Quiet Speculation: The Importance of Playing Tight

Welcome to another edition of Generic Theory Article, where I tell you stuff you already know to make you feel better about yourself! Here are the top X ways to achieve Unspecified Goal. Why X? Because I didn’t have time for 2X. Who knows if I’m right or wrong, because we’re all just going on feel anyway! Tell the reader to enjoy the article, and make a snappy quip to segue poorly.

See how useless that opening paragraph is without specific data? Instead of informing the reader of what they’re to expect, that abstracted introduction is meaningless and reads rather sarcastically. Today’s actual topic is the measurable value of tight play. I’m not a strategy writer, but I do play Magic a good amount, so I enjoy focusing on improving my game. That’s one of the things about Magic that I love the most. The game has taught me that, not only is there a “correct play”, there are also negative consequences for making that play. The hardest thing to learn, as a new player, is the difference between playing perfectly and winning. Once you realize that there’s not a 100% correlation between the two, your entire mindset of the game changes.

Most people used ego-based thinking when it comes to the concept of “victory”. Who can blame them? Winning feels great. It’s life-affirming, and in some cases, lucrative. Look at competitive sports for an example of all three. The danger is allowing one’s own self-worth (ego) to become entwined with the act of winning. When you win, you feel good about yourself. When you lose, you desire the feelings that the winner is having. Thus, when you are making decisions mid-competition, you are acting emotionally, not in pure consideration of the game at hand. This is true for Magic, athletics, business, and every other game-like situation. There is a clear difference between “the right play” and “the play you feel good about.” It comes down to trusting the fundamentals, which can be a hard lesson for a Magic player to learn.

A brief tangent into the words I’m using. For our purposes, we’re defining “winning” as “achieving the desirable outcome” and “losing” as the negation of winning. That’s ~W = L, and ~L = W, for those logical types. By defining a game on that axis, you eradicate all fuzzy concepts of victory and well-being and focus simply on the most efficient way to complete the equation. It’s a very robotic way of thinking, but it can allow you to focus on the game at hand more effectively.

In Magic, there are many levels of “winning”, and you’ll see how they’re all interconnected. We defined “win” as “achieving the desired outcome”, right? Let’s talk through a scaling sequence of wins and losses as an example. What’s the highest level you can play at? A Pro Tour Finals Game 5, I’d say. Worlds Finals, Game 5, even. So your big-big-big picture “win” is winning Game 5 of the Worlds Finals. Obviously you can’t just get up and go sit down at the table and say “lets play Game 5.” There are thousands of smaller victories along the way. You start by learning the game, then how to build decks and all the rules. You learn formats, you learn theory, you learn the metagame, you learn how to min./max. your plays, play to outs, and start winning a higher % of games. You win more tournaments, bigger tournaments, and more decisively, so you qualify for the PT and start winning more there, eventually Q for Worlds, make the Top 8, and all your months of playtesting pays off and you take the trophy in 5 squeaker games.

Along all those lines, do you really think that you had any margin of error? If you were doing less than your technically precise best, would you have ever even gotten past X-2ing FNM? Who knows where the line was, but to play anything less than your hardest and expect anything more than “nothing” would be arrogant and foolish. Magic is a streaky game, and I see a lot of parallels between it and baseball. That’s another article for another day, but just like a baseball player, some can get by on talent. The rest of us have to suck it up and realize that talent without hard work is nothing, hard work with talent is unstoppable. You can control one of the two variables in that equation. The other one isn’t in your hands. Show me the best play. Work as hard as you can and hope that you’re working harder than everyone else who’s more talented than you are.

At this point, this is reading more like a sports pep talk than a financial column. I’m aware, bear with me. This relates to business and finance in a very tangible way. How often do you gloss over the pennies? How often do you ignore a small percentage advantage or disadvantage because “its just a few percent?” I began thinking about how larger companies do business. Look at a company like BP, currently being lambasted for their ecological disaster. The effect of even a fraction of a percent on the price of gasoline has a major impact on their bottom line. According to an uncorroborated Google link, we use about 140 Billion gallons of gas in America each year (at least we did in 2004). That means that even a fluctuation of .001 cents on the gallon is a change of around $35,000 a day. That’s real money! Granted, we as Magic players have nowhere near that kind of scale to leverage, but the point remains valid. Even if we’re not turning a tenth of a penny into a year’s salary daily, we can still mind the marginal amounts.

By divesting our ego from investing (or playing), we can feel good about minding the pennies. While our ego would like us to feel rich enough to not worry, the truth is that every cent really does count. Every life point counts, every hour in the day counts. By being very conscious of the small things, you can also find trends developing, new opportunities and inefficiencies. For example, by being more cognizant of how I schedule my time, I’m both able to get more done and stress less over things undone. The same applies to money.

By making tight plays, that is to say, not ignoring seemingly-insignificant details, you will increase your profitability in trading and selling, you will win more games of Magic, and you’ll probably notice the behavior translating into other areas of life as well. Not every article I write is about the latest hot tips, and I vastly prefer to write “theory” pieces that teach you how to think, rather than tell you what to do. I’d love to hear some of your experiences min./maxing in your every day life, and how it’s helped you, so leave a comment below to let me know.

  1. A good ‘life’ article, although, containing very little to do with magic for a magic related website.

    It was a good read to wake up to, and now I feel like I can apply your lessons to a hard days work. I will try my hardest to offset talent with hardwork and beat the pack. So thanks =D

  2. I like the article and can relate.

    In terms of magic, I believe myself to be a tight player, and I love to think about things (so I really like control and combo decks), however I noticed that I make lots of little mistakes on MTGO (which i started about 2 months ago) that I would almost assuredly not make in real life. I wonder if it is because I am not used to the new formats that I play (all for fun not tournaments) or just because I am not as used to playing on MTGO yet.

  3. SaiDes –

    Magic is not its own game with its own rules. Most of what you learn in Magic can be more broadly applied to life, and vice versa. Sometimes you need to step beyond the cardboard and learn how to build a life that is supportive of your gaming.

    Aznsilly –

    You will make more mistakes on mTGO because you’re new to the interface. it presents the info differently, but it is more likely that you are actually noticing more mistakes because MTGO makes you play tightly due to perfect rules enforcement.

  4. I have traded cards from one bot to the other just to get a small amount of credit so I could buy a couple of commons ‘for free’ for my pauper decks. I guess that’s a form of min-maxing. Not in real life, though =/

  5. Yeah I hadn’t thought about that. The perfect rules enforcement is great, and sometimes teaches me how cards actually interact with each other (especially in the case of confusing cards like eye of the storm vs krosan grip etc).