Price of Progress – Getting to Carnegie Hall

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True story: While we were getting ready for the first round of SCG Seattle Legacy tournament, I was watching a player associated with a famous MTG strategy site play his deck versus another player. He played Price of Progress. Having never really played that card before, he didn’t know that it actually did 2 damage instead of 1. We all laughed at his error as he learned something new.

But if he had playtested more, he would’ve known.

To be fair, I’m sure this was format he hardly played and he most likely got this list either online or from a friend. Not everyone knows every card in every format but most people would know what the cards in their deck would do, but playing it before the tournament would help with that situation.

I’m not bashing him nor making fun of him. This guy has only been nice when I’ve been in contact with him and he’s a very smart player, but even the “pros” don’t always know what cards do when they pick up a deck for the very first time without hours upon hours of playtesting. And that’s where my situation comes in. I didn’t playtest for SCG Seattle. I went 0-2 drop. This isn’t a tournament report about what I did wrong, this post is how I’m perfectly fine with that situation.

It’s all about getting to Carnegie Hall.

In reality, I should be bummed that I went 0-2, after all I stunk up the joint. It wasn’t the deck I was playing (New Horizons, with a main deck list that was a few cards off from eventual SCG Seattle Winner Kyle Boddy’s list) and I consider myself to be a component player. Being alright with an 0-2 performance doesn’t really fit in Magic Pros tell you should be striving for. It was a style of deck that I like to play: Mid aggro/control, so while I didn’t play the deck very much, I figured that I could do alright with it since I had a knowledge of the basic concepts of the deck. But there in lies the problem: I didn’t do alright.

If you saw Evan Erwin’s Live video on Star City Games, he asked me to talk about what I liked about Legacy. I was a little nervous being on camera (I’m usually more animated when you talk with me), and I had just got done with my second and last round. You always figure out what you want to say after the event happens (like that great comeback) and after some idle thought, I realized what I should’ve/wanted to say:

I like Legacy because no matter what type of deck you like to play, it has it. You want aggro, you can play Goblins or Merfolk. Like combo? There’s Reanimator and ANT. You want control? How about Stax? Mid Range Control, anything Bant. You can find a deck that fits your play style.

I would’ve been able to nail it better had I been in front of the camera more (I’m usually behind it). What does my appearance on camera and going 0-2 have in common? That’s right, Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Hall

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

If you’re a longer reader of my site, you might have read my post “Middle Children of Magic” where I explained that I didn’t feel like I should be really considered casual, but I don’t make enough time to “Go Pro.” There’s a reason you don’t see tournament advice on this blog: I can’t give that to you; that’s not my expertise in Magic. If you want to get better, practice. Magic Pro and Star City Games writer Patrick Chapin talks about in his book “Next Level Magic” all about how to get better as a player and how to go about doing that. If you want to get better at competitive Magic, I suggest you start there. I’ve been slowly going through it and it’s a great read for that concept; it’s helping me become more comfortable in my game as well.

The way I see Magic is the way I see golf: it’s a very fun activity that you can enjoy with friends. The more time and energy you put into it, the more you can get better at it. You can still enjoy golf even if you’re not Tiger Woods.

Example: Three of my friends and I decided to play a round one day at their favorite course. All of them are more focused on playing golf so they’ve taken lessons and go to the driving range at least once a week; I dust off my clubs that are in my garage that haven’t been touched since last year. When we get up to the first tee, they all hit it around 225-275 yards down the center of the fairway. I hit mine 200 yards, but slice it into the forest. I struggle along getting myself out of one situation and into another. All this time, the other guys are trying to be nice to my situation but swear at themselves for shots they feel they missed, like being 10 feet from the hole instead of 3 feet when they chipped up.

At the end of the day, all three of them played better than me. They did give me advice on how to play certain holes (Stay left because it’s a better shot), but after I hit my shot. They knew what to do since they played this course plenty of times. I was constantly looking for the pin, trying to gauge distance to see if I should lay it up infront of the water, or try and go for the green, constantly misreading the situation. Did we have fun? Sure, but it felt like I was always two steps behind because I wasn’t as always hitting my shots like they were.

