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January 27, 2012

Today’s topic is partially inspired by a scene from the very fine motion picture The Alamo that I re-watched recently. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to have a history lecture here (although it’s a subject that I otherwise find very interesting), just hear me out.

In the movie there is a great scene early on in which General Sam Houston is heading towards a meeting of the makeshift Texas congress and he is quite agitated about how silly the congressmen are acting regarding the threat of the Mexicans backlash to the newly founded state. He is also just a teeny tiny bit drunk.

As he is about to enter the house where the makeshift congress is adjourning, the soldier that had previously fetched him from the tavern where he was drinking carefully plead Houston the following:

“They are gonna want you humble, General.”

To which Houston harshly replies:

“I humble myself before God and there the lists ends.”

Now, that state of mind that Houston showed in the movie is not a too uncommon mental state Magic players playing the game at a competitive level can have. And just like that I turned a reference from The Alamo to Magic theory. Neat, huh?

This state of mind is probably the most commonly found by players in the upper PTQ scene and/or players that play the occasional Pro Tour but never really get on the “gravytrain”. They have the ambition and often the inner fire you need to succeed but they lack the playskill to become a mainstay on the Pro Tour. They typically have qualified for a Pro Tour or two and/or have a decent finish at a Grand Prix.

So, the target group has enjoyed some success playing the game but have yet a couple of nudges left up to become “great” players. This is a dangerous place to be mentally because that might lead into constantly beliving that you are better everyone else in the venue where you are playing.

Someone could argue with me here and say that what I’m describing is merely confidence and that is a good thing. To that line of reasoning I say that I agree with you. Confidence is good but it’s when confidence turns into virtual hubris where the destructive behavior starts.

It’s destructive because once you have that mental state you drastically reduce your ability of winning games. You stop blaming yourself from losing games and make up a bunch of excuses in the line of “he drew his 4-outer of the top!” or “I got manascrew again, stupid variance!”. You justify keeping bad hands because of thought like “I’m a better player than this scrub I’m facing ergo I will win regardless”. You keep making poor plays justified by your poorly estimated superiority in experience.

All in all, the worst part is that you stop learning from your own mistakes and greatly slows down the evolution of you as a player.

It’s true that Magic is a game where luck or randomness is a factor. Exactly what the percentages between randomness and playskill is an often debated subject and doesn’t have a clear answer. Every now and then it happens that you lose games and matches even though you played “flawlessly”. I do however believe that players in general overestimates the number of games they directly lose due to variance and thus underestimates they lost because of their own shortages.

While pointing and theorizing about the phenomena as a whole is fairly easy, it can be a lot trickier to acknowledge that oneself is suffering from this state of mind. It might seems trivial to discover that you are suffering from this condition if you are on the “outside looking in” but it’s not as easy to see it if you are on the inside, as it were. From the tone of this article it might sound like I’m above all of this and looking down at the poor fellas that are stuck in this mental trap but the truth is that I’m there to. It’s at least a deep concern of mine. As I have described, it isn’t exactly the place you want to be mentally.

There is more to it though that makes it tricky. You see, there is something on the other side of the spectrum that is a concern to. If you suddenly blame absolutely everything that goes wrong in a game of Magic on yourself, you will instead build up a lack of confidence, which isn’t exactly stellar to have either. Ergo like many things in life, it’s a matter of balance…and balance is hard to achieve.

I don’t have any stellar advise about how to get away from this destructive behavior other than what is commonly said about similar ordeals. I’m partially strugling with this matter myself. The best I have at the moment is to try to have some composure and take a few steps back and try to get the “outside looking in” perspective instead of the “inside looking in” one. Be humble to yourself and not just as sportsmanship to others. If you can be humble to yourself, I believe there is room for personal evolution and growth.

Anyhow, people work differetly and what makes us tick is not the same from person to person. I will leave you with this though. I think it’s important that for those who feel that they might be in this mental state that I have detailed to acknowledge it. As often said, admitting the problem is step one on the route of getting better.

Keep your head between your shoulders at all time and don’t let it float out high above the clouds, smuck.

Until next time,


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