Anyone who has played enough competitive Magic knows this. There’s just that one player who you always seem to play, and they basically always beat you. Maybe you have more than one, or maybe, like Osyp Lebedowitz, you have an archetype.

For Osyp, it’s the guy in the wizard hat. If Osyp walks into a PTQ and sees a player wearing some big Wizard hat, or a cape, or carrying a prop sword, he literally screams in agony. See, Osyp knows he is going to get paired against that guy, and he knows he is going to lose. It might be the first round, or it might be the last, but Osyp is going to lose to the guy in the fantasy-themed outfit.

Last weekend, I had a similar match in my inaugural PPTQ. It was Khans/Reforged sealed, and my deck was reasonable: Jeskai with a nice suite of removal and a couple bomb-ish cards. I had lost round two, and was paired round three against a fellow who did not give the impression of being particularly savvy. He didn’t shuffle his deck adequately, and seemed to be making absurdly passive plays. In game one, he cast Bathe in Dragonfire on my first creature and followed up with Bloodfire Enforcers, but didn’t press his advantage.

As I tried to fight through a 5/2 trampling first striker with a hand full of cute spells and morph tricks, he casually drew his fifth land and cast Whisperwood Elemental. With no way to remove it and unable to race, I died quickly. He revealed his Manifest creatures, which included Savage Knuckleblade and Shaman of the Great Hunt.

I died to a timely Knuckleblade in game two.

It wasn’t until the next week, as I was doing a practice team sealed build, that I re-read Bloodfire Enforcers and realized that it needed both a sorcery and an instant in the bin to gain first strike and trample. I had played the entire game as if it had these abilities with nothing but a Bathe in Dragonfire in the graveyard.


During the same sealed practice, my friend Ryan was trying to add another black card to our red-white aggressive deck, which had some nice options in black but couldn’t really support any more black cards that it already contained. Ryan insisted that he should play it because “It’s an aggro deck, you have to run good anyway.” This argument threw me into a complete fit. Playing to your outs is one thing, but building your deck with your fingers crossed? This is not a winning strategy.

However, I see a similar psychological phenomenon take place with players who get paired against opponents who they feel are out of their league, or against a nemesis. When Osyp looks across the table and sees a wizard hat, something rises up inside him and makes a usually excellent player… less than excellent. It’s fear, of course, and it’s the same thing that made me read too much power into a card I had never seen. It’s the same fear that makes players keep one-land hands when they play against pros at GPs. It’s the fear that makes you abandon a reliable sideboard plan against a player who has beat you in the past to try a plan that is a little too crazy.

The truth is, Osyp loses to Wizard hats because he stops being Osyp, Talented & Intense Competitor and turns into Osyp, The Wary. The truth is, the best players in the world get a lot of free wins from nervous players leaning hard on luck even when they have a good matchup. The truth is, I beat myself more than anyone ever will: and so do you.

Your greatest nemesis is you. The good news is that you get to practice against that asshole every time you play.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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