Last week I went in depth on one of my Magic New Year’s resolutions and described how I want to get better at Sealed. And you can bet your old Lightning Bolts that I’m already working on it! GP Prague is coming up this weekend and so far, I’ve jammed phantom Ultimate Masters Sealed leagues like there is no end to it. I feel like I’m getting a good grasp on how different this Sealed format is from the synergy-heavy Draft equivalent.
Should I make Day 2, though (which is the plan, by the way!), I’m going to be somewhat in trouble as I’ve yet to do a single Draft with the format. Oops. This is where you have to admit your shortcomings. So instead of trying to master all aspects of this complicated format, I’m going to learn one or two archetypes and just force those instead. Yes, while frowned upon by the elite drafters, forcing can actually – sometimes – be your biggest force.
But Sealed is not everything I want to improve for myself in 2019. So here’s the better half of my article with 3 more magical new year’s resolutions!
2) Optimize Standard testing for Mythic Championships
I know I can do better than my Constructed PT results
For those of you who might not know, have tested with Team MTGMintcard since Pro Tour Nashville 2017. Even though it can be confusing, Team Series associations won’t always line up well with the actual testing teams. In this case, I’ve prepared for the Pro Tours with masterminds like Javier Dominguez, Andrea Mengucci, Kelvin Chew, team leader Lee Shi Tian and of course Zen Takahashi, one of my best friends!
Even when I joined Team Snapcardster x MTGMintcard, I decided to still test with my beloved crew for at least one more Pro Tour. I love the environment and the feeling of family. How we cheer each other on and make the week of in-house testing a pure joy.
However, I have one big issue with the team. I don’t think I work very well in the testing procedure they have. From my time on Team EUreka, I know that testing can be very organized, and I feel like MTGMintcard testing lacks that. Often, we’d just break into groups by ourselves and work on whatever decks have caught our interest. The communication is often insufficient, which is what happens when you’ve got 14 people speaking 10 different languages mashed together. And frequently people need to be motivated by in-house mock tournaments in order to actually record useful results.
As someone who doesn’t understand the game very intuitively but rather obtains his skill by constant repetition, I think I’m much better off in an environment that has other hard workers – but not necessarily top level players – who organize how they test match-ups, record results and notes and share that information fluidly. I think a small testing team is better suited for this process than a larger one.
Recognizing Your Shortcomings
Surveil your results and be honest with yourself
In both my first two Pro Tours, I went 8-2 in Constructed and I think I didn’t truly realize at the time what an accomplishment that is. Since then, I haven’t gotten more than 6 wins in the Constructed portion of any Pro Tour, and most of them I didn’t even get that far. I have seen my Limited win rate steadily climb to a point where I feel confident that 3-0s are within my reach and I consistently go 4-2 in Limited at the PT. Part of this is certainly thanks to Team Mintcards testing process. However, it seems to me like my Standard performance has been very lackluster.
Now, I know I can succeed in Standard. I have 3 Grand Prix Top8s in the format, including a win. But somehow for Pro Tours, things don’t fall my way. And this has especially been the case since I joined Team Mintcard.
I don’t know if there is a correlation or not, but frequently I end up with a badly tuned deck or one I don’t have enough confidence with to pilot it well. I know I can do better than this, and perhaps with a testing environment that is focused on finding the best list for the tournament and getting everyone to play it, I can do better. This way people will work together to make sure the list is well tuned, instead of working in their own little camps. And this way, I can get the amount of experience I need to be confident with the deck so that I can play optimally.
A Change of the Environment
Shifting circumstances to shift the mindset
This is the plan at least. Again, I’m not sure at all if my analysis of the situation is correct, if I am just results-oriented or if the real problem actually lies within myself. I do also realize that the fault can’t lie with my testing environment alone. Of course I am also responsible for the amount of work I put into my PT deck and how much I overthink it.
