Fearless Magical Inventory Redux – Wisdom Fae Under the Bridge by Graeme McIntyre
Right, it’s a big quote this week…
“The one-eyed man stood helplessly by. “I’ll help ya if ya want,” he said. “Know what that son-of-a-bitch done? He come by an’ he got on white pants. An’ he says, ‘Come on, le’s go out to my yacht.’ By God, I’ll whang him some day!” He breathed heavily. “I ain’t been out with a woman sence I los’ my eye. An’ he says stuff like that.” And big tears cut channels in the dirt beside his nose.
Tom said impatiently, “Whyn’t you roll on? Got no guards to keep ya here.”
“Yeah, that’s easy to say. Ain’t so easy to get a job – not for a one-eye’ man.”
Tom turned on him. “Now look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open. An’ ya dirty, ya stink. Ya jus’ askin’ for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. ‘Course ya can’t get no woman with that empty eye flappin’ aroun’. Put somepin over it an’ wash ya face. You ain’t hittin’ nobody with no pipe wrench.” – John Steinbeck, “The Grapes of Wrath”
The Grapes of Wrath is Steinbeck’s greatest work, telling the story of a poor farming family travelling across the country from the dustbowl to California during the Great Depression, and through the story of that family’s ordeal, a story is told about the nature of the modern world, and the character of the American people. The quote above is form chapter 16 (I think – my copy of the book is boxed up ready to be moved in the next few weeks), and is something of a tangent to the main plot; The one-eyed man ultimately doesn’t take Tom’s advice, instead choosing to wallow in his suffering rather than put all his chips in on fighting for something better, and losing.
No one, in my experience, ever remembers this bit of the book, probably because they’re taught the book at school and it’s streamlined out of teaching materials because it’s a bit of a tangent, but this chapter spoke volumes to me as a nineteen year old with his face in the dirt. I saw myself in the one-eyed man – as I’m sure most people do to varying extents – and immediately realized that things needed to change. It is one thing to be knocked down and another to stay down.
Speaking of which, the PPTQ season came to an end for me this past weekend (there are more running this weekend, but they’re all pretty far away from Nottingham, and if I am honest I have lost heart for the moment anyway) in much the same vein as I described the week before last. There are no more PPTQs after this weekend until February, and I could certainly use a break, and hopefully come back in February in much better magical shape than I am currently in, after a bit of reflection.
In 2007, Sam Stoddard wrote an article called “Creating a Fearless Magic Inventory” in which he discusses his success, then the difficulties he faced after completing his degree and coming back to the game. The article (which I would definitely suggest reading in conjunction with this one) recognizes the down turn in Stoddard’s game, and then suggests an interesting way to address that problem; “The Fearless Magical Inventory”. This is a list (Inventory) of the things that he thinks are problematic about the way he plays Magic (Magical) which he makes a public (Fearless) so that 0thers can see and call him out on continuing to make these mistakes.
I’ve meant to write an article like this for ages, but haven’t had the right sort of team for it to be at its most useful for me until I moved here. I also think that the PPTQ system encourages a degree of investment in writers at my level which makes sort of project more useful for both my readers and myself, and I’ve had a period of growth followed by a period of regression. It’s a perfect storm.
Like many of my articles here, the intention is to help both the reader and myself. This will hopefully help me address my own failings in Magic in a way where I am less able to simply hide from them, but beyond this being a potentially interesting thing to read about and follow, it should also allow you to write your own Fearless Magical Inventory too. You won’t have all the same problems I do, and you won’t have all the same ones that Stoddard does; you’ll likely have some from both as well as your own which neither of us have. I hope people give this a try, and I hope that this article helps you both template it, and maybe gives you a bit of a confidence boost about posting your own. It’s a bit daunting to post a list of all your flaws for other people to examine and point out to you, but I certainly found reading Stoddard’s Inventory reassuring; He was much more accomplished than me at the time of writing, and I still haven’t caught up, yet he makes a lot of mistakes that I no longer make.
I’m going to suggest a little twist on the original, though. If you’ve got some insight into how I play (likely as not because you play with me regularly, or have in the past, but also if you follow my articles and have some thoughts), write a list about me before you read *my* list. This way I will be made aware of things which other people can see, and I have not seen.
Ket’s start with a look at Stoddard’s Inventory, which I’ll include here for reference.
- I shuffle very poorly (a reverse bridge) that tends to damage cards and cause clumps. Because of this I tend to not shuffle as much as I should between games and I almost never my opponent’s deck. This leads to both decks being less randomized than they should optimally be.
- I choke under high pressure situations. I make plays that are far riskier in order to end the situation as soon as possible.
