Dime a Dozen #33: Searching for a Reset Button

Hello everyone!

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:

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:

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!

  1. My advice would be to ask if it’s necessary to write for three different websites? I enjoy all of your articles, but if producing content for multiple sites means worse content all around, that may not be for the best. You could move to only writing for one site and keep things like Dr. Pauper around as a once a month sort of get away from the grind of competitive Magic. One website means only devoting time to one article per week, which sounds like something that would benefit you with your current living situation. It’s just a thought. Keep up the good work, man! Always enjoy your content.

  2. Brandon – I appreciate the input. I will consider your suggestion, but the writing itself hasn’t been a detrimental issue so much as my attempts to make each of the articles drastically different and/or innovative.

    Writing has always been a part of my life, and M:TG is my favorite game, so I’m getting to do something I love. I just want to be able to get back to where I was as a player, if not surpass that. I’ll keep an eye on the work load and see if there are any future issues.

  3. I always enjoy your articles. I used to be a lot like you, only with standard and not pauper so much (until recently). I would brew up a new deck every single week and take it to the local FNM and try to win with the surprise factor. I never really had a great rate of success with this strategy since it was just a crapshoot figuring out what kind of decks were in the local meta. And it was A LOT of work with paper cards to keep things organized and to sleeve and un-sleeve several hundred cards every week while holding down a full-time job and being a full-time student.

    Anyway, my point is that I LOVED IT…every bit of it. I may not have top-8′ed every week, or even had a positive W-L ratio in the end, but when things went right and I picked the kryptonite for the meta, it was worth everything to me. When I didn’t win, I was always anxious to get back to the brew because that’s the best part of the game for me.

    ANYONE can netdeck and get lucky at a tourney. But when you’re willing to come up with new ideas and actually put them out there for the scrutiny of your peers, that is very admirable. I say take chances. I say don’t quit being creative.

    Everyone has their streaks- good and bad. I hope you don’t let it discourage you too much. It’s truly a love/hate relationship in MTG.

    Keep the good content coming and don’t worry about the rest. It’s JUST a game, after all…

  4. To clarify- when I say I USED to be like you, I mean back before I got into MTGO magic. MTGO makes it much easier to create new decks, but I find myself netdecking just to stay in the positive, moneywise. I don’t play paper anymore, and I don’t brew my own decks nearly as often. But I have tried out several of the decks you’ve featured on here to mixed success but with much fun all the while.

  5. Not many players are able to point the fingers back upon themselves when pointing at problems – well done. I think the “Greater Game” in general – is still unwilling to accept how deluxe life-gain is. If your deck can’t gain life, it better have a really good reason as to why! :) Years ago, it was a laughable mechanic…these days it’s almost overpowered in certain matchups. You’ll find your way again – just play what you know.

  6. yessir – Very interesting perspective! I appreciate the input, and I will see if I can balance both being creative and striving to be a good player.

    deluxeicoff – In the past I was unwilling to respond to your comments. I think things have really turned around, and I appreciate your supportive attitude. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Jason, despite having hit a MTGO slump, you certainly have not hit a writing slump. Your articles are just better and better and I love them. When I first opened this, I thought, “Do I really want to read about a guy losing?” But somehow you managed to draw me in.

    So you’ve hit a trough in the sin wave of the game. There’s only two important things to note here:

    1) Hitting slumps are a natural part of player progression that force players to change and evolve.
    2) Even though you may think you’re playing awfully, what has really happened (in my opinion) is that as your overall play has evolved, you’ve set higher standards for yourself. Despite the fact that you are losing and making mistakes and so on, on a whole you are most likely playing on a higher level than you were when you first started.

    So don’t despair, just think of it like this: When you first started climbing this mountain, you improved in broad, obvious ways, like getting in shape.

    Now that you’re higher up on the mountain, the paths get narrower, and improvement comes from more subtle ways – finding technique and your footing.

    Excuse the metaphor! Keep on writing my friend.

  8. Anthony – Wow, this is some really great advice, and very encouraging! I really appreciate the comment, it means a lot to me. Hope to hear from you again sometime.

