Well I think I'm finally content with my Magic maindeck, at least it's something I can play in a tournament with. I think my build should be running a few copies of Liliana of the Veil, but I'm not gonna drop $20 each on a card that saw 0 play in the top 8 decks at the latest Pro Tour. I'm pretty much pot-committed to this deck at the moment though until I can pick up Snapcasters and switch over to Finkel.dek. Same colors, which is nice, just don't feel like dropping another $80-100. I'll see how the FNM goes before buying any more cards. I'm also not sure which store I'll be playing at, either T&M or Gamer's Haven. Probably T&M to score some free pizza, and I think there are more scrubby puppies there.
I've always thought it was kinda strange in regards to my willingness of spending money (or not) on Magic singles vs Yugioh. What I mean is, for the longest time, Yugioh singles have been expensive, as we all know. Magic singles however have always been cheap, at least in respect to Yugioh (and we're only talking Standard here). When I was playing heavily, the most expensive cards were lands which at the time ranged anywhere from $15-20 (Ravnica shock-lands). This is why it's weird to me when I come across an instance of buying a $15+ Magic card that isn't a land, but I have no problem with dropping $50+ on a single Yugioh card. It's like "$130 on a Tour Guide? Sure, I'll take 3! $20 on a Snapcaster? Nah too expensive for me." On the outside it doesn't look like it makes sense right? lol. At the same time, there is always the lingering and inevitable set rotation, which always makes me hesitant in buying Magic cards at all. Even now, just getting back into it, I think about set rotation and which cards I need to get rid of and when to do it. However, as we all know Yugioh has its own set of built-in fears via reprints, the ban list, and meta shifts in general. Yugioh basically has a form of set rotation as well, whether we realize it or not. I'll talk more on that in a later post.
So this will mark the 3rd "actual" time for me coming back into Magic. My previous run was down in Texas where I ran Black-Red Vampires for a short stint (like a month). I wasn't going to drop big bucks on running blue (ie Jace) so I felt that Vampires was a decent budget-y option, even though I knew it was kinda janky on the competitive scale of things. I did OK with it, making top a couple times at the Den. I decided to drop Magic though because it was hard for me to explain to the wife why I was out so late on Fridays; their tourneys always started so freaking late and wouldn't get done til like midnight. Yea, it's Friday Night Magic, but it don't need to go all the way to the next day lol.
My initial expectations for my performance are rather low, simply to give me something to strive for again. During my first big run (leading up to winning regs), I set very small goals for myself. At the time, Magic's point system worked like this: everyone starts out at a base 1600 rating, then for every match they won they could gain up to 8 points, and conversely lose that many points. How many points you earned/lost were based on what your opponent's rating was. This is why players with really high ratings basically never played in FNMs, because a win resulted in like 0 (yes, 0) or 1 point, while a loss could take away 6-8. For reference, ~2000 was considered pro status. At first I didn't care or honestly know about rating, until my old Magic friends Brian, Danny (not team O), and Adam showed me. I think they were all in the 1650's or so, so my first goal was to simply have the highest rating among my friends. My rating dipped up and down a lot as I was learning the game, figuring out my playstyle, finding what colors and decks I liked and didn't like, but eventually I got the hang of things. I set my next goal to simply be at 1700 points in Constructed.
When Kamigawa block came around my friend Randy decided to pick up Magic as well, and I'd say at this time was when I was making bigger strides in achieving my goals. I think I was about tied with my friends, with all of us around the 1700-1725 mark. Some couldn't get over the 1730 "hump" because they'd like do good at one tourney and poorly the next. It's like getting a strike in bowling, then guttering the next two shots. We were ahead of a lot of the local people but not close to the better players like Butters, Jeff Elvigan, and Sung. More time passed, and I started playing Black-Green on a weekly basis. Turn 2 Hypnotic Specter (basically a Spirit Reaper w/ flying) was my "early win condition", with late game Kokushos and Kodama of the North Trees finishing it off later. As time went on Randy's favorite deck was Greater Good control and he was starting to catch up with the rest of us in rating, as that deck was pretty damn good. I had a period of time where I won like a month's worth of FNMs in some month which helped a lot in my rating. Eventually this helped me get to the first page of the Spokane listing of the top players (I think there were like 20 or 25 players per page) and I was catching up to the better players. I never thought I'd make it to the coveted "first page", but by making incremented and realistic small goals for myself, I could achieve them with just a bit of work. Had I just said "oh I want to make first page" at the very beginning, well that's a daunting task and I probably would've given up somewhere along the line. Once making it on the first page, my next goal was to be higher than my friend Sung, who got most of his points by top 4'ing States/Champs in 2004. I think he was ranked 4th or 5th, somewhere around there.
