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Don’t Beat Yourself Up… Too Hard

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Does public speaking make you nervous?

Do you simply despise giving presentations?

Does it bother you when people bird your Magic matches?

I think you’ll find that your answers to the first two questions match your answer to the third.

If you spend anywhere near as much time as I do watching live coverage of Magic events, then you know that a lot of Magic players make mistakes while playing on camera. It’s fair to assume that a large percentage of these players are just bad. After all, Magic isn’t an easy game. More commonly I see it cited that the camera adds a lot of pressure to the match.

I’m here to tell you to get over it.

Typical SCGLive viewer.

The camera changes nothing. What do you care that a thousand or so people with nothing better to do on a Saturday are watching your match? You don’t know these people. Why do you care at all about impressing them? They’re going to tease you whether you do well or not. They’re really big jerks. You don’t need the approval of jerks. You’re better than that.

If anything, the greatest pressure comes from the people that physically stand behind you or your opponent to watch your match. If these people make you uncomfortable then I have some bad news: these crowds aren’t unique to feature matches. If you do well in any Magic tournament - be it a PTQ, SCG Open or even an FNM - people are going to want to watch you play. It’s your responsibility to learn how to tune them out.

Don't Look Up

You know how they say that the trick to dealing with heights is not to look down? Well, the trick to dealing with unwanted crowds of people is not to look up.

I know it can be difficult to mentally remove oneself from a situation, but here is an exercise I would recommend trying. Whenever I’m feeling tilted during a match, I take the time between games to close my eyes and just focus on my breathing while I shuffle. With my eyes closed it makes it so I have to concentrate harder to shuffle well and with the rest of my mind on my breathing it makes it very difficult for me to think about whatever things are tilting me.

When you get nervous or frustrated, your heart rate increases. Taking slow, deep breaths will help to combat this and allow you to calm down some.

Of course, the real problem that I think most players face on camera is that they cease playing their own game and instead try to play to impress others. For them, the camera adds this dimension of expectation that wasn’t there before.

There is a very easy solution to this problem.

Raise your own expectations for yourself.

It’s true that even the best players make more than their fair share of mistakes, but this doesn’t mean that you should go through a tournament hoping that your opponents out-mistake you. When you make a mistake it should feel bad. It shouldn’t feel like the end of the world, per se, but there should be enough negativity to dissuade you from repeating it.

This is not the best way to get down a hill.

That said, you can’t let this negativity get the best of you. One of the worst things I see happening on camera is when a player makes a small mistake and then allows it to snowball into a series of match-losing mistakes out of embarrassment from the first. The very desire to have done better causes them to do worse.

The best way to avoid these initial mistakes that lead to snowball tilting is, of course, to test better.

This is not just to say that by testing more you’ll make fewer mistakes - that much is obvious. What I'm referring to is testing more properly - not more frequently. Testing well is just as important as testing often.

The two most common mistakes in testing that I’m aware of are the use of take-backs and reminders.

On Take-Backs

It has already been said many times by many different people, but using take-backs is bad testing. It bears repeating: using take-backs is bad testing.

I despise take-backs. They’re a worthless crutch that encourages sloppy play. They soften the negative emotion tied to making mistakes which makes repeating these mistakes more likely.

Most people already know well enough to not use take-backs in testing, but some still allow them in other forms of Magic. This creates an inconsistency in attitude towards the game which I think ultimately leads to sloppier play. If you alternate playing Magic with and without bumpers, it becomes an active exercise to remind yourself when you’re in a more casual setting as opposed to a competitive one. I’ve had many opponents in competitive events ask if they could take their play back. Some of them have even been surprised when I told them no.

I don’t even allow myself to take back plays I make in games of EDH. I’ve heard it argued that this takes the fun out of the game when it becomes this competitive, but I strongly disagree. What I think isn’t fun is a game where every player is allowed to rush into making poor decisions but is then allowed to go back and play optimally anyway when they make a mistake. I very much enjoy out-thinking my opponents and this feeling is cheapened for me when there are people at the table (myself included) that aren’t trying.

I take my fun seriously and I believe that doing so is essential to doing well with a game like Magic. I wouldn’t play it if it wasn’t fun and I couldn’t win much if I didn’t care.

On Visual Reminders

The other mistake that I see players make frequently is the use of reminders, such as a die or a deck box on top of their deck, to remind themselves about certain turnly actions such as effects that trigger on upkeeps.

I’ve berated people that do this sort of thing for a long time. I've done this, but I recently realized just how poor this practice actually is while playing a RUG mirror in Madison.

My opponent had failed to trigger his Delver of Secrets on two running turns by accidentally drawing his card too quickly. He was visibly frustrated with himself and after missing the second time he placed a die on top of his deck.

It suddenly became very clear to me why he had missed his triggers.

If you get used to placing a die on top of your deck as a reminder, then that becomes what you look for on your upkeep and you’re more likely to skip to your draw step when the die is absent. You cause yourself to check for something external from the game of Magic to remind yourself about in-game actions.

This kid is a loser. He probably puts a die on top of his deck as a reminder for upkeep triggers.

It takes a similarly long period of time to just take a second to think after you untap your permanents before you draw as it does to add or remove things from the top of your deck constantly, so there’s just no reason to mess around with reminders.

Not to mention how incredibly freaking stupid you look when you use them. I mean, if we’re going to talk about embarrassing yourself on camera, there are few better ways to do it. Reminder dice are right up there with fedoras.

~

By taking the game as seriously as I do it makes it completely irrelevant to me whether or not somebody is watching when I punt. The most important thing is to stick to your guns and continue making whatever play that you think is correct at the time. You have to play with one person trying to get into your head as is. There’s no reason to invite others to do the same.

At the end of the day the only person you need to impress is yourself. If you can be happy with your own performance, then why should it matter if some donk on the internet hates you?

Just don’t forget to breath.

-Ryan Overturf

Ryan Overturf

Ryan has been playing Magic since Legions and playing competitively since Lorwyn. While he fancies himself a Legacy specialist, you'll always find him with strong opinions on every constructed format.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t Beat Yourself Up… Too Hard

  1. No more take-backs! I remember when I was first getting back into the game we were playing in a draft. M10 was the format and I cast seismic strike on your 5-toughness guy before playing my 5th mountain that was in my hand. I asked if I could take it back, and you gave me the "are you serious?" look and said no.
    Thank you.

  2. I am a new member to the site, so don't be too harsh 🙂 I completely agree with your take on take-backs. That is a really good way to get really bad at the game. However, using something on top of your deck to remind you of triggers seems perfectly fine to me. There is nothing in the comprehensive rules that says that it is not allowed and really should not be viewed negatively or as a sign of a weak player. They allow us to write things down, why not use a token as a reminder? Overall though, great article and timely for me as I punted in the semi-finals of FNM last week due to half the room watching and me getting nervous about it. I didn't miss any triggers though, thanks to my trusty token on the deck. Don't forget to breathe 🙂

    1. By no means is it against the rules, I just feel that it's bad form. It causes you to treat certain triggers different from other types of triggers which causes you to think about similar things different. I know it seems very simple, but it's more complex to use the die than it is to simply survey the board and this added layer of complexity has a tendency to lead to mistakes. If you can use the die to remember the triggers then you should be able to slightly more easily remember without it.

      1. Fair enough. I do agree that it is an added layer, but sometimes I personally need that when the birds are thick. I will try it without next time to see if it will help me just observe the game state more fully at upkeep. Thanks for the response!

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