- My mind wanders in the middle of the game when the board has become “stalemated.” I wait for an overwhelming advantage to try and give my opponent too much time to draw something.
- I play faster than I should leading me to doing things like forgetting to play a land before my attack or playing the wrong land. Or attacking with the wrong creatures or a million other buffoon-like actions.
- I keep hands that are risky solely based on the fact that I won the first game and “I can afford to lose one.”
- I do not playtest enough or at all with sideboard and do not generally know how to sideboard correctly in specific matchups.
- When my opponent is getting ahead I allow myself to get into situations in games that I do not know how to or cannot possibly get out of. I do this because of my fear of making a wrong play. Instead I choose to make safe plays and get in to a situation where I am drawing dead.
- I overvalue rares in Limited.
- I put my opponent on a specific trick for most of the game then I tell myself “If he has it he has it” when I get tired of playing around it.
- When winning in a game I get over confident and allow myself to play in to my opponent’s outs – whether that be overextending or using my removal needlessly to keep the beatdown train rolling.
- I forget most of the cards I pass in Limited right after I pass them. I tend to only remember the big flashy one. This leads to not knowing that I am sending misleading signals then being surprised when I am fighting the person next to me for a colour. Also a nightmare in team drafts.
- I do not pay enough attention to my opponent. If they want to cheat they could probably get away with it. I assume they are honest.
- I think I know what cards do (especially new ones) and I don’t always read them.
- I tell myself that my bad play didn’t matter because I would have lost anyway. Even if I know that isn’t true.
- I tap my mana wrong (the classic Moreno) and tell myself it’s not a big deal. Even when I end up unable to cast a spell due to it.
- I am overly confident when playing people I know or people who I believe are worse than me. I am under confident when playing people I don’t know or people that I believe are better than me.
- I do not spend enough time examining all the possible blocks in a combat situation and only take into account the one I would do which is not always the correct one. This leads to combats going horribly awry when I miss something minor.
- I have card/colour biases that result in me drafting the same deck over and over again and ignoring other good decks that are available at the table due to personal bias. When my favorite deck is not available I often end up with a real mess.
- I overvalue my first few picks of a draft. I will not switch an overly contested colour until it is too late.
- I lie to myself after losing and pretend that I could have done nothing. I don’t even try and examine the game.
- I play flashy and neat decks instead of good ones even when I know they are not very good.
- I counterspell irrelevant things because I don’t want to think several turns ahead to decide if that spell is actually important or not.
- I will play around a combat trick then get tired of that and play into it. Again “well if they have it they have it.” Whether or not they actually have it is irrelevant. I have to choose one course of action and stick with it.
- I over value specific cards in play and do not play around my opponent’s removal.
- I play the creatures in my hand from most powerful – least powerful allowing my opponent’s removal the optimal efficiency.
- I scoop prematurely.
- I allow my opponents to do what they intended to do not what they said they are doing in REL 3+ events.
- I allow problems that should be resolved by a judge to be resolved without one.
- If I am about to win I ramp up to a blazing speed and forget about mandatory upkeep effects.
- I go to tournaments hoping I can win not knowing that I will.
- I tell myself that mistakes I make in games that I win are less important and I do not focus on what I could have done to fix them. “
Of Stoddard’s Inventory, I think I am guilty of 5, 6, 7, 11, 12,1 3, 24, 27 and 28. Some of his issues I am guilty of at times because of their generic nature, but I don’t think they are endemic to my game, while the numbers I have listed I think are present enough that I ought to be more aware of them, and try to combat them.
Negativity and Anger
Beyond this, negativity and pragmatically managed anger has a chronic impact on my game in a number of ways. I am very impatient in respect to recurring problems, and become bent out of shape about having to nag and repeat myself, rather than considering if it might be that I haven’t expressed myself effectively. Instead of dealing with the issue in a calm manner I will do one of the following things; try ineffectively to ignore the issue, become combative, or disengage entirely from the dynamic (e.g. let someone else tag in while I retreat inward, and calm down).
In respect to how this impacts tournaments, it is very likely that resenting being there and generally being in the state of mind I discussed the week before last won’t help my chances. It will also serve to highlight the worst of it, and correspondingly make my experience worse.
These behaviours and attitudes will no doubt contaminate the experiences of my teammates; simply put, I am much better company when I am in a good mood.
Partly – but far from entirely – because of my anger and negativity I am not great at supporting my team mates. I have never felt comfortable issuing words of encouragement, and when I do the words are fraught with discord.
All of the above creates situations where I end up giving up on certain events. I didn’t play either Grand Prix in the UK this year because I felt under prepared, and given where I live and how much I play that seems ludicrous in retrospect. I maintain that I made the correct choice in each case, but it must have been the case that this was avoidable; next year, if I am not at both GPs, it will not be because I failed to push people around me when I felt our preparation was going awry.
