Emptying the Mailbag - My Secrets Revealed
I have never done an article like this before. I decided to take to Twitter and ask the readers exactly what questions they had for me. I was pleasantly surprised with the responses I received, and the questions cover a variety of different topics. Let me know what you think about this style of article; my hope is that I can provide some useful information!
On good tournament practices:
My practice for Pro Tours starts as soon as the latest spoiler becomes available. Until then, I won't know all the cards which will be used at the Pro Tour. I am on Team Genesis, and as a team we will play games of Standard online before meeting in person. I aim to get Limited practice done one week before the Pro Tour, so that I can use the last week to finalize my Standard deck. In order to prepare for Limited I go to a local draft camp where we do about five draft per day.
Being able to bounce back from making a mistake is important, because everyone makes them. The first part of fixing a mistake is realizing what you did wrong. It can help to have someone else watching your games and consult them to see if there were other lines you could have taken. I like to talk to other players whose opinion I respect, and I am willing to admit I make the wrong play sometimes. Players will disagree about what the correct play to make is, and thatís okay. The most important thing is to try to brush off a mistake, and finish the event you are in.
Dwelling on a mistake will only become a distraction. My aim is to wait until a tournament is over before letting what happened sink in, and then go over what I could have done differently. Donít make the same mistake twice. Learn from the experience and build on it, keep your mental game strong.
I am someone that gets stressed out at tournaments, but that doesnít mean I let it affect my in-game decisions. Try not to look at any one match as being more important than another, play your best regardless of what is on the line. It is a good habit to get into. Losing a win-and-in certainly can be discouraging Ė it feels like you made it all the way to that last critical match, and then suddenly it all doesnít matter as much.
After losing a win-and-in, hopefully it is possible to take something positive away from the tournament. I look at those critical matches as spots where even if I lose, I will make it back to that spot again. There is always going to be some amount of variance, and luck. If I play my best, I will be at peace with whatever the result is. Play to win, but know that sometimes the result of a match is out of your control, no need to beat yourself up about it, eventually the tide will turn in your favor.
I donít take notes after a match unless there is a situation in a game I want to remember or ask another player about. In general, after a match I like to keep myself calm and ready for future matches. I will, however, take some notes about how to sideboard for matchups before a tournament. Having a sideboard guide you can go to is nice, and helps reduce the amount of time I have to think about how to sideboard. I also take notes during the games about specific cards or interaction in my opponentís deck, specifically when playing Limited.
Playing in a Magic tournament, especially a long one like a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, requires stamina. We are talking about a marathon and not a sprint. Maintaining a high level of focus throughout the event is key. This can mean different practices for different players, whether it is staying hydrated, getting a good nightís sleep or something else to make sure you put yourself in the best position to succeed. I like to stay consistent in how I prepare for tournaments, which is always a combination of getting in games, talking with other players and taking in content. Of course, I also physically am able to attend lots of events, which gives me more chances to do well.
On my personal life:
Being a father is my first job, so I have to make sure my responsibilities at home are taken care of. Right after I learned I was going to be a dad, and had my daughter Eve, I went on a hot streak. I am playing Magic for my family, and it feels like I have someone else to play for. That gives me additional motivation. Iím not in a position where I can jam games as much as I want to, so I make sure to read lots of content from other pros as well as consult other players regularly. As a player and father I canít win tournaments on my own, I need to rely on my support system to keep me going.
I am lucky that I have a girlfriend willing to pick up the slack when I am at a tournament. My daughter is also in daycare now, and we have family in the area who can watch her upon request. It comes down to time management, and making the most of family time. I have people I can rely on if I am not around.
To fully answer this, Iím going to refer to a past relationship. I think most Magic players have had a significant other at one point in time who has had trouble understanding the life of a Magic player. When I first started getting back into tournament play, I had a tough time focusing on the other parts of my life, because all I wanted to do was play Magic. Naturally, this meant not as much time spent with my girlfriend at the time.
