Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taking the Stairs One Step at a Time

People don't seem to know how to admit they're bad at this game.

From what I can tell, you can be either one of three:
a) You think, in fact, you know, that most people suck at this game. You don't think you're one of those people, and thus rarely admit when you're wrong because that would be bad for your reputation and your ego. Or maybe you don't even know when you're wrong.
b) You know you're bad, and you think you're bad. Maybe you aren't really that bad, but whatever it takes, you're going to keep thinking that and saying that. You probably lose a lot because of this mentality. Sometimes you may substitute the word "bad" for "unlucky".
c) You don't want to think either way - you just don't care enough, or at least that might be what you tell yourself. You just don't want to put your ego on the line, and so you try to be reasonable and say the reasonable things - "I'm better than some, worse than others." This kind of apathy may seem safe, reasonable, and logical - but ultimately it will probably kill you.

For what it's worth, I have experienced all three of these mentalities, but for the most part, I am (c). Which of the above are you? Do you know? Do you think you're in a 4th, unmentioned category?

From what I can tell, LSV does not fit any of these. When he plays, it is clear that he is mostly self-assured, is aware of his faults, tries not to fall into them when there's money on the line, and he very rarely feels a need to compare himself with others, one of his greatest virtues as a player. He is confident but not arrogant.

Watch LSV play. He isn't slow, but he isn't too fast either. He maintains a consistent tempo and has a way of determining the pace of the game. This, more than anything, reveals that he is a strong player, aware of his own abilities, and not afraid of playing Magic with the opponent.

Magic is not a goldfish, no matter how much you may want it to be. So when playing real games, it's better to not forget there's another player in front of you. And that player is going to interact with you each step of the way.

Anyway, we can't all be LSV.

I'm not even saying that his "way of playing Magic" is the best way - although it is probably the ideal I'm trying to reach. There are a lot of good players that are either really fast or quite slow. There are genuinely good players that probably think they suck or think they're God's gift to Magic. They can have these mentalities and still succeed. But I think that at least sometimes you have to shed the mentality, shed the ego, shed the front. And realize that, hey, "I am wrong. I am going about this the wrong way. Not because I think I am wrong, not because I doubt myself, but because I started noticing something about the way I go about Magic. And it is actually, just wrong."

How do you notice when you're wrong?

Have a little intelligence, first. And the rest is just being attentive, asking the right questions, and listening to others when they tell you things. That's all it boils down to.

But y'know, if you're too busy protecting your ego, putting down others for being worse than you, or putting down yourself for whatever reason, you'll be way too distracted to be able to pay attention to the right things. That's just how it is - you can't think for a second about other people when you're trying to improve. There is no relative scale. There is JUST YOU. Focus on YOU. Forget the rest. Others are not important. They're not going to win any games for you. What they think doesn't matter. And what YOU think about them doesn't matter either.

When you're trying to improve, you have to forget there is a hierarchy - that there are hundreds of other players trying to beat you; that they might all be better than you; that you have to be better than they in order to be successful. It's absolutely irrelevant in the end because you're ultimately only competing against yourself.

Once you start thinking this way all the time, you will have opened yourself up to improving on a daily basis. You will stop beating yourself up when you lose; you will stop gloating when you win. Because none of that shit matters an iota. Who cares about a loss or a win? In the end, they are mere stepping stones; they are but passing moments. You need to realize your end-goal - your end-goal is to become the best player you can be. And on this journey, each win and loss, each mise and bad beat, is just another stone. You take each pill and swallow it.

You know what's a hard pill to swallow? For many, including myself.

Maybe deep down, you don't really want to improve. You don't want to do what it takes. You don't want to get better. Maybe you are content. With whatever you have, whether you're winning or losing, maybe you're just fine with that.

And that's okay. That's fine if you're content. It's world-upending to admit to yourself how far you'd have to go to improve. It's like opening the curtain and realizing the staircase goes miles high. That's miles and miles of staircase we're talking about. And you'd have to climb that shit. Alone.

I don't think most people have the cajones to take the first, real step up that staircase. In many ways, it feels like I haven't. I still feel like I'm on the bottom. That's really disheartening. It's almost soul-crushing.

And I think most people are at that place - they're somewhere on that staircase, and they can't decide whether to keep going up or just give up and start heading back down. Or they can... just jump off the side, I guess.

That's life, man. At some point, you have to figure out how far up the stairs you want to go. You have to realize what makes you happy. Maybe climbing the staircase is not for you. Or maybe you're happy with reaching a certain point on the staircase and then you'll stop.

No one has to climb the stairs if they don't want to. Seriously. The whole PTQ grind gives you this crazy illusion that you have to grind and climb staircases all your life. But yeah, that's not even remotely true.

But all right, let's say you really want to climb some stairs.

Then what? Well, if you're not just saying that and genuinely feel that way then I think you've already taken the first step. Your desire to improve will make you better. Ride it along while you have it. It's only when you find your desire faltering that you get stuck, really. So just start walking along, and you'll find yourself climbing up.


And as much as I like AJ Sacher and the points he tries to make, I think his last article was misleading. It was actually just confusing, if you read it line-for-line. I understood it because I didn't take everything literally. I kind of just skimmed. I made certain assumptions about his meaning - and I looked for the meaning between the lines. (I will admit though it was a poorly written article.)

But as a fellow writer, I sympathize. Writing is hard. You're not gonna shit gold bricks every time, y'know? And I liked his article because it's very "AJ Sacher". And I like AJ Sacher. His writing speaks to me. He grasps things many don't grasp. He says what he thinks and how he feels and damn the haters.

Haters gonna hate.