grand Prix Paris. I love playing new decks in defined formats, love the faces of people when they have no idea what you are doing. The deck is good and I am playing alright, without some amount of good draws it’s hard to do better than Top 64. Some money, an extra Pro Point for the counting.
Grand Prix Florence was next. My playing skills had surely improved the past few months with so many hours of Magic and so many good players around me during Pro Tour testing, but the variance was surely not by my side. Could I combine my freshly learned skills with somebody else’s luck and have a good run? Apparently, yes.
Sealed pool of Day 1 is insane. The second pool isn’t that good. I have to struggle a bit, but I find the answer in avoiding any of the five defined colors combinations and going wild with 3 decks with enemy colors on them. Sadly, the play-off rounds are individual Draft and I can’t help my teammates with their decks. A loss in the Semi Finals two matches to one. Finally, a decent run, my second Top 4 of the season, ironically both in team format.
Modern Masters looked like an incredible skillful format. I prepared like I’d almost never had for a Grand Prix. Three friends with boxes shared their packs to practice some Sealed. Drafts were up in Magic Online few hours before the GPs and I managed to get 6 even during byes time on Saturday morning.
After round 6 I am still alive for Top 8, without winning a single game. Other than three byes, one of my opponents doesn’t show up… I die not long after. I think I can at least win the Sunday Super Series needing to win only one more game with a hand of one drop, into two drop, into three drop backed up with two removals in my RB Bloodthirst deck, but Darksteel Citadel + equipment + Etched Champion on turn 3 make sure that wasn’t happening. Made some money, still needed quite some points for locking Gold.
GP Copenhagen was up: Hadn’t play Modern in a while. What should I play? It looked like everyone knew their decks very well and all their matches. How did I take an advantage over them? Fair decks were so boring… Was it there anything different I could bring to the table? Yes, there was: Zooicide. What a terrible deck – but seriously, the faces of people when you are playing something crazy is priceless.
I get lucky for the first time in months and even help with a concession to a friend. Top 16, some cash, 3 valuable Pro Points.
At 31 Pro Points the season was finally looking decent. With at least 3 extra Pro Points in the last Pro Tour, all I needed was 12-3 the last Grand Prix or 10-6 the Pro Tour. Just one decent run with two shots to get it, that’s all I needed.
Draft testing started early in Team Cabin Crew as usual. I went solid with a 3-0 in the first one and kept a positive record all week long. Last day of drafting wasn’t what I would had hope for with a 1-8 record, but what mattered was knowing the format and feeling confident about it.
GP Dallas was the chosen city for the last Grand Prix of the season. All the Pro and Semi-Pro players showed up grinding the last few points needed to achieve Pro Levels.
My pool is good and I get couple of wins early. Can’t do much against a deck with three mythics in round 6, but I could surely play around Chandra’s Fury in round 8. How could I be so stupid when I already had the win and let him use the only card in the format that could bring him back to life?
Gold level status is surely for the elite of players who can be called Pro Players. A Pro Player needs to do more than playing well. Playing around cards is one of the easiest things a Pro Player should know how to do. How could I call myself a Pro Player if I don’t have the confidence of doing a couple of things better than most players? How do I get that confidence if all I get are bad/mediocre/decent results?
Drafting on Sunday doesn’t go bad, but it just doesn’t go my way. I am sure there wasn’t much more I could do in the matches I lost. No Gold Status for me just yet.
Just three days of Constructed testing before the Pro Tour Magic Origins. New decks looked bad, old decks looked mediocre. We didn’t find anything interesting or good looking. Maybe lack of time, maybe lack of creativity. Whatever the case, we just had a pile of stock decks and I didn’t even like one. I didn’t want to play a 50-50 deck if I couldn’t even find something to add. Everyone would surely be prepared against it and getting wins would be tough. I would rather play a deck with good matches and bad matches and hope to get good ones more often. Losing to Control players felt bad in the Pro Tour, so I was discarding Devotion this time. Esper Dragons had some different lines of play that I was not used to, because I never played the deck. I had to play UB Control. I didn’t play the deck this year, but it’s a strategy I was familiar with.
My draws are bad. The deck choice was awful, my confident is almost non-existent at this point. I just cast some spells and hope for the best. 4-4 will allow me to return the next day, but I need to do better if I want to lock Gold.
The Draft deck looks decent, however I just get completely dream crushed. I don’t win a single game and can’t even get a concession in the last round to keep the dream alive. Just to be sure I am hitting the bottom, I even receive a bye couple rounds later. No more point in playing, I am completely demotivated and just finally dropping.
I knew I wasn’t that good, but hoped to be good enough to stay on the train if I dedicated my time to it. Maybe I was just extremely lucky for a long enough period of time and that wasn’t going to happen again. It was a great year of holidays, playing and travelling, but looked like it was over now and I would have to get back to real life.
There was Grand Prix London 3 minutes walk from my house in few days – I guessed I’d play it. I talked to people. Asked around. Hit with a deck that looked interesting. Played some 8-man online. Deck was nuts: I was not only winning, but I was completely crushing everything. How did this deck lose? Bad matches were close and those were decks that no one was playing at the moment. I started to feel confident: could it be the end of a bad season and the start of a fresh one for my Magic career as well? I didn’t know, let’s just play and see. I didn’t even have three byes anymore, so it’s going to be tough.
Well, it isn’t. My draws are very good all tournament long, with each win my boost of confidence is growing and I am playing better. I am running hot and I need to focus. I pretend to be a Pro Player, start to read opponents and play around the right cards. Mistakes happen anyway, but it’s a hard game, right? I am still doing better than most and I should Top 8. Did I mention I like playing a Grand Prix in England?
