Cook’s Kitchen- Just Play It Out (Why I Don’t Prize Split)

As many of you know, I don’t split prizes. Ever.

I’ve written about this topic at the end of reports before, but this article is really going to delve into why I don’t split and others shouldn’t either. Over the last couple weeks I’ve received plenty of messages from people telling me I should’ve agreed to a prize split with Eli at the NELC. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? This article is a response to them.

It started when I was very young.  I would make the playoffs of an event and my opponents wouldn’t
split because they thought they could beat me. Let’s be honest, they were right a majority of the time.
I was too busy trying to use Defense of the Heart to get my two Avatars of Might into play rather than
attempting to actually win the game. What really bothered me is if I wasn’t in the local Top 8 or 4
I would see a lot more splits. I’ll be the first person to say I could feel the teenage angst filling me up
with rage. It made me very bitter regarding prize splits and I repeatedly told myself I would get those
guys back and I have, several times over. But in the back of my head, we’re still not even. There was
one individual who never split – Geoff Smelski. That guy seemed to do very well in every single event he
played in for years, winning a majority of the time. That man is who inspired my “insane” no splitting
policy. If Geoff Smelski ever crawls out of the rock he’s been living under make sure to thank him.

What Geoff eventually taught me was by playing it out I often went home with more prizes over time.  By agreeing to prize splits, I never really got ahead. Once my play skill increased, as did my confidence, that is when I put Geoff’s rule into play. By not agreeing to split prizes and winning you’re just increasing the amount of money that will end up in your wallet in the end of the day and down the road. I noticed I could just outplay my opponents, have a good match-up, be lucky*, or take the risk of losing. Magic, a decent amount of the time, is about risk vs. reward.  Being a combo player, I may use the concept a bit more than others.

*The phrase “better lucky than good” may of been created to describe me. Anyone who’s ever watched me play more than once could easily tell you, there’s been more times I’ve cast Brainstorm and won the game than anyone else out there. Players from Syracuse could tell you story after story of things I’ve done from casting an Abeyance after a Chant already resolved to just draw a card, then won off the draw, to attacking with two Simian Spirit Guides for four turns against burn and winning.

Risk versus reward is often a thing people are afraid of, they would rather take the safe bet rather than take a chance for a higher reward. By agreeing to a prize chop players take home the average of the amount in the prize pool, rather than winning or losing and getting greater or lesser value. My problem with taking home the average value is that if I continually draw, I’ll never end up ahead. I’ll continually break even, which may not be a problem for others. I’m just an ambitious person, I would rather lose and go home with $150 taking a chance at $1200, rather than go home with $375 for a Top 8 split. While $375 is a decent amount of money, it’s barely anything after travel expenses on large trips. I’ve always had big eyes, which is probably why I was a fatty when I was younger. I want it all, which is very greedy. The only way to do this in Magic is to take the risk. If you lose you’re not leaving completely empty handed, there’s still that $150! But it’ll always feel a lot better to leave with the maximum amount of money possible.  If someone isn’t confident in their abilities to win, maybe they should split. That would be them leaving with their “Maximum amount of money possible”, I’m just not one of those people anymore, people should’ve taken the chance to split with me when I was rocking Avatars of Might. I wasn’t at all good at this game back then and I was always willing to split because I would’ve been thrilled to leave the store with twenty-five dollars in store credit. I’ve changed since then.

What is the reasoning behind agreeing to a prize split?

Reasons I’ve heard from players are:

• Playing against a close friend (It ends here for me)
• Playing against a better player
• It’s a bad match-up
• Time
• Risk of losing
• Pays for travel expenses
• “Expected Value”

I’ll accept “splitting with a close friend”, but they better be a very good friend. Otherwise, you’re standingin the way of additional money. We can’t have that now, can we? Once you develop the boxer mentality that Ted Knutson wrote about, it’s tough to stop.

