Loser

I’m not sure if I’m a Magic writer or not. I’m certainly someone who writes articles that are ostensibly about Magic, the game we all play and love. But I am unsure my articles are actually about Magic.

I think they’re about feelings. They’re certainly stories. I’ve loved telling stories basically my entire life and I seek out interesting experiences explicitly so I can have good stories to tell people.

It didn’t feel that way at the time though. It felt like an organic thing, just mining experiences to enrich my life. Now, I’ve “earned” (or whatever) the right to tell stories about my life in Magic and I’m fairly sure the discussion about Magic is taking a backseat to the story. I’ve always gravitated towards Magic articles. I had a burning desire to ascend and improve throughout my younger years in the game and this manifested itself as aggressive consumption of online Magic content.

When I exhausted my interest in conventional strategy articles I became drawn to a specific type of Magic writer: the storyteller. Gerry Thompson, Gavin Verhey, Jeff Cunningham, Mark Herberholz, Todd Anderson, and a few others were able to masterfully imbue their strategy articles with amusing anecdotes from their life in the game. Depression, breakups, friendships, existential dread, and many more complex real world situations and feelings were expressed in these articles and, as a serious person who publicly presents as anything but, these were perfect for me.

Magic is a social experience above all else. That’s why I’ve always preferred paper events to online ones. The people you meet in this game have a predisposition towards being interesting. I think it’s the mental/intellectual component of Magic that cultivated a community of outliers in a way. I was in Roanoke, Virginia for the SCG Invitational this past weekend and I had an interesting conversation with some of the notable personalities in which I was told, in as many words, “Your articles aren’t really about magic.” I started thinking about this and we ended up with this introduction that you’ve just read.

I’ve always felt like decklists are a weird thing to saturate an article with. I used to brew a lot of lists but I feel like there’s a really high threshold for the lists I’ll include in an article. To appease some of the masses I promise you all there will be a decklist in this one – it’s down there at the bottom. It might be a bad tempo deck that doesn’t really create tempo or even present good threats but hey, you’re reading a Daddy article. If you wanted an Eldrazi Tron decklist, Todd Stevens is pretty easy to find!

Still here? That’s good. Now, since I have your attention, let’s talk about losing.

There’s a prevailing thought that losing at Magic is a bad thing. This paradigm is most often reinforced by the custom of applauding people when they win. Now, celebrating victory is a fantastic thing to do. In fact, I just got back from my local fireworks display and Independence Day celebration. But that said, I think it’s important to glean as much information as possible from losing.

Another part of the conversation I was having Sunday night included me asking people their general opinion on losing. Most people said something like “I hate losing” or “losing sucks.” These are understandable positions for competitive/professional Magic players to hold, but I still think they’re a bit myopic in the grand scheme of things. Losing is a huge part of my life. Most people who have recently started following my success think I’m a winner. In some ways I am.

But losing is all I did for many years. I spent countless weekends traveling to PTQs and Grands Prix  and struggling to post a winning record. I watched friends win tournaments, day two Grand Prix, and reach the Pro Tour, all while I started to slowly improve my results. 5-3 and 6-2 started to replace 4-4 and 3-5. But the whole time I started to get so frustrated as I felt like I wasn’t improving fast enough. I watched the top 8 of almost every PTQ I attended. My friends wanted nothing more than to start the 2-3 hour drive home while I was obsessed with watching the players doing well and, I guess, trying to absorb what I could from their decisions. I don’t think these nights watching PTQ top 8s with bleary eyes and angry friends are necessarily responsible for the moderate amount of success I’ve been able to find, but they’re certainly responsible for allowing me to fully appreciate it.

I’ve felt like a loser for most of my life. Sorry, not trying to foster negativity and I don’t say this to elicit sympathy from my readership, but I have constantly been brought down by my own mediocre decision-making process and various leaks like laziness and a lack of discipline. So, independent of whether or not I was actually a loser, the place I was in was most definitely self realized and self induced. Magic is incredibly hard and even the best lose fairly often. It’s not like hitting a baseball where failing 70% of the time is considered extreme success. It’s rife with failure, even at the highest levels, but there’s more to gain from a match than the win. There’s essentially a pile of experience that you’re constantly building and sometimes you gain more experience from losing than you ever could from getting two out of three games. I think the character I gained from getting my butt kicked for years and years was instrumental in cementing my ability to be who I am today. It’s both helped me be a better player and a better person. I’ve been able to extract meaningful information from losses that I can use to improve.

After losing my win and in at the Modern Open this past Sunday, I was immediately talking with Harlan and Gabe about what I could’ve done differently. I certainly made a couple silly mistakes in my last match but aside from those we were talking about the theoretical plays, the close decisions that you face so frequently when playing a deck like Modern Jeskai Control. I think I’m unlikely to reflect deeply on these decisions if I somehow win those games.

