I’ve been slumping. Hard. In fact I’ve never experienced a slump like this. It’s something that I thought would just go away naturally if I ignored it. It hasn’t. I’ve 0-2ed my last two Daily Events, failed to pin down the new metagame and my place in it, and have yet to find a 75 that feels remotely well-positioned.
If you’ve ever felt like you just couldn’t win, you’ll probably be able to relate to this article. If you haven’t, then this will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale or a “what not to do” set of guidelines. I’ll do my best not to get too depressing, and pardon me in advance if things get a bit scatterbrained. It’s time to find a reset button for my Pauper aptitude, but in order to do that I’ve got to figure out how I got where I’m at in the first place.
I’ve Forgotten How to Win
I’ve forgotten how to win. This may sound hyperbolic, or maybe even vague, but it’s true. My productive playing habits have all fallen by the wayside. My mindset and dedication to getting better have both dropped off. But there’s more to it than that. Things are going very wrong, and I’ve got to try and figure out why.
When I first began playing Pauper (somewhere around January 2012), winning was one of the only things I had to think about. I had little more than my YouTube Account, which I updated at my leisure, so it wasn’t hard to spend most of my energy getting better at the game.
My primary goals at the time were to record deck techs (because I love deck techs!), provide helpful Pauper content, and get progressively better as a player. To achieve that last portion I literally had a piece of paper on the wall by my computer listing out four helpful key ideas. The four key ideas were:
1. Dictate your pace.
2. Take notes.
3. What is this game about?
4. Stop playing control decks.
“Dictate your pace” is another way of saying, “don’t be hasty when making decisions.” Always stop to think during your first main phase, not only about the options presented to you, but also about the potential ramifications. What is your opponent likely to do on their turn? What can you set up this turn that will likely pay off later?
Conversely, “dictate your pace” means “be mindful of the clock.” Don’t get yourself into a position where time is running out and you’re subsequently forced to make bad decisions at critical moments. This is avoided by learning the ins and outs of your deck and by becoming friends with the f-keys.
It also means not being influenced by the speed of your opponent’s play. Sometimes it’s easy to subconsciously start mimicking the pace of an opponent and go on a sort of tempo autopilot. I think this is unhealthy, simply because it leads to us overlooking lines of play or onboard tricks that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
“Take notes” pertains to both tournament games and test games. It has a variety of applications, but is generally intended to help us gather data.
What does a typical game look like in matchup X? How are we sideboarding? What are the game-winning cards in the matchup? How favorable is the matchup altogether? We can answer a number of these questions (and more) by taking notes.
“What is this game about?” is slightly more complicated than the previous two. It’s a question we can ask ourselves whenever any decision needs to be made. Each game of Magic has different variables, and asking ourselves what the current game is about helps anchor and connect us to our deck’s archetypal game plan.
As a broad example, let’s imagine I’m a mono-red deck’s pilot contemplating whether or not I should suicide a bunch of my guys in order to get in an extra bit of damage. The question “what is this game about?” can help me decide if that suicide attack is correct or not.
Let’s say that my opponent is a control deck player who’s about to have enough mana to stabilize, cast a haymaker, and what have you. In this case the answer to my question would be something like “this game is about getting my opponent’s life total low enough that I can topdeck a winning burn spell before his big haymaker ends the game.” In this scenario I likely reach the conclusion that my suicidal attack is the best course of action.
“Stop playing control decks” is a personal note, reminding me of my atrocious success rate when playing reactive strategies (your mileage, of course, may vary). There are just so many opportunities for me to slip up with a control deck, beginning as early as its construction and ending with my life total biting the dust.
These are all ideas that I’ve abandoned over the past few months (number 4 in particular), and doing so has brought me nothing but pain. I now write for three websites, and my focus has gravitated from strong play to providing diverse, varied content from article to article. It just might be time to unleash that inner Spike, and not worry so much about reinventing the wheel.
I’ve forgotten how to win because I’ve forgotten how to respect my four key ideas.
I’ve Forgotten How to Focus
In July of this year my living situation changed. Previously I had an ample amount of time to myself, making it possible not only to play more often, but also to be completely focused on games, replay analysis etc. That is no longer the case. I now live with a number of housemates in a part of Los Angeles where peace and quiet are two long forgotten bedfellows. Finding times to record, let alone play in Dailies is a skill in and of itself. That’s not to mention the time required to adequately test a deck, figure out sideboarding, and really fashion a well-oiled machine.
When you see one of my gameplay videos and listen to the commentary, it may seem like I’m narrating each thought that crosses my mind merely for the viewer’s benefit. This isn’t entirely true. Talking out loud and walking through my thought process actually helps me just as much as it does anyone else. Call me crazy, but I actually think I play worse when I’m silent. I have a feeling this is mostly because I play faster when not talking, and therefore inadvertently overlook things.
