Now that the competitive season is winding down, it’s a good time to step back and wander down memory lane. While I am gearing up for SCGCon next weekend, I wanted to share some key events I have had on the circuit and what they’ve taught me. Success, failure, and results falling somewhere in between all contribute to a competitive body of work. Those experiences help define your Magic life.

Here are three stories from seasons past, what I learned from them, and what you can learn too.

Is this a Hit or a Miss?

This story goes back to July 2013, my first SCG Open in Somerset, New Jersey. The format was fresh and new Magic 2014 Standard. I had already played a couple of Grand Prix and various local Friday Night Magic events, but I was still new to competitive Magic. This was still back when Star City Games still ran Opens on day one side by side with the Invitational. It was and may still be the biggest SCG Open ever, with over 1000 players. I can still feel the nerves running through my body that morning as I walked to the players meeting and when shuffling for round one.

My luck ran well for my first Standard Open. I played under pressure throughout the weekend and had my first feature matches on camera. One match in particular resonates with me still. Round 11 was my first ever win-and-in for top 8, and my opponent was none other than Brian Braun-Duin. Day two of the Invitational had ended, so we played for the cameras. It was a close match, and I eventually lost in game three.

Now it’s easy to say I wasn’t too crushed about losing, that I was happy to get that far in my first Open. But I was crushed. When you get that close to big finish, coming up short hurts. A lot. Even so, I learned a huge lesson: I can play this game. I can compete with the best. This lesson, the pain of losing, fueled me to continually work to improve my game. Losing big matches happens; learning from those losses helps break through that barrier.

Definitely a Hit

Sometimes you get there. Fast forward three years to July 2016. I’d been on a break from Magic and was hosting a barbecue at my house. That evening we were looking at Eldritch Moon spoilers. I remember turning to Ryan Saxe and saying, “Oath of Liliana has to be great, right?” We got to talking about how to abuse it with four-mana planeswalkers that made tokens.

We ended up coming with this Abzan superfriends control deck that honestly looked fun to play. At this point I had already sold my collection, but really wanted to play the release-weekend Standard Open. I took a leap of faith with this theory and trusted my friend John, who tested it a bit and ordered the deck for me to pick up at the event.

After not playing magic for three months, I sleeved my deck hoping it wasn’t a total spew of time and equity. I lost the first round and instantly thought, “here it comes, the swiftest of 0-3 drops.” Well, I ended up making day two at 6-3, played against a bunch of good matchups the second day and made the top 8! My best friend Greg and I sat together during the hour-long break before the top 8, and I was so happy. Granted I went on to face my worst match-up and lose to Selesnya Tokens piloted eventual winner Osyp Lebedowicz. But getting there felt amazing.

Before the break, I’d forgotten the true meaning of Magic and why I play. The Baltimore open was the first tournament for me that I didn’t care too much about results. I enjoyed my time playing a game I love. Once I stopped taking it so seriously and started to have fun again, my performance and results improved. And that’s the biggest lesson I have learned from playing Opens and competitive Magic overall.

Looks Like a Miss

Let’s go a little deeper into 2016, to the Atlanta Invitational in December. After my earlier Open top 8,  I was committed to Magic again and qualified for the big event. I flew down with my two friends Chris and Alex, looking to build on my success over the second half of the season. My decks were Jeskai Prowess for Modern and Golgari Delirium in Standard. There really isn’t anything special about the event, however. I made day two, with a 7-1 record in Modern, but I ended up just below the case line in 66th.

So what made the Atlanta Invitational so special? That weekend was my buddy Alex’s 21st birthday. Sunday after the top 8 of the Invitational, a group of us took him out to celebrate. So many people say that the best part of Magic is the gathering, but this weekend was my first real taste of that. If it weren’t for the friends I’ve made throughout this journey, I doubt Magic would be such a big part of my life today. The memories you make with friends along the ride outweigh your tournament results.

Zack is a SCG grinder with one ultimate goal: getting to the Players Championship. Based out of NYC, you can find him in other cities every weekend trying to hit that goal. When he isn’t traveling he streams. Follow his journey on Twitter!

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