Entitled to Win: The Mindset You Need for Magic Success
Feeling entitled when it comes to winning is a hurdle many Magic players struggle to overcome when trying to be the best that they can be; Andifeated had to learn his lesson the hard way. In this article, he teaches you how to not be your own biggest enemy at tournaments.
How Entitlement Came to Cost Me
It's April 2015 and I'm spending my Saturday evening chilling at a hostel room after the first day at a Grand Prix event in Krakow, Poland with my good friend Sascha Schwarz. We're in a pretty good mood since he finished 8-1 with Esper Dragons Control and I even managed to remain undefeated with my trusty Siege Rhinos.
Sascha called me "Andifeated" for the first time that evening. It's funny because my nickname is Andi, which is pronounced the same way as the first two syllables of un-de-feat-ed. Plus, I always wanted to win all the rounds of each Magic tournament I joined back then and wasn't satisfied with mediocre results at all. I thought that it would be a fitting alias for my Magic career going forward and I use it up to this day. It reminds me that while my goal may be to always emerge victorious in a tournament, this is not always the case. At that tournament, I got asked a lot if I was still "Andifeated" and guess what, my answer was more often no than yes.
Anyway, Sascha and I were celebrating our awesome records and talking about how Sunday would be "the easiest Pro Tour Qualifier" of my life. Back then, Grand Prix Sundays only had six rounds of Swiss and with only 1,146 players, a 4-2 record would lock me a spot in the Top 8 playoffs. Even a 3-2-1 record with a Draw would have gotten me there, since there was already a clean cut for players with 37 or more points.
With Pro Tour Qualifiers in my region regularly having more than 200 participants, Sunday's event would be one of my best chances to qualify, so I was really excited. We did some calculations and with a 60% win-rate at Grand Prix events last year, I felt that I was finally going to win.
After I had just won Round 9 and managed to clinch first place in the Standings, Olle Rade came over to ask me some questions regarding my deck for coverage purposes. He wanted to know my opinion about my deck's matchup versus Esper Dragons, which turned out to be the best deck of the tournament, placing five times during GP Krakow and eventually taking the trophy (in the accomplished hands of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa). It was the best performing deck at the Pro Tour just before this Grand Prix but flew a bit under the radar without gaining much success in the playoff of the previous Pro Tour. If you dig up the best performing Constructed lists of that event, it becomes pretty clear that this became the new deck to beat at that time. I hadn't playtest-ed with or against the deck at all and told Olle that I thought it looked like a close matchup on paper, but my list should be slightly more favorable against the deck, so I wasn't afraid at all. Boy was I wrong about that.
Came Sunday, my hands were shaking as I sat down for Round 10 in a feature match in table 1 against Denmark's Martin Muller. Of course, he brought Esper Dragons to the table and demolished me in the most brutal fashion. I thought, however, that I still had a decent chance of making the Top 8 and that he must've just been pretty lucky in order to have defeated me that easily. But the truth is, we both had average draws and I played badly. Also, my cards didn't line up well against his, even postboard, and I didn't realize that this matchup was bad mostly because of my deckbuilding decisions and lack of experience playing against Dragonlord Ojutai.
I sat down for my next match against a fellow countryman, Alexander Hottmann, who would end playing Esper Dragons as well and would even finish in the Top 8 later in the event. He defeated me after I screwed up a Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Dragonlord Silumgar interaction, which I could have anticipated had I playtest-ed the matchup. To make it even harder, my feeling of entitlement to win started talking to me. I kept hearing in my head: "Common, the game state is looking great, you will win this match!"; "In the end, you deserve to be in the Pro Tour!"; "Nothing can go wrong in this game, so you need to win this!"
I couldn't clear my head of those desperate voices that came from my subconsciousness that was unable to process the reality that my great tournament run was on the brink of failure and every misstep could destroy my illusion as the most deserving player in the room to win the tournament.
During my turn, I ticked up my Ugin that would be able to ultimate in the following turn. I was holding a handful of cards and my planeswalker was threatening to soon seal the deal. What could possibly go wrong? Hottmann was even down to one or two cards in hand. But I was so busy with my obsession of making it to the Top 8 that I wasn't able to figure out how I could actually lose the game. I put Thoughtseize onto the stack and when it resolved, a shiver ran down my spine.
Hottman was holding Dragonlord Silumgar! Since I had no way to remove him from the battlefield at instant speed, my Ugin was about to ultimate under my opponent's control and there was nothing in my power to avoid that. If I had Thoughtseized my opponent before using a loyalty ability, I would have seen his Dragonlord and could have played around that scenario by killing my own Ugin with his own –X ability, thus leaving my opponent with an irrelevant 3/5 flier for 6 mana against my full grip.
I was devastated and went 1-5 that day with many bad plays and the feeling that I had thrown all my chances away. Up to this day, I like to remember what went through my head while losing all those rounds and how badly I felt during the tournament. I had dreamt of making the Top 8 the night before and my brain was so preoccupied with that feeling and sense of entitlement that I wasn't able to play good Magic the next day.