After Time Spiral block came in and Kamigawa rotated out, I picked up a deck that Frank Karsten (now in the Hall of Fame) wrote an article about, Red-White-Blue mid-range control. This was the eventual deck, that I called "Superman", that I went undefeated with at regionals, 2-0'ing each opponent except the last round of swiss. Leading up to regionals, I ran this deck for about 2-3 months and did extremely well on the FNM scene. I probably got 1st in about 80% of the tourneys, and getting 2nd or 3rd in the rest. I think my rating was 1850 or so at this point and was rated 3rd for all Spokane players and I finally surpassed Sung. At this point, the only thing I could hope to achieve was to be ranked 1st in Spokane, but I was behind by a good 80-90 points to (I think) Dan Hansen, who's a big-name player in the northwest. Being rated this high, it was also very hard to accrue points at FNMs. Some nights I could go X-1 and only gain like 1 point since that loss would take so many.
Regionals, being a 32K event (so instead of 8 points like in FNMs, you could gain/lose a max of 32 points), was going to be the deal-maker or breaker for me in terms of points. We (Randy, BK, and I) drove to Portland, slept in my car in the parking lot of the event, and got like a whole 3 hours of sleep. I envisioned myself losing a lot of points, but I was gonna do the best I could with a few Monster energy drinks to help me. I won't delve into my regional matches, as I really don't remember them anymore, but winning regionals put me at about a 1960 Constructed rating, and I finally was ranked 1st in Spokane, and 4th in the entire state.
After this, I basically achieved everything I had ever wanted in Magic. I had no aspirations of trying to play in the pro circuit or anything like that, and I didn't even go to Nationals (they didn't actually mail me my invite anyway). Honestly I went above and beyond my wildest expectations, so I pretty much quit the game. My points were so high that I was in that "gain 0 or 1 point" state so it wasn't worth it to play in FNMs. I know rating isn't really something to be so worried about, but for some reason my friends and I all obsessed over it lol. I guess since we were all competitive in nature, we wanted to compare ourselves to see who was the best. Ravnica and Time Spiral were also going to rotate out, basically killing off my entire deck. I competed in another regional in Seattle in a completely different block (Lorwyn) but didn't do so hot early on, dropped, was completely done with the game, and full-time Yugz once again.
So for my first FNM back, my goal is simply to break even in terms of my win/loss ratio. If there are 4 rounds, I'd be satisfied with a 2-2 record, even if it means losing the first two and winning the last. If I can finish above 50%, well that's great. My residual skills should be good enough to at least get me this, but then again I have no idea what the playerbase is like. If it's a lot of kids with unsleeved decks I should do fine. If it's all Pro Tour top 8 netdecks ran by people who know what they're doing, probably not so much. Either way I'm excited to play in FNMs again, and with them getting rid of the old rating systems, I don't even need to think about it lol. Hell I have to sign up for a new #/card anyway since I don't have my old one anymore.
To relate this back to Yugioh, I want to stress to all the "not-as-skilled" players why it's important to set small realistic goals for yourself to help you improve. A lot of players around here don't play Advanced because of how good a lot of players are, especially Team O. [If this is not the case, then why are y'all not playing in Advanced tourneys, but are in Brandon's?] Set a small goal for yourself, like say, "OK my goal for now is to beat 1 Team O member." "My goal is to just make top 8 in the tournament." As you get better and achieve these goals, go for more and try to win the whole thing, taking out all of us in the process. Another important factor in this is to playtest with people that are better than you. I'd get my ass stomped in Magic week in and week out against the better players at FNMs, but this was a lot more helpful in making me a better player than just playing against people on my same level. Sure you can improve by doing this, but not as fast as playing someone that's much better than you.
I know it may seem difficult because you may not have the money to play "the best deck", or even want to spend the money if you had it, but my "Superman" deck wasn't considered the best or most expensive deck when I played it at the regional either. In fact Butters told me I should run the best deck, Dragonstorm, cuz I was gonna get blown up otherwise. I thought about it, but I had virtually no experience with that deck, and I was so comfortable with my deck after playing it and winning with it for months. I 2-0'd three Dragonstorms that day and the 2-1 was to a Dragonstorm. Play something that you're comfortable with, know its capabilities, side-decking strategy(!!), buy the good stuff that you can afford, playtest a bunch against relevant decks and good players. That's about all you can do.