Single elimination goes my way as well and I hold high a Grand Prix Trophy once again.
I really wanted to play the first Pro Tour of the season, but I couldn’t afford the ticket to Milwaukee. So I booked a ticket to Prague few days before London. I guessed I would have the chance to enjoy the deck once more before rotation.
I had a talk with Tobi from text coverage on Friday. He mentioned he wanted to have a King of the Hill table in the featured match area and he would start with me for being the most recent European Grand Prix Champion.
The deck is still great. The changes I made were a good call for the metagame I expected. I can’t say I don’t enjoy having people watching me play in the featured match. Coming fresh from a GP win everyone wants to know more about your skills. Confidence boost is super high. Round 3 starts well with a victory. Confidence gets higher. Round 4 is no different from round 3. Same happens in rounds 5… 6… 7… 8… 9.
I can’t believe I finished Day 1 undefeated AGAIN. Is this real? We are still playing cards, aren’t we? Doesn’t matter how good a player is, there are still losses out of our hands.
Day 2, sadly, doesn’t start as well as Day 1. I think I threw away game 3 of the first match by choosing the wrong mode of my Abzan Charm on turn 3. I don’t realize it until few turns later the game evolves enough to see it. Second match is a tough one against Goblins and I cut the wrong cards during sideboard and lose again. Another mistake, for not knowing the match up this time. I manage couple of wins to keep the dream alive, but lose again to a friend for the right of playing in Top 8. Last round comes as a win and I end in the Top 16 of the Grand Prix. Not an outstanding Day 2 performance, but still a very good run overall. Surely, a start of season most players wish to have.
The next was Grand Prix Madrid. Magic Origins Limited was an another format I would enjoy most likely, even though I would miss casting Hangarback Walker from my Standard Abzan deck. Or maybe I wouldn’t?
You can only imagine my smile when I find my little friend almost as last card in my Sealed pool. It even comes with a good company, as I have a solid RB Sacrifice deck with cheap mana curve and powerful removal spells.
I am happy with my deck, but I don’t consider it that powerful at first. I lose my first game of the tournament, but win the next two to claim three Swiss points to add to my total of now nine.
Very few games later I realize how good my deck actually is. I was concerned for my lack of 5 or 6 drops between my creatures, but the removal and interactions are that good that I don’t need big creatures. What about my confidence level? Still in the clouds… With each additional win I am boosting my confidence through the roof and up in the sky.
Round by round the first day comes into an end. My record? 9-0. AGAIN!? Apparently, yes… It’s unreal how goes the cycle of playing well, winning matches, feeling confident, playing better, winning more matches, feeling more confident. Where does it start exactly? Do I need to feel confident to play well? Or do I need to play well to win matches? What about winning matches to feel confident? I can’t say just yet where it start or why it works that way, but believe me when I say that it actually works.
Job is not done yet: there are two drafts the next day and a 4-2 record to achieve. 3-3 and Top 16 would still be a good record, but I would surely focus on the first.
My first deck is really solid and powerful and the first win comes fast. For Round 11 I lose the first game to Kytheon’s Irregulars and game 2 looks to have the same fate. I can scoop the turn after my opponent plays it and I don’t draw an answer for it. I can have at least tilt to face such a bomb again, even because my opponent draws THAT card exactly with his 6 Plains in play… Ultimately, I just don’t scoop or tilt, but try instead to figure my only way to victory, which implicates my opponent to misplay as well. I know there is not a big lesson in “my opponent misplayed and I won”, but having the boost of confidence is surely the key to see the only play I need to win the turn after if my opponent does what I hoped he would. I can perfectly see myself in the exact same situation 5 weeks ago and just tilting, maybe not conceding, but just passing the turn without even an attack and not winning the turn after with exact lethal after he misplays.
Round 12 is once again a win and I seat in the second draft needing only one more win to secure Top 8. The draft doesn’t go as smoothly as the first one, but I’m saved by a very good pack three. Another round, another good draw, another well played game and I am locked for Top 8 at 13-0.
At this point I still have something to play for, which is the first seat in the standings and getting to play all my first games in Top 8. My opponent is a friend and a teammate, Francesco Giorgio. I explain him the situation and we play. Game 1 isn’t close and Game 2 I have some mana issues, but manage to win the game the turn before losing to Sphinx’s Tutelage.
At 14-0 I already locked Top 8 and first seat in the standings. I have some friends playing win-and-in for Top 8, so I decide to go dream crushing and play the last round. I feel a bit bad at first for knocking out of Top 8 my last opponent, especially because the only friend who lost the last round didn’t finished 8th anyway. However, now that I see what the confidence boost can do for my game, I think I made the right choice: giving myself the chance of going 15-0 (or even making the Magic history by going 18-0) would keep my confidence really high for quite some time and that will help me get more wins in the future.
Sadly, the variance finally affects me in the Quarters Finals. I have to mulligan all games and don’t get to cast a spell in the deciding one. Still an unbelievable run, not only by going 15-0 during the tournament, but overall my results the last three Grand Prix are unreal…
I know we are still playing cards, there is still a lot of variance that can not be manipulated, so I could easily have bad results for what is left of the season and not achieve anything important. But I also know the boost of confidence I have right now is going to matter and make the difference to fight against variance and keep the good results flooding.
I hope you enjoy the read. It was something different from the usual subjects, but maybe you learned something new from the game we all love.
I will be around the Dark Sphere London WMCQ events from Friday through Sunday, so I will see you there!