After my hot streak at Grand Prix Vancouver, I was feeling like the world was my oyster. Riding the high of my success, I was poised to take on anything that Magic: the Gathering could throw at me. Unfortunately, Magic: the Gathering throws hard.

My next big event was an online RPTQ, and things didn’t exactly go my way. The same could be said for the event after that. And the one after that. Before I knew it, I had found myself in a slump. It doesn’t take much for the insecurities to start creeping in—the doubts about play-skill, the worries about having peaked, the imposter syndrome. After a particularly disappointing FNM I found myself driving home, wallowing in the frustration of yet another failure. But eventually you get sick of wallowing, and I was definitely sick of the slump that I had found myself in. The only thing left for me to do was to take a deep look into the possible reasons I had been putting up some less than stellar results, eat a couple slices of humble pie, and begin to figure out my next steps.

In looking at what had changed from before to after Vancouver, I was able to identify two primary stressors that I believe had hurt my gameplay. I had shifted from a world of uninteractive Modern decks to an ominous, nothing-but-interaction Standard format, and hadn’t realized the implications. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, since my run in Vancouver I had been placing too much pressure on myself to succeed, while also focusing primarily on results. After identifying these two issues, I began down the long road of introspection to better understand what changes I could make to rectify them.

Higher Standards

The first major factor that I had identified in this recent slump was the shift from uninteractive to highly interactive formats. I have been able to acknowledge that my strength lies in a deep understanding of linear or largely uninteractive decks, from Grishoalbrand and Titan Breach in Modern, to Aetherworks Marvel in Standard with which I qualified for the RPTQ (pre-Emrakul banning). After Vancouver I immersed myself in the new Standard, a bold new world full of Mardu Ballista and Four Colour Saheeli. And while you could argue that Mardu Ballista is an aggro deck due to its onslaught of one and two drops, since it now is also playing six drops and up to twenty-five lands, the format seems fuller and fuller of grindy midrange.

Even as I tried to learn the format in time for the RPTQ and subsequent PPTQs, and even though I felt that I had a deep understanding of my deck and the roles that each card played within the larger framework, my efforts weren’t being met with success. It was only recently that I began to reflect on why I was continuing to put up sub-par results. Having now identified that it’s a failure in my ability to strategize for longer, grindier games, I am excited to begin shoring up this fault. I am playing infinitely more Limited than I ever have in the past (note, the amount of Limited I had played in the past is approximately zero), and even have a friend building me a Battle Box. I believe that by flexing these long-atrophied muscles, I will force myself to gain a greater understanding of the basics of interactive magic, and the long-term benefit will be tangible for both my Limited and Constructed play.

The Pressure’s On

The second issue I was able to identify was my determination to keep the momentum flowing after my run in Vancouver. Anything less than a perfect game was a disappointment, and the standard I was holding myself to was higher than it had ever been. I would allow small mistakes to frustrate me, which any seasoned player knows is a recipe for disaster. Frustration like this allows for smaller mistakes to snowball into larger, game-losing errors, and makes it infinitely more difficult to regain your footing after an error.

I was also increasingly focused on results, which is a definite no-go in the world of competitive MtG. Because Magic is a game of variance, results don’t accurately reflect skill the way they do in games such as Chess, where all information is open and nothing is left to chance. Even the best Magic players in the world might only hit a win percentage of 65%, something I was failing to keep in mind.

Being upset after each loss, especially if I felt that my skill in Magic should outshine my opponent, completely ignores variance and does nothing to assist me in improving my game. If anything I feel that it hinders my ability to grow as a Magic player, and I am now actively working to shed that mentality. Instead of focusing on the results of a match or putting weight on my score at the end of an event, I am again working on ensuring I play to my fullest within any game and during every moment of magic.

I had an interaction that reinforced this notion at a recent weekend modern event, as I was down 0-2 and berating myself for my losses. My third round opponent greeted me with a heart-warming smile and some genuine conversation. His excitement at merely playing in the event was infectious as he comboed off with a mono-white enchantments prison brew, and I can truly say that it was an eye-opener. I could easily see something of myself as a younger magic player in my opponent, just as eager and excited to combo off with my Grishoalbrand deck. In the quest for more checkmarks in the win column I had momentarily lost sight of the things that had made me fall in love with Magic—the excitement that is inherent to playing the game, and the friendships that I continue to establish and foster at each tournament.

I’m excited to embark on this journey back to the fundamentals of magic, and hope to take the readers of this little column with me as I do so. I would also love to hear if others have found themselves in slumps, and what they have done to overcome them.

Chantelle Campbell hails from Edmonton, Alberta. She writes about the competitive Magic life.

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