A few weeks later, another group of friends wanted to go golfing so I made the foursome and we played at a different course. None of us had really played in a while, so we took mulligans every so often. Everyone drove the ball differently and we’d have to search in the rough to find their ball every once in a while. When the drink cart came around, we all got some beer. There was laughing at each other when we messed up a shot (You spend more time in the sand than David Hasseloff), more ribbing than throwing clubs. Whenever someone hit a good shot, there was high-fiving. We might have kept track of who won, but at the end of it, no one really cared; it was off to the 19th hole to have another drink and laugh about the time someone hit a tree and came back to the original lie. It was a different kind of fun than the first group I went with.

Sure, I can go out the to the driving range and hit golf balls every week. I can practice my driver, my 3-wood, my pitching wedge approach shots, putting for five hours learning how to read greens in different types of weather and different times of day to be like the first group of friends and eventually play up to their level.

But I don’t.

Practice (with a purpose) will make me better at golf. It will also make me a better Magic player for tournament results, along with anything else I want to get better in. But you have to decide how much time you want to devote to one particular aspect. If you’re trying to get better at Magic in order to win money, then yes, you should practice. On the other hand, if you play and have fun at the game and can accept the general plane of how good your ability is, playtesting has no benefit to you.

This doesn’t excuse you for not wanting to get better, not at all. No one is perfect, and by playing can we only learn to get better (Which is why in RPGs it’s called “Experience Points” not “Here’s Some Points For You”). Even if you’re messing around with friends playing an emperor game, you’re always learning. That’s what playtesting is about anyway, learning how to handle the deck and what to do in certain situations. Just like in golf, you learn when to use the pitching wedge versus a 9 iron. Sometimes, you have to stand at a driving range for hours to learn the type of swing you need to use, how hard you need to hit it, and if a different club is better when you’re 130 yards out instead of 120.

Putting in all that time and effort, with a plan, will make you better at what you practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s Magic, or golf, or swimming, or crossword puzzles, or writing; the more you can practice focused, the better you can get. You can be a natural baseball talent, but you can only get so far on talent alone. Somewhere, you need to learn to tools to be better to take you to the next level. Do you think Mike Flores sit plays Rock Band everyday then on Friday night throws together a list of 75 and wins the next day? No, he practices his butt of. This takes time out of your life to do other things and eventually, you have to weigh the options of how much you want to be an expert in this field, whatever it is. Because Magic pros get paid to write and have earnings tied to prize pools, they have to practice to get good.

If you don’t practice, sometimes the only way to learn is to throw yourself into the fire and see how well you’d do at a FNM or at something like what Star City Games is doing. If you want to see how well you can go in unprepared, don’t be surprised if you don’t win. I had an idea about how to battle certain decklists but without playing against them, all the goldfishing in the world wasn’t going to help me actually play when the time came. If I really wanted more experience in this format, I would’ve have stayed in and continued to play besides my 2 losses which took me out of prize contention. That wasn’t my main focus of the day.

Instead, I played some EDH, talked with some friends I don’t see unless I’m at these events, and took in the sights. I watched other people play and then I went on my merry way. If I had won a match, I certainly would’ve stayed in and see how far I would’ve gotten. But, since I didn’t prepare myself, I wasn’t too sad when I did go 0-2. Should I have expected better? Yes, but I didn’t have an unreal expectation of myself.

When I got home I sat in my backyard with Wife and looked at the blue sky. “I didn’t expect to see you home so early,” she remarked, surprised that how much I had talked up about the tournament and wanting to spend time there. I told her I tried, but didn’t get very far. After hanging out with a few friends I then wanted to come home and enjoy the rest of the too few sunny days in Seattle with her.

Sure, I went to the Legacy tournament to try and win it. I knew that some highly respected players in the Seattle area was going up there as well but some of the pros that showed up took me a little by surprise. There was going to be some awesome talent at the event so it’s not like I expected to waltz in there like it was a “My First Magic Game” event a run the table. If I had tested I would’ve loved to have taken something like this Mono-White Stax deck that took 11th, but I didn’t practice with it.

However, I was there to have fun. And I did. For me, that’s what was important.

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