Hopefully a new environment will at least give me more answers to what I do wrong and maybe help shift my mindset. This is the reason why I leave Team Mintcard, at least for the time being.
It does pain me to know that I won’t be testing with all these great friends, but I also know that I will instead be around other good friends. I decided to join Team Bolt the Bird for testing. It’s a Danish/Finnish/Estonian collaboration, with highlights including GP winners Matti Kuism and Lauri Pispa along with Kasper Nielsen, the Dane who top8ed Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.
I know most of these players quite well. I even tested with the Fins for the World Magic Cup and I enjoyed the process even though we came up short due to heavy time constraints.
This will also be a rather small crew of 9 people, which I think is a good size. From talking to them at the last Pro Tour, it seems like their testing process lines up better with what I want.
I expect to have to pull some threads with regards to organization, set up a team forum and manage our testing. I can lean on my experience from the previous two super teams I was a part of. And who knows, maybe this responsibility will also help me improve my understanding of what I need to do to improve my Constructed results at the Pro Tour.
So, in short, I plan to put myself in a new position and attempt to see the issue with fresh eyes to fulfill this resolution. Hopefully I’ll be able to work on my shortcomings more smartly this way.
3) Get into my ideal daily rhythm
For better mental health and strength
I’m not going to let it be a secret that my mental health has not been optimal lately. Nothing crazy, but too often I felt a lack in my sleep pattern, motivation and general happiness.
I know this affects my Magic career as well. I’d wish to be unfazed by bad beats, but lately I got more tilted and felt more entitled to win. All the while I’ve done less preparation and lacked proper sleep before important tournaments.
In my head, I have this vision of this day to day life I want to live. Some days it’s so real I can clasp in my fist, and some days it’s as blurry and unrealistic as an almost forgotten dream. I’ve managed to fulfill these patterns before, so I know I can do it. I just have to be stricter with what I let myself do, especially when it comes to staying up late or taking the phone screen to bed with me.
The Routine I Want
My daily plan for improved mental health
Here’s what I want my day to look like. Shut down my computer around midnight. Say goodnight to messenger chats and leave my phone and tablet out of the bedroom.
Get ready for bed, then do some relaxing activities. I could meditate, listen to podcasts or read a nice book. Just as long as it doesn’t involve screens so that my brain doesn’t get tricked into thinking it is daylight and keep me awake for unnecessarily long.
I want to make sure to have a glass of water ready on the nightstand, as I will be dehydrated when I wake up (around 9 am).
When I do wake up, the first thing to do is drink water to help get my brain started. Then move out of bed and – still before looking at any screens! – do some morning exercise. Nothing complicated, just some motions like jumping and running on the spot, some push-ups and sit-ups. Maybe eventually replace this with an actual planned workout schedule for weight loss.
Now I get to look at my phone while I eat breakfast. Then shower and, hopefully still within an hour after I wake up, plug some solid comedy or Magic-related podcast into my ear and go for a walk. Outside. For an hour (or however long the podcast lasts). If you’re looking for a podcast, I can recommend GAM and Pro Points, Limited Resources too if you are not yet advanced in Limited.
I should be back around 11 am and from then I can get started on my day. Load up the stream, write articles or practice for an upcoming tournament.
Living the Dream
The other side of living off of Magic
Making my living off of Magic is a dream come true, but it also leaves me very free to spend my time however I want to. Which often means squandering it, procrastinating on social media. The idea is that these routines will give me more energy during the day and better sleep during the night. Eventually this will become habit.
To quote the brilliant show Bojack Horseman:
“It gets easier every day it gets a little easier but you gotta do it every day that’s the hard part but it does get easier.”
The problem arises when I try and get into this pattern. I get weak and play just one more draft after the clock has struck midnight. Or I bring my tablet with me to bed to browse some YouTube videos and suddenly 2 hours disappear. I sleep through my alarm clock, wake up late and decide this is not the day for morning exercise. Two more hours disappear while I pick up my tablet in bed again. And that was the time I had for walking and it’s getting dark and I’ve had no sunlight. Soon everything sucks and I guess I should fire up Magic Online at some point.
