Around this time last year, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, one of the greatest Magic players and writers of all time, wrote this masterpiece on making mistakes. Last week, I had the great moment of making a boneheaded mistake and the benefit of remembering Paulo’s piece.

My team draft league team, PB&JK, was playing against Damage on the Stack.

The draft had gone pretty well for our team—the table was, in order, me drafting Boros, Monique to my left on Golgari, James to her left on Izzet, Brittany on Boros, Jonathan on Dimir, and Eric to my right on Izzet. This was a good setup for our team—James had been taking red away from Brittany and Jonathan had been taking Eric’s best options in packs one and three. My deck was very good, Jonathan’s was very solid, and James edged into white to fill out an okay Izzet deck.

I’d miscalculated during the draft and shipped Monique a Nullhide Ferox, as I thought she wasn’t in green based on the preponderance of Golgari cards in pack two. I was wrong, but in team drafting, sometimes you ship a bomb with the hopes of either it making it to a teammate or being hate drafted (and thereby wasting a pick) of the opposing team instead of yours. With that, the stage is set.

I’m in game one against Monique. She’s a slow Golgari deck, but can race quite effectively with Nullhide Ferox and a Ritual of Soot that destroys almost every card in my deck. I need to race her but avoid overextending into the one-sided wrath where possible.

I’ve gotten off to a fast start with Legion Warboss (a great card) to her board of a 2/2 and (I think) an 0/3. I deploy a Parhelion Patrol and untap with Take Heart. Monique has only two power on the board and I’ve got my Legion Warboss, Parhelion Patrol, a 2/2 goblin token, and a 1/1 Hunted Witness (plus the goblin my Warboss is going to make). I realize if I Take Heart my Parhelion Patrol precombat that I can Mentor my Warboss into a 3/3, bringing it out of the range of Monique’s 2/2 which had been keeping it from attacking and making it able to consistently get in damage.

This is obviously the right play, so I cast Take Heart . . .

. . . and realize that Monique had played a Generous Stray on her turn, throwing off my math. My Warboss would only be trading for a 2/2 if I attacked with it.

I took a breath, laughed at myself, and evaluated the situation. I was in my precombat main phase and hadn’t declared attackers yet. I didn’t want to deploy any more creatures that could die to Ritual of Soot. If I attack with everything, I’ll make Hunted Witness into a 2/2. Monique will definitely double-block my Warboss and trade it for a 2/2 and block a 2/2 with her Barrier of Bones. She’ll take seven, falling to something like nine life. My only pressure next turn will be Parhelion Patrol. A mere Hitchclaw Recluse stymies my entire offense, giving her ample time. Ritual of Soot leaves me with a Parhelion Patrol and a 1/1 lifelinking soldier, but she doesn’t even necessarily have to pull that trigger.

If I just attack with Parhelion Patrol and the 1/1 Goblin, I either get an extra 2/2 next turn (perhaps setting up for an alpha then) or trade it for a 2/2 (clearing the way for Legion Warboss to attack). This line seems superior, so I take it. This line does make me look rather foolish, though. Not only am I using Take Heart to merely Shock Monique rather than saving it for the big swing or to mess up a Prey Upon; but by casting it before combat (originally intended to allow me to Mentor onto my Legion Warboss), I’ve thrown away the two life I’d have gained if I’d cast Take Heart during combat. Looking silly is better than compounding one mistake with another, however.

As a player, it’s very easy to dwell on things outside of your control—mana flood, mana screw, your opponent drawing a better mix of spells and lands than you or consistently drawing their bombs. For many people, games of Magic either end in victories or bad beat stories. (Spoiler: most folks don’t enjoy hearing bad beat stories.) Victory is deserved and failure is out of one’s control. This attitude can lead to people getting frustrated by mistakes, letting one mistake flow into another, or by blinding themselves to their errors.

I don’t enjoy making mistakes, but they are the best teachers you’ll ever find. Mistakes are completely within your control, unlike variance. They provide crucial insight into your biases and rote behaviors that you need to disabuse yourself of for self-improvement. People make mistakes all the time, but fail to realize it because they’re focusing on things outside of their control, and fail to react calmly because they’re not open to the prospect of seeming foolish or wrong.

I made the dumbest play of the night. My opponent, an excellent Magic player who drafted and played superbly, saw it. I threw away a card when I had no need or reason to, and everything to gain from holding onto it. But by the time I noticed it, the deed was done and the only question was how I should proceed. I made the right choice according to both the information I had available to me and my plan for not losing to Ritual of Soot (if I could avoid it). My deck was quite strong and I won that game, so perhaps it didn’t even matter that I threw away a card for two damage. But that’s not the point—I was proud of myself for making an obviously wrong line and having the ability to laugh off any embarrassment and calmly reevaluate my plan.

My background is in improv and game design. Both disciplines have taught me two things  that are particularly relevant here: mistakes often make for more interesting experiences than intentional choices, and failure is a much better teacher than success. I heartily recommend you keep your eyes open for your mistakes: they’re not something to be encouraged, but they should be appreciated for the educators that they are.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Vedalken Entrancer. It’s a grindy, grindy card, combining reasonable but unexciting stats with a weak ability that can nevertheless win the game. It functions slowly enough to not take over the game, but its combination of defense and inevitability make for a solid card without being broken.

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