Well, it seems like a good enough time to start a blog. I'm finishing up my final class for my undergraduate degrees (one class over the summer - I could spend a blog post griping about how the class that I thought fullfilled that requirement didn't and they failed to mention this to me until 6 days before my "final" semester started, but I'll just dedicated one series of parentheses instead), and about to embark on the great big NEXT. What exactly that next entails is not something that I currently know, but hopefully a few of those details will get ironed out over the next couple of weeks.
Anyway, the appropriateness of beginning to post to this blog is not only linked with the ending of my college career (for now - we'll see about Masters and PhD programs later), but also the start of a more active approach to "Going Pro." While I'm figuring out what to do with my degrees, I (and my good friend Eric) have made it our goal to start grinding the big tournament circuits over the course of this next year.
Some magic background on me: I've been playing magic since around 2000 (I didn't own any cards till the first Mirrodin block, so it's a little hazy exactly when I started playing). By the end of the Kamigawa block, most of my friends had stopped playing, so I let it go by the wayside as well (and none of us had been competitive - it was pure casual in those days: our playgroup had decided that regenerate brought things back from the graveyard). I didn't pick it up again until college (during the Lorwyn block). By Alara Reborn, I was on the FNM scene, kicking it up with absolutely horrible homebrew concoctions. But then M10 and Zendikar rolled around, and I began to actually be competitive. Since then I've been rolling it at FNMs, big tournaments that are close enough (within a two-hour drive, which means KC and StL), and midsized tournaments all over Missouri. So it's been a gradual scale for me.
So in this post (and future posts) I will spell out some gameplaying lessons that I learn along my journey (or that I've already learned and for some reason remember at a particular moment).
Never blindly follow anyone else's list of "lessons" with regards to anything. Always think first. An example: some people said "Never cast Preordain on turn one." This is completely false. Facts about Preordain: it becomes an exponentially better card as gameplay progresses; it can screw you over if you don't know what deck you're playing and you send the wrong card to the bottom of your library; it can allow you to keep a low-land or heavy-land hand. Of these three facts, one of them pulls for you not casting it on turn one (becoming better later in the game), one of them pulls for not casting it blind (so not turn one, first game), and one of them pulls towards casting it turn one. Now, I'm not the originator of this analysis of Preordain (I read it somewhere, but I don't remember where), but it's merely acting as an example of why not to blindly follow someone else's tips or rules.
Dress well, but comfortably, when playing magic. I feel that the comfortable part is mostly understood, but so many players underestimate the power of presentation. This won't always have as much of an effect at your local haunts, but often when I'm at a game shop that I've never been to before, players in other matches (and often my opponents, too) will just assume that I understand card ruling and: a) trust my judgment; b) not try to pull janky, not legal stuff on me; and c) play their deck more cautiously, especially when I leave mana open, fearing that I have a trick up my sleeve. Now I'm completely against using other peoples' confidence in your abilities to cheat against them, but a) and b) often save on time during matches (which can sometimes be an issue with the kinds of people that a) and b) apply to). As long as you can tell that c) is working against your opponent, you can try to capitalize on their timid playing. And all of this comes from dressing nice.
Now there's more to presenting yourself than dressing well, but dressing well is the easiest part. The rest of it just takes practice.
Always take at least one breath before you tap any lands, activate any abilities, play any cards, move from one step or phase to another, or pass priority (basically before you do anything). Pausing too long is awkward and can lead to draws, but the power of that small moment to think has extraordinary power. Nine times out of ten nothing will change because of it. But that one time might be the difference between a game win and a game loss.
It bit me in the butt big time once. I was playing in the States tournament in Missouri right after the release of Scars. I was piloting a UW control deck that abused proliferation, Everflowing Chalice, Rite of Replication, and Frost Titan (it worked better than it sounds, trust me). My opponent was playing this Koth deck. It was game three. I was playing some of the best magic I had playing in a long while. Leyline of Sanctity was keeping me safe from his Koth emblem, JTMS was making his way up to exiling his library, and I had an active Contagion Engine. He drops Ratchet Bomb. I think: "as soon as he gets the three counters, proliferate it up to five." So, a couple turns pass and I have a Frost Titan in hand. Now, I'm just short of being able to activate my engine as well as cast the Frosty and he's going to tick the bomb up to three at end of turn. No biggie. I've still got another shot at it before he blows up Jace and Sanctity. And Magic's about playing for fun, right? This also plays into Lesson Four, but my mistake of Lesson Three is about to happen. Next draw I draw a Rite of Replication. I have exactly nine mana available. It's instictive. This is what my deck is supposed to do. No breath and I cast it. Again, no breath as my five frosties come into play, tapping down five of his lands. I could've saved myself by tapping down the ratchet bomb with one activation. Except I didn't take a breath and think about it. Oh, and I was at like two or three health. The exact number of mountains he had untapped. It was awful.
Don't do unnecessary things, ever. See above. Sometimes they don't hurt you at all. But they never help you. Just remember that: you will gain no benefit from doing the unnecessary thing. Of course, that doesn't mean don't cast your Preordain or do a JTMS brainstorm ability before combat when you have lethal on the board, just to make sure you have the best possible chance of having answers to anything they could do. But don't cast your Frost Titans when they have an empty board and you're getting pretty close to Mindsculptoring their library away.
Always bring food. There's nothing worse than playing on an empty stomach (except playing magic on an empty stomach and being lit on fire). So, even if you think there's no chance you're going to need a food break, bring it just in case.
Smile. There are certainly opponets against whom it will have no affect, but for many people it's harder for them to do mean things to people who are smiling. And this is not an evil smile I'm talking about; it needs to be a nice, friendly (or, if you can pull it off, an innocent, naive smile). The other side to the smile is that it will force you to look on the bright side of things, which helps you think of solutions to your problems in the game rather than focus on how bad your problems are.
Well, that's it for tonight. The order of all of my lessons is completely random, by the way. I'll try to do more structure for future posts, but tonight was a spur-of-the-moment-I'm-gonna-get-this-started-so-I-actually-do-it sort of thing. Thanks for reading!