And that’s a problem that I think I share with most competitive Magic players. The last thing you do after winning a big match is analyze the match looking for mistakes. That’s what you should do though. Likely not immediately but certainly within the next couple of days while the action and the intricacies are still fresh. I think a lot of players are quick to dismiss the close decisions that occurred in a game or match they ended up winning. Although it’s likely that you’ve generally made the same mistakes in the games you’ve won and the games you’ve lost.

I play the same style of Magic generally so I’ll win games by playing around a bunch of things and I’ll look very very smart. I’ll then play another game where I neglected to kill my opponent 3 turns in a row because I thought they had something. The same general approach can yield opposite outcomes and that’s why being so focused on winning is myopic. This obviously means that there’s a random element to both wins and losses. So you can always discount some things as being variance-related. Both people are equally affected by variance though and that’s why it’s an unusual argument for people to regularly cite when talking about their failures in Magic.

The feel of the games is generally what concerns me the most when I’m trying to figure out a matchup or even building a deck. Losing is great for building good decks because it helps you figure out the weak spots and how to improve the list. I’ve noticed that I tend to do better in tournaments when I’ve lost a lot of games in testing leading up to the event. If I’m trying a new deck and it’s getting crushed over and over then yeah, probably gotta move on. But if I have a deck that is known to be good then losing a bunch of games in a certain matchup surely helps me figure out how to approach it going forward.

The goal of this conversation is not to tell a bunch of people that they should be happy when they lose. It’s more that I’m telling everyone, as someone who did a ton of losing, that you should learn from the matches that didn’t go your way. I am sure that I started winning regularly shortly after I figured out why I was losing.

 Standard and Hour of Devastation.

I played standard last weekend at the SCG Invi and I actually think this format is really good. I ran with WU Monument to a record of 2-2, beating BG Delirium and UB Control and losing to Temur Tower and Mardu Vehicles. I really like the deck and if I had played Essence Scatter in the sideboard like top 8 competitor Todd Anderson and Gerry Thompson, who finished 7-1 with the deck, I likely would’ve gotten the requisite 3-1 I needed for day two.

With the full spoiler of Hour of Devastation out I’ll try to update the monument deck with a rough list going forward. Angel of Condemnation is a solid choice for the creature heavy white deck as the deck can support double white while also being incentivized to play creatures over something like Gideon. The ability to protect the card with Selfless Spirit as well as use the first ability to blink your Cloudblazers makes this card a pretty obvious inclusion.

Nimble Obstructionist is another interesting card although I think the deck has enough sorcery speed spells that holding up a flash threat not cost reduced by monument is a bad play pattern for the deck. Still it’s a reasonable sideboard card if you’re worried about something like Kozilek’s Return.

Djeru, with Eyes Open is a great card for this deck as it has a reasonable body and can tutor up a Gideon. This makes the monument into Gideon draw less likely and doesn’t make you risk playing too many noncreature spells while also having access to a Gideon emblem or the resilient threat the ‘walker provides when needed. You could even sideboard a card like Jace, Unraveler of Secrets and go tutor that thing up to party! I wouldn’t play more than one Djeru as it’s a solid one of as it does something rather interesting at a reasonable rate.

Gideon’s Defeat and Jace’s Defeat are both very playable sideboard cards. Both Essence Scatter and Negate can be awkward against a deck like UR Control or Temur Tower. Gainsay is perfect in those spots as it hits everything you wanna stop except Sweltering Suns and Dynavolt Tower. Gideon’s Defeat is great against Mardu, the mirror, and a wealth of other decks that have seen play or might pop up going forward. Lastly, this would be going a bit deep in a “this is only good cause I know it’s coming” sort of way, but Hour of Revelation is absurd in the mirror in the same way Tragic Arrogance was dominant in Bant company mirrors. It’ll almost always cost 3 mana and a simple Selfless Spirit can let you destroy everything your opponent has while all your creatures live.

I’ll leave you with a list, remember, this is the roughest of drafts and it’ll take some time to cement a plan for this deck in the new metagame but here’s where I would start. As always, thanks for reading!

Kevin Jones
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Kevin Jones

Kevin has been playing Magic on and off since Urza's Saga. A fixture on the SCG Tour, he has played in all 3 Player's Championships, has amassed 9 SCG Open top 8s with 2 wins, appeared in 2 Pro Tours and is the 2014 Eternal Weekend Legacy Champion. Also, he's The Daddy. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, or playing a mediocre blue deck at a Magic tournament near you!
Kevin Jones
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Published:July 7, 2017

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