Variance in Magic
My experience at that fateful GP in 2015 is an example of what you shouldn't do. Do not take anything for granted and don't expect to win just because you think you are the best prepared player in the room. I didn't actually think I was the best player in the room at GP Krakow, but when I was 9-0 with my pet deck, Abzan Control, I thought it must have been because my deck was great, and I was playing it well. However, records at tournaments don't always correlate directly to decisions. In fact, my deck was badly built and though I was experienced with it, I hadn't practiced enough with it nor was it tuned against the new top Esper Dragons deck. These actually ended up making me one of the least experienced and prepared players during that second day. My mathematical chances of reaching the Top 8 were far from what I had thought Friday evening.
In the end, If you want to be successful at Magic tournaments, you should understand that while Magic: The Gathering is a game of numbers and knowledge, practice and the ability to adapt fast to new circumstances are required to win. Each game is varied.
Even the best players in the world will lose to opponents who are much worse than they are, simply because both your libraries are shuffled, and a random mix of cards are drawn before the start of every game. In a Constructed tournament, just because your opponent brings a strategy that aligns badly with your chosen cards, doesn't mean that you can never expect to win. In a Limited tournament, just because your opponent pulls our incredible mythic rares, doesn't mean you can never beat that Jace, Memory Adept he keeps casting.
Embrace the variance. There's nothing you can do about the extraneous factors. They will always be at work and will change the outcome of your games regardless of what you do. One thing I realized early on is that it makes no sense to complain about bad luck. Maybe you know this type of player that I'm talking about. In every tournament between every round, these players talk about everything bad that happened to them and how unlucky they were. I can't stand those stories. Guess what? Once you play enough games, you won't be able to blame bad luck anymore. You will lose exactly as many games to mana screws and bombs as you will win them with the same reasons. Variance levels out the playing field therefore, you should simply ignore it. I understand that it's hard because the human brain is attuned to making something specific responsible for the bad things that happen to you in order to protect your ego. But you need to understand and be aware of that mechanism and try to trick it to fully get a feel of what is really going on and what you can and cannot influence. Try to focus on things you can change for the better and on areas where your input actually matters. If you think about how unlucky it is to mulligan to five again while your opponent keeps seven cards, this will decrease your chances of winning the game.
A Realistic Approach to Tournaments
I've seen many players stuck at a certain level because they can't overcome their feeling of entitlement. Just imagine the following scenario:
You're sitting down for an FNM Draft at your local games store. There are eight players in your pod, many beginners or casual players. You are the best of them. You know that because you have played against all them before and have won most of the time. Also, you've spent more time with the format that is being drafted and are pretty confident in your knowledge of it.
You will be very disappointed if you don't win that Draft.
You know you will.
But are you being realistic?
You will play three rounds of Swiss, so you need to 3-0 to win. From a basic mathematical viewpoint, the likelihood of that happening is 0.5^3 which is 12.50%. So, winning is actually not likely to happen. Knowing these numbers, will you still be upset when you lose?
"Wait, wait, wait! I'm much better than my opponents, you should not calculate that with a winning probability of 50%."
Right, what's your win-rate against those players? The truth is, it is very hard to get ahead simply based on win-percentage in Magic: The Gathering. The amount of variance in every game is very high. Even the best players in the world struggle to achieve win-rates above 69% at the Grand Prix level without cheating, and only the best of the best can maintain win-rates above 59% at Pro Tours. If you are the very best player at your local games store, I believe that you could perhaps claim up to a 70% win-rate at your FNM. But even then, the chances of winning that Draft only increases to 34%.
You won't win that FNM Draft more than once in three attempts over a long period of time.
Therefore, don't feel bad if you don't win.
The same can be said for the Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers.
In my region, those tournaments average on 30 players and you can play like eight of them a season. The players are pretty good, yet there are many who get upset when they don't manage to qualify for the RPTQ at the end of the season. Again, is that being realistic?
Your chance of winning a 30-player PPTQ is 3.33% and if you play eight of them, the chance to not qualify is still 76 % (0.966^8). Even with a ridiculous skill advantage, you still won't be favored enough under these circumstances.
You can apply those calculations to every tournament level and check how likely achieving your goals will be. I think the first step to getting rid of that "winning entitlement" is to have a realistic view of your goals in Magic and how likely you are to achieve them given the amount of work you put in. My goals are to earn two byes at Grand Prix events through Planeswalker Points and to achieve the 4,000 points necessary to have a bye for the German National Championship next year. When I achieve those in a few months, I will then focus on requalifying for the Pro Tours and earn enough Pro Points to become a Bronze member of the Pro Players Club.
I know how likely those goals are at my current win-rate and input. I won't be upset if achieving my goals take longer than initially planned because I have learned how to approach Magic realistically. And ever since I started doing that, I have had way more fun at tournaments and no longer feel like I'm wasting my time and money.
I'm happy I was able to reach the state of mind that I have now and I hope this article can help too eager players to refocus, thus increase their chances of meeting their goals all the while having fun.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.