This is obviously very unhealthy. This is the problem I want to address.
I’ve had stretches where was in this routine before. I know I can do it, and I know it feels good. It’s all about picking myself up.
Be Kind to Yourself
Getting Rid of Toxic Habits
I found that it helps to view it like a person getting out of alcoholism. Not to compare the two, I am sure that people who actually have to deal with addictions face a much harder challenge than what I can currently fathom. But the principle stays the same; if they have just one beer, they might snap back into it.
It’s a similar strictness I need to apply to myself. Just one night where I bring my screen to bed or stay up late on the pc and the whole routine is ruined. At least until I stabilize my sleep pattern.
Zen Takahashi also suggested to me to do checklists for every day. I bought a nice notebook for this purpose, something I can fill out during my no-screen time in the evening and set up my tasks for next day. Some of them are simple (like “morning workout”) some are actual tasks that will vary from day to day, but this will keep me to it and make sure I get it checked off. So that I keep myself straight and get things done.
Getting rid of the toxic habits that makes me unhappy is the kindest thing I can do to myself.
And I know I can do it. If you’re in a similar spot, trying to climb out of a ditch, you can do it too. It’s inside every human to have the strength for this ascension, however unimaginable it might seem. There are so many people, more than you know, who believe in you.
So my third New Year’s resolution is to get this pattern in order so that I have a stable foundation upon which to build my life.
Naturally, it was a culmination of many inputs that made me realize my bad habits, but one of them was this video. I think you should give a watch.
4) Get well into the new system
The future is looking bright. And scary!
Unless you live living under a Mill Stone you know that Magic has undergone serious changes. I read about all the news an awfully early Friday morning on my way to GP Liverpool. This was about my reaction:
I don’t know I just lost my job or got promoted
— Sleep-In Simon Nielsen (@MrChecklistcard) 7. december 2018
Pro Points. Gone.
Pro Tours. Gone.
I later found out that they were just renamed to Mythic Championships, but still, the removal of Pro Points is so scary. I basically built up my livelihood on the premise that I earn enough points each season to stay qualified for the Pro Tours. And now I cannot rely on that anymore.
Actually, I don’t know what I can rely on. That’s what makes it scary. I was certainly very rattled on that train ride to the airport.
Now that I have some distance to it all, I am much calmer. If the system works like I would imagine it does (and I guess no one actually knows yet), I can still meaningfully achieve Gold again by GP Seattle. That way I can qualify for Mythic Championship Richmond, the last one of the year. I should already be guaranteed an invite for MC Barcelona, provided the system works this way.
This means I have the entirety of 2019 to figure out my situation. Maybe I should step away from competitive Magic, or maybe I should embrace it. I could refocus to my stream or my coaching and accept that I won’t play every Mythic Championship. Or I could try and go hard after reaching the Top 32.
Time will tell, but it is my last resolution to make sure I position myself well for the upcoming changes during 2019. I have lots of time for this one, but it’s an important resolution nonetheless.
While I did really love the system as it was, and while the changes seem a lot worse for me at first glance (mainly the removal of the Gold level), it’s very likely that these changes are very good for Magic. And that means, overall, they will be good for me too.
It’s a daunting challenge to stand in front of the tsunami of change. But I intend to hatch onto it and ride it all the way to new shores!
And this concludes my article about my new year’s resolutions. If you came here for sweet new Magic decks, I’m sorry to disappoint, but they’ll be all over my article next week. And even though this entire thing might have seemed somewhat self-centered it is my intent that some of you may gleam inspiration, good advice or even a glimmer of hope from these lonely words.
Here’s to 2019, a year of improvement or, failing that, some nice cookies at least.
This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with mtgmintcard.com