The Fearless Magic Inventory – Coming Back Stronger
“Do you take pride in your hurt? Does it make you seem large and tragic? …Well, think about it. Maybe you’re playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden.
In November of last year, I wrote this article: I had hoped to do some winning long before I did, and subsequently to come back to the article a couple of times over the year in different circumstances. I took my time, and now that project will likely follow into next year.
The article was based on Sam Stoddard’s 2007 piece, “Creating a Fearless Magic Inventory”, in which he listed a series of flaws persistent in his game, making them public with the intention of forcing himself to face them, but also so other people could call him out on them. It’s also step four of the Twelve Step Program (“To make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) where it is applied to life more generally, and has a well-regarded track record for usefulness.
In order to avoid the busy work of referring to each article likening a matryoshka doll, I’m going to include Stoddard’s Inventory below, in addition to the one I made last year, but I do recommend reading both of the previous articles too. Stoddard’s is probably in the top five most important Magic: The Gathering articles I have read. I will dwell on the improvements I have made and are perhaps still yet to make upon reflection of the inventory I produced during my article last year.
It seems to me incredibly useful to make one of these for yourself. They allow for a degree of self reflection which is often times overlooked as we strive to deal with the here and now of problems such as the solution to the Bant mirror match up in Standard, or the right pick in a given pack in draft, instead of the long road travelled, and still to be travelled. By looking at the big picture – e.g. our broad strengths and weaknesses – we can solve future problems by being more effective at our core; simply put, we can become better Magic players.
Hopefully, by looking through the inventory Sam made nearly a decade ago as well as mine from last year, and my progress since, a greater understanding of the process can be attained. I’m not sure I’m stressing this hard enough, but I really think that you should write one of these, especially if you think you might have plateaued.
Sam Stoddard’s Fearless Magical Inventory
“1. 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 shuffle my opponent’s deck. This leads to both decks being less randomized than they should optimally be.
2. I choke under high pressure situations. I make plays that are far riskier in order to end the situation as soon as possible.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. I keep hands that are risky solely based on the fact that I won the first game and “I can afford to lose one.”
6. I do not playtest enough or at all with sideboard, and do not generally know how to sideboard correctly in specific matchups.
7. 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.
8. I overvalue rares in Limited.
9. When winning in a game, I become 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.
10. 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. This is also a nightmare in Team Drafts.
11. 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.
12. I think I know what cards do (especially new ones) and I don’t always read them.
13. I tell myself that my bad play didn’t matter because I would have lost anyway, even if I know that isn’t true.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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 favourite deck is not available I often end up with a real mess.
18. I overvalue my first few picks of a draft, and I will not switch an overly contested colour until it is too late.
19. I lie to myself after losing and pretend that I could have done nothing. I don’t even try and examine the game.
20. I play flashy and neat decks instead of good ones, even when I know they are not very good.
21. I counter irrelevant things because I don’t want to think several turns ahead to decide if that spell is actually important or not.
22. 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.
23. I overvalue specific cards in play and do not play around my opponent’s removal.
24. I play the creatures in my hand from most powerful to least powerful, allowing my opponent’s removal the optimal efficiency.
25. I scoop prematurely.
26. I allow my opponents to do what they intended to do not what they said they are doing at Competitive REL (or higher).
27. I allow problems that should be resolved by a judge to be resolved without one.
28. If I am about to win, I ramp up to a blazing speed and forget about mandatory upkeep effects.
29. I go to tournaments hoping I can win not knowing that I will.
30. 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.“
So with Stoddard’s in mind to frame an understanding of what the purpose of the inventory is, we can have a look at my own, as I left it last November. I would have thought that many of the problems I’m facing are problems which I share with other members of the community, and it is my hope that by reading through how I have dealt with or failed to deal with difficulties, others might gain some insight into dealing with theirs.
My Inventory And How It Has Changed Over The Past Nine Months
- I keep hands that are risky solely based on the fact that I won the first game and “I can afford to lose one.”
This one has gotten better simply because I became more aware of it having said I was guilty of it.
- I do not playtest enough or at all with sideboard and do not generally know how to sideboard correctly in specific matchups.
There has been some improvement on this front: We’ve definitely played more sideboard games this year. Partly this was due to playing more Modern, where it is especially important to play post-sideboard games, but we generally made a bigger deal of it.
Two things have helped in particular: The first is that I have played fewer events, so there has been less pressure to get something done every week, although there was a particularly bad spell during the Standard season just past where I changed decks every week for three weeks and barely played the main deck games, let alone the post-sideboard games. The second thing which has helped is that in Modern we went with a strategy of finding a deck we liked, then playing it in leagues on Magic Online. Ross Jenkins has been quite helpful in this respect as he has been keen to play the post-board games also.
- 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.
Upon re-reading, I’m not sure that I do this often enough that it warrants mentioning, but I thought it did last year. I could certainly see how this could be the case, as it seems like something everyone will do from time to time. I’m certainly no better at avoiding it now than I was then.
- 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. This is also a nightmare in Team Drafts.
I don’t think I’ve drafted since this happened, but given how out of practice I am at draft, I expect I’m as bad or worse than I was when I wrote this. There just isn’t enough call to draft that there is good reason to play, so there is little in the way of opportunity to fix this problem.
