I’ve had a rough go of things lately in the world of Magic. I’ve been playing this game off and on for the last two decades, and I’ve never run into such a string of bad luck when I’ve put in as much effort as I have lately. With the impending release of Shadows Over Innistrad and the reveal that Madness was returning with a vengeance, I made it my mission to acquire four Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Now, I don’t have a ton of money to throw around, so obviously I can’t drop nearly $400 on a playset. I wheeled and dealed and got rid of a number of cards I was hesitant to in order to obtain my playset. But oh man was I happy to pull them! They arrived right after I secured my first Games Day win, with a deck I previously highlighted with my beloved Sylvan Advocate, and they would only serve to strengthen that same deck, as Jace fit perfectly into my Collected Company strategy.
Almost as if the angst-filled blue protagonist were a dark omen of Storm Crow proportions, all of my luck went right out the window. I was gearing up in preparation for the team sealed GP in DC, and decided to play in a local PPTQ, and brought Jace right along with me. My teammate rarely plays anything constructed, but I had a homebrewed black and red Eldrazi deck I tossed together, and I convinced him to come along and play it. I proceeded to go 2-3, struggling for each and every game win I could squeeze out, and I was hit with more bad luck during those 5 rounds than I care to admit to, and I lost to decks that by all account I should have easily beaten. Meanwhile I watched my friend sail into top 8 with a 3-1-1 record, where a decklist registration error effectively cost him a top 4 placement. I know that was technically his error, but it was my deck so I’m chalking it up to my bad luck.
Fastforward a week to the GP. We brought a bunch of packs with us to do a simulation pool the night before with our 3rd teammate that we were supposed to meet. Traffic was bad on both ends, but it delayed our teammate by multiple hours, so we were left on our own to work with our practice pool, which ended up being amazing. Then the next day…as if to prepare us for the worst we got our preregistered pool and were staring at two Call the Gatewatch right on top of our stack.The absolute worst rare to have in limited, and we got two of them. We quickly verified the registration sheet was correct, and probably took a little too long oogling the Wasteland expedition we received, but an expedition ain’t gonna carry us to victory.
We laid everything out on the table and went to town trying to craft three decks. It turned out we got some really solid cards, but half of our rares were useful in only a single deck, and we were very light on removal across all five colors. We quickly put together a ridiculous deck featuring a Reality Smasher, Thought-Knot Seer, Blight herder, Drowner of Hope, and of course the Wasteland. The plan at that point was to just build two adequate decks that would be able to get in a win to back up the absurd deck that would undoubtedly crush everything that stood in its path. Well, at least half of our plan went flawlessly. Then there was the caveat of backing that deck up with a win from the other two. So! We stuck around for six total rounds since X-3 gets you to day two. We went 2-4, but let me tell you about the wins. We technically lost by a thread, but our opponents were just done, so they gave us the win. Then we resoundingly won the next round when our opponents didn’t show. I had fun, but it was one of my worst days of Magic, and I paid through the nose for the pleasure.
I was down about losing. I kept running the GP through my head for the next week. What could I have done differently? What if we built this deck instead of that one? What play errors did I screw up? Why couldn’t I have played better? Why did I choose to play this card instead of that one? Over and over again these questions echoed in my head. A friend texted me and told me about a PPTQ in Richmond for Standard, and I wanted to play my Collected Company deck one more time before all my beautiful fetch lands rotated out. I drove the hour out there, waited another hour at the shop because I decided to show up early to get a parking spot since the parking is terrible at this particular location, and I finally sat down to face my first opponent at the coveted table #1. Then I proceeded to go 0-3, made tons of dumb mistakes, got hit with some of the worst luck which included completely whiffing on Collected Company a number of times, and I sulked quietly on the long drive home as I contemplated a long string of poor life choices.
I’m not going to lie, I was seething with anger on the inside. I normally don’t feel that way, but when I lose due to me being an idiot or due to dumb bad luck, I get angry. That evening I dismantled that deck worth roughly eight hundred dollars, as well as another one I was holding onto, and removed all Khans and Fate cards from anything I had that was Standard playable. I stared blankly at my binder as I wondered why I was bothering to play in these higher scale events. Couldn’t I just be satisfied with decent performance at a local level? What was all this driving and extra expense even for? I felt bad. Bad about everything. I was playing poorly, I felt like I wasted a bunch of money, and I felt like no matter how much time and money I invested into my decks I would continue to flounder at this level. Sure I do great with local events but do I really want to pursue these larger events in the hope of greater rewards? I’m married, I’ve got a full time job, I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate. Do I really need this? My head wasn’t in it, I was making bad plays, and I deserved to lose.
Then a magical thing happened. I changed up my way of thinking. Instead of asking myself all of these self defeating questions, I started saying “Sure you got your ass kicked halfway up the East Coast, but what did you learn from it?” It made me stop and examine the events, bit by bit. Having a great memory is both a blessing and a curse, trust me on that one. I started to run everything through my head again. Each and every game, each play I could remember, my limited selections, my sideboarding strategy, all of it was on stage and lit up like a teen pop idol high on coke. I shifted my thinking to get away from the negativity and self destructiveness that I’m sure befalls many people who play this game.
Of course I still wanted to play this game! Yeah I lost, and lost badly recently. What of it? In order to get better you have to PLAY better. That speaks both to the need to improve your skills as well as the need to play against people who are better than you. I’ve spent the better part of twenty years playing this game, and it’s practically in my blood at this point. In all the time I’ve been playing this is the first time that I’ve wanted to do more than be decent at a local level. I’ve got friends that push me to get better and to go to these events, so how could I disappoint them? I’m a competitive person, and I have a want to win. But recent events have taught me that the most important thing to take away from more competitive events is to learn. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have bad luck. You’re going to have days when you want to rage quite everything and punch a baby. You have to pick yourself back up and think hard on how you can improve. The biggest lesson I learned over this past week, is that I need to be a better loser.