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March 23, 2017

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Going for the Gold – Playing Your Best

Staying home this weekend. What a foreign concept!

Grand Prix Orlando is this weekend and since prices for flights require me to Top 8 to break even, it seems like an easy decision to stay home. If you want to read up on my thoughts on the format, click here. Nothing has changed in the last few months. My next Grand Prix will be GP Richmond, which is the week before Pro Tour Nashville.

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Whenever I don’t have a format to talk about, I write about how you can improve parts of your magic game. This week, I will be covering how to play your best, no matter the stakes. We’ve all been there, making your first top 8 of a local event, PPTQ, or RPTQ. No matter how confident you think you are, it will be a nerve wracking experience.

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I constantly hear that people’s mistake rate goes through the roof when they are featured on camera, and it makes sense. Here you are, trying to prove yourself to the viewing audience, but since you are constantly thinking that you are one move away from making a mistake you end up outthinking yourself. It doesn’t help that Twitch chat can be so brutal, as any misstep leads to !punt being spammed viciously.

So how can you keep playing your best, no matter what?

1) Stop looking forward a couple rounds

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I get it, you’re currently 4-0 in a seven round tournament, and if you win this round you can just intentionally draw twice into the Top 8 and prove yourself to all of the naysayers. Let me tell you, this isn’t the only time that you will be in this situation so even if you end up losing the next two rounds, it isn’t the end of the world and you will have another chance. You also don’t need to prove yourself to anyone, so stop thinking that!

When you operate from a scarcity mindset, your emotions will start to take over. This will lead you to make decisions not based on fact, but rather based on the notion that “well why can’t they not just have it one time please”.

I’ve been there. I’ve lit my chances in tournaments on fire where I made high risk plays, in situations where I didn’t need to, because I felt like I deserved to win. Obviously it almost never worked for me and I don’t do that anymore. The only way to keep your emotions in check is to focus on playing the best magic that you can, and not focusing in on what each win means for you. This will still be hard but if you start practicing that way, it will eventually become second nature.

At Grand Prix Miami in 2013, I went 7-2 on Day One and back then this was the worst record that let you into Day Two. For the entirety of Day Two, I just believed that I could no longer Top 8, and no matter what anyone told me, I just brushed it off and focused on winning each match at a time. I eventually realized in Round 15 that I could make top 8. During the round I almost made a game losing mistake which I was able to catch in time, and got my emotions back under control long enough to make my first and only GP Top 8 of my career.

Now, whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing in a tournament and what that means I can achieve, I just brush it off because I know that this headspace can be very toxic and will always make me much worse.

2) Make sure that you are taking care of your physical health

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This has far reaching consequences for your tournaments although it doesn’t initially seem like it will. You are what you eat, and if you constantly eat junk you will feel sluggish and this will lead to poor decision making. Also, even if you eat right make sure that you are constantly feeding yourself at tournaments.

Most Grand Prix have food trucks in the venue which don’t serve very good food, but are also subject to insane lines. At Grand Prix Toronto in 2016, I waited in line for food for 3 consecutive rounds and didn’t even come close to the front by the time the round started. I was so hungry, and if my friends didn’t bring me food I would have probably played really horrible near the end of the day. Now, whenever I go to a Grand Prix I make sure that I have all the food that I need in my backpack so that I never go hungry. On top of that, I keep a sealed water bottle in the outside pouch so that I don’t get dehydrated. Magic is tough work, and you can’t have your body working against you.

Which brings me to the final point, if you are unable to go to the bathroom in between rounds, don’t hold it in. Just call a judge and get it over with. If you let yourself feel discomfort during the round, you will try to rush your plays just so you can get closer to relief.

3) Practice with your deck (Constructed tournament) or practice drafting / sealed deck (Limited tournament)

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It’s hard to play your best when you don’t know the format. So practice, practice, practice!

No…but really, open up Twitch and start watching streamers play games in the format if you don’t have time to play yourself. You have no excuse, if you ever walk into a non-Pro Tour tournament and do not know what the top decks are. There are so many resources on the internet right now that will provide you with the most current decklists and their various iterations. Understanding the key cards in the format, and the key sideboard decisions that are made will go a long way in helping you play your best.

At GP Pittsburgh 2017, a weekend after Pro Tour Dublin, many BG players were caught offguard by their Mardu Vehicle opponents boarding into a Fumigate Planeswalker control deck in game two and three. But, if they looked at the Mardu decks that were doing well, this was what they would instantly see in their sideboard. Just a few seconds would have saved them a lot of pain!

When it comes to Limited, you need to understand the most important tricks and removal in the format. It is so important that the best players will spend a lot of time trying to memorize these, going so far as to draw them on the wall of their bathroom in their testing houses. If you are playing in a Sealed deck tournament, you should be building at least 5 sealed pools prior to the actual tournament so that you get a feel for the quality of cards. In any draft based tournament, you should do at least 4 drafts so that you are comfortable with a few archetypes.

There are probably many more ways to keep yourself playing the best, but here are the top 3 ways that I can think of. What do you guys think? Let me know what you think and I’d love to hear from you. So either post in the comments below or tweet at me (@SammyTMTG). And, if you want to keep up with my articles and happenings, please make sure you hit the follow button for Twitter @ SammyTMTG. I’ll see you next week!

Until then,

Sammy T