Grinding It Out—Casually Competitive

10:19 a.m. It feels so good to sleep in. I had the option to wake up early and play in a Grand Prix Trial but, in order to prevent burn-out, I’ve decided to head to my local game store for a casual Standard tournament.

Rob and I head to the subway station for the quick 30-minute ride into Williamburg. Along the way, I spot a young lady, no more than 25 years old, begging for change on the corner. Lately, I’ve noticed a higher than normal amount of homeless people on the streets. It’s not easy to just walk by, but most of the time I don’t have cash on hand. This time is different. I approach the shy redhead and read her sign out loud: Down and out but haven’t given up yet. I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes; she still has a whole life ahead of her! So I empty all my loose change into her cup with a smile as she looks at me with a glimmer of hope.

11:43 a.m. After a quick coffee break at Gimme Coffee, I arrive at Twenty Sided Store ready to battle. As much as I understand (and appreciate) the difference between a casual and a competitive event, given my recent immersion into the world of competitive play, it can be difficult for me to turn off the competitive REL switch at times. I usually settle for a weird middle ground and play what I like to call casually competitive.

12:05 p.m.—Round 1 vs. Naya Midrange. Chris is a newer face that I occasionally see at FNMs. He proudly lays out his crimson-and-gold Twenty Sided Store playmat and grabs some dice to see who will play first. I win the roll with his golden-yellow dice and joke about how they match his Dragon Shields.

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Game one is a blur with Garruk, Primal Hunter, gumming up the board after a mulligan by my opponent. After the match, I chat with Matt and Li about the game as we sideboard and proclaim that Garruk is a beast. Matt gives me the side-eye and I respond by trying to convince him that my joke was subtle. He thinks about it for a second and yells, “Monique, do you even know what that word means?”

I take the match under the watchful protection of Garruk once again. Feeling pumped—and a bit more competitive than I should be—I confidently sit down for the next round.

1:01 p.m.—Round 2 vs. Junk Reanimator (1-0). Not again! I’ve played against this deck more times than I’d like over the past few weeks. It’s not a very interactive match-up, especially once Angel of Serentity becomes repeatedly reanimated. Mike is an even-keeled store regular whose last name means “little Michael.” I almost ask him for some Sucrets until I realize that it’s just his dice tin. Game one is underway after a mull to four on my part, but lasts longer then expected (I keep 4X land). I end up losing to a hard-cast Angel of Serenity with Restoration Angel backup. Game two doesn’t go much better as my opponent Acidic Slimes my Ground Seal with a packed graveyard, including three Angels of Serenity.

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2:09 p.m.—Round 3 vs. Take a Wild Guess (1-1). My opponent Mike plays a Temple Garden followed by a Godless Shrine. My heart sank and my head was no longer in the game. I hate Angel of Serenity. I hate Acidic Slime + Angel. I hate Junk Rites. I hate it, hate it, hate it!

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Uh oh—increased heart rate; flushed, tingly cheeks; inability to focus. I know exactly what this is. I’m tilting, and tilting hard. It’s been a while since I went on full tilt. My round-three opponent experiences the brunt of my rant and looks at me apologetically.

Jackie Lee wrote a great article on the physiological symptoms of tilt and I’ve been trying hard to recognize it early and prevent it. I usually take a few deep breaths or, if time permits, go for a walk to clear my mind. But this time is different. I continue fuming and as a result lose every single match (er, game) for the rest of the tournament.

Having this happen is an eye-opener. I’m competitive by nature so losing is never fun but how I handle it speaks worlds to who I will become as a player. A common trait among the top players in the game is an unwavering confidence and an ability to stabilize in the most seeming unwinnable situations. Last weekend, I watched in the semi-finals of the Star City Games Open team sealed event as Owen Turtenwald stabilized at one life while playing the most poised, tightly played games of Magic that I’ve seen in a long time. (You can watch the match here, starting at about the 1:38:05 mark.) If he made a single mistake, he would have lost, but instead he and his team unrelentingly thought through every play to their eventual victory.

I started to cool off and decide to go over my notes from today’s matches. I noticed that I made a glaring misplay during round two which I failed to recover from. I sided in Vraska, the Unseen, and was so excited to have her in my opening hand of game two that I made ultimating her my game plan. My opponent had a Sever the Bloodline in his graveyard with Vraska at seven loyalty. I drew into Slaughter Games and immediately called the Sever, thinking that I’d be able to ultimate and win the next turn—and not taking into account that my opponent was one mana away from hardcasting the Angel of Serenity that ultimately lost me the game. I needed to be more patient with Vraska and recognize that the Angel was a much bigger threat than Sever.

1-3. If today has taught me anything, it’s that developing methods to combat the symptoms of tilt are important. Magic is a very cerebral game and requires great attention to detail. Having a foggy mind can prevent the necessary attentiveness and eventually lead to aggravating losses. I’m going to go home and play with my cat. I hope that the next time I face down an Angel of Serenity, I’ll be poised, clear-headed, and ready for battle!

Monique Garraud is a Brooklyn native who started playing Magic in 2011. “Grinding It Out” is her weekly take on the trials, tribulations, and joys of being a competitive tournament player.

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