7:36 a.m. I can’t sleep. It’s hot and muggy and I can’t stop dreaming about being stuck in my opponent’s infinite loop of mill + Elixir of Immortality. I get up and head to the shower to wash the agitation of a sleepless night off of me. I watch a swirl of misplays, bad keeps, and tilt, funnel down the drain as I attempt to clear my head and regain focus.

Magic is funny little bugger; you experience tons of excitement by learning, growing, and winning, but the thrill easily crashes down once you hit a wall. I’m starting to realize that there are many walls to overcome in this magical labyrinth, each increasing in difficulty as you go along. Michael Martin recently wrote an article where he likens the brain to a car with a finite source of fuel in that the more energy you spend on dealing with emotions, the less you will have to focus on your match. But this is much easier said than done. I mean, we’re only human right?

11:45 a.m. This everything bagel with a slice of tomato and gruyere is exactly what my mouth wanted. The tufting on the chesterfield sofa seems to also be craving these poppy seeds since every attempt to retrieve them ends in them burrowing deeper in its crevices.


With both me and the couch satisfied, I turn my attention to the question at hand: how can I continue to grow as a player? Before I answer this, I’d first like to take a look at how my thought process has grown over the past year. Since Innistrad was my first set, I found it fitting to use this randomly generated pack as an example.

Pack one pick one:



Past Monique: “Whoa, Kindercatch is the biggest creature here! I can kill my opponent in a few swings with this monster. Or maybe I should just choose Sulfur Falls? It’s a rare and I bet it’s worth lots of money.”

Present Monique: “Travel Preparations is solid but you need creatures to make it work, so let’s pass for now. Cloistered Youth is a good beater, two mana for a 3/3 will shorten my opponent’s clock, and Spectral Rider is decent, but harder on the mana. I wonder if passing this Spectral Rider may put the person to my left into white, resulting in me being cut off of a color pack two. Tribute to Hunger is a decent removal spell and also the only black spell in the pack which is good for signaling purposes. The incidental life gain can be pretty valuable as well.”

See the difference? The more I play this game, the more complex my though process becomes. Before, I was blinded by “unbeatable” creatures and economic value, but now I try to consider archetypes, signaling, and any mana constraints that my pick may cause. I’m getting better at identifying my strengths and observing my growth through the process. So why haven’t I won a PTQ yet?

Well, I have a secret to share. Do you want to know what my biggest Magic fear is? Now, this may sound silly, but it’s playing in a feature match. There’s something really frightening about having all of my plays analyzed and scrutinized for the world to see. As confident as I am about my growth, I can’t seem to shake this huge monster that constantly chases me!


3:07 p.m. Ugh, I need coffee. Gimme has a small shop a few blocks from the Bedford stop on the L train. I order a mocha iced coffee which ends up tasting like a diet chocolate shake. Elaborately frosted donuts tempt me with their rich caloric value but I opt out and head to my LGS for its last Modern Masters draft. Before heading inside, I take a bit of time to confront my fear head on.

“Hey evil feature match fear monster, why do you keep following me?” I asked.

“Because you keep calling me,” it responded.

That’s it. I’m the one who doubt’s myself. I’m the one who lets stage fright cloud my thoughts. You only have a certain amount of energy dedicated toward brain function at any given moment. If you allow fears and emotions to use up your reserves, you’ll have nothing left to correctly find the right plays. Keeping cool, calm, and collected is key to not draining you’re battery too quickly.


Think of it this way, now this may be before some of you youngster’s time, but remember when your little Nokia phone would last for multiple days without needing a recharge? That’s because all you did with it was make phone calls and play an occasional game of Snake. Now, I can’t get though one day without recharging my call-making, text-sending, picture-taking, video-playing, alarm-ringing, card price-checking, flashlight…I mean iPhone.

The more simultaneous tasks your brain tries to process during a match, the faster it switches to autopilot in order to conserve fuel, which can be an issue if you haven’t been playing the game very long. I am not experienced enough to correctly navigate a decision tree on autopilot and confidently expect to just know the correct lines of play. Those neural connections are forming but have yet to solidify. I need to remain alert and focused on every decision that I make because I’m still a pilot in training. When I lose focus I crash into that wall and have to spend some time recovering before I’m ready to fly again, almost like losing EXP in an RPG.

Well, I’m ready to level up. I have an awesome sword and some serious armor that I can’t wait to equip. OK, that’senough of my inner geek, but if you’re serious about getting better at Magic, put the work in, but also learn to identify both your strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, but those who keep their composure and ensure that their head remains in the game will on average, perform higher than those who get lost in their emotions. So thanks for reading and next time we meet, I hope to have that pesky monster’s head mounted on my wall!

Follow me on Twitter @MoniqueGarraud

Monique Garraud is a Brooklyn native who started playing Magic in 2011. “Grinding It Out” is her weekly take on the trials, tribulations, and joys of being a competitive tournament player.

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