For the first time in a long time I am frustrated with Magic. Really, I am not frustrated with Magic itself, more the state of Standard. Here I am preparing for a Standard PTQ, testing out three different potential decks, and we decide to run the gauntlet with Naya Aggro/Humans. The results: I won one game out of nine or ten. Even with decks that had substantial life gain, spot removal or board wipes, I never could stabilize. I ended our testing session dejected, hurt and in disbelief that decks I had been so good at piloting could succumb so easily to this list. For the next hour or so I cursed Standard. I wondered how Wizards of the Coast could let something as nasty this deck exist in Standard. I blamed everything. Finally, I realized that the problem is not Standard or Wizards or the game. The problem is me.
I have hit a wall. I first started breaking out of casual Magic in 2008. When I first built Turbo Grinding on MTGO, I realized that I was in a different world. I no longer was playing with a few friends who barely knew the basic rules of the game. I was playing with people who studied the game, and if I wanted to keep up, I needed to study it as well. At this point I was a Tabula Rasa, so after a lot of playing and a lot of reading I went from frequently losing on MTGO, to frequently winning. Even then I was barely scratching the surface of the knowledge available.
As life sometimes does, mine took an unexpected turn for the worse, taking me away from playing the game as much as I would like, but after New Phyrexia was released I was able to fully thrust myself back into the game. During this period I grew leaps and bounds in my deckbuilding and metagame analysis skills. I started work on a GW list that utilized Birds of Paradise, Nest Invader, Garruk Wildspeaker and Primeval Titan to just go over the top of anything your opponent could do in order to combat the post banning Caw-Blade decks. I even came into correspondence with a couple of pros that were working on the same idea. I eventually sleeved up the deck and went undefeated in competitive GAMES with the deck before it was retired.
Around that same time, I begin to delve deeper into game theory. I started focusing on playing as technically as possible, paying attention to who is the beatdown, and learning how to get the most value out of each card as possible. I built a very janky GW list (with a splash of red for Kessig Wolf Run and a splash of black for Lingering Souls) that did very well against everything but the emerging Naya Pod decks. I felt that I was making a lot of progress in my play ability, because not only did I go undefeated at a rather large local tournament, but I also defeated a guy that I had previously very rarely beat. The kicker: He was playing Naya Pod.
Over the last year, I’ve read Patrick Chapin’s “Next Level Magic” and noticed an immediate increase in my play skill. I’ve taken Draft from being my worst format to one of my best. I’ve seen people that I used to fear playing because they always beat me start to fear seeing my name paired with theirs. I’ve still done poorly at events, but usually only when I go in unprepared, and playing a deck I’ve never piloted before. Needless to say, I knew that my knowledge in Magic was growing, and with it my play skill.
Then I got cocky. I know a lot of Magic theory. I have a near photographic memory about things I enjoy, and every bit of knowledge that I’ve gleaned from other, more experienced and better players is floating around in my head just waiting to be used. Because of that, I began to think I was a better player then I actually am. Knowledge does not always beget better application, but somehow I convinced myself that it does. And because I did not realize this simple fact, I quit growing. I quit improving. At the end of the day, I’m a mediocre player.
Chapin wrote in his book: “To be truly effective, one must act. Effective action is increased when concepts are applied immediately after you’ve been introduced to them. ” I’ve stopped acting, and have solely relied on the knowledge of concepts. It is not enough for me to know how to effectively combat blazing fast aggro decks. I need to practice the theory behind it. I need to apply the knowledge. Standard is not broken right now, due to one deck that is doing well, rather my perspective is broken. It seems this time instead of focusing on Next Level Magic, I need to focus on a next level me.