I chose to attend a Grand Prix rather than spend time with her on her birthday. This was a selfish decision, and one she had trouble understanding. I canít control when tournaments are scheduled, but in this instance I could have been with her instead of at the tournament. When I got back from the tournament we were broken up; I donít think she was prepared to be with someone with my lifestyle. There were obviously other factors involved in the break-up, but I can happily say my current significant other is much more supportive of my job. From an outside perspective, it can be difficult to see a game like Magic as a legitimate career path. Now I am making more money doing what I love, so that certainly helps.
Winning Grand Prix Daytona Beach. I was playing against the best in the world as a teenager, and I came out on top. Confidence is key; you have to believe you have what it takes to succeed. After the win I felt validation for my hard work, and once I had a taste for winning at a high level, I was thirsty for more.
On becoming a better player
My game has improved over the past few years Ė that is clear based on results Ė and it can be attributed to a number of factors. The fact is that the improvement started when I began to take the game more seriously and become a professional. This allowed me to put more time into the game, and time allowed me to get in lots of games on Magic Online. I understand that there are very few players that are able to realistically make an attempt at playing professionally.
Another very important factor I can attribute to the success I have had is trusting myself. I am going to make a deck choice or in game decision based on what I think is right for me, otherwise it only leads to regret.
The easiest way to seek out advice of good players whom you arenít close friends with is to start with reading and watching content. Many good players write articles, post on social media, stream, or produce videos. That type of information is accessible and available to the entire community. Personally, I receive various questions from many players in the community, and while this is flattering, sometimes I donít have time to help everyone I would like to. What I do, though, is offer online coaching sessions, and there are other pros who do this a well. I recommend gradually starting to play in more competitive events as you try to move beyond FNM, because becoming professional doesnít happen overnight.
Tooth and Nail. I think it is natural to go to the first deck I was successful with, and this is it. I knew after having success playing this deck, I had what it takes to play Constructed Magic. Until then I really only had done well in Limited. I played it when the now-defunct Junior Super Series was still around, which was essentially a Pro Tour level event for teenagers.
Discarding Obstinate Baloth to an opponentís Liliana of the Veil definitely comes up. You can cast Summonerís Pact to put Obstinate Baloth into your hand, and then attack the opposing Liliana of the Veil the following turn after putting Obstinate Baloth into play for free. Liliana of the Veil happens to be one of the best cards against Breach Titan, so this is a key interaction. Obstinate Baloth also costs one less mana than Thragtusk, and against Burn or other aggressive decks, speed is very important.
This is a tough matchup for Abzan Company, but adding more removal helps. Often this means having a better matchup after sideboard. Cards like Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push are what you want. Also, having creatures that can get a Deathís Shadow off the table like Fiend Hunter are nice. Spellskite is another card that can provide protection against Temur Battle Rage. Sometimes being able to chump block for a couple turns is enough time to combo, and without Temur Battle Rage you donít have to worry about trample damage.
I wrote about my latest list this week! You can check it out here.
I love my Temur Tower list and wouldnít change a thing. It is easy to look back at an event and try to find a reason you didnít do better. If anything, maybe I could have played my matches a bit better; itís true if I had found a way to win one more match I would have made Top 8.
There are always going to be people with different opinions on what the Standard format should look like. Personally, I think that any balanced format should involve some sort of combo deck. Before the release of Kaladesh, we had a Green-Blue Crush of Tentacles deck that I thought was healthy for the format. Of course, it was a much grindier deck, but the combo of flipping over Den Protector to get back Crush of Tentacles doesnít come close to the power level of Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian.
This is a matter of trying to move the power level a bit lower. Being able to have two cards that can win you the game by themselves on the fourth turn of the game is a little bit too good for my liking. I believe there can be a healthy balance though, that doesnít involve copying cats.
The pool of cards available in Modern is much larger than a format like Standard, so naturally we see fewer new decks innovated because there are simply such powerful, established decks. It is more likely that a new card gets added to existing archetypes. Fatal Push, for instance. We rely on bannings or unbannings to provide shifts to the format as well. There are so many powerful cards in Modern that most new cards are printed for their Standard applications, and are not quite good enough in Modern.
Thanks for reading,