Hello everybody! My name is Sebastián Pozzo, and this is the first of hopefully many articles for DEX Army. Since most of you probably don’t know me, I decided I should start with an introduction of myself and my vision about the game. I will also describe what aspects of the game I’ve worked on the most to make the transition from PPTQs to the Pro Tour.
I’m 27, I live in Buenos Aires, and a couple years ago I decided I wanted be better at playing Magic. Since then, I’ve experienced a slow but rewarding improvement on my game skills. I am not a very talented player, so practice is my #1 ally here. I also find that self-knowledge is crucial if you want to improve. Having a realistic view about your strengths and weaknesses, together with a lot of practice, should lead you through the right path.
Strengths and Weaknesses
We all know that Magic is a very complex game. Whenever I want to tell someone that doesn’t know the game how it is, most of the time I end up summarizing by saying something like “it’s a mix of chess and poker, because you have a board, and have to make moves anticipating what will happen in the future (chess), but there are also hidden cards, and probabilities of certain cards to appear or not (poker)”. What I want to say here is that there are many different skills involved in playing Magic, and that’s how some people can be very good at declaring attackers and blockers, and not so good at deciding whether if they should spend their removal spell or countermagic right away, or save it for a future threat. There’s also more skills involved, like sideboarding, drafting, limited deckbuilding, micromanaging triggers, etc.
I strongly believe that if you don’t know your weaknesses (or “holes” in your game, as poker players often name them), it’s going to be very hard for you to improve. And I think that the best way to find your weaknesses and mitigate them is by playing alongside other good players. Watching the best playing in coverage is also an option, but you can’t ask them the reasoning for their plays, and sometimes the debate is what will help you understand the concepts in which you are in doubt. For instance, when I see my friend and teammate Luis Salvatto playing Limited, very often he makes attacks with no hesitation, and I recognize I would have to think about it a lot, and after that I’m not even sure why it’s good to attack in that spot. Sometimes some bad trades are necessary in a large combat, to be able to put yourself in a favorable position to win a couple turns later. There, I realize that in general I should try to be more aggresive, while practicing it might lead me into some bad attacks, but at some point I will end up better at identifying the correct attacks.
Knowing your strengths will help you a lot in deck selection. Playing control decks require different skills than playing aggro decks. For instance, while playing control it’s more important to identify what threats you should be more careful about in each stage of the game, and being selective with your answers is key. While playing aggro usually mulligan decisions are more complicated, and it’s crucial to know if you have to commit your threats into a possible sweeper, or play more conservatively; jam your best threat into possible counter magic or try keeping it for later, etc.
Being experienced will always help you. There are, of course, some players that don’t feel the pressure while playing, even when they are not very experienced, in any stage of any tournament. But most of the time, when there is something at stake and we are not used to that (be it on a PPTQ or the Pro Tour) we usually feel nervous. Feeling nervous isn’t cool, obviously, but sometimes it will just happen. Experience will help you reduce the amount of tension, and make you understand that you want to be in that spot, where you are playing for something besides having fun. I also think that the best approach that you can have is not to try to avoid being nervous (because that’s kinda like trying to lie to yourself), but instead just accept it and focus on trying to play the best that you can, even though you are nervous. A way of thinking that helps me a lot is “If I play my best, then the rest doesn’t matter much”.
Now I want to talk about two types of very common mistakes:
Optimistic mistakes (you are so ahead that you don’t see what can go wrong)
I think it’s very common that you are winning by so much that you can’t even imagine how can you possibly lose a certain game. Then something crazy happens, and you lose. An obvious example can be your oponent topdecking a Fumigate in a Limited game where your oponent only had a Vehicle with no pilot, and you just played your 4th creature. The clear advice here is to always try to imagine a scenario where you lose that game, and then play accordingly so that even in the worst case, you can still win.
Being pessimistic (you are being so unlucky that you can’t see your only out and try to play for it)
Playing Magic involves having bad luck from time to time, like it or not – and, sometimes, a lot of it. It’s super important to know that our luck could change from one second to another, though, and be prepared to be rewarded when the improbable happens. I’ve seen people so frustrated that they are manaflooded, for example, and getting that they even stop playing lands; then, all of the sudden, they topdeck their Fireball effect on their last turn of life, only to see that they can’t kill their opponent because they didn’t play lands for the last couple of turns. This is obviously an extreme scenario, but what I’m trying to illustrate here is that in the more adverse situations, you always have to be focused on what could happen for you to win the game, and try to play for it. Obviously you’ll fail most times, but when you do hit your out, it’s the best feeling you can get playing Magic.
Mentality and Vibes
In the last year I was surprised of how important is to have motivation, ambitions, being positive, happy and having fun during a tournament. As tournaments get more competitive, the edge between players becomes smaller; and I think everything I just mentioned will boost your capabilities to their top, and help you to keep focused, and not making mistakes. This is not easy to naturally gain. If somehow you don’t feel like playing Magic, it’s going to be hard to force yourself to be willing to play. But it’s something we should consider. Sometimes playing less Magic makes you enjoy it more! For me, sometimes I miss home, I don’t really like flying and travelling many hours, so I have to keep my mind in the nice things about doing what I am doing. Do some tourism, enjoy being with friends that I wouldn’t see if it wasn’t for Magic, etc.
That being said, I also want to make clear that if you want to reach a certain goal, you should take as much chances to achieve that goal, to not fail to variance. Personally, I have qualified to the PT via RPTQ, GP top8, PT top finish, Online PTQ, MOCS invite and Pro Status. I know that some people really want to play in the PT (for the first time or not) and they are only playing in some little PPTQs of the format they like, and not doing nothing else besides that and maybe one GP a year. That’s totally fine, but if you really want to make it, try to embrace all the possible ways.
This article was initially written before GP Richmond and PT Nashville. In these two events I’ve achieved my goal for the year, which was becoming a Gold Pro. Now I can finally play a PT (Kyoto) without much pressure… or not, because I have a shot at Constructed Master! I will also try my best to qualify for the MOCS. This year’s qualification system is great, but a lot of tournaments overlap with the paper Magic schedule, and I’ve been prioritizing Pro Point hunting, having skipped a bunch of monthlies because of GPs, something I’ll change in the next few months.
Next time I will write more specific articles, but hope you’ve enjoyed this one. Thanks for reading!