Fix My Game


This is a long email, but it brings me to an important point. Probably the most important point this blog will make for players looking to improve their game. I’m including the entire email because I feel like it’s important to setting up the lesson.

Listener writes,

I have only started to listen to your podcast since Gatecrash came out. I actually heard about it from the daily mtg podcast and thought I would check it out. I have been playing for just over a year now and I absolutely love draft and limited. I also like trying to get better at this stuff, which is where you guys come in.

You just reminded me thanks those guys over at the dailymtgpodcast! You’re not the first write-in who’s found us through them.

I have been debating madcap skills with my “magic” friends. I have been on the side that it is very risky since the prerelease, when getting 2 for 1ed lost me a couple of games. However, drafting at my local store on Thursday a terrible thing happened to me….

It was a pod of 6, the first time I have drafted at a small table in gatecrash. I knew 2 of the other guys and their styles VERY WELL, having played team sealed with them at GP London. I drafted what I considered to be a fairly strong Gruul deck. It didn’t have enough quality 2 drops, but it was pretty sweet. I had gone 2 and 0 and was playing on “the top table.” As we rare draft at the end we were playing for either a breeding pool or an Aurelia. The guy I was up against had been the only boros drafter at the table…. I had taken a few quality combat tricks as I had been sitting to his right, but I knew his deck was going to be very fast. Game 1 was very close. He flew over the top with 2 skyknights to win, with him on 3 life.

Game 2 on the other hand, was a different story. I started my turn 3 with a Greenside watcher on the field, my opponent having played a Wojek Haberdiers in his 2nd turn. I had a pit fight, a Zhuur-Taa Swine and a Disciple of the Old Ways as well as a couple of land in hand. I swung with the watcher, he didn’t block. So I played my Disciple and a land and passed the turn. So I had a potential first striker for him to swing into. He then untapped and played madcap skills onto his creature. He swings for 6. I am like “ok, this is fine I can take 6 now and kill it next turn with my pit fight. I untap and swing with both my 2 drops, he takes 4. He has 1 white mana open. I think, there is only 1 card in the whole of this set that can save him from a 2 for 1. I pit fight my greenside watcher with his halberdiers. He taps his 1 white mana and plays Shielded Passage. I think “oh crap.” I lose my watcher and my pit fight and he untaps. He then lays another planes and then a Holy Mantle on his Wojek. He swings for 8. I am on 6. I don’t draw either of my homing lightnings and he wins the next turn with 1 creature with 2 creature auras on it. He is OVER THE MOON. His friends are around him telling him how clever he was to have drafted those cards and have kept that hand even though that was his only creature.

I am not going to lie, this whole thing made me feel pretty bad. I felt like he had won with no idea of what he was doing or the risks he was taking, I don’t think I had made a play error and I don’t think I can make myself wish I had drafted those madcap skills.

Have you got any advice for someone like me? I am at uni at the moment so I can only really afford to draft once a week right now. I am trying to read as much as I can in order to improve, but things like this are a pretty big kick in the teeth when I did everything as right as I could….

Thank you for your podcasts. I wind up refreshing the podcast page every few hours towards the end of the week waiting for the latest installment. I find them really interesting and I think they are teaching me how this game works.

I see a few things going on here, so I’ll take them piece by piece.

Did you make a mistake?

It’s always hard to tell in emails if somebody screwed up, because there’s so much going on and it’s all impossible to cover in an email. But, from what I can tell, I see a few other plays you could have made.

First, it sounds like you main phased your Pit Fight. And you did it playing right into a trick that you even thought about. Granted, you probably main phased it so that his only option was that one card, not a slew of others once he has mana open. I can’t tell you exactly if that was a mistake or not, again there are a lot of factors, but waiting to play you removal spells is often better. Waiting and letting him untap may be an even safer play, since he might tap out on turn four. Even if he doesn’t have the trick, waiting can net you a larger advantage if he tries to play a second Madcap Skills. Heck, he even had the Holy Mantle! How sweet would it have been if he tried to cast that on turn four and you blew him out with a Pit Fight in response? Or, maybe it’s worth leaving your two creatures back to double-block his guy with Madcap Skills. When he casts Shielded Passage (which he’s likely to do) then you get him with Pit Fight.

