At the Gathering: Best of Lucky, Part 2
By Jeff Phillips on October 3rd, 2008 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
Playing to win would seem to be an easy part of gameplay. However, there is a shockingly large number of players who aren't playing to win. In fact, all of us fall into this category at some time or another, and an extremely large number of players are in it right now. Let's examine some of the ways in which we think we're playing to win, but in fact have different goals in mind. We'll also look at ways we can increase our chances of winning.
By Jeff Phillips on October 3rd, 2008 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
First, let's get some terms out of the way.
n00b: A Player who is not playing to win. To be a n00b, you must have some experience with the game. Note, this is different than a newb.
Newb: A Player just starting out. They are chronologically new. Also known as the FNG.
Good, now let's get cheapness out of the way. No matter what you do, if you are winning, there is a good chance you are going to be called cheap. When I first started playing magic, (Alpha) I played a Red Deck that was fairly crappy, but, I had plenty of burn in it. I loved the ability to finish players or creatures off at my whim. We'd sit around and play 3-man matches, and I would hang back, let the ground pounders rumble it out for a while (Hill Giant, Attack!) and then finish my opponents with burn to the dome. And oh how they complained and said I was cheap. So, we banned direct damage to the player in our little group. They thought it was cheap.
Now, was it cheap? No, not at all. The game of Magic has no rating of cheapness. It has rules for winning, and as long as you follow those rules, you're playing Magic. Players who aren't playing to win will call you cheap when you use tactics they don't like. If something truly is cheap, odds are it's banned or restricted. What is supposed to happen is that these players should evolve and find a counter to your tactic. It's out there, I promise. Life gain, countermagic, or even using burn themselves for a faster clock could all have worked at my early tables. But, rather than learn and grow, the n00b would rather stay static, would rather not adapt or change, because they have some false belief that certain things shouldn't work one way or another.
Let me state this bit in bold, because it's very important: the n00b has created imaginary rules to the game, and is playing the game according to these rules. Let me give another example. I only get to make it down to Magic once or twice a month. Now, some of our regulars have been complaining that one player is always winning (Which he is. Kudos to him.) They whine and complain about how it's not fair. He is a good player, but he's not unbeatable. In fact, he only has one Standard deck. He plays the same thing every week. That's right, the same deck. But they are complaining about it. They know exactly what he's going to play, and yet they can't come up with a way to beat this player? No, they won't come up with a way to beat this player.
I haven't had much problem playing him. We're about 50/50 against each other. This is classic n00bish behavior. They are holding to some sort of fantasy rule structure that says he has to not always win, that everyone deserves to win equally. Note, I didn't say the chance to win equally, but the actual winning. Where did they invent this idea? It's nowhere in the rules of the game, or tournament rules. Furthermore, no one is attempting to become a better player, no one is researching ways to beat his deck. They are complaining.
One last example, and then we'll move on. Early during the current standard (Time Spiral/Lorwyn/Tenth) I played Teh Faeries, getting a soft lock with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Mistbind Clique. I had opponents who thought that this tactic was cheap. This is because it was outside their realm of imagined rights. In this case, they believed they had a right to use their mana any way they wanted every turn. This, of course, is not true. Many players hate Land Destruction for the same reason. I stopped playing my particular deck, because players stopped wanting to come and play against it. That is practically the very definition of a n00b, my friends. Rather than think, change, or improve, they would rather just give up or complain. And at that time, I was working to build a community, not tear it down. One other thought to think about though, is this: that belief is so strong amongst so many players, that Wizards of the Coast actually minimizes the power of Land Destruction in Magic. There will never be a Tarmogoyf-level-of-power card for Land Destruction, because it would drive too many players off. Are all those players n00bs? Probably not, most of them are probably casual, and it's not worth their time if the game is not fun. However, would it ruin the Pro Tour? Absolutely not. Herein lies another difference between n00bs and Winners: Winners embrace so-called cheapness, and furthermore, they also have a plan for getting around it. Let's go back to Teh Faeries Deck. If it had caught on, and people started using it, I was prepared with a deck that beat it. It didn't catch on, but if it had, I was ready. I had spent time testing against my own deck, so that I would know how to beat it if someone copied it.
