Getting better at MTG: Did I plateau?

Plateau — A period of little or no apparent progress in an individual’s learning, marked by an inability to increase speed, reduce number of errors, etc., and indicated by a horizontal stretch in a learning curve or graph.

Last weekend was Grand Prix Quebec City. It might be innocent to most people. GPs may be a celebration for some. For pros it could be a steady way to grind some pocket change. For amateurs it can be a very fun way to beat some season veterans. As quite a few of my fellow Pre-Pro Tour Qualifiers grinders, it was more likely to be a weekend of validation.

GP Quebec was supposed to be a serious test, some sort of benchmark of my place in the MTG universe. It was supposed to be a solid idea of where I stand, of where my last months of practice led me to, on my path to become a pro player. Sadly, things didn’t go my way.

Grinding it out

Over the last couple months I’ve been doing the same that most of the other semi-pros have been doing, grinding the PPTQs hoping to get on the Pro Tour train. I’ve gotten decent results and even top 8ed 2 of them, usually I finish middle of the pack or 9th (twice) due to weird breakers. My time will come. I can feel it. But here’s the thing : I feel like i’m better than most of the grinders and sometime luck just isn’t on my side…or is it?

Learning through example

Everybody I have consulted seem to tell me the same thing. Play with and watch better people than you. Obviously that’s how you learn and get better. So I took it literally.

Reading : The first tip I received was from one of the game’s brilliant minds. And here it is :

Thank LSV for the tip. Part 1 I sadly cannot do. Apparently Magic costs a lot of money and I sadly can’t afford a pc right now(my old one burned down, i’m stuck with an old macbook). The second part was a god send. Reading Paulo’s articles was the first push I needed and I now try to follow his writings as much as I can. Reading has been a great help so far.

The second thing that helped me learn the most is actually from another LSV tweet :

And there it is. Watching videos. Actually watching Twitch has to be my biggest time investment so far. At least 20 hours a week. I literally watch pros like @HAUMPH has helped me tremendously. (I’ve also become a fan of Gaby Spartz, she’s also on the quest of becoming better and I’ve found her stream quite technical). Watching twitch has actually helped me predict the meta game a lot too. It has to be a great tool. The problem I have with it is, unless you’re watching actual pros, I tend to take decisions faster than them and sometime see lines they don’t. This has been part of what seems to be wrong idea that I’ve been getting better though. More on this later.

And the last part I’ve been using to get better is form the same tweet. I actually pushed my local players enough to actually build a play group and make a team to grind events with. Team cc3R is coming for you! All the best local players are in it and I feel like having people to discuss was the biggest boon to my skill so far.

Learning the game behind the game

I’m not talking about the meta game. That has been actually quite obvious. I’m actually talking about the numbers. Usually this is signified by odds and costs and these kind of things. Over the last few months I’ve learned how to make decent to good to even great decks. I think deckbuilding is an art that is learned through playing different formats. I’ve dabbled a lot in Modern and it has helped me tremendously about how important mana efficiency is and the true meaning of aggro decks. Card advantage, tempo, 2for1s and terms of the like have become second nature.

I feel like this is the area I need to learn the most in. Implied odds, opportunity costs, odds of drawing lands, learning to mulligan better are all things I can improve in,

GP Results…or lack thereof

SO WHAT! Yes you are right. What is the point of this article anyway! Yeah you’re right. Let’s get to it. I lost. And I lost some more. In fact here’s the rundown:

  • On friday I did 4 grinders. 2 With BR aggro, 2 with Bant Tokens. Both decks actually gave the same results. Lost round 1 the first time and lost on round 2 the second time.
  • BR aggro I had taken to a PPTQ, which I ended up finishing 2nd in the swiss so I knew what I was doing. Sadly…even then I just couldn’t win and I gave it my all. Still, not good enough?
  • Bant Tokens… I had practiced a bit with the team and I strongly felt like that was the deck for the weekend. Sadly I ran in the mirror. My opponent was not only a great player but ran the deck way better than I did. And I also missed triggers. Fatigue took over. It was a long day,
  • Now we’re saturday. It’s the main event. Round 1 I face an easy opponent, as expected by playing these non-bye rounds and i won. Round 2 a really strong headache kicks in and I start losing. 2 rounds in a row. Take some pills and then somehow i can finally play right and win 2 rounds in the loser bracket. finally i’m on the right path…and then I just couldn’t win. 3 rounds in a row…

Now here’s the issue : Past round 3, people playing beside me we’re all kind of bad players. We’re talking about players that didn’t know what a Dig Through time was. Atarka Red players not knowing how good their combo is and didn’t know how to sequence it and pumped on 2 different turns. Round 6–7–8 was terrible for my ego. I lost to some wacky brews like BW warriors or played against people who had no idea that you untapped before drawing… and even then I still couldn’t win. Why was I among these players?

Was I really that bad? I finished a standard GP at 3–5. I went 2–4 on grinders. This is not me. I’m better than this, right? Of course you, random stranger, cannot answer this question. I wanna blame variance. I really really do. But I don’t think that’s the right fame of mind. I’m gonna blame the headache for a good part. Of course that can probably be blamed on me not eating right the night before. But as far as the round 6–7–8 I just can’t say it wasn’t my fault. Shaky starting hands and playing decks that this very very awesome deck (damn Sam Black you’re a genius) shouldn’t have to play against and should be equipped to deal with. Maybe it wasn’t the right GP deck after all (none actually made top 8 which to me was surprising).

So what’s the takeaway?

Maybe have you been reading this far or are looking for some sort of TL;DR so here’s a quick rundown of what I learned from this event :

  • Treat both your body and your mind right. Eat well the night before. Sleep well and put your mind at ease. Focus more.
  • Play a deck that is part of your usual range. You may think that while a deck seems great, even though it comes from 1 of the best minds in magic, if it’s outside of your usual range, don’t play it at a big event.
  • PRACTICE. Practice a lot, don’t go to an event without a sideboard plan. Actually write it down.
  • Bring treats and stay hydrated. Keep that blood sugar high.
  • Do not keep shaky hands. High risk high reward is not something to risk your tournament life on.
  • Seeing as both Martin Dang and Joel Larson didn’t make Day 2 I shouldn’t worry that much about it.
  • I don’t think i’ve won a single Game 1 (how odd is that?)

How to improve from here ?

So thinking ahead, where do i want to go from now?

  • Learn to mulligan better.
  • Dig deeper into the maths of magic.
  • Take my rules adviser tesr, maybe head toward judging. Why? I feel like judges always have a small edge toward their opponent.
  • Play with decks outside my range at FNM
  • Try to establish some sort of thought process while in game to structure my turns with.
  • Make a system to try and remember all my damn triggers.
  • Talk to more pros.
  • Read the hell out of Next Level Magic.

And that’s it! If you’re still here, thanks for sticking by! Leave a comment with your opinion! :)