  9. Hey Jason.
    First of all I’m in to thank you for your articles. They not only initially sparked but later on also furthered my interest in the pauper format and have been my go-to pauper source when needed.
    I didn’t play the format a lot on MTGO, mostly because meeting the Cloudpost/Temporal Fissure list like 2/3s of your games wasn’t very much fun to me and my mono green list (always been a green wizard, what can you do? :)). I did follow results and articles occasionally but didn’t care to play it much until the recent ban announcement when it seemed like giving it another shot on MTGO was worth it. Decided to stick with what I was most comfortable and had most experience with and just see if it you stand up to the new meta, obviously adjusting the list a bit after testing in casual queues.
    Not taking into account the results, I think sticking to what I know best helped me a bunch in understanding the “new” format faster than if I adopted another list. Even if my list was not competetive at all I feel I learned more this way than with any other (possibly better) deck I might have played.
    Now, I picked up MTG again only recently at the beginning of this year and I don’t know what your most favorite/go-to archetype is, but from this article I would assume it’s not monoblack and also that it hindered you on your way to grasp the new meta. Mostly going out on a limb here and quoting from my personal experience but I would really hate to not be able to read quality articles on pauper on here. Really hope you can bounce back and get back into it :)

  10. Ych – I’m really glad to hear that these articles have been helpful for you. Your advice and encouragement is greatly appreciated. Thanks for sharing your story!

  11. Chris Weaver – Your recommendation is appreciated! Good to know I’m not the only one slumping.

    Also, the comment about Chris Weaver’s was in fact from me :)

  12. here’s a dose of the harsh unmitigated reality – you are on a slump because… (gasp!) you are not that good of a player.

    you seem very enthusiastic and passionate about the game – and this is a greatly laudable quality – but in terms of actual hard success at competitive magic, you lack the innate raw acumen that is vital to winning a game of magic that involves tough decision-making.

    source: I have played against you numerous times – BambooRush, right? – and you have made NUMEROUS egregious playing mistakes, and punted even on a few relatively easy plays in straight-forward decks. I am not surprised you ended up with this soul-searching post. If my memory serves me right, there were games where you essentially won, and found some way to shoot yourself in the foot.

    Again, I will be painted as the bad guy for giving my 2 cents – even though I think you have a very praiseworthy and healthy love and passion (the positive to outweigh the negative) – but the truth is, as I see it, I don’t think you have the capacity to ever become a truly good player. Sorry.

    Please consider a game with a more productive use of your time.

  13. [Editor's Note: I have removed a bunch of confusing, racially charged garbage. Sorry to anyone who had to read this. Also (see below), it wasn't really slug360. --PlanetWalls]

  14. Hi this is slug360, not this other fake one who don’t know why comments using my name.
    First of all, to you fake slug360: why do you bother to comment all this bullshit?
    Secondaly, if you would really wanted to be me you should had known that my native language is not english so I wouldnt be able to write using those words.
    Thirdly, I do play in PREs but I have never played Silverblack and it has been ages since I last played Pauper.
    Fourthly, dont know who you are and dont care since if you were a man you would had contacted me personally if you had any differences with me.
    Finally to you Jason, I dont know you , just read some of your articles since i visit from time to time this website, but as i know you have done, don’t care about such a troll who comments crap and nothing productive.

  15. @ slug: I didn’t know the name ‘slug’ is copyrighted. I am not sure if you guys knew that a moniker can be shared by more than one person? Get off your high horse. Ole!

    In addition, I find it hilarious that you would insult me and call me a ‘troll’ after posting my thoughtful remarks. This – from what I have heard – is in line with your excessively rude and Spike-type behavior that is off-putting to many PRE players, while you grind their tournaments like an amoral robot. I have never met another player (that didn’t speak Spanish) that liked you – and I can see now why.

    @ PlanetWalls – Nice to see you show your true fascist colors by calling me a ‘jerk’ because you disagree with my opinion. Is insulting other people how you get your point across?

    Additionally – I asked Jason to *remove* the ‘racially charged garbage’ that you are referring to. Ironically, then, by removing my request of this – you are the one promoting the racially charged garbage. In sum, as you have shown, you are the real racist jerk. How does it feel to promote both ad hominem vitriol AND racism?

    Also, I must ask – Is that your real photo? I could have sworn I saw that picture on an advertisement from Autism Speaks. Serious question.

    @Jason – Apparently when someone writes an article discusses his intrinsic merit of being a good MTG player, the mods and community think it really means “if a person comments about the article without offering a shoulder to cry on, we will get out our pitchforks”. Sad to see such a perversion of free speech.

    Mr. Walls – is the planet that you are referring to an imaginary post-WW2 utopia for you where the Nazis had actually won?

    Finally, @Jason again – these people must not really like you if they call ‘a troll’ and get angry at a person who said that you have a very unique and admirable passion and love for the game, and want for you to spend your time more productively by pursuing a game that you are better at.

  16. What truly constitutes a GOOD player? Because any player who can be on a losing streak and decide to continue playing and not quit is a good player to me

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>