Fear, Doubt, And Self-Loathing At Grand Prix Manchester, by Rebecca Rose

I suffer from mental health issues, and I play Magic: The Gathering. I am writing this in case it could help others.

Fear, Doubt, And Self-Loathing At Grand Prix Manchester, by Rebecca Rose

Woman with Generalized Anxiety Disorder prepares to attend her first MTG GP

Hi, I’m Rebecca, and I’ve been into competitive Magic for around two years now. I attended PTQs when they were still a thing, and have competed in many GPTs and PPTQs, but I’m still yet to attend a Grand Prix. Every time one came up within travelling distance there seemed to be a reason for me not to go. When it was announced that GP Manchester was on my birthday this year, two thoughts came straight to mind: “…but then I can’t go and get drunk with friends like I do every year..” versus “I can celebrate with friends absolutely anytime, this is a freaking Grand Prix”. It’s worth noting I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which particularly flares up when doing new things, going to new places, or being by myself doing either, so I won’t lie – that also played a part here. It’s much easier on my anxiety levels to go to the pub with friends than it is to arrange travelling halfway across the country, sort money and accommodation for the weekend and be around potentially thousands of strangers.

Another reason in my “against” list when considering the GP was “what happens if I put loads of pressure on myself to do well, then perform badly and spend my birthday weekend tilting out?”. I’ll freely admit I enjoy winning, like everyone else, and like everyone else, I don’t enjoy losing – even more so when I feel that I’ve put a lot of effort into testing and preparation.

I was worried I’d end up having a pretty terrible time.

My anxiety isn’t as bad as it used to be though. The above thoughts stopped me from attending GPs in the past, and for want of a better phrase, I wasn’t going to let it this time. I’d be turning 27 years old on the date of the GP, and I didn’t want to keep putting something like this off; something that I really, really wanted to do. Sometimes you need to give yourself a little push to get outside your comfort zone. I had an idea for tilt-preparation too – I made sure to look into side events and thought about Modern and Legacy decks I could take, as well as checking out the artists and vendors attending, so even if I did start tilting out of the main event, I’d have plenty of other things to do instead that would make for a fun weekend.

With that, I began planning. I’m part of a small team – friends who all enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering from casual drafting to PPTQ grinders – so I started there to gauge interest. Luckily a fair few members were game, some of which had attended GPs before. Within a few days we had booked a house to share, put travel plans in place, and excitement ensued all round! Next was the real test – sorting out what deck to play, and getting good at it.

Now, I’m currently simultaneously renting a flat and trying to save up a deposit for a house. So like many others right now, my money for Magic is a little tight. Pre-rotation I was concerned about being able to afford a new Standard deck (I was running Atarka Red, and was under no illusion it would continue to be competitive after the release of Shadows over Innistrad), so I got digging through my binders for unused cards and submitted a buylist through an online Magic trader. I was ready to go with my store credit for a new standard deck as soon as I saw or built something I loved.


Choosing the “right” deck

As someone who loves aggro, my first instinct was to go for a deck involving Red. Fiery Temper and Lightning Axe seemed great, and there was a whole bunch of low drop red creatures available. Olivia, Mobilized for War worked very well with the madness mechanic, and as soon as I started looking at other Black cards I was well on my way to excitedly brewing Red-Black Vampires. However, after just a few hours of testing it wasn’t looking good. It had a really hard time against Esper Dragons, Black-White Control, and Collected Company, and I was fairly sure these would all see play post-rotation and probably at GP Manchester too. The Vampires deck was fun and fast, but I needed something that would give me a chance of doing well at the GP. My plan was to test lots with my team, attend as many local events before the GP as possible and maybe even buy the deck online to notch up lots of games and experience with it. I was determined to do my very best at my first GP, so when the deck lost very easily in only the early stages of testing, I had to ditch it.

I toyed with some other ideas and decklists I’d seen posted online, but nothing really grabbed my attention as being a stand out deck or something I desperately wanted to try. I decided to tune in to the SCG Baltimore Open to see if I could get inspired by any decks there and was pleasantly surprised – aggro was definitely viable, but in the shape of Mono White Humans. I was cautious at first, was this just a “week one” deck? I discussed the deck with my team-mates and tried a few proxy games, and we agreed it could have some Staying Power. If not, there was a similar deck with a Blue splash running slightly more resilient threats (and of course, counterpells in the sideboard are always an option in Blue).

Over the next couple of weeks, both the Mono White Humans and Blue-White Humans decks proved their worth. There were copies doing well at the Pro Tour and it continued to perform strongly at the SCG events too. I decided to go with my aggressive tendencies and try the Mono White build first, inspired by Tom Ross who took the deck to the next level with 23 one-drops and 18 lands. I bought the cards both “in real life” and on MTGO (another reason aggro decks are the best – so cheap to buy!), and enjoyed playing the deck a lot. I had a fairly good success rate with it too, so as the Shadows over Innistrad Game Day came around I was set on the deck I wanted to take.

My overall result for Game Day was 2-2-1 – spot on average. However it was easy to decide if the deck was good enough for the GP when simply looking at what I won and lost against. My first two rounds (and wins) were against more “homebrew” style decks, my last two rounds (and losses) were versus Grixis Control and Season’s Past. Based on this it was obvious to me that to do well in Manchester I needed to up my game in one way or another. You might be wondering where I got a draw from with such an aggressive deck… Well it wasn’t just any draw, it was my first ever 0-0 result from a game of Magic. I faced Green-White Collected Company and the board stall was impressive to say the least. Close to fifty minutes with us just filling the battlefield with creatures, getting an edge here and there, but never being quite fully able to confidently swing for an attack! This was definitely not the sort of situation I wanted to find myself in at the GP.

