MTG Reporter - Horseshoes & Hand Grenades [Jon Waldrop - Task Mage, Level 12]
Before I get into this week’s article, I want to send a huge shoutout to Watchtower Comics and the tournament organizer, Chris Binkley. It’s a great new store and they're really trying to increase their presence within the Magic community. If you're in Houston and want to play at a great FNM, check out Watchtower Comics on Westheimer.
My grandfather used to tell me that 'almost' only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I've taken this rhetoric and used it for most of my life. I quote it almost daily to the athletes I coach and it's become a mantra of sorts for my students.
On a recent Friday night, I found that along with horseshoes and hand grenades you can add top 4ing into the categories of things that 'almost' count. I had a basketball game to coach that Friday night, but it was early enough I thought I'd have a chance to play some FNM. However, I knew that I'd miss the first round and possibly the second. I talked to Chris at Watchtower and he allowed me to sign up to play FNM despite me missing the first round. After the basketball game (a loss ☹), I jumped in my car and drove forty minutes to Watchtower. I missed round one and took a loss, but there were still thirty minutes left in round two. I found my opponent and asked if he would like to play. He affirmed and I assured him that if we ended in a draw I would concede the match to him because I was late. We took out our decks, shuffled, and began to play. He was playing some big creature deck while I was piloting my new white weenie deck. I was able to get out six creatures by turn four of game one, with one of those being a flipped Kytheon, Hero of Akros. I proceeded to win this first game in about seven minutes. The second game went much the same and I ended that game within ten minutes.
I was 1-1 as I waited for my next opponent. The next guy I played was playing a Big Red deck. I was on the draw for game one but took it down in about ten minutes. This new White Weenie deck I'm running is extremely fast when you curve out and hit your required four lands. He sided a ton of removal for the second game and took care of the first eight creatures I played. Things weren't looking good, but I was able to hold on and win this game as well. I was sitting at 2-1 on the night with both of my wins being 2-0. Then I got paired with the guy who was 3-0 and realized if I can pull off the win I would top 4 for the first time in my short Magic career! It was a pretty big deal to me and would've been great validation that I'm on the right path to being a top-tier planeswalker.
My opponent in that last match was playing Atarka Red. This is a deck I play against all the time since my brother-in-law runs it. I knew I could beat this deck, and I knew exactly how to do so. I drew my first seven cards and I was on the play, which is very good against Atarka Red. I looked at my seven cards and only saw one land. I decided to keep because I knew that if I could hit just one more land I'd have the cards in hand to win the game. I didn’t hit a land for the next five turns and he beat me with a combo of Dragon Fodder and Monastery Swiftspear. We drew our hands for game two and my hand has four lands. I thought to myself, "Last game I was mana screwed so this will keep that from happening." I decided that the odds of drawing a few of my twenty-five creatures should be very good and that I'd be alright. And guess what? I draw land for the next four straight turns. I obviously lost and the whole match only took about fifteen minutes. I was devastated.
I had a chance to cash and blew it. I have no problem losing, but I hate losing when I know I should've done better. I ended up fifth for the night. Not bad but not where I felt I should've finished. I played my first two matches about as perfect as I could with my deck but I screwed up the last one horribly.
As I left the shop and had the long forty-minute drive home, I had a lot of time to think. What could I have done better? What plays did I screw up? How do I fix my inability to win more than two matches at an FNM? I found myself coming up with some more questions but also lots of answers. This was really the first time I had overanalyzed my play. I went back and thought about every play I made and every hand I kept. What I realized was that I had messed up. In the last match, I kept two straight hands I knew I shouldn’t have. But why? I concluded that three things led me to this, 1) over confidence in my deck, a result of playing a deck I had beat several times. I had convinced myself that I could beat this deck no matter what. I didn’t take into account that I was playing someone I wasn't familiar with. Plus, I didn't have any idea of how he would play. 2) I was over confident in myself from how I played in the first two matches. I had played almost perfect matches and led me to believe that I'd be able to do it again even with suboptimal hands. 3) I realized that I wasn't as familiar with my deck as I should've been. I hadn't studied my deck enough to know what hands to keep and which to mulligan away. Once I had all of these questions, I was able to come up with some ways to improve my play.
The biggest improvements I can make revolve around knowing my deck. Because I was able to learn so much from my 'almost' win, I now put it into the same category as horseshoes and hand grenades. So what advice can I give to new players to get better and avoid the mistakes I made? Never be too confident in yourself or your deck. Never think just because you are playing a certain deck you'll beat it. The biggest lesson is it's okay to keep 5 cards that you need over 7 you don't. And know your deck completely, understand the ins and outs of it. Know what you need to do and on what turn to be successful. Know how to sideboard against all of the biggest decks in the meta, and know how to play against those decks. If you do these things you'll be successful more often than not. Also, never stop learning the game and how to play it better. You can never stop improving; go into every match with this idea and you'll become a better player very quickly. Good luck and remember, 'almost' only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, AND top 4ing.
Thanks for reading,
What 'almost' finishes do you remember the most?
A Little Bit about Jon
Jon is a high school football, basketball, and track coach. He's also a government and economics teacher. He loves how he can apply his competitive nature and sports strategies to the game of Magic. He's excited about using his experiences to help other new players along their journeys just as he enjoys coaching rising sports stars.