- 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’ve been better at this recently: Part of the solution is to make a point of looking directly at them, making eye contact, and asking how many cards they have fairly requently. If left to my own devices, I spend a lot of time looking at my cards, even when I know what they do, and when I’m going to use them. This time could be better spent paying attention to other things, such as whether they have drawn additional cards that turn.
- I think I know what cards do (especially new ones) and I don’t always read them.
Weirdly, I think I’ve been better at this because I haven’t drafted. “Familiarity breeds contempt” and all that.
- I overvalue specific cards in play and do not play around my opponent’s removal.
This is likely not much better: Playing more limited would likely help with this because it allows you a greater degree of evaluative practice. In constructed, it is often hard to overvalue a card because it is obvious which cards represent the most pressing threat, while in Limited things are less clear.
- I allow my opponents to do what they intended to do not what they said they are doing at Competitive REL (or higher).
This changes quite a bit depending on the day, but it’s still a problem. I tend to do it when I think it won’t matter, but this is pretty stupid and something I endeavour to amend.
- I allow problems that should be resolved by a judge to be resolved without one.
I still do this: It seems like the PPTQ system is something of a different climate for these issues, which is in part why I occasionally allow a take back. It seems so awkward at times for me to go to an event, play someone with vastly less experience than me, then call a judge when I know what the judge will say anyway. It feels like pushing people around for no reason, but it actually just contributes to a persistent notion that calling a judge is bad form.
- Bad Anger Management.
This might be marginally better, even when you take into account that I’ve won a WMCQ, a PPTQ and a pre-release in the last month or so, making my mood considerably better. I told myself I wasn’t going to go to any PPTQs which cost more than £15 in travel, or were more than an hour away this season, which I think was going to help. I suppose we will see next season…
- I let external factors such as my desire to be at the event impact my game during the event.
This hasn’t really improved, but I think the events that I’ve played recently have been a bit better. I try and avoid going to events which I remember were crowded and loud the previous times.
- Because of the two previous issues, I am often unpleasant to deal with for my teammates.
I believe this is marginally better, but the reality is that you would need to ask them. It’s pretty hard to judge from a subjective perspective.
- I am not emotionally supportive of my teammates.
This hasn’t changed, but I haven’t really tried either if I’m honest. I’m not really ready to, if it’s going to happen, and I am always there for my friends if something meaningful happens. That’s what I think counts, and it’s what I’d want from them.
- I give up on events before I go.
This has got a bit better in that I am more aware of when I’m giving up, and just don’t go. That said, I still went to the GP this time even though some aspects of the testing were pretty off, and I wasn’t especially happy with my sideboard. Thus I suppose there is a bit more fight to me on these issues than there was a while back.
- My testing method isn’t especially enabling of sideboarded games or brewing.
This has gotten better in respect to sideboarding, but brewing is still a tough one. The problem is it isn’t something I have developed the skills for really, so it is unlikely that I’ll be the one to suggest it. it is difficult to see how progress might be made on this front without someone good moving to Nottingham who had this inclination.
- As a group, we fixate on particular problems too much, and I am part of that problem.
It is difficult to say on this front because, for the most part, there has been a fair degree of consensus in our group about what to play. This problem would previously emerge in a situation where we were looking at playing one deck, and it struggled against a particular deck, and then Matt Light would want to jump ship. Because we’ve ended up agreeing in the majority this season, this hasn’t come up as much.
- My testing method isn’t great for Modern.
My method hasn’t changed, but the format has quite substantially. It’s narrower, and I think the blue cards are better than they have been in a while, so it happens that choosing Jeskai Nahiri worked out pretty well. We played many leagues on Magic Online, which I believe to be a fantastic method of getting an idea of what the deck looks like against other decks (I.e. not just the 35% of decks which are the top ten on MTG Goldfish), and this was helpful, but ultimately the way I approach Modern is still a work in progress.
- Weak Rules Knowledge.
Let’s just say this hasn’t improved much…
- I forget how certain frequently played cards work.
And unfortunately neither has this: I still get all squeamish when I discard Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to Nahiri, the Harbinger.
- I feel squeamish about activating manlands due to fear or unknown removal spells.
Also I have seen some improvement, most likely due to my successes with Celestial Colonnade, this is still an area that requires some improvement.
- Lacking clarity regarding intentional draws.
I have found this to be better this year: I have just been more alert to it in this respect, and things have worked out better as a result.
- Poor Time Keeping.
This is a lot better, but only because I am normally hosting now rather than or alongside playing in said events.
In Conclusion – What Have I Learnt This Year?
On reflection, I’d say I’ve made some progress on some things but not so much on others, especially those I share with Stoddard. My suspicion is that these are fairly well-ingrained factors that I may find very difficult to shake, but I’ll endeavour to keep trying. When I wrote my first article on the Fearless Magical Inventory in November, I thought about a while afterwards and made some plans to implement this year, some of which have significantly improved my gameplay, whilst others still require some progression.
I said this last time also, but I think that this is a well worthwhile exercise for anyone who is worried they might have plateaued. That’s it for this week – get writing your own Magic Inventories!
Community Question – After reading Graeme’s and Sam’s articles, what factor of your gameplay would be at the very top of your Fearless Magic Inventory, and why?
Thanks for reading,