I was at Friday Night Magic at my local gaming store, it was round two and I’m playing against a kid who is about thirteen or fourteen. The kid’s name is Joey. I’m piloting the U/R Aggro deck I wrote about last week and Joey is running U/B Control. It’s actually the match-up that Lu Chai lost against in the finals at Star City Games: Las Vegas. It’s a very quick round, both games consisted of me playing a turn one Delver of Secrets or Stromkirk Noble followed by a Stormblood Beserker then protecting with Mana Leak, Negate, and Snapcaster Mages. Joey didn’t really do much but play Think Twice, Forbidden Alchemy, and a removal spell here and there.
During the round I enjoy having fun and bullshitting with my friends, I began to talk to a friend at an adjacent table. He mentioned it wasn’t that long ago that he remembered me at Joey’s age sitting across the table from him. I asked Joey how old he was, if I remember correctly he said, “Fourteen.” I started to reminisce of what I was doing when I was fourteen, at this point I told Joey a few stories about decks I played. After the round, I stood up, pushed in my chair, grabbed the match slip and was about to walk away when Joey asked me, “What do I do to get better?” What Joey had just done was much more mature and wiser than anything I would’ve done or said at age fourteen. Half of the battle is recognizing flaws and finding the courage to improve upon them. I know players who are grown, prideful, intelligent, but stubborn individuals (including myself at times) who won’t admit they have flaws or could improve. Then there is Joey here in the batter’s box just dying for a pitch. Joey knew he wasn’t as good as he could’ve been in that round but I didn’t want to be the one to have to tell him that.
Before I begin with that I told Joey “to do to get better”, I’ll point out he wasn’t bad for a fourteen-year-old kid. Joey didn’t make any blatant errors or play mistakes, if anything the kid could just use some confidence – he seemed nervous the entire round. There were two turns during the round in which he tapped black mana to help pay for a draw spell during the end step. Then Joey untapped and played a removal spell, but if he had just tapped his mana correctly he could’ve been casting a theoretical Grave Titan on his turn instead. What I told him was do some reading specifically articles, reports, forums, and anything he can find that might have some Magic theory in it. I then said, “All of the ‘gold-fishing’ in the world, can only help you so much.”
When I began understanding Magic theory is when I stopped copy-and-pasting decklists and started to understand the card choices, some of the smaller interactions and synergies. Around the same time I had begun to win a lot more of the local events in the Syracuse area. At that time there wasn’t thousands of Magic writers every week giving their two cents, what I had to do was visit mtgthesource.com – it had a different URL back in the day. I specifically remember the night before my first big top 8 at “The Big Arse” I spent hours reading and rereading the 120 page UWR Landstill thread until I couldn’t fit anymore information in my head. Around two in the morning I passed out from exhaustion, that night was my first big step in improving. Joey is hopefully or has already taken the initiative in first steps in becoming a better player.
I continued to read The Source and grow as a player, it was a huge help in my development. Sadly the website isn’t quite the same knowledge pool as it once was. Nowadays, the best information possible is usually found on websites where articles are published, and not forums. I recommended to Joey that he began with articles since usually only good players and people that win large-scale events write articles. Just as “gold-fishing” can only get you so far, reading articles only improves the rate of player growth to a certain extent, too.
I didn’t learn how to Jedi Mind Trick opponents on my own, fooling your opponent to do ridiculous things isn’t very easy. I read a few articles about Mike Long and his infamous play in Paris where he only played one Drain Life and had it discarded or countered, I don’t remember, it’s been awhile. However, his opponent didn’t know this. Mike started the Cadaverous Bloom combo with Prosperity and asked his opponent, “Do I need to go through this?” and his opponent picked up his cards. A couple of tournament reports ago, I had the opportunity to use that trick myself.
My Tendrils of Agony was removed from game to Chrome Mox and I could only make four mana after Infernal Tutor with lethal storm. I played out my hand and basically fooled my opponent into conceding game three of the round. Read more about the play and event here.
Without putting the knowledge to practice, it’s almost useless. Part of the reason I remembered the Drain Life story was I believed I could use the trick somewhere down the road myself. I would’ve eventually of forgotten the trick if I had never wanted to pull one over one someone. While “Prosbloom” may not be the hottest combo deck anymore, the article still had valuable information that pertained to me. Just because an article isn’t concentrated or centered on what someone is looking for right then and there doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden gems within.
Aside from reading and practicing by myself, which I did plenty of by myself at age fourteen. Playing against better players helped improve my game. Being a batboy and having another batboy throw the ball isn’t going to help the player get to the major leagues. Players need to compete against better players in order to elevate their game. Picking up subtle things from better players and trying them out for your self is a good way to experience new things in magic. It may not necessarily even be good, but trying new things opens possible doors to greater things.
When I first started playing fetch lands in The E.P.I.C Storm I was watching a fellow storm player’s round. He end step Brainstormed and then put two land on top of his Library. Then during his upkeep fetched, this was interesting to me. The play drew out his opponents Stifle and added a Storm for the turn, he drew the land he needed, then “combo’ed” off. That extra storm was the deciding factor of the game. Subtle things like this scenario in the long haul will win games and even rounds. It’s not something the average person sees, but the little things that accumulate are what separate good players from even better players and great players.
With a majority of players it’s always losing the deciding round or close to it that separates themselves from a top 8 finish. It’s hard to analyze a game I wasn’t there for, but why were they in that position to begin with? If a player is in this position, they’ve already lost a round. It’s the combination of the two that’s really holding them back. If they could’ve played a little tighter the first time through, they wouldn’t have the stress and pressures from “win-and-in”. Throughout the course of an event, if a player received two wins from tighter play like the example above it’s an entire round. That’s the round separating a top 16 finish from a top 8.
I really just hope that Joey took my advice seriously and went home to read. I regret not telling him about the second half of the article, but well, I didn’t think of it at the time. I’ll make sure to say something to him. Improving and becoming a great player doesn’t just happen over night, taking steps might, but no one wakes up and is good enough to play in the World Series. There’s a lot of work that goes into playing any game competitively. While I may have described my first step in achieving greater things, there were plenty after and I’m sure there’s still some more for me to crawl up. The important thing is to stick with it. I would’ve never have become a tournament winning storm player if I would’ve given up while I was playing elves ten years ago. It was only five months ago that I was made aware of what my own deck could do with the Chrome Mox trick. We’re never done learning, even the greatest of players can improve – don’t forget that.
Well that’s all for this week, come back again next week! Until then, keep Storming!
Bryant Cook on MTGthesource