It’s very possible that the correct play was to Pit Fight on your turn. But I’m hardly willing to write it off as “you did everything as right as you could.”

What to do when you lose.

Here is a common email that we get, with a few of the common endings”

“Hi, I love the show! Here’s a lengthy recount of the draft I did last night. I didn’t win…” *”…but I I should have.” *”…but I deserved to.” *”…and I don’t know why.” *”…because I got unlucky.” *”…because my opponent got really lucky.” *”…because I built my deck wrong.” **”…and here’s my entire deck/sealed pool. Tell me where I went wrong.”

Usually, though, I don’t feel like the listener entirely knows what they want. I can tell that they lost, that they’re frustrated by their loss, and that they don’t entirely know how to react. It’s no surprise that they turn to us, their go-to source on Limited, for answers, even though they don’t really know the question.

There’s a lot of philosophies out there, but here’s my most recent one:

It doesn’t matter why you lost. Not exactly why you lost, at least. When you lose, you shouldn’t invest your energy in drilling down to that one mistake that caused you to lose. I feel like listeners want me to look deep into their game and find that one missing cog; replace the cog, and the win-machine starts turning again. But that’s not how it works. The strength of you Magic game, and whether you win or lose, is a massively complicated system, some of which is out of your control.

Getting better isn’t about “correcting” your losses. It’s aboutconstantly examining, exploring, and adjusting your game. Whether you win or lose a game shouldn’t matter – everything should inform your Magic game. Let me say that again:

Don’t try to improve at Magic by only looking at your losses.

What we try to do on our show is give listeners the tools and lenses to examine the various pieces of their game. Sometimes we focus on a single piece, (like #157’s mulligan talk)[]. (On New Years we each looked inward)[] and identified where our own games need the most work. While it’s good to focus from time to time, you can never write off any part of your game as “perfected”.

So what do YOU do, listener who wrote in?

It sucks to lose to somebody that seems worse than you. You’ve spent time and energy learning and utilizing that creature enchantments are inherently risky. Then you lost to somebody that hasn’t. It sucks and it’s frustrating, but it’s not really relevant to improving. Letting your guard down or discounting games against perceived “lesser” opponents wont help you. I’ve lost my fair share of games where I underestimated my opponent – you just can’t do it.

To be honest, Marshall and I are probably a little too harsh on creature enchantments. There’s a time and a place for them – especially one as efficient and powerful as Madcap Skills. We tend to be so harsh on them because a lot of our listeners inherently think these cards are good. We knowingly over correct a little, hopefully improving their game in the long run.

You’re in a very common situation. I hear from listeners all the time who only get to draft once a week (or less). They want to improve, are frustrating with losing, and try as much as they can to get better at Magic in the downtime between drafts. Unfortunately, the BEST way to get better at drafting is to actually draft. I feel for you guys, but I don’t know what to say. Reading and listening to strategy helps, but it has diminishing returns when you’re putting the lessons into action so infrequently.

Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you other than “draft more.” Otherwise, you’re doing what you can, but it can only get you so far.

On a personal note

I’m not playing Magic as much as I once did. I spend more time writing and talking and thinking about Magic these days than I play. (You’re welcome.) I play enough to keep my skills up (or else my writing and talking will suffer) but I’m not actively looking to improve. I’ve had to settle with where I’m at right now, because I’m not investing enough energy to improve.

It’s frustrating sometimes. I used to walk into PTQs expecting a Top 8. I could feel the fire burning and I loved that feeling deep in my chest when I felt powerful and my opponent was scared of it. (I get this stare when I’ve got my opponent in a corner and I’m closing in on the jugular.) Now, I walk in just as scared as the rest of them – or at least the ones that know enough to be scared.

Getting better takes time and energy. Treading water, not so much. I’m in a holding pattern for now, but I hold on to the idea that one day I’ll throw some wood in the fire again.

So there you go. Hopefully something in there helped 🙂

-Jon Loucks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.