Playing against a better player?” This is where the Boxer Mentality steps in once again. Any given day can one deck beat another. As a player, you need to go in there swinging, saying to yourself, “I’m going to win”. Confidence is a big part of this game, I don’t care if the opponent is a professional or not. I was at a
dinner not too long ago with some people and a comment was made that one of the gentlemen played against a lower-tier pro. He felt nervous and lost, I told him how I felt: they’re just other dudes slinging nerdboard. “But it’s INSERT NAME HERE!” I don’t care if it’s LSV or Kibler.  Magic is still a game with a
lot of variance, which is what a lot of people use to argue against not splitting the prize. Which is poor reasoning in my opinion, because at first glance that seems reasonable, but then again variance still works both ways. Kibler or LSV could get mana screwed or you could simply outplay them that round. It
doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, step up to the plate with some confidence.

If “it’s a bad-match-up“, this is somewhat reasonable, but I still won’t split. But that’s just me personally,I remind myself that there’s always the chance of variance or outplaying the opponent where in the end there’s that extra bonus. However, the risk here is much greater than in other scenarios.

I’ve always hated the “time” excuse. There’s been very few times where time has been an actual issue in my Magic ‘career’.   Most of the time it’s so that people can get an extra thirty minutes of sleep. Which isn’t a big deal in the long run. A scenario did occur for me over the winter, it was over Thanksgiving
break for college kids. I had plans to meet some ladies downtown, so I offered the Prize split in the finals to both opponents. One of the opponents was shocked that I offered and snap agreed. The other told me I could wait until after the match. That’s fine, but I hold grudges. The gentleman who made me wait then offered the split, I declined. I beat him within ten minutes and met the girls downtown as they arrived. That night made me realize a couple of things.  First, matches of Magic don’t usually take that long, time shouldn’t be a real issue.  And where exactly is that saved time going?  The second thing I learned is that even if I was ten or fifteen minutes late, it’s not a big deal. What is the reasoning behind leaving something early to get to somewhere else? Can that something else really not wait? In most situations it can.

As for “travel expenses” prize chops can often guarantee a free trip. It’s tough to argue, there’s not much that can be said other than repeat what I said above about not wanting to break even every trip. I’d like to eventually get ahead and the best way to do that is by winning more.  This goes for the “expected value” argument as well.

Reasons not to split:

• Maximum amount of prize
• Confidence/Believing in yourself
• Adrenaline rush
• Good match-ups
• Playing against worse players

Most of the prize information has been covered already, but what hasn’t been is “confidence“.  I come off as a cocky, over-confident prick sometimes, but that comes with believing in yourself sometimes.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with believing in your abilities. Confidence in yourself is something
that develops with ability, once you’ve done something once or twice, confidence is created and it’s a tough thing to shake. After winning a couple of large events, wanting to do it again is an especially tough thing to shake.

I’m going to move onto the next thing on the list that ties in which is the “rush” of playing with a lot of money on the line. There’s nothing else like it. I recently lost a coin flip to Eli Kassis, but Goddamnit, there’s not too many matches that I’ve played that even come close to the amount of intensity of that match.  My stomach was churning the entire time. Not because it’s Eli Kassis or a pro sitting across the table, but because there was that much money on the line. “But wouldn’t I want to take that risk away and play without the nervousness and adrenaline?”  Not a chance. That’s when I play some of my best matches. When I’m relaxed and carefree I’m more likely to make play mistakes. But if there’s money on the line and blood rushing through the veins, I’m not going to misplay (well not as often as I would were I carefree). It causes me to seize the moment and pay more attention.  If I had a chance to play against Eli again for NELC Player of the Year, I still wouldn’t chop. He won the coin flip, it happens. The rush of playing that match was incredible, it’s not like I walked away empty handed either. I still received prizes which were well worth my traveling expenses.

I hoped this answered your questions to those who have approached or messaged me.

Well that’s all for this week, come back again next week! Until then, keep Storming!

Bryant Cook

Bryant Cook on MTGthesource

3 thoughts on “Cook’s Kitchen- Just Play It Out (Why I Don’t Prize Split)”

  1. I usually split, but that’s usually because the money is secondary to the thrill of victory. Honestly, I liked that you didn’t split with Eli because it gave all of us a good story about the end of the year. It would feel weird knowing POY was a kind of a tie.

    1. I believe if your goal is to take the max amount of money then I would agree with Bryant and Geoff 100%. I feel that Legacy is a community of friends that love to play this game and prizes are always second to having fun. The reason that I loved legacy so much when I played is to interact with all my friends down in Virginia and of course my home in Syracuse.

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