Which brings us to our next point, Time. Kai Budde, widely believed to be the best player ever to wield a deck, isn't the most naturally gifted player to ever play Magic. Some say it was Jon Finkel (and I am inclined to agree, personally) so why does Kai get the nod as the greatest ever? Time, my friends. The more time you put into anything, the better you can become at it. Jon Finkel put time into the game, absolutely, but Kai was a machine. I can only imagine the amounts of time testing, tuning, and playing his decks to become so comfortable with them, nothing was surprising, and nothing happened that he didn't already have an answer for. That is the lesson we have here. The more time you play, the more you will win. And more importantly, you will win more often. Read the coverage and articles by the Pros. Look how much time they put into play-testing. Patrick Chapin spent over a week in Italy, practicing for GP: Rimini. Do you think that had an effect on his 9th place finish? You bet it did. And do you think perhaps that same week, those same testing partners, helped Paul Cheon to 10th? Again, I would argue heavily on the side of yes. Are some players more naturally gifted than others? Of course they are, but one way to even out that discrepancy is through superior devotion of time. There is one thing we all have equal amounts of, and that is time. Every single one of us gets the same 24 hours a day. Do you have to use it for Magic all the time? No, of course not, but realize that you have made a choice on how to spend your time. 3 hours on W.O.W. or 3 hours playing Magic? Time is probably the biggest separator of Pro Players from the rest of us. They spend so much more time playing Magic, they have more experience, and more importantly, are learning more, which makes them better players. Does that mean if you play 8 hours of Magic a day, you could be a pro? Maybe, maybe not. Is it productive time? Are you examining your play for 8 hours, or are you making the same boneheaded mistakes, day after day after day?
That brings us to another point, difficulty. The typical n00b likes to claim he has more skill than other players, because he plays difficult decks. The truth of the matter is, he has some misconception that a more complicated deck makes him a more skilled player. So, when someone playing to win rolls over him with his aggro deck on turn 4, he will decry his opponents lack of skill, because he played an "easy" deck. This, of course, is completely wrong. Have you ever gone to a tournament, and the player wants to show you his deck, even though he's 0-3? He wants someone to look at his so-called innovation, and call it good. He wants validation, because even though he is playing by his imagined rules of the game, and doing so in what he believes is an innovative manner, he is getting stomped. In fact, his deck is probably utter crap, and he is clinging to a self-made deck in hopes of believing he has skill. He is looking for a scapegoat, the ability to blame something, anything, other than his own failures. He wants you to tell him he is good, his deck is good, and it's bad luck that he lost. The more telling fact of a n00b is if he keeps bringing the same 1-3 or 0-4 deck every week. This player is unwilling to realize that his deck is bad.
An even more telling fact is how he responds to the criticism. I've had a lot of players do this, (approach me over a deck/style/mistakes/etc.) and in their own self-interest, I will tell them the truth. I will tell them why they're losing, what's wrong with the the deck, their play, whatever I can to help. I typically do this to every opponent I play, after the match, time allowing. I do this for two reasons. One, it helps my tie-breaks if they figure it out, and start winning today. OMW%, baby! Two, I sincerely want to help these people play better, because they'll be better, and they'll make me better as well. Most players listen, but don't change much. They look at Magic as a toy, and as long as they're having fun, then winning is only a possible side-effect. Sure, it's nice to win, but some don't want to put the time, effort, money, or thought into it. However, most of these players just aren't grasping the deeper levels of the game. And that's fine. On occasion, I'll get a player who actually listens, changes, and becomes a better player. And that's fantastic to watch. The last kind of player is the bane of my attempts. He already believes he is playing to win, and as such, is actively hostile towards advice. He is so defensive of his n00bishness that he believes your statements are an attack on him. Leave these players alone, they are not worth your effort. Something much larger than you is needed to break these players of their misconceptions. Frequently, you'll hear these players talk about how awesome they are, with no real decent finishes to back them up. Some will actively lie about previous finishes. (I've had one lie about his finishes at large events, only to later be contradicted with hard evidence) Some will even tell you they could cut it on the Pro Tour. As stated before, in my experience (and I spent 2 1/2 years teaching new players for Wizards of the Coast) these players are beyond any one person's ability to help, short of a professional. They have embraced their n00bishness, because they refuse to believe they are losing because of their own failings.
Let's recap what we have learned so far. In Part 1, I gave you some tools on how to maximize your win percentages, ways that many players look at and believe to be luck. If I could sum that article up in one sentence, I'd be amazing. Unfortunately, I'm only really good, so you get two sentences.
1. Luck is a very small factor in winning games
2. Give yourself the best opportunities to win games.
Basically, that article looked at ways you can defeat your opponents. How you can outsmart, outplan, and outplay them. Today's article is the Yin to part 1's yang. Today, we learned how to not beat yourself. Some call it a fearless self-inventory, a thankful nod to Star City Games. Whatever you want to call it, the whole point is for you to look objectively at each game, each action, and ensure that you are in fact playing to win the game, and that you are going about it in the best way possible.
About Jeff Phillips
Jeff Phillips is currently a student at ISU, majoring in Business, Journalism, and Philosophy. He has fulfilled a number of contractor positions for Wizards of the Coast, and has played Magic since Alpha.