GW CoCo versus Mono White Humans
It became easier to play the game stood up and spread across two tables. This sort of thing might be a bit awkward in a competitive environment!

So as Saturday’s Game Day ended, I was feeling a bit miffed about how badly the deck had fared. I had the bits for Blue-White Humans already and was wondering if it could have done any better… Then I heard the Tournament Organizer announce there were still spots left for Sunday’s Game Day. I’d never done two Game Days before, but I’d also never had something as important as a GP to grind for! I signed up there and then excited to go home and put something a little different together.

One of my favourite possibilities in the Blue-White build was Dragonlord Ojutai with Always Watching, so I went for an almost midrange list just to fit him in the maindeck along with three copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and three Archangel of Tithes. I was pretty excited about piloting this. Having more things to do late game and not just lose if I hadn’t killed my opponent by turn four or five seemed great – and the deck didn’t perform too badly at all. I got a 3-2 result on Sunday’s Game Day, this time beating the stronger decks, and finished in 8th place – in my eyes a pretty good result for a deck I had built the night before and only had minimal testing with.

I was feeling confident at this point. If I could turn in overnight results that good, imagine how good the deck could be by the time GP Manchester rolled around. Then FNM happened. You might remember the tilt factor I mentioned early when deciding to even go to a Grand Prix? 0-3 and drop put me squarely in that place. I feel like tilting with an anxiety disorder (and some self-confidence issues!) is possibly worse than regular tilt – but as I have never had a non-anxious tilt I couldn’t say for sure. I started questioning everything… And forgetting any other positive results I’d ever had with Blue-White Humans.

“I should have waited longer to decide on a deck to build…”
“Was this just a massive waste of that store credit?”
“I’ve even bought the *bleeping* thing on MTGO!”
“I’m supposed to be taking this to a PPTQ tomorrow, it’s going to suck.”
“Maybe I just suck at Magic…”
“Why am I even going to this Grand Prix…”

As you can see from these thoughts of mine that evening, I snowballed really hard. Having mental health issues whilst trying to become good at something, or sometimes even care about things, can be very difficult. Luckily my boyfriend Russell was there at FNM with me that night and just having someone else around to ground me and tell me these thoughts were either just not true, or not worth thinking about brought me back to reality. I decided to drop for the last round, and instead think objectively about the deck and my playing of it. Two friends of mine were also running Blue-White lists, but with some differences – particularly when it came to how many four and five drops they were running maindeck. I discussed the deck with them, checked out some lists online, and came to more of a “transformational” 75.

I was still having some self-esteem issues about myself in Magic that night, but I was thinking a little more logically and curious to see how I’d do at the local PPTQ the next day. My new deck was still Blue-White, but had more of an aggro game pre-sideboard with more on drops than before, and the possibility to turn into that midrange deck with Dragonlord Ojutai and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar when it needed to.

The PPTQ didn’t get off to a great start with a 0-2 result, and after some near misses on topdecks round two I could have tilted, but my friends were happy to listen to me rant a bit and luckily as soon as it was off my chest I was back to being focused. The deck at least felt like it was working better. Instead of being completely shut down by my opponents’ decks, I was at least giving them a run for their money. I won the next two rounds, both 2-0, and my round five opponent left before we played due to illness. So overall I went 3-2, and felt like I was in a much more positive place. Sure, I could have looked at it like my result hadn’t improved at all since Game Day – but a PPTQ is not a Game Day.

The following week I looked into other upcoming tournaments and was a little disappointed that there were no Standard events local enough until the week before the GP. So I bit the bullet and bought the additional cards needed for my new list on MTGO so that I could do tournaments and leagues on there instead. My friends and I had a newfound focus too. We decided we were going to get a bit more serious about our team and make a commitment to meet up, play, and talk Magic as often as possible.


SO Where do we go now?

So, what now? GP Manchester is around two weeks away at the time of me writing this. I have plans in place for both the Magic side of the event, and the emotional. My team and I already have plans in place for better testing – discussing our games, opening hands and sideboarding more, so that we learn and grow as oppose to just “jamming games”. We plan to meet up more frequently too – not just for the sake of the GP, but to become better players overall. I also plan to do small write-ups whenever I can about how my deck is performing, and how I can play it better.

As for the emotional side of things, I’m also preparing the best I can. I won’t lie, my anxiety even reared its ugly head when writing this article, full of worries and doubts – but I beat it with the help of friends, objective thinking, and sheer stubbornness. Every time I get past something like this, I like to think I become better at dealing with my anxiety and self-esteem (for me the two can be closely linked at times). My plan in general for the event will be making sure I’m safe from most of my known triggers – I’ll make time on the Friday to know where everything I might need is, from toilets to smoking areas, and arrange a suitable “meeting spot” to see friends in between rounds. I’ll ensure I have enough snacks, money, and water to get me through each day at the event, and of course have a fully charged phone to get in touch with my fellow GP attendees.

Before the GP itself I also plan to read a lot of MTG articles on what to expect at GPs, so I don’t get overly surprised by anything. I’m also trying something a little different in the shape of a book recommended by a friend who also deals with anxiety, which she says has helped her tremendously.

I’m pretty darn excited for this, and despite wanting to do well and my issues with anxiety… my primary goal will be to enjoy my time in Manchester, and I look forward to writing again after the Grand Prix to share all my experiences!

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rose

Fear, Doubt, And Self-Loathing At Grand Prix Manchester, by Rebecca Rose
Having mental health issues whilst trying to become good at something, or sometimes even care about things, can be very difficult. Luckily...

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