Today I head out to Las Vegas for the big Grand Prix Vegas extravaganza. I’m excited to see friends from across the Magic community, play some Amonkhet Sealed, and take it whatever other fun events that fit my schedule. I hope many of you get to attend as well. If you’re on the fence and still have the chance to come, I highly recommend it. Vegas grand prix weekends are the best.

My primary focus for the weekend is the Limited grand prix on Friday and Saturday. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing in both sealed and draft, online and in paper. I know what I want to do and how to evaluate the cards in my pool or draft packs. Wizards of the Coast has thankfully started scheduling late-season Limited grand prix again, and this is a perfect opportunity to but my full knowledge of the format to the test.

Putting your emotional energy into a large sealed tournament can be tough. You can only do as much as your pool provides. While most pools are at least functional and you can do a lot if you know how to maximize the commons and uncommons in Amonkhet, at some point you are at the mercy of the raw power present in the cards you open. Awful pools don’t come your way too often, but they do. when that downside risk hits you in a major tournament, it’s easy to get frustrated. But at the same time, plenty of other forms of variance challenge us in large tournaments. Bad draws, bad matchups, bad opposing topdecks—all of these happen in every format to every player. When they pile up a few rounds in a row, you have a tough time. When they are spaced out well, only affecting games of matches you can otherwise win, you can rise to the top tables.

The key to beating variance is repetition. Over enough iterations, your actual value will approach the expected value. When you flip a hundred coins, you can expect to get closer to a fifty-fifty split than if you only flip ten coins. But what if two of the coin flips have massively higher stakes? You sure hope to win those flips more than the less consequential ones. The tough part about competitive Magic—especially Limited which has fewer high level tournaments—is that you don’t get enough opportunities to really smooth out the variance. You can load up on playtesting reps, but actual grand prix reps take years or decades to approach expected results.

I got a reminder of this last weekend at the Amonkhet sealed RPTQ in Independence, Missouri. My pool offered all the mana fixing and card advantage I could ever want, but almost no power to win games. I cobbled together what I could and managed to win a tough first match against a bomb-heavy deck, but flooded out and got run over the next three matches to miss out even on the nice prizes for non-qualifiers. I could have run better with the deck and maybe squeaked in to some prize, but really I couldn’t have expected much more than I got. It’s too bad. Wizards only offers on sealed RPTQ a year. I’ve been fortunate to qualify for and play in the last two sealed RPTQs. But in both, significantly below average pools doomed me.

As I head out to Vegas, I’m excited to get another shot at a competitive sealed tournament so soon after the RPTQ. I thrive when given repetitions in quick succession, which can be hard to set up in Magic. Rarely do two high-stakes tournaments in the identical format line up in successive weekends. This one is even closer together because the RPTQ was on Sunday and the Limited grand prix starts on Friday. I have high hopes that I will handle the non-chance elements of the tournament very well. If the variance treats me well too, I expect to make a deep run.

Say hello if you see me in Vegas. I’ll be around often, especially were high level Limited is being played.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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