When I first began the Scrub Report I had only a fleeting grasp of Magic’s rules. It’s amazing to think that this time last year I didn’t know what “the stack” was, I didn’t know what Ravnica was like, or that—hell, I’ll admit it—I didn’t even know who Jace was. (Turns out he’s a Memory Adept who’s taken work as a Mind Sculptor, FYI). Six months ago, I was just leaving a life of misery in the service industry to work at the game store where I play Dungeons and Dragons. I saw the Magic all around me and figured it was high time I learned the game. So three months ago I took the plunge and began 0-3’ing RTR drafts.

Since the release of Gatecrash I’ve been steadily improving. I started going 1-2 in drafts, and then, finally, I broke through the plateau and hit 2-1. My skill level is on the rise and I’m making smart plays. Card interactions have begun clicking in my head. I’ve even stopped playing creatures in my first main phase! It was as if I had started to play well.

And then suddenly, over the past two weeks, I’ve been sucking at Magic again.

How could this be? I keep asking myself what I’m doing wrong. Where am I missing triggers? Is it all just bad luck? Of course not—there’s no such thing as luck. I’ve isolated three areas where I need to improve in Draft, and I present them here for all to see, because the purpose of this article is to lay bare all my Magical inadequacies (which is wonderfully cathartic in a game where bravado and arrogance are often the social currency).

Problem 1: Deckbuilding

Though drafting may be the most level playing field for middling to advanced players, it’s still very difficult to wrap one’s head around. Building a deck on the fly, reading signals, passing unnecessary rares or (god forbid) unnecessary foil rares if they’re not needed—all of this takes practice and discipline.

So when I sit down with the cards I’ve selected during deck building, I often feel like a man sobering up. What was I thinking? Why did I choose that card? Do I really need four Ivy Lane Denizens? (Maybe?)

Here’s a recent 40 I went 0-3 with:

9 Mountain
8 Forest

2 Foundry Street Denizen
2 Burning-Tree Emissary
2 Greenside Watcher
1 Skinbrand Goblin
1 Hellraiser Goblin
2 Slaughterhorn
1 Ivy Lane Denizen
1 Viashino Shanktail
1 Scab-Clan Charger
2 Scorchwalker
2 Zhur-Taa Swine
1 Ripscale Predator

1 Mugging
1 Madcap Skills
1 Skullcrack
1 Pit Fight
1 Massive Raid

But Giaco! That’s an okay Gruul draft, did it really go that poorly? I think so. I’m having trouble evaluating my deck in relation to the cards that I’ve passed. I forget about things like, you know, removal. This format feels much more playable for me than Return to Ravnica (I often felt that the learning curve of that set, at least for a new player like myself, was insurmountable), but I still have a tough time with the meta of my table. I’m going to start making a concerted effort to pay attention to the cards flying by me during the draft. If I can focus on everything, not just what I’m drafting, I think I may be able to better anticipate my opponents. Right now, it feels like I’m throwing bird bones into the wind.

But poor anticipation isn’t my only issue, there’s also the problem of too much help.

Problem 2: Taking Advice From Everyone

I know I’m looked at with fondness at the store. I’m new to Magic but I’m not a kid or a jerk, and I work full time at the store, so people spend a lot of time talking to me. It’s one of the best parts of my job. But for some reason, when I’m off duty, when I’m there on my day off enjoying a draft, everyone sticks their noses in my deck.

Sometimes I ask for advice during deck construction or in between rounds, but most of the time the advice is forced on me. Often a more senior player will grab my deck and start tossing out cards that are “terrible” and adding cards that are “much better.” They often go as far as to unsleeve and resleeve my deck. If I asked for this advice it would be great, but I usually don’t. I usually want to play more than one round with the deck I built, even if it’s garbage. The above decklist wasn’t my original list, and so even though it was an aggressive, good build, I didn’t build it and I didn’t know what to expect with it.

I realize I need to stop accepting advice so passively. Good advice is good advice, but only if I understand why. I’m going to make an effort to have my well-meaning elders explain exactly why one card in my pool deserves to be in my deck over any other card.

But all the honed deck building and good advice still won’t save me from myself.

Problem 3: Gameplay Mistakes

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like my gameplay is fueled by the game right before it. Did I just win game one? Then I’m suddenly more focused, and I am more likely to seal the deal in the next two games. As soon as I start losing or making mistakes, they quickly begin to snowball. I make bigger mistakes, which lead to bigger mistakes, which lead to me just wanting to get the next game going and so I’ll keep a hand when I should mulligan. No one can put me on tilt like myself.

I’m not sure how I can best calm myself during a match. It’s not as simple as taking a deep breath. When I’m in the throes of a game how do I stop the snowballing of mistakes? Of all the aspects I’ve mentioned here, I need the most help with this one.

If I’m anything, I’m a master self-evaluator. So these are the aspects I’ll be focusing on over the next few weeks. What did you find most challenging when you were new to Magic?

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