If I’m going to get out of this slump, I need to reconnect with my ability to focus, and make sure that every decision at every point of the game is razor sharp, motivated and sensible.
I’ve Strayed Away from Competitive Pauper
Niche installments like Doctor Pauper have shifted my focus primarily to the more casual and experimental side of the format. They’ve also coaxed me into playing some pretty mediocre decks, and neglecting laughably simple concepts like “creatures with evasion are really good.” (I mean, how many games do I have to lose against Delver before I realize that every deck I design needs to interact favorably with evasive creatures?)
What’s more, I’ve not been keeping up with Daily Event results as diligently as I should be. Close examination of decklists can be a subtly revelatory process, giving us glimpses into what direction the metagame is going in, and what simple changes we can make to increase our win percentage.
By playing more Daily Events and consulting with competitive players, I should be able to get back in tune with the competitive realm of the format. All of us are adjusting to the new(ish) metagame, so there will naturally be bumps along the road. The key here is to make sure I’m traveling down the correct road to begin with.
I’m Not Playing White Weenie
Ha. Very funny, I know. But the fact of the matter is this: White Weenie is actually doing well right now, and I’m not playing it! That officially makes me an idiot. Don’t be surprised if this fault gets corrected at breakneck speed.
For laughs I’ll show you what I was playing, a deck that managed to earn me my second 0-2 in a row:
MBC Mediocrity by Jason Moore
The idea behind this deck was: test out two key Pauper additions from Theros in the form of Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Read the Bones. In all fairness this deck was actually testing fairly well, but I think it ultimately falls short in a couple of areas.
Bojuka Bog didn’t work as well as I hoped it would simply because it couldn’t be utilized at instant speed. It also takes away from our ability to play Corrupt or Tendrils of Corruption. This was actually a factor, since additional life gain would have been welcome in just about every match I lost.
There are a number of successful MBC lists available online right now, so if I want to revisit the archetype I will surely start with those.
On a different note, here is the most recent 4-0 White Weenie list (as of this writing), from a Daily Event on October 18th:
White Weenie by MTJeffering
This harkens back to the days of AndreyS, around the time I first discovered the format. It appears that the vast majority of White Weenie decks have moved away from War Falcon, which may or may not be indicative of the format’s current speed.
I have absolutely no idea which White Weenie list will ultimately prove to be the best, but naturally I’m willing to try and find out!
That’s enough White Weenie nonsense for one article, let’s return to the broader issue of how to get out of this slump and start winning again.
Where Winning Starts
Winning doesn’t start with Turn 1, or with mulligan decisions. It doesn’t start with the opening seven. Winning starts long, long before the game ever does. I’m not sure where, or even how I learned this, but I’m glad that I did.
Winning starts with the intent to win. First we decide that we want to win, then we believe that we can. It’s a purely internal facet of our game, but unmistakably important. The commitment to win as many games as possible will inform just about every subsequent step in our development as players.
Choosing a deck, making tweaks and testing matchups will remain congruent with our desire to win as much as possible. Lines of play will appear more clearly to us as a result, as will mulligan decisions and mental discipline.
Winning subsequently continues with our ability to study deck lists and our willingness to try out proven 75s (before making any adjustments whatsoever). It coincides with our ability to identify strategies and play styles that fit us best. It keeps us disciplined, ensuring that we aren’t motivated by ego, bias or any other peripheral factor. It humbles us, and shows us that we have much to learn not only about the format or our deck, but also about ourselves.
I’ve forgotten where winning starts, and it’s time for me to remember. It’s time for me to wake up and smell the booster packs.
Searching for a Reset Button
There are 198 decklists on my computer. Rather, there were 198 decklists on my computer. The first step on my journey out of this slump is to unlearn. To start fresh. What I’m doing now is clearly not working, so I have to change course.
I need to redirect my efforts. I need to refocus by gravitating toward the fundamentals of the game and of the format. By once again taking on the role of student, I can keep my mind open to all viable possibilities and avenues.
I won’t be trying to build decks from scratch nearly as often. There’s no need to try and be clever or outsmart anyone else, and there’s no shame in taking someone’s proven decklist and running with it.
The Pauper format’s been given a reset button, so why not me? I don’t know exactly what this means for the future content on this column, but there’s a chance that Doctor Pauper will go on a bit of a hiatus. If you have any input, words of wisdom, questions, criticisms or requests, please don’t hesitate to send them my way. Comments are still welcome and very much appreciated.
Well, that’s it. I’m going to begin my journey, and hopefully I’ll have something insightful to present to you along the way. Thanks to everyone for supporting my content, and sorry if I’ve let you down in any way.
As always, thanks for reading, and please comment!