Poorly Defined Tactical Agenda
I often end up calling the shots in respect to what we do with testing. This is partly because I am relatively well organized, but also maybe a bit more driven, and for the most part my wealth of experience makes me fairly well suited to this. However, often my method lacks nuance, in that it is little more than building all the obvious decks from the top 8 of whatever the latest big event was, and testing those against each other, assuming firstly that I’ll play control if it’s good, if not then aggro, if not then midrange, unless something else emerges as excellent during the process, in which case I’ll play that.
This doesn’t allow for brewing at all. I’m not a massive advocate of brews, but cutting them out as an option at all is probably incorrect.
The sideboarded games get left for too long often. This is a problem for so many people and groups.
Frequently, we become fixated on a particular problem match up and tunnel on that as a massive issue. For example, we placed a great deal of emphasis on the green/white megamorph vs Dark Jeskai match up one week, then ended up playing Esper the following week in a field which was increasingly about Abzan. Admittedly this was before the Pro Tour, so there weren’t that many decks full stop, and the Esper deck was fairly cutting edge. We never even built R/G Landfall, though, and I played against it several times in tournaments.
Modern is a massive problem for me as well, because the format is too big for the method I am using. I have no idea how to approach modern well, and for the last few years I have simply chosen a deck, tried to learn it and hoped it was good. This isn’t any better than anyone else is doing, and unsurprisingly my results in modern have been lacklustre.
My rules knowledge is really pretty sketchy at times. I sometimes find myself asking a judge a question which I am really surprised I am not sure of. For instance, the other day I wasn’t sure why it is that you can have two different versions of the same legend in play, but not two different versions of the same planeswalker (planeswalkers are just named characters too, right? Yes, but they also have rules – Magic is a game, not a novel.).
I also keep forgetting things about how cards work – I keep thinking Soulfire Grandmaster can activate with a spell on the stack, and return the spell, and I keep forgetting if Den Protector can be blocked or things with equal power, or if it needs to be greater power. I play an awful lot to not be sure what either of those cards do, and I have no idea what the problem is.
I still can’t seem to get my head around the new lands, and the best way to sequence the lands I play to get the most benefit.
I’m really squeamish about activating manlands because I am scared they will get killed by >Removal Spell< even against decks where they don’t have a way to kill them. I should think about the match up in question, the cards they play, what they might have that would catch me out, and the risk vs reward on this. There is no real reason why this shouldn’t be automatic.
I’ve Intentionally Drew a few times recently when it hasn’t made any sense. This is partly to avoid playing other people who have a pretty decent shout of beating me. If I was confident, I’d just play. If I could do the maths, I would just play. Seeing as I’m a bit under confident at the moment, and I can’t count, I seem to be ID’ing for no good reason.
I have been really unpunctual over the last year or so. This has been partly due to the time it takes me to get to Beeston, and partly because I do the lion’s share of deck building, meaning I have more on my plate, but it’s still awful. Our new house is much closer, which will help, as will the new way I have arranged my cards (from loosely sorted boxes to sorted folders – not exactly cutting edge stuff).
I am really bad at dealing with adverse conditions, like lack of space, people moving around behind me, people making loads of noise, etc, etc. I feel like the best solution is to deal with the issue directly, but I am also aware that I have difficulties in scaling conflict in proportion. I am concerned that I’ll overreact, and end up in a big argument about 3 inches of table space, or what constitutes “too loud”.
On the Bright Side…(positivity!)
I am good at some things! I think I am good at choosing and refining standard decks. I think collectively the Nottingham group have had some really good lists of good decks over the course of the year, with some cards other people weren’t really playing (Liliana Vess in every deck we played practically, when no one else was really playing it, for example). I have liked the way we solved certain problems by moving cards around in a like for like manner in lists, until we found configurations which did everything we wanted, rather than cutting something to make space for something else, and hoping you don’t need the card which was cut.
I’m willing and able to prepare extensively for events, and have the stamina to get through them. I have excellent critical thinking and strong leadership skills, too.
While old dogs might struggle with new tricks, I’m not so old that I can’t learn, and I *do* know a lot of old tricks. It’s surprising how much of a difference experience can make.
I’ve also learned a lot about avoiding losses this last year, by taking my time when I am ahead, instead of just doing what seems like it is probably right, only to be blown out by their “lucky” card.
That’s it for this week. This article is one which I will reference over the next 12 months, and revisit around this time next year to see what sort of progress I might have made. Maybe you could do the same.
So, what would your list be? This is a good exercise that will both help you grow as a person and develop your game. Please let me know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,