Hello everyone! It’s been a while since my last article. 2020 is finally coming to an end. Today I’m going to tell you how it was for me in relation to Magic, my highs and my lows, and most importantly the things I did well and the ones that I could’ve done better. I will also share my thoughts on how to improve your mentality in the game.
As crazy as it sounds, in this complicated (to say the least) year, I was paid by WotC over 100,000 USD in prize money (before taxes). Something I wouldn’t even dream about 3 or 4 years ago. This was obviously possible because of a World Championship with prizes off the charts, and being in the Rivals League, both invitations obtained by a very good 2019, where I didn’t even make a third of that in prizes but I had some very good results that made 2020 prosperous for me. In Argentina the economic situation is very bad and many people make roughly 200 dollars a month (I’m clarifying this because I understand that in other countries it might not represent as much as it is here).
All these things could have not affected anything about my play, but the truth is it did. I’ve observed in my experience of playing Pro Magic that most of the times having a lot of success carries into losing a bit of “the fire”. I could see that in my friend Luis Salvatto after winning the Player of the Year and being invited to the MPL. However, this is not true for all the players I must admit, and I admire Javier Dominguez for his professionalism and hunger for more despite already being on top, even more than for his great play.
Tournaments Scenes of 2020
So, let’s recap a bit to break down how things unfolded.
The World Championship
The first tournaments for me in 2020 were going to be the Regional Players Tour in Phoenix, and a week after that, the World Championship. I obviously didn’t prepare the RPT and focused on Hawaii. The testing time wasn’t long at all and it was a new format short after the release of Theros Beyond Death. During practice I wanted to find a deck I felt comfortable with and was decent, more than finding the best deck, because with those stakes and that pressure I knew it would be super hard for me to pilot well a control deck for instance.
So, the moment I put 《Embercleave》 on 《Anax, Hardened in the Forge》 for the first time I kinda knew that I was going to play Monored aggro. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that playing Monored aggro is inherently easier than playing any control deck, it’s just that I feel more confident with it, especially in a field full of the best players.
So, at the same time that I was practicing Magic for Worlds I also did some mental preparation to ease a bit the pressure of playing for stakes I’ve never played before.
It consisted in the following:
At some times during the day like in bed before going to sleep, while I’m taking a shower, or at any moment where I’m relaxed, I would close my eyes and picture myself in Hawaii and being:
Doing this during a whole month before the tournament really helped me to feel better and handle the pressure.
One thing that is very important if you want to try something similar is that you don’t use opposites in your affirmations. For example: if you repeat to yourself and visualized saying “I’m not scared” or “I’m not stressed”. Even though you say NO, the feelings that your subconscious mind will perceive will be “scared” and “stressed”. I’m not going to dive into the details of how all these things work because I’m no expert, but if you are interested in reading about it there are many many books.
It’s also understandable that you might not know when you are going to be playing for something you are not used to that could make you feel nervous. For instance, if you’ve never played a PTQ finals, or a win and in for a GP or similar, you are not going to know this a month in advance to be mentally prepared. However, if you take yourself 5 minutes before an important match, I think it will help you. It’s super important in those scenarios to just focus on your play and understand that if you play at the best of your capabilities it’s going to be all good, win or lose.
Another thing that I think that helped me is to already adopt a lifestyle that I’m comfortable with and that I can afford with my economic situation of the time, and plan to maintain it despite of how much money I make in Hawaii. That would help to ease the financial pressure even though it was obviously going to be there with last place 12,500USD and first place 300,000USD with only 16 players.
A similar approach for someone who is trying to play at the top level and is getting closer but didn’t quite get there yet, is to think that you will be playing competitive Magic for a long time, in that time you are going to have highs and lows, lucky streaks and bad beats, more time or less time for Magic. And the path is what matters, not only reaching the goal.
Nobody started a Magic career winning a major title, you have to qualify for that first. So, the more you picture yourself that you already are where you want to be it’s going to help you to evolve and keep growing. You can test for a PTQ the same way you would test for the PT. You can play in the PTQ the same way you would play in that PT, etc.
So, after all this was over, I came back home and the pandemic started. Nobody knew how it would be, but at the time I was rather relieved that I could stay at home for more than just two months, something that didn’t really happen since 2016 for me. In that moment, my confidence playing magic was quite good, and I was looking forward to battle for the Rivals League badly.
Then everything was officially canceled and all we had for some months was the online GP, that was really cool, but there wasn’t much for me that I could win, besides some prize money. And the prize money at the time wasn’t a big incentive for me to test hard and really make an effort.
So eventually I started playing less competitively and my confidence started to decline a bit. Honestly, I’m not really sure if my game really suffered or if it’s just the perspective, but I think it did.
When the league was finally reestablished, and we had a schedule, motivation came back and I really wanted to do well. The first split I played UW Yorion for a 4-8 record, me and my teammates also did very bad with the deck and I mostly blame our preparation. We picked a deck that was presumably okay a week before decklist submission but in the end, it turned out being very poor. Making all the preparation from home has it upsides but we still weren’t very used to and also didn’t articulate testing very much. I was also feeling the fatigue from testing full time after not doing it since February.
The second split we picked the deck to beat, RG Adventures, which I felt comfortable with and I think it was a fine choice for the weekend. My friends did okay but this time I was pretty unlucky and ended with another 4-8. My play surely wasn’t stellar but this time I simply run bad. It happens.
So not long ago was the Zendikar Championship, this time Mixed Formats with Historic and Standard. For this tournament I knew I had to do well to get out of the relegation slots of the Rivals League, but the pressure was never good for my play. So, I kinda tried to not think about it very much and try to simply play decks that I like and see what happens (it should always be like this, but sometimes the result is so important for us that we just can’t forget the fact of what’s in play).
I started very strong and at a point I was 9-1 but then lost 5 in a row. 2 of them were to the Champion Brad Barclay and also MPLs Mengu and Strasky. It was a beating because I was playing well and some matches were so close, but it is what it is.
In the end 9-6 gave me one point for the League, it could have been a lot more, but I will try to make that point count with a good result in the next split.
Now I feel a lot more motivated because it’s my precious chance to stay in the League, and I just want to do my best, in case I fall from it at least I can say that I fought hard.
To sum up, I didn’t really dive into the world of the subconscious mind, but I want to point out that it’s a key aspect in competitive Magic. How many times we’ve heard “I don’t know why I did this play. I knew it was not correct but I still did it”. The subconscious mind makes choices instantly, and then we have to review it to see if it makes sense, it usually does, but sometimes there are key factors that we didn’t consider at first glance. However, it’s also important to not overthink too much and make mistakes when our initial reaction was correct.
Having strong negative believes can make your subconscious mind sabotage your play. For instance, if you think you are always unlucky in finals, or if you think that you are always unlucky against a certain opponent, etc. You are giving to your subconscious mind all that information, and it’s more likely that it will make mistakes based on these believes. The subconscious mind is like a child, it doesn’t understand logic as we do, and if you tell him you always lose if something happens, they are going to believe it.
Another example is that if you or your loved ones (family, partner, friends) think that the best thing for you is to play less Magic and do something else with your life, then it’s going to be super hard for your subconscious to make the best moves, because a part of you really wants to lose and therefore play less Magic. As crazy as it sounds for some, I’m convinced this is true, and I’ve seen a lot of correlation with success and a supporting couple.
That’s all for today, I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. Happy holidays for everyone and best wishes for 2021!
Sebastian Pozzo (Twitter)