By Conley Woods
Most of you know me from The Magic School Bus, but if not, that is fine, just know that this column will be focused on the more competitive side of magic, although hopefully through my writing style and some random humor, it will also appeal to the causal player.
I had initially introduced the idea of competitive resistance in the latest podcast on The Magic School Bus. But unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of my control, that cast is not up, and I am not sure if it will ever be posted. Maybe if you guys bug Cagle enough he will end up posting it and getting back on track with the casting situation as all of my attempts have failed and I am just as bummed as everyone else about it. But seeing as how that endeavor appears to be on hold, I figured I would branch off into an article series that focuses on moving your game from the ptq level to that of the pro tour. I will of course offer some deck advice, some rogue strategies (as that is the facet upon which I have established myself as a legitimate threat to win tournaments), some theories (much like today’s topic), and some general magic knowledge that can be applied in other facets of life.
So then, to get to the meat of the article for today… What is competitive resistance? And why should you care about it. To phrase it into simple terms, albeit ones that do not encompass the full theory, CR is basically your level of output during any particular game and how the perception of your opponent influences that output.
I have grown to be commonly referred to as the best or at least close to the best, player in my state. Now this statement is not meant to be some self righteous “My dad can beat up your dad” type of comment, but rather to set stage for the following example: Often times, when I sit down to play some random match of Magic, at an FNM for example, I overhear comments from my opponent that completely baffle me. “Well maybe I can win one game,” “Oh great, paired against you in the first round,” or the oh so popular “Maybe I should just scoop now.” I am sure that everyone can already see the issue at hand here. If a player sits across from you, and mutters any of the above or something similar, how can they possibly win against you? It is not even an option. You have already won the match, and a card has yet to be played.
Alright your thinking… “I shouldn’t just fold it in before I play against a good player, thats what you got for me?” No, that is not all I have for you. The exact same scenario occurs when you happen to be sitting across from the naive 12 year old kid with the 135 card dragon deck. You may not verbally insult the kid, or claim that you cannot lose, but internally, you have already marked an X in the Win column. Sure enough, game 1 you run over him as he never gets beyond 2 lands which is a common theme when only 30 of your 135 cards contain a giant mana symbol on them. But then, it happens. You settle in for game 2, ignoring your sideboard, keeping a 2 lander, and start talking to your friends. The next thing you realize is that your marking a -12 on your life total and staring at a Hellkite Overlord who just saw Alara’s mighty presence target him 3 times… Well obviously this was just a fluke you say to yourself. Game 3 leaves you in disgust as you stare at the overrun cast into a crowd of dragon fodder tokens and a 15/15 Kresh.
Here is a graph that should demonstrate all of the above in a little more concise form. To set this up a little bit, basically, as the graph moves to the right, the skill level of your opponent increases. Thus, at the far left of the graph would be the 135 card dragon kid. On the Y axis is the output you put forth as far as skill is concerned. Thus, you put forth your best game against those players located in the middle of the skill spectrum. Usually this will be the player who is well known and good, and may win a few PTQs here and there, but is a far cry from your Ruels or LSVs. You feel as though you need to put your best foot forward in order to beat this person, but also feel as though beating them is in fact, possible. This last realization is why the amount of competitive output goes down over time. Because, we as players, begin to get insecure and not feel as though we can beat the Finkels of the world. To be fair, the following graph is slightly exaggerated in that your output does not drop as dramatically towards the right of the graph, but it is only used as a rough guide. In reality, it should drop off about half as fast as it currently does.
OK, so there exists this trap that many players seem to fall into, how then, can we avoid it? Well the first step is actually what you are doing right now, and that is informing yourself of the danger. It may be a valuable skill to learn how to disable a bomb, but without the know-how and knowledge to find that bomb… disabling it never comes into play.
The next most important thing to attempt to master is to learn to play at a consistent level. Playing at various levels of effort is just a bad trap to walk yourself into. Find your sweet spot and master it. This obviously means not playing worse just because you are playing against a bad player or a pro, but it also means to not strain yourself and try to do too much, as often, this will also cause you to play worse. When you attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole, you end up just looking foolish. Play smoothly and put forth a considerable amount of effort, but not so much as to begin to deteriorate your play towards the right side of the graph above.
Learning to control yourself in pressure situations by restraining the desire to fold it in or go all out blood vessel popping hulk smash mode is one of, if not the most, important non-game behaviors you can cover. It is of course a different beast from being able to be a technically sound player, but has equally important effects on any particular outcome of a game. At first, this practice will take a conscience effort on your part, but hopefully, over time, you will begin to present a balanced play and demeanor without ever having to try to do so.
In a world where the Internet provides the player base with so much information, the difference between a good player and a great player exists in but a few percentage points. Finding ways to bridge the gap in those percentage points may seem difficult at a glance, but practices like maintaining a consistent level of play skill output actually do alter your game for the better.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I will continue to talk about some other opportunities to take your game to the next level. Nothing may come as rocket science to you, but that is generally how these things go. They seem like common sense at times because they in fact are; we just choose to ignore them because they appear to be givens. Getting this type of information out there is so important to remind people that they have the ability to win more often, even if it seems like the opposite.
Thanks for reading and please comment below as I check the site often and should get any questions answered. My current email address will be posted below as well, and feel free to add me on facebook if you would like. Until